Culture & Reference
Dermot, Strongbow and the Invasion of Ireland
The Titanic and Ireland
The Vikings in Ireland
The Ancient Ogham language
Charles Stewart Parnell
IN THIS ISSUE
This month we have a review of the life and work of a Seanachi by Mattie Lennon, a story to remind us of our schooldays by Pat Watson, and a biography of Ireland's second President.
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HUGE MARKINGS AT IRISH COASTLINE DISCOVERED
Irish neutrality during the Second World War involved some hasty preparations being made around the island of Ireland. One of the more unlikely measures taken was to have the word 'Eire' written into the coastal landscape at 32 points around the country.
Often the installation of a LOP would be accompanied by creation of a huge 'EIRE' sign, etched into the landscape. Éire is the Gaelic word for Ireland. The signs were constructed so as to be visible from the air. Allied aircraft would recognize them as indicating Irish soil and be aware that they were over a neutral country. Of course the signs were also very useful land markers for the pilots who could use them to pinpoint their exact location.
The recent scorching Summer resulted in wildfires being even more prevalent than usual and the extent of the fire on Bray Head in County Wicklow was such that it revealed the remains of previously hidden 'Eire' sign.
The unusually hot Summer of 2018 was also instrumental in revealing other hidden treasures of the Irish landscape with the incredible discoveries at Newgrange.
Volunteers have now restored the Bray sign with one estimate putting the amount of rock and stone necessary for its original creation at over 4 tonnes.
OBESITY IN IRELAND WORSE THAN AIDS OR CHOLERA EPIDEMICS
The 'European Health Report' of 2018 that covers 53 countries has revealed that obesity levels in Europe are at a staggering 23.3% while those classified as overweight are at 58.7%, with the trend heading upwards. Life expectancy however has continued to increase, from 76.7 years in 2010 to 77.8 years in 2015.
The WHO report noted that smoking and alcohol intake rates in Europe are among the highest in the world. 29% of people over the age of 15 smoke in Europe, compared to 16.9% in the Americas region and 24.8% in SE Asia.
Some countries are suffering more than others. In Greece 43.4% are smokers while in Turkey nearly 40% of women are obese. Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Belgium consume the most alcohol.
Average spending on health-care as a percentage of GDP is at 8.2% in the European region. In Ireland this figure is 7.1%, putting the country at 27th place in a recent OECD survey. The US spend of GDP on health-care is 17.2% (private health insurance take-up is very high in the US), followed by 12.3% in Switzerland and 11.5% in France. Turkey spent 4.5%.
Michael Mueller is an OECD health policy analyst:
'The reason... (why Irish health spending is lower)... is in Ireland and Luxembourg, a significant amount of GDP is not available for national consumption... The economic output of Ireland is not necessarily available for residents because some of it is exported, because of the international companies who have their headquarters in Ireland, such as Facebook and Google.'
Estimates from the WHO Modelling Obesity Project have predicted that Ireland will be the most obese country in Europe by the year 2030, predicting a jump from 23% to 57%, with those Irish men classed as overweight or obese numbering an incredible 89%.
Professor Dónal O'Shea is co-chair of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) obesity policy group:
'(Obesity)... is a much bigger health crisis than what Cholera was back in the 1800s and HIV/AIDS was back in the 80s and 90s.'
'We have just an environment of unregulated, I would say, poisoning of our kids, especially in the lower socio-economic groups with high fat, high salt and high sugar foods. You've got the perfect storm.'
Some commentators have cast doubt on the figures with the authors of the survey noting that the sample size was relatively small. Despite this, Professor Dónal O'Shea points out that:
'If the WHO figures are even half correct, it's an unthinkable scenario.'
PROPERTY PRICES CONTINUE TO RISE
The huge price increases of recent years within the Irish housing market showed some signs of slowing with the year-on-year increase falling from 12.4% in May to 10.4% in July of 2018.
FIND YOUR NAME IN OUR
GALLERY OF IRISH COATS OF ARMS
by Pat Watson
Around the end of the war we were in third class. The class consisted of about thirty, nine-to-ten year olds and about ten dunces of various ages and sizes who sat down the back. These had been kept back, denied promotion to higher classes, because it was felt that another year in the same grade would bring them up to speed.
Very slow learners might spend two years in every class from infants up and as a result might finish school in third class.
Fitz was the biggest dunce in every respect. He was six feet tall and weighed ten stone. He sat on a stool at the end, as he would not fit in the desk seat. He never knew anything, in fact nobody ever heard him say anything in class. Occasionally the master would ask him a spelling or a sum but Fitz would never reply. The master would hit him a few belts and move on to the next pupil.
Fitz never complained or seemed annoyed about being beaten or called a dunce. In the playground he just stood around, ate his lunch quietly and didn't say very much. Any boy being chased by a bully could find sanctuary in his shadow.
Then one day Fitz hit out at Slasher, the next biggest dunce. The master was on the scene in a flash.
'Fitz, this is not like you, why did you hit Slasher?
'He spilled me 'tae' ration into me sugar ration.'
'And why have you your tea and sugar in school?'
'Sure the stepmother would eat them and feed them to her young ones if I left them at home.'
'In future leave his rations alone. How old are you Fitz?'
'I'll be fourteen tomorrow Sir.'
'When are you leaving school?'
This was the first time we ever heard Fitz speak in class - even the master was surprised.
Then the master did a funny thing.
'I will never give out to you or punish you again but I want you to do just one thing for me on this your last day at school.'
He brought him up to the board and wrote 2 with another 2 under it and a line under that again.
'Can you do that sum for me?' he said.
As far as we were concerned the plus sign had not been invented. Fitz said nothing.
'Just tell me if you don't know the answer, I won't say anything to you.'
'I don't know,' said Fitz.
'O dear! O dear!' said the master
'We have failed you, what are you going to do in life?'
'I start work tomorrow with Tom Smith, sorting spuds.'
'But he will fool you. If he promises you two shillings an hour for an eight-hour day you wont know how much to expect.'
'Sixteen bob' said Fitz.
The master just smiled.
'Good luck to you in life Fitz - we have been marching to a different drum.'
'A Different Drum' is one of sixty lyrical yarns from 'Original Irish Stories' by Pat Watson, Creagh, Bealnamulla, Athlone, Ireland. First published in May 2006.
Visit: https://goo.gl/59k3Ew or you can email the author here: firstname.lastname@example.org
HELP KEEP THIS NEWSLETTER ALIVE!
by Mattie Lennon
Eamon Kelly died on October 24th 2001 but I 'met' him decades earlier. It was 1959. The National Council for The Blind of Ireland gave my visually impaired mother a wireless.
The rick is thatched
The fields are bare,
Long nights are here again.
The year was fine
But now 'tis time
To hear the ballad-men.
Boul in, boul in and take a chair
Admission here is free,
You're welcome to the Rambling House
To meet the Seanachi.
The Seanachi was, of course, Eamon Kelly.
I was to follow Eamon's stories, on the air, and later in Dublin theatres, through his one-man shows, for decades. His trademark introduction was: 'In My Father's Time' or 'Ye're glad I came'. In between tales of 'The King of England's son' and 'The Earl of Baanmore' he would tell his own life-story. And those who knew his style could always differentiate between the fact and the fiction.
He was born in Rathmore, Co. Kerry, in March 1914. In his autobiographical work 'The Apprentice' he tells of how the family moved when he was six months old. He was brought to Carrigeen on Maurice O'Connor's sidecar. (Of course when he'd be wearing his Seanachi's hat he'd tell you he remembered it). Eamon grew up in a Rambling House and in later life said: '....my ears were forever cocked for the sound that came on the breeze. It wasn't the Blarney Stone but my father's house which filled me with wonder'.
He was only a child when this country gained independence but he had his Kerry ear cocked long before that to accumulate stories such as this: 'Will I get in this time?' the sitting MP said once to one of our neighbours, coming up to polling day. 'Of course you will' the neighbour told him. 'Didn't you say yourself that it was the poor put you in the last time and aren't there twice as many poor there new'. Eamon didn't lick his storytelling ability off the ground. He said of his father that he was: '....a friendly person, a good talker. Neighbours and travelers were attracted like moths around a naked flame into his and my mother's kitchen'. Their kitchen had '....all the rude elements of the theatre; the storyteller was there with his comic or tragic tale, we had music, dance, song and costume'.
When he left school Eamon became apprentice to his father who was a master carpenter and wheelwright. The young apprentice missed nothing; seventy years on he could mimic a verbose mason who described how to put a plumb-board against the rising walls to: 'ascertain their perpendicularity'. He also began taking a correspondence course with Bennett College in England. Then it turned out that the architect of a hotel enlargement project that he was working on was the craftwork teacher at the local Technical School.
Eamon enrolled for a night course. The teacher's name was Micheal O'Riada and, in his autobiography, Eamon told how he: '....was the means of changing the direction of my footsteps and putting me on the first mile of a journey that would take me far from my own parish. He taught me and others the craft of wood and in time we passed examinations set by the technical branch of the Department of Education in carpentry, joinery and cabinet making. He taught the theory of building and how to read plans; he taught solid geometry which holds the key to the angles met with in the making of a hip roof or staircase'. No matter how far from home Eamon was working he cycled two nights a week to tec.
He was soon to learn that Micheal O'Riada's interests were not confined to sawing and chiseling. He introduced his pupils to books, writers and the theatre. On the head of this Eamon went to see Louis Dalton's company, at the town hall, in 'Juno and the Paycock'. 'It was my first time seeing actors on a stage and the humour, the agony and the tragedy of the play touched me to the quick'. He was mesmerized by the actors and '....their power to draw me away from the real world and almost unhinge my reason long after the curtain had come across'.
Micheal O'Riada was impressed with Eamon's reaction to the theatre. He discussed O'Casey, Synge and Lennox Robinson with the young carpenter and advised him if he ever went to Dublin to go to the Abbey Theatre. Mr. O'Riada also told him that if he kept making headway in his studies and passed the senior grade in the practical and theory papers he would enter him for a scholarship examination, to train as a manual instructor, in Dublin. Since Eamon had left school at fourteen he also had to do additional study in English, Irish and Maths. He passed his scholarship examination, and the interview in Dublin, with flying colours.
He trained and worked as a woodwork teacher for years until he became a full time actor. His first acting role was as Christy Mahon in 'The Playboy of the Western World' along with the Listowel actress, Maura O'Sullivan. He would later marry, and spend the rest of his life, with Maura. They moved to Dublin and Eamon was employed by the Radio Eireann Repertory Players and later by the Abbey Theatre Company. He drew large audiences in villages during the '50s as he traveled around Ireland with his stories. He was to spend more than 40 years as a professional actor. Working with the top actors and leading producers of his day he performed in New York, London and Moscow.
As a storyteller his vivid and evocative descriptions are unsurpassed. Whether it was about an emigrant-laden train gathering speed before fading from view at Countess Bridge or sparks flying when the blacksmith struck red hot iron, nobody could tell it like Eamon. Once, in the Brooklyn Academy, while telling one of his famous stories he mentioned an Irish town and drew a graphic word-picture of emigrants at the station. From the audience he heard: 'Divine Jesus' and a man crying. Ever the professional, Eamon instantly changed gear, swung to comedy and in seconds had the homesick exile laughing. Watching him on the stage, the Paps-of-Dana and Dooncorrig Lake almost materialized around you. There was a temptation to look up for the rising ground above Barradov Bridge. In the Peacock Theatre in the 1980s you were standing beside the young Eamon Kelly as he made a Tusk Tenon at the workbench beside his father or walked barefoot on the submerged stepping-stones with his first-love, Judy Scanlon.
As Anette Bishop described it in The Irish American Post: 'It's a case of the past returning to raise a charming blush on the cheek of the present'. Everything Eamon Kelly did was tried, tested and honed to perfection. And he always expressed appreciation of the crafts, skills and talents of others: 'The correct actions of a craftsman sawing, planning or mortising with the chisel were as fluid as those of an expert hurler on the playing field'. When rehearsing for Seamus Murphy's 'Stone Mad', which he adapted as a one-man show, he spent days observing stonecutters at a quarry in the Dublin mountains. In the course of the show he 'lettered' a stone on stage.
With little or no interest in money himself he was always on the side of the underdog and the marginalized. He was playing S.B. O'Donnell in 'Philadelphia Here I Come' on Broadway, in January 1972, when he heard the tragic news of Bloody Sunday. There and then he decided to play his part in trying to rectify man's inhumanity: he became a vegetarian. Eamon was shy, by nature. And even in his eighties he would be, by far, the most nervous artist backstage. This was because he was a perfectionist. A year before he died I saw him in a hotel about to do a piece he had performed hundreds of times. With the utmost humility he asked a staff member about facilities to do a last minute rehearsal: 'Do you have anywhere where I could talk to myself for a while?'
Kerryman, Brendan O'Shea (of O'Sheas Tailoring, Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin) told me the following story:
At the end of September 2001 Eamon Kelly brought a suit in to Brendan for some alterations. The suit was fifteen years old. Prior to one of his trips to America, Eamon had it made by another Dublin tailor who left the jacket minus an inside pocket and the trousers without belt-loops or a back-pocket. Now, Eamon, the perfectionist, asked his fellow-Kerryman to rectify the sartorial omissions, which he did. When Eamon died on 24th October 2001 he had left detailed instructions with his wife, Maura, about the funeral arrangements and which suit he wanted to be laid out in.
Yes, you've guessed it!
Did the man who wrote so lovingly of Con-the-tailor, who made his first Communion suit, and who had portrayed an unforgettable tailor in 'The Tailor and Ansty' want to somehow, bring the work of a Kerry tailor out of this world with him? I don't know. And neither does Brendan O'Shea.
As his coffin left the church the Congregation gave a round of applause. The show was over and this time there was no encore. The final curtain had fallen on a One-man show, performed by a man of many parts. Actor, storyteller and writer, loving husband, devoted father and great Kerryman. Shortly before his death while lecturing North American Literature and Theatre students in the art of storytelling he said: 'My journeying is over. If the humour takes me, I may appear in some Alhambra, where angels with folded wings will sit in the stalls, applaud politely and maybe come round after and say: 'that was great' '.
As he walked into that great Rambling House in the sky, can't you imagine the opening line?: Ye're glad I came.
While the great storyteller won't ever again stand on a stage or sit by the fire of a rambling house, his voice lives on in this RTE Podcast: Eamon Kelly Podcast. A CD is available from here: Stories from Ireland
Mattie Lennon is a writer and stroyteller who can be found at www.mattielennon.com
Mattie is also involved with the Irish history website www.irishfaminepots.com
find out more
Seán Thomas Kelly (Ó'Ceallaigh in Irish) was the second president of Ireland from 1945 to 1959.
Born in 1882 in Dublin city centre he was educated in the city and became active in the Gaelic League which at the time was infiltrated by republican groups. He was a founder member of Sinn Fein becoming its honorary secretary until 1925. He was heavily involved in the planning for the Easter Rising and travelled to America to inform Clan Na Gael of the plans. He was arrested after the Rising but was later released.
The tide of public support for independence that swept Ireland after 1916 brought electoral success to Sinn Fein in 1918 with Ó'Ceallaigh wining the Dublin College Green seat in the general election. Sinn Fein refused to attend the English parliament and instead established Dail Eireann, the Irish parliament. Ó'Ceallaigh was the first Ceann Comhairle or speaker of the Dail.
He attempted to gain recognition for the new parliament by seeking attendance at the Versaille Treaty negotiations. He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty which was ratified by the Irish parliament in 1922. When deValera resigned as president of the Republic Ó'Ceallaigh followed him into the Civil War. He was jailed by the Michael Collins government until the end of 1923. He was then despatched by Sinn Fein as an envoy to the US.
By 1926 deValera had realised that the only way to defeat the Treaty was to create a new political party. Fianna Fail was formed with Ó'Ceallaigh as one of the founding members. When Fianna Fail swept to power in 1932 deValera made Ó'Ceallaigh his deputy in charge as well as Minister for Local Government. His association with the right-wing Knights of Columbanus Catholic organisation may have damaged his reputation at this time. deValera suspected Ó'Ceallaigh of being a source of information within the government for the Church in Ireland. He was considered for the office of first President of Ireland in 1938 but a consensus candidate emerged in the person of Douglas Hyde, an original founder of the Gaelic League.
Ó'Ceallaigh was appointed as Minister for Finance in 1939 serving in that capacity until 1945 when he was elected President of Ireland in a national poll. He was re-elected unopposed in 1952. He travelled extensively as part of his duties and addressed the US Congress in 1959. He was often regarded as tactless, prone to errors of judgment, overly talkative, but nonetheless remained a quite popular politician.
His legacy is that of one of the founders of the modern Irish state. His path through the Gaelic League, the Easter Rising, Sinn Fein, Civil War Rebellion and then Fianna Fail Minister was the same path taken by several famous Irish politicians of the twentieth century. His contribution to Irish life culminated in his role as President, an office he served with distinction.
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