Culture & Reference
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Hello again from Ireland where the restrictions imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually being lifted. The focus is turning to the economic measures necessary to ge the country back moving again, and especially to get schoolchildren back to school in August. Schools have been closed in Ireland since March.
In this month's newsletter we have an extract from a novel about Wolfe Tone, the heroic figure from the Irish Rebellion of 1798. We also have an examination of another fabulous character from Ireland's mythical past: Deirdre of the Sorrows!
If you have an article or story you would like to share then please do send it to us.
Until next time,
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COVID-19 regulations require that all foreign visitors to Ireland self-isolate (quarantine) for 14 days. While there is no legal enforcement of this requirement it seems that some Irish businesses are taking matter into their own hands.
Two groups of US tourists who arrived separately at the Croí Restaurant in Tralee in Kerry were turned away after it emerged they had not self-isolated upon their arrival into the country. All diners at the popular Tralee restaurant have their body temperature checked upon arrival with head chef, Noel Keane, reporting that none had so far failed the test.
Despite this the restaurant refused the business of the US tourists in the interest of staff and customers. Noel Keane remarked that most of those turned away accepted the decision although one prospective customer suggested to him that the Covid-19 pandemic was 'over-hyped'.
The Kings Head pub in Galway has also reported refusing service to tourists who admitted that they had just arrived in the country and thus were not self-isolating.
The rate of infection and the number of deaths attributable to Covid-19 has dropped dramatically in Ireland.
Ireland went into a semi-lockdown with the vast majority of businesses closed down since the middle of March. Gradually businesses have been re-opening although the economic damage has been too much for some with widescale closures an inevitable consequence of the drastic measures.
Social distancing and careful hand-hygiene have been among the most effective measures while the elderly and those with compromised immune systems were advised to self-isolate. These measures have worked to a large degree although the number of non-Covid-19 deaths that will be attributable to the semi-lockdown remains to be calculated. Health officials are concerned that the cancellation and/or postponement of Cancer screening (for example), will inevitably cause a large number of avoidable deaths.
Additionally reluctance by patients of all illnesses to attend hospitals during the crisis will have the same consequences.
Economic devastation also has long-term effects on the mental health of populations, with an increase in the rate of suicide being directly linked to the unemployment rate. The University of Zurich in Switzerland calculated in 2015 that suicide associated with unemployment increased by 20% to 30%, in the wake of the worldwide 2008 financial crash.
The compulsory wearing of face-masks in indoor settings (especially shops), has only recently been introduced in Ireland, while the focus has also turned to the confusing regulations regarding foreign visitors entering Ireland as well as the ability of Irish tourists to travel abroad.
An English defensive footballer who won the World Cup with England in 1966 may seem an unlikely nominees for the title of 'Ireland's favourite Englishman'. But the effect this man had on Ireland during the late 1980's and 90's cannot be underestimated.
At a time when Ireland was crawling out of the never-ending 1980's recession, with unemployment at over 17% and emigration rocketing, it was the Irish football team that provided hope to the masses. Jack Charlton was manager of the team from 1986 to 1996 in what turned out to be a golden age for the national side. The unexpected qualification for the European Championships in 1988 was capped off with a famous victory against England (yes! Charlton masterminded that triumph against his own country), followed by an unlucky defeat to the Dutch, who would eventually lift the trophy.
The World Cup in Italy in 1990 was an iconic moment in Irish sporting history with the team reaching the quarter-finals, followed by another great victory against Italy in the US World Cup in 1994.
Jack Charlton was not universally popular however due to his basic tactics and determination to run the team his way, even if it meant the omission of some of the fans favourite players.
Nevertheless the parades through Dublin that followed the teams achievements were memorable moments and culturally helped to bridge the gap between the old Ireland and the emerging 'Celtic Tiger' economy and more socially progressive society that were to follow.
He died at the age of 85 years at his family home in Northumberland.
Farewell Jack. Thanks for the memories.
Michael, below is one of my favourite stories from my 1950’s youth in Mallow. David
A large group of friends were enjoying their evening visit to the local pub but closing time came all too quickly for them. So, they decided to stay 'behind closed doors', and that if the Gardaí paid a visit then their common excuse was:
“We are off on a pilgrimage to Lourdes in the morning and we are just finalising our preparations'.
Well, the Gardaí visited in due course and, on hearing the knock on the front door, the friends scattered and tried to hide in various parts of the pub. The Gardaí then duly searched the pub and took the names and addresses of everyone they found, each of whom highlighted their reason for being in the pub after hours.
Having completed the search of the main area of the pub, one of the Gardaí decided to extend the search to the backyard and, as he opened the back door, he immediately encountered a man facing the door with his fist raised to about head height.
The Garda said: 'I suppose you are off to Lourdes also?'
'Oh no' the man replied 'I was just going to Knock.'
find out more
Deirdre was the daughter of Fedlimid, the storyteller to King Conor MacNeasa. Before she was born, she gave a terrible shriek from her mother's womb that terrified all that heard it.
Cathbad the Druid foretold that the unborn child would turn out to be the most beautiful woman in Ireland, that men would fight over her causing terrible destruction, and that she should be killed at birth to forestall disaster.
But King Conor MacNeasa refused to give the order for the infant's death. Instead he decreed that she should be brought up in seclusion, having nothing to do with any man, until she came of an age when he himself would marry her. She was given into the care of Leabharcham, a wise and satiric woman, to be raised as a fitting bride for a King.
Deirdre grew up in the charge of her nurse, never seeing a man, and becoming accomplished in skills befitting a noble woman. One day she saw from her window the slaughter of a calf, and declared she would only love a man who had the three colors she saw there before her: skin as white as the snow on the ground, cheeks as red as the blood which flowed from the slain calf, and hair as black as the raven that had swooped down to feed on the carcass.
Leabharcham declared that such a man already existed! His name was Naoise, and he was the son of Ushna. Deirdre went into a decline from that moment, ailing until such time as she should meet this man, so Leabharcham arranged for him to go hunting near to where she and Deirdre lived. Deirdre ran out to meet him, and begged him to elope with her. He tried to refuse since he knew the orders of King Conor MacNeasa. But Deirdre refused to release him, leaving Naoise with no choice but to summon his two brothers before they all left Ulster together.
Naoise and Deirdre were happily married, and loved each other dearly. But King Conor MacNeasa would never allow them any peace, and sent many men after them to retrieve Deirdre. Naoise and his brothers were almost invincible when they fought together, killing many of Ulster's best men, and so King Conor had to resort to trickery.
He sent a message via Fergus MacRoigh, his chief advisor, who stood guarantor for the King's good behavior. Deirdre and the sons of Ushna were told that they could return in safety to Ulster, that the King no longer bore them malice. But Deirdre warned the brothers that the King's intentions were not honorable. Not heeding her advice, Naoise and his brothers returned to Ulster where they were set upon by mercenary allies of the King who finally overpowered and killed them all.
After that it is said that Deirdre was taken into captivity by King Conor, and made to live with him for a year, during which time she never laughed nor slept. One year after the death of Naoise, King Conor brought her to meet Eogan MacDurthacht, the killer of her husband. She was thus caught between the two men she hated most on earth, and in a rage and despair she dashed her brains out on a standing stone that was before her, rather than suffer any further torment.
Another legend has it that Deirdre was so overwhelmed with grief at the sight of Naoise's dead body that she cast herself on to it, mourning loudly, dying instantly of a broken heart.
Deirdre! The most magnificent beauty of Ireland, denied her true love by a jealous King, finding peace only in death.
'From my earliest youth, I have regarded the connection between Ireland and Great Britain as the curse of the Irish nation and felt convinced that, whilst it lasted, this country could never be free nor happy...'
T. Wolfe Tone
Provost's Prison. Dublin.
10th November 1798.
The insipid winter sun filtered through the tiny slat that masqueraded as a window high up in the brickwork. As its rays illuminated the filthy cramped room below, bringing light to its damp, desolate surroundings, its slow procession carried on down the wall and across the floor, where the glimmer of sunshine hit upon a dishevelled figure, standing in the middle of the tiny cell.
Eyes adjusting to the new day, his breath was clearly visible in the cold November air. As he stretched in an attempt to ease the aches and pains that were the bedfellows of his incarceration, his eyes followed the beam of light, as it slowly unveiled his cell's true character from the previous night's darkness.
With the daybreak transformation progressing around him, Theobald Wolfe Tone managed to raise a smile as he caught a glimpse of the small table that had been his only source of liberation from the tedium endured during his confinement over the past few weeks; the ink and quill sitting at the ready next to his writing, as they had done so throughout his captivity.
With eyes, now fully adjusted to the light, Tone took it all in, as slowly inch by inch, the secrets of his prison were uncovered by the ever-increasing daylight.
In the corner, steam rose from a bucket that he had used less than an hour before as a chamber pot; the smell of urine and faeces beginning to react with what little heat was being provided by the winter sun. Then, as part of his now all too familiar morning ritual, Tone's stomach heaved as the putrid aroma assaulted him from all angles.
Tired, unwashed, and aching, his sense of personal pride had taken a battering since his capture. There's no respect for an enemy officer, here. These conditions were reserved for the lowest of the low, the traitors. A fact that was not lost on the Irishman.
Swaying, he struggled to stand to his full height, the cold gnawing at every bone in his body; his once solid frame bent and twisted due to a combination of malnutrition, dehydration and ill treatment at the hands of his captors. But he smiled. Today was his day!
From the low-slung pallet that had been his bed throughout his detention, he lifted his Chef de Brigade's hat, hitting it hard against his thigh to shake off the dust that had accumulated over the weeks. Then, happy he had removed most of the filth, he placed it on his head with the utmost reverence, tweaking its position to ensure it sat just right.
Next, like all Military men, he checked his boots. Battered and scuffed, they disgusted him, but they would have to do. Bending down slowly, he rubbed them with the edge of the threadbare, flea ridden blanket from his bed, as he tried in vain to give them a shine.
Finally, with no mirror, he straightened the rest of his uniform from memory. Only 35, the treatment and conditions he had endured had taken their toll, his tunic now too big for his once ample frame.
Uniform finally done and as prepared as he could be, Tone lifted papers from the table and put them into his tunic pocket. Then mustering all his remaining strength, he straightened his aching body to its full height; his large eyes still full of passion and fight and stared intently at the cell door in anticipation.
A few moments later, as though to order, a loud thud shuddered the door frame, giving him the customary advance notice that someone was about to enter the cell.
With little thought, Tone stepped back from the door and stood to attention, his eyes staring at the solid wooden entrance as keys began to turn in the lock.
With a loud click, the cell door swung open, revealing a prison guard, who stood in the doorway flanked by two soldiers, their muskets at the ready. All three stared at their prisoner.
The prison guard, shackles in hand, glared at Tone and kept him waiting just a few more seconds before he growled, 'You ready?' and with disgust etched across his face, aimed spit at the floor and was not in the least bit bothered when the phlegm splattered Tone's boots instead.
Amused at their comrade's miss-fire, the soldiers laughed as they peered down at the glob of mucus that dripped off the leather, making Tone's boots, if it were possible, a little scruffier than before.
Ignoring the insult, Tone refused to take the bait and stared right through his captors as he extended his hands inviting his jailor to do his duty, an offer that was at once accepted.
Doing little to hide his loathing for the man in front of him the prison guard clamped the handcuffs on Tone's wrists and shackled his ankles before he yanked his prisoner forward out of the cell.
'Move it, traitor!'
'REBEL - The Life and Times of Wolfe Tone' is an original novel by B.F. McGowan.
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