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Baron Corvo’s short visit to Sligo school

Thu, Aug 20, 2015

Practice makes perfect: In the Ursuline convent, Sligo. (photograph Tom Kennedy).
 

I am sure that the good sisters at the renowned Ursuline convent school, Sligo, had no idea what they were letting themselves in for when Eilís Dillon and her sisters landed as boarders at their door. The Dillon girls were confident, challenging and extremely well read. Much of that confidence came from their fiercely nationalistic mother and father and their commitment during the War of Independence. Both parents were imprisoned; their father, Professor Tom Dillon, was ‘on the run’ for most of that time.

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Barna - And a Grecian princess

Thu, Aug 13, 2015

‘Days were spent running along the beach, and playing games.’(Photo: Tom Kennedy)

The Dillons were a well known and respected family in Galway. It was put about that it was his determination that his five children should have a thorough knowledge of the Irish language, that led professor Tom Dillon, and his wife Geraldine (Plunkett), and their two maids, to leave the rambling Dangan House, and to settle in Barna, a small Irish speaking fishing village, four miles on the other side of the town.

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A young girl carried the scars of war

Thu, Aug 06, 2015

George Noble Plunkett and his wife Josephine (Cranny), coming from a public meeting. George was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood by his son Joseph, just days before the Rising.

In an attempt to bring some normality into their lives following the traumatic years of the War of Independence, and the Civil War, Professor Tom Dillon, and his wife Geraldine (nee Plunkett), moved their five children to Dangan House, about three miles north of Galway town, close to the River Corrib. It is now a flourishing garden nursery, run by the busy Cunningham family and staff, but in the late 1920s it was a rambling two-storeyed manor house with shallow steps leading to a wide front door. Their father bought a cow, and chickens ran wild in the yard. In many ways it was an ideal home to bring up a lively young family, but understandably the terrors and the residue of those early years still bore heavily on the children. Politics was still a dominant player in their lives.

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‘The mountain is just a way of thinking’

Thu, Jul 23, 2015

Next Sunday, the last Sunday in July, is Reek Sunday which celebrates the national pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain. Several thousands of people are expected to make the arduous climb, which can take over two hours to get to its summit. If it’s a clear day the views across Connemara, and along the coast line, are spectacular. If the climb is made in misty weather, then it becomes an adventure of another kind. Whatever the weather there is a real sense of camaraderie, and shared humanity; a feeling too that to take a few hours out of our busy lives, to concentrate on the effort of the climb, and support our fellow travellers, is ‘to experience a life time in miniature.’

The Rev Gary Hastings, in his new book Going Up The Holy Mountain,* accepts that an increasing number of people have no idea about the concept of pilgrimage. They regard the whole thing as something quaint, superstitious and irrelevent. That perception, he believes, is wrong. To make a pilgrimage, even a long walk, or to climb any mountain, is a useful device to have in our ‘spiritual toolkit’. He invites the reader to climb Croagh Patrick, and provides a generous spiritual guide as to how that climb can become meaningful. Climbing the mountain ‘involves concrete action and movement. It is not shrouded in words and theology; it is something you just do. And while you do it, things can change. You leave yourself open to possibility, to the chance of hearing the silence, seeing the meaning.’

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An invitation to climb Croagh Patrick

Thu, Jul 16, 2015

Croagh Patrick, ‘dominates an already impressive setting’.

Sunday week, July 26, is Reek Sunday, or Garland Sunday or Garlic Sunday or even Crom Dubh Sunday, and I am sure there are many other names to describe the  famous pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick, when many thousands climb to its rocky summit.

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A poet at Claregalway castle

Thu, Jul 09, 2015

John Montague, suspected there was a serpent in the paradise of California during the Flower Power era.

Once upon a time, when a renowned bardic poet visited the castle a sort of hysteria broke out. Women ran to the kitchens to prepare hogs and stuffings for a great feast. Banners and flags were flown from the battlements. Musicians urgently practiced new songs in his  praise. Tavern keepers rolled in their best barrels of beer and wine, and weapons were nosily discarded. All prisoners and lunatics were released. Fathers were invited to bring to the fore their young daughters, so that they may be admired! 

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Getting rid of the troublesome women

Thu, Jul 02, 2015

‘Emigration vessel - Between decks’, published in the Illustrated London News May 10 1851.

One of the remedies in dealing with overcrowding, and rebellious behaviour from frustrated and angry women in the workhouses during the famine years, was assisted emigration. This was done on a massive scale. Between 1848 and 1850, 4,175 women were sent direct from the workhouse system to Australia. This was in addition to the thousands already sent away assisted by landlords and other schemes to clear the land of unproductive tenants. The only cost to the individual Poor Law unions was for new clothes, and travel expenses to Plymouth, from where the girls embarked to the colony. 

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Ballylee - ‘To go elsewhere is to leave beauty behind’

Thu, Jun 04, 2015

Thoor Ballylee, near Gort, Co Galway,  in winter, where WB Yeats wrote some of his best poetry. It will be officially opened from June 13, the 150th anniversary of the poet’s birth. (Photo, Deirdre Holmes)

In 1960 Mary Hanley forced open the wedged shut door of the cottage at Thoor Ballylee. She walked into the large damp room. For 12 productive and happy summers, the cottage and its adjoining Norman tower had been the home of WB Yeats , his wife George Hyde Lees, and their two children Anne and Michael. Now, however, the floor was covered with manure. For years it had been used as a cow barn. Pulling aside stones that had blocked exits to keep the cattle enclosed, Mary walked into the dining room, with its magnificent enlarged window overlooking the Streamstown river as it races under the four-arched bridge.

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Thoor Ballylee - The perfect home for a poet

Thu, May 28, 2015

In August 1896 WB Yeats and his friend Arthur Symons went on a tour of the west of Ireland. The poet was 31 years of age. They stayed with Edward Martyn at Tulira Castle, Ardrahan, visited the Aran Islands, and Yeats made his first visit to Lady Gregory at Coole Park.

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Some awful things that George Moore said...

Thu, May 07, 2015

Week IV

You might think that those at the core of the Irish literary renaissance at the beginning of the 20th century, were one big happy family beavering away in their rooms at Lady Gregory's home at Coole, Co Galway. In those early days it was a house full of voices and sounds. Sometimes you heard WB Yeats humming the rhythm of a poem he was cobbling together; or the click-clacking of Lady Gregory's typewriter as she worked on another play for the Abbey. There was the sound of the Gregory grandchildren playing in the garden; the booming voice of George Bernard Shaw, as he complains that he is only allowed to have either butter or jam on his bread, but not both to comply with war rations (He cheated by the way. He put butter on one side of his bread, and when he thought no one was looking, piled jam on the other!); or the voices of the artist Jack Yeats and JM Synge returning from a day messing about on a boat calling out to a shy Sean O'Casey to come out of the library for God's sake and enjoy the summer afternoon.

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How Ireland lost thirty nine famous paintings

Thu, Apr 30, 2015

Beautiful rain: Renoir's famous Les Parapluies (The Umbrellas 1883) is one of the controversial Lane Pictures, caught up in a legal wrangle and kept in the National Gallery of London.

The sinking of the Lusitania on May 7 1915, off the Cork coast, by a German submarine electrified Ireland, Britain and America. In Ireland, the fact that German submarines were lurking so close to the Irish shore, added fuel to the propaganda that Germany was planning to invade the country. It spurred recruitment into the armed forces. In Britain, the shameful practice of using passenger liners to carry munitions across the Atlantic without telling the passengers they were in effect travelling on a British war ship, was to come to an end.

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Annie Kelly, and her quest for love

Thu, Apr 23, 2015

New immigrants queue for health inspection at Ellis Island. Not everyone was allowed ashore.

Annie Kelly was just 19 when all her dreams appeared to be coming true. Annie was one of 11 children living with her widowed mother at Newgrove, Mountbellew, Co Galway. Her boyfriend, William Murphy, and her brother Thomas had earlier emigrated to Boston. Annie and William were pledged to be married just as soon as Annie got the money to follow him there. Full of excitement the young woman later sailed from Liverpool on the Cunard liner the Lusitania arriving in New York on April 24 1915.

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‘The Hun was murdering Irish people in very waters of Cork’

Thu, Apr 16, 2015

Front page of the New York Times, Saturday May 8 1915, news which shocked the world, and led to
America declaring war on Germany.

The British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, famous for its luxurious accommodations and speed capability, primarily ferried people and goods across the Atlantic Ocean between the United States and Great Britain. On May 1, 1915, the Lusitania left port in New York for Liverpool to make her 202nd trip across the Atlantic. On board were 1,959 people, 159 of whom were Americans.

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The Great Famine - A watershed in Irish history

Thu, Apr 09, 2015

Funeral at Skibbereen, drawn by Henry Smyth, and published in the ILN January 30 1847, had a powerful impact on readers at home and in America.

During the seven years of the Great Famine approximately one million people died. A million more emigrated causing Ireland’s population to fall by between 20 and 25 per cent. The initial cause of famine was a potato disease which ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s.

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Daniel O’Connell - A man not without flaws

Thu, Apr 02, 2015

The ‘Cabin at Ardcara’ on the O’Connell estate, published in the Pictorial Times, January 31 1846

It is said that all political careers end in failure. The great Daniel O’Connell’s final slide into earthly oblivion was heralded by the now familiar sight of journalists descending on his estate at Derrynane, Co Kerry, the year before he died. They had scented a whiff of scandal, and like today, doorstepped him.

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A ‘selfish, perverse and turbulent’ people

Thu, Mar 26, 2015

This moving image, exquisitely drawn,  shows the local vicar sharing the final hours  of a dying man  in a hovel at Scull, Co Cork. The sketch was made by James Mahony who wrote that in order to make the drawing he had to stand ‘up to his ankles in the flith upon the floor’ The hut was less than 10 feet square. There were three children.
Mahony further wrote that the poor man had buried his wife five days previously. ‘Mullins died and three days later so did the vicar’. ( ILN February 20 1847)

As the Great Famine strengthened its fearsome grip on Ireland in the late 1840s and early 1850s, the people were doubly unfortunate that Charles Trevelyan, the Assistant Secretary to the British Treasury, had responsibility for Irish Famine relief.

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How artists changed Britain’s perception of the Great Hunger

Thu, Mar 19, 2015

Complete change of approach, ‘An eviction in the west of Ireland’ (By Aloysius O’ Kelly) published in ILN March 19 1881. The despair of the weeping mother,  the furniture thrown outside, the soldiers helping the bailiff do his work, the anxious crowd watching. The quality of O’Kelly’s work is obvious.

Although the Great Irish Famine, which devastated Ireland in the 1840s and early 1850s, happened at a time when photography was only in its experimental stage, we still have vivid images of the appalling suffering that the vast majority of the people endured. A suffering that was heightened by systematic neglect by government, the total absence of a comprehensive humanitarian plan of relief, and the law of the land which only supported the rights of landlords.*

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Mam Eán - A name that ‘speaks of the world’s wonders’

Thu, Mar 12, 2015

That great observer of landscape Tim Robinson reminds us that Connemara is full of saints. Perhaps there isn't a saint in the place today, but they were certainly there in profusion in earlier times. Looking around him from the heights of Errislannan, near Clifden, Tim observes that practically every one of the headlands and islands that he sees has its saint. There is St Roc at Little Killary, St Colmán on Inishboffin, St Ceannanach at Cleggan, St Féichín in Omey and High Island, and all the saints in the tangled archipelagos east of Carna, Bearchan, Breacán, and Enda; and the obscure Mocán or Smocán of Barr an Doire near An Cheathrú Rua, 'and finally the great St Colm Cille who has all the south Connemara coast under his protection...'

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The woman who was - ‘fearless’ where the Irish language was concerned

Thu, Mar 05, 2015

The inimitable Máire Stafford playing one of her many roles in Galway’s Taibhdhearc Theatre.

Scene: A deserted foreshore. Pier in background, mountains in the distance, sound of sea birds calling, waves breaking on the beach. A beautiful day. Curtain rises on two attractive people holding hands, gazing lovingly at each other.

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