A medieval tale of fashion, wealth and love

Thu, Nov 10, 2016

Hands up those who know who was the Coco Chanel of 15th century Galway?

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Liam Ó Briain - Memories of the Easter Rising

Thu, Oct 27, 2016

One of the real benefits of the the centenary commemorations of 1916, is the amount of research and new material that has been published on the background to the Rising, and in particular on the personalities of the men and women involved.

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The end of the Galway Line?

Thu, Oct 20, 2016

General Robert E Lee’s surrender to the the Union army at Appomattox court house on the morning of April 9 1865, brought the four year Civil War to a close.

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Waiting at Tiffany’s on Broadway

Thu, Oct 13, 2016

In the Diary of September 22 I asked whether the ‘gallant and humane’ Captain John Wilson of the The Minnie Schiffer, who miraculously snatched from certain death 591 passengers and crew from the burning PS Connaught, ever received the ‘elegant service of plate’ especially commissioned for him from the prestigious Tiffany and Co of Broadway, New York. The plate was paid for by the merchants of New York and Boston ‘in appreciation of his gallant conduct at sea’ on that fateful evening October 8 1860.

The Minnie Schiffer was a small brig, returning from the south of France with a cargo of fruit and wine. About 100 miles out of Boston she came across the drifting PS Connaught practically blazing from head to stern. Its passengers and crew faced a certain and terrible death. The burning ship was too hot and dangerous to set alongside. Instead ‘in a space of about eight hours during the increasing murk of a stormy October evening - and all accomplished without loss of life, despite the hundreds of persons involved, many of whom must have been stressed, disorientated and terrified’, Capt Wilson ferried the despairing people across to his brig, in life boats.

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Galway’s streets ‘are full of Confederates’

Thu, Oct 06, 2016

Despite the challenges, dangers, bankruptcies, and in some cases, exploitation, by the mid 19th century Galway had a small but profitable fleet of sailing ships. In previous weeks I have outlined some of the achievements and failures of the Galway Line, which between 1858 and 1864 completed a total of 55 trouble free return voyages to New York and Boston. One of its ships, the Circassian, which I discussed last week, sailed from Galway on September 21 1859 to New York with 342 passengers of whom 108 were first class. One hundred and seventy persons who applied for passage were turned away as the ship was full.

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Racing the Union’s blockade of Confederate ports

Thu, Sep 29, 2016

The American Civil War (1861-1865) offered rich pickings to qualified seamen and shipowners looking for quick profits. The Union blockade of southern ports was beginning to have an effect on Confederate trade. But any ship which steamed safely through the blockade could command high prices for its cargo. On the homeward journey, if you were lucky, large profits could be made on a cargo of cotton which was in big demand in Britain.

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Did Capt John Wilson ever receive his well earned plate?

Thu, Sep 22, 2016

There can be no greater horror for passengers and crew than facing death on a burning ship in a heavy sea, that was sinking by its bow. Which death would you choose? Stay on board and be burnt? Or chance your luck in the waves?

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The loss of the PS Connaught, flagship of the Galway Line

Thu, Sep 15, 2016

The loss of the PS Connaught, October 8 1860, launched to reverse the sliding fortunes of the J Orwell Lever’s Galway Line, was a severe blow to the company. Although the local press tried to make the most of the fact that of the 591 people on board, not one life was lost, the bad publicity soured the public towards the Galway Line, which was also in financial trouble.

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Justice at last for the Indian Empire incident?

Thu, Sep 08, 2016

Despite the excitement, the prospects, the agreement to carry mail, and new luxury ships, the Galway transatlantic adventure headed by J. Orwell Lever ended in failure within six years.

But, as Tim Collins wrote in an earlier article,* ‘as an historic failure, its record is impressive. Ultimately the Galway Line employed 16 steamers (eight paddle-powered, and eight screw-powered) which made a total of 55 return voyages across the Atlantic between 1858 and 1864. The voyages were made during winter months as well as during the calmer summer sailing season. Six ships were involved in serious accidents due to ice and fog as well as storms, while five made only one trip, or foundered on their first crossing.**

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Fr Peter Daly - ‘The warmest expression of our unbounded gratitude.’

Thu, Sep 01, 2016

Described as a ‘turbulent priest’, and ‘the dominant public figure in Galway during the 1850s’, who was ‘a stubborn, abrasive, guileful and egotistical populist,’* Fr Peter Daly was the principle mover and shaker behind Galway’s drive to become the main transatlantic port for traffic to America in the 1850s. As chairman of both the Town Commissioners and the Harbour Board, he supported J O Lever’s Galway Line, which was to run three state-of-the-art steam-sailing ships between Galway and New York, from a grandiose harbour to be built off Furbo. Passengers from Britain, and all over Ireland, would be delivered to the terminal by train. It was to be the most comfortable, and shortest, route to America.

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Did a midsummer murder silence a guilty pilot?

Wed, Aug 24, 2016

In June 1858 Galway town was in a fever of excitement. Its vision for a magnificent transatlantic port off Furbo, reaching deep into in Galway Bay, where passangers from Britain, and throughout the island of Ireland, would be brought to their emigration ship in the comfort of a train, could now be scuppered by the apparent carelessness of the two local pilots.

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Did Liverpool scuttle Galway’s Atlantic dream?

Thu, Aug 18, 2016

If Eamon Bradshaw and his crew think their courageous plan to extend Galway harbour into deep water to accommodate cruise liners is a step into modernity that will bring commercial success to the city on a grand scale, it pales almost into insignificance compared to the stunning ambitions the Galway merchants schemed in the mid 19th century.

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The west of Ireland lacks civilisation - But it has poetry

Thu, Aug 11, 2016

‘The capital, Galway, is a terrible place. It has of course St Nicholas, one of the few remaining pre-Reformation churches; the frontispiece of a Renaissance town house erected as a gateway to the public park; and a medieval fortified house about which they tell the well-known story of the Lynch who hanged his own son when the sheriff wasn't available. At least once a year while I was director of the Abbey theatre we got a play on that. From Miss Edgeworth's account of her travels to Galway it would appear that as a theme for tragedy it was popular a hundred years ago. But even before that I had a lively hatred of the town....'

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‘The old lady was a holy terror’

Wed, Aug 03, 2016

Ireland’s greatest short story writer is probably the late Frank O’Connor (1903-1966). Born in Cork city, his autobiography An Only Child (1961) is ironically a celebration of his vivacious but fastidious mother, and their survival from his alcoholic, and at times brutal, father.

O’Connor was blessed to have had a brilliant teacher, Daniel Corkery, at Cork’s renowned North Mon school, who encouraged his learning Irish and to write.

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GBC - A Galway tradition for eighty years.

Thu, Jul 28, 2016

One autumn morning in Eyre Street in 1972, school going children had a special treat. There, spread on the road, were trays of breads, cream cakes, scones and chocolate éclairs. Hardly able to believe their eyes they fell on them. With shouts of joy and laughter they stuffed their mouths and filled their pockets before running off to tell their friends to come and help themselves.

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‘Today the Somme is a peaceful but sullen place.’

Thu, Jul 21, 2016

One of the great obsessions after the war was how to come to terms with the ‘missing’ - the many thousands of young soldiers who were either vaporised, or blown to pieces, by high explosives; or were drowned and lost in the mud. Last week I tried to tell the heartbreaking search for their missing son Jack, by the Kiplings. For months they haunted hospitals, interviewed soldiers, even dropped leaflets on enemy territory, pleading for information. Even though the Somme still reveals bodies today, Jack Kipling was never found.

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‘Have you news of my boy Jack?’

Thu, Jul 14, 2016

Such were the demands on many young men, not motivated by any political ideal, or heroic pressure, to fight for their king and country in 1914, but were driven by the sense of advtenture and excitement, that war often evokes in the hearts of young men, that they queued in their thousands to answer the call to arms. If unsuccessful, due to some physical deficiency (although medical check-ups were usually just a formality), family often used its influence to gain admission to the armed forces.

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‘Too late now to retrieve a fallen dream..’

Thu, Jul 07, 2016

Apart from Irish nationalists believing that Home Rule would follow the war if they fought for Britain; or the Ulsterman's belief that after their sacrifice, Britain 'would see them right,' there were other reasons too, that drove young men into the British army at this perilous time in history. Men joined for heroic reasons. There were propaganda warnings that Irish women would be raped, land and farms confiscated, churches burnt and looted if Germany invaded Ireland as it had Belgium.

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Dying for Home Rule

Thu, Jun 30, 2016

Here are two pictures from my father’s head

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