Sir William Wilde - broken by the death of his children

Thu, Apr 18, 2019

Seven years after the Mary Traver’s case, in which Sir William Wilde, a famous doctor and socialite in the Dublin of the mid 19th century, emerged legally unscathed, but socially damaged, a far worse scandal threatened to ruin his reputation entirely.

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Mary Travers and the price of her honour

Thu, Apr 11, 2019

Week II

In 1864 just when Sir William Wilde had begun to build the holiday home of his dreams, overlooking the upper Lough Corrib, near Cong,* his family was involved in a vicious libel case that was to cost him dearly.

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The priest who robbed the National Museum

Thu, Apr 04, 2019

With March zooming off into the distance, our gratitude to St Patrick for giving us the opportunity to be an island of saints and scholars begins to wane. But no such relief was given to the saint himself. Our forebears couldn’t wait till he died before they were taking bits and pieces from his body and clothes for relics. As his teeth fell out they were snatched up, and given as sacred objects to make early Christian churches more attractive for a deeply spiritual and suspicious people, who had recently set aside their gods of nature, and embraced a more intangible Christ. An old holy tooth was just the sort of tangibility they could understand. At least one church, Cill Fiacail (‘The church of the tooth’) near the town of Tipperary, bears testimony to this bizarre but common practice.

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The priest who robbed the National Museum

Wed, Apr 03, 2019

With March zooming off into the distance, our gratitude to St Patrick for giving us the opportunity to be an island of saints and scholars begins to wane. But no such relief was given to the saint himself. Our forebears couldn’t wait till he died before they were taking bits and pieces from his body and clothes for relics. As his teeth fell out they were snatched up, and given as sacred objects to make early Christian churches more attractive for a deeply spiritual and suspicious people, who had recently set aside their gods of nature, and embraced a more intangible Christ. An old holy tooth was just the sort of tangibility they could understand. At least one church, Cill Fiacail (‘The church of the tooth’) near the town of Tipperary, bears testimony to this bizarre but common practice.

About the year 1820, a man named Reilly, said to be a native of Sligo, went about Cong in Co Mayo, claiming to have the good saint’s tooth in a little shrine. He was making a tidy sum “performing cures upon man and beast”. Ladies and ewes were said to hold the relic “with special regard”, and far and near the population and the flocks “were the better of the blessed tooth.”

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‘I am an international socialist,’ shouted Pádraic Ó Conaire

Thu, Mar 28, 2019

In his famous statue of the writer and Irish scholar Pádraic Ó Conaire, the sculpture Albert Power presents a brilliant likeness to the man Galway knew as he went about the town. Liam Ó Briain, a friend and fellow Irish enthusiast, remarked that Albert Power had captured exactly how the man looked. Meeting Ó Conaire in town one evening, Ó Briain remembered that he looked in reality as he is on the statue: ‘the stick in his right hand, the little hat on his head’, a face that could show his ‘puckish humour.’ *

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Padraic Ó Conaire could write ‘pretty racy stuff’

Thu, Mar 21, 2019

Week III

Although Padraic Ó Conaire often had the look of an angel, he could write pretty racy stuff. His book Deoraíocht (Exiles) ranks as one of the most colourful and audacious Irish language novels ever written. He presented a different Ireland in this and other books, an Ireland riddled with envy, alcoholism, terminal poverty and destitution, mental illnesses, emotional and physical abuse As they sank into anonymity, the ‘exiles’ experience the successes and failures of their new life. Published in 1910, it reflected real life, its sorrows and struggles. At a time when book-banning was seen as an attempt to keep Ireland pure and ‘clean,’ the book was immediately banned.

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Galway Observer, May 27, 1922

Thu, Mar 14, 2019

“On Thursday night a crowd numbering several thousand assembled inside the Square, and two men set to work sawing at the base of life-size bronze monument of Lord Dunkellin, a brother of the notorious landlord, Lord Clanricarde of Portumna. In a scene reminiscent of the downfall of Saddam Hussain’s statue in Baghdad, shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a rope was fastened around Dunkellin’s neck, and with a mighty pull, down it fell amidst great applause.”

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Michael Collins remembered a debt for ‘measly £10’

Thu, Feb 21, 2019

An Taibhdhearc, Ireland’s only Irish language theatre, situated in Middle Street, the very heart of Galway, grew out of a conversation between two remarkable men, Professor Liam Ó Briain and Dr Séamus Ó Beirn.* Both men, passionate Irish speakers, believed that a lively Irish language theatre would promote Irish in an imaginative way.

Helping to run the theatre, acting in many of its plays (many of which he translated from French and Spanish into Irish), as well as his duties as professor of romance languages at UCG, absorbed Ó Briain’s immense energies once Ireland achieved its independence, and he got war and politics out of his system.

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Friends in strange places.

Thu, Feb 14, 2019

Our friend ‘Captain H’ who had ingeniously planted a dictaphone in the confessional under the stairs in the Town Hall prison, was up to his old tricks again. Somehow he had managed to plant a ‘friendly’ Sergeant Gates who chatted and smiled, and was a friend to all, and dangerously caught numerous snatches of conversation from the hundreds of prisoners within. These were reported to Captain H.

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A prison drama in the Town hall

Wed, Feb 06, 2019

November 1920 was the most vicious month in the War of Independence. Murder and mayhem were commonplace. The authorities reacted with vigorous severity. There were shootings and public beatings, buildings and homes burnt, and printing works wrecked. There was a sweeping roundup of the usual suspects, numbering in their thousands. The old gaol in Galway, and gaols throughout Ireland, were full to bursting point.

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‘Muishe, is it yourself that’s in it, Mr O’Brien?’

Thu, Jan 31, 2019

Liam Ó Briain, professor of romance languages UCG, was arrested by the Black and Tans on November 21 1920. He was taken to the RIC barracks, at that time in Dominick Street, and then up to the army barracks at Earls island, where he was identified. Other men arrested stood in line. They were watched by ‘pompous young officers’ who, with ‘a hand on their guns’ ‘sniggered’ at the standing prisoners. They went up and down pulling hands out of their pockets. Ó Briain, in his recently published essays on his experiences,* did not sound too concerned. He was well known to the police authorities. Because of the murder and mayhem during the week of his arrest, he must have been expecting to be picked up.

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Grief and despair on Galway streets November 1920

Thu, Jan 24, 2019

Sunday November 21 1920, known as ‘Bloody Sunday’, marked one of the most significant events in the Irish War of Independence. The day began with an IRA operation, organised by Michael Collins, to assassinate the so called ‘Cairo Gang’ - a team of undercover British agents, working and living in Dublin. IRA members went to a number of addresses, and shot dead 14 people including nine army officers.

That afternoon, incensed at the outrage, British forces opened fire on the crowd at Croke Park, killing 11 civilians and wounding at least 60. That evening three IRA suspects, held in Dublin Castle, were beaten to death.

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The call of St James was heard once more...

Thu, Jan 17, 2019

Seventy years after Margaret Athy’s generous patronage of the Augustine abbey and buildings on Fort Hill (originally St Augustine’s Hill), with its commanding view of the port and the town, the place was turned into a butcher’s block. Approximately 300 survivors of the ill-fated Armada were beheaded there.

A short time before this nightmare scene, the monks and nuns were turned out. The abbey became a fort, and today it is a graveyard. We can appreciate its strategic importance to any military mind who wished to keep an eye on approaching ships, and trouble in the town.

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A ‘cheerful, and amiable saint’.

Thu, Jan 10, 2019

In the early years of the 16th century, Stephen Lynch fitz Dominick was returning from an extended trading voyage in Spain. He set out with a full cargo, probably of hides, wool, and fish, which he hoped to trade for wine and iron with Spanish merchants. As he approached Galway port he was surprised to see a church and buildings almost completed on Fort Hill (originally called St Augustine’s Hill), a prominent site visible from both the town and the sea. They were not there when he left.

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‘I always return to the old home on Christmas Day’

Thu, Dec 20, 2018

Hunting rabbits was a favourite pasttime of boys and dogs on Omey, that sand-duned, tidal island, that ploughs into the sea at Claddaghduff, near Cleggan. It is possible to say that the over-used cliche ‘magical’ can apply to Omey.* It can hardly be seen from the mainland. But if the tide is out, a series of arrowed posts guide the driver across the strand to the only road on the island. And that too runs out.

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The changing face of our country shops

Thu, Dec 13, 2018

Even on Christmas morning, if Santa had forgotten that one important item, batteries for the impotent toy lying motionless on the floor at home, or a packet of cigarettes to tide mum and dad over the holiday, you could knock on the front door of Gillanes, after Mass, and Kitty or Liam would gladly sort you out.

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The Quaker warmth of Bewley’s warm fires

Thu, Dec 06, 2018

(Written in December 2 2004, when Bewley’s cafe, Grafton Street, Dublin, closed for an indefinite period for refurbishment. Its future was uncertain. But I am glad to report that it is up and flourishing for some time, warm and glorious, its sticky buns as good as ever.)

I will miss the Quaker warmth of Bewley’s coal fires. I will always be grateful, not only for the comforting Irish breakfasts and sticky cherry buns but for the warm coal fires in Bewley’s noisy restaurants in Dublin, now sadly a thing of the past. The 1950s were, as far as I was concerned, an unofficial ice age. As children we were always cold. And the relief of standing before those generous glowing fires in short pants, jumper and zip jacket was one of the highlights of my boyhood memories.

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A nod to McMaster in the crowd

Thu, Nov 29, 2018

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that one day, while Tom Kilroy was in Leaving Cert, an Adonis walked through St Kieran’s College. He inquired, in a very magisterial manner, where was one to find the headmaster.

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A School for surprises…

Thu, Nov 22, 2018

Although St Kieran’s College was only 10 miles from the Kilroy’s home at Callan, Tom Kilroy and his four brothers were educated there as boarders. In those days, early 1950s, any journey beyond that of a pony and trap was an adventure.You had to take Tom Nolan’s bus to get from Callan to Kilkenny. The school buildings were a mixture of carved balconies, and entrance steps in neo-Gothic riot. Behind its extravagant exterior, lay a new Catholic church, proudly testifying the various Emancipation Bills in the previous century, which gave Catholics the freedoms to practice. St Kiernans’ was a typical diocesan college of the Diocese of Ossory. An important function was the education of young men to be priests.

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Remembering Elizabeth Ellam

Thu, Nov 08, 2018

My great grandmother, Elizabeth Ellam, was killed on the RMS Leinster when on October 10 1918, exploded and sank following a ruthless German submarine attack shortly after the ship had departed Dun Laoghaire, on her way to Holyhead in Wales. It was practically one month to the day before World War I was declared officially over.

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