Category: Life

Regional papers got that regional knowledge, right?

The Limerick Leader is one of those great regional titles with local knowledge and the occasional huge national story. They publish a West Limerick edition which this week includes a special feature on Newcastle West, the biggest town in the area.

I was drawn to the “Things to do in Newcastle West” section.

Scanned from the Limerick Leader. Copyright? Travelodge Hotels Australia

Eager to see if there was anything on the list I hadn’t done, I was surprised to fall at the first hurdle:

1. Discover the Bogey Hole: a hand-hewn ocean rock pool …

Hold on just a minute, thought I, there’s a hand-hewn ocean rock pool in NCW and no-one told me!

… carved out of a cliff face by convicts in the 19th century under the direction of James T. Morisset, the military commandant in Newcastle from 1819-1822, who used it for his personal bathing.

I’m no local historian, but this didn’t sound right. The later reference to scenic “Newcastle Beach” (NCW is landlocked) sealed the deal.

From where, one might wonder, would such a top 10 list originate? Why, here it is, verbatim apart from the addition of the word “West” in the title, on the website of Travelodge Hotels Australia.

So that would be the top 10 things to do in Newcastle, New South Wales.

A Down day from the archives

Today’s “From the Archives” in the Irish Times reproduces a match report for the 1960 All Ireland football final between Down (2-12) and Kerry (0-8).

GAELIC ATHLETIC history was made at Croke Park, yesterday, when the all-conquering champions from Kerry, with nineteen championships to inspire them, were well and truly beaten by a faster, a fitter, and far more uniform side from Down, who played very sound football and often beat Kerry at their own high fielding game.

Unfortunately it was a bad day for Kerry, perhaps not helped by my late father leaving the field due to injury, but as he sang himself:

We savour Kerry victories, we salute a gallant foe
And when we lose, there’s no excuse, we pick up our bags and go

He went on to score the fastest goal ever scored in an All Ireland footbal final in 1962 (Pathé newsreel).

Éigse Michael Hartnett

The eleventh Éigse Michael Hartnett arts and literary festival takes place in Newcastle West from 22 to 24 April. The line-up is impressive for a short festival, including poetry readings, lectures, puppet and music shows (brochure available here). Special guests include Jorie Graham, Fintan O’Toole and Mark Patrick Hederman.

Picture from the Éigse Michael Hartnett websiteMicheal Hartnett was the poet laureate of the area, born in Croom and raised in Newcastle.

Lovable yet separate, operating within his own field of force. I’ll never forget reading his first short hypnotic poems in the early sixties; they had a kind of Orphic throb, as if a new Lorca had emerged from Newcastle West. In fact, Michael shared Lorca’s ability to combine avant-garde daring with native tradition; he took the boldest of technical and emotional risks, living in and through and for his poetry to the end. Séamus Heaney

Newcastle West Community Council have, in advance of the festival this year, commissioned a public sculpture to commemorate Michael, for display in Newcastle.

Local businesses are running a literary trail, displaying some of his works in their shop windows. This example is Death of an Irishwoman, written for his grandmother Bridget Halpin.

Death of an Irishwoman
Ignorant, in the sense
she ate monotonous food
and thought the world was flat,
and pagan, in the sense
she knew the things that moved
all night were neither dogs or cats
but hobgoblin and darkfaced men
she nevertheless had fierce pride.
But sentenced in the end
to eat thin diminishing porridge
in a stone-cold kitchen
she clenched her brittle hands
around a world
she could not understand.
I loved her from the day she died.

She was a summer dance at the crossroads.
She was a card game where a nose was broken.
She was a song that nobody sings.
She was a house ransacked by soldiers.
She was a language seldom spoken.
She was a child’s purse, full of useless things.

© Michael Hartnett



Lady Icarus

On Sunday morning I noticed, for the first time, the below plaques on AIB’s Newcastle West branch.

Sophie Peirce
Lady Icarus honoured in her home town

They commemorate Sophie Peirce, known in later life as Lady Heath and nicknamed Lady Icarus.

Sophie was born in Knockaderry House, a few miles outside Newcastle West. She appears to have spent some of her early youth in Dublin until the untimely death of her mother at the hands of her father, who was sent to the then Dundrum Mental Asylum For The Criminally Insane, resulting in Sophie’s return to West Limerick. At the time of the 1911 census, she was living with her grandfather at 16 the Square, Newcastle West.

As noted in this book review of From Sophie to Sonia: A history of women’s athletics, the record-setting, parachute-jumping aviator is little known in Ireland.

She went to England early in the First World War and served as despatch rider with the Royal Flying Corps. She was married and divorced three times and achieved prominence in varied fields. Sophie, then Mrs. Elliott Lynn, started her athletics career in 1921, and set a world record for the high jump of 4 ft. 10½ in. (1:48 metres). She represented Britain in two Women’s world Games, coming 4th in the javelin. Sophie became involved in athletics administration on the formation of the women’s A.A.A. in 1922, and wrote a seminal coaching manual “Athletics for Women and Girls” in 1925 … Sophie later became a pioneer aviator, made the first solo flight from Cape Town to London and became a pilot with K.L.M. Sadly, she died in a road accident in London in 1939, aged 42.

RedMum wrote about Sophie in late 2006 as part of a series of blog posts on great Irish women, adding to the impression of her as an eccentric maverick in the Roaring Twenties mould.

Her epic trip from Cape Town to London was made with a Bible, a shotgun, a couple of tennis rackets, six teagowns and a fur coat, in a time when men flew with boiled eggs and ham sandwiches.

She even had her portrait painted by Sir John Lavery.

From the website of the Hugh Lane gallery
An Irish Pilot, by Sir John Lavery (linked from the website of the Hugh Lane gallery)

Amelia Earhart gets most of the aviatrix attention but with her movie getting bad reviews, there may be a market for a biopic of Lady Icarus and her exploits.


Hadji Bey et Cie

Hadji Bey's confections

A very pleasant weekend in Cork included a picturesque stop by the Port of Cork and a trip to the recently flooded Lewis Glucksman gallery in UCC, re-opened on Friday by President Mary McAleese. The current exhibition, Thingamajigs, is subtitled “the secret life of objects” and contains various items from local, private and public collections in Cork. The objects were everyday, but are no longer, and include the above exotic confectionary tins from Hadji Bey et Cie which, I have since learned, was a Cork institution and purveyor of fine confectionary.

The back story to Hadji Bey is fascinating, having been set up in the 1900s by Harutun Batmazian, an Armenian immigrant who fled the pogroms in the Ottoman Empire and exhibited at the Cork International Exhibition of 1902-3. He set up his sweet shop on MacCurtain Street in what is now the Metropole Hotel and lived at St. Patrick’s Terrace. By the time of the 1911 census he appears to have been thriving in Cork with a household including three children. Ireland was, at this time, part of the United Kingdom and Mr. Batmazian shows up in the British national archives as having been naturalised in 1915.

Sadly, it seems the business died out a few decades later when his son retired, but the Hadji Bey brand was set for a relaunch by Urney Chocolates last year. I have yet to see it anywhere, but the packaging is based on the the above original examples.

Pandora Bell, another recently established Irish confectioner, is based in Limerick and seems to have done well over the Christmas season. Despite Ireland’s economic woes, entrepreneurship is not dead and we may even be seeing the beginning of a new tradition of small indigenous producers in Ireland.

Taoiseach’s residence by Zaha Hadid

I visited the Zaha Hadid exhibition at the Design Museum in London a few years ago and was surprised to find interesting, though somewhat incomprehensible, drawings entitled “Taoiseach’s residence”.

Zaha Hadid's taoiseach's residence

They were dated around the time of Charlie Haughey, which led one to suppose that the art-mad Taoiseach was not only interested in Gandon’s mansions but also in cutting-edge architects. Having a significant public building in Ireland built at that time by the then-unknown Hadid would have left an interesting architectural landmark in the capital, but it never happened.

Now, with the publication of the government papers from 1979, it appears that it was Haughey who scrapped the plan and it must have been either Jack Lynch or Liam Cosgrave who commissioned the competition.

[Haughey] summarily dismissed a £4 million plan to build a Taoiseach’s official residence and State guest house on the site of the former Apostolic nunciature in Phoenix Park. This had been the subject of an architectural design competition and a winning English design had been selected.

I am assuming that the winning design was Hadid’s, though no mention is made of her in the Times piece and this discussion at Archiseek suggests that the competition was won by Evans & Shalev Architects, with a Rem Koolhaas entry also commended [Update: OWA’s website has extracts from his entry].

It seems quite the missed opportunity that the residence was not built at the time. Instead, around 27 years later, the Taoiseach gets the dull, if dependable, Steward’s Lodge on the Farmleigh estate.

Steward's Lodge living room

Mr. Mac gets due praise

Congratulations to my uncle and godfather Maurice on the continued success of his teaching autobiography Mr. Mac, A Blackboard Memoir, which received high praise indeed from Tom Humphries in today’s Irish Times:

Mr Mac made me think we’d best not look back in anger but should shuffle on and get old perspectives back. Every Government minister should read Mr Mac because in a world where education, health and sport are being pillaged to pay for the sins of dopes whose suits were sharper than themselves we need a reminder that doing things for the sheer love of doing them, for the intrinsic value and fulfilment that they offer, might be a way forward.

One great teacher is worth more than a boardroom of oleaginous fat cats.

The book was launched on 12 November last by Professor Diarmuid Ferriter, a former history pupil of Maurice’s and evidence of the quality of his teaching.

Mr. Mac, A Blackboard Memoir is available by contacting