Author Archives: Gerard Hannan

19th Century European Broadcasting

HISTORY

19th Century European Broadcasting

The centre of the birth of European radio in the late 19th Century was Ireland. Although this was not realised at the time history would soon make it an absolute fact. Ireland was perfectly located on the north Atlantic of north-west Europe which gave it a great advantage for transatlantic communications at the birth of what was to become the communications revolution of the early 20th century. Ireland would remain very much in the dark about these advantages until the arrival of Italian-Irishman, “the father of radio” Guglielmo Marconi built his first Irish station at Crookhaven, County Cork in 1902.

As far back as February 1893 an article headed “Electric Messages without Wires” the Irish public were alerted to a new reality, “the promise of electrical communication between two points without the agency of an intervening wire.” The article explains, “Today electricians are easily transmitting electric messages across a Wireless distance of three miles, without any sign of approaching the limits of the electric function in this direction.”[1] If there were any public enthusiasm for the revelation it was not obvious for another three years.

In December 1896 Irish readers saw reports of an amazing scientific development. Newspapers explain, “A young Italian scientist named Marconi appears to have perfected a system of electrical communication by which vibrations set up in one apparatus are communicated to a nearby receiver without wires. The secret being that the receiver must respond to the vibrations of the sender.”[2] While Wireless Telegraphy may have been a new idea to Irish readers these developments were the latest in a long series of experiments dating back to 1844.

In that year Samuel Morse, aged 53, would send the first four words ever dispatched; “What hath God wrought?” flashed over an electric Telegraph wire in ‘Morse Code’ on a line from Washington to Baltimore. Essential to Morse’s idea was signals would be sent by the opening and closing of an electrical circuit, that the receiving apparatus would, by electromagnetic, record signals as dots and dashes on paper, and that there would be a code whereby the dots and dashes would be translated into numbers and letters.[3]

By increasing battery power Samuel Morse was able to send messages one third of a mile on electrical wire around a large lecture hall. He then devised a system of electromagnetic relays, this being the key element; it meant no limit to the distance a message could be sent. Morse went on to working out a system for transmitting the alphabet in dots and dashes, in what was to be known as ‘Morse Code’. Morse’s invention was quickly established as a means of communication in America but, importantly to him, also in his beloved Europe, in the heart of Paris.

In 1839, after a series of long legal wrangles with the English Government in relation to the Patent of his invention he sailed for Paris where he met with expansive recognition as a genius. It was said of Morse’s invention that, “it transcends all yet made known and clearly another revolution is at hand.”[4] For financial reasons Morse was forced to return to America and four years later in 1844 he opened a Telegraph line, built with congressional appropriation, between Washington and Baltimore, a distance of 34 miles.

Morse’s experiments were so successful that when the contentious 1844 Democratic National Convention at Baltimore became deadlocked; hundreds gathered in Washington for updates. Martin Van Buren tied for the nomination with Lewis Cass. On the eighth ballot, the convention chose compromise candidate, James Polk. The rapid transmission of information was reported as, “the utter annihilation of space.” Morse’s invention became America’s only means of communication. By 1867 so indispensable had Telegraphy become that 50,000 miles of Western Union wire carried more than two million news dispatches annually.[5]

Seven years later in 1874 in Bologna, Italy the second son of Giuseppe Marconi and his Irish wife, Annie Jameson from County Wexford was born and christened Guglielmo. By his late teens he developed an insatiable desire to communicate from point to point without wires. The idea was not inconceivable to other inventors but it was Marconi who dedicated himself exclusively to taking it from idea to reality. He saw its seaworthy potential and wanted to exploit it as a means of generating handsome profits. Marconi was not only a communications wizard but also a businessman seeking fame and fortune.

Marconi was strategically placed during his early years to be later referred to as, ‘the true father of radio’, because of his interest in science and electricity. He was fascinated by the work of Heinrich Hertz, who, in 1888, demonstrated that one could produce and detect electromagnetic radiation or Hertzian Waves, now known as radio waves. After Hertz’s death in 1894 Marconi assisted a neighbour and friend, University of Bologna physicist Augusto Righi, in researching Hertz’s work and thus birth was given to Marconi’s lifelong obsession with the airwaves.[6]

But Marconi’s vision for the uses of Wireless communication was restricted as being a means by which one could communicate a message to another. The concept of one communicating to an audience was not familiar to him at this stage in his career. The prospect of sending communications for more than one person was a frightening one to the journalists of Marconi’s age; “with Wireless Telegraphy what is to become of the small boy who views the ball games from the tops of the Telegraph poles?”[7]

The early radio experimentations gave little confidence for its future; ‘Experiments in Wireless Telegraphy are completed; long distance Telegraphy by this means is far from established’.[8] Lord Kelvin, British mathematician, physicist and president of the British Royal Society, stated ‘Radio has no future’.[9] Perhaps the future was not in radio but in broadcasting which came following a succession of inventions including electric Telegraph, Wireless Telegraph and Wireless telephony or radio which would broadcast music and speech.

The story of Irish broadcasting began in a remote windy landscape in Connemara in 1901 as a series of ‘Buzzing sounds’ are heard heralding in an age of communication which suffered because of political division. Marconi once stated, ‘I made the discovery by accident’[10] often fell victim to this divide and became so infuriated by it that he wrote; ‘Have I done the world well, or have I added a menace?’[11]

This public and corporate divide was identified by Bertolt Brecht who stressed the idea of telecommunications as an artistic medium. Brecht advocated ‘two-way communication’ for radio to give the public power of representation and to pull it away from the control of corporate media.[12] Today, Brecht’s vision still seems idealistic. But, the fact remains that Radio has had a tremendous global impact. The revolutionary medium prepared the ground for television and the internet by loosening the strictures on global public discourse.

With Wireless Telegraphy came the search for its purpose. In 1897, the Irish Times gives an optimistic account of Marconi’s experiments; “In addition to the possibility of exploding gunpowder magazines on board ships from long distances off Marconi foresees that he will be able to set all the watches in the pockets of a town’s inhabitants.”[13] Such possibilities were true to Marconi but the use of Wireless Telegraphy as a weapon was the truest of all and he was willing to sell these weapons to the highest bidder.

Very soon Irish Newspapers reported on the ‘warfare possibilities’ of Marconi’s invention and state that he was travelling across Europe exploiting Wireless Telegraphy’s possibilities. The most startling of all the suggestions for Marconi’s invention is that it may be possible to fire the magazine of any battleship by simply passing an electric current of sufficient degree of intensity through the water on which the ship was riding.[14] Wireless Telegraphy had the power to kill people from afar and Marconi was ready to profit on the demand for his product.

Marconi’s propaganda machine was quick to swing into action. By September 1897 interest in Wireless Telegraphy was growing as reports about covert experiments appeared on a frequent basis and in greater detail. The Irish Times tells readers that tests in Wireless Telegraphy are being arranged at Dover and are ‘unusually important’ and will last for some time; “In recent operations between ships the Italian Navy and the coast have developed the latest practical phase of the system.”[15] The article declares that there may be military uses for the invention.

The public were developing an appetite for all things ‘Wireless’ and the academia responded. One public lecture held in Birr, County Offaly, “involved practical demonstrations of recent discoveries including a new phonograph by Edison and, the main feature, which appeared to awaken the largest measure of interest was the demonstration of Wireless Telegraphy. The instrument demonstrated was an induction coil made capable of sending Telegraphic signals for a distance of nearly 6 miles passing through all obstacles varying in density from a stone building to a mountain.”[16]

What blossomed to be “a romance between Marconi and the Irish” began in January 1898 when Newspapers announce, “Marconi’s mother is Irish and related to John Jameson of whiskey fame. She was musically talented and attended the Conservatoire of Bologna where she met and married Marconi’s father. When her son launched his invention he came to London to his cousin, Henry Davis and the Wireless Telegraph Company was established.”[17] The Irish public had great affection for the inventor and when other nations criticised him, the Irish strengthened their support.

One of the first public lectures in Wireless broadcasting occurred in March 1898 with a talk given by Msgr Gerald Molloy at the Theatre of the Royal Dublin Society. Molloy lectures on “Principals of Electric Signalling without Wires.” He explains Marconi’s Wireless signals are transmitted through space using electromagnetic waves.[18] Molloy’s lecture was so popular that the general public demands a return visit for those who could not attend the first time round.”[19]

The public appetite by the late 1890s for new information in relation to Wireless Telegraphy was voracious. Lectures were given countrywide and were always attended by large crowds eager to learn about the “most marvellous discovery of the century.”[20] Most of these lectures were attended by the working press who, immediately after the lecture, filed reports on the latest updates. The numerous articles which appeared in the newspaper in relation to Wireless Telegraphy clearly suggests that the interest in Marconi was not just in Dublin but nationwide.

On Wednesday, May 11th 1898 the first Irish installation of Marconi’s system was made at Clara in Offaly. The transmitter was placed in the office of Clara Flour Mills and a receiver, one mile away, at Goodbody’s Jute Works. Messages were sent and say Newspapers, “This is the first attempt at Telegraphing without wires across a town in Ireland. The signals were so good that the messages were read by the sound emitted by Marconi’s Tapper and Decoherer, and the ordinary Morse instrument was dispensed with altogether.”[21]

While these transmissions were taking place further experiments were successfully going on in other parts of Ireland. Marconi was being congratulated by the President of the Board Of Trade, Lord John Hay [Admiral of the Fleet], Lord Charles Beresford and others on the success attending a demonstration he gave them. Several naval officers sailed on the admiralty yacht to the Needles, where is situated the permanent station of Marconi’s new Telegraphy system, and for two hours sent messages and received replies between the Needles and Bournemouth, about sixteen miles.[22]

Some days later there are reports that a rival to Marconi has turned up in Nikola Tesla, “an American of course” who claims to have invented a new machine, “More powerful than any ever before.” With it he expects “to send messages without wires for very long distances.” He has offered the invention as a free gift to his Government in the hope it proves useful for the transmission of signals by the Army and Navy during the troubles with Spain.”[23]

However, Marconi was more preoccupied with other events. At Dublin’s Kingstown’s Regatta, “A novel feature was the successful reporting of the sailing match carried out with the aid of Marconi himself. In the morning the gentlemen of the press embarked on board the steam tug Flying Huntress, and followed the yachts engaged in the race. Marconi used his transmitter and receiver to contact the shore sending messages from the tug while in rapid motion following the yachts and when received on shore the messages were telephoned to newspaper offices.”[24]

The world’s first text messages were sent in 1898 by Marconi between the Queen’s residence at Isle of Wight and the Royal Yacht ‘Osborne’ moored at East Cowes. The distance between the stations was a mile and each station was hidden from view of the other by hills. The electric waves easily passed over the hills; “The Prince was keenly interested in the experiments and conducted prolonged conversations with Marconi on the intricate workings of the apparatus.”[25] To impress English royalty would soon be a major coup for Marconi.

By April 1899 faith in the future of the invention began to dwindle. Prof Silvanus Thompson, a prominent electrician, tells Irish media the success of Marconi’s experiments was the natural result of the development of well-established principles by Hertz and Oliver Lodge. The implication being Marconi was manipulating the research of others to generate profits. Thomson states, “There is no such thing as Wireless Telegraphy. One can send signals for a distance of yards without wires; but in the recent successful attempts to telegraph across space wires are used.”[26]

But Prof JA Fleming, of University College, London disagrees and says the time has arrived for a little more generous appreciation by his scientific contemporaries of the fact that “Marconi’s work is no small achievement. His apparatus is ridiculously simple and not costly. With the exception of the Flagstaff and 150 feet of vertical wire at each end, he can place on a small kitchen table the appliances, costing not more than £100 in all, for communicating across 30 or even 100 miles of land or water.”[27]

In a letter to the London Times another of Marconi’s supporters speaks out, “much of the future depends on Government action; it is to be hoped the Post Office will not claim this Wireless Telegraphy is included in the monopoly they possess of Telegraphy. Marconi has modest confidence in the future. I trust that those who are interested in the subject will accord him all the aid and support that his inventiveness deserves, and that he may live to see his effort is crowned with complete success.”[28]

Days later Irish Newspapers report intense interest in Marconi’s system; “Marconi’s experiments have been closely followed with a view to placing lightships and lighthouses in communication with the shore. The importance of this was recently demonstrated when in foggy weather a vessel got into difficulties while at sea. The men of the East Goodwin lightship, who had been given elementary instruction in Marconi’s system, transmitted messages to the shore resulting in lifeboats losing no time in getting to the scene; the Crew owe their lives to Wireless Telegraphy.”[29]

Politicians began to pay attention to Marconi’s invention. Penrose Fitzgerald, at the House of Lords demands to know “Is it time to adopt the Wireless system?”[30] The admiration being bestowed on Marconi by the upper echelons of English politics was good for business. Marconi is offered a lucrative contract to establish transatlantic communication, “Marconi has been approached by representative of a syndicate wishing to acquire sole rights to establish communication between England and America.”[31]

But the word from America was not positive. Some experiments had been carried out in Chicago showing that ‘land obstacles’ remain to be overcome, “It has been discovered the system is impractical in cities studded with “sky-scraping” buildings, and is too slow for commercial use.”[32] But these reports take nothing from Marconi’s confidence that the connection of England and America by Wireless Telegraphy is no dream; he believes although there are difficulties to be surmounted, they are not as great as those that have been overcome.

One such difficulty is the height of the poles necessary to erect on either side of the Atlantic. They would have to be 1500 feet high but technical improvements will, Marconi believes, diminish these requirements.[33] Inventor WH Preece did not share Marconi’s optimism, “Two years after the practicability of Wireless Telegraphy was affirmed, and not a single independent commercial circuit exists. Marconi’s operations are more concentrated on the stock exchange than on establishing useful circuits.”[34]

Preece’s comments had little effect on Marconi, or anyone else involved in the science including French electrical savant, Dr Lee Bon, who was exploring Wireless technology in modern warfare. The result is an apparatus which would be able to project a current capable of annihilating a fleet of ships, “An explosion would be followed by a shower of sparks resulting from the contact between the projected current and electric wires on board ship, which would be so intense it would ignite powder and shells on board.”[35]

The value of Wireless Telegraphy in warfare seemed limitless with reports that Royal Engineers have been testing for the purpose of dropping explosive charges. By means of balloons and an elaboration of Marconi’s systems large quantities of explosives such as dynamite could be released from a balloon 3 miles away and made to explode inside any fortified work, killing the garrison and dislodging the guns, “The Hague Conference condemns such methods, but, possibly, an enemy sore pressed in real war, would scarcely hesitate to break through such restrictions.”[36]

But the march of progress was relentless. In new experiments in ship to shore communications greater distances are being achieved. By now messages were being transmitted over forty miles. The increased distances do not have the slightest effect upon the current and messages are being received with unvarying distinctiveness, “An interesting feature of current experiments is the facility with which Marconi’s latest development for ‘cutting out’ stations was applied. Messages are being sent without other stations interrupting them. The results of these experiments are successful.”[37]

Meanwhile, trials of military balloons and Marconi’s systems are being made in Vienna. This first attempt to make use of Wireless Telegraphy from a balloon was made by three Austrian officers, who ascended in the military balloon Eagle.[38] “The balloon was provided with receiving apparatus and successfully interpreted messages dispatched from the ground. It will probably be demonstrated that Wireless Telegraphy has its part to play in the warfare of the future.”[39]

The investigations into Military applications for Wireless Telegraphy were becoming a daily occurrence and Marconi is invariably present to clench any lucrative deal. At Bangor Bay near Belfast a number of battleships and cruisers are anchored and experimenting with Marconi’s system. The cruiser Juno and the flagship Alexandra are fitted with Wireless equipment and Marconi is on board testing the usefulness of the invention in naval warfare.”[40] The newspaper later reports Wireless Telegraphy is fast going ahead, and now the War Office is adopting it by sea and land.

The Admiralty are also impressed with further experiments going on between stations at Epsom and Aldershot. The tests proved it possible to maintain continuous correspondence from station to station, and that messages cannot be intercepted. Expert officers have made special reports to the War Office, and the effect of the report will be the inauguration of the Marconi system as a means of conveying intelligence. Many ships will shortly be “circuited” and should all go satisfactorily, the system would become universal, as far as the United Kingdom was concerned.[41]

The possible military applications for Wireless Telegraphy are beginning to scare the general public. The Daily News reports “Grim Possibilities of Wireless War” with the announcement that a Patent in the name of John Munro has been brought to their attention. The Munro Patent’s most obvious application is the making of explosions in the atmosphere in order to influence the weather, “But it is easy to see that it can also be utilised in dropping explosives on the country, fortresses, or camps of an enemy underneath.”[42]

Dr Peter Stiens has invented an apparatus by which people could ‘Wirelessly’ telephone over long distances.[43] Stiens claims the device will allow persons in London and New York to distinctively communicate.[44] The possibility of “mobile phones” had come to light. There are also reports of experiments conducted at Newbury in which a building containing explosives was blown up without direct contact.”[45]

Scientists are impressed by a practical demonstration of Marconi’s invention during the annual general meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science arranged in conjunction with the corresponding French Association holding its conference at Boulogne, “Marconi’s system allowed for messages to be sent to France from an apparatus located at Dover Town Hall. One of the messages sent by Telegraph without wires cross-channel was a greeting from the president of the British Association to the president of the French Scientific Association who responded to the salutation.”[46]

Thus, on the eve of the 20th century Wireless Telegraphy was an invention that still sought purpose. There were many people laying claim to it but it was not the invention of any one person but the culmination of many minds brought to perfection by Marconi. As the 20th century unfolded engineers and inventors were focused on the Maritime and international news exchange possibilities for the invention. But there were also visionaries who sought purposes in such fields as medicine, telephony and public service. Few of these visionaries had considered the possibility of communication not as exclusively one-to-one but one-to-many.

In the late 19th Century the facts about Wireless broadcasting emerged after Hertz’s 1887 discovery; ‘The contrast between these beginnings and the present uses of radio is tremendous’.[47] Marconi’s accomplishments in radio were equally as important. In 1892 Tesla wrote; ‘Ere long intelligence, transmitted without wires, will throb through the earth like a pulse through a living organism’.[48] It would take Marconi to fulfil Tesla’s prophecy.

Marconi had noble notions for his invention; “In the new era, thought itself will be transmitted by radio.”[49] The potential of his invention created global excitement even in the upper echelons of the Catholic Church; “Radio is a new demonstration of the harmony between science and religion. Those who speak of the incompatibility of science and religion either make science say that which it never said or make religion say that which it never thought.”[50]

Radio had critics especially those who feared freedom of expression. Broadcasting from the beginning was closed to private enterprise; ‘Such control is ascribed to radio’s technical complexity and military functions. Many democracies have outrun technical and military imperatives in their zeal to control the airwaves’.[51] But Radio never lost its importance as documented by the Irish Times in 1897; “Nothing is of more importance to science than Wireless Telegraphy.”[52]

Most public interest radio formats permit criticism of the state but the balance of political opinion is invariably tilted in the Government favour. The establishment of Irish radio fixed the state’s relationship to broadcasting. This may be partly due to the fact that Ireland’s first Postmaster General (Communications Minister) J.J. Walsh, was an anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi sympathiser.[53] His legacy remains detrimental to Irish freedom of expression.

Marconi’s inventor status was persistently challenged but his genius was never questioned, “Marconi has large ideas but to what extent these ideas will be realised none can tell.”[54] American Newspapers remained cynical about Marconi; “Edison and Tesla would smile at the promises made in Marconi’s name.”[55] However, the power of Marconi’s invention was obvious and the birth of Irish radio was a war declaration between conservative rulers and liberal advocates of free expression.

As the 20th century unfolded each year brought developments demonstrating how the ‘Air Wars’ were fought. In these pages is a century long account of events leading to Irish radio broadcasting as it is today. It is the story of a nation in fear of technology that became determined to suppress freedoms to receive and give information, expression and speech. These important three F’s are the pivot of human development, essential if we are to share, analyse, understand, and move forward; ‘yet these three F’s are continually under attack’.[56]

Although Marconi noted; ‘This form of communication could have some utility’[57] such ‘utility’ remained under the scrutiny of political pioneers in the pre-Independence era; ‘Britain’s Irish dominance was underpinned by control of Irish communications systems’.[58] Arthur Griffith complained about this; ‘There is a ‘paper wall’ around Ireland’.[59]

Griffith was always at heart a journalist and advocate of freedom of expression. He was a lucid writer with a vivid turn of phrase but as the century progressed, Griffith’s observation faded into oblivion, but the reality remains unchanged. Radio has come through a century of development that has brought about the medium as we know it today. The exploration of these events in the course of the 20th century reflects Marconi’s contention that; ‘Every day sees humanity more victorious in the struggle with space and time’.[60]

Early Irish radio is often considered by Historians as a foil for television. Historians link the transformation of Irish society in the 20th century to television but dismiss radio as an agent of repression rather than social development. In post WW2 Irish Radio became interactive and consequently achieved Bertolt Brecht’s ideal of serving as a ‘system of communication’[61] based on audience response rather than being a unidirectional distribution system.[62]

Until the 1960’s the primary source of information available to the world was radio and it influenced people. Common national culture was shaped more by radio than television or newsprint. By 1960 most European families owned a radio and it occupied prime space in the home.[63] The arrival of battery transistor radio in the 1960’s increased mobility but contributed to radio’s new lowly status as an aural medium in a visual age. Young people drifted to television but for older people radio retained its charms.

What follows is an exploration of a century of European broadcasting documenting the most significant events in the age of global communication. It is a relentless story that began with the words of Guglielmo Marconi when he sent the first message across the Bristol Channel in 1897 stating, “Let it be so.” It is a story full of twists and turns, of a series of unfailing political regimes in fear of freedom. At the dawn of the digital age, these fears persist and it is as if history will repeat itself unless the lessons of the radio ages are learned.

[1] Weekly IrishTimes,1893 ElectricMessageswithoutWires. Weekly Irish Times, 04thFebruary,p.1.

[2] Lady, A,.1896. TalkoftheTown. Weekly IrishTimes,26thDecember, p.4.

[3] McCullough,D,.2011 Samuel Morse’sReversalof Fortune.SmithsonianMagazine,VolumeSeptember,2011.

[4] Ellsworth, H,.2011 SamuelMorse’sReversalofFortune Smithsonian Magazine,VolumeSeptember,2011.

[5] McCullough,D,.2011 Samuel Morse’sReversalof Fortune SmithsonianMagazine,VolumeSeptember,2011.

[6] McHenry, R,.1993. Guglielmo Marconi. In:Encyclopedia Britannica. London:Encyclopedia Britannica.

[7] WashingtonPost 1897 Article 26 [NoTitle] TheWashington Post,9th August,p. 6.

[8] IrishTimes 1897. NewsfromAll PartsIrishTimes,20th November, p.5.

[9] Kelvin,L,.1897.Permanent.com[Online]Available at: http://www.permanent.com/infamous-quotes.html [Accessed 21st June 2012]

[10] Marconi 1897 SendsMessages Without Wires.Chicago Daily Tribune,2ndAugust,p. 2.

[11] Baker,D. C,.1998. WirelessTelegraphyduring the Anglo-Boerwarof1899-1902  MilitaryHistory Journal 11[2]

[12] Brecht, B,.1932. TheRadioas an Apparatus ofCommunication [Online]Available at:http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/source-text/8/ [Accessed03 September 2012]

[13] IrishTimes,1897 SignorMarconi’s Invention.Irish Times,18th August,p.6.

[14] IrishTimes,1897 What Next?Irish Times, 29thJuly, p. 5.

[15] IrishTimes,1897 WirelessTelegraphy. IrishTimes,08th September, p.6A.

[16] Freemans Journal,1897. WirelessTelegraphy atBirr. FreemansJournal,12th October, p.11.

[17] Freemans Journal,1898. KingstownRegatta.FreemansJournal,21stJuly, p. 12.

[18] Freemans Journal,1898. Marconi ComesToDublin. FreemansJournal,22nd August,p.12.

[19] Molloy,G,1898.Marconi’sWireless Telegraphy[Letters].The FreemansJournal, 12th April, p.10.

[20] Anglo Celt,1898. FromDayto Day.Anglo Celt,14thMay, p.3.

[21] Freemans Journal,1898. System of WirelessTelegraphy. FreemansJournal, 22nd April, p.8.

[22] Anglo Celt,1898. Nikola Tesla.Anglo Celt,21stMay,p. 3.

[23] AngloCelt,1898. WirelessTelegraphy: The MostMarvelousDiscoveryof the CenturyExplained. Anglo Celt,16thApril, p. 4.

[24] Freemans Journal,1898. WirelessLecture.FreemansJournal,09thMarch, p. 11.

[25] Freemans Journal,1898. WirelessTelegraphy.FreemansJournal,12th April, p. 8.

[26] IrishTimes,1899. SocialMovements. Irish Times,17th April,p. 6.

[27] Fleming,P. J, 1899. OnWirelessTelegraphy.IrishTimes,04th April, p.5.

[28] Page, S. F,1899. LondonTimesLetter. IrishTimes,04th April, p.5.

[29] IrishTimes,1899. Intense Interest. Weekly IrishTimes,08th April, p.8.

[30] Fitzgerald, R. P,1899. London Correspondence.Irish Times,12th April, p.7.

[31] Weekly IrishTimes,1899. LatestWirelessTelegraphyTrials.WeeklyIrish Times,24thJune, p.6.

[32] Westminster Gazette, 1899. Criticism of Wireless Wiring. Weekly Irish Times, 29th April, p. 6.

[33] Westminster Gazette, 1899. Criticism of Wireless Wiring. Weekly Irish Times, 29th April, p. 6.

[34] Preece,W,1899. AethericTelegraphy.IrishTimes,04thMay, p. 6.

[35] Bon,D. L,1899. WirelessTelegraphy inWar.IrishTimes,27thMay, p. 4.

[36] DailyTelegraph,1899. Wireless at War.IrishTimes,15th June, p.4

[37] Weekly IrishTimes,1899. LucrativeContractforMarconi. Weekly Irish Times, 15th April, p.7.

[38] Weekly IrishTimes,1899.WirelessAerialTelegraphy.Weekly Irish Times,22nd July, p.4.

[39] IrishTimes,1899.MarconiSystemandWarBalloons.IrishTimes,17th July, p. 5.

[40] Irish Times, 1899. Naval Maneuvers. Irish Times, 24th July, p. 4.

[41] IrishTimes,1899. NavalManeuvers.Irish Times,24th July, p. 4.

[42] IrishTimes,1899.GrimPossibilitiesof WirelessWar. IrishTimes,05th August,p. 4.

[43] IrishTimes,1899.WirelessTelephone.IrishTimes,25th July,p. 4.

[44] IrishTimes,1899. Fraternising with theFrench.Irish Times,14th September, p. 6.

[45] IrishTimes,1899.WarOfficeWirelessTelegraphy[London Correspondence]. Irish Times,31stJuly, p. 5.

[46] IrishTimes,1899.WirelessTelegraphyExplosion.Irish Times,27th July,p. 5.

[47] Whittemore,L. E,1929. The DevelopmentofRadio. Annals of the American Academy ofPolitical &Social science, Issue March 1929, p.1.

[48] Tesla, N,1892. ElectricalEngineer.ElectricalEngineer,Issue 609, p. 11.

[49] Marconi, G,1934.Quotation Marks. NewYorkTimes,11th October, p.2.

[50] Pope PiusXI,1931.Opening of the Vatican CityRadio Station. Rome: s.n.

[51] Kasza, G. J,1986.Democracy and the Foundingof JapanesePublicRadio. The Journal of AsianStudies,45[4], p. 745.

[52] IrishTimes,1897.WirelessTelegraphy.IrishTimes,15th August,p. 6.

[53] Dwyer,T. R,1988.Strained Relations: Ireland atPeace and theUSAat War,1941-45.1 ed.Dublin: Gill&MacMillanLtd. DXArchive,1996.DXARCHIVE (Online)Available at:http://www.dxarchive.com/ireland_dublin_radio_dublin_pre75.html[Accessed20 052012].

[54] Molloy,G,1898.WirelessTelegraphy.FreemansJournal, 15th March, p. 9.

[55] San Francisco Chronicle, 1897.Marconi BoomHas An Object. San Francisco Chronicle, 5thSeptember, p.13.

[56] D’Arcy,M,1990. PlayingWith theAirwaves. MITPress,p.179.

[57] Marconi, G,1897.Guglielmo Marconi Quotes (Online]Available at:http://refspace.com/quotes/Guglielmo_Marconi[Accessed21stJune2012].

[58] Fisher, D,1978. CaseStudies on BroadcastingSystems: Broadcasting In Ireland.1 ed.London: Routledge& Kegan Paul Ltd.

[59] Oireachtas, 1952. Parliamentary Debates: Dáil Éireann – Volume 129 – 12 March, 1952[Online] Available at: http://historical‑debates.oireachtas.ie/D/0129/D.0129.195203 120066.html [Accessed 06 06 2012].

[60] Marconi, G,1899.Guglielmo Marconi Quotes (Online]Available at:http://refspace.com/quotes/Guglielmo_Marconi[Accessed21stJune2012].

[61] Brecht, B,1932. Brecht onTheatre. NewYork:Hill & Wang.

[62] Morgan,E,2001.QuestionTime: RadioandtheLiberalistationof IrishPublic Discourse afterWW2.History Ireland,9[4],p. 39.

[63] Judt, T, 2006.Postwar: A History ofEuropesince1945.1sted. London:Penguin Books.

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19th Century European Radio

Marconi Room on the Olympic.

Rising Radio Revolution

The centre of the birth of European radio in the late 19th Century was Ireland. Although this was not realised at the time history would soon make it an absolute fact. Ireland was perfectly located on the north Atlantic of north-west Europe which gave it a great advantage for transatlantic communications at the birth of what was to become the communications revolution of the early 20th century. Ireland would remain very much in the dark about these advantages until the arrival of Italian-Irishman, “the father of radio” Guglielmo Marconi built his first Irish station at Crookhaven, County Cork in 1902.

As far back as February 1893 an article headed “Electric Messages without Wires” the Irish public were alerted to a new reality, “the promise of electrical communication between two points without the agency of an intervening wire.” The article explains, “Today electricians are easily transmitting electric messages across a Wireless distance of three miles, without any sign of approaching the limits of the electric function in this direction.”[1] If there were any public enthusiasm for the revelation it was not obvious for another three years.

In December 1896 Irish readers saw reports of an amazing scientific development. Newspapers explain, “A young Italian scientist named Marconi appears to have perfected a system of electrical communication by which vibrations set up in one apparatus are communicated to a nearby receiver without wires. The secret being that the receiver must respond to the vibrations of the sender.”[2] While Wireless Telegraphy may have been a new idea to Irish readers these developments were the latest in a long series of experiments dating back to 1844.

In that year Samuel Morse, aged 53, would send the first four words ever dispatched; “What hath God wrought?” flashed over an electric Telegraph wire in ‘Morse Code’ on a line from Washington to Baltimore. Essential to Morse’s idea was signals would be sent by the opening and closing of an electrical circuit, that the receiving apparatus would, by electromagnetic, record signals as dots and dashes on paper, and that there would be a code whereby the dots and dashes would be translated into numbers and letters.[3]

By increasing battery power Samuel Morse was able to send messages one third of a mile on electrical wire around a large lecture hall. He then devised a system of electromagnetic relays, this being the key element; it meant no limit to the distance a message could be sent. Morse went on to working out a system for transmitting the alphabet in dots and dashes, in what was to be known as ‘Morse Code’. Morse’s invention was quickly established as a means of communication in America but, importantly to him, also in his beloved Europe, in the heart of Paris.

In 1839, after a series of long legal wrangles with the English Government in relation to the Patent of his invention he sailed for Paris where he met with expansive recognition as a genius. It was said of Morse’s invention that, “it transcends all yet made known and clearly another revolution is at hand.”[4] For financial reasons Morse was forced to return to America and four years later in 1844 he opened a Telegraph line, built with congressional appropriation, between Washington and Baltimore, a distance of 34 miles.

Morse’s experiments were so successful that when the contentious 1844 Democratic National Convention at Baltimore became deadlocked; hundreds gathered in Washington for updates. Martin Van Buren tied for the nomination with Lewis Cass. On the eighth ballot, the convention chose compromise candidate, James Polk. The rapid transmission of information was reported as, “the utter annihilation of space.” Morse’s invention became America’s only means of communication. By 1867 so indispensable had Telegraphy become that 50,000 miles of Western Union wire carried more than two million news dispatches annually.[5]

Seven years later in 1874 in Bologna, Italy the second son of Giuseppe Marconi and his Irish wife, Annie Jameson from County Wexford was born and christened Guglielmo. By his late teens he developed an insatiable desire to communicate from point to point without wires. The idea was not inconceivable to other inventors but it was Marconi who dedicated himself exclusively to taking it from idea to reality. He saw its seaworthy potential and wanted to exploit it as a means of generating handsome profits. Marconi was not only a communications wizard but also a businessman seeking fame and fortune.

Marconi was strategically placed during his early years to be later referred to as, ‘the true father of radio’, because of his interest in science and electricity. He was fascinated by the work of Heinrich Hertz, who, in 1888, demonstrated that one could produce and detect electromagnetic radiation or Hertzian Waves, now known as radio waves. After Hertz’s death in 1894 Marconi assisted a neighbour and friend, University of Bologna physicist Augusto Righi, in researching Hertz’s work and thus birth was given to Marconi’s lifelong obsession with the airwaves.[6]

But Marconi’s vision for the uses of Wireless communication was restricted as being a means by which one could communicate a message to another. The concept of one communicating to an audience was not familiar to him at this stage in his career. The prospect of sending communications for more than one person was a frightening one to the journalists of Marconi’s age; “with Wireless Telegraphy what is to become of the small boy who views the ball games from the tops of the Telegraph poles?”[7]

The early radio experimentations gave little confidence for its future; ‘Experiments in Wireless Telegraphy are completed; long distance Telegraphy by this means is far from established’.[8] Lord Kelvin, British mathematician, physicist and president of the British Royal Society, stated ‘Radio has no future’.[9] Perhaps the future was not in radio but in broadcasting which came following a succession of inventions including electric Telegraph, Wireless Telegraph and Wireless telephony or radio which would broadcast music and speech.

The story of Irish broadcasting began in a remote windy landscape in Connemara in 1901 as a series of ‘Buzzing sounds’ are heard heralding in an age of communication which suffered because of political division. Marconi once stated, ‘I made the discovery by accident’[10] often fell victim to this divide and became so infuriated by it that he wrote; ‘Have I done the world well, or have I added a menace?’[11]

This public and corporate divide was identified by Bertolt Brecht who stressed the idea of telecommunications as an artistic medium. Brecht advocated ‘two-way communication’ for radio to give the public power of representation and to pull it away from the control of corporate media.[12] Today, Brecht’s vision still seems idealistic. But, the fact remains that Radio has had a tremendous global impact. The revolutionary medium prepared the ground for television and the internet by loosening the strictures on global public discourse.

With Wireless Telegraphy came the search for its purpose. In 1897, the Irish Times gives an optimistic account of Marconi’s experiments; “In addition to the possibility of exploding gunpowder magazines on board ships from long distances off Marconi foresees that he will be able to set all the watches in the pockets of a town’s inhabitants.”[13] Such possibilities were true to Marconi but the use of Wireless Telegraphy as a weapon was the truest of all and he was willing to sell these weapons to the highest bidder.

Very soon Irish Newspapers reported on the ‘warfare possibilities’ of Marconi’s invention and state that he was travelling across Europe exploiting Wireless Telegraphy’s possibilities. The most startling of all the suggestions for Marconi’s invention is that it may be possible to fire the magazine of any battleship by simply passing an electric current of sufficient degree of intensity through the water on which the ship was riding.[14] Wireless Telegraphy had the power to kill people from afar and Marconi was ready to profit on the demand for his product.

Marconi’s propaganda machine was quick to swing into action. By September 1897 interest in Wireless Telegraphy was growing as reports about covert experiments appeared on a frequent basis and in greater detail. The Irish Times tells readers that tests in Wireless Telegraphy are being arranged at Dover and are ‘unusually important’ and will last for some time; “In recent operations between ships the Italian Navy and the coast have developed the latest practical phase of the system.”[15] The article declares that there may be military uses for the invention.

The public were developing an appetite for all things ‘Wireless’ and the academia responded. One public lecture held in Birr, County Offaly, “involved practical demonstrations of recent discoveries including a new phonograph by Edison and, the main feature, which appeared to awaken the largest measure of interest was the demonstration of Wireless Telegraphy. The instrument demonstrated was an induction coil made capable of sending Telegraphic signals for a distance of nearly 6 miles passing through all obstacles varying in density from a stone building to a mountain.”[16]

What blossomed to be “a romance between Marconi and the Irish” began in January 1898 when Newspapers announce, “Marconi’s mother is Irish and related to John Jameson of whiskey fame. She was musically talented and attended the Conservatoire of Bologna where she met and married Marconi’s father. When her son launched his invention he came to London to his cousin, Henry Davis and the Wireless Telegraph Company was established.”[17] The Irish public had great affection for the inventor and when other nations criticised him, the Irish strengthened their support.

One of the first public lectures in Wireless broadcasting occurred in March 1898 with a talk given by Msgr Gerald Molloy at the Theatre of the Royal Dublin Society. Molloy lectures on “Principals of Electric Signalling without Wires.” He explains Marconi’s Wireless signals are transmitted through space using electromagnetic waves.[18] Molloy’s lecture was so popular that the general public demands a return visit for those who could not attend the first time round.”[19]

The public appetite by the late 1890s for new information in relation to Wireless Telegraphy was voracious. Lectures were given countrywide and were always attended by large crowds eager to learn about the “most marvellous discovery of the century.”[20] Most of these lectures were attended by the working press who, immediately after the lecture, filed reports on the latest updates. The numerous articles which appeared in the newspaper in relation to Wireless Telegraphy clearly suggests that the interest in Marconi was not just in Dublin but nationwide.

On Wednesday, May 11th 1898 the first Irish installation of Marconi’s system was made at Clara in Offaly. The transmitter was placed in the office of Clara Flour Mills and a receiver, one mile away, at Goodbody’s Jute Works. Messages were sent and say Newspapers, “This is the first attempt at Telegraphing without wires across a town in Ireland. The signals were so good that the messages were read by the sound emitted by Marconi’s Tapper and Decoherer, and the ordinary Morse instrument was dispensed with altogether.”[21]

While these transmissions were taking place further experiments were successfully going on in other parts of Ireland. Marconi was being congratulated by the President of the Board Of Trade, Lord John Hay [Admiral of the Fleet], Lord Charles Beresford and others on the success attending a demonstration he gave them. Several naval officers sailed on the admiralty yacht to the Needles, where is situated the permanent station of Marconi’s new Telegraphy system, and for two hours sent messages and received replies between the Needles and Bournemouth, about sixteen miles.[22]

Some days later there are reports that a rival to Marconi has turned up in Nikola Tesla, “an American of course” who claims to have invented a new machine, “More powerful than any ever before.” With it he expects “to send messages without wires for very long distances.” He has offered the invention as a free gift to his Government in the hope it proves useful for the transmission of signals by the Army and Navy during the troubles with Spain.”[23]

However, Marconi was more preoccupied with other events. At Dublin’s Kingstown’s Regatta, “A novel feature was the successful reporting of the sailing match carried out with the aid of Marconi himself. In the morning the gentlemen of the press embarked on board the steam tug Flying Huntress, and followed the yachts engaged in the race. Marconi used his transmitter and receiver to contact the shore sending messages from the tug while in rapid motion following the yachts and when received on shore the messages were telephoned to newspaper offices.”[24]

The world’s first text messages were sent in 1898 by Marconi between the Queen’s residence at Isle of Wight and the Royal Yacht ‘Osborne’ moored at East Cowes. The distance between the stations was a mile and each station was hidden from view of the other by hills. The electric waves easily passed over the hills; “The Prince was keenly interested in the experiments and conducted prolonged conversations with Marconi on the intricate workings of the apparatus.”[25] To impress English royalty would soon be a major coup for Marconi.

By April 1899 faith in the future of the invention began to dwindle. Prof Silvanus Thompson, a prominent electrician, tells Irish media the success of Marconi’s experiments was the natural result of the development of well-established principles by Hertz and Oliver Lodge. The implication being Marconi was manipulating the research of others to generate profits. Thomson states, “There is no such thing as Wireless Telegraphy. One can send signals for a distance of yards without wires; but in the recent successful attempts to telegraph across space wires are used.”[26]

But Prof JA Fleming, of University College, London disagrees and says the time has arrived for a little more generous appreciation by his scientific contemporaries of the fact that “Marconi’s work is no small achievement. His apparatus is ridiculously simple and not costly. With the exception of the Flagstaff and 150 feet of vertical wire at each end, he can place on a small kitchen table the appliances, costing not more than £100 in all, for communicating across 30 or even 100 miles of land or water.”[27]

In a letter to the London Times another of Marconi’s supporters speaks out, “much of the future depends on Government action; it is to be hoped the Post Office will not claim this Wireless Telegraphy is included in the monopoly they possess of Telegraphy. Marconi has modest confidence in the future. I trust that those who are interested in the subject will accord him all the aid and support that his inventiveness deserves, and that he may live to see his effort is crowned with complete success.”[28]

Days later Irish Newspapers report intense interest in Marconi’s system; “Marconi’s experiments have been closely followed with a view to placing lightships and lighthouses in communication with the shore. The importance of this was recently demonstrated when in foggy weather a vessel got into difficulties while at sea. The men of the East Goodwin lightship, who had been given elementary instruction in Marconi’s system, transmitted messages to the shore resulting in lifeboats losing no time in getting to the scene; the Crew owe their lives to Wireless Telegraphy.”[29]

Politicians began to pay attention to Marconi’s invention. Penrose Fitzgerald, at the House of Lords demands to know “Is it time to adopt the Wireless system?”[30] The admiration being bestowed on Marconi by the upper echelons of English politics was good for business. Marconi is offered a lucrative contract to establish transatlantic communication, “Marconi has been approached by representative of a syndicate wishing to acquire sole rights to establish communication between England and America.”[31]

But the word from America was not positive. Some experiments had been carried out in Chicago showing that ‘land obstacles’ remain to be overcome, “It has been discovered the system is impractical in cities studded with “sky-scraping” buildings, and is too slow for commercial use.”[32] But these reports take nothing from Marconi’s confidence that the connection of England and America by Wireless Telegraphy is no dream; he believes although there are difficulties to be surmounted, they are not as great as those that have been overcome.

One such difficulty is the height of the poles necessary to erect on either side of the Atlantic. They would have to be 1500 feet high but technical improvements will, Marconi believes, diminish these requirements.[33] Inventor WH Preece did not share Marconi’s optimism, “Two years after the practicability of Wireless Telegraphy was affirmed, and not a single independent commercial circuit exists. Marconi’s operations are more concentrated on the stock exchange than on establishing useful circuits.”[34]

Preece’s comments had little effect on Marconi, or anyone else involved in the science including French electrical savant, Dr Lee Bon, who was exploring Wireless technology in modern warfare. The result is an apparatus which would be able to project a current capable of annihilating a fleet of ships, “An explosion would be followed by a shower of sparks resulting from the contact between the projected current and electric wires on board ship, which would be so intense it would ignite powder and shells on board.”[35]

The value of Wireless Telegraphy in warfare seemed limitless with reports that Royal Engineers have been testing for the purpose of dropping explosive charges. By means of balloons and an elaboration of Marconi’s systems large quantities of explosives such as dynamite could be released from a balloon 3 miles away and made to explode inside any fortified work, killing the garrison and dislodging the guns, “The Hague Conference condemns such methods, but, possibly, an enemy sore pressed in real war, would scarcely hesitate to break through such restrictions.”[36]

But the march of progress was relentless. In new experiments in ship to shore communications greater distances are being achieved. By now messages were being transmitted over forty miles. The increased distances do not have the slightest effect upon the current and messages are being received with unvarying distinctiveness, “An interesting feature of current experiments is the facility with which Marconi’s latest development for ‘cutting out’ stations was applied. Messages are being sent without other stations interrupting them. The results of these experiments are successful.”[37]

Meanwhile, trials of military balloons and Marconi’s systems are being made in Vienna. This first attempt to make use of Wireless Telegraphy from a balloon was made by three Austrian officers, who ascended in the military balloon Eagle.[38] “The balloon was provided with receiving apparatus and successfully interpreted messages dispatched from the ground. It will probably be demonstrated that Wireless Telegraphy has its part to play in the warfare of the future.”[39]

The investigations into Military applications for Wireless Telegraphy were becoming a daily occurrence and Marconi is invariably present to clench any lucrative deal. At Bangor Bay near Belfast a number of battleships and cruisers are anchored and experimenting with Marconi’s system. The cruiser Juno and the flagship Alexandra are fitted with Wireless equipment and Marconi is on board testing the usefulness of the invention in naval warfare.”[40] The newspaper later reports Wireless Telegraphy is fast going ahead, and now the War Office is adopting it by sea and land.

The Admiralty are also impressed with further experiments going on between stations at Epsom and Aldershot. The tests proved it possible to maintain continuous correspondence from station to station, and that messages cannot be intercepted. Expert officers have made special reports to the War Office, and the effect of the report will be the inauguration of the Marconi system as a means of conveying intelligence. Many ships will shortly be “circuited” and should all go satisfactorily, the system would become universal, as far as the United Kingdom was concerned.[41]

The possible military applications for Wireless Telegraphy are beginning to scare the general public. The Daily News reports “Grim Possibilities of Wireless War” with the announcement that a Patent in the name of John Munro has been brought to their attention. The Munro Patent’s most obvious application is the making of explosions in the atmosphere in order to influence the weather, “But it is easy to see that it can also be utilised in dropping explosives on the country, fortresses, or camps of an enemy underneath.”[42]

Dr Peter Stiens has invented an apparatus by which people could ‘Wirelessly’ telephone over long distances.[43] Stiens claims the device will allow persons in London and New York to distinctively communicate.[44] The possibility of “mobile phones” had come to light. There are also reports of experiments conducted at Newbury in which a building containing explosives was blown up without direct contact.”[45]

Scientists are impressed by a practical demonstration of Marconi’s invention during the annual general meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science arranged in conjunction with the corresponding French Association holding its conference at Boulogne, “Marconi’s system allowed for messages to be sent to France from an apparatus located at Dover Town Hall. One of the messages sent by Telegraph without wires cross-channel was a greeting from the president of the British Association to the president of the French Scientific Association who responded to the salutation.”[46]

Thus, on the eve of the 20th century Wireless Telegraphy was an invention that still sought purpose. There were many people laying claim to it but it was not the invention of any one person but the culmination of many minds brought to perfection by Marconi. As the 20th century unfolded engineers and inventors were focused on the Maritime and international news exchange possibilities for the invention. But there were also visionaries who sought purposes in such fields as medicine, telephony and public service. Few of these visionaries had considered the possibility of communication not as exclusively one-to-one but one-to-many.

In the late 19th Century the facts about Wireless broadcasting emerged after Hertz’s 1887 discovery; ‘The contrast between these beginnings and the present uses of radio is tremendous’.[47] Marconi’s accomplishments in radio were equally as important. In 1892 Tesla wrote; ‘Ere long intelligence, transmitted without wires, will throb through the earth like a pulse through a living organism’.[48] It would take Marconi to fulfil Tesla’s prophecy.

Marconi had noble notions for his invention; “In the new era, thought itself will be transmitted by radio.”[49] The potential of his invention created global excitement even in the upper echelons of the Catholic Church; “Radio is a new demonstration of the harmony between science and religion. Those who speak of the incompatibility of science and religion either make science say that which it never said or make religion say that which it never thought.”[50]

Radio had critics especially those who feared freedom of expression. Broadcasting from the beginning was closed to private enterprise; ‘Such control is ascribed to radio’s technical complexity and military functions. Many democracies have outrun technical and military imperatives in their zeal to control the airwaves’.[51] But Radio never lost its importance as documented by the Irish Times in 1897; “Nothing is of more importance to science than Wireless Telegraphy.”[52]

Most public interest radio formats permit criticism of the state but the balance of political opinion is invariably tilted in the Government favour. The establishment of Irish radio fixed the state’s relationship to broadcasting. This may be partly due to the fact that Ireland’s first Postmaster General (Communications Minister) J.J. Walsh, was an anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi sympathiser.[53] His legacy remains detrimental to Irish freedom of expression.

Marconi’s inventor status was persistently challenged but his genius was never questioned, “Marconi has large ideas but to what extent these ideas will be realised none can tell.”[54] American Newspapers remained cynical about Marconi; “Edison and Tesla would smile at the promises made in Marconi’s name.”[55] However, the power of Marconi’s invention was obvious and the birth of Irish radio was a war declaration between conservative rulers and liberal advocates of free expression.

As the 20th century unfolded each year brought developments demonstrating how the ‘Air Wars’ were fought. In these pages is a century long account of events leading to Irish radio broadcasting as it is today. It is the story of a nation in fear of technology that became determined to suppress freedoms to receive and give information, expression and speech. These important three F’s are the pivot of human development, essential if we are to share, analyse, understand, and move forward; ‘yet these three F’s are continually under attack’.[56]

Although Marconi noted; ‘This form of communication could have some utility’[57] such ‘utility’ remained under the scrutiny of political pioneers in the pre-Independence era; ‘Britain’s Irish dominance was underpinned by control of Irish communications systems’.[58] Arthur Griffith complained about this; ‘There is a ‘paper wall’ around Ireland’.[59]

Griffith was always at heart a journalist and advocate of freedom of expression. He was a lucid writer with a vivid turn of phrase but as the century progressed, Griffith’s observation faded into oblivion, but the reality remains unchanged. Radio has come through a century of development that has brought about the medium as we know it today. The exploration of these events in the course of the 20th century reflects Marconi’s contention that; ‘Every day sees humanity more victorious in the struggle with space and time’.[60]

Early Irish radio is often considered by Historians as a foil for television. Historians link the transformation of Irish society in the 20th century to television but dismiss radio as an agent of repression rather than social development. In post WW2 Irish Radio became interactive and consequently achieved Bertolt Brecht’s ideal of serving as a ‘system of communication’[61] based on audience response rather than being a unidirectional distribution system.[62]

Until the 1960’s the primary source of information available to the world was radio and it influenced people. Common national culture was shaped more by radio than television or newsprint. By 1960 most European families owned a radio and it occupied prime space in the home.[63] The arrival of battery transistor radio in the 1960’s increased mobility but contributed to radio’s new lowly status as an aural medium in a visual age. Young people drifted to television but for older people radio retained its charms.

What follows is an exploration of a century of European broadcasting documenting the most significant events in the age of global communication. It is a relentless story that began with the words of Guglielmo Marconi when he sent the first message across the Bristol Channel in 1897 stating, “Let it be so.” It is a story full of twists and turns, of a series of unfailing political regimes in fear of freedom. At the dawn of the digital age, these fears persist and it is as if history will repeat itself unless the lessons of the radio ages are learned.

 

[1] Weekly IrishTimes,1893 ElectricMessageswithoutWires. Weekly Irish Times, 04thFebruary,p.1.

[2] Lady, A,.1896. TalkoftheTown. Weekly IrishTimes,26thDecember, p.4.

[3] McCullough,D,.2011 Samuel Morse’sReversalof Fortune.SmithsonianMagazine,VolumeSeptember,2011.

[4] Ellsworth, H,.2011 SamuelMorse’sReversalofFortune Smithsonian Magazine,VolumeSeptember,2011.

[5] McCullough,D,.2011 Samuel Morse’sReversalof Fortune SmithsonianMagazine,VolumeSeptember,2011.

[6] McHenry, R,.1993. Guglielmo Marconi. In:Encyclopedia Britannica. London:Encyclopedia Britannica.

[7] WashingtonPost 1897 Article 26 [NoTitle] TheWashington Post,9th August,p. 6.

[8] IrishTimes 1897. NewsfromAll PartsIrishTimes,20th November, p.5.

[9] Kelvin,L,.1897.Permanent.com[Online]Available at: http://www.permanent.com/infamous-quotes.html [Accessed 21st June 2012]

[10] Marconi 1897 SendsMessages Without Wires.Chicago Daily Tribune,2ndAugust,p. 2.

[11] Baker,D. C,.1998. WirelessTelegraphyduring the Anglo-Boerwarof1899-1902  MilitaryHistory Journal 11[2]

[12] Brecht, B,.1932. TheRadioas an Apparatus ofCommunication [Online]Available at:http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/source-text/8/ [Accessed03 September 2012]

[13] IrishTimes,1897 SignorMarconi’s Invention.Irish Times,18th August,p.6.

[14] IrishTimes,1897 What Next?Irish Times, 29thJuly, p. 5.

[15] IrishTimes,1897 WirelessTelegraphy. IrishTimes,08th September, p.6A.

[16] Freemans Journal,1897. WirelessTelegraphy atBirr. FreemansJournal,12th October, p.11.

[17] Freemans Journal,1898. KingstownRegatta.FreemansJournal,21stJuly, p. 12.

[18] Freemans Journal,1898. Marconi ComesToDublin. FreemansJournal,22nd August,p.12.

[19] Molloy,G,1898.Marconi’sWireless Telegraphy[Letters].The FreemansJournal, 12th April, p.10.

[20] Anglo Celt,1898. FromDayto Day.Anglo Celt,14thMay, p.3.

[21] Freemans Journal,1898. System of WirelessTelegraphy. FreemansJournal, 22nd April, p.8.

[22] Anglo Celt,1898. Nikola Tesla.Anglo Celt,21stMay,p. 3.

[23] AngloCelt,1898. WirelessTelegraphy: The MostMarvelousDiscoveryof the CenturyExplained. Anglo Celt,16thApril, p. 4.

[24] Freemans Journal,1898. WirelessLecture.FreemansJournal,09thMarch, p. 11.

[25] Freemans Journal,1898. WirelessTelegraphy.FreemansJournal,12th April, p. 8.

[26] IrishTimes,1899. SocialMovements. Irish Times,17th April,p. 6.

[27] Fleming,P. J, 1899. OnWirelessTelegraphy.IrishTimes,04th April, p.5.

[28] Page, S. F,1899. LondonTimesLetter. IrishTimes,04th April, p.5.

[29] IrishTimes,1899. Intense Interest. Weekly IrishTimes,08th April, p.8.

[30] Fitzgerald, R. P,1899. London Correspondence.Irish Times,12th April, p.7.

[31] Weekly IrishTimes,1899. LatestWirelessTelegraphyTrials.WeeklyIrish Times,24thJune, p.6.

[32] Westminster Gazette, 1899. Criticism of Wireless Wiring. Weekly Irish Times, 29th April, p. 6.

[33] Westminster Gazette, 1899. Criticism of Wireless Wiring. Weekly Irish Times, 29th April, p. 6.

[34] Preece,W,1899. AethericTelegraphy.IrishTimes,04thMay, p. 6.

[35] Bon,D. L,1899. WirelessTelegraphy inWar.IrishTimes,27thMay, p. 4.

[36] DailyTelegraph,1899. Wireless at War.IrishTimes,15th June, p.4

[37] Weekly IrishTimes,1899. LucrativeContractforMarconi. Weekly Irish Times, 15th April, p.7.

[38] Weekly IrishTimes,1899.WirelessAerialTelegraphy.Weekly Irish Times,22nd July, p.4.

[39] IrishTimes,1899.MarconiSystemandWarBalloons.IrishTimes,17th July, p. 5.

[40] Irish Times, 1899. Naval Maneuvers. Irish Times, 24th July, p. 4.

[41] IrishTimes,1899. NavalManeuvers.Irish Times,24th July, p. 4.

[42] IrishTimes,1899.GrimPossibilitiesof WirelessWar. IrishTimes,05th August,p. 4.

[43] IrishTimes,1899.WirelessTelephone.IrishTimes,25th July,p. 4.

[44] IrishTimes,1899. Fraternising with theFrench.Irish Times,14th September, p. 6.

[45] IrishTimes,1899.WarOfficeWirelessTelegraphy[London Correspondence]. Irish Times,31stJuly, p. 5.

[46] IrishTimes,1899.WirelessTelegraphyExplosion.Irish Times,27th July,p. 5.

[47] Whittemore,L. E,1929. The DevelopmentofRadio. Annals of the American Academy ofPolitical &Social science, Issue March 1929, p.1.

[48] Tesla, N,1892. ElectricalEngineer.ElectricalEngineer,Issue 609, p. 11.

[49] Marconi, G,1934.Quotation Marks. NewYorkTimes,11th October, p.2.

[50] Pope PiusXI,1931.Opening of the Vatican CityRadio Station. Rome: s.n.

[51] Kasza, G. J,1986.Democracy and the Foundingof JapanesePublicRadio. The Journal of AsianStudies,45[4], p. 745.

[52] IrishTimes,1897.WirelessTelegraphy.IrishTimes,15th August,p. 6.

[53] Dwyer,T. R,1988.Strained Relations: Ireland atPeace and theUSAat War,1941-45.1 ed.Dublin: Gill&MacMillanLtd. DXArchive,1996.DXARCHIVE (Online)Available at:http://www.dxarchive.com/ireland_dublin_radio_dublin_pre75.html[Accessed20 052012].

[54] Molloy,G,1898.WirelessTelegraphy.FreemansJournal, 15th March, p. 9.

[55] San Francisco Chronicle, 1897.Marconi BoomHas An Object. San Francisco Chronicle, 5thSeptember, p.13.

[56] D’Arcy,M,1990. PlayingWith theAirwaves. MITPress,p.179.

[57] Marconi, G,1897.Guglielmo Marconi Quotes (Online]Available at:http://refspace.com/quotes/Guglielmo_Marconi[Accessed21stJune2012].

[58] Fisher, D,1978. CaseStudies on BroadcastingSystems: Broadcasting In Ireland.1 ed.London: Routledge& Kegan Paul Ltd.

[59] Oireachtas, 1952. Parliamentary Debates: Dáil Éireann – Volume 129 – 12 March, 1952[Online] Available at: http://historical‑debates.oireachtas.ie/D/0129/D.0129.195203 120066.html [Accessed 06 06 2012].

[60] Marconi, G,1899.Guglielmo Marconi Quotes (Online]Available at:http://refspace.com/quotes/Guglielmo_Marconi[Accessed21stJune2012].

[61] Brecht, B,1932. Brecht onTheatre. NewYork:Hill & Wang.

[62] Morgan,E,2001.QuestionTime: RadioandtheLiberalistationof IrishPublic Discourse afterWW2.History Ireland,9[4],p. 39.

[63] Judt, T, 2006.Postwar: A History ofEuropesince1945.1sted. London:Penguin Books.

Home Rule & Marconi 1912

 

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Historians view the 1912 Marconi Scandal as an over exaggerated affair faded into oblivion. Closer analysis of these events raises questions about Home Rule. This essay argues that the scandal can be interpreted as a Unionist plot designed to discredit five, later acquitted, highly placed members of a Government determined to grant Home Rule. It gives us an insight into the depth of the Unionist and Nationalist divide at this time. Unionists were determined to sabotage Home Rule by any means including assassinating the integrity of Ministers in coalition with Nationalists, perceived by Unionists, as collaborators in a contemptible cause.

In 1912 Irelands Third Home Rule Bill had something in common with Wireless Telegraphy according to some nationalist newspapers fatalistically reporting, “Home Rule is a farce now ended because some politicians who should have been present when the ‘signal’ was sent were absent.” The article predicts, “So it has always been. So it will always be.”[1] Later at the opening of the House of Commons debate on Home Rule politicians remained absent and one editorial gave a clue as to why, “Clearly some members were thinking about Marconi not Ireland.”[2]

One contributing reason for this ill-timed absenteeism was an attempt to discredit Liberals advocating Home Rule. Asquith’s Party had fought two General Elections, restricted House of Lords powers; enforced revolutionary budgets and constitutional amendments. They were social reformers passing acts in Insurance, Pensions, and Labour Exchanges. They aimed to disestablish the Welsh Church and were determined to grant Ireland Home Rule.[3] But five equally determined Unionists, Joseph Chamberlain, Arthur Samuels, Walter Guinness, Cecil Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc knew how to discredit them.

By 1912 Ulster unionists had become proficient propaganda merchants and conducted a media-blitz against Home Rule targeting the British electorate, “The Home Rule struggle was an ideological battle between two irreconcilable concepts of Ireland, a British vision and an Irish one.”[4] Unionists claimed the high moral ground by denouncing corruption and Nationalists were equally as corrupt as their coalition partners. Liberals quickly acquired an unsavoury reputation. Unionists could then depict themselves as “impending victims” of an apocalyptic society under Home Rule.

The Irish Unionist Party was aligned to The Liberal Unionist Party which had formed a political alliance with Conservatives in opposition to Irish Home Rule. The two parties merged in 1912 with Unionist campaigner Joseph Chamberlain, “known as Judas Iscariot”[5] as Leader. Chamberlain reasoned that Home Rule would lead to the break-up of the British Empire. Chamberlain’s word was law with Unionists and he stated not legislation but, “sentiment makes a nation.”[6] Chamberlain used The Times to publicly appeal for funds to, “bury Home Rule.”[7]

Arthur Samuels was one of the most effective Unionist critics of Home Rule and was criticised by Stephen Gwynn MP as insincere, “he has the misfortune of being a lawyer and uses arguments merely as an exercise of ingenuity.”[8] Gwynn claimed that Samuels was an enemy of Home Rule, “the Bill is good enough for Nationalists but not good enough for this Unionist determined to hinder the progress of Irish freedom. Samuel’s condemns Home Rule because it does not give to Ireland independence enough, because it is not nationalist enough.”[9]

Walter Guinness was a Conservative Anglo-Irish politician and businessman who took the Conservative line on Home Rule.[10]  Guinness was a long-time supporter of the Irish Unionist Alliance and had attended their meetings as far back as 1907.[11] Guinness publicly described Home Rule as a “mad gamble.”[12] By 1912 he was the Editor of ‘Outlook’ magazine which broke the ‘Marconi Scandal’ accusing Liberal ministers of fraud while at the same time demanding that they should, “make a clean breast of it…”[13]

Cecil Chesterton was a controversial anti-Semite journalist who had co-written a contentious book with Anglo-French writer Hilaire Belloc alleging collusion between the front benches to raise funds by selling honours, “a theme which Belloc frequently debated.”[14] Both Unionists enjoyed exposing political corruption. In their book they state, “The Irish are people to whom nothing matters but nationality.”[15] Chesterton’s credibility was frequently questioned. One Marconi Scandal trial observer testified, “There could not be a worse or shiftier witness.”[16]

These five Unionists were key players in revealing and promoting insinuation and rumour in the infamous ‘Marconi Scandal.’ Unionists would later openly speak of their desires to, “Smash Home Rule by means of the Marconi Scandal; a wave of opinion might arise in the House of Commons to destroy the Government that cannot be trusted if the Bill passes.”[17] The Unionists five primary targets were Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Rufus Isaacs (Attorney General), Herbert Samuel (Postmaster General), Alexander Murray (Liberal Party Treasurer) and perhaps most important of all Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.

Brilliant politician but incompetent businessman Lloyd George, “Who muddles nearly everything he touches”[18] strongly supported Home Rule believing it would be the best solution for the Empire. George advocated devolution, federalism, and Home Rule and agreed that this Bill was the best option. It is still undecided whether George purchased Marconi shares through corruption or ineptitude but when he expressed contrition for his mistake he was widely acquitted of fraudulent intent and, for him, the scandal died.[19]

Intransigent Unionist arguments against Home Rule were frequently adeptly answered by Rufus Isaacs, a renowned Unionist critic. Isaacs had many times taken them to task, most notably, when he challenged Edward Carson, Irish Unionist politician and barrister, if the Home Rule Bill were submitted to electors and the electors approved the Bill, would Unionists then accept it and whether objection from three Northern Ireland counties should stop the other willing twenty-nine?[20] An irate Carson remained silent but clearly Isaacs proved himself no friend to Unionists and this made him a prime target in their campaign.

Postmaster General Herbert Samuel dismissed Unionist’s finance issues in relation to Home Rule. Samuel favoured Home Rule because, “the burden to the British taxpayer would be decreased and Unionists guaranteed precisely the opposite.” Samuel compellingly argued that the expenses of running Ireland under British laws were too exorbitant. He stated, “No country is willing to exchange its national spirit and self-government for money. We must inform the people of Britain that Unionists only wish to add to the burden of the British taxpayer while those wishing to pass this Bill wish to lighten this burden.”[21]

At first sight the evidence against Chief Government Whip Alexander Murray seemed strong and he resigned. He claimed he bought the shares on behalf of the Liberal Party. When later invited to give evidence he declined stating he was, “abroad on business negotiations.” Murray was indeed involved in very real business transactions and had not personally profited from the shares and had been “indulging in a half guilty flutter.” [22] But Murray’s early resignation gave Unionist allegations enormous credence.

Unionists must have been totally infuriated with Prime Minister Herbert Asquith to learn, as Home Rule loomed, he was openly sympathetic to the demands of John Redmond and his fellow Nationalists, “For the first time in their history, Nationalist members conferred with the Prime Minister in the sacred Cabinet room at Downing Street. The Irish leaders are satisfied with the result of their deliberations. It may be confidently predicted, notwithstanding Unionist hopes to the contrary, that a Bill which has the approval of the Nationalist Party will be accepted at their forthcoming Convention in Dublin.”[23]

Thus, these five men; George, Isaacs, Samuels, Murray and Asquith were clearly in the line of fire of Unionist’s odious contempt. Coincidentally, and very conveniently for Unionists pursuing any ammunition they could lay their hands on, they all had something in common. All five men had recently privately invested in Marconi Shares and one of them, Rufus Isaacs, was the brother of British Businessman Godfrey Isaacs, who had recently become Managing Director of Marconi’s British Company. Furthermore, another, Herbert Samuel, was negotiating with Marconi for a very lucrative Government contract. The pickings for Unionists were far too rich to ignore.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s lacklustre Economy reflected the administrative condition of a nation in a state of political unrest, instability and turbulence in January 1912. Many people, regardless of their political ideology, were not at all optimistic about Home Rule, “the immediate home political outlook is seriously complicated by the coming Home Rule proposals for this country, and until the provisions of this great contemplated political change are before the country and disposed of one way or the other, there can be no reason to anticipate a revival of trust and confidence in the future of Ireland.”[24]

From within this social milieu there emerged success stories that were few and far between. For the wealthier stock-trading members of Irish society this unease was not shared. One of Ireland’s leading publicly owned companies ‘The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company’ were in a unique position and were announcing increased dividends, optimistic projected business profits for the year ahead and a very positive commercial outlook. At the same time Irish Banks had suffered heavy falls in stock and this disaster was being ascribed to, “sympathy with the existing political unrest over the coming Home Rule legislation.”[25]

It seemed Marconi’s Company was invulnerable to its economic environs. This trend continued for weeks, “Dublin’s Exchange is quiet except for sharp rises in Marconi Shares.”[26] However, things changed when Henry Asquith, announced the Government would introduce the Home Rule Bill. Immediately Ulster’s Liberal Unionists declared that Asquith strengthened Ulster’s resolve, “Ulster will not be relegated to the control of a Parliament under whose impossible constitution and unrestricted powers it is vainly hoped to settle the Irish question.”[27] The battle lines between Ulster Liberal Unionists and London Liberals were drawn.

The Liberal Government were determined to introduce the Home Rule Bill and their resolve prompted Nationalistic endorsement, “This Government means business. While the Opposition present the Government as reluctant the contrary is true. There is Liberal Party enthusiasm for Home Rule. Ministers are anxious to proceed with this legislative task.”[28] William Field MP stated that no matter what opposition, “to obtain an entrance to the harbour of liberty, which we call Home Rule, we shall remain resolute,” and he renounced Unionist suggestions that Catholics would persecute Protestants under Home Rule.[29]

Irish Liberal Unionists were infuriated at speculation about the forthcoming bill and organised a National Convention in Dublin. Invitees included national organisations, public bodies, trades organisations and friendly societies.[30] Coincidentally, Marconi shares began to crash. Clues to any association between Marconi and Home Rule were sparse to unsuspicious observers. Newspapers were aware of a rumoured looming Liberal Government collapse, “the only thing to prevent the Home Rule Bill from becoming law is some unforeseen situation on other questions. But…” the Editorial insists, “All attempts to discredit the Government have failed.” [31]

Liberal Unionists wanted to undermine the Liberal Government and organised public meetings to muster-up support for their cause. A General meeting of Irish County Councils expressed concerns, parallel to those of Joseph Chamberlain, about Home Rule finance. They demanded that under an acceptable Home Rule scheme Ireland should have complete financial autonomy. To many observers these demands were the minimum terms which Ireland could accept Home Rule.[32] Meanwhile, at the Dublin Stock Exchange,   Marconi shares were at an, “excited volume of dealing.” This excitement was caused by Home Rule proposals.[33]

But such criticisms were having little effect on the Liberal Government according to John Dillon who announced that he was not over sanguine as to the present position of Home Rule which, “was now supported by an unbroken Liberal Party. Ireland would not submit to the audacious ascendancy claim by Ulster, or be terrorised by the language of Mr. Bonar Law or Sir Edward Carson.”[34] Consequentially the Nationalist Party, “which is not very cheerful just now,” are pretending to believe that Presbyterians are weakening in their attitude to Home Rule.”[35]

After the Prime Minister introduced the Third Home Rule Bill the Irish Unionist Alliance protested. They argued Ulster enjoyed a booming economy dependant on Britain. Furthermore, the proposed Dublin parliament would have different economic priorities to those of Ulster. Thus, Ulster deserved separate treatment because it was socially and economically closer to Britain. The proposals of the Bill were condemned by the Irish Unionist Alliance who passed resolutions protesting against its implementation in Ireland. They based their condemnation primarily on its financial elements, “If it comes into operation Ireland will be bankrupt within five years.”[36]

Because John Redmond’s Nationalist Party had used their majority leverage to persuade the Government to introduce the Third Home Rule Bill they had reached the pinnacle of their success. Redmond had gone further than any predecessor in shaping British politics to Ireland’s needs. Nationalist objectives were frustrated by Unionist criticisms. Nationalists expected Unionists attitude to be, “Non-negotiable repudiation of Irish Home Rule.” [37] A policy which would have suited Redmond as it ensured the Bill’s speedy transit. Unbeknownst to Redmond and his cohorts Irish Unionist Alliance’s objections had bought crucial time to expose Liberal Party corruption.

After it emerged that Asquith’s Government approved construction of numerous wireless stations by Marconi articles by Unionist sympathisers Chesterton and Belloc appeared in ‘Eye Witness’ magazine. They suggested ‘Marconi knaves’[38], George, Isaacs, Samuels and Murray, under the watchful eye of Herbert Asquith, used insider knowledge to profit in Marconi Shares.[39] Although, “the scandal’s short-term consequences were slight, the long term consequences for Home Rule were catastrophic.[40]

Rumours have sources and conjecture proffers a plausible explanation. For Unionist John Jameson Home Rule presented, “a fearful spectacle.”[41] He led Dublin’s Unionist community.[42] Jameson was a friend and associate of Edward Carson and also related to Marconi’s mother Annie Jameson.[43] Had she inadvertently divulged detrimental information?

Whatever its source the French newspaper Le Matin  turned rumour to allegation and accused Ministers of corruption. Isaacs and Samuels sued and Le Matin apologised. But Isaacs admitted he bought shares in American Marconi and sold some to Lloyd George and Alexander Murray.[44]  The scandal was partly resolved by an investigative committee finding that all involved were not guilty. The Liberal members of the committee exonerated the Ministers while Unionists accused them of “grave impropriety.”[45]

Unionists proposed to indict Liberals because, “Insinuations have impugned the honour of the House.”[46] In Unionist magazine ‘Punch’ a cartoon headed ‘Liberal Pleasure-Party at Sea’ Liberals are sailing aboard ‘People’s Will’ a ship with a gagged peer as a figurehead and containing the emblems of Liberal deception, Marconi and Home Rule.[47] The ships sail bears the inscription ‘Home Rule’, with Asquith turning a wheel marked, ‘Wait and See.’[48]

In fear of the damage done to Liberals many members of Ireland’s Nationalist Party went on the campaign trail and visited the streets of rural towns and villages speechifying Home Rule with an air of gloom, “we may take it for granted that these speeches reflect fears prevalent in higher quarters.”[49] The details of the Bill were essentially unknown but speculation dictated that control of Irish finances remained in England. Consequently, for Nationalists, the Home Rule Bill was unacceptable. This rift between Nationalists and Liberals gave further fuel to Unionist’s vociferous anti-Liberal allegations of corruption.

With the Third Home Rule Bill slipping from nationalists grip it was necessary for staunchly nationalist newspapers to help clean up the mess by defending politicians, even English ones, against malicious speculation. For example, the Leitrim Observer, carefully words its report, “Sinister charges are bandied about in the darkness and there is nothing in them. There is no evidence of corruption and the Ministers deny attempting to profit from insider knowledge. There was a time in History when Ministers should fear an inquiry, but not now. The British Government has for generations been beyond reproach.” [50]

But the Liberals came out fighting. Lloyd George asserted the “corruption” charges were a Unionist attack. He read from transcripts of statements made on Oath by the owner of “Outlook” magazine, Walter Guinness whom George accused of starting malicious rumours, “The charges made by Guinness have long since exploded, but the deadly afterdamp remains and the noxious fumes of these Unionist slanders are at this moment in the air.” He said his mistakes were exploited by Guinness to help achieve Home Rule aims and the House agreed with standing ovations and shouts of “Guinness, Guinness.”[51]

But Walter Guinness backed down and attempted to defend the action of ‘Outlook’ by denying the paper brought charges of corruption against Ministers. It charged the Postmaster General with inefficiency and favouritism and nothing else.[52] Members of the Select Committee claimed much of their time had been occupied listening to irrelevant Unionist witnesses, including procrastination and abuse from an infuriated Winston Churchill. The Select Committee knew there was always a temptation to use the Marconi Scandal for party purposes, and admitted the deliberations of the Marconi Committee were tainted with party prejudice and bias.[53]

Lloyd George insisted that whatever might be said by Guinness, it was the fact that his newspaper which first gave currency to malicious rumours. It was a lie. There was not the smallest justification for the charges which had been made against him. The Attorney General and he had not had a single conversation with respect to these transactions. But there is nothing as paradoxical as politics. The net political result of the Marconi revelations was an actual strengthening of the Liberal Party.[54]

But the Unionists had succeeded in their campaign to frustrate Home Rule. Marconi debates had succeeded in slowing down the progress of the Bill. By mid-Summer 1912 politicians were concerned as to the little time being allotted to the Bill while Marconi was taking up precious parliamentary time. F. E. Smith stated that in 1693 the Home Rule Bill took 93 days but now it was only being allowed two days, “The result of this is that there will be no time to conclude the Home Rule Bill in 1912.”[55] But more was to come.

By the autumn of 1912 new rumours were rampant that the present government would not survive the Marconi Scandal and with their departure Home Rule would fade into oblivion.[56] Dissolution rumours were so widespread that Lloyd George and Rufus Isaacs were, “going about telling everybody that the present Parliament will last until 1915.” But, pessimistic newspapers stated, “These men seem not to recognise the fact that the old-fashioned Gladstonian Liberals are getting very restive regarding Home Rule. The Prime Minister will have a hard task to keep his men together.”[57]

But Asquith rose to the challenge and soon there was a noticeable change in the attitude of Unionists both in the House of Commons and in the Press. They realised their campaign to discredit Liberals was failing. There was no further talk of a Government collapse or of Ministers backing down from their Home Rule pledges, “Instead of indulging in bunkum the enemies of Ireland are now reduced to incoherent horror by the realisation that Mr Asquith and his colleagues are actually determined to do what they have always openly declared was their fixed intention.”[58]

Interestingly this transformation of attitude came in the aftermath of the vindication of the five Liberal politicians. For months the insinuations regarding their honesty was unwaveringly challenged by Tories anxious for a House of Commons debate. When the debate finally arrived there was total silence in the House. Nobody dared to put forward a single charge, contenting themselves with a tissue of paltry insinuations and demanding further investigation. But the Government had already instigated such an inquiry and the so-called ‘Marconi knaves’ willingly supported it, “That must have left their accusers feeling sorry for themselves.”[59]

This Select Committee inquiry into the scandal is often cited as the reason why select committee investigations gave way to independent tribunals. The Committee produced their report in 1913.[60] Any advancement of the Home Rule Bill would only come after a House of Commons debate on their findings.[61]  That took until June 1913 and the House divided on party lines over the report’s conclusions. But, most importantly, Unionists succeeded in delaying Home Rule by over a year.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Nationalists and Liberals deteriorated for two reasons; firstly, because of delays and secondly, a reputation tarnished by corruption allegations. Although Liberals committed to introduce the Home Rule Bill in 1912 they had become reluctant because Conservatives had garnered greater Unionist support. When the Bill was discussed, Conservatives demanded to have the Unionist north-east of Ireland treated separately from the rest of Ireland because Ulster Protestants constituted a separate nation. They hoped this argument would stop Home Rule and suggested it would result in an unstable Ireland containing two national identities. But there was a further problem.

Asquith’s Bill purported to be “final settlement,” and accepted as “the best we can get” by Nationalists. Claiming to be a Bill to establish independence it succeeded by silence. The Irish Party relinquished all right to debate. Former Parnellite politician John Dillon MP’s silence verified this indifference played in the Bill’s construction by powerful Nationalists in London. From start to finish in the debates involving Ireland’s “final” fate her representatives failed to suggest any amendment. Consequently, a defective Bill passed without alteration of one word, “So it has always been. So it will always be.”[62]

Irish citizens had been prevented from discussing the provisions of the Bill or the misconduct of their representatives. They celebrated unknowingly rejoicing the Partition of Ireland. Nationalist and Liberal colluders later professed surprise when young rebels contemplated these insults and sprang to arms in Easter 1916 punishing Parliamentarianism. However, Ulster unionists, determined to sabotage home rule  exaggerated the Marconi Scandal and that proved a brilliant time delaying strategy. It took until 1914 with the outbreak of WWI before the Home Rule Bill was finally enacted. But its implementation was suspended for the duration of the war. So, the Unionists won.

 

[1] Skibbereen Eagle, 23November 1912

[2] Irish Times, 10 June 1913

[3] George McClellan Harvey, ‘Asquith: The Master Statesman’ in The North American Review, 198, no 695 (1913),  p. 438

[4] Michael Foy, ‘Ulster Unionist Propaganda Against Home Rule 1912-14’ in History Ireland,  4, no 1 (Spring, 1996),  p 51

[5] Anglo Celt, 17 February 1912

[6] Donegal News, 13 January 1912

[7] Freemans Journal, 22 June 1912

[8] Freemans Journal, 20 May 1912

[9] Irish Times, 21 May 1912

[10]Hansard, 5th series, 39, 1129

[11] Irish Times, 31 August 1907

[12] Irish Times, 20 April 1912

[13] Irish Times, 10 June 1913

[14] Irish Times, 20 January 1911

[15] Hilaire Belloc & Cecil Chesterton,  The Party System ,  (London, 1911),  p 21

[16] Irish Times,  1 September 1962

[17] Irish Times, 29 May 1913

[18] Irish Times, 8 June 1912

[19] Henry W. Nevinson, ‘Lloyd George: The Leader of British Liberals’ in Foreign Affairs, 9, no3 (1931), p. 461

[20] Freemans Journal, 7 May 1912

[21] Irish Independent, 16 April 1912

[22] Denis Judd, ‘Lord Reading, Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess Of Reading, Lord Chief Justice And Viceroy Of India, 1860-1835’, (London, 1981), p. 4

[23] Irish Independent, 28 March 1912

[24] Irish Times, 1 January 1912

[25] Irish Times, 1 January 1912

[26] Irish Times, 3 March 1912

[27] Irish Times, 13 April 1912

[28] Irish Independent, 12 March 1912

[29] Irish Independent, 1 April 1912

[30] Irish Times, 3 April 1912

[31] Freemans Journal, 10 April 1912

[32] Irish Times, 4 April 1912

[33] Irish Times, 12 April 1912

[34] Irish Times, 23 May 1912

[35] Irish Times, 8 June 1912

[36] Irish Times, 25 April 1912

[37] Irish Times, 21 May 1912

[38] New York Times, 13 June 1913

[39] Winfried Georg Max Sebald, ‘Tacita Dean’ in October Journal, Autumn, (2003), p. 129

[40] Alvin Jackson, Home Rule: An Irish History 1800—2000,  (Oxford, 2003) pp 10, 3

[41] Alvin Jackson, Home Rule: An Irish History 1800—2000,  (Oxford, 2003) pp 10, 3

[42] Stanley Warren, ‘Montrose House and the Jameson Family in Dublin and Wexford: A Personal Reminiscence’, in The Orogon of the Ui Cinsealaigh Historical Society, no. 28 (2007), p. 97

[43] National Archives of Ireland , www.census.nationalarchives.ie, accessed 8 April 2014

[44] Ian D. Colvin, Carson the Statesman, (Montana, 2005),  p. 179

[45]  W.J. Baker, The History Of The Marconi Company 1874-1965, (New York, 1998 ), p. 146

[46] Irish Independent, 1October 1912

[47] Joseph P. Finnan, ‘Punch’s Portrayal of Redmond, Carson and the Irish Question 1910-18’ in Irish Historical Studies, 33 no. 132 (2003), p. 439

[48] Punch, 2 July 1913

[49] Irish Times, 12 January 1912

[50] Leitrim Observer, 26th October 1912

[51] Irish Times, 19th June 1913

[52] Irish Times, 19 June 1913

[53] Ibid

[54] Writer Uncredited, ‘Asquith: The Master Statesman’, in The North American Review, 198, no 695 (1913), p. 439

[55] Irish Times, 18 June 1912

[56] Irish Times, 2 October 1912

[57] Irish Times, 2 October 1912

[58] Freemans Journal, 12 October 1912

[59] Freemans Journal, 12 October 1912

[60] Special report from the Select Committee on Marconi’ Wireless Telegraph Company, Limited, http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1912/oct/28/marconi-wireless-telegraph-company, accessed on, 10 April 2014

[61] Irish Times, 3 October 1912

[62] Skibbereen Eagle, 23November 1912

Ireland’s Famished Years

 

famine

Irelands Famished Years

The Irish Holocaust 1845 -1855

This document takes a look at what triggered the great hunger in Ireland, and what it meant for the people living there at the time. It also explores what happened to those Irish people who decided to leave Ireland because of the famine, and the impact they had on their new homes. Finally the paper introduces one of the stickiest issues in Irish history; the ownership of the land, the attempts that were made to rectify the situation.

The Great Famine of the 1840s marked a watershed in modern Irish history. Of course, there had been famines before in Irish history, and there had been heavy emigration before the 1840s and changes in family structure, farm size, marriage patterns, agricultural output, religious practice, even political outlook, can be detected before the arrival of the potato blight. Nonetheless the extraordinary intensity of the Great Famine, that is to say, the compression into a few years of changes that would ordinarily have taken decades to work through, moves it decisively beyond the role of a mere accelerator of earlier trends. Especially, the famine set in train the unprecedented mass emigration which throughly reconfigured Irish life and society in the later 19th and 20th centuries. From the 1850s on, with the formation of an Irish nation abroad, the history of Ireland and the history of the Irish people decisively diverged, with profound consequences for both Ireland and the Irish.[1]

In September 1845 the first signs of a fungal disease in Irish potatoes appeared. The potato had fed generations of Irish people and now was inexplicably rotting in the fields and people started to go hungry. The impact of the potato blight was immediate. So much so that the editor of the Gardeners Chronicle made a dramatic announcement “We stop the press with very great regret to announce that the potato Murrain has unequivocally declared itself in Ireland. The crops above Dublin are suddenly perishing. Where will Ireland be in the event of the universal potato rot?” In that year only one third of the crop was lost, but in 1846 the fungus reappeared and the failure of the potato harvest was near total. The crops failed again in 1848 and 1849, and the knock-on effects of poor harvests and lack of food began taking their toll on the population.

The potato ‘murrain’ or blight was phytophthora infestans, a microscopic fungus spread by the wind and the rain, particularly during mild and humid weather. This previously unknown disease, brought from America, rapidly turned the potato stocks black and reduced the tubers in the soil to a stinking pulp. As the crop was being lifted during the autumn of 1845 reports of failure came from across the island.  A Belfast newspaper, The Vindicator, predicted on October 22, “the failure of the potato crop in Ireland is now confirmed. A large portion of the crop turns out to be quite useless for purposes of food. A dearth is inevitable; and a famine is extremely probable. The Irish peasantry rely almost exclusively upon potatoes for their subsistence; and when the crop fields, they have nothing to fall back on the grass, nettles, and seaweed.”

Families were decimated by the famine, and in many cases entire generations perished. During the course of the famine Ireland suffered terribly. In the ten-year period in 1841 to 1851 the population had fallen from 8 million to 6 1/2 million. More than half this figure had died from hunger or associated disease. The remainder had fled the famine and emigrated. In 1841 the Irish census revealed that just over 8 million lived on the island; and, by 1845, when the potato blight struck, that figure was probably closer to 8.5 million. By 1851, when the famine had run its course, the census of that year showed that the Irish population had fallen by over 20%, with 1 million dead from starvation and disease and another million or so having fled to Britain or North America.[2]

The numbers who lost their life in the famine, or who chose to emigrate, represents a disaster of epic proportions. It changed Ireland forever, and had a profound effect on many other nations. Beneath the figures were thousands of personal and family tragedies, stories of charity and, in some cases, weak and misguided government decisions that exasperated an awful situation.

In 1847 the fungus that had struck the potato did not return. Despite this good news, 1847 was one of the worst years of the famine, and has earned the name Black 47. Although the fungus did not return to blight the potato crop in 1847, the loss of life and dislocation that had been caused in 1846 meant that few potatoes had actually been planted. As a result the crop in 1847 was small and inadequate to feed the population. In the winter of 1847, 400,000 people died in Ireland as a result of the famine.

When the potato blight struck for a second time in 1846, every part of Ireland was affected. Fr. Theobald Mathew, after travelling from Dublin to Cork, wrote to Charles Trevelyan, Head of the Treasury, on August 7th: “I beheld with sorrow one wide wasteland of putrefying vegetation. In many places the wretched people sat on the fences of their decaying gardens, wringing their hands and wailing bitterly on the destruction. The food of a whole nation has perished.”[3]

The soup kitchens that were established across Ireland in 1847 were invaluable in keeping countless people alive who would have otherwise starved. The effort, which was undertaken by government, local authorities, charities, and private individuals, was an amazing achievement in the context of the enormity of the crisis. There were, however, negative aspects to the endeavour. Stories circulated that Protestant organisations established soup kitchens, but would only feed those families who converted from Catholicism to Protestantism. The level of desperation meant that many undertook the change and were derided with the label ‘soupers’.

While the potato crop either failed or was small during these years, much Irish land was actually farmed commercially and was designed to produce crops for export out of Ireland. In 1847, while people were dying in great numbers, exports of food crops from Ireland were high. The British government believed in free trade, and for them the market was king. Ideologically they did not believe in government intervention. Rather than the food being kept in Ireland to feed people, it left the ports for its intended export market. In 1847 alone, it is estimated that 4000 ships left Irish ports laden with food grown in Irish soil, but destined for sale in foreign markets.

With only a small yield of food from the potato crop, people were dependent on charity. Otherwise they would die. The government had three main approaches to feeding people and these were: employing them on large-scale public works schemes in return for their wages, feeding them directly through soup kitchens or providing food and shelter for them in workhouses. By the end of 1847, believing the worst was over; the government scaled down the public works programme and closed the soup kitchens. The following year the potato fungus returned with renewed ferocity and people starved once more.

One of the biggest killers during the famine wasn’t the actual starvation; it was the diseases that the weakened bodies succumbed to. Contagious diseases were a common feature of mid-19th-century life, and epidemics of diseases such as cholera weren’t unusual. In addition, during the famine years the conditions in Ireland where unsanitary – even by 19th-century standards. People were in weakened states, and less resistant to the various diseases that affected the country. The most common diseases where are diarrhoea, typhus, cholera, dysentery, and scurvy. It was these illnesses which were devastating to the starving population.

Disposing of bodies was a huge problem. Given the faith of the Irish, the act of burial was an important one. But in an environment of numerous deaths such procedures could not always be followed. Bodies were found in cabins, in the fields, and by the roadside. Until they could be buried, rats and stray dogs were devouring the corpses. Such conditions only hastened the spread of disease and forced the authorities to act. At various times during the famine bodies had to be buried, without Coffins, in large trenches.

The cycle of starvation and disease was difficult to break. In the context of the famine, 1849 was one of the better years in terms of the potato crop, and a slight decline in the number of dead. However that year, a cholera epidemic hit Ireland and many of those who survived the famine succumbed to the disease. The absence of food in a society will always lead to hunger and starvation. The most virulent killer in such situations will always be those diseases associated with unsanitary conditions, problems with the water supply, and the difficulties of disposing of dead bodies.

When the potato crop failed, and people started dying in Ireland, British Prime Minister Robert Peel was forced to act. In November 1845 he set up a central relief commission, and, he bought £100,000 of maize then known as American Indian corn to feed people in Ireland, and also set up a scientific enquiry to investigate what caused the fungus to strike the potato. As the cargoes arrived from America in February 1846 Peel made more money available and ordered the army commissariat to set up the depots across the country to store 44 million pounds of corn. The plan was not to give up the corn free, but to sell it at cost price. The effect was to keep down the price of other foodstuffs. This “yellow means”, was at first condemned as ‘Peel’s brimstone’ but a government halfpenny pamphlet, telling people how to cook it, sold in tens of thousands. Peel also set up a scientific commission which issued completely useless advice on how to protect stored potatoes from infection. The experts of the day were quite unable to find a way of halting the blight.

The Prime Minister also put bills through Parliament in January 1846 to fund public works for the destitute so that they could earn money to buy food. Then, in June 1846, Peel committed an act of political suicide. With the aid of the Whig opposition, he brought about the repeal of the Corn Laws in an attempt to encourage the importation of cheap grain into Ireland. For the Tory grandees this was unforgivable treachery. The Duke of Wellington was outraged: “rotten potatoes have done it all,” he expostulated; “they put Peel in his dammed fright.” Peel had no choice but to resign. In July the opposition Whig leader, Lord John Russell, formed a government. Russell turned for advice to Charles Trevelyan, the civil servant at the head of the Treasury. Trevelyan recommended a drastic reduction in the distribution of subsidised food and a major extension of public works. Free-market forces must not be disrupted by government interference. The poor must work for their food. In his memorandum to the Cabinet on 1 August 1846 Trevelyan advised that “the supply of the home market may safely be left to the foresight of private merchants.”[4]

Trevelyan devised a new system of public works in August. To fit in with Trevelyan’s free-market philosophy, warmly shared by the Whig government, the works were not to compete with capitalist enterprise, and they were confined to building walls, roads, bridges, causeways and fences. The new relief works were to be financed entirely out of rates – Irish property was to pay for Irish poverty. It was not until October that this cumbersome bureaucracy (eventually numbering 12,000 officials) could issue tickets giving employment to those considered sufficiently destitute. There were also suggestions that the Irish ports should be closed to stop the further exports of corn. This proposal was firmly rejected by Trevelyan who said he did not want to encourage the idea of prohibiting exports, perfect free trade in his opinion was the right course.

Meanwhile the depots providing subsidised Indian corn, set up by Peel’s Tory government in the previous year, were being closed down. Too late in the day Trevelyan decided to attempt to buy corn abroad. The harvest across Europe in 1846 had been very poor, and there was no surplus for sale. The American maize harvest had already mostly been bought up. Even if corn could be purchased, it would not be ready for transportation until December, a month when American Rivers were mostly frozen over. And yet oats, wheat and barley, grown and harvested in Ireland, continued to be shipped out of the country across the Irish Sea.

The effects of the famine didn’t have the same impact on Ireland’s individual regions. While all areas were affected by lack of food and the spread of disease, the resulting number of deaths was not uniform. It was the poorest areas, those whose agricultural development was lowest, that were worse affected. In parts of the country where peasant farmers had large families, but small plots of land, the death toll was highest. Two groups suffered most: families that depended on their income from small holdings (subsistence farming on a small acreage to produce food for the family), and landless labourers (those who relied on employment working on the farms of others). If one was lucky enough to live in Ulster, where there was industrial employment, the effects of the famine where negligible. If one lived in the poor rural areas of the west and south-west, and were trying to survive on a small plot of potatoes, then one’s chances of dying were highest.

One of the many who recorded the devastation was the Rev Samuel Montgomery, rector of Ballinascreen, Co. Londonderry. He made this entry in the parish register: “On the three last days of July and for six days of August 1846 the potatoes were suddenly attacked, when in their full growth, with a sudden blight. The tops were first observed to wither and then, on looking to the roots, the tubers were found hastening to decomposition. The entire crop that in the month of July appeared so luxuriant, about 15 August manifested only black and blue withered stems. The whole atmosphere in the month of September was tainted with the odour of the decaying potatoes.”[5] The real worry was whether or not the potatoes successfully saved would escape the blight. Soon the worst fears were confirmed. News began to come in the potatoes were rotting in clamps and stores. The medical officer for Coleraine workhouse reported: “nothing else is heard of, nothing else is spoken of, and Famine must be looked forward to.”[6]

 

[1] Thomas Bartlett, Ireland A History, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 282

[2] Peter Gray, Famine, Land And Politics; British Government And Irish Society 1843–50 (Dublin, 1999);Cathal Poirteir (ed), The Great Irish Famine (Cork, 1995); James Donnelly Jr, The Great Irish Potato Famine (Stroud, Gloucs., 2001); Cormac O Grada, The Great Irish Famine (Dublin, 1989); Timothy Guinnane, The Vanishing Irish: Households, Migration, And the Rural Economy in Ireland, 1850 – 1914 (Princeton, 1997).

[3] Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ireland In 250 Episodes, Gill & Macmillan, (2009), p.375

[4]  Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ireland In 250 Episodes, Gill & Macmillan, (2009), p.374

[5] Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ireland In 250 Episodes, Gill & Macmillan, (2009), p.373

[6] Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ireland In 250 Episodes, Gill & Macmillan, (2009), p.373

 

USA: Untold History

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It has been said that when you’re defending you’re losing. Oliver Stone has become a media darling in the USA and spends his days defending his perception of reality. With heavyweight historian Prof Peter Kuznick on his side it might be best if Stone stops defending and allows this 10 part documentary series and 750 page tome speak for themselves. If that were to happen then ‘Untold History’ or, more accurately, ‘Overtold History’, citing over 2,000 ‘Told History’ sources in 14 Chapters might end up on the immaculate shelves of Democrats with voracious appetites for sinister reasons to despise Republicanism.

Historians agree that History must be challenged. Stone & Kuznick argue that the narrative of American history, devoted to liberty and justice, is only part of the story, “We must understand our history; it helps us to shape the here and now.”[1] The authors are recent arrivals in a line of revisionist historians presenting known facts in a skewed order leading to a skewed conclusion.  One wonders if the next revisionist historian to reinterpret this work may be a ‘post-revisionist’.

The inspiration for this journey through America’s ‘untold history’ may be the valiant Maj Gen Smedley Butler who won numerous medals for heroic escapades. He once wrote, “I helped make the world safe for American oil interests. I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”[2] Stone & Kuznick use Butler’s words as a foundation stone for their flawed reconstructed interpretation, “War is a racket as US troop’s storm their way around the world to defend American capitalism.”

Once one is willing to accept this argument then the rest flows very naturally and the main players, presidents, politicians, soldiers, bankers and businessmen in the saga are either good (Democrats) or evil (Republicans). The book contends that the ongoing construction of the rapidly expanding ‘American Empire’ is leaving in its wake a trail of chaos preventing America from playing a role in advancing rather than retarding humanity. The USA, claim the writers, have remained in the grip of militarists and empire builders and presidents have been “brainwashed” into sustaining the repressive state that oversees US domination of the world.

The two main heroes here are Henry Wallace who urged the United States to usher in what he called “the century of the common man” and JFK who by 1963 was on the verge of rejecting Cold War thinking and leading the USA on the road to peace and prosperity. Wallace was vilified, by all but Kennedy, for suggesting the banning of colonialism and economic exploitation. Kennedy’s death handed back the country to dark ‘enemies’ who wanted war and repression.[3]

Stone & Kuznick suggest modern America has been created by these ‘enemies’, a minority of wealthy Americans exerting control over US domestic and foreign policy while the masses experience rapid diminution of power and living standards, “Americans are now victims of intrusive surveillance, government intrusion, abuse of civil liberties, and loss of privacy.”[4] In the United States those who are driven by personal greed and self-interest are empowered over those who extol kindness, generosity, compassion, sharing, empathy, and community building.

Such are some of the issues addressed in these pages which attempts to advance President John Quincy Adam’s condemnation of British colonialism and declaration that the USA, “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy”[5] Stone & Kuznick are left-leaning historians seeking deliverance from the evils of society and, it seems, liberation cannot come from politicians but some badly defined movement envisaged as US citizens learning the lessons of this ‘Untold History’.

The ‘revelation’ that America is ‘imperialist’ is timeworn. The US expansionist impulse exists since the earliest British colonies, an impulse later embodied in “Manifest Destiny” and reflected in the Monroe Doctrine; “since the first settlers America was an imperial nation”[6] The American Empire is exceptional; it is concerned with economic domination not controlling populations. The USA has resorted to force to protect those economic interests. Recent Pentagon figures indicate that the USA had military presence in 132 nations.[7]

The American Empire has evolved over a century. After fulfilling what journalist John L. O’Sullivan termed its “Manifest Destiny” by spreading across North America, the United States looked overseas. As the Europeans seized land in the late 19th century Henry Cabot Lodge observed, “the great nations are rapidly absorbing for their future expansion and their present defence all the waste places of the Earth”, he urged the USA to move quickly to make up for much lost time.[8]

The USA needed markets abroad to absorb its growing overproduction surplus. Capitalists endorsed the approach thereby ensuring to involve USA in world affairs. American industrialists prospered and demanded compliant foreign governments protecting their interests. Political instability afforded the USA a pretext to intervene militarily and reinstall governments.[9] In short, argue Stone & Kuznick, the globalisation of American democracy proceeded at gunpoint financed by capitalists. To trace the roots of this ‘modern evil’ one needs to return to President Woodrow Wilson.

Stone & Kuznick claim Wilson had major weaknesses, “descended from Presbyterian ministers, moralistic and self-righteously inflexible. He believed he was carrying out God’s plan”.[10] Wilson disapproved of radicalism and expressed greater sympathy for business than for labour, “Wilson abhorred radical change. A true diehard imperialist he refused to recognise the Mexican government and sent thousands of American troops to the Mexican border.[11]

While the United States was busy policing its neighbours to the south, more ominous developments were occurring in Europe. Wilson was not to know that the predominantly European bloodletting – the Great War, World War I – would be only the start of an era of unending warfare and horrific violence, human and technological barbarism on an unimaginable scale, which would later come to be known as the American Century. Americans of all political persuasions feared getting dragged into Europe’s bloodletting. Antiwar sentiment held strong and despite overwhelming sympathy for the allies, the United States declared neutrality in the war; “we have to be neutral,” Wilson explained, “since otherwise our mixed populations would wage war on each other.” [12] American neutrality existed in principle but not in practice. Economic interests clearly placed the United States in the Allied camp.

After the sinking of the Lusitania Roosevelt called for war. Despite initial disclaimers, the ship was in fact carrying a large cargo of arms to Great Britain. Though Wilson had won re-election in 1916 under the slogan “He kept us out of war,” he was increasingly coming to believe that if the United States didn’t join the war, it would be denied a role in shaping the post-war world. [13] In April 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war, saying, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Opponents attacked Wilson as a tool of Wall Street. “We are about to put the dollar on the American flag,” charged Sen George Norris of Nebraska. [14] The American public were not enthusiastic to take part in the Great War but the propaganda machine quickly took control of public opinion and became a central element in all future war planning. “During the war period it came to be recognised that the mobilisation of men and means was not sufficient; there must be a mobilisation of opinion.” [15] Stone & Kuznick argue that the war years did, however, bring on unprecedented collusion between large corporations and government in an attempt to rationalise and stabilise the economy, control unfettered competition, and guarantee profits – something that top bankers and corporate executives had striven for decades to achieve. As a result, American banks and corporations thrived during the war, with munitions makers leading the pack.

In Paris on January 12, 1919 Wilson’s “fourteen points” proved a weak foundation on which to base negotiations. The Allies balked at Wilson’s terms. They had little interest in making the world safe for democracy, freedom of the seas, and “peace without victory.” They wanted revenge, new colonies, and naval dominance. Europe was crumbling, starvation was rampant, disease was spreading and displaced populations were seeking refuge. Few of Wilson’s 14 points remained in the final treaty.

Wilson’s verbal promises to spread democracy and end colonialism were broken with his actions. Bankers and munitions manufacturers brought America into WW1 and Wilson’s ineffectiveness about settlements and League of Nations created American scepticism about international involvement and hampered America’s response to the threat of advancing fascism in the 1930’s.

History would soon prove that Wilson had reason to be alarmed at the radical tide sweeping Europe and beyond. American workers also participated in the radical upsurge; steelworkers, miners and textile workers went on strike for higher wages but were soon to learn that police, courts, troops, and the entire apparatus of the state would be arrayed against them when they struggled for better conditions, higher pay and the right to join unions. Thousands of alleged radicals were arrested and many were incarcerated without charges for months. J Edgar Hoover headed up the campaign against the “un-Americanism” and by 1921 he had compiled a list of over half a million potentially subversive individuals, groups, and publications.

Historians have long since discredited the myth that revulsion caused by the war and European entanglements plunged the United States into isolationism in the 1920s. In fact, World War I marked the end of European dominance and the ascendancy of the United States and Japan, the wars two real victors. The 1920s saw a rapid expansion of American business and finance around the globe. New York replaced London as the centre of world finance. The era of US domination of the world economy had now begun. Among the leaders in this effort were the oil companies. The war proved that controlling oil companies was central to projecting and exercising power.

But some people nevertheless clung to the belief that the United States had engaged in a great crusade for freedom and democracy, but for many the phrase rang hollow. Some expressed anger at the war. Others just expressed profound sense of post-war malaise. Hollywood produced several successful anti-war movies including “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930). The war proved demoralising and now seemed to showcase barbarism and depravity, “Put simply, the faith in human capability and human decency had disappeared. Negative views of human nature were reflected in a loss of faith in essential human capabilities.”[16]

Thus the war would have consequences that went far beyond the horrors of the battlefield. The United States never joined the League of Nations, rendering that body impotent in the face of Fascist aggression in the 1930s. Revelations that the United States had entered the First World War on false pretences, while bankers and munitions manufacturers – later labelled “merchants of death” – had raked in huge profits, created widespread scepticism about foreign involvement at a time when the United States needed to contend with a real “axis of evil”: Germany, Italy, and Japan. By the time the United States acted, it was much too late. The necessity of finally combating fascism would, however, afford the United States an opportunity to reclaim some of that democratic, egalitarian heritage on which its earliest greatness and moral leadership had rested. And, though late in entering World War II, the United States provided crucial assistance in defeating Europe’s fascists and played the decisive role in defeating Japan’s militarists. But by setting up the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the war, the United States, once again, proved itself unready to provide the kind of leadership a desperate world cried out for.

By 1920 the world was on the mend from the Great War but by 1930, problems seemed insurmountable. The United States was in the worst depression in its history, the banking system had collapsed, bread lines formed in every town and city, homeless walked the streets, and misery was ubiquitous, despair pervasive. [17] The rest of the world was also in bad shape and had not experienced the relative prosperity in the 1920s that had  that cushioned America. In Europe the trouble was looming Mussolini was in power in Italy, Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany and in 1931 Japanese forces had seized Manchuria. Roosevelt had attacked Pres Hoover for spending too aggressively and unbalancing the budget. He acknowledged the suffering of the people and called for a “new deal.” He had to solve some very real and very practical problems. Thus after his election the first issue he was to deal with was that of the banking system. “But Roosevelt connected with a deeper reality: Americans’ desperate need for renewed hope and confidence. And that he set out to restore”.[18]

In 1940, Stone & Kuznick write, Roosevelt first named his brilliant secretary of agriculture, Henry Wallace, as his running mate thus overruling reluctant party bosses. Four years later, with Roosevelt’s health declining the party bosses knew that the nominee for vice president might well soon become president so they conspired to dump Wallace and replace him with Harry Truman. Too enfeebled to put up any fight Roosevelt still made it clear in an open letter to the Democratic convention that he wanted Wallace. Rank-and-file Democrats rose up against “the bosses” stranglehold over the convention and mounted a demonstration and very nearly nominated Wallace, but were caught short when the bosses forced adjournment against the wishes of the delegates. Truman prevailed and thus came about the first major setback to hopes for a peaceful post-war world. Stone & Kuznick contend that History might have turned out more happily if only this virtual conspiracy to undermine Wallace never took place. In fact Wallace was a major source of concern for party bosses primarily because of his esoteric interests. He once said of himself, “I am a searcher for methods of bringing the ‘inner light’ to outward manifestation”. This search put him under the influence of some oddball prophets. These abstruse interests along with political incapacity gave Wallace notoriety in Washington and his critics deemed him unfit for presidency. Wallace himself was very aware of the fact that Roosevelt had little or no confidence in him as presidential material, “I am certain that the president wanted to ditch me as noiselessly as possible.”

By the time Roosevelt was inaugurated, banking had been halted completely or sharply limited everywhere. Conditions were ripe for dramatic changes in the banking system public anger against bankers had been building since the stock market crash. The media of the day exposed fraud and wrong doing on the part of the nation’s top bankers, including obscene salaries, unpaid taxes, hidden bonuses, unethical loans, and more. Magazines began calling bankers “banksters.”

In this climate, Roosevelt had pretty much a free hand to do what he wanted. He declared a four-day national bank holiday, conferred with the nation’s top bankers on his first full day in office, called a special session of Congress to pass emergency legislation, and calmed citizens fears with the first of his famous fireside chats. Congress passed and Roosevelt signed the emergency banking act, written largely by the bankers themselves. The banking system had been restored without radical change.

Roosevelt’s solution to the banking crisis would serve as a template for how he would handle most issues and his instincts were fundamentally conservative. He would save capitalism from the capitalists. He would face allegations that his “new Deal” was fascistic. In fact, in 1976 Ronald Reagan claimed that “fascism was really the basis of the new Deal.” [19] There was great uncertainty about where Roosevelt was taking the country, leading some observers to compare the United States with Fascist Italy. Some News magazines were unabashed supporters of Mussolini and extolled Italian fascism which they claimed embodied ancient virtues of the race including discipline, duty, courage, glory and sacrifice. [20]

Roosevelt focused from the outset on jumpstarting the US economy and getting Americans back to work. Solving international problems would take a back seat. Roosevelt’s inward looking approach was apparent across the board. He repudiated his earlier support for joining the League of Nations and willingly sacrificed foreign trade in order to stimulate domestic recovery. He even took steps to reduce the countries 140,000 man army which prompted a visit by secretary of war George Dern. Dern brought along Gen Douglas MacArthur, who told the President that he was endangering the country’s safety.

Following FDR’s death and Truman’s arrival as president in the Oval Office came ‘disaster’. The United States dropped atomic bombs even though, according to the authors, the Japanese already knew they were defeated. Truman dropped the bombs to intimidate Stalin into post-war submission and a combination of the Truman Doctrine, the Berlin airlift and the Marshall Plan led the Soviets into the Cold War and a conflict which escalated into a nuclear arms race that imperilled civilisation with the only objector being Wallace whom FDR appointed secretary of commerce. This all sounds logical in theory but the reality is far different. The authors offer no real evidence to back their claim that the Japanese was close to surrender prior to events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Historians generally accept the Japanese were not close to ‘unconditional surrender’ and would fight hard for a ‘mild’ negotiated settlement to protect their adored Emperor. This being true then Stone & Kuznick’s basic contention that Truman was less than honest about his motive for dropping the bomb, namely, to spare American GI lives, and the chain of events that followed including the Cold War, Soviet paranoia,  McCarthyism and the Cuban Missile crisis would never have occurred. There are ample grounds to condemn some of Truman’s actions, not least the loyalty oath program in 1947 but by glorifying Wallace by stating what could have happened the authors merely indulge in serious conjecture. In its most basic form the Cold War was about Liberalism versus Communism and the reality is that each side could learn from the other. The Cold War was the driving force of the American Empire.

Stone & Kuznick’s book and TV series presented as new has a misleading title. Most of the interpretations they present from the war in the Philippines to Afghanistan have appeared in revisionist histories of American foreign policy written over the last 50 years. The authors have conceded this point in their sources and claimed that what they call their “revisionist narrative” that informs their book has become “the dominant narrative among university-based historians.”

The authors devote themselves almost entirely to America’s role in world affairs since 1900 and particularly since 1939. Their aim is to describe America’s seizure of global supremacy during and after World War II, and its imperial exploits up to the present day. It is a tale of good and bad men but mostly bad. By the 1920s the Democratic Republic all but disappeared to make way for an America whose unique mixture of idealism, militarism, avarice, and realpolitik propelled it toward becoming a world power. The book is not so much a work of history than a slanted political document restating and updating a particular view of the world that leaves plenty of space for further historical revisionism. No doubt that too shall come.

[1]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[2]Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, 2nd. ed. (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2009), pp251-252

[3]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[4]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[5]Gardner, L. C., LaFeber, W. F. & McCormick, T. J., 1976. Creation of the American Empire (United States Diplomatic History to 1901). Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing.

[6]Kennedy, P., 2002. The Eagle Has Landed. Financial Times, 22 February.

[7]Freedland, J., 2002. Is America the New Rome?. Guardian, 18th September.

[8]Shoultz, L., 1998. Beneath the United States: A History of US Policy Toward Latin America. 1998 ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts.: Harvard University Press.

[9]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[10]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[11]Hofstadter, R., 1949. The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[12]Herring, G. C., 2008. From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press.

[13]Herring, G. C., 2008. From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press.

[14]Knock, T. J., 1992. To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order. New York: Oxford University Press.

[15]Lasswell, H. D., 1927. Propaganda Technique in the World War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[16]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[17]Kennedy, P., 2002. The Eagle Has Landed. Financial Times, 22 February.

[18]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[19]Reagan, R., 1976. The Nation: I’ve Had a Bum Rap. Time, 17th May, p. 19.

[20]Michael Augspurger, “Henry Luce, Fortune, and the Attraction of Italian Fascism,” American Studies 41 (Spring 2000), p115

Kate O’Brien’s Limerick Life

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Boru House in Limerick is a late Victorian house that served as a family home and as headquarters of a thriving 19th-century horse trading enterprise owned and run by one of Limericks merchant princes. It is located on Mulgrave Street, “the street of bad, mad and dead” and was once occupied by Limericks controversial feminist writer, “a pioneer in Irish fiction”[1] Kate O’Brien. This article explores the influence of Boru House on the writer’s sense of place and religious beliefs. O’Brien’s tumultuous bourgeois childhood, Irish catholic middle class experience and early teenage years at Boru House obeying the rigorous rules of middle class convention led to her being a social, political and spiritual outcast and recluse. She was, by many accounts, an ‘outsider’ born and raised in a house unbefitting its time and location and as such it too was an ‘outsider’ and she became the personification of its character. However, O’Brien’s continued local, national and international success and veneration as a writer testifies to the significance of land and belief in the formation years of an artist and individual.

One of Limerick’s most famous structures is the Victorian Boru House on Mulgrave Street. It is an elaborate late Victorian house built by the grandfather of controversial Limerick writer Kate O’Brien (1897-1974). One of ten children born of Tom O’Brien (1853-1916) and Katty Thornhill (1864-1903), her grandfather Thomas O’Brien Snr moved to Limerick in 1852 after eviction from his Bruree home.[2] Kate wrote about him, “This Tom O’Brien was by Kilfinane standards, indeed by any, a man of the world. He was in fact a child of the post-famine evictions, for his father had been turned out of his small- holding near-by, in Bruree county – about 1850, and had made his way with wife, young daughter and two sons, and with a few household remnants on an ass-cart, as far as Limerick.”[3] Thomas was a horse dealer, breeder and supplier to “the imperial economy”[4].

Thomas was also very much aware of the fact that the nearby Fairgreen, “where thousands of horses are to be seen”[5] was the home of one of Ireland’s largest frequent Horse Fair’s and in 1880 he built Boru House a mere fifty yards or so away from the fairgrounds. It was a solid red brick dwelling. While its name and the arm and sword that perch on top of it conjure up shades of Brian Boru, the carriage wheel design on the stable gates are symbols of her father’s trade for, like his father before him, he was a horse breeder and dealer.[6] In fact on so large a scale was the business that one of Kate’s uncles lived permanently abroad where they mounted cavalry officers in many countries, sold hunters to all the great masters of Foxhounds, and matched carriage horses for the nobility. [7]

Limerick was rapidly becoming the horse capital of western Ireland and there were ongoing efforts to arrange the revival of the Limerick Horse Show and every effort would be made to “request the citizens of Limerick to subscribe and nothing be left undone to ensure the success of the show.”[8] Horses provided much of the locomotion and power of the age, and the O’Brien’s’ provided the horses for the merchants, the clergy and the garrison. Such was the wealth of Tom O’Brien that he could afford to buy some historic O’Brien diamonds from the Earls of Clare and have them set in a ring for his wife.[9]

Mulgrave Street had expanded during the 19th century due to rural migrants reflecting a rising local urban modernity. Mulgrave Street housed new institutions including the Artillery Barracks (1807), County Infirmary (1811), County Gaol (1821), District Lunatic Asylum and Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery (1849)[10]The modern institutionalisation of space in O’Brien’s early life milieu imbued her with an awareness of the centrality of place as a means to anchor essential themes.[11]

Limerick born broadcaster and journalist David Hanly in 1980 had vivid memories of his childhood on Mulgrave Street, “It was a place of curiosity, in my childhood it had not yet suffered the shock of burgeoning suburbia. It was a quiet place; the clock at the mental hospital dominated the street. On one side of the street was a prison, an asylum and a graveyard, a street inhabited by the bad, mad and the dead. On the other side were social climbers, shop keepers and the fairly well off.”[12] A former neighbour of the O’Brien’s, Mickey Hanrohan also had fond memories of the O’Brien family when he wrote to the Sunday Press as to how he had lived next door to Boru House, stating, ‘I kept a few Pigeons next door and could be seen from O’Brien’s Nursery. Master Jack, Miss May, Tom and Kate and Mrs O’ Mara brought me Pigeons from Shannon View their Uncle Michael’s Home & Stables.’[13]

Born in 1897 into a, “comfortable, relatively privileged Limerick of the merchant princes,”[14] She arrived at a time when the family business was enjoying exceptional success because of the recent re-arrival of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment to Limerick to their newly refurbished Barracks and in need of horses.[15] Furthermore, her Grandfather was campaigning on behalf of the cash-strapped farmers of Ireland who were being forced to pay exceptionally high sire fees which was resulting in a nationwide crisis in the horse breeding industry. He told a special hearing in Dublin, “The farmers of Ireland cannot afford to pay the fees demanded by sire owners owing to the bad times, and farmers should be helped by the Government to get good thoroughbred sires cheap.”[16]

Kate was a girl in the revolutionary period, but her provincial bourgeois family had no place, or obvious interest, in the political ferments of the time. This aspect of “Irishness” hardly makes an appearance in her work.[17] However, her father was an ardent supporter of Parnell and greatly believed in the importance of Limerick in the early days of the Home Rule campaign.[18]

Although Kate only spent the first 18 years of her life in Limerick, the city had a powerful and lasting influence on her life and on her writings[19]. Her daring literary perspective dissected and critiqued the social and political milieu of the Catholic petite bourgeoisie which supported the adoption of the 1937 constitution that imposed a quasi-religious and patriarchal structure of political architecture upon the fledgling post-independent nation.

Fianna Fail’s social legislation of the 1930s was increasingly vetted by a staunch right-wing Catholic hierarchy. In tandem with cultural nationalism the State and Church had determinedly ‘anathematized everything from jazz to modern fiction.[20] Subsequently, writers such as O’Brien would face the reviled Censorship Board in 1929.’[21] She was one of the first Irish writers to focus on the crisis of being a woman in a man’s world.[22]

Limerick impacted on O’Brien, It was there that I began to view the world and to develop the necessary passion by which to judge it. It was there indeed that I learnt the world and I know that wherever I am it is still from Limerick that I look out and make my surmises. It is really all you know about yourself – that life began, that you became involved, that you asked all your leading questions there in Limerick.”[23] The O’Brien siblings mixed socially with the sons and daughters of other middle class families such as the Egans, O’Maras, Ebrills, Gaffneys and Bourkes, and went pony-riding and to parties with them, especially during holiday times.

Life was not all work for the merchants and the professional classes. Drinking, dancing, race-going, hunting, card-playing, dinner-partying, womanising, discussing politics and religion filled much of their leisure hours. In this world the role of women was rigidly defined and regulated. Housekeeping, breeding, child-rearing and serving as decorative appendages of their husbands was their socially ordained functions. But for single women the social pressures and tensions were inescapable. Without a husband, a woman was automatically relegated to an inferior status. The iron laws of convention decreed that young women should marry in their first flush of youth. To remain “on the shelf” was to be stigmatised as an ‘old maid.’[24]

 Jim Kemmy (1936-1997) said, “It is over simplifying Kate O’Brien’s attitude to say she had a love hate relationship with Limerick.” She had ambivalence and uneasiness because she found it restrictive, claustrophobic and oppressive. She knew little about Limerick’s proletariat and this was obvious in 1949 when she told Harvey Brett of the New York Times, “Poverty and backwardness doesn’t seem to me the kinds of soil out of which great novels come.”[25] Kemmy further elaborates on this, “She captured for all time the ethos of the middle class commercial Limerick as it was at the turn of the century; the lifestyle and mores of the Catholic merchant princes of the city.” She didn’t understand the Limerick of the working people but she loved the city and its history and almost all her writing is redolent of this affection.”[26]

In her writings she explored the unnatural sterility and cruel idleness of mind and body of middle class women. Dr Lorna Reynolds of UCD suggests the ‘holier than thou’ attitude was anathema to her, “Catholicism seemed not to know that ignorance is not innocence, and without freedom to choose there is no virtue.”[27] Describing herself as a ‘Catholic Agnostic’ O’Brien wrote with some sense of remembered pleasure about religion, religion as hindrance, religion as refuge, religion as the moral reliquary, religion as motivating force; force rather than passion.[28]

Her novel The Ante Room is arguably the quintessential example of how Limerick impacted on her, “for all its melodrama it is extremely important in the context of O’Brien’s understanding of Irish society, particularly that of the Irish Catholic middle class and its self imposed vulnerabilities.” [29] The novel is sharp, multifaceted and portrays a narrow society, highlighting the small mindedness which sustains and oppresses it. Class fears undercut much of O’Brien’s work. Social exposure is viewed as the greatest shame in a world in which sexual or romantic deviation is so damning their deeper implications are unacknowledged.

O’Brien has been described as an “outsider”, “O’Brien remains a literary outsider; an independently minded maverick”,[30] her wealthy merchant bourgeoisie class, boarding school years, sexuality, relationship with Catholicism and significantly her Anglophile ideology was not part of the founding myth of the new Ireland. She admired the values and manners of her own early 20th Century bourgeoisie class in popular political culture and class consciousness. These idiosyncrasies were not unique but symbolic of a class attacked by a new era of nationalistic and religious influences.[31]

It was O’Brien who first and most comprehensively chronicled the rise of the Irish Catholic middle class experience. O’Brien’s lasting contribution to Irish literature is her exploration of a specific way of life and the many repressions which helped shape it. She was a formidable woman; a rebel, a loner, a traveller, a believer in education’s saving power for women, an astute political and cultural prophet, and a woman both of her time and beyond it, a European. Above all, perhaps, she is both storyteller and social historian.[32]

Kate’s bittersweet romance with her own indelibly linked land and belief manifests itself in later writings, “My life began in Limerick, my memories start there and to weave and wind from that first focus.” She sees her land as “grave but surprising and corrective of literary fancies.” Its first manner is sceptical, quiet and deprecatory. And of her religious beliefs, “Limerick’s churches are the very life and expression of the place, for comedy and anger, conviction and pride, music and formality, for ceremony – and always for prayer.”[33]

The structure of Boru House remains unchanged. It is a detached six-bay, two-storey polychrome red brick building with a single-bay two-storey gabled entrance and a three-sided canted bay window to the west. The use of polychrome brickwork in conjunction with stonework and the coursing of the eaves brickwork are all typical of the closing decades of the nineteenth century. The house has some non-domestic characteristics because it also functioned as the head quarters of the then prosperous family business.[34]

The national and local social and political climates of 1880 were at odds with the affluence of the O’Brien family. Many Limerick citizens were feeling the impact of poverty, famine, rural agitation and political unrest. County Limerick ratepayers had to pay more than most other counties for additional Royal Irish Constabulary because of Land League agitation.[35] There were demands of emigrants to financially intervene to rescue the country from the abyss of British suppression, aggression and enslavement. The founding of the Irish National Land League in the USA was the response and aimed to abolish landlordism and enable poor tenant farmers to possess their own land.[36]

Amidst this social milieu Kate’s grandfather built a substantial business and his rise from evicted tenant farmer to prosperous dealer in bloodstock was rapid and attest to his fortitude. He was an assertive, pompous and determined man and went about building the substantial Boru House beside his paddock and stables. He insisted that the house had the O’Brien coat of arms emblazoned onto the roof ridge. His granddaughter was proud of her birthplace, her origins and her class. They provide the settings for many of her novels.[37]

Kate’s formative years at Boru House influenced her writing. After her mother’s death of cancer in 1903 Kate studied at Laurel Hill Convent before progression to UCD, a fellow student writing as Quidnunc in the Irish Times in 1936 recalls, “When I remember her as a student at the National University she was a very pretty girl.”[38] Irish Broadcaster Ciaran Mac Mathuna (1925-2009) was born and grew up in a house on Mulgrave Street about 50 yards from the O’Brien family home. “It was a strange looking house; they were a strange family,” he remarks.[39]

If strange is a good word to use to describe her family then it is equally as good to describe her writings. Her play ‘Distinguished Villa’ (1928) launched her career. Her novel, chronicling middle class Irish life, ‘Without My Cloak’ (1931) demonstrated her main themes, Irish women’s struggle for freedom against family, society and Catholicism. The heroine of ‘The Ante Room’ (1934) is torn between love and Catholicism, so is ‘Mary Lavelle’ (1936), it was banned under censorship laws, as was ‘The Land of Spices’ on May 5th, 1941: “A prohibition order is placed on Kate O’Brien’s ‘The Land of Spices’ by the Censor, due to a sentence hinting at a homosexual act”[40], O’Brien later stated of the Irish censorship Board, “It’s five old gentlemen. I don’t know who they are. Just five old gentlemen who, when they get a complaint, read the book, and decide on whether to take action or not. Censorship is a disgrace, it’s too silly, and puts Ireland in a ridiculous position.”[41] O’Brien’s most successful novel was ‘That Lady’ (1946).[42]

Constructing an elaborate dwelling in impoverished Limerick was extravagant. Local people experienced food shortages that Britain doubted, “this famine fever is an outbreak of typhus.’[43] A view challenged in Ireland, “Epidemic fever follows famine.”[44] But ‘An Gorta Beag’caused hunger not death. It was due to new food production techniques, different structures of land-holding and the disappearance of the sub-division of land and cottiers. A combination of Irish emigrant’s donations and British political promptness controlled the starvation.[45]

To Kate such issues were of little concern. She talks in autobiographical writings of a happier childhood, “scenes of early childhood are those which shine clearest. We discover our childhood at the end of life as if it were something sculpted when much of the rest of us is by every good right dead or dead-alive”.[46]

According to her cousin Don Thornhill in 2008 Kate’s happy childhood came from money which became a theme in her Limerick (romantically fictionalised as Mellick) novels, “Her characters are at ease with money.” John Broderick wrote of her in 1963, “Since most novelists are preoccupied throughout their lives by the world of their childhood and youth, it is not surprising that Miss O’Brien’s imagination is apt to linger on those years immediately before the First World War: the last days of the great 19th century peace. Her milieu is that of the rich Catholic merchants of Limerick before the lights went out all over Europe.” It was a comfortable, leisurely world; casually accepting values which it imagined at the time to be immortal; and imbued with those subtle, generous and slightly diffident manners. It is out of this rich background with its solid Victorian conventions and its age-old Catholicism that Miss O’Brien’s heroines emerge.[47]

There are other themes influenced by Boru House. Her Anglophile tendency is easily traced, “English regiments flirted and courted among Limerick women with traditional allure, my memory tells me, they must have been an answer to life, those enemy troops, if not literally an answer to prayer”[48] She was embittered by the growing influence of Irish nationalism leading to the 1918 collapse of her family’s fortune and loss of Boru House thus rendering her homeless.[49]

O’Brien draws from this experience when she reminisces on her childhood amid British military surroundings, “Yes, it was a gay town, within memory, when the troops were in; up to 1914. It was a garrison town, and did not deny itself this glitter and spangle. The married women of Limerick around the time I am remembering were often gay and gentle with the fair-haired lieutenants and trim captains from ‘across’. Troops are no longer gay, in any part of the world; the decorative thin notion died around 1914.”[50]

June 1916 marked a turning point in the family’s financial affairs because of her father’s death. The Limerick Chronicle newspaper reported on the funeral, “The cortege was of large proportions and testified to the esteem in which the deceased was held in the city and the sympathy felt for his family in their great affliction”[51] Following from Kate’s father’s death her uncle Mick O’Brien took over the family business, “always a poor judge of horse-flesh and was not equipped to run the business on his own.” [52] Family debts soon accumulated, forcing Mick to sell his mansion, Shannon View, and to move with his wife to St. John’s Villas, a short distance from Boru House. Kate O’Brien’s brothers and sisters began to scatter, and Boru House was sold to the Lloyd family. Apart from occasional visits, Kate O’Brien was never again to live permanently in her native city.

But in ‘My Ireland’ she fondly retraced her childhood steps. Writing of a striking feature of her birthplace under the shadow of St. John’s Church, “still pointing its holy finger to a recognisable sky” she states, “St. John’s is located in a shabby north-east corner between Garryowen and the slums of Irishtown, it has taken its place since the 1860’s in a tired and history tattered town, as if it was itself a part of the long uneasy record. The church epitomised the town and once ‘a greyish blue on the blue and green and out of it raising a spire they will know that they have arrived at Limerick.”[53]  She later says of her city, “Limerick is full of monumental and ‘forward’ ideas. Our urbs antiqua (ancient city) has been taking a great shake up, and yet she still manages to look quite an old beauty, when you catch her in a good light” [54] In her final years her love for her native city was obvious, “I will be home soon in the very heart of that self confident town which, Limerick woman though I am, I cannot but admit is very easy on the eye.”[55]

O’Brien died in 1974. Her literary legacy is realism of immense psychological intensity, subtle insights and a deceptively physical quality. Her characters for all their repression, touch each other, reach out, and are tactile and emotional. In ‘Pray for the Wanderer’ (1938) she wrote about her life as a writer returning home and perhaps comes closer to explaining her life and work than any critic can. Outsider to the end, she was not above asking for the understanding she never fully received as either artist or individual. Her tombstone bears that title as inscription.[56] Though she was born on Mulgrave Street and spent her formative years there, she did not retain happy memories of the place. She never liked the “ugly” house, as she called it, and was slightly embarrassed at her father’s extravagant heraldic device at the top of the building. Boru House is situated directly across the road from St. Joseph’s Mental Hospital and Kate O’Brien always had unpleasant childhood memories of poor, demented patients entering and leaving the asylum grounds. The circumstances leading to the sale of the house had also hurt her.[57]

Critics draw a picture of Kate O’Brien’s life in terms of her childhood, where she lived, her family context, social environment and the Catholic middleclass milieu which dominated her. One of Ireland’s foremost poets Eavan Boland accurately captures the spirit of Kate O’Brien’s childhood Limerick which was struggling upwards. The horrors of the famine lay far behind her. It was a city of style and refinement and a class with a thirst for upward mobility; “Good horse flesh, solid silver and dresses made in Dublin were beginning to prevail.”[58]

The city was starting to attract international attention with a growing demand for Limerick Lace. There is reference to the reviving nationwide Lace making industry with Limerick’s designs being of special interest.[59] But there was also urban unrest, for example, in 1897 The Bishop of Limerick had to intervene in negotiations to bring an amicable solution to striking Irish bacon trade workers in Limerick. Angry producers refused to sell to pig buyers until profiteering middlemen agents or so called ‘blockers’, men who purchased at fairs and resold thus reducing the price to producers, were dispensed with.[60] In the midst of this were a class who were Catholic Ireland but never Nationalist Ireland, “A constellation of perhaps blinkered, smug lives, political blindness, the mainstays of a society but only at the cost of ignoring many more urgent and more powerful realities.”[61]

Kate O’Brien was a pioneering writer and her contribution to Irish literature and to an understanding of the psychology and sexuality of women has not yet been fully recognised. She was a warm-hearted and fallible human being who believed in the primacy of the feelings of the heart. Her writings are a record of her life and passions. It comes as no surprise to learn that her favourite quotation was George Santayana’s “The holiness of the heart’s affections”. Kate O’Brien was an intellectual and a profound writer. A full assessment of her work is long overdue, but it can be said with certainty that she assured Limerick and its people of an enduring place in Irish literature.[62]

Many of O’Brien’s books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that were new and radical at the time. Throughout her life, O’Brien felt a particular affinity with Limerick. O’Brien was committed to progressive politics.  A feminist, her novels promoted gender equality and were mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence.[63] Boru House clearly influenced the writer Kate O’Brien’s sense of place and religious beliefs. Her chaotic childhood, Irish catholic experience and teenage years obeying the meticulous rules of middle class life led to her being an ‘outsider’ but her writings continue to command the respect and adoration of her peers. O’Brien was an ‘outsider’ born and raised in a house incongruous to its time and place and consequently an ‘outsider’ too. O’Brien personified the character of Boru House. But her continued local, national and international success and veneration as a writer testifies to the significance of land and belief in the formative years of an artist and individual.

 

 

 

[1]The Kate O’Brien Papers, University of Limerick, (Special Collections) Available at: http://www2.ul.ie/pdf/57753018.pdf Accessed On: November 20th 2013. p.i.

[2] Humphreys Family Tree, The O’Briens Family Tree, Available At: http://humphrysfamilytree.com/OMara/obrien.html Accessed On: 11th November 2013.

[3]Kate O’Brien, My Ireland quoted in Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[4]Irish Times, 2006

[5]Irish Times, 1897

[6] Limerick Leader, 2007

[7]Irish Times, 1981

[8]Irish Times, 1897.

[9]Kate O’Brien, My Ireland quoted in Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[10] J. Logan,  Family and Fortune in Kate O’Brien’s Limerick, in With Warmest Love: Lectures for Kate O’Brien, 1984-1993, (Limerick: Mellick Press, 1994) p. 115.

[11] Trinity College Dublin, Digital Literary Atlas of Ireland: Writers: Kate O’Brien Available At: http://www.tcd.ie/trinitylongroomhub/digital-atlas/writers/kate-obrien/ Accessed On 15th November 2013.

[12]David Hanly, Memories of Mulgrave Street, in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 2, March 1980.

[13] The Kate O’Brien Papers, University of Limerick, (Special Collections) Available at: http://www2.ul.ie/pdf/57753018.pdf Accessed On: November 20th 2013. p.80

[14]Irish Times, 1994

[15]Irish Times, 1897

[16]Freemans Journal, 1897

[17]Irish Times, 2006

[18]Irish Times, 1994

[19]Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[20] Roy Foster, Modern Ireland, 535.

[21] Ibid.

[22]Limerick Leader, 1990

[23]Kate O’Brien, My Ireland quoted in Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[24]Kate O’Brien, My Ireland quoted in Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[25]New York Times, 1949

[26]Irish Times, 1981

[27]Irish Times, 1984

[28]Irish Times, 1987

[29]Irish Times, 1997

[30]Ibid

[31]Kate O Brien, Limerick  in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 3, June 1980.

[32]Irish Times, 1997

[33]Kate O Brien, Limerick in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 3, June 1980.

[34]National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Boru House, Mulgrave Street, Blackboy Road, Limerick City. Available At:http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=LI&regno=21519001 Accessed On: 10th November 2013.

[35]Irish Times 1897.

[36] Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation of Ireland, 1900–2000, Profile Books, London (2004), pp. 62–63

[37] Don Thornhill (Speech), Kate O’Brien On Transforming Power, Kate O’Brien Weekend (1.03.2008), Limerick.

[38]Irish Times, 1936

[39]Irish Times, 1996

[40]Irish Times, 1941

[41]New York Times, 1949

[42] Limerick Post, 2008

[43] Belfast Newsletter, 1880

[44]Nenagh Guardian, 1880

[45] New York Times, “The Herald of Relief from America”, Available At: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/harp/0228.html  Accessed On: 12th November 2013

[46]Kate O’Brien, Warmest Love, Old Limerick Journal, Vol 4, September 1980.

[47]Irish Press, 1963

[48]Kate O Brien, Limerick in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 3, June 1980.

[49] Don Thornhill (Speech), Kate O’Brien On Transforming Power, Kate O’Brien Weekend (1.03.2008), Limerick.

[50]Kate O Brien, Limerick in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 3, June 1980.

[51]Limerick Chronicle, 1916

[52]Kate O’Brien, My Ireland quoted in Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[53]Kate O Brien, Limerick in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 3, June 1980.

[54]Irish Times, 1969

[55]Irish Times, 1971.

[56]Irish Times, 1997

[57]Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[58]Irish Times, 1985

[59]Irish Times, 1897

[60]Ibid

[61]Irish Times, 1985

[62]Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[63] A.L. Mentxaka, Kate O’Brien and the Fiction of Identity (McFarland, 2011)

Brian Boru: High King of Ireland

 

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Brian Boru: High King of Ireland

By

Roger Chatterton Newman

Roger Chatterton Newman’s book ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland (Mercier Press, Cork, 1983), according to the author, sets out to elaborate on the High Kings achievements and contribution to Irish society but his reputation is, for the most part, based on fiction, “what the annalists would have us believe is romantic fiction”[1]; and the book presents itself as the first ever full length biography of Brian Boru. Newman wants to remove all this fiction and myth to reveal the ‘real’ Brian Boru. The book leaves no doubt that Brian Boru was the right man, in the right place at the right time, “Brian lived in the heyday of the Viking age, when Ireland was part of a scattered empire that stretched across northern Europe”[2] He is shown in the Western Europe of his day, largely divided but struggling towards a unified monarchical system. The Vikings were plundering and pillaging and Ireland needed a united front to drive back the foreigners. Other national leaders such as the Ui Neill’s were not, it seems, overly concerned with the Viking occupation or demonstrated any real desire to end outside domination so the task was left to Boru. Such unification, new contends, was by no means a new idea, the 10th century is marked with numerous attempts by the Ui Neill, amongst others, making deliberate attempts to ensure the King of Tara ruled all Ireland. Brian’s successful attempt to bring Ireland under his control had local and European patterns.

According to Newman the heroic Boru, not unlike the later Napoleon Bonaparte, “a product of middle-class pretentiousness” [3] was a man who knew how to fight his way to the top and he was determined to have his own way, impose his own rules, have his own will respected and was willing to enforce his demands by diplomacy or by force whenever the need necessitated, “Brian’s policies and reforms, unusual when compared with the average politics of his age, were based on a genuine desire to bring peace and prosperity to his realm.”[4] But, although Boru was very much aware that there were advantages to having the Vikings resident on Irish soil, Newman contends that the Vikings are undeserving of fashionable applause by todays historians, “they should not be credited with greater contributions to Irish history than is their due…they did much for Ireland in trade and commerce but their legacy should be compared at all times with what has been left by native craftsmen, scribes and builders of the same time.”[5] They advanced agriculture, knew how to build comfortable residences and were efficient traders in communication with many fellow traders in foreign lands. These benefits meant Boru was not determined to wipe them out but merely to tame them. Their immense economic and social benefit to Ireland would have enormous advantages for Brian’s kingdom.

Brian’s greatness came from the fact that he was equally skilled as warrior and politician and he was determined to break foreign rule. In Brian Boru’s Ireland foreigners were welcome as traders and visitors or peaceful residents but those seeking power on the island were dealt with using brute force, violence and bloodshed. Newman makes the point that the decline of Ireland’s naval power rendered the country vulnerable to foreign invaders. Because Ireland was a small island by comparison to other European countries the country was easy pickings for the Vikings. Ireland’s neighbours across the English Channel were equally as vulnerable but learned the lesson and developed itself as a powerful naval force. Ireland failed to do so and thus paid the price.

Newman contends that Boru was a most temperamental power monger who was a product of his own environment, “Boru was subject to sudden outbursts of temper, in the end, to cost him his own life and end his dynastic aspirations. It makes him more human.”[6]He was the youngest son of a petty king with little prospect of inheriting greatness but a combination of fortune and fortitude intervened and Brian built his own reputation through guerrilla warfare. His courage and determination convinced the Dal Cais that he was a true leader and from this moment on his campaign to secure the High Kingship of Ireland had become unrelenting. Although his relationships were not in keeping with the Catholic philosophy he was embraced by the Catholic Church because of his kindness and adherence to every other aspect of the religion. The church was perfectly willing to turn a blind eye to his marital fiascos in exchange for his support both monetary and moral. Newman finds Brian’s family life, although chaotic, most unusual in familial loyalty. Such loyalty, he argues, is evidence of Boru’s charisma.

The book pays too much attention to the ups and downs of warfare, divisions and rivalries; who won, who lost and what were the consequences and it can make the narrative somewhat confusing for those with only a passing interest. But the author attempts to resolve this issue by inserting comprehensive notes at the back for those eager for such information. The author cites the annalists as his primary sources but never loses sight of the fact that such sources are lacking in credibility.

Regardless of the fact that the book is academically written and is a scholarly study, supported by extensive research it remains a most readable work about a most mesmerising man. Newman’s more human ‘Brian Boru’ is clearly a great reformer and warrior and a very skilled administrator, but, perhaps most obvious of all a devout flag-waving nationalist, “that over-used word patriot is undoubtedly justified.”[7]

 

 

 

[1] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 376

[2] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 9

[3] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 110

[4] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 17

 

[5] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 389

[6] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 335

 

[7] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 300

The Transformation Of Brian Boru

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Conventional interpretations judge Brian Boru as a martyr hero who led his people to victory but more recent interpretations have favoured the view that the battle was little more than the culmination of a rebellion against Boru by the insubordinate king of Leinster and his Dublin associates. Dr Seán Duffy, claims, “Brian Boru the man and the myth are right at the core of the Irish imagination. It is time that the real Brian, his real achievements and legacy are properly understood and interpreted for a modern audience.” Duffy’s statement suggests that, thus far, representations of Boru are in some way inaccurate and in need of revision. One primary reason for 20th Century representations of Boru being at the core of the Irish imagination is the manner in which he was depicted in Ireland’s local and national popular press throughout the period. By tracing the course of these articles there emerges a 19th Century warlord Boru, distinct in many ways from a 21st Century statesmanlike Boru.

 

Then glance the page of history down to valiant Brian Boru,

O’Rourke, O’Connor, O’Neill, O’Donnell, those clansmen tried and true;

We honour Robert Emmet, too; Fitzgerald and Wolfe Tone,

While O’Connell’s name upon our hearts we ever shall enthrone.

Laurence McGowan [1]

 

Traditional interpretations judge Brian Boru as a martyr hero who led his people to victory but more recent interpretations have favoured the view that the battle was little more than the culmination of a rebellion against Brian, the king of Munster, by the insubordinate king of Leinster and his Dublin associates. Dr Seán Duffy, Associate Professor of Medieval History in Trinity, claims, “Brian Boru the man and the myth are right at the core of the Irish imagination. It is time that the real Brian, his real achievements and legacy are properly understood and interpreted for a modern audience.” [2] 

Duffy’s statement suggests that, thus far, representations of Boru are in some way inaccurate and in need of revision. The reality is that Boru’s persona is permanently in a state of revision. One primary reason for 20th Century representations of Boru being at the core of the Irish imagination is the manner in which he was depicted in Ireland’s local and national popular press throughout the period.

By tracing the course of these articles there emerges a 19th Century warlord Boru, distinct in many ways from a 21st Century statesmanlike Boru. If anyone doubted whether the strategy worked or not then history could offer further proof of Boru’s far reaching greatness as a statesman into the late 20th century with claims that one of his descendants “a mirror reflection of Boru” was running America, “A firm link has been established between Brian Boru and Ronald Reagan.”[3] The high point of Reagan’s presidential visit to Ireland in 1984 was the presentation to him of a scroll attesting to his descent from Brian Boru. One present reporter later stated, “I was not allowed a close sight of the document, but I wonder if it is possible to trace definitively Reagan’s ancestry back for 1,000 years or thereabouts.”[4] But the ‘Boru’ distinction occurs not because history, as it is perceived by contemporary historians; “a word to do with digging and delving, a word which takes the glamour from the shoulders of Brian Boru”[5]; has changed in any way but interpretations of history have changed dramatically.

It is best to begin with what we think we know. One of Ireland’s oldest names is O’Brian, “With reference to the origin of the surnames in Ireland it may be mentioned that, in the eleventh century, the Irish Monarch Brian Boroimhe (Boru) made an ordinance that every Irish family and clan should assume a particular surname (or sire-name); the more correctly to preserve the history and genealogy of the different Irish tribes.”[6] The pedigree of this family is taken in John O’Hart’s Irish Pedigrees as from one Cormac Cas, who was the second son of Olioll Olum, King of Munster, whose mother was a daughter of Conn Cétchathach; Connof the Hundred Battles.[7] This Cormac had a son whose birth is recorded as 167 A.D., which gives a good idea of the long ties the O’Brien’s have in the history of Ireland.[8] Mac Lysaght’s Irish Families says the Dalcasian clan, known as Ui Toirdealbhaigh, took the surname O’Brien from Brian Boru.”[9]

Historians in the mid-19th century perceived Brian Boru as, “a delicately organised, thoroughbred Milesian, a maiden loving, harp-taught, council-swaying King of Erin.”[10] Furthermore, Boru was a brave, ambitious and generous prince; “he made presents of gold to the church of Armagh”[11], the friend and patron of religion and learning, “His value to Ireland may be best estimated from the independence, prosperity and glory of Ireland under his sway.”[12] Not everyone totally agreed with this estimation of the High King, “And yet, if we reflect upon it, this man the grandest figure in our history, was still a usurper of the National crown.”[13]

By 1879 the “tragedy” of Brian Boru is brought to the Dublin stage and its London writer, J.T.B., favourably compares his work, “a dramatization of historical reality” to Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra. He is condemned by Irish theatre critics for manipulating history, “No art, no ingenuity, no dramatic or moral purpose, can justify the violence done to our great historical figure.”[14] The public affection for Boru clearly ran deep.

Boru’s heroic status had continued unquestioned in newspapers as far back as the 18th Century. For example, February 19th 1879 as the steamship Countess of Dublin left the North Wall with a detachment of the 77th Regiment, consisting of 148 rank and file members, sergeants and corporals, all Londoners, destined for the Anglo-Zulu War in South Africa; as the steamer moved away from her moorings the band triumphantly played Brian Boru’s March.[15] The minor event, in the great scheme of history, gives us a little insight into the deep affection for the fearless warrior Boru has had in Irish History. He is the personification of Irish militaristic force, courage and heroic valour.

Over a decade later widely commended Irish poet M.C. Hime claimed Boru as an accurate representation of Irish patriotism with a “daintily conceived poem celebrating the achievements of Brian the Brave. The versification is full of national spirit.”[16] Many Irish newspapers quickly adopted the notion and proclaimed, “Brian was one of those men in whom the patriotic impulse superseded all others.”[17] Thus, the poet M.C. Hime was never alone in such thinking and many historians fully agreed, “All Irishmen should honour the name of this great Irish General, and in the march of modern civilisation steps should be taken that spots such as that on which he stood, hallowed by historic events, should be perfectly preserved.”[18] On the eve of the 20th century Limerick celebrated it’s sept-centenary as natives recollected of their homeland “the granary of Ireland” being harassed by hordes of adventurers, not just Danes, “Limerick was stained with the crimson blood of rapine until Boru settled the order of things.”[19]

Some early 20th Century romantic Irish historians claim that Brian Boru was so famous that even William Shakespeare made reference to him in Hamlet when he wrote, “to take up arms against a sea of troubles” which contains a mixture of metaphors from which one might infer that some of Hamlet’s ancestors were among the unwelcome Danes which, “Brian Boru showed the door”; and the still more famous saying, “It is a custom more honour’d in the breach than in the observance” goes far to support the same theory.”[20]

In the very early 20th Century it was generally believed that the Danes came to Ireland as a plundering race at the close of the eighth century, and for 165 years they were nothing but brigands, settled in batches in seaport towns, which they fortified and ruled. The history of their ultimate defeat dated from the historic moment in 968 CE, when Mahon, King of Munster, and Brian Boru called the people together in County Clare, and discussed the question of war or peace with the Danes. The decision was war, and war followed by an immediate attack on the Danes and the capture of Limerick. From that date until the close of the tenth century there were continuous efforts to free the country of the Danes but mostly including Clontarf in 1014.[21]

Whatever his accomplishments in Clontarf and whether or not he ever really held the throne of High King of Ireland, he most certainly, through his mythical or otherwise valiant deeds, conquered the hearts and minds of the people of Ireland who fondly embraced his memory if and when a true Irish hero was needed. His scope was nationwide from far south to far north, east and west across the length and breadth of Ireland and was as widespread as the nationalists who were quoting his noble cause in their speeches, “Patrick showed us the way to Heaven and Brian Boru to glory.”[22]

It seemed as if whenever a true ‘nationalist’ hero needed to be trotted out then Boru was called upon. As was the case in 1905 in the midst of a political debate into the nationalisation of school life in Ireland, “My teacher never taught me much about Irish history. A few scant words about Brian Boru and St. Patrick and that was it. But that teacher could trace his descent to Oilioll Olum.”[23] But, Boru had taught the Irish a lesson in Unity, “the man who will do most for Irish unity must know how to play the game as Brian Boru played it.”[24]

By 1910 rural Nationalists applauded the Rev. Canon Flannery, “a good old soggarth” when he declared, “although Boru is dead the nationalist movement will continue to infuse the Irish spirit into their movement and show the country that the spirit of Brian Boru is not dead.”[25] In 1912 the Nationalists contemplating a successful Third Home Rule Bill wondered whether the new Irish flag should be red because, “Brian Boru’s flag at Clontarf in 1014 was a red one.”[26] Furthermore, “when we raise the flag we better have Brian Boru’s March in tramping order. We’ll want it.”[27]

In Westminster the name Boru was raising howls of laughter on for Unionists on the eve of the 900th anniversary of Clontarf when nationalist John Redmond’s brand of ‘new patriotism’ was compared to Boru’s more traditional approach, “It is extraordinary that 900 years after the great man’s death another great man in the person of Mr John Redmond should have arisen; Boru had never allied himself inseparably with the fortunes of England and never accepted £2,000 a year to lead the forces of his country.”[28] When the anniversary arrived in 1914 nationalists were reminded, “Brian Boru came of fighting stock, “Men whose lives were used up in defence of their home and country. They were devoutly attached to Christ and the Vikings objective was to plunder and destroy the Christian spirit of Christ.”[29]

Boru’s reach went much further than his own homeland. In 1920, Irish Nationalists in Chicago were implored to support the Irish cause and by so doing they too were equally as important to the course of Irish history as Boru’s loyal and patriotic troops. As the attendees celebrated Boru’s victory at the battle of Clontarf they were informed that on the eve of the 1014 battle Boru addressed his troops and told them, “We are here today to defend the faith and the all-powerful hand of our Saviour will be with us in the fight. There will be courage from God in the heart of every man who faces the enemy.”[30]

Boru’s courage and victories were also in no doubt back in South Cork where patriots are reminded, “Ireland can boast of many heroes who fought and bled for their native sire land, but, alas, with most of them their sacrifices were in vain. They failed to accomplish what they fought for and they left to posterity a legacy of disappointed ambitions and hopes deferred. But there was one notable exception to the list of failures, it is Brian Boru.”[31]

Over in North Tipperary the residents who claimed, “you cannot throw a stone in Tipperary without hitting a Ryan” were reminded that this was so only because the ancestors of this clan were first brought to this side of the country from Wexford by the mighty Brian Boru, who had quarrelled with the original chieftains of Tiobrid Arainn, disposed them in his own high handed way, and planted the sept Mulryan, who were his Leinster allies, in their place.”[32]

In 1921 nationalist residents of South Armagh were quite proud of the fact that, “Boru was buried here, he was the King of all Ireland and this is good enough reason that Armagh should be selected as the site for a Parliament proposed to be set up for the six counties.”[33] A further protest, “declaring ourselves committed to resist the partition of Ireland,” later the same year were reminded, “We hold the ashes of Brian Boru who struggled for Irish Independence.”[34] A sentiment still not forgotten in 1933, “Brian Boru’s bones, dust by now, lie here, borne here from Clontarf by a mourning army.”[35]

But further south something of a Brian Boru re-evaluation was beginning to occur and it began with his name. Some historians debated the contentious issue of how best to spell Boru’s name after a Judge in Galway declares, “I see no reason why the hero of Clontarf should have his name spelled ‘Brian Bóroimhe’instead of ‘Brian Boru’. It would be pleasing to the old warrior to know that the rising generation would be better able to grapple with his name.”[36]

By the mid 1920’s the relevance and wisdom of teaching Boru in schools was being questioned, “There is a good deal of talk about the teaching of Irish history, boys are being taught more about Brian Boru than about the days of their own fathers.”[37] But Boru supporters were having none of it and suggested that, not only should it be taught in schools but, their idol was suitable for canonisation, “Our own Brian Boru was mooted as a possible candidate for canonisation; an honour which the most enthusiastic of his contemporaries would hardly accord him.”[38]“It was further noted that a t Liverpool Cathedral there is a chapel dedicated to St. Patrick and the saints of Ireland. A stained glass window contains an appropriate image of the national apostle, and in subordinate places appears St. Columba and St. Bride and one of the panels is filled with the image of Brian Boru.”[39]

Weeks later in the town of Ennis where the centenary of Daniel O’Connell’s election to the Imperial Parliament was being celebrated nationalist visitors were reminded that they walked on the hallowed ground of significant historical events, “to the east Brian Boru built a castle and from this stronghold marched his Dalcassians to the conquest of not only Munster, but of the sovereignty of all Ireland.”[40] Such was the affection for Boru in Clare that in 1929 there was public outrage at the impending sale of three hundred acres of timber being sold from nearby Cratloe Woods, “These splendid Oaks have ancient associations with the historic Brian Boru. For it was here, in this forest, Boru and his guerrillas often retired after sallies against the Danes of Limerick.”[41] While closer to Boru’s home turf, in Clare, there was a controversy raging about the sacred and hallowed ground that was ‘Brian Boru’s Fort’, so precious a place that there was a question as to whether tourists should be allowed anywhere near it.[42]

Hence, Irish patriotism long cherished the theory that Brian’s victory at Clontarf saved Western Europe from Norse domination, “The century after his death, despite dynastic quarrels, saw remarkable progress in letters, learning and the peaceful arts and crafts, and scholars are tracing the fruit of his toil in the records of ancient homes of learning throughout the basin of the Shannon.”[43]

A young Eamon De Valera who had, “attempted to destroy the Labour Party” was being alluded to by his political enemies as, “a second Brian Boru”[44], a title seized upon by Unionists who accused him of, “wanting one more Battle of Clontarf as Brian Boru had before to sweep the enemy into the sea.”[45] Some years later Journalists criticised the view and attributed it to a dying Unionist population, “His critics are just old men who discuss De Valera in the language of Brian Boru.”[46] But De Valera himself was not unimpressed with the appellation and, in 1933, on the site of Brian Boru’s Killaloe fort referred to the fourteenth anniversary of the Declaration of Irish Independence, and, “expressed the hope that in the not far distant future we shall see the freedom and unity Brian Boru achieved in his generation.”[47] In Toomevara, years later, they continued to agree that, “Mr De Valera was the greatest leader of the Irish people since Boru had placed in the forefront the independence of his country.”[48]

But, back in 1930 something of a Boru renaissance was in full swing. Discrepancies between accounts about Clontarf in the Irish annals and ‘non-Irish’ encyclopaedias and reference books began to emerge. While Irish Annals accounts were quite voluminous the records were ‘scanty’ in non-Irish publications, “these latter narratives popularise history as part of the education of Irish youth.” [49] For example, the widely read Century Encyclopaedia condenses  the “greatest battle ever fought in Western Europe” and merely states, “Clontarf, a village in Ireland, north of Dublin, and scene of a famous battle in which Brian Boru, king of Ireland, and 20,000 men defeated King Sitric with 21,000 Danes. King Brian and his son and 7000 Irish fell; the Danes loss numbered 13,000.”[50] Irish historians and their books such as Cusack’s History of Ireland gave greater accounts, went into better detail and the descriptions are sourced from chronicles preserved and survived through the centuries in Irish repositories, “King Brian possessed a powerful mind and a strong will, with the vision of a statesman and the character of a law giver. The mighty Boru stands only second in its stature to the gigantic proportions of St. Patrick, he increased the prestige of the Irish race in every Irish centre throughout the world.”[51]

The transformation of Brian Boru had begun. He was being reinterpreted not just as a warrior warlord but, as his political role was being better understood, he was now being more aptly described as, “Our last great Soldier-Statesman,”[52] and even the tune he is most associated with ‘Brian Boru’s March’ was worthy of reconsideration, “the tune supposed to have some connection to Brian Boru was a well-known Hornpipe the ‘Return from Fingal’ borrowed by Boru’s Irish pipers as the March played as the Munster troops returned from Clontarf.”[53] But Boru’s redefined statesman persona had stuck and, furthermore, he was also now being depicted as the man who brought literature to Ireland, “It has been suggested that the hereditary custody of literature was designed by Brian Boru, who was a constructive statesman as well as a warrior.”[54] Under Brian Boru, who was now being seen as a type of cultural monarch like Alfred the Great and Charlemagne, there was great activity in all departments of literature. The wondering bards were greatly honoured, and became attached to the hereditary literary families, “Henceforth scribes, poets, chroniclers, and lawyers were very active in the literary life of the country.”[55] But, literary advocate and statesman or not Boru’s only failure was to, “succeed, by diplomacy or force, in overcoming the individualism and parochialism which have been the eternal bane of Ireland in politics.”[56]

Historical revisionists also questioned the veracity of the suggestion that Donagh O’Brien, son of Brian Boru, on the occasion of his visit to Rome, made a present of Ireland to the Holy See;

“Donough O’Brien o’er the foam

Bore Ireland’s Crown away to Rome;

To that deed we trace our woe,

From it all our ills did grow.[57]

“There is no trustworthy evidence that Donough purported to make such a grant. In point of fact, he was scarcely able to maintain his own position as King of Munster, and it would have been sheer impertinence on his part to make a gift of what did not belong to him.”[58] There are other allusions to that event, vague and sad, but it is not narrated what Donough did with the royal relic, “No one knows now, I suppose, where the Crown was laid, or what fate befell it.”[59]

Relics aside, some historians began to argue that, “If Brian Boru and his whole family had not been slain at Clontarf; Irish history might have been different;”[60] With his death came about the demise of the first man in Irish history who could have united Ireland in a single monarchy and, “saved us much woe.”

In Kerry, historians were by now asserting, “We now know that Brian Boru and his brother Malachi were not of the ferocious kind far too common, not only in the period of which they lived, but long afterwards.”[61]  Quoting P.W. Joyce’s book[62] as a definitive source the article emphatically states, “The forgotten Malachi was the most distinguished king who had reigned for many generations in Ireland, and was second only to his great contemporary, King Brian Boru.” Malachi had come to the attention of the general public but was portrayed as second-class to Boru, “He died in 1022 leaving behind him a noble record of self-denial, public spirit and kingly dignity.”[63]

Historians were also floating some theories that the true cause of Boru’s demise was, “a slighting remark made by Murragh, son of Brian, to Maelmoradh, while playing a game of chess.”[64] Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and another theory stated in fact one woman; she was Boru’s jilted lover Gormflath, wife of Cormac MacCullanan, King of Munster, about 900AD was responsible for bringing in the Norsemen at the Battle of Clontarf. She was married two times before becoming the wife of Brian Boru, “It was because she was repudiated by Brian that she plotted to bring in the Norsemen in 1014. Her hand was offered to Earl Sigurd with the Kingdom of Ireland. The battle of Clontarf was fatal to her plans, and ended in the death of Brian. She thus ruined ‘Ireland’s cause’ when it had produced its greatest man. In all that she could control she was the most evil of women.”[65] She had aligned herself to the O’Brien’s, because of their station, they even had a place of inauguration when the times came for such ceremony. This place was at Magh Adair, in County Clare, “It is worthy of mention that Tara was the chief residence of the head of the O’Brien’s, King Brian Boru. His palace was called Cean Cora, which was, according to all accounts, a place of splendour and magnificence;”[66] A befitting home and base of power for a learned and art loving individual attractive to any self-respecting power hungry female. Later, historians simplified their argument, “I’m inclined to side with those who look on the battle of Clontarf as one of the biggest in-law rows in Irish history.”[67]

Dr Brian O’Cuiv, University College, Dublin endorses Boru’s cultural impact on Irish nationalism when he writes, “The 11th century was a time of renaissance in Ireland, following Brian Boru’s reign and his decisive victory over the Norse at Clontarf. The literary activity which took place was the prelude to the evolution of ‘Classical Modern Irish,’ the literary standard which was to be the medium of the professional poets for the following four hundred years.”[68] All of which comes as no surprise when it is recalled that Boru’s family were descended directly from the line of Heber, a minor character in the Book of Genesis, and as such had plenty of time to develop their literary and political skills. That influence continued for many more years to come. According to Myles na Gopaleen, in an open letter to John F. Kennedy in 1963, “Brian was the son of Cenneide; a wild Munster Chieftain who lived about the middle of 900 AD. His son had a bit of an obsession about taxes and his name was Brian Boru; ‘Boru’ is an Irish word meaning tax.”[69]

But, by the end of the 1930’s ‘old myths’ about Boru were starting to be exposed. Ringleader of the critics was Rev. John Ryan, published by the Royal Society of Antiquaries, who was offering a ‘new history’ of the Battle of Clontarf, “In the story of this famous battle a lot of romantic and sentimental nonsense has been superimposed upon the sober facts. It is time to reveal the truth.” Ryan claimed to have delved into original Irish, Welsh and Norse sources, twelve in all, and now concluded that it was not the Norsemen, but the men of Leinster, who played the predominant part in the series of events which culminated in the momentous battle.

Of the fundamental errors commonly accepted as fact which he now laid bare, the most remarkable is that concerning the real issue and significance of the conflict; the age old determination of the Leinstermen to maintain their independence against the High King, “In the first place it was not simply a battle between the Irish and the Norse. Brian’s army was not a national army but an army of Munster men, increased by the troops from two small south Connacht states. The opposing force was not an army of Norse, but an army composed of Leinstermen and Norse troops, in which the former were certainly the predominant element and constituted two-thirds of the whole.”

He also demolishes the theory that it was a battle between paganism and Christianity because the majority of the troops opposed to Boru were Irish Catholics like himself. Furthermore, within a generation after Clontarf Dublin was a Christian state. At Clontarf itself some of the visiting Norsemen were Christians. Ryan examines closely the long disputed question of the actual site of the struggle and reaches what he terms the revolutionary conclusion that the Battle of Clontarf was fought at Clontarf.[70]

But the traditional historians were infuriated and were quick to point out that the powerful Eoghanacht of Loch Lein and their heroic followers accompanied Boru to the Battle. They asked had it not some significance that Brian was educated at Innisfallen, advanced to that fight against the pagans of Western Europe on Good Friday, holding the Crucifix aloft, and that after the battle the remains of himself and his son and grandson were reverently borne to Armagh, and there buried in the primatial cemetery which is now under Orange rule?, “And now who will say that our struggle then, as ever since, was not truly a fight for Faith and Fatherland?”[71]

But some diehard Boru supporters had to concede that there may be more to the Clontarf story than had been originally believed. At a Fianna Fail Convention held in Mullingar in May 1940, the Minister for the Co-Ordination of Defence Measures, Frank Aiken told delegates, “When Brian Boru secured unified control of the national forces the Danes were driven out; although it now seems certain Irish factions fought against him at Clontarf.”[72]

It seemed as if almost every aspect of Boru’s life, personality, history, beliefs and reputation was under close scrutiny so it was perhaps inevitable that the famous Fort at Killaloe would fall foul of the revisionist historians, “It now seems that the Royal Palace which stood where the fort is situated was never there at all. The real name of the fort is Beal Borumha, a relic of the Glacial Ages in existence centuries before Brian Boru.”[73] At best, it now seemed, Boru merely happened to pass the site, liked its location and set up some soldiers to stand guard there and prevent enemies passing over the Shannon River. However, down in Thurles they had something, a little more tangible than mere here say, in a piece of broken metal found in 1935 “among the sweepings of an 8th Century church” near Thurles which had taken ten years to be identified as having been inscribed for Brian Boru. The inscription reads “C Cenedic Do Rig E” which Dr Sean Raftery, of the National Museum, said meant, “For Brian, the son of Kennedy; for the King of Ireland.” The find was made not far from Cashel, or Kincora, which were both used as royal residences by Boru.[74] Furthermore, it seemed likely that Boru liked to roof these palaces with Killaloe Slate, “The palace on Royal Kincora was roofed with slate dug up from the bowels of a 350 foot deep yawning chasm on the Arra Mountains.”[75]

In 1947 another new revelation comes to light when Dr Reidar Christiansen, a noted Norwegian archivist discussing the relations between Norsemen and Irishmen. He believed the early Norsemen settled in Northern Ireland and learned the Irish language and so, by the time of the Battle of Clontarf, there were some Vikings on Brian’s side. To prove that they were bilinguists he said that early places conquered by the Norse, for instance the Shetland Islands, bore Norse place names, while placers conquered later, the Hebrides bore Irish place names. It was not the desire to plunder that brought the Norse to Ireland but the scarcity of land at home.[76] So then, some of the Vikings who lost their lives at Clontarf were, in fact, fighting for Boru.

But that fight had even deeper impact across the European continent than previously thought according to an Irish politician, Michael J. Keyes, laying a wreath on the tomb of Boru’s son Donnchadh O’Brien in Rome, “By the victory of Brian Boru over the heathen Norsemen the power of heathenism in Western Europe was broken.”[77] Keyes was leading a ‘religious pilgrimage’ from Ireland in the company of the Bishop of Limerick, Dr O’Neill and Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Rodgers.[78] Boru was firmly established as a religious icon, “Near here a road meanders away silently leftwards. It is Via S. Stefano, which takes its name from the church so dear to Irishmen because Boru’s son is buried in this sacred place.”[79]

But revisionist historians disagreed that Clontarf was ever such a great victory, religious or otherwise, after all. Nor was Boru such a person of renown. Boru started out to avenge his brother’s death with the assistance of 1,400 Lochlannaigh and defeated Maolmhuaidh at Bealach Leachta. He later on defeated the Sochlannaigh of Leinster in 26 battles, “It is clear however, that his objective was to secure the Ardriship rather than to defeat the Danes. He sent envoys to Malachi telling him that it was not right for him to hold the Sovereignty unless he devoted his time to banishing foreigners and as Malachi was given to luxury and comfort and ease and Brian undergoing the labour of banishing them it was only right that Brian should have the sovereignty.

With the Lochlannaigh and Gaels of Leath Mogha he marched on Tara and demanded the submission of Malachi to him as King of Ireland. He was put off for a year, but at the end of that time he proceeded to Athlone leading all the Lochlannaigh of Athcliath, Portlairge Soch Garman, Corca, Suigheach and Ui Cinnsealaigh as well as the forces of Leaih Mogha. Malachi naturally submitted to him and thus did he obtain the Kingdom of Ireland. He probably never would have got it were it not for the assistance of the Danes, whom he ostensibly set out to defeat. And if at Clontarf he drove the Danes out of Ireland, then so much the poorer was Ireland as a result. We know that one of the great benefits conferred on Ireland by the Danes was that they taught the Irish the art of trade and commerce. Once they were overthrown the country was neglected to an inferior place in the matter of trade for it then fell back into the hands of a class who had no experience in the matter beyond trading in dogs. Ireland’s downfall was on the horizon. The position of Malachi was analogous to that of Alfred of England and might have been handled just as astutely were it not for Brian’s ambitions. Alfred was obliged to skulk about in disguise for fear of the Danes. For twelve months he laid concealed having abandoned every mark of royalty. Oddune, the Earl of Devon, redeemed the situation. He armed his vassals and fell suddenly on the Danes and routed them. Alfred took courage on seeing this; he sallied forth and eventually overcame the Danes. He neither lost his crown, Oddune did not claim it, nor did he drive out the Danes. He gave them the option of remaining as Christians with a chief exercising authority under him.[80] The revelation should come as no surprise to those who had been reliably informed that, “Brian Boru and Queen Elizabeth of England are blood relations. Therefore, we of Ireland are the true British people.”[81]

He may have been a blood relative but some argue that Boru certainly lacked her class and was, by all accounts, “most brash.” A historian calling himself Mac Alla states, “On the evening of the Battle of Clontarf a lady who made an allusion to the Danes as ‘running home like cows to be milked,’ and got her front teeth broken by her husband, who happened to be the Dane, Sitric, King of Dublin, and the lady the daughter of Brian Boru that had been pressed on Sitric by Brian with a big dowry of Cows, though it turned out the day after the wedding the Cows were whipped from Carlow.” Mac Alla also alleges that this, and many other facts, had escaped the attention of historians. For example, how did the men of Leinster end up on the side of the Danes, was did Malachi stand idly by as the battle progressed, why did the men of Ossory turn on Boru’s son on the road home, and, why was Boru’s daughter married to Sitric? All of this proves that there was a certain ‘uppishness’ about Boru and this overbearing side of his personality should not be allowed to continue to encourage impertinence in those who study him, “Boru has not been an exhaustible source of inspiration to the people of Ireland but the provocativeness that went with his character has also been taken as a ‘sine qua non’ of true patriotism.”[82]

But something even more provocative was to come when historian J.J. Brady reported his findings, “Many facts have been suppressed by historians and the reality is that Brian Boru did not drive the Danes out of Ireland, and he was a usurper.”[83] Not just Boru but the authenticity of the old conceptions of a high-kingship of Ireland in ancient times was now being questioned by researchers as ‘ancient origin tales’ were being investigated. Some of these tales had never been translated from the very early Irish in which they were written shortly after a script was developed. Such tales represent traditions on Irish pre-history which conflict with the Latin monastic traditions of the ‘Book of Invasions,’ written centuries after the introduction of Christianity. This was elaborated upon by Prof. Myles Dillon who wrote, “There was an Ard Ri of Connaught and one at Tara but there was not an acknowledged ‘High King’ of all Ireland until after the era of Brian Boru, “The Ari Ri of Cashel never acknowledged the lordship of Tara.” Furthermore, claimed Dr R. Dudley Edwards, Professor of History at U.C.D., “A uniformity of Culture that had evolved throughout Ireland by the time of the Norse Invasions helped to develop the conception that a High-Kingship had existed from an earlier time.”[84]

Prof. Edwards contended that, “The unity of Ireland goes back to the ninth century, when, in the face of the Scandinavian invasion, the historians set out to stress the unity of the cultural tradition but political unity was not really achieved until the high-kingship of Brian Boru after the Battle of Clontarf.[85] Edwards was not alone in this thinking and his perspective remained in the late 1950’s, “In Ireland the example of Brian Boru had shown that the old order was dying. It was a natural evolution that there should be a High King who would not only rank first in dignity but would form a strong central government, cutting out the powers of lesser kings. The various struggles between ruling armies were, therefore, an effort towards real unity.”[86] Historian H.J.McManus stated, “I don’t agree with this Brian Boruism; it isn’t desirable to emphasise it unduly. To me it was the common people who made the Irish nation.”[87]

By 1970 new ideas started to emerge from the ruins of two 8th century churches which evidence suggested enjoyed the benefaction of Brian Boru.[88] Historian Liam de Paor wrote, “Like Killaloe and Toomgraney, it was patronised by Brian Boru and his successors who built stone churches and other monuments.”[89] Tradition has it that the ancient Church at Killaloe was built by Brian Boru, but scholars are inclined to date it some two centuries later than Brian’s time.”[90] But Boru’s religious influence and heroic efforts were being questioned by even more perplexed historians now changing their view on the pre 20th century ‘Boru’ compared to the ‘new’ one; the transformation was nearing completion.

Further ‘historical inaccuracies’ are brought to light when it was revealed that the validity of the famous Saltair of Cashel, “begun in the fifth century and completed by Brian Boru”[91] as a source on Brian Boru, is now being questioned. It emerged that one of the most eminent authorities, Eugene O’Curry, Professor of Irish History and Archaeology in the Catholic University of Ireland in 1886 had claimed that the Saltair of Cashel was compiled by Cormac Mac Cullinan, King of Munster and Archbishop of Cashel who was killed in 903 AD and makes no reference to Brian Boru, “Therefore it is impossible for this manuscript to have had its origin in the fifth century, as previously believed, but must have been posterior to that period by at least 300 years, and also must have been completed a considerable time anterior to the monarchy of King Brian Boru.”[92] In one swoop a primary source to date on Boru was wiped off the map.

Romantic and long held theories about Boru and Clontarf were being openly criticised. Sean Dowling of the Old Dublin Society claimed that Gormlaith, the discarded wife of Boru, had got a raw deal from historians and did not cause the battle because, “elderly statesmen do not go to war to please the most glamorous of grandmothers, and Gormlaith was at least 45, and possibly 65, in 1014. Dowling believed that the Kingship of Ireland was at stake in the battle. Sitric probably hoped to supplant Brian, his father-in-law, and may have offered his own kingdom of Dublin to Sigurd, the Earl of the Orkneys, in return for his help. The battle was not the outstanding success historians to date had claimed. According to the Irish account, Sitric did not take part in it. he undoubtedly did, and escaped across the Liffey. Dowling also rejected the theory that the weir of Clontarf, where the Vikings were drowned, was in the Tolka. It was in the Liffey. Dubhgall’s Bridge, the weir of Clontarf and the Ford of the Hurdles, were all one and the same structure. The battle was fought in the territory now lying between Parliament Street Bridge and Ballybough.

The warriors, too, were not all we were led to believe they were. Turlough, son of Brian’s eldest son, Murrcha, according to the Irish account, was only 15 years old, but one of the greatest warriors of Clontarf. After the battle his drowned body was found impaled on a stake of the weir at Clontarf with a dead Norseman in each hand and another beneath him. This fairy tale has been given as historical fact. If Turlough existed, why was his body not taken, with those of his father and grandfather, for burial in Armagh? The head of Conaing, perhaps all that could be recovered, was taken to Armagh and Conaing was only Brian’s nephew.[93]

In 1966 Professor Francis J. Byrne outlined the progress of the ancient Kings and stated that the downfall of the ancient Ulster Fifth of Eamhain Macha and the rise of the Ui Neill in the fifth century disrupted the old system of the ‘Five Fifths’ and the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages became the most important kings in Ireland. Byrne believed this claim of importance was not admitted by Ulaidh or the kings of Munster but successful levying of the borumha cattle-tribute from Laighin over-ruled the theory that the King of Leinster had no overlord. By the beginning of the ninth century Ui Neill, King of Tara was interfering in the dynastic affairs of Leinster. Kings of Cashel challenged the Ui Neill claims, but in the middle of the ninth century Mael Seachlainn 1st made the High Kingship a reality by obtaining the submission of Ulaidh and of Mumhain. From the time of St. Colum Cille, the church wished to strengthen the royal authority, which was limited in Irish law. The See of Armagh was anxious to promote the concept of a central High Kingship to support politically its own position as Primatial See. It acknowledged both Brian Boru and his great grandson, Muirchertagh O’Briain, rather than the weaker Ui Neill claimants.[94]

Historian Dr W.L. Warren was also demanding, “a new look at Irish history” at a conference at Queen’s University. In his public lecture on interpretation of twelfth century Irish History Warren threw out so many ‘illusions’ in history that, “it would lead to a considerable modification of the view generally held of the history of the century, of the events leading up to the Norman invasion of Ireland, and of its immediate results.”[95] Warren admitted that there had been a movement towards giving a new concept to the kingship of Ireland before the conquest but he did not see Brian Boru as the leader of the movement but rather Muircheartach O’Briain, who seemed to be aware of European developments at the time. It would appear that the bishops who were striving for ecclesiastical reform were anxious that the high-kingship should become a high-kingship more than in name.

Some noted historians were getting peeved with the seemingly relentless conjecture and ‘true Irish patriot’ and noted Fenian Dr Micheal William O’Reilly was determined to remind people of the reality of Boru, “I am not given to hero worship but if there is any hero I worship, it is Michael Collins. Ireland produced two outstandingly great men in the last 1500 years, Brian Boru and Collins. I cannot pay higher tribute than that.” He further wrote, “For if Brian Boru rid Ireland of the Danes, it was largely Collins who rid it of the English.”[96]

A 1969 flurry of interest in Boru was initiated by ‘an act of vandalism’ when the famous Brian Boru Harp, “the most elaborately carved harp in existence” is stolen from the library of Trinity College, Dublin, “The harp was on display near the Book of Kells which is normally locked away for the night but he harp, because of its delicacy is handled as little as possible.”[97] Some historians contend that the affair is ‘much ado about nothing’ because, “the harp is only 600 to 700 years old and therefore could not be Brian Boru’s.[98] Bur other reports state, “When the great Harp was x-rayed, dismantled, treated, cleaned, polished and restored there was much rejoicing among those who value antiquarian relics and its origins can be traced back 1400 years.”[99] The culprits were soon captured after, “they demanded money with menaces from Trinity College Dublin.”[100]

Such articles led some journalist to reminisce about such school days and the subject of Brian Boru, “I remember my own schooldays and the masters telling us we got our kicks at Clontarf. The official version was that Boru was done-in by a Dane. There was a bit of sex thrown in when his red-headed wife went to the Danes on the morning of the battle and told them to give Brian hell.” He continues, “Seems now Brian screwed the Danes and then copped it. Never mind the fanciful story that a Dane slew him as he knelt in prayer. More likely under the Danish horned helmet was a mean little Leinster bastard who knew if Brian survived after beating the Danes he’d be too powerful.”[101]

Irish historian Donnchadh Ó Corráin was having none of this propaganda. He argued that contrary to popular belief Boru was not a national monarch and neither was he the first Irish nationalist. Nor was he an outstanding patron of the church and the arts. In fact, he was the first of a long line of hard-headed power politicians. The career of Brian had been too much interpreted through the sagas, stories, and later poems, which grew up about him, and the Battle of Clontarf, and which were extremely popular as long as the Irish manuscript tradition survived. These were very much O’Brien dynastic propaganda produced in the 12th century by what must have been the most effective school of propaganda ever to exist in medieval Ireland.

Brian’s achievements were substantial and had; no doubt, battle axed his way to the Kingship of Ireland. But was he really as powerful as historians would have us believe?  He did not create a national monarchy or the institutions associated with a national kingship, but he contributed greatly to advancing the idea of kingship of the whole island. He shattered the Ui Neill primacy in Ireland and opened up the struggle to create a national kingship and helped shape the course of Irish history in the 11th and 12th centuries.

O’Corrain declared that Brian’s struggles with the Norse were greatly exaggerated. Long before Clontarf they had become a minor political force in Irish affairs. In fact, Clontarf was part of the internal struggle for sovereignty and was essentially the revolt of the Leinster men against the dominance of Brian. Its most important result was the blow it dealt to the powers of the Munster kings.

However, in subsequent tradition, both Irish and Norse, Clontarf became a heroic battle of saga and song. The ranks of the combatants were swelled by numerous additions because everyone wished his ancestors had participated in it, “The Viking contingents from the isles and from Man, themselves not the major part of the forces which opposed Brian, became the forces of the entire Viking world and Brian became in story what he never was in fact – the sovereign of Ireland who led the forces of the nation to victory over the foreigners.”[102]

These revelations implied that Boru was a nationalist monarch and military man with deeply held religious beliefs. Littleton Bog in Co. Tipperary had been revealing minor historical treasures and thus began new thinking on Brian Boru. The bog was located on the path of one of the most ancient roads of Ireland which crossed from Leinster into Munster. Myles na Gopaleen writes, “This had been the main road to Tara made by the Kings of Ireland. It was the main road to the north and Brian Boru fixed it up.”[103]

In 1972 Liam de Paor questioned the idea that Boru had ever really conquered Ireland at all. It is a forced contention that Ireland was politically unified under native rule between AD 1002 and AD 1014, when the usurping Boru exercised a somewhat precarious suzerainty all over Ireland. Long before the arrival of the Anglo-Normans Irish dynasts struggled to achieve national monarchy. None succeeded and ‘high-kingship’ remained a political concept which eluded them.

The island was divided, as it had always been, and after the invasion there was a new concept of political unity, that of the lordship of Ireland, and this too was never achieved. The island was partitioned between the land of English law and the land of Irish law, racially, culturally as well as politically. It took until Henry VIII before the country was finally conquered; the triumph of English culture over Irish culture.[104] Such conjectures began to strip away at Boru’s credibility as a warlord but garnished some support for the notion that he may have been more of a politician.

In May 1972 the publication of James F. Lydon’s ‘The Lordship of Ireland in the Middle Ages’ led to further debate. Although Lydon stated his aim was to be interpretive he makes some sensitive observations on medieval Ireland leading to critical castigation, “His interpretation is surmise and it is not enough for an author of what explicitly purports to be an interpretive work to relate facts that appear to be inconsistent, without an attempt at greater explanation.”[105] Critics say interpretation is inevitable subjective to some degree but Lydon’s treatment of Irish history is blatantly inadequate and inaccurate. Lydon claimed that Henry II came to Ireland to finalise the church reform and to settle the problem of the power vacuum caused by the death of Brian Boru (more than one 150 years earlier) and, say critics, this is historical nonsense on all counts.

As early as 1938 Rev. Professor Ryan criticised the notion that Brian created a greater political authority as his predecessors and there was overwhelming evidence that later kings like Muirchertach O’Brien and Rory O’Connor exercised greater authority than Brian. With regard to Henry’s attitude to Ireland it had been argued that the papal Bull Laudabiliter granting Ireland to Henry was acquired through the influence of Canterbury, that it was ignored by him, and that he came to Ireland only to prevent the first invaders from establishing a powerful independent kingdom.

By 1977 a new interpretation of Boru had fully emerged. Historians now contend of all the Irish Kings, Brian Boru is probably the only one who can be considered equal to great monarchs of European history. Supreme in the national territory to which he laid claim, he was accomplished in the arts of war and peace. Nor in his own time was he known only in Ireland; his lifelong contest with the Norsemen made his reputation to be sung almost in his own lifetime wherever Norse influence was felt. He was a remarkable man and within his lifetime he managed to supersede the O’Neill’s who had a proud lineage extending backs into the mists of pagan times.

If his military skills made him High King, Brian showed remarkable qualities of statesmanship in his exercise of the office. He did little to interfere with the traditional rights of petty kings and was more or less content with their recognition of him as their superior. In accepting the religious primacy of Armagh and all that went with it, he made the point that a High King from Munster could be as good a friend of the Church as any Northerner could be. The Northern clergy, it is assumed, responded by throwing the weight of their influence behind his kingship. The bond must have been a strong one, since before his death on April 23 1014, Brian made a will expressing the desire to be buried at Armagh, the seat of Patrick, and that the community there should be given lavish gifts. And there, after his last triumph at Clontarf, his body as brought to rest forever among the men of the North whose pride he had once so offended by his claim to authority over them.”[106] With such reports the 20th Century transformation of Brian Boru from Warlord to Statesman was complete.

By now historians were comparing Boru to England’s Alfred the Great, “There is a striking parallel between the lives of England’s Alfred the Great and that of Brian Boru. Both were younger brothers who began at an early age a lifelong struggle with the Danes, both succeeded to leadership at a time of great crisis, both, while never shirking war used well the blessings of peace. And both were far ahead of their contemporaries as soldiers and as statesmen.”[107]

But Boru’s escapades, if unworthy of the attention of either an American President, a British Monarch or the Bard of Avon, was most certainly well worthy of scribes from Ireland’s ancient annals right up to 21st century media. Boru is the only political leader of his time who remains well known yet, despite his firm place in folk-memory, as a figure he remained curiously vague. Historians, throughout the 20th Century and on into the present day, continue to attempt to correct this and sometimes trip each other up with their revelations, findings, conjectures and opinions. Some even wondered if Boru was more myth than fact; an invention of his loving kinfolk desirous of scaring their enemies into submission.

By 1977 O’Corrain was claiming that the County Clare Dalcassian clan, that “produced” Boru, was, in fact, a tribe called the Deisi who crossed the Shannon from Limerick in 600 AD and later faked the genealogy, “they produced Brian Boru and the two succeeding O’Brien kings, who were the most powerful rulers that Gaelic Ireland knew.”[108] He argued the Deisi became powerful in Clare and faked a genealogy by which they claimed to be of the Eoganacht, who were over the premier Munster dynastic families, having originated in Kerry.

The argument was given some credence when Professor John Byrne argued that the official life story of Brian Boru was compiled by his great-grandson, Muircheartach O’Briain who was King of Munster from 1086 until 1119, “he was the most powerful King in Ireland and claimed to be High King of Ireland. During his reign the story of Brian Boru emerged and reflects Muircheartach’s own ambitions.”[109] Two years later, in 1979, Liam de Paor endorses this view. He wrote it was not until the end of the eleventh century that the Dal Cais dynasty had sufficiently recovered from the pyrrhic victory at Clontarf to produce another virtual high king of all Ireland, “Brian Boru by then had been enhanced in reputation and his time was being looked back to as a golden age. In due course pseudo historical tracts were produced glorifying and exaggerating the achievements of the Dal Cais in the days when the founders of its greatness were expanding their power. Brian became the ‘mirror for Princes’ and a great Christian and Irish hero fighting against the heathen and the foreigner.”[110]

The year 1980 was declared ‘Viking Year’ and their reputation also got a major clean-up and, some historians would argue that life with the Vikings may not have been quite as bad as we had been led to believe, “Fading into the past is our notion of Vikings as merely marauders. We now realise that the Irish were equally as good at creating chaos. The Scandinavians made a much more positive contribution to the life and culture of medieval Ireland by founding towns and cities.”[111]

Numerous books are published celebrating the Vikings, most notable of these being, James Graham Campbell’s ‘The Viking World’ which explored their rich culture, their art, script and literature as well as their mode of daily life and the towns and states which they founded. In his book he argues, “It is misleading to describe the Vikings as raiders or pirates for, by no means, all Scandinavians were.”[112] The publication of Morgan Llewellyn best-selling ‘Lion Of Ireland – The Legend of Brian Boru’ brought the mythological hero firmly into popular culture, “Through its pages she puts flesh on the bones of Brian Boru, the man she describes as being larger than life; rough yet elegant.”[113] Her illusion was so fantastic that even Hollywood’s Warner Brothers Film Studios was tipped to pay out $15m to make the movie with Clint Eastwood to play Boru. Even President Ronald Reagan had something to say, “I think the story is worthy and would make a wonderful action film.”[114] Movie Director Herb Wright tells the Irish media, “I believe Brian has not got his proper international recognition and he deserves the same treatment as Gandhi and Lawrence of Arabia.”[115] This particular production was later postponed.[116]  But it wasn’t the end of Boru’s Hollywood career, thirty years later, in 2013 it is announced that ‘Boru’ an $80m big-budget biopic of the hero is set for filming in Ireland, “Epic battle scenes will be filmed and it is hoped Boru will match the success of Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’; the Boru biopic is a story about, “bravery and human spirit”.[117]

But by the mid mid-1980’s historians continued to defend their beliefs, “As a general Brian Boru was a man apart. He left nothing to chance and unlike his contemporaries; he never fought an engagement unless he was sure of success. He was a brilliant strategist.”[118] But, “he was the hero on whom lesser men tried vainly to model themselves, forgetting that his military skills had been supplemented by many of the qualities of the true statesman.”[119]

The publication of Roger Chatterton-Newman’s book ‘Brian Boru; King of Ireland” in 1983 is hailed by historians as a turning point in the historical research into Boru, “Biographers have neglected, to the point of ignoring Boru who was regarded as Emperor of the Irish. Sources are scarce and obscure because of the ravages of time and warfare; and unreliable since ancient annalists suffered as much from bias as do modern historians.”[120] Chatterton is praised as having carved away the myth and presenting the ‘real’ Brian Boru, “Boru’s rise to power did not follow established ‘rights’. He imposed his rule by his own will through diplomacy as well as by sword. His justification was success.”[121]

Apart from some minor references to Boru in the last decade of the millennium which he occupied he all but vanished from the media. In the early 1990’s historian Fergal Keane was claiming that the relationship between the Irish and the Danes was still not fully restored, “We have an unrequited love for the Danes. With a distrust level of 10% among the Irish, Denmark is our second most trusted nation after Luxembourg. But more than 17% of Danes feel they could not trust us, Brian Boru included, no doubt.”[122] Boru’s campaign against the Danes was continuing to have impact a full millennium after the events at Clontarf. Whatever about the Danes there was good reason for the British to mend their attitude to Ireland; Prof. Noel Mulcahy of the University of Limerick claims that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is really Irish. She is descended directly from Brian Boru. Believing In alliances, as he did, Brian married one of his daughters off to Malcolm II of Scotland, “Now that may seem to be a fairly innocuous statement, but when one considers the implications it gives one food for thought, because the marriage of Malcolm and Brian’s daughter, gave rise to a line of Scottish monarchs that led eventually to the line of British monarchs right down to Queen Elizabeth of today. So we have this fantastic irony that the monarch of the United Kingdom is descended directly from Brian Buru; so the British queen is really Irish,” according to Mulcahy.[123]

But such revisionist historians are becoming the targets of serious doubt, “Revisionism is a good thing, in the sense that all good historians are revisionists. The problem is that not all revisionists are good historians. And while there is much to be said for this effort to look again at the legacy of Clontarf, the danger of casting doubt on the significance of Clontarf, however laudable the intention, is that we throw the baby out with the bathwater.”[124] Irish academics have traditionally presented themselves as detached observers detailing a value-free, impartial account of history. But it is difficult, if not impossible, to be non-judgemental when contemplating some of their conjectures. Their tales, of course, are often exaggerated, sometimes even fictional. Because such stories are conducive to an exaggerated nationalist interpretation, scholarly accounts of Brian Boru have tended to be detached, even clinical. One may wonder why anyone should seek to cheapen and demean the Irish past in such a way. Revisionist historians would argue that they are not doing this. They would point out that history has to be continually revised in order to separate fact from fiction.[125] This is irrefutable. But revisionism Irish-style has been driven not by a desire to uncover new facts but by a craving to debunk the nationalist version of history. This was provoked by the revitalisation of the I.R.A. in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Southern nationalist mythology, they believed, had contributed to the renewal of the radical militant nationalism of the I.R.A. The I.R.A. claimed that they were acting in the name of the Irish people and continuing the fight for freedom initiated by Pearse and Connolly with the 1916 rising. The revisionist historians, foolishly, essentially accepted this theory and have ever since kept themselves busy by ‘demythologising’ and patronising almost every Irish figure of note, most notably Brian Boru.

By the dawn of the new millennium Brian Boru’s transformation from Warlord to Statesman was not only complete but as the 1000th Anniversary of Clontarf was approaching there seemed to be a final push to copper fasten his Statesman persona, “The millennium just past, proved history has been a pretty tragic business and while we had a bit of a lift at the start with Brian Boru and the Danes, it was mostly all downhill afterwards.”[126] Boru, by all accounts was a devoted Christian who had done a lot for Ireland. He set about the restoration of libraries and the rebuilding of monasteries, “He had established peace and helped convert the Vikings, who eventually lived with the Irish in harmony. He believed a united country was far stronger than a divided one.”[127] In June 2002 the 1,000th anniversary of the crowning of Brian Boru as High King of Tara is celebrated and he is hailed as the only High King who ever had control over the entire island and he was responsible for beginning reform in the churches, schools and monasteries. He is remembered as an extraordinary leader and as a brilliant military tactician.[128]

In Northern Ireland some historians are calling for a rethink on Unionist teachings on the importance of Brian Boru to British history, “Boru and the Battle of Clontarf is significant because it was one of the largest battles in Europe of its era, and had major implications for the influence of the Vikings, yet is barely known by many school children in Northern Ireland today. Such odd gaps in our understanding of history are not merely explicable by the different slants than unionists or nationalists put on the past.”[129]

By 2014 Boru is being described as, “a man who brimmed with extraordinary fortitude of character, political innovation, military and diplomatic genius.”[130] He was an immensely significant figure even before his victory at Clontarf because he led a 25-year diplomatic and military struggle to subvert the ruling dynasty. Therefore, Brian Boru’s greatest achievement is in fundamentally altering the parameters of Irish politics. This explains, in part, why the efforts of revisionists to re-examine the justification for the Rising have been mirrored by an attempt to contest the ‘myth’ of Brian’s expulsion of the Vikings. This process has been under way for the last three-quarters of a century, so that it is regularly stated nowadays that far from being about the defence of Ireland from the Scandinavians, Clontarf was merely the culmination of a rebellion against Brian, the king of Munster, by Máelmórda, the defiant king of Leinster, and his Dublin underlings.

Boru memorabilia remained important as Conor O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin; a direct descendant of Boru reveals that he is on the trail of the original crown entrusted to the Vatican nearly 1,000 years ago. He believes that the crown originally worn by his 32nd generation ancestor may still lie in the Vatican vaults. The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles John Brown, admitted that this was the first he had heard that “we might have it”, but said: “If anyone can find it, Pope Francis can.”[131] More significantly the famous 9th Century Book of Armagh is now officially declared as the only surviving item from antiquity known to have been in Brian Boru’s presence. The ancient text clearly defines Boru, not as a warrior but as an Emperor. Dr Denis Casey states, “In it Boru is memorably styled Imperator Scotorum, or Emperor of the Irish.”[132] The transformation of Brian Boru from warlord,a military commander and aggressive regional chief with individual autonomy, to the highly elevated status of sovereign ruler of an empire and statesman of equal calibre to his descendants Ronald Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II, amongst others, was finally complete.

 

[1] Leitrim Observer, 14 May 1932

[2] Trinity College Dublin, ‘Truth of the Battle of Clontarf Investigated at Conference’, www.tcd.ie, accessed on 16.04.2014

[3] Irish Times, 17 November 1980

[4] Irish Independent, 7 June 2004

[5] Irish Press, 6 June 1932

[6] John O’Hart, ‘Irish Pedigrees or, The Origin And The Stem, or The Irish Nation’, (Dublin, 1892) p. xxi

[7] Library Ireland, The Line Of Heber, http://www.libraryireland.com/Pedigrees1/Heber.php, accessed 5 April 2014

[8] John O’Hart, ‘Irish Pedigrees or, The Origin And The Stem, or The Irish Nation’, (Dublin, 1892) pp. 61,62

[9] Irish Times, 10 February 1999

[10] Belfast Newsletter, 24 September 1829

[11] Meath Chronicle, 1 January 1921

[12] Tuam Herald, 13 January 1844

[13] Nation, 23 November 1872

[14] Nation, 25 January 1879

[15] Irish Times, 20 February 1879

[16] Irish Times, 20 March 1889

[17] Anglo Celt, 13 January 1894

[18] Weekly Irish Times, 28 September 1895

[19] Irish Times, 27 December 1897

[20] Weekly Irish Times, 29 June 1901

[21] Weekly Irish Times, 6 February 1904

[22] Southern Star, 12 November 1904

[23] Kerryman, 21 January 1905

[24] Donegal News, 27 May 1905

[25] Nenagh News, 8 October 1910

[26] Irish Independent, 22 March 1912

[27] Connaught Telegraph, 15 June 1912

[28] Skibbereen Eagle, 25 October 1913

[29] Ulster Herald, 14 May 1914

[30] Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 April 1920

[31] Southern Star, 16 October 1915

[32] Nenagh Guardian, 27 November 1920

[33] Ulster Herald, 19 March 1921

[34] Freemans Journal, 17 September 1921

[35] Irish Press, 3 October 1933

[36] Connacht Tribune,  11 March 1922

[37] Irish Times, 14 June 1926

[38]Irish Press, 2 April 1974

[39] Irish Times, 27 August 1928

[40] Irish Times, 3 October 1928

[41] Irish Times, 6 February 1929

[42] Limerick Leader, 21 August 1929

[43] Irish Times, 20 August 1929

[44] Southern Star, 19 April 1930

[45] Longford Leader, 31 May 1930

[46] Irish Press, 26 July 1932

[47] Irish Press, 23 January 1933

[48] Nenagh Guardian, 26 June 1937

[49] Anglo Celt, 19 April 1930

[50] Century Encyclopaedia, quoted in, Anglo Celt, 19 April 1930

[51] Anglo Celt, 19 April 1930

[52] Kerryman, 16 August 1930

[53] Donegal News, 18 October 1930

[54] Irish Press, 25 September 1931

[55] Irish Independent, 20 March 1935

[56] Anglo Celt, 20 February 1932

[57] Irish Press, 30 June 1933

[58] Southern Star, 8 October 1932

[59] Irish Press, 30 June 1933

[60] Irish Press, 16 January 1934

[61] Kerryman, 12 May 1934

[62] Patrick Weston Joyce,’ ‘A Concise History of Ireland’, (Dublin, 1910)

[63] Kerryman, 12 May 1934

[64] Leitrim Observer, 19 January 1957

[65] Irish Times, 9 February 1939

[66] Times Pictorial, 20 December 1952

[67] Limerick Leader, 7 August 1993

[68] Irish Times, 18 November 1959

[69] Irish Times, 28 June 1963

[70] Irish Independent, 6 September 1938

[71] Kerryman, 15 April 1939

[72] Irish Press. 6 May 1940

[73] Limerick Leader, 21 September 1940

[74] Irish Press, 23 January 1945

[75] Irish Press, 19 January 1949.

[76] Connacht Sentinel, 25 November 1947

[77] Irish Independent, 14 October 1950

[78] Irish Independent, 14 October 1950

[79] Irish Independent, 8 April 1952

[80] Ulster Herald, 6 January 1951

[81] Irish Press, 28 November 1952

[82] Irish Press, 13 February 1953

[83] Donegal News, 29 January 1955

[84] Irish Independent, 2 September 1955

[85] Irish Independent, 12 December 1955

[86] Meath Chronicle, 14 March 1959

[87] Irish Press, 7 August 1959

[88] Irish Times, 3 July 1970

[89] Irish Times, 4 August 1971

[90] Irish Independent, 28 July 1962

[91]Connacht Tribune, 14 July 1967

[92]Irish Independent, 27 May 1960

[93] Irish Press, 31 January 1963

[94]Irish Independent, 14 January 1966

[95] Irish Press, 29 May 1967

[96] Irish Independent, 22 February 1968

[97] Irish Press, 26 March 1969

[98] Irish Independent, 26 March 1969

[99] Irish Independent, 27 March 1969

[100] Irish Press, 1 August 1969

[101] Irish Times, 28 August 1971

[102] Irish Times, 28 August 1971

[103] Irish Times, 29 January 1972

[104] Irish Times, 23 August 1972

[105]Irish Press, 6 May 1972

[106] Irish Press, 23 April 1977

[107] Irish Press, 26 October 1977

[108] Irish Times, 19 April 1977

[109] Irish Times, 29 August 1977

[110] Irish Times, 18 May 1979

[111] Irish Press, 20 March 1980

[112] James Graham Campbell, ‘The Viking World’, (London, 1980), p10

[113] Irish Press, 8 July 1980

[114] Sunday Independent, 1 March 1981.

[115] Irish Press, 23 February 1983

[116] Irish Press, 17 June 1983

[117] Sunday Independent, 19 May 2013

[118] Irish Press, 23 April 1981

[119] Irish Press, 10 March 1982

[120] Irish Press, 27 June 1983

[121] Ibid

[122] Irish Press, 16 July 1990

[123] Irish Press, 17 March 1995

[124] Irish Independent, 18 April 2014

[125] Southern Star, 15 November 1997

[126] Southern Star, 1 January 2000

[127] Westmeath Examiner, 9 September 2000

[128] Meath Chronicle, 29 June 2002

[129] Belfast Newsletter, 8 March 2014

[130] Irish Independent, 12 April 2014

[131] Irish Independent, 18 April 2014

[132] Irish Independent, 12 April 2014

 

 

Limerick – January 1900

LIMK 1900

January

1900

  1. 1.      Compensation Water

At the dawn of the 19th century the fishermen of Limerick had a serious problem. Something big was about to happen in their native city and they were ready, willing and hopefully able to do all in their power to stop the march of progress. The Limerick Fishery Conservators, presided over by Lord Massy, held a meeting and all of the members unanimously resolved to oppose the scheme of the so-Called Shannon Water and Electric Power Company who were seeking Parliamentary authority in England to utilise the waters of the Shannon near Loch Derg to provide the city with electricity. The general feeling at the meeting was that the Shannon Water and Electric Power Bill was no more than a bill for the abolition of the navigation and fisheries of the River Shannon and the water supply of the city of Limerick for the benefit, if any, of a few company promoters. Furthermore, there was reliable world it was felt that the Parliament will never sanction such a bill, and the Bill would face firm opposition but the endeavour to secure “killing the bill” would be a costly exercise for those in opposition.

“The Limerick harbour commissioners have again engaged Mr Fottrell, solicitor, Dublin, to attend to the details of the opposition to the renewed Railway Amalgamation Scheme. The commissioners have also instructed Mr Fottrell to retain Mr Ackworth, QC and their behalf”[1]

At the meeting letters were read from local luminaries who had a lot to say on the subject and were determined to ensure that this project would be abandoned and terminated forthwith; “as one who uses Loch Derg both for business and pleasure, I should most strongly oppose any lowering of its level, nearly all the quays on the lake, and there are many, and their approaches have cost this county a great deal of money, and will be utterly useless if the level is lowered. This county has also guaranteed a large yearly sum, £250, for which we get very little return even now, and should, if the lake was lowered, get none. There is a project now on foot to make a railway to Dromineer from Nenagh to connect with the Grand Canal Company. This would also fall through if the canal were interfered with. These are a few of the objections which can be urged. Then, from the point of view of pleasure, as the lake is very shallow in many places the navigation would be seriously interfered with. The fishing rights, of course, are very valuable, and would be seriously affected.”

Another member wrote, “I have 30 years experience on Lough Derg, and can inform you should they lower the present summer level by inches instead of feet, I and every other trader will be deprived of our living, as there would not be even one harbour on Lough Derg that steamer could call at, and if they propose making all those harbours fit for steamers to call at I fear, like the “cook and the soup” the cost is bound to spoil the flavour.”

Lord Massy announced to the attending members,” it is undoubtedly a fact that if they carry out what is proposed it will ruin us as far as the fishing interests and milling and navigation interests are concerned. The original proposal was to take 200,000 ft.³ of water per minute out of the river. We got the river examined last year by a competent engineer. He took careful measurements at a time when the river was by no means what is known as summer level, and found that only 160,000 ft.³ per minute was running throughout the whole river. How the syndicate proposed to take 200,000 ft.³ per minute from that I don’t know. Even in average spring water there would be no water for the fish to get up, and that affects not only the ride interests, but also the netting interests below. Therefore, I think we should be united in opposing this measure. Of course, there will have to pay compensation to the different persons affected by it, but I noticed they propose to do so if possible by giving them shares in what I consider this rotten scheme of theirs. I hope it would not pass but we must oppose it.” [2]

Another speaker took the floor, Mr JA Place stated, “as everyone present may not have had an opportunity of reading this bill, allow me to explain shortly to the meeting what it proposes. They ask for powers to compulsorily take land to make their canals, first of all from above the steamboat pier at Killaloe to a point near Clarisford, the Bishop of Killaloe’s residence; and secondly, from above the “World’s End,” at Castleconnell, to below Plassey. The canals on both cases following the course taken by the existing navigation canals; close to the village of Clonlara their power station is to be erected. Through these canals they propose to divert the water of the Shannon; and, further, they propose to lower the summer level of Loch Derg, but to what extent it is not stated; it is left altogether indefinite. I understand they propose to lower it several feet. They also propose to stop up certain roads, and remove bridges; but that is a matter altogether for the County Clare County Council. The effect of lowering the water in Lough Derg by even 6 inches must necessarily reduce the traffic of the Grand Canal Company, and also that of the Shannon Lake Steamers, besides the traffic of numbers of independent traders who use the lake. The inhabitants of such important places as Dromineer and Scariff would be completely shut off from obtaining their supplies; also Garrykennedy and several others. The effect of diverting the water from its natural course above Castleconnell would be simply too close to the fisheries below Castleconnell, as it will leave the river practically dry between Castleconnell and Plassey; it will also close up the Limerick Waterworks, the erection of which has cost the citizens an immense sum. This latter, however, is a question for the Limerick Corporation. It is true they seek power to let down what they call “compensation water” from Loch Derg, but this is only to be exercised with the consent of the Board of Works, and should they for the purpose of maintaining navigation refuse to let down this compensation water, both the fisheries and Corporation Water Works will be left high and dry, as I have already stated. There will also be the important water rights for milling and other purposes enjoyed by Mr Lefroy, the Messrs. Russell, and others to be taken into account. It must also be remembered that several counties have guaranteed an annual subsidy to the Shannon Development Company, and the attention of the county councils, will now represent the grand juries, who guaranteed these subsidies, should be at once drawn to the matter. In addition to the direct effect upon the fisheries to which I have alluded, lowering Lough Derg will close up several of our most important spawning tributaries.”

It was proposed at the meeting that the principal fishery owners in the Limerick fishery district, Mill and factory owners using the waters of the Shannon below Loch Derg, riparian proprietors, and users of the water for navigation purposes, view with grave apprehension the works intended to be carried out by the proposed Shannon Water and Electric Power Company, and for which Parliamentary powers are sought, as we believe they will be ruinous to our respective interests, and we hereby call upon the Right Honourable the Chief Sec for Ireland and the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland to refuse their sanction to such a scheme; and we direct our secretary to send a copy of this resolution to the Chief Sec, the Board of Public Works, the Corporation of Limerick, the members of Parliament for the city and County of Limerick and counties Clare, Galway, and Tipperary, and Kings County, to the District Councils concerned, and to the several County Councils who have guaranteed the Shannon Lake Steamers.”

Those who attended the meeting were also informed that it was common knowledge that the board of Works were actually against the scheme altogether. And one member, Mr R. Twiss, stated that, “I’m not allowed to give authority, but I understand that the Chief Sec for Ireland is going to do his best to carry the scheme through the House. Whether the Board of Works will oppose it strongly or not; I don’t know.” It was further felt that it would be desirable to send a copy of the resolution to the commission appointed by the Lord-Lieutenant, because there was no doubt it would help if interest by the Lord-Lieutenant was generated.

“A distressing accident occurred at Limerick railway terminus last evening. James Davoren, labourer, was seeing his brother, a solicitor, off by train for Fermoy, when he accidentally fell off the platform onto the permanent way. After the train passed he was discovered lying on the rails. He was removed to Barrington’s Hospital, where his right leg had to be amputated.” [3]

“Yesterday evening as a man was bidding goodbye to his brother, who was leaving Limerick for Fermoy, was pulled off the platform under the wheels of the train, and one of his legs was so badly mangled that amputation was rendered necessary. The patient is doing as well as can be expected. This is the third serious accident which has occurred at the terminus during the holidays. Not the slightest blame, however, attaches to any of the officials.”[4]

  1. 2.      Important Busybodies

At Limerick County Courts there were heated sessions as Judge Adams asked if there were any of the professional men present in favour of extending the jurisdiction of the court by having eight instead of four quarter sessions in each year. The answer was in the negative, and Judge Adams said the demand for eight quarter sessions in the year was not made by the professional men, by the public, or the people of this city. It was made by three or four busybodies who go about waiting on the Lord Chancellor with the object of seeing their names in the papers under the caption of “Important Deputation to the Lord Chancellor.” He heard the Lord Chancellor induced the Recorder of Galway; “that most commercial, prosperous, and mercantile town, of which we all know too well, to hold eight quarter sessions there in the year” [5] As far as he, Judge Adams, was concerned, he would never hold more than four quarter sessions in the year in Limerick until he was compelled to do so by act of Parliament. Even when that act of Parliament was introduced he should have some friends there, and they would have something to say to the bill in both houses of the legislator.

  1. 3.      Broken Glass

Two privates of the Cheshire Regiment named Ernest Hancock and Peter Ishwood found them-selves before Judge Adams indicted for the breaking of a plate glass window in Messrs. Kidd’s establishment, in George Street, on December 6. Both prisoners pleaded guilty. His honour asked if they would be willing to go to the front if they were discharged. The men said they would. Hancock stating that he wished to be with his brother; who had gone with the Cheshires to the front. Captain Marden having stated that, with the exception of some trivial offences, the men bore good characters. They were released on their own recognisances. It is likely they will be sent to South Africa with the next draft.[6]

  1. Catholics and Protestants

A public meeting promoted by the clergy of St Michael’s, was held in the Lecture Hall of the Catholic Institute this week, to promote a Fete and fancy fair in June next in aid of the funds for the erection of an additional Parochial church, dedicated to St Joseph, in St Michael’s Parish, the building of which is in progress. The Bishop presided, and there was an exceedingly large attendance of clergy, ladies and gentlemen, all of whom showed great interest in the initiation of the fete. Rev Fr O’Donnell, administrator, St Michael’s made a preliminary statement, in which he explained that it had been rumoured that the hospitals were about to hold a fete this year, but he had waited on the committees of the hospitals, and it was only when they stated that they were not prepared to hold a hospitals fete this year that it was decided to hold a fete for the church. It had been decided to hold a fete in June, so as not to clash with any other event, and another reason for holding it in June was that they had an offer from their distinguished fellow citizen, Mr Joseph O’Mara, to hold himself free from that time, so as to assist them. In conclusion, Fr O’Donnell said he was very happy to be able to say that they had promises of support from many of their Protestant friends and he had only to say that they would be very glad to avail themselves of it. The Bishop, in an address, referred to the excellent work of the St Michael’s clergy. Numerous letters of apology were received in support of the fete, including letters from Count Moore, who had offered a prize. Several organising committees were appointed to work up the details of the fete, which is to be called “Kincora Fete.”[7]

“The 3rd Battalion Oxfordshire Light Infantry Royal Bucks Militia, on embodiment at High Wycombe, after the New Year, will come to Limerick for garrison duty during the war. The details left behind by the 1st Battalion when it went out to the front from Aldershot arrived last week at Limerick.” [8]

“A shocking case of suicide occurred late last night in Newgate Street, Limerick, James Salmon, 35, an engine man, return to his residents about 9 o’clock, and, procuring a razor, went out into the yard of the house and cut his throat from ear to ear. When discovered shortly afterwards in the yard Salmon was lying in a pool of blood, life being extinct, Salmon was married, with a large family, but there were only two young children at home at the time” [9]

  1. 5.      Hooting and Groaning

Judge Adams in the Limerick County Crown Court took up the hearing of claims for malicious injuries. Mr TM English, a member of Tipperary District Council, applied for £116 compensation for a quantity of hay, his property, maliciously burned at Templebredin on the night of 6 December 1899. The plaintiff’s case was that he incurred hostility through his action with regard to the maintenance and repairs of the public roads. He attended a meeting of the district council, the quarterly meeting, where the matter was discussed, but was groaned and hooted down, the labourers, headed by a band and banners, being present and interrupting the proceedings. He was in favour of giving half the main roads to be worked by the labourers for 12 months, to see what the expenditure would be, the rest of the main roads and the small roads to be done, as heretofore, by contractors. One of the labourers burst into the meeting and made a speech and Mr English would not be heard. Subsequently, while returning from Old Pallas Fair, two labourers attempted to assault him, and finally his hay was burned.

After the evidence had been given Judge Adams said he would award £105 compensation, and put the area of taxation on the county at large. He would have made the locality the area of taxation if he thought the ratepayers in any way aided or supported this labourer’s agitation, but nothing of the kind was deposed to. Unfortunately, this crime arose out of the labourer’s agitation, which extended throughout the whole county, supported, not by the ratepayers, but by the labourers aided and counselled by a gentleman of whom he would say nothing. The District Council and County Council were composed mainly of farmers, but they had not in any way supported this agitation, though they might have acted with a certain degree of timidity. Nothing like this would be tolerated in any civilised country that District Councils, an assembly to a certain extent like a court of justice, and sitting to discharge its duties, should be invaded by a band of ruffians, with bands and banners, and the proceedings interrupted. One man had the audacity to force himself into the room and make a speech, although not a member of the Council. The bands and banners commenced this, the hooting and groaning followed. Then there was the attempted assault and finally this fire. Those councils should be protected, the same as if it were the Lord Chief Justice’s Court was being held, and there should be an armed force of Constabulary present to put down mop clamour or violence, and restore, what the mob was always the enemy of, peace.[10]

  1. Feeling the Pinch

A special meeting of Limerick Corporation was attended by several outsiders, and others opposed to the sale of the Waterford, Limerick, and Western Railway to the Great Southern and Western Company. Mr William L. Stokes, JP, moved a resolution authorising the solicitor to oppose the sale, and take the necessary steps to that effect. Cllr Obrien seconded the proposition. It was suggested that the resolution be enlarged so as to include the Midland Great Western Railway or any other intending purchasing company, but the suggestion was not entertained. Mr Shaw addressed the meeting by request, and said the great Southern Bill was very little changed from the one of 1899. The Great Southern and Western people were magnificently generous now in certain things, but why were they not so before? Some of those promises and guarantees looked very bright on paper and where glibly put into the bills, but they should be treated with indifference. There were 101 ways for the great Southern company to back out of their undertaking, and the people of Limerick should fight the bill in the interests of the city to which they all had the honour of saying they belonged. No matter what the cost of opposition was it would be but a drop in the ocean compared with what Limerick would suffer if the bill succeeded. He had discussed the matter with several, and came to the conclusion that if they permitted the bill to go through, their children would curse the day they were born. At Lahinch this year, the chairman of the Belfast and County Down Railway said to him, “whatever you do” persuade the citizens of Limerick in their own and their children’s interest not to allow the great Southern Bill to go through. “And I tell you,” said he, “that in your own time, before there is 10 years over, you will feel the pinch as you never felt it before.” Let the Corporation join with the Harbour Board, Chambers of Commerce, and other bodies and they would smash this amalgamation as they did before. Mr Stokes said 90% of the citizens opposed amalgamation. Mr John F Power, who subsequently attended, addressed the meeting in favour of amalgamation.[11] The resolution was unanimously adopted, and applause came from outside the barrier.[12]

“The Local Government Board have written sanctioning the decision taken by the Limerick County Council at a meeting last Saturday. The council decided that in these cases where contracts had not been received for the maintenance and repairs of public roads, the roads in question should be given in charge to the County Surveyor to have the work done directly by labourers. The decision to have the opinion of the Local Government Board was to avoid any possible surcharge by the auditor for the expenditure to be incurred.”[13]

  1. 7.      Limerick Fish

At the monthly meeting of the Limerick Fishery Conservators the question of the threatened danger to the Shannon Salmon Fisheries in connection with the Shannon Water and Electric Power Bill was under discussion. Mr Hosford, Secretary to the Conservators, stated that he had written to the Board of Public Works, who had charge of the navigation of the Shannon, in reference to the bill being promoted by the Shannon Water and Electric Power Syndicate, and he had received the following reply: “In reply to your letter of the 13th inst., relative to the Shannon Water and Electric Power Bill of 1900, I am directed by the Commissioners of public works to inform you that they would take such steps as may be necessary to guard their interests and responsibilities as Shannon Commissioners in maintaining the navigation and drainage of the River Shannon, and their revenue and property as such commissioners insofar as they may be affected by this bill. There may, however, be interests which will not be covered or protected by the action of the board, and it will rest with the parties concerned to consider and decide whether they should take independent action to protect such interest. I am, Sir, your obedient servant.

The chairman asked to know what they meant by that? Mr Smith said, “That they will not allow the matter to be dropped.” There was general consensus with all members of the committee that whatever the Board of Works say there is no doubt that the project would interfere with the fishing of the Shannon. If they reduce the water by seven feet it would bring the river below the summer level of 7’6”. The letter from the board of Works is simply a diplomatic letter. The board of Works do not say anything. They do not commit themselves to anything. It would be as well for the secretary to write to the Board of Works to know if there are going to allow the river to be lowered. If they allowed the river to be lowered they will leave all the spawning beds of the lake dry in summer. The lowering of the river by seven feet would bring the water of Loch Derg six inches below the sill of the Victoria Lock above Portumna. Some members commented that the Board of Works letter said they would guard their own interests. It would be better to write to the Board of Works and asked them what they propose to do, and are they going to allow the lake to be lowered seven feet, or if they will allow it to be lowered at all?

The chairman stated, “We are here to conserve very valuable interests, and we ought to be in a position to know what is to be done in the matter. The scheme would destroy the spawning beds of the river. In reference to the lowering of the river at Loch Derg, the fishery inspectors held an inquiry some years ago, about the year 1890, with reference to a bill promoted by the Shannon Commissioners, and the report of the inspectors to the Lord Lieutenant stated; “as to the proposed lowering of the lochs it would have an injurious effect on the fisheries, as it would render it difficult for fish to enter the tributaries, many of which are spawning rivers, and the principal feeders of the Shannon.” That was the report of the inspectors to the Lord Lieutenant, and it was an important extract in the report under question. The chairman also stated that it would be well to draw the attention of the Board of Works to it. The extract could be sent to them. After some conversation, it was decided the secretary should write to the board drawing their attention to the report of the inspectors, and the great injury the proposed scheme would be to the salmon and other fisheries of the Shannon” [14]

  1. Uprightness and Consistency

The Times in an article dealing with the outlook in Ireland at the beginning of the New Year appears to be favourably impressed with the material progress which agriculture, trade, and industry have shown during 1899. As to agriculture, the harvests of the past two years, especially that of 1899, have been very satisfactory. And a disposition appears to be spreading throughout the country to utilise modern methods, and to farm on a defined and recognised system. The new Department of Agriculture will develop this tendency, though there is a decided danger that agriculture is mainly indulge in exaggerated ideas as to what outside help can do for them. The Department, as Mr Horace Plunkett tells us “will not be the dispenser of charity, but merely a coadjutor of earnest individual effort.” The Times concludes, as all sensible and unprejudiced people here always knew that the real difficulties of Ireland are economic and agrarian, rather than political. It would have been well for this country if English men, and especially English politicians, had recognised this fact long ago. For nearly 20 years much of the energy which could have been profitably applied to the development of the country’s material interests has been expended in vain and unpractical pursuit of the ‘ignis fatuus’ of Home Rule. In this connection few Irishmen will be disposed to agree with Mr Redmond when he expresses the belief that the present slight and temporary embarrassment of England will dispose the British people towards lending a favourable ear to the demands of himself or his party. He knows but little of the past history or national characteristics of the British people who fondly thinks that they will yield to the threats what they deny to justice. Let Mr Redmond look to the history of the whole of the last century, and the beginning of the present. During that long period of fully 120 years England was engaged in a prolonged struggle, often with nearly all the powers of Europe. Her population at no time during that period was more than double that of Ireland. And yet this interval of 120 years comprises the time which Irish Nationalists now look back upon as the darkest in the history of this country. In 1800, when the union was affected, Napoleon had almost reached the Zenith of his power, and England was fighting for her very existence in every quarter of the globe. The experience of the past teaches a lesson the very contrary to that which Mr Redmond desires to inculcate, that the circumstances which call forth the intent strength of England are those which more strongly impel her to keep her hand on the throttle-valve of Irish disaffection. Whatever concessions England has made to Irish agitation have been made for the most part in a time of profound peace, when England’s greatness was undisputed and her prosperity undisturbed. But, further, England has lost many delusions in dealing with this country, and not least of these was the idea that the vapourings of windy orators had behind them any real body of public opinion. In Ireland, as elsewhere, the convictions of the public are indexed by the amount of pecuniary support which they are prepared to give for the furtherance of their opinions. If the vitality and reality of the recent effort of Irish agitators be tested by this criterion, they need not disturb the equanimity of those who desire for all is a period of peace and progress. The latest attempt at the pro-Boer agitation has been limited to the very “flotsam and jetsam” of the population. The inherent tendency which exists amongst a large section of urban communities in all countries to look after other people’s business, coupled with our national relish for whatever will amuse us, have disposed some of our people to attend pro-Boer meetings at street corners, and to give a laughing ascend to resolutions which mean nothing. Beyond this even the most extreme section in Ireland would not go, and if they did Great Britain would speedily and as effectually deal with them as she is now doing with those Germans who were alleged to be contravening international law.

The Times is evidently not in love with our new Local Government Bill. It notes the intolerance and want of practical good sense displayed by the new County Councils. The capture of the Western councils by the “United Irish League” and the outrageous pretensions of the Limerick labourers are a significant comment on our fitness for popular local government, and the exclusion of every element of stability and standing from the new councils has left the affairs of the taxpaying community at the mercy of ignorant and inexperienced persons. Although we are at one with the Times in many of its conclusions, we are not entirely without hope that time and experience will mitigate some of the evils which are now apparent, and imbue with a larger and more tolerant spirit those who have lately exercised their privileges for the first time. Of one thing we are certain, and that is that Unionists who desire to work in our County and District Councils will not increase their chances of doing so, nor render themselves more popular are respected by any weak attempts to water down their own principles in order to mitigate opposition. Uprightness and consistency are as necessary in public as in private affairs, and Irishmen of all classes respect those who display them.[15]

“Schools open on Thursday, January 11. Scholars who do not return on the opening day are liable to be refused admission.”[16]

At a meeting of Limerick Corporation the engineer reported against approving the Shannon Water and Electric Power Company scheme unless the town council had guarantees to prevent the city waterworks at Clareville being affected. The secretary of the company, Mr John Mackey, and Mr Fraser, engineer, wrote asking to have the decision on the scheme deferred until the latter had an opportunity of explaining the advantages of the undertaking and removing misconception. It was agreed to adjourn the consideration of the matter. The Council, by 24 votes to 4, adapted the scheme of Mr J Enright, of London, for lighting the city by electricity, and laying down the installation to meet the Board of Trade requirements. Sir Thomas Esmonde’s scheme for a national council was defeated.[17]

“It is not easy to surprise Judge Adams, yet during an interesting action involving the Charter rights of the Mayor of Limerick he expressed astonishment that valuable muniments belonging to the city had been lost. Lapsing into history, he declared that Limerick, like Frances at Pavia, seem to have lost everything save her honour; but has she not he’s on steel?”[18]

  1. 9.      Cess Collectors [19]

The Limerick County Council decided that in the case of the deputy cess collectors who were not appointed by the grand jury they could not legally grant these officers compensation under the provisions of the Local Government Act. The deputy cess collectors held that their cases should be specially brought under the notice of the Treasury, with a view to compensation being allowed. A telegram was received from the Treasury stating that the claims of two of the officers affected where allowed, and it is anticipated that a similar result will follow other applications of a like nature pending.[20]

At Limerick Quarter Sessions, in the hearing of an application to have a fair rent fixed, Mr John Ryan, solicitor, mentioned that when cases came into The Land Commission Court no attention, not the slightest, was given to the fines paid for their holdings by tenants. Judge Adams, “And I will not pay the slightest attention to anything the Land Commissioner say. This is a court, and not a tribunal of ex-bank clerks, and so on. I cannot be moved except by both Houses of Parliament, but the Lord Chancellor can sack any of the Land Commissioner if he pleases. I always pay attention to the fines, to the case of tenants paying twenty or thirty years purchase for their farms, and then turning around to try and make the landlord pay the amount by getting the court to cut down the rents.”[21]

At the meeting of the Limerick Board of Guardians on this week complaint was made that there was a police constable present taking notes of the proceedings. A resolution was proposed by Mr Fitzgerald, and seconded by Mr Kelly, both Nationalist guardians, calling on the chairman to have the constable removed. The resolution was carried unanimously, and the Constable, who was in civilian clothing, left in the boardroom.[22]

  1. Bishops Speech

The Bishop of Limerick, Dr O’Dwyer, presided last evening at the annual reunion of the Roman Catholics of the diocese of Birmingham in the Birmingham Town Hall, and delivered an address on the question of a Catholic University for Ireland. The platform was occupied by the Bishop of Southwark and a large number of clergy and leading laity of the diocese. The Most Rev President then delivered an address upon the subject of a Catholic University for Ireland he said they were met together as an association representing both England and Ireland, united by interests of the most transcendent character. He traced the history of the movement in favour of a Catholic University in Ireland, of the efforts made by the late Cardinal Newman, who laid the foundation of their existing university system, and proceeded to deal with the objections raised by Protestants and dissenters to the measure of justice which the Catholics of Ireland claimed. It was urged that religious tests had been abolished at Trinity College, Dublin, and that Catholics were as free to become students as Protestants; but he pointed out that the whole influence and traditions of the College were Protestant. Catholics asked that as they represented the great majority of the people of Ireland, they should have an institution similarly based on the Catholic lines. It was further urged by their opponents that as the national system of education was undenominational, higher education should also be undenominational; but he quoted instances both in England and Ireland in which this principle was departed from. In Ireland provision was made, and every convenience, for every form of religious belief and unbelief also, and the only body that was under the ban in this age of scientific and intellectual progress was the Catholic majority of Ireland. Could such a disability draw their hearts strongly in loyalty and devotion to the Empire to which they belonged? The champions of civil and religious liberty in England said that the objections to the present university system were simply the work of the priests; that the Catholic laity were so priest-ridden, or were too great cowards to express their feelings. It was a shame to cast such an insult in the face of any people. They were not slaves in Ireland. He drew attention to the fact that the petition in favour of the University was signed by all the Catholic nobility, and almost the whole of the landed proprietors, by practically the entire body of professional men, by every Catholic Member of Parliament, and was adopted by nine out of ten of the local representative bodies of Ireland. It was therefore hard that their petition should be contemptuously cast aside, and that they should be termed priest ridden serfs. They had been led to expect from the memorable speech of Mr Balfour that the present government would have conceded their claim, and particularly as Lord Cadogan, the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, had also spoken in similar terms of approval, but when the Catholic Bishops drew up their statement of the principle upon which they would accept a settlement, the Duke of Devonshire stated that the government had no intention of dealing with it, and that he had never regarded it as a practical question. It therefore seems that Catholics had been fooled by English politicians. He asked to compare this wretched wavering by the Unionist government in their dealing with Ireland with their concessions to their own political supporters in England. Was it a wonder, therefore, that unionism had not made much progress of late in Ireland. It was a fact that Irish men neither loved nor respected the government that was over them. Undisguised tyranny they could understand, but the pretence of constitutional government was simply contemptible in their eyes, and it seemed that Irish Catholics were condemned at the behest of the least enlightened and most fanatical section in this electorate to a deprivation of higher education as a disability of their religion in that great centre of Unionism. Its most distinguished leader, Mr Chamberlain had recently visited Ireland for the purpose of emphasising the determination of the government to maintain this educational inequality under which they laboured. Had Mr Chamberlain forgotten the principles of his pro-Unionist days? There was a time when he advocated the government of Ireland according to Irish ideas. Had his Unionism invalidated that principle now, and were they to be governed in the teeth of Irish ideas? He could easily understand Mr Chamberlain’s action in opposing Home Rule if he thought the interests of the country would be jeopardised by it; but that did not prevent him from governing Ireland in accordance with the ideas of the Irish people, and every instinct of truth and justice should have impelled him to deal with Irishmen in a most liberal manner. But instead of that the Unionist government seemed to aim no higher than their own party interest in the government of Ireland. The ablest statesman of the Unionist party and the best and most and enlightened of Irish Protestants has approved of the scheme; but all that went for nothing in the face of the dictation of a few dissenting circles in the cities of England. If that is the way English Unionism worked out they would not have long to wait for its political defeat. On the motion of the Bishop of Southwark, a resolution was enthusiastically carried asking the government to adopt prompt measures to redress Catholic religious disabilities in Ireland in the matter of university education.[23]

“The Inspectors of Irish Fisheries have notified to the Limerick County Council that they will hold an enquiry into the scheme of the Shannon Water and Electric Power Syndicate on the 30th inst. Limerick City Engineers have reported against the works being allowed to interfere with the city water supply from the source at Doonass, and which the scheme might possibly affect.”[24]

  1. 11.  Direct Labour

At an adjourned quarterly meeting yesterday of Limerick (No. 1) District Council, Mr William Noonan, chairman, presiding, the question of the direct employment of Labour in the maintenance and repairs of the public roadways was again before the members. At the last meeting the tenders from contractors were rejected and referred to the County Council, who did not, however, go into them, but decided that they should be considered by the District Council. In reply to a member the clerk, Mr Guinane, said he could not explain what prompted the action of the County Council, but the matter was again afresh before the district council that day. After some discussion, Mr John Ryan, moved that contracts for the maintenance and repairs of the roads be advertised for 12 months from 31 March next, instead of 4 1/2 years as heretofore, and the security should be by a guaranteed society, Mr Doyle, solicitor, on behalf of the intending contractors, stated the condition with regard to the security was an impossible one, the gentlemen who suggested it, Mr Shee, MP, having admitted that he had been in consultation with some guarantee societies, the managers of which had informed him that their societies would decline to become security for contractors. The chairman thought the resolution should be amended so as to provide for such an emergency, but there was no response to the suggestion, and the resolution was eventually unanimously adopted.[25]

“A County Limerick lady, Miss E Ryan, has had conferred on her by the Queen the highest distinction within the reach of a member of the Army Nursing Staff, namely, the decoration of the Royal Red Cross. Ms Ryan is engaged at the Military Hospital, Valetta, and the honour has been awarded in recognition of her services in connection with the nursing, at Malta, of the sick and wounded from Crete.”[26]

“Lord Dunraven is breaking up his stud farm at Adare and a number of the thoroughbreds are to be sold by public auction at Limerick in the ensuing month.”[27]

  1. 12.  Potato Disease

Fortunately in the past year the dreaded potato disease was greatly circumscribed in its force in Ireland, the crop on wetlands in Connaught suffering most, but in the aggregate the yield was one of the best and soundest we have had in this country for a good many years. On this subject the Farmer’s Gazette contains an exhaustive account of an interesting series of experiments carried out in County Limerick during the past season, with the object of testing the effects of sulphate of copper solution as a preventive of potato disease. The experiments were carried out over a considerable area of country, and they conclusively proved that even in seasons when the disease is not very prevalent, the spraying more than repays the expense incurred in its application. These experiments also demonstrated that giving two dressings of the solution at a comparatively early period of the season is much more effective as a preventive of the disease than a single heavy dressing given later on. Another experiment was conducted in the same district with the object of testing the relative merits of old versus new seed, and in almost every instance it was found that the freshly introduced seed gave substantially better results than that previously grown on the same farm. The Limerick experiments also included an investigation into the subject of white scour in calves, a disease that causes great loss to farmers from year to year in the great dairying districts of the South. It has been found that by careful feeding and a strict attention to cleanliness the ravages of this disease may be very considerably mitigated.[28]

  1. Hole and Corner

The quarterly meeting of Limerick Corporation was held for the election of Mayor and a selection of three burgesses qualified to serve as City High Sherriff for the year. The present Mayor was re-elected without opposition, and then the council proceeded to nominate three burgesses fit to serve as City High Sheriff. The candidates mentioned were the present Sheriff, Mr, Thomas H Cleeve, JP, and whom, it was announced, was to be opposed by Mr John F Power. Alderman O’ Mara said it would clear matters by his stating that owing to the action of the present City High Sheriff there was no necessity, rather than the necessity of a contest had been obviated. Owing to Mr Cleve being in favour of amalgamation last year, Mr Power was forced to oppose him for the office, and to enter into an active opposition against him with every prospect of success. However, an arrangement was come to and now the following agreement was made in this letter received from Mr Cleeve: “Dear Mr Power, with reference to our interview, I have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that as I am seeking the honour of High Sherriff at the hands of the Corporation I shall be bound both in my private and public capacity to conform to the expressed view of the corporation, which I admit are, as you state, against amalgamation, and I pledge myself to be so bound not to give evidence in favour of amalgamation, yours faithfully, TH Cleeve.”

Mr Power had been working in the interest of the locomotive men and the citizens, and when he got this guarantee he wrote as follows to him in reference to the matter: “My Dear Alderman O’Mara, I wish to inform to you that Mr Cleeve has written a guarantee that he will not in his official capacity or as a private individual give evidence in favour of or against in any way to promote railway amalgamation, which would be so disastrous to our city and to the South and West of Ireland, if elected to the office of High Sherriff; and as all are aware that my opposition was solely on the grounds of railway amalgamation, having recovered the guarantee referred to, and Mr Cleves having atoned for his past action, I with the consent of my friends desire to withdraw my candidature, and to take this opportunity of sincerely thanking my supporters, the majority of the Limerick Corporation., Very sincerely yours, John F Power.”

Cllr Dalton denied that Mr Power was acting for the locomotive men, or that he was consulted by them. He was acting for three or four city merchants, who held a ‘hole- and-corner’ meeting on this subject. Mr Power withdrew now from the Shrievalty because he knew he would be beaten. Councillor Fitzgerald said Cllr Dalton was not in order. Counter Dalton replied, “It is not fair for Alderman O’Mara to say that the railwaymen consulted Mr Power. What right has the railway men to consult him? Cllr O’Brien said if the corporation were to confer an office on anyone it should be given unconditionally. Otherwise it was not worth at the having, and did not bring any honour with it to the recipient. The chairman told Cllr O’Brien if he wanted to make a speech and what is the speech about? Eventually Mr Cleeves name was placed first on the list, the vote being a unanimous one, Cllr John Hayes and Councillor Stokes, being nominated to the second and third places. Mr Cleeves selection for the office by the Lord-Lieutenant is therefore likely to follow. The council decided to hold a specially adjourned meeting later in the week to arrange for opposing the sale of the Waterford, Limerick, and Western Railway to the Great Southern and Western Company, and other matters in connection therewith.[29]

  1. Reservist Alacrity

A striking instance of the alacrity of the Reservists in responding to the summons to rejoin the colours was evidenced in a letter from an officer of the house at a meeting of the Limerick Board of Guardians; “Sir, Having today been served with a warrant from the War Office for active service in South Africa, I regret that in consequence I was obliged to leave my situation on the 20th. Now, as you are doubtless aware, since my appointment I have given you every satisfaction as attested by always having favourable reports from Board Inspector Burke and also the Lunacy Inspectors, and as I now leave for a short time only, through no fault of my own, I sincerely trust you will be considerate enough to keep the situation open for me until the war is over, when, if not amongst the slain, I shall return to your service with the least possible delay. Your Obedient Servant, James Ryan (Male Lunatic Keeper). Members of the Board agreed that he has been a very faithful officer, and a credit to the Department he has charge of. Members had personal knowledge he would not be sent to the front, as he only has four months to serve the balance of his reserve time. He would be kept in garrison duty during the period, and another man could be temporarily appointed for the four or six months he will be away. If you were going to South Africa would be another matter, Mr O’Regan stated “for we should leave it to the brave loyalists of England to keep positions open for those Reserve men. One member suggested, as a Nationalist Board, “We should not hold any of our offices open for anyone going to fight for her Majesty, but under the circumstances we can appoint a man temporarily for four months during his absence.”  The chairman said that whatever the merits of the case might be, they had only to consider the application as it affected them as a Board of Guardians. They should look at the application as one from a very deserving officer, filling a trying position in the house, and in justice to him, and as it would involve no cost to the ratepayers, the least the board could do was to grant six months leave. On the motion of Alderman O’Mara, seconded by Mr P McNamara, it was agreed to give the officer six months leave of absence, and advertise for a substitute to take his place while he was away with the colours. It was also noted that he does not ask for any salary while he is away.[30]

“The enquiry into the cause or causes of the very high death rate in cities in Ireland will be extended to Limerick. Once the Local Government Board sets the machinery in order it is a very simple matter extending the same kind of commission to the city. A through overhauling of the “health” responsibilities is to be keenly insisted upon, and sanitation, drainage, and cleansing will be gone into, as well as water supply, and the dairy and slaughter systems.”[31]

At a meeting of the Limerick County Council, the chairman, Mr Thomas Mitchell, presiding, an animated discussion took place relative to the contemplated sale of the Waterford, Limerick, and Western Railway to the Great Southern and Western Company. The Mayor, Alexander Shaw, William Stokes, William Halliday, Alderman S. O’Mara, John F Power, and James Roche attended as a joint deputation to ask support of the council in opposing the scheme for the sale of the Waterford and Limerick line, respecting which the Great Southern and Western Company and Midler and great Western company are promoting bills in Parliament. Eventually it was decided that a special meeting of the County Council should be held on Saturday to consider the whole question of amalgamation.[32]

At the meeting of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners a long discussion ensued relative to the Southern Railway Amalgamation Scheme. On the last day permission was given Mr James Goodbody, a member of the board and also a member of the firm of Bannatyne & Sons, to get what figures and statistics he might require from the books of the Harbour Board, and to which when it became known Mr John Power, likewise a member of the board, objected, if the figures were required for the purpose of supporting the sale of the Waterford, Limerick, and Western Railway. Bannatyne wrote to the board, and letter was read at the meeting asking to have the matter again brought before the members, and adding that the returns required were for their information in connection with the railway question. The chairman said he did not know who made the objection Mr Power stated to Mr Goodbody do you mean objection to this return? The Chairman replied yes. Mr Power said it was he made it, although, of course, he had no authority to do so on the part of the board. He was not present at the last meeting of the commissioners, but when he heard that Mr Goodbody got this permission he waited on him with another member of the board to know if the returns were required for the purpose of supporting the Railway amalgamation scheme. If the returns were not for that purpose he had no objection to Mr Goodbody getting them, but if they were he did not think it would be fair they should be so used until the board were made acquainted with the matter, as they had by a large majority decided to oppose amalgamation.

Mr Goodbody said the matter had not struck him in the way Mr Power had put it, but he said he would consult his directors, and that for the present he would not use the figures. If the figures were for trade purposes all right, but if to support a railway monopoly, which the majority of the board thought would injure the port and city, then the figures would not be supplied. Alderman O’Mara took a similar view. He voted for Mr Goodbody getting the figures on the last day, but certainly not with the idea that they should be applied as it now appeared there were to be applied. Mr William McDonnell, as one voting in favour of Mr Goodbody on the last day, he was tremendously taken by surprise when he heard of the purpose for which the figures were proposed to be used. Mr James Ellis Goodbody said he did not intend to say overmuch in regard to the application, and he did not wish to give any agreement as to how the figures were to be used. Mr Power had stated the conversation very accurately, but he also told him (Mr Goodbody) on the occasion that this question was very much on a par with a legal case. He (Mr Goodbody) thought his action as a member of the board, if he used the information he obtained, would be as proper as that of the majority of the board. A Parliamentary enquiry was quite a different thing to legal action, and he considered he had as perfect a right to put his side of the case on behalf of the minority, as the other members had on the part of the majority. It was a case that affected the whole South and West of Ireland more than it did the Port and docks of Limerick. Mr Boyd asked for an order in the matter. Mr McDonnell said he would propose that Mr Goodbody be refused figures. Mr Goodbody stated, “You must go further than that. I must be refused everything, for I may ask something else tomorrow.” Mr EJ Long said he opposed the information being issued as he thought it was unfair to traders that any member of the board should get exclusive information. Mr Goodbody said he wanted to get the names of the twelve largest ratepayers. Mr McDonnell held it should be known what Mr Goodbody wanted his information for before getting it. If it was for the great Southern and Western company he certainly should not get a stick to beat the back of those who were opposing the amalgamation scheme. After some further conversation it was decided that Mr McDonnell’s motion should be considered on notice at the next meeting of the board, Mr Goodbody stating he would not ask for the information required in the interim. A letter was read from the secretary of the Midland Great Western Company asking the Harbour Board to support a scheme of the board for the acquisition of the Waterford, Limerick, and Western Railway. Mr Power suggested it be referred to a committee who were willing to receive a deputation on the subject. Mr Goodbody mentioned that the Harbour board were spending thousands, while the Corporation, who were deeply interested, were spending but hundreds in opposing the scheme after some discussion, the chairman said if the sole task of the scheme were confined to this cooperation Mr Goodbody and others like him would have to pay all the same, as they were large ratepayers. On the motion of Alderman Joyce, seconded by Mr Power, a resolution was adopted condemning the action of the Waterford, Limerick and Western directors in dismissing three of their skilled workmen who had been opposed to amalgamation. Mr Goodbody said the men were dismissed for insubordination.[33]

“Mr JP Gunning, of the Inland Revenue Service, who had recently been promoted from Carrickmacross district to Glasgow, has now been further promoted to an important position in Limerick. Mr Gunning was most popular in all centres in which he has served; he has decided taste and aptitude for literary pursuits, as was evidenced in his excellent brochure on “Burns, Poet and Excise Officer,” an appreciative sketch of the Scottish National Bard.”[34]

February 1900


[1] Freemans Journal: The Railway Amalgamation Proposals: Action of Limerick Harbour Commissioners: January 2, 1900: page 6.

[2] The Irish Times: Shannon Water and Electric Power Company; January 2, 1900/page 7.

[3] Irish Times, Accident At Limerick, January 2, 1900; page 6

[4] Freemans Journal: Train Accident: January 3, 1900: page 7

[5] Irish Times, Jurisdiction of Courts: Judge Adams’s Opinion; January 3 1900: page 6.

[6] Freemans Journal: Window Breaking in Limerick: January 3, 1900: page 6.

[7] Freemans Journal: Proposed Fete in June: January 4, 1900: page 6.

[8] Irish Times, Third Battalion; January 2 1900; pg6

[9] Irish Times: Shocking Suicide at Limerick: January 4, 1900: page 6

[10] Irish Times: The Direct Labour Agitation; Strong Remarks by Judge Adams; January 5 1900; page 2.

[11] In fact, John F Power later took umbrage to the article and wrote to the Editor of the Irish Times in which he states; “In the report which you published in your issue of today of the proceedings of the Limerick Corporation on the subject of the contemplated railway monopoly in the South West of Ireland, you state that I ‘subsequently’ attended the meeting and addressed it in favour of amalgamation. This is not a fact, and I beg that you will kindly give as much prominence to this contradiction as you have given to the report. What actually occurred is that the Mayor was kind enough to ask me to lay my views before the meeting, which I did, and they were entirely against the amalgamation of Waterford and Limerick with the great Southern and Western Railway as creating a monopoly which has been proved would be most injurious to the progress and to the commercial and agricultural interests of the South and West of Ireland, and would benefit only the monopolists. Yours, John F Power. Limerick, January 5. (Irish Times; Railway Monopoly in the South and West of Ireland: To the Editor of the Irish Times: January 6, 1900: page 7)

[12] Irish Times; Waterford Railway Purchase, Action of Limerick Corporation; January 5, 1900; page 3.

[13] Irish Times: Limerick County Council and the Roads: January 5, 1900: page 3.

[14] Irish Times: Limerick Fishery Conservators: The Shannon Water and Electric Power Bill: January 5 1900: page 3.

[15] Irish Times: Editorial: January 6, 1900: page 4.

[16] Irish Times: Mungret College Limerick: January 9, 1900: page 1.

[17] Irish Times: Limerick Corporation: January 12, 1900: page 6.

[18] Irish Times: Passing Events: January 13, 1900: page 7.

[19] Cess Collectors were Tax Collectors.

[20] Irish Times: Deputy Cess Collectors and Compensation: January 13, 1900: page 9.

[21] Irish Times: Judge Adams and Tenants Fines: January 13, 1900: page 4.

[22] Irish Times: Constable Present: January 13, 1900: page 8.

[23] Irish Times: Speech by the Bishop of Limerick: January 16, 1900: page 5.

[24] Irish Times: News from the Provinces: Shannon Water and Electric Power Syndicate: January 18, 1900: page 6.

[25] Irish Times: The Direct Labour Question: January 18, 1900: page 6.

[26] Irish Times: Passing Events: January 20, 1900: page 4.

[27] Irish Times: Lord Dunraven: January 23, 1900: page 4.

[28] Irish Times: Sulphate of Copper Solution and Potato Disease: January 23, 1900: page 6.

[29] Irish Times: Limerick Corporation Railway Amalgamation Question: January 24, 1900: page 3.

[30] Irish Times: Limerick Guardians and the Reservists: January 25, 1900: page 6

[31] Weekly Irish Times: London Notes: January 27, 1900: page 18.

[32] Irish times That: Southern Railway Amalgamation Scheme: January 29, 1900: page 6.

[33] Irish Times: Southern Railway Amalgamation Scheme: January 30, 1900: page 7.

[34] Irish Times: Passing Events: January 31, 1900: page 5.

Marconi And The Titanic

MARCONI AND THE TITANIC

By

Gerard J. Hannan

Marconi Room on the Olympic.

‘CQD CQD SOS Titanic Position 41.44 N 50.24 W. Require immediate assistance.

Come at once.We struck an iceberg. Sinking’

(12.17am 15.April.1912)

(Titanic, 1912)

From the very second the first SOS signal was sent from Titanic in the early hours of April 15, 1912 when that high-pitched musical tone travelled for hundreds of miles across the North Atlantic in a desperate plea for help it not only marked the beginning of the greatest maritime tragedy in recorded history but also was to have a long term resonation for Irish broadcasting. The Titanic sent the signal using her 1.5 kW Marconi installation to signal her death knell. The 1.5 kW set was the absolute latest piece of modern technology, for the time, and as such optimal performance was not only an absolute demand but also a natural expectation. Titanic’s Wireless set had a nominal working range of 250 nautical miles and signalling more distant stations was also possible, especially at night when ranges of up to 2000 miles were attained using similar sets. The location of the Wireless suite on Titanic was given secondary importance to valuable windows for use by First Class passengers.

The equipment was housed in a series of interconnecting rooms; the soundproof ‘Silent Room’ in which noisy transmitting equipment was located, the Marconi Room, an office in which contained the operators’ workstations, manipulation keys, and receiving equipment; and the bedroom, which contained the operators’ berthing. The Wireless set was operators and cared for by Marconi’s employees, who were by routine assigned to Titanic for the duration of one voyage and, therefore, not considered part of the normal crew. Their time was spent within the Marconi suite except at mealtime when they were allowed to adjourn to the dining saloon (Stevenson, 2002).

The alleged last audible message from Titanic came at around 2;05 AM when, as the New York Times revealed on April 21, 1912 based on testimony given by Harold Bride, there was an exchange between Capt Smith and Jack Phillips and Harold Bride who were the operators in charge of the Marconi suite. The Captain visits the Wireless room for the last time and says “Men, you have done your full duty. You can do no more. Abandon your post. Now it’s every man for himself” the captain’s comments shock the operators. Capt Smith then told them; “You look out for yourselves. I release you” There is then another pause and Capt Smith adds “that’s the way of it at this kind of time… Every man for himself” the Captain then leaves the Wireless room. The operators then make a final call to all ships as water is flooding the room and Phillips says to Bride “come on, let’s clear out”… then Titanic’s signals end very abruptly as if power suddenly switched off (Titanic Radio, 2012).

Harold Bride survived the sinking of the ship, but Jack Phillips, died of exposure. However, The New York Herald, the New York Times biggest rival challenged the account and questioned how the newspaper got exclusive access to Harold Bride’s personal account of the events. The Herald publishes the shocking revelation that American Marconi officials sent telegrams to the Marconi operators, instructing them to withhold information about the disaster so that reports could be sold. According to later testimony by Guglielmo Marconi, the New York Times paid a negotiated $500 for the exclusive rights to Brides story.

Furthermore, it was later revealed that there were complaints that Marconi operators aboard the Patio had ignored other Navy vessels, demanding information as to the situation on board Titanic. The real question being asked by the international media was did Guglielmo Marconi see the disaster as no more than an opportunity to yield high profits and, distort the flow of information to such a point that lives were lost in the name of business practice? The following 24 hours after the first fatal message was sent the flow of information was dangerously distorted, contaminated and highly inaccurate and the primary source of this information was Marconi’s Wireless apparatus. The international media could not access accurate information without first dealing with Marconi and his officials. Consequently, international newspapers opted to fill space for their news hungry readers with speculation, convolution and misinformation. Marconi’s punishment would be severe.

On Tuesday April 16th the Central News Agency releases some information about an ‘incident’ at sea. “Wireless messages received at Halifax early this afternoon state that the condition of the Titanic is dangerous, and that the lives of those who still remain aboard are in some peril. In a maze of Wireless messages from various steamers it is difficult to get any connected story. The Government tug Lady Laurier is going from London to render assistance. The news of the disaster to the Titanic reached New York in the small hours of this morning by way of Montreal, whither it had been transmitted by Wireless Telegraphy from the Allan liner Virginian, Eastward bound.

The Virginian herself, in common with other liners, had picked up in the night the Wireless signals for assistance broadcast by the maimed liner, and at the same moment that she was passing them on to the shore was steaming her fastest to the rescue” (Central News Agency, 1912). The report states that “New York was preparing to give the Titanic a big welcome on the same lines as that extended last year to her sister ship, the Olympic, and among her passengers it was known that there were many distinguished American citizens, concerning whose fate the carrier messages said nothing. Most of these, after fulfilling business and other engagements in Europe, had waited in order to enjoy the thrill of making the homeward journey in the world’s greatest liner, the ‘millionaires’ ship, on board which they might almost be pardoned for considering themselves as safe as in their hotels on shore. Among them may be mentioned the following;-Mr Benjamin Guggenheim, a member of the famous Guggenheim family of capitalists, associates of Mr Pierpont Morgan, and world famous in connection with Alaskan development and copper production; Mr C Clarence Jones, a New York Stock Broker, who has been visiting the European capitals in connection with the purchase of American Embassy sites; Mr Washington Roebling , head of the great wire cable firm, and son of the builder of Brooklyn Bridge; Mr Washington Dodge, member of the well known banking firm of Phelps, Dodge and Company; Col. John Weir, mining engineer; Mr Henry B Harris, theatrical producer and manager, and son of the gentleman of the same name who owns many of New York’s theatres; Mr Jacques Futrelle , one of the best known of American authors; Mr Frank D. Millet, American painter, who resided a long time in London (Central News Agency, 1912). In Ireland, the Irish Independent reports on ‘update’ on the story; ‘The publication of the Montreal message sent scores of anxious folks to the White Star offices in quest of further information, but there was nothing to tell them for several long hours. The officials were emphatic in their declarations that the huge hull of the Titanic, divided into several water-tight sections, each as big as a good sized ship, was in no danger of sinking, and even when the Wireless at Cape Race announced that the liner was down by the head and that preparations were being made to take the passengers off, they repeated their assurances, which in the light of later news seem to have been well founded. The cheering announcement was forthcoming that besides the Virginian, which at midnight was 170 miles from the scene of the disaster, the White Star liners ‘Olympic’ and ‘Baltic’, the Cunard liner Mauretania, and three or four German and French liners were all hurrying in the same direction (Irish Independent, 1912).

The story of the disaster is briefly, yet graphically, told in a Wireless message received from the Cunard liner which runs in the companies Mediterranean service and picked up the Titanic’s signals when four days out on her voyage from New York to Gibraltar. The Titanic struck the iceberg at 10.25pm last night(American time). She was then running at reduced speed, presumably from the knowledge of the proximity of ice. Most of the passengers had retired to bed, and were awakened and terrified by a thunderous impact, which crushed and twisted the towering bows of the liner and broke them in like an eggshell. The behaviour of the crew is stated to have been exemplary and they were assisted by many of the male passengers, who also succeeded in calming the women and children. The Wireless was immediately set going, and, as a precaution, the majority of the passengers were placed in the liner’s boats, which were swung out and ready to be lowered. The sea was calm, and though the sea was pouring into the vessel forward, her machinery had not been disabled and when it was found that, with the pumps working and the watertight bulkheads holding well, there was a good chance of the liner making port, the captain set about proceeding cautiously in the direction of Halifax (Central News Agency, 1912).

Reuters Cablegrams had less information to offer about the disaster. All they could report is that the Titanic was sinking off Newfoundland Banks, as the result of a collision with an iceberg; that several ships were in Wireless communication with, and that the women were being taken off in lifeboats (Reuters Cablegrams, 1912). The liner Baltic sent a Wireless message to New York at 3;50 AM and was within 200 miles of the Titanic. The last signals from the Titanic came at 12;25 AM. It reports that the messages were blurred and ended abruptly. A later telegram from Cape Race says the Wireless operator on board the Titanic reported the weather calm and clear. The position of the liner being 41 46 N, 50 14 W, the Virginian liner also reported at midnight that it was 170 miles West of the Titanic, and was expected to reach her 10;00 AM. The Olympic at midnight was in 40.32 North latitude, 61.18 West longitude. She’s also in direct communication with the Titanic, and is hastening to her. The dispatch also states that all the passengers of the Titanic had left the ship by 3;30 AM this morning. Reports were coming into New York by 4;30 AM stating that most of the passengers from the Titanic had been put in lifeboats, and the sea was calm. The Montréal Star newspaper confirms that the Titanic is still afloat and making her way slowly to Halifax.

In Boston, there were reports stating that the Titanic is slowly struggling in the direction of Cape Race. In Montréal they receive an “unsigned telegram” stating that the Titanic is steaming to Halifax and she hopes to make port (Reuters Telegrams, 1912). The Freemans Journal reports that ocean voyaging still has its perils. Two thousand, two hundred and fifty three people were drawn into danger of death at the one swoop when the Titanic crashed into the ice. A few years ago, had it been possible then for such a population to be aboard one vessels, the iceberg might well have caused a great disaster, a death list terrible enough to keep land fork from sea for a long time. It was not certain at first that the Titanic would not sink, it is not even quite certain, at the moment of writing, that it will be brought the whole way into port. Should it go under yet, the village full of people aboard may thank the Wireless Telegraph for their lives. The cry of distress sent raying over the ocean by the great liner brought help that else must have passed, within helping distance, quite without knowledge of the need. At 3;30 AM, the dead hour of the night to human beings, every one of the 1350 passengers had been transferred to other vessels, leaving 903 members of the crew and service to make Halifax on the ship if it is to reach port. Of course, this second large population, of 900, will be safe, unless a last disaster should happen suddenly, a thing not to be anticipated. But for the Wireless installation, and the confidence it gives of help almost certain, there must surely have been a deadly panic on the Titanic when the great ship drove into the iceberg which crippled it. No doubt the now facts bring a new mind; passengers have already acquired what one is tempted to call the “Wireless mind” the feeling that the ocean is no longer lonely space cut off from all human life. The instinct of old was to throw oneself overboard at the first terrible moment of a collision, or of the cry of fire; people that read yesterday’s news in mid ocean and knew the price of shares in Dublin or of coal in London do not feel so utterly abandoned; the sea has become a continuation of the land life, and, no doubt at all, every passenger at the moment of the shock uttered the one word, “Wireless”; everyone thought at once that the Titanic was on a known track within easy hail of friends, who would turn on their paths within five minutes and bring help.

The same system has proved itself useful also in warnings of danger, the question will arise at once whether the Titanic might not have avoided this awful peril by the ice warning that had already been sent out by other ships. The Virginian, which has been helping the giant in distress, had already sent out word that three days out of Halifax it had encountered “ice fields 100 miles in extent, with enormous bergs” It will be asked whether this danger signal had not reached the Titanic; if not, why not? And, if it did reach the Titanic, why the Titanic could not avoid the whole bristling ground? The biggest ship afloat has had an unhappy first trip, and it will be remembered that the Olympic, also one of the giants, made and in ill-omened start. But there is no certain connection between the size of these monsters and the misfortunes which have fallen about them. The Titanic is believed to be not merely the fastest ship that man has put on the waters in all the history of the world, but to be the safest also. It was even famous for its “collision bulkhead”, and collision it has had to meet on its first going forth. It remains to be seen whether there will be any effort now to maintain that the size of these ships is, after all, a danger; whether in any way bulk increases peril when there may be need of hasty stopping, backing, or wheeling about. The enquiry into the causes of the Titanic’s mishap will certainly consider this question. And there will be an anxious desire for information as to the reason the Titanic took the course which was known to be made terrible for the moment by that vast floating country of ice, “100 miles in extent, with enormous bergs” (Freeman’s Journal, 1912).

The Irish Independent states “sailors, who are proverbially superstitious, may be pardoned if they think there is something unlucky about the two largest steamers afloat, the Olympic and Titanic, of the White Star Line. Six months ago the Olympic collided with the cruiser Hawke in an apparently unaccountable way, and on a subsequent occasion lost one of her propeller blades in mid-ocean. The sister ship, the Titanic, when starting on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic last week, narrowly avoided a collision in Southampton water. On Sunday night she appears to have collided with a huge iceberg, and sustain such damage that the first accounts received by Wireless represented the huge vessel as sinking and the passengers and crew, upwards of 2000 souls, as being in great danger. There were Irish passengers on board the Titanic, and the alarm caused in Ireland yesterday by the news of the disaster was consequently great. Fortunately, however, later Wireless messages represent the accident as not so serious; passengers are said to be safe on board other vessels summoned by Wireless to the assistance of the great liner, and the steamer, though apparently badly damaged, is making her way to Halifax, the nearest port. During the past few days many vessels have encountered huge icebergs and ice fields off the coast of Newfoundland, and this source of danger threatens alike the largest and the smallest shipping. That the collision of the Titanic with an iceberg did not result in heavy loss of life may be partly attributed to the splendid construction of the vessel and the system of collision bulkheads and electrically worked watertight doors with which the vessel is provided, but mainly to the prompt assistance which the Wireless messages summoned from all sides within a radius of 200 miles. This is a new triumph for Marconi, and if the lesson is taken to heart by ship-owners one may soon hope to see every oceangoing steamer equipped with his marvellous invention (Irish Independent, 1912).

The flow of early misinformation in relation to the sinking of the Titanic seemed to continue as April 16th’s late editions hit the newsstands. A Reuters “all classes” cablegram from New York claims the Titanic sank at 2;20 AM this morning. No lives were lost. An hour later Reuters issued another telegram stating; “the following statement has been given out by the White Star officials. Capt Haddock, of the Olympic, sends a Wireless message that the Titanic sank at 2;20 AM on Monday, after the passengers and crew had been lowered into the lifeboat and transferred to the Virginian. The steamer Carpathia, with several hundred of the passengers from the Titanic, is now on her way to New York” A late edition of the Irish Independent states “White Star have given assurances that the passengers were safe. Vice President, Mr Franklin, has expressed the belief that the vessel was also safe, however severely damaged, being practically unsinkable. All news has been coming in aggravating fragments in the form of Wireless messages from various vessels at the scene of the wreck or hastening thither, nothing has been received direct from the Titanic herself” (Irish Independent, 1912).

A later Reuters telegram seemed to contradict all previous messages in relation to the Titanic. The statement issued in New York at 8 AM declares “up to this hour the officials of the White Star line have not received a word regarding the reported accident to the Titanic. 12 hours have passed since the collision of the Titanic is reported to have taken place. We have heard nothing of an accident. It is very strange to the Titanic sister ship Olympic, which has a Wireless installation of sufficient strength has not communicated with us” (Reuters Telegram, 1912).

However, the Irish media did not believe a word of this official statement. “Disaster has marked the maiden voyage of the gigantic White Star liner Titanic, for while steaming through the night, some 270 miles South-East of Newfoundland, she struck an iceberg, and is now crawling towards Halifax in imminent danger of sinking. Happily so far as can be at present ascertained, no lives have been lost, and with plenty of help from other liners standing by the passengers should be landed safely tonight or tomorrow. The first notification of disaster came from the Wireless station at Cape Race, which picked up the Titanic’s message for help. Shortly afterwards came another Wireless message from the Virginian, stating that she also had picked up the Titanic’s message, and was hastening to the relief. The next message received by the Cape Race Wireless station was even more alarming, for the Titanic’s operator reported that the ship was sinking by the head, and that the women and children were being put into lifeboats. Then came a long pause and at 12;27 AM the Virginian operator said that the last signals received from the Titanic were blurred and indistinct, and that the message had been broken after suddenly. By this time no fewer than 11 great liners had picked up the despairing SOS signals, and were heading full speed to the rescue. The Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, which was herself in collision only a short time ago; was about 300 miles away on her way from New York to Southampton, and while passing the message on she announced that she was racing to the rescue. Another boat, comparatively near, was the White Star liner, Baltic, and some other vessels including Amerika and Cincinnati, the Parisian, the Carpathia, the North German Prinz Friedrich Willhelm and Prinz Adalbert; and a French liner, La Provence, all of which sent Wireless messages of encouragement and the news that they were hurrying to the rescue (Irish Independent, 1912).

However the flow of misinformation persisted. Another Reuters cablegram claims to have received a message from the ship Minin, off Cape Race, stating that steamers are now towing the Titanic, and endeavouring to get her into shoal waters near Cape Race, for the purpose of beaching her. A further message from Halifax states that the Government Marine Agency has received a Wireless message to the effect that the Titanic is sinking. A telegram from Montréal states that White Star has denied the report that the Titanic had sunk. He believed that with so many vessels around her it would be unnecessary for the Virginia to return to Halifax with her. Traffic officials of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, have been notified that the passengers of the Titanic will be landed at Halifax, Nova Scotia. About 600 would require transportation to New York by sleeping cars, and 800 by ordinary coaches. White Star also confirm that the Virginia, Parisian and Carpathia were now standing by the Titanic. The Company claims to have definite information that all the passengers had been transferred successfully from the Titanic; they also confirm that they had received nothing indicating the extent of the damage sustained by the Titanic” (White Star Liners, 1912).

Although the news of the disaster to the Titanic came as tremendous shock and the gravity of the position was fully recognised, the shipping community of Liverpool resolutely took a sanguine view throughout that the ship would be brought to a place of safety. The intelligence that the Titanic is in tow of the Virginia has been communicated to the owners, who finding it a confirmation of their expectations that the giant ship, damaged though she may be, has, through the medium of her collision bulkhead and watertight compartments, sufficient buoyancy to enable her to reach a port of safety. The chief feature discussed was the splendid demonstration the disaster affords of the practical utility of Wireless Telegraphy. In marine insurance circles it seems to be generally believed that the vessel is covered to the amount of £1m, half of which will be carried, not by the White Star line itself, but by the White Star and all the companies with which it works in combination. This combination is known to possess a very large insurance fund. Of the million at risk in the open in insurance market, it is believed a quarter is taken by Liverpool companies, the remaining three quarters being distributed amongst London offices, Hamburg probably coming in aid (Irish Independent, 1912).

However, it would be at lEast 24 hours more before the true facts of the disaster began to emerge to a shocked world. But interestingly, somebody somewhere had to account for the flow of misinformation that had caused so much confusion in the preceding 24 hours. The finger of blame was pointed at “airwave Pirates” who had interrupted professional transmissions using amateur Wireless apparatus; “These operators are making it difficult to communicate with legitimate sources” (Reuters Cablegram, 1912).

Numerous articles began to appear in Irish newspapers which included the names of some of the survivors of the Titanic disaster. However, the true horror of the tragedy was beginning to unfold. Headlines in most newspapers announced that Titanic had sunk long before any help arrived. White Star claim to have received positive news that the number of survivors is 868. There is reason to believe that the death toll reaches the awful number of 1490. There are many notable persons among the missing and there were no survivors of the disaster on board either the Virginian or Parisian. The King and Queen, Queen Alexandra, and the Kaiser have sent messages expressing deep sympathy with the relatives of the Titanic victims to the White Star Directors.

The messages received up to about 2;30 AM yesterday regarding the fate of the vessel were very conflicting, and it was not until that hour that a definite message was received stating that the liner had sunk. For this reason practically all the newspapers that commented on the disaster did so on the assumption that the Titanic had been merely damaged by the collision, and that no lives had been lost. Irish passengers, representing every part of this country, joined the Titanic at Queenstown. The majority travelled steerage. The latest information from Cape Race indicates that only the 675 survivors on board the Carpathia have escaped from the wreck. Heartrending scenes were witnessed at the White Star Company’s offices at New York, Liverpool, London, and Southampton when the news of the disaster was made known. At the official luncheon on board the Titanic before she sailed one of the tables collapsed, and the incident was much commented upon. Today’s news has shed an entirely new light upon the disaster which overtook the Titanic during the night of Sunday. It is now, unhappily, only too clear that the magnificent vessel, the pride of her builders, owners, and all whom gloried in Britain’s shipbuilding supremacy, is lying on the bed of the North Atlantic at some depth of some 1700 fathoms, and that her last constitutes the most appalling catastrophe in the maritime history of the world. It can only be assumed that the erroneous reports so widely circulated, which raised false hopes in the hearts of thousands, were the result of the confusion which must necessarily have arisen at a time when Wireless messages were being transmitted from dozens of vessels and relayed from as many more. It is known that the Titanic disappeared before the help summoned by her Wireless operators could reach her, and that those of her Company who were saved were picked up from her boats by the Carpathia, which was the first ship to arrive on the scene.

The most terrible news is that the number taken aboard the Carpathia is only about 800. Hopes that other survivors might be on board other ships were disappointed by Cablegrams which set forth that these liners were too late to render help, and it is, therefore, practically certain that over 1500 lives were lost when the Titanic went down. The Carpathia is likely to take a considerable time in reaching New York, in as much as she herself is forced to steam slowly owing to the presence of huge ice fields in her track.

Many persons whose names are known throughout the world are among those who are believed to have perished. It appears clear that all the survivors of the Titanic disaster, to the number of about 800, says a “Central News” New York message, are on board the Carpathia, which is on her way to New York. White Star officials in New York hoped to be in a position to give out something in the nature of a full statement later today. No word has been received direct from any of the Titanic’s passengers (Irish Independent, 1912).

In Ireland the accuracy of the information coming from America was under question. Newspapers report that American journalists are unprincipled in their methods; “As an indication of the unscrupulous methods of some American journalists several of the morning newspapers in New York yesterday published a telegram from St John’s, Newfoundland, giving a graphic account of the collision, which was credited as having come by Wireless Telegraphy from the British steamer Bruce, and is having been picked up from various steamers in the vicinity of the wreck of the Titanic. A Reuter’s cablegram of yesterday afternoon stated that these messages were now stated to be without foundation, as the only news of the wreck received by the Bruce was a bulletin from Cape Race (Irish Independent, 1912).

At the Dublin Stock Exchange Marconi Ordinary shares make a bad start but as the day goes on the shares start to recover (Irish Independent, 1912). According to the Freemans Journal, “conjecture will long be busy, and not unprofitably, on the causes of the disaster to the Titanic and on the measures that must be taken to reduce the danger of such terrible events in the future. Very soon, of course, we shall be in possession of some authentic accounts of what actually happened, and almost certainly there will prove to be among the rescued some able to give the expert account from which understanding and future prevention may come. It has already been suggested that the Titanic did not carry a lifeboat and raft service adequate to the needs of its great population in time of danger. The outsider may be wrongly impressed by this suggestion. It is not for him to say whether this thing is even possible, perhaps a vessel that was all safety could not carry passengers with any freedom of movement, with any adequate speed, possibly even a ship bristling with safety devices would be the most dangerous in time of hurry. Only a practical shipbuilder can answer fully on such points, and the amateur even when he was right in principle would generally be wrong in his method of arriving at this theory. It does not appear likely that the builders and buyers of the Titanic, the last word of the craft, would ignore the entirely obvious. The vessel that had installed a Turkish bath on board would not probably forget or neglect it’s reasonably adequate supply of life-saving apparatus. It is said that under the Titanic specification there were lifeboats enough for the accommodation of nearly 2000 people, if this were actually so, the ground of complaint is shifted. The number of lifeboats would be adequate, and the mistake would be in their placing, or possibly even in their number itself. The charge would partly be against the very bigness of the ship. An officer of wide experience remarks on this point that the difficulty is to bring the life-saving appliances into use. “In the case of the Titanic,” he said, “you have to consider the great height of the boats above the water and where the collapsible boats and the rafts are stored. The accident to the Titanic happened in the dark, and apparently when the boats were needed the ship was deep down forward. If there were a list to either side it would make matters still worse and some of the boats might be altogether useless” it is obvious that at the terrible moment of such a crash as that which destroyed the Titanic, in the dark, there cannot be the order of the school picnic entertainment. You have 32 lifeboats each good for 60 passengers, but no one can guarantee that each will be neatly ready for the water at its exact spot and its 60 passengers drawn neatly up to step with decorum into it. The article also states, “as for the Wireless apparatus, much has been expected obvious, but just at present, after the full change of tidings from the first cheerful belief to the final despair, there is a tendency to forget all that it has done. At lEast 800 people unquestionably owe their lives to the Wireless, the 800 on the Carpathian must have gone down with the others but for the signal SOS that brought them at lEast their rescue. 800 is a vast ship full saved and, although it is a lesser matter, something must be credited to the Wireless in letting the world know what happened. Two years ago we should have been waiting days and days after the Titanic was due, and collected agony of those on land watching for the missing ship would be a terrible increase to the total of the tragedy. This disaster will give an immediate impulse to the study of the ways and signs of floating ice. It is admitted that this vastly important matter has not yet been adequately studied and recorded. Old Mariners differ more strangely about the signs by which the fatal presence may be known, some speak of chill in the air, others of chill in the water, to be recognised at safe and sufficient distance by common perception; others deny that there are any such warnings, but allow that delicate instruments may give the word; there is also, it appears, an instrument, not yet largely used, which foreshows the presence of more solid mass in the water. Some commanders said that there are recognisable reflections from the ice in the sky overhead “iceberg blink”, others deride this alleged lore. Some believe in keeping the sirens blowing in suspected areas in the faith that the bergs will give back a significant echo. The danger, it may be noted, however, is more from sunken ice then from the visible berg. The ghastly suggestion is made in the case of the Titanic that it may have dashed into what is called an iceberg cave, being cut and hacked by the ice underneath until it was entirely caught in the mass, when the very impact would bring the berg smashing down like a hammer upon it” (Freemans Journal, 1912).

News also comes to light that Captain Smith had grave concerns, some weeks prior to the disaster, and spoke of the life preserving equipment of the Titanic, which was then under construction. He told his colleague, Glenne Marston, “if the ship should strike a submerged derelict or iceberg, that would cut through into several of the watertight compartments we have not enough boats or rafts aboard to take care of more than one third of the passengers. The Titanic should carry at lEast double the number of boats and rafts that she does to afford any real protection to passengers. Besides, there is the danger of some of the boats becoming damaged or being swept away before they can be manned” (Irish Independent, April).

The flow of misinformation that had occurred on April 16th could not be dismissed, at lEast by the general public, as a result of the interference of so-called “airwave Pirates”. During this 24 hour period much of the credit for saving the lives of all of the passengers of Titanic was given to Marconi and his “wonderful apparatus”. The Marconi Company clearly basked in the glory and praise showered on them by the international media. In fact, as time would tell, and new facts came to light soon after the disaster, the Marconi Company itself were major contributors to the propaganda that would ultimately have far reaching social, political and financial consequences for the Company that were perceived as exploiting a major disaster for financial gain. Marconi’s Dublin shareholders were the first to anticipate the looming disaster for the Company and at the first opportunity on April 17th 1912 to surrender their interests in the Company; “Marconi shares experienced a reaction in price and as the day progressed Marconi issues collapsed into comparative quietude. It is understood that the shares of the American Wireless Company will be introduced to the market in the next few days” (Financial Correspondent, 1912). This clearly suggests that shareholders remained interested in Wireless technologies but were beginning to lose interest in Marconi. It is arguably more than a coincidence that the loss of interest in Marconi and the sinking of the Titanic were unrelated events. Had the romance between Ireland and Marconi come to an abrupt end and if so, what would be the consequences of this for Irish radio?

Meanwhile the international media were reporting that there is little hope that the disaster would not prove to have been the most awful in the history of the sea. In view of the receipt early this morning from the Carpathia of the partial list of those saved, it is anticipated that the vessel will soon be within Wireless zone, and would be able to send details of the disaster. The list of the save is mainly composed of women, though several men’s names appear upon it, including that of Mr Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line; “throughout last night and even early this morning crowds thronged the offices of the White Star, many of the enquirers came out in tears, and some became hysterical when they were unable to hear tidings of their friends and relatives. Company officials hold out no hope that any passengers had been saved other than those on board the Carpathia (Press Association, 1912).

According to the New York Correspondent of the “Evening News” a crowd of anxious relatives and friends of the passengers on the lost Titanic was massed all night in front of The White Star Line offices in Broadway. The friends of the wealthy men unaccounted for are in a state of great anxiety. After a sleepless night, men worked thousands of pounds were rushing down at 5 and 6 o’clock to the business distract to hear the latest reports. It is a certainty that, at the time of writing, most of the notable men on board have gone down. The rule of the sea prevailed, “women and children first”. The women and children in the steerage would be taken off before the first and second class mail passengers. It is now known that the Carpathia picked up the passengers eight hours after the sinking of the Titanic. The Virginian was to give up her search after daylight and proceed with her voyage, as being a mail boat, she is forced to make the utmost haste to her destination. On learning of the disaster shortly before midnight, a well-dressed man on the arm of the friend fell fainting on the pavement outside the New York Times office” (London Evening News, 1912). The news of the probable heavy loss of life had only a limited circulation. Crowds had gathered at the White Star offices, and women in tears and men in frantic search of reassuring news were met with the frank admission that little was known of the fate of the passengers who were not travelling first or second class (Freemans Journal, 1912).

Any news now in relation to the disaster is based on second hand information and limited telegrams, some confused and contradicting previous news information. It is clearly a ‘waiting game’ to get first hand information and the hours were ticking by. Until the Carpathia reaches New York with the survivors it will be impossible to form a definite opinion of how the disaster occurred. Commanded by one of the ablest and most experienced seamen in the service of any of the great shipping companies, the mammoth liner was fitted with every device that science has invented to secure safety at sea, and yet within four hours after striking an iceberg she sank. Captain Smith had been warned several days before by a French vessel that floating ice had been encountered far South of where it is usually expected at this time of year. The presumption is, therefore, that the Titanic was being navigated with special care in order to avoid danger. How, then, did it happen that the precautions adopted proved unavailing? (Irish Independent, 1912).

Questions can not be answered, and, as captain Smith is believed to have gone down with his ship, it is possible that the truth will never be known. It is incredible that any culpable want of foresight or inexplicable loss of nerve on the part of any of the officers contributed to the fearful calamity. The gallant commander of the Titanic had been dogged by what is commonly called ill-luck since he took command of her sister ship, the Olympic, which collided with the Hawke in the Solent in 1911. In a deep and touching Editorial the Irish Independent states; “Only last week, owing to the suction caused by her enormous bulk, the Titanic came near colliding with the American liner New York. But nobody, whether seaman or landsman, could have believed that the magnificent vessel would have met with disaster practically in mid-ocean; the horror of the scene in dead of night when the Titanic met with the dread foe which nature had loosed for her destruction palsies the imagination. Now we must brace ourselves to confront one of those terrible events in the order of Providence which baffle the most careful foresight, which appals the imagination, and make us realise the inadequacy of words to do justice as to how we feel. With pride in the nobler instincts of our humanity our hearts must thrill at the story of willing sacrifice epitomised in the fact that the lifeboats were filled with women and children. The first chance of safety was given to those who were lEast able to help themselves. The deliberate and disciplined heroism which must have been displayed will be blazoned on the mariners’ book of fame, and in that record will be inscribed many an Irish name. In truth both the pity and the glory of this unprecedented disaster come right home to our minds. The Titanic was planned by Irish brains and built by Irish hands. A considerable number of her passengers were Irish. By the loss of many persons of worldwide reputation or of enormous wealth who were on board the doomed vessel, many families in England and America will be plunged into mourning. To the bereaved, both rich and poor, the sympathy of every heart which can feel a pang of sorrow at distress will go out in this time of agony. It is enough to move a stoic to tears to read of the frenzied inquiries at the White Star Offices of parents and relatives for news of their children or other loved ones who were aboard the ill-fated ship. In due course all that can ever be known of the circumstances attending the loss of the Titanic will be revealed at the Board Of Trade enquiry. But it is not of expert evidence and official findings that the civilised world is now thinking. It is of the awful death toll and what it involves of poignant sorrow to all the bereaved and of acute distress amongst those who have lost their breadwinners. The misery of the latter will not, we know full well, go unrelieved. In the confusion of Wireless messages from many vessels and stations there was at first left room for hope that there had been no loss of life. But we can now no longer doubt that, measured by the death toll, the calamity is the most terrible in the history of the world’s mercantile marine.

The loss of 1,020 lives through the burning of the excursion steamer General Slocum in Long Island in 1904 is the one recorded shipping disaster that comes near rivalling the Titanic catastrophe in the number of its victims. In the awe inspiring circumstances of her disappearance beneath the waves; however, the disaster to the White Star leviathan is without a parallel” (Irish Independent (Editorial), 1912). Hopes for more survivors are further dashed with the news reported on April 18th 1912. White Star Liners confirm that reports of 250 survivors on board Baltic were not accurate. Furthermore, Wireless messages claiming many fishing boats responded to the SOS are also untrue. The Dominion Government has ordered lighthouse keepers and patrol boats to keep a sharp look out for bodies of the victims as a number of ships were now heading to the scene of the wreck in the hopes of collecting the dead. A gruesome feature of these preparations is that these boats are carrying hundreds of coffins and many undertakers and embalmers (Irish Independent, 1912).  

The task of investigating the Titanic wreck began in the American Senate on Friday, April 19th, 1912. The Commerce Committee had appointed a subcommittee of 7 to take testimony. The sub-committee left for New York to gather witnesses to give evidence. Subpoenas are issued to compel officials and members of the crew of the Titanic to give evidence regarding all that occurred in connection with the disaster. The Chairman of the subcommittee, Mr William Alden Smith, Senator for Michigan, is demanding that it is absolutely imperative that the investigation begins immediately and claims “I have been informed that the surviving officers and members of the crew of the Titanic all of whom are British subjects, plan to transfer to the Cedric upon their arrival in New York and return immediately to England. This would take them beyond the jurisdiction of the committee, if, indeed, the committee has any jurisdiction to summon British subjects in such circumstances. I propose to urge upon Mr Ismay the advisability of his cooperation as a British subject with this Government to get at the true facts of this horrible disaster, and I shall tell him that, while we have no jurisdiction over British subjects, we have jurisdiction in American ports, and to avoid any trouble the Company and its officers should help us in the enquiry”. Mr Smith added that the committee wished particularly to find out the reasons for the great loss of life. These, he believed, Mr Ismay and the Titanic surviving officers were especially competent to give (Reuters Telegram, 1912).

In Washington there is a new proposed resolution to consider uniformed laws and regulations for merchant vessels at sea. The subjects specified for discussion to include regulations in regard to the efficiency of crews, construction of vessels, equipment of lifeboats, Wireless apparatus, searchlights, submarine bells, and life-saving and fire extinguishing equipment. While the Titanic never entered an American port the investigation is expected to show the extent to which other great liners meet Americans safety regulations. However, many members of Congress are openly opposed to the idea of holding an investigation into the disaster. Meanwhile, the continued silence of Carpathia as it approaches American waters is giving cause for alarm to the American public and European citizens anxious for news about the disaster. Although there have been attempts to maintain Wireless contact with the ship there has been absolutely no information concerning the disaster. “This veil of secrecy which enshrouds the liner has naturally given rise to all sorts of wild and horrifying conjectures. The American public is quite convinced that the absolute silence which has been maintained by the Carpathia means a ghastly tale will be unfolded when the survivors are landed. Certain it is that many of these survivors must be nearly crazed with grief and weak from exhaustion and exposure, and a horrible fear is growing that insanity is rife among the survivors. The preparations that have been made for the reception tend to confirm this belief, for a large number of doctors, nurses, and ambulances are in readiness on the pier. All outsiders are barred from the dock, and no phototographer will be permitted to snap shot the arrival. Some of these precautions are, of course, necessary and wise for the protection of the distressed passengers and crew, but the opinion is general that the secrecy is being carried to too great an extreme. The correction of the number of rescued from 868 to 705 has given rise to all sorts of conjectures. A ghastly explanation put forward in some quarters is that the 163 who have been taken from the original official total were really rescued but died on board the Carpathia as a result of the exposure or injuries received in the disaster. There is, of course, no confirmation of such a suggestion, but it is characteristic of the theories which are being put forward and represents fairly accurately the state of mind to which people have been brought by the disaster and the lack of information (Irish Independent, 1912).

According to a message, which is at present unconfirmed, 200 of the Titanic’s crew were asleep in their bunks when the crash came, and our quarters being in the four-part of the vessel, there were crushed to death. However, so many of these messages have been received that they must be accepted with reservation. When the Carpathia finally slowed down on the last lap of the sad journey, preparatory to treading the path through the long and narrow channel which leads into New York harbour some hours distant in the early hours of a rainy and dismal day where it was would be met on the pier by a big crowd of “privileged people”, mostly relatives and friends. Nearby was a long line of carriages and ambulances. Out on the channel it was still dark and “very raw and cheerless”. The lights on the steerage deck showed silent, pathetic groups, chiefly of women, who had come up from their cabins to obtain a glimpse of the distant glare reflected in the sky, indicating the myriad illuminations of New York City. The steerage passengers of the Titanic in muddled and cowed groups stared out vaguely into the night towards the city of New York. They were more easily distinguishable than the first and second class passengers, partly because they occupied the lower deck and kept rather rigidly to themselves, and also because the latter were generally on the upper deck and mixed with the Carpathia’s regular passengers. “Slowly and with her speed continually decreasing as New York came near the Carpathia advanced to port. Many of the survivors were in an hysterical state from being bereft of their husbands or other loved ones, and were constantly under the care of the ships surgeons, some delirious, while others had not recovered from the rigours of eight hours in the lifeboats on a cold and foggy sea. Cases of pneumonia are mentioned, and children lying almost at deaths door” (Irish Independent, 1912).

A Reuters telegram issued at 7;30 PM confirms the arrival of the Carpathia at the Quarantine Station, New York. The first of the survivors left the vessel at 9;35 o’clock. There was an immense and anxious crowd at the pier and details of the tragedy were eagerly sought by journalists and others. Definite particulars of the appalling occurrence are coming to hand but slowly, and it will still probably take a day or two before a full and consecutive narrative of the disaster can be given to the public. Survivors relate stories of husbands and wives refusing to part-Company with each other and opted instead to go down with Titanic. One survivor tells journalists that as the Titanic went down about 2;30 AM the ships band lined up on deck and played the him, “Nearer my God to Thee”. There are also stories of many rescued people who later died and were buried at sea. A steward states that the Carpathia, only 62 miles away when the Wireless call was received, took over four hours in covering the distance, as to the Captain feared running down the lifeboats in the darkness. Harold Bride, the surviving Wireless operator on board the Titanic, states that Phillips, the chief operator, worked heroically during the last 15 minutes. Bride strapped a lifebelt around Phillips. A man tried to take off the lifebelt but Bride knocked him down and left him in the Wireless cabin. Bride afterwards, though on crutches, took over the Wireless work on the Carpathia. There were other heroic stories including that of Col Astor who died heroically refusing to go into a lifeboat. His last act was to lift a child into the last boat. Captain Smith also refused to leave, and was last seen on the bridge. Four of the crew manning the lifeboats were frozen to death. There appears to be no truce in the statement the passengers were kept back at revolver point and that two well-known men were shot. All the passengers acclaimed British seamen’s heroic conduct. The men sang sea songs while lowering the boats and many male passengers behaved most courageously, helping to get the boats out (Irish Times, 1912).

The true story of the awful catastrophe of the Titanic sinking is now coming to light as numerous survivors relate their experiences “which show that the circumstances were, perhaps, the most harrowing in the world’s history”. One of the most dramatic stories is that as told by Harold Bride, the assistant Wireless operator, who was standing by his ill-fated colleague, Mr Phillips, as he was sending out his distress signals over the ocean while the great vessel was sinking. Mr Bride said there was no panic, though the decks were full of excited men and women. The Wireless instruments were growing more and more indistinct, and as the water was close up by the boats deck the captain entered the instrument telling the men to leave immediately. Although this account was widely reported there were some people who challenged, not its authenticity nor its source but the mysterious manner in which the story surfaced. Other survivors confirmed that the lifeboats were lowered as fast as they were filled, and many passengers, in a frantic state, flung themselves into the sea. As the liner disappeared beneath the water, the survivors who were adrift in the boats heard two explosions, and in a moment the Titanic had gone down. Several survivors assert that the Titanic was steaming at 23 knots an hour when she struck the iceberg. Three Italians were shot in the struggle for the boats. Many survivors said that the behaviour of the second and third class passengers was heroic, but that some of the first class passengers fought like madmen for the boats. One of the most realistic narratives of the disaster was given by Mr Beasley, of London, who states that at about 10;30 PM on Sunday night there was a slight jar. Persons were playing cards in the smoke room at the time. None of them had any idea that the boat had been pierced by an iceberg. There was a total absence of any panic. After all the ladies had been got into the boards one of the crew said to him, “then you had better jump,” and he jumped to the bottom of boat. Many passengers of the Titanic issued a signed statement in which they paid warm tribute to the officers and crew of the Carpathia. They drew attention to the insufficiency of the lifeboat accommodation of the Titanic, and point out that the number saved was about 80% of the maximum capacity of the boats (Irish Independent, 1912).

The Donegal News are glowing in their praise for the role of Marconi’s “ wonderful instruments” and reports the story of the Titanic and it signals of distress received and answered by Wireless Telegraphy adds one more chapter to the romance of the Marconi system, which has already been the means of saving many noble vessels and thousands of lives. It was as recently as 1898 that the new arrival of Wireless transmission became generally acclaimed, when the Prince of Wales, in the Royal yacht Osborne, was kept in uninterrupted communication with Osborne house, a distance of nearly 2 miles. But by December 1901 Marconi had at St John’s, Newfoundland, received signals from Poldhu, Cornwall, a distance of 1800 miles across the Atlantic. That was a triumph of signs which begin a new era in the history of navigation. Now all the great liners of the world carry Wireless and already a fascinating book might be written recording the rescue is made possible by Wireless and adventurers at sea stranger than Annie dreamt of by writers of fiction. The story of the Republic disaster in 1909, when, Jack Binns, the Marconi operator, became a popular hero, in spite of his modesty, deserves to be recalled as a famous example. From the details of that shipwreck one may imagine more clearly and vividly the scenes that have been taking place in the Titanic and ships that have raced to her rescue (Donegal News, 1912).

The world media did not share the same sense of enthusiasm for Marconi or his officials are any of his Wireless operators whom journalists would later describe as equally as corrupt. In the days following the disaster the international media, pressurised by the Titanic Disaster Investigating Committee in New York and also by their infuriated readers, had to account for the misinformation published in the 100 or so hour period immediately after the disaster. They turned their attention to the activities of the primary source of news, Marconi and laid the blame, justifiably or not, squarely at his feet. The New York Herald on April 21st, 1912 published the headline; “Keep Your Mouth Shut; Big Money for You, Was Message to Hide News’ The article stated that Marconi operators on Titanic and other nearby Marconi operated ships, were told by Marconi telegram to hold the story “Four figures for you”.

The article contends that while the world was waiting three days for information concerning the fate of the Titanic, for part of the time at lEast, details concerning the disaster were being withheld by the Wireless operator of the steamship Carpathia under specific orders from T.W. Sammis, chief engineer of them Marconi Wireless Company of America, who had arranged the sale of the story. This was admitted by Mr Sammis, who defended his action. He said he was justified for getting for the Wireless operators the largest amount he could for the details of the sinking of the ship, the rescue of the passengers and the other information the world had waited for. The first information concerning the loss of the Titanic came Monday evening, and it was known at that time the survivors were on board the Carpathia. About midnight the first of the list of survivors begin to come by Wireless, and from that time until Thursday night, when the rescue ship arrived in port, the world waited and waited in vain for the details of how the “unsinkable ship” had gone down. Three messages were sent to the Carpathia telling the operator to send out no news concerning the disaster. Two of these were unsigned, and the last one had the signature of Mr Sammis. The article further alleges that the first message was unsigned, and it said it was sent as a list of names of survivors was being forwarded. The message read “Keep your mouth shut. Hold story. Big money for you” The messages from the Carpathia to the Marconi office concerning this matter were not available, but there was evidently some communication, for the second unsigned message followed after an interval. This message read; “If you are wise, hold story. The Marconi Company will take care of you” The third and last message was addressed to “Marconi officer, the Carpathia and the Titanic,” and signed by Sammis which read “Stop. Say nothing. Hold your story for dollars in four figures. Mr Marconi agreeing. Will meet you at dock” Sammis was questioned at a hearing before the subcommittee of the United States Senate and he was asked about the message and did he actually send it. He admitted to sending the message but also stated that the matter was nobody’s business. He was told that it was interesting to know that when the world was horror stricken over the disaster and waiting for the news, that there were persons preparing to capitalise on the suspense and had arranged for ‘four figures’. Sammis explained that he felt justified for getting the highest price and was defiant in his contention that the matter was nobody’s business but his own (New York Herald, 1912).

The article further states that it is not unlikely that the sending of these messages with the no apparent result that no details of the disaster came from the relief ship will form part of the enquiry that is being made by a subcommittee of the Senate. Part of this enquiry has been directed as to why a message from President Taft asking for information about Maj Archibald W. Butt was unanswered, and it is not likely that in view of the message from Sammis that this will be taken up again. While these messages were intercepted by more than one Wireless receiving station, there is one place where the Senate committee could undoubtedly get copies of them. The New York Navy Yard has a powerful receiving station, and has what is known as an “intercepted message” book. These messages are considered confidential and are never given out, but the book would undoubtedly be at the disposal of the investigating committee. Sen. Smith claims that the authorities in Washington knew on Thursday long before the Carpathia arrived, that the White Star line was contemplating the return of part of the Titanic crew to England by the steamship Cedric, and this information undoubtedly came from a Government station. John W Griggs, onetime Attorney General of the United States and Gov of New Jersey, is President of the Marconi Wireless Company of America claimed to be unaware that the chief engineer of the Company was marketing the information of the disaster. The following day the Marconi Company challenged the New York Herald and claimed that their article was a grave injustice to the Marconi Company that called for immediate correction. They said that false and injurious impression had been created. They claim that the messages were sent on Thursday as the Carpathia was coming up the bay, and not as intimated on any of the early days following the Titanic disaster. Furthermore, if the operators having fully discharged their duties to the public, to the Carpathia and to the Marconi Company, desired to sell to a newspaper narratives of their personal experiences, this was attained they had a complete right to do, for these narratives were the own personal property. Who will begrudge these unfortunate and hard-working men the remuneration they thus received, or because of it charge them with previous neglect of duty? While the New York Herald reported Marconi’s dissatisfaction they remained adamant that their version of events was not without substance. In an article headed “Told to Keep Out Navy Man Charges” they contend that the Carpathia had not only refused to give the United States Scout cruiser Chester information concerning the Titanic, but had told her Wireless men to “keep out”. This information came to light when Frank Gaffney, chief operator of the Chester, informed the Herald. The refusal to answer, Gaffney stated, was after the Carpathia had been informed that Pres Taft was anxious to learn the fate of Major Butt and other prominent persons. Cmdr Decker, who was in charge of the cruiser, said the statements made by Harold Bride, that the navy operators were “wretched” was absurd. The Chester, it is said, continued to flash questions to the Carpathia onto the operators aboard the latter were compelled to answer because the high power of the Navy’s apparatus made the reading of messages to other points impossible. Gaffney also declared that he and his colleagues aboard the Chester probably would be witnesses before the Senate committee. He also confirmed that the operators on board the Carpathia left him under the impression that all had been saved. He said that at one time they did answer when enquiries were made for Major Butt by saying “He is not here” One of the officers on board the Chester claims that the operators of the Carpathia ignored everything that Gaffney and Blackstock sent or asked. Gaffney has been a Wireless operator for more than six years, while Blackstock has been one for about three or four years. The former is capable of sending about 45 words a minute and to say they are slow and wretched is absurd (New York Herald, 1912).

The United States inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic would last a total of 18 days. Surviving passengers and crew, and those who had aided the rescue efforts were questioned and more than 80 witnesses gave testimony are deposited sworn affidavits. The primary subjects covered by the enquiry included the ice warnings received, the inadequate number of lifeboats, the handling of the ship and its speed, Titanic’s distress calls, and the handling of the evacuation of the ship. As the enquiry progressed more and more ‘new facts’ began to come to light; the Wireless operator on Carpathia, Mr Cottain, appeared before the committee and told them that after picking up the Titanic’s boats the Carpathia at first made for Halifax, but afterwards changed her course for New York. He denied having sent any messages stating that all passengers were safe, or that the Titanic was in tow. Owing to the constant dispatch of messages he had less than ten hours sleep in three days.

The subcommittee’s report was presented to the United States Senate on 28 May 1912. Its recommendations, along with doors of the British enquiry that concluded a few months later, led to changes in safety practices following the disaster. The report was 19 pages long and summarised 1,145 pages of testimony and affidavits and amongst its key findings were; a lack of emergency preparations had left Titanic’s passengers and crew in a state of absolute unpreparedness, and the evacuation had been chaotic. The ship safety and life-saving equipment had not been properly tested, Capt Edward Smith had shown an indifference to danger that was one of the direct and contributing causes of the disaster, the lack of lifeboats was the fault of the British Board of Trade, the SS Californian had been much nearer to the Titanic than the captain is willing to admit and the British Government should take drastic action against him for his actions, Bruce Ismay had not ordered captain Smith to put on extra speed, but Ismay’s presence on board may have contributed to the Captain’s decision to do so and finally, third class passengers had not been prevented from reaching the lifeboats, but had in many cases not realised until it was too late that the ship was sinking. The report was strongly critical of established seafaring practices and the roles that Titanic’s builders, owners, officers and crew had played in contributing to the disaster. It highlighted the arrogance and complacency that had been prevalent aboard ship but it did not find the White Star Line negligent under existing maritime laws, as they had merely followed standard practice, and the disaster could only be categorised as “an act of God” (Barczewski, 2011).

Guglielmo Marconi was one of the first people to give testimony to the United States Senate enquiry and was called upon on day one to give evidence. He described himself as an Electrical Engineer and chairman of the British Marconi Company. He also confirms that it was his Wireless operators that worked on board both Carpathia and the Titanic and that day alone are responsible for the commercial work, accounting for messages and degenerative conduction of commercial Telegraphic service and were accountable to the Captain according to the exigencies of the service. However, he also confirms that there are numerous instructions which are general rules and regulations for expediting the traffic and for preventing interference with other ships. There are, in the main, the same rules and regulations as are enacted by the International Convention on Wireless Telegraphy otherwise known as the Berlin Treaty to which Great Britain is a party but the United States was not. The regulations of the international convention are the basis of regulations and instructions to men operating Wireless apparatus. It was also established that in the case of a large ship like Titanic, Olympic, Mauritania, or the Lusitania they always carried two operators, but the smaller ships of the class size of the Carpathia carry one. Size is normally dictated by the average number of passengers carried. Marconi tells Smith that the Carpathia is provided with equipment which should call a short distance; it is an apparatus which can transmit messages under favourable circumstances, up to about 180 to 200 miles and on average would send a distance of about 100 miles depending on numerous circumstances including state of space, weather and the skill of the operator. The Titanic was also equipped by Marconi’s Company with ‘fairly powerful sets’, capable of communicating for 500 miles during the daytime and much further during the night-time. This, according to Marconi, was the latest and best Wireless apparatus for the purpose. Marconi also confirms that he is aware that one of the two operators on the Titanic was drowned and the other was picked up, got on a raft, on a collapsible boat, and he was rescued by the Carpathia, having been wounded in his ankles or his legs. Sen Smith then asks whether Marconi or his offices in New York were in communication with the Titanic on Sunday night? Marconi stated that he could not answer that but he was aware there were a great number of messages had come true from the Carpathia but “I sent no messages to the Carpathia, nor did I receive any”.

Marconi is then asked whether there was any general interference from the time of the collision on the part of experimental rival services to the detriment of this service. He states that, to the best of his knowledge, there was no interference. After a lot of technical questioning Marconi is then asked were any orders given by the Marconi Company to the operators or the operator on the Carpathia, with reference to the receipts and answer of messages? Marconi replies “None whatever, there was no disposition to censor or control the operator of the Carpathia and further, “I was very much surprised at things that were stated in the press, that replies had been refused or had not been transmitted. But I have been ensured by the operators on the Carpathia that he never dreamed of refusing any replies” (Titanic Inquiry Project., 1999).

On day six of the enquiry Marconi is recalled. He has asked by Sen Smith to elaborate with what he has to do with the equipment of Wireless apparatus on ocean vessels or shore stations, and what has he to do with the selection of operators in that work? He tells the Smith “I am consulted with regard to all technical details concerning the apparatus installed in ships generally, though I am not consulted with regard to the equipment of each particular ship” He further states that, “concerning the business arrangements made with ship owners, I am usually not in thorough touch with what is going on, for the reason that I’m usually occupied with technical work. I travel about the world a great deal in order to carry on experiments and to inspect plants in various countries. For the business details and for the general management of the Company there is a managing Director or general manager, who attends to all the work of engaging operators and of negotiating with ship owners and others for the use of Wireless Telegraphy” Marconi is then questioned as to the identity of this man to which replies Mr Godfrey C. Isaacs who resides in London and had just left New York prior to the Titanic accident.

Marconi is then questioned as to his relationship with the British Government and he tells Smith that he has no official relationship with the British Government, except that he is called upon by them to advise them on matters of Wireless Telegraphy generally, and also is responsible for the design of the long distance stations which they are erecting in various parts of the British Empire, in which his Company have an interest for a period of at lEast 18 years. Sen Smith then asks Marconi to state to the committee, in general terms, the scope of that contract and whether that contract requires him to install his apparatus and supervises operation and management, or whether he received compensation by an agreement which permits the management to fall under the control of the British officials? Marconi states that the contract provides that within a certain period of time, two years, “we shall direct these stations for the Government of England in Cyprus, Egypt, India, South Africa, Singapore, and other places where the Government may decide to erect them. We are paid a certain lump sum per station for the expense of erection, and the station, before being accepted by the Government, has to satisfy certain requirements in regard to speed of transmission, effectiveness, and reliability”

Sen Smith then wants to know if a contract of a similar character existed between Marconi and the German Government or if he had any dealings with the Government of the German Empire. Marconi confirms that he had some dealings with the Government of Germany and is fitting German ships with Wireless apparatus on a profit-sharing basis but he also had similar contracts with Italy; “in consideration of not being charged for Patent rights in regard to the use of the system they undertake to equip their shore stations and their colonies with my apparatus and use it exclusively for commercial purposes, being free for war and navy purposes to use anything they like” Marconi is then asked a series of questions in relation to what Wireless apparatus was in operation in a number of different ships from a number of different countries. He seems very knowledgeable on such questions and confirms that the Cape Race station would be the best and most likely station, given the whereabouts of the Titanic at the time of the tragedy, to pick up the communications from the ship. Mr Marconi is then questioned on the positions of certain members of his staff in America but most notably an officer named Mr Sammis who is chief engineer of the American Marconi Co., Who, says Marconi, “Is very intimately in touch with everything concerning the equipment of the ships and the operators, and the operation of the system” Marconi is then invited to give a full background as to how he became involved in Wireless Telegraphy and he avails of this opportunity and further elaborates on how he set up his own Company and brought it, under his supervision, to an international organisation.

After some hours Sen Smith enquires as to whether Marconi himself had any communication or had ordered any communication with the Carpathia on Sunday night or Monday? Marconi denies having any such communication. He is then asked did you have any communication with the Carpathia directly or through a ship coast station, on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday up to the time of the arrival of the Carpathia in New York. He confirms he had no direct communication with Carpathia. Following a series of questions in relation to whether Marconi himself had been in direct contact with the Titanic or the Carpathia he emphatically states that he had no communication whatsoever with either ship at any time immediately after the disaster or during any of the following days. Marconi does confirm that he went to the Carpathia on the evening of its arrival and went on board to meet the Wireless operator, Mr Bride, and congratulated him on what he had heard he had done and then enquired after his senior operator, Phillips. Marconi also tells of his instructions to the Wireless operator to give every account he could to reporters and to disclose and discuss anything he knew about the disaster when and if he were asked. However, Marconi does admit that it is an offence, punishable by imprisonment to disclose the contents of messages. “On an occasion like this, of course some latitude would have been given. I mean, I think that on an occasion like this it would have been a good thing if some report had been sent. But this was a matter that depended on the discretion of the operator, and he used his discretion in such a way that he did not send any messages”. Marconi further admits that Carpathia’s operator, Mr Cottam, had left the ship but later made contact to inform him that journalists wanted the story of the disaster, and that he(Cottam) was going to be paid something for the story; “he did not tell me how much. He asked if he could give the story, and I said yes. But, in regard to this question, of operators, that there is a rule in these companies that operators must not act as reporters. They must accept messages from everyone in the order in which they are presented and there are bound to transmit them. But it is not encouraged that they should send stories of their own; at lEast, they would be dismissed if they did it” Sen Smith then asks Marconi if he sent a Wireless to the operators on the Carpathia and ask them to meet him at a later date and telling them to keep their mouths shut. Marconi denies any knowledge of any such message. Sen Smith then produces a document and tells Marconi he’s going to read the document and then ask whether Marconi new and eating about any fact or circumstance connected with the document. “On the evening of the steamship Carpathia’s arrival in New York, the four following radiograms were intercepted by the chief operator, JR Simpson, chief electrician, United States Navy. They appear to me to be significant enough to be brought to the attention of the Department;

Seagate to Carpathia; “Say, old man, Marconi Company, taking good care of you. Keep your mouth shut, and hold your story. It is fixed for you so you will get big money. Now, please do your best to clear”

That was at 8.12 PM, and then follows this one;

“To Marconi officer, Carpathia and Titanic; 8;30 PM; arranged for your exclusive story for dollars in four figures, Mr Marconi agreeing. Say nothing until you see me. Where are you now?(JM Sammis).

Followed by;

From Seagate to Carpathia operator; go to Strand Hotel. 502 W. 14th Street to meet Mr Marconi.; 9;33 PM;

And finally this;

From Seagate to Carpathia; A personal to operator Carpathia. “Meet Mr Marconi and Sammis at Strand Hotel, 502 W. 14th Street. Keep your mouth shut; Signed Mr Marconi.

Marconi claims that he does not know anything whatever about any of these messages; “They are not in the phraseology which I would have approved of if I had passed them. I should, however said that I told Mr Sammis or Mr Bottomley, I do not remember which, that I, as an officer of the British Company, would not prohibit or prevent these operators from making anything which they reasonably could make out of selling their story of the wreck. I was anxious that, if possible, they might make some small amount of money out of the information they had” Sen Smith confirms that it is a habit of the Marconi Company that Wireless operators are allowed to make personal profit, with Marconi’s consent and approval, from their personal experiences; “Mr Marconi let me ask you this with the right to exact compensation for an exclusive story detailing the horrors of the greatest sea disaster that ever was recorded in the history of the world, do you mean that an operator under your Company’s direction shall have the right to prevent the public from knowing of that calamity? Marconi replies, “I gave no instructions in regard to withholding any information, and I gave no advice or instructions in regard to an exclusive story to anybody. The only thing I did say or did authorise was that if he was offered payment for the story of the disaster, he was permitted, so far as the English Company went, to take that money” (Took & Donnelly, 1998). Later in his questioning of Marconi Sen Smith asks “regarding this arrangement with Mr Bride, you simply expressed willingness that he should make some money out of a narration of his experiences? Marconi replies; “Yes, sir, my feeling, expressed quite frankly, is that these operators are paid a very small amount; that certainly we would have compensated them to some degree; but if it were possible for them to make some money out of the story that they had, I do not say that they had exclusive information, but through permitting themselves to be interviewed, I was very glad that they should make this small amount. That was my sole feeling in the matter”

Through a series of such questions and answers the Inquiry Committee ascertain that Marconi had no intention that any information should be withheld in any way. Furthermore, that in a time of crisis the Captain is absolute chief and head and ruler of everything concerning the Wireless, and all the commercial rules which hold in ordinary times are suspended at the discretion of the captain. But in such cases the captain would not know actually whether his orders were being followed and if messages had been sent, he must rely on the statement of the operator. Before he leaves the stand Marconi makes the point that in his organisation a copy is kept of every message received and sent on board a ship. Therefore, this register of messages may be of some use to the committee but could not guarantee access to any of the messages on Carpathia which were taken to the Mediterranean. The Captain would not land them; “we endeavour to get them, but captain would not give them out”

Later the same day Marconi is recalled to be asked one question by Sen Smith; “In my examination this morning I failed to ask you specifically whether between the date of the collision, Sunday evening, April 14, and the present time, any officer, Director, or employee of the White Star Line, or of the International Mercantile Marine Co., had requested you or anyone associated with you, to your knowledge, to delay any message, or send any silence message, or message enjoining silence on the part of the Titanic’s operator, Bride, or the Carpathia’s operator, Cottam, with reference to the time and manner in which and to which the Titanic accident was in any way related? Marconi replies that; I am absolutely certain that I have received no such request. Smith then asks, “Or any officer or employee of your Company, without our knowledge? Marconi replies, “Yes, you may add those as part of my answer” (Titanic Inquiry Project., 1999).

On day 10 of the inquiry Marconi returns to give further testimony. Sen Smith begins his questioning by asking Marconi, “When you were last on the stand, I asked you whether you had sent any messages to the Carpathia during her voyage from the scene of the catastrophe to New York, and I recall your reply. Would you like to correct it? Marconi explains that he had said that he did not send any messages to the Carpathia but “on my return to New York, after having testified, I found that I had sent one message to the Carpathia” Marconi then reads this message to the inquiry; “Wire News dispatch immediately to ‘Siasconset’ or to navy boats. If this is impossible, ask captain give reason why no news is allowed to be transmitted. Signed, Guglielmo Marconi” The Siasconset sent to my office in New York return of what it actually transmitted to the Carpathia. This is the message; “Wire news dispatches immediately to navy boats. If this impossible ask captain give reason why no news is allowed to be transmitted” Marconi says he received no reply to the message which he sent at about 1;00 AM. He is then further questioned on issues relating to difficulties in international communication codes, American systems compared to European systems and then asked did he desire the committee to understand that these two telegrams that he had just read were the only messages he communicated to the Carpathia on the day of arrival in New York? Marconi denies all knowledge of the telegrams sent on the 18th, allegedly signed by him at 9;33 PM and says that it was absolutely unauthorised; “no matter who signed it, and I stated I did not send it or authorise it to be sent” He further states that he disapproves of both the language of these Wireless messages and the unauthorised use of his name and adds, “I should also ask you to allow me to say that the message which I sent to the Carpathia, to which you have already referred, proves, I think, quite conclusively that I had no intention of preventing the United States Navy boats from receiving any information from the Carpathia. I was exceedingly surprised, as everybody else was at the time, that no news was coming through, and I was very much worried about it, and that day I did suggest this message should be sent, and it was sent” Sen Smith then asks, “I want to ask you a straight, square question; whether you infer that the failure of your operators to communicate with the Salem or the Chester or with your office, or to give this news of the trip of the Carpathia to New York to the public, was influenced in any manner by the hope of reward from the sale of exclusive information in the possession of the Wireless operators?” Marconi replies, “my opinion is that it was not influenced in any way, because I do not see that they had any reason to believe or to hope or to think that they were going to sell their story to anybody”

Sen Smith then refers back to the case of the ship Republic, also owned by a sister Company of the White Star line, which in the early morning of 23 January 1909, while sailing from New York to Gibraltar and Mediterranean ports with 742 passengers and crew and captain in command, entered a thick fog off the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Out of the fog, the Lloyd Italiano liner SS Florida appeared and hit Republic at a right angle after which the ship listed and began to flood. Republic was equipped with the new Marconi Wireless Telegraph system, and became the first ship in history to issue a CQD distress signal, sent by Jack R. Binns. Florida came about to rescue Republic’s passengers, and the US Coast Guard cutter Gershwin responded to the distress signal as well. Passengers were distributed between the two ships, with Florida taking the bulk of them, but with 900 Italian immigrants already on board, this left the ship dangerously overloaded. The white star liner Baltic, commanded by Capt Ranson, also responded to the CQD call, but due to the persistent fog, it was not until the evening that Baltic was able to locate the drifting Republic. Once on scene, the rescued passengers were transferred from the Gresham and Florida to Baltic. Because of the damage to Florida, that ships immigrant passengers were also transferred to Baltic, after which the Republic ship sank. After the tragedy, Jack R. Binns, hailed by international media as a hero was handsomely paid for his story. Sen Smith felt that it was possible that the fact that Binns received money for his story of that disaster would influence Wireless operators somewhat in their course. Marconi explains that Binns had received a great deal of notoriety, and has benefited himself by the fact of his having been on board the Republic and on duty on that occasion. “I might say that he is still implied in writing newspaper articles and magazine articles about operators, and the sea, and ships, and things of that kind, which have absolutely nothing to do with the actual facts of the loss of the Republic. It seems to me that the public interest or the newspaper interest, becomes so great when an individual finds himself placed in the position of these men, that whatever they say that has public interest is paid for by these enterprising American journalist” Marconi is then asked by Smith, “you, being the leading and most active figure in the field of Wireless Telegraphy, probably the most prominent man in the world in that work, and your offices being in every part of the world and on most of the ships of the sea, I ask you whether from the developments of this enquiry you do not feel that it is incumbent upon you to discourage that practice; indeed, to prevent it all together, so far as you are able? Marconi agrees, “I am entirely in favour of discouraging the practice, and I naturally give very great weight to Annie opinion expressed by the chairman of this committee” Marconi is then asked to read further telegrams sent by his Company, all of which are demanding news (Titanic Inquiry Project., 1999).

Following the inquiries, United States Government passed the Radio Act of 1912. This act, along with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, stated that radio communications on passenger ships would be operated 24 hours along with a secondary power supply, so as not to miss distress calls. Also, the Radio Act of 1912 required ships to maintain contact with vessels in their vicinity as well as coastal onshore radio stations (Minichiello, P.E., Ray, 2008).

The Titanic tragedy had shown the public the usefulness of Wireless communications. Although 700 passengers were saved, the press argued that more could have been saved if there was a stronger Wireless regulation in effect. The press would argue that there was a lack of standards regarding the proper use of this Wireless technology on ships in particular, but also there needed to be regulation to protect citizens in general. The Radio Act proposed that Government would be given a specific wavelength, power level and operational hours to counter the Marconi Company’s monopoly of the spectrum. The feeling at the time was that long wavelengths of 250 m and over provided the best means for communications. Amateurs were therefore given those wavelengths of 200 m and below, what we know and call today the AM band. Sen Smith felt that over time the amateurs would lose interest and funding and all the wavelengths would revert to the Government. The Radio Act of 1912 reduced the amateur stations from 10,000 to just over 1,200 by the end of 1912. The Act mandated that all radio stations be licensed by the Government, as well as mandating that seagoing vessels continuously monitor distress frequencies.

The act set a precedent for international legislation of Wireless communications. Along with the Titanic disaster another factor to be considered was to combat the issue with amateur radio operators, the act provided for a system of licensing all radio stations, including amateur radio operators. Furthermore, it prohibited those amateurs from transmitting over the main commercial and military wavelengths. Amateurs were limited to transmitting signals that were below a certain wavelength in addition to being limited by wavelengths, amateurs were also limited to location and operating hours. The act would also allow Government to close down any or all radio stations and also empowers Government to impose fines and to revoke licences of those radio operators who violated the restrictions laid down by the act. Furthermore, the Government could seize the equipment of the offending station, as well as suspending the radio licences of the operators (Keith, 2007).

The Titanic tragedy has a connection to another Wireless story that has almost been forgotten; the dawn of modern radio licence regulation. Historical narratives vary on this subject. Even without the Titanic disaster, Government would have eventually asserted entirety over Wireless frequencies. But the Titanic tragedy accelerated the process and gave it a reference point in the public mind. Within weeks of the tragedy Wireless radio operators had to be licensed. During the Titanic disaster Marconi stations across the Atlantic Rim had become scenes of chaos, and they blamed it on amateur operators. Embarrassed newspaper editors joined the blame game and furious editorials against amateurs appeared in global newspapers. The American Radio Act of 1912 functioned as a template for global Government. Does the Titanic really deserve some credit or blame for this condition? It’s a point of disagreement among historians.

The tragedy is “often cited inaccurately as the reason for drawing the Radio Act of 1912,” writes broadcast regulation scholar Marvin R. Bensman. “The subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee had actually completed its work on this bill and the bill had been reported out prior to the Titanic disaster” (Lasar, 2011). That’s exactly right, but the footnote to this assertion comes from Captain Linwood S. Howeth’s 1963 statement, “The Titanic disaster has often been given as the compelling reason behind the enactment of this legislation. This is not correct. The subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee had completed its masterful work of bringing the opposing views into proper focus and the bill had been reported out prior to the disaster. It did, however, awaken congressional eyes to its wisdom and necessity and ensured its final enactment” (Howeth, 1963)

By April 30th the Irish newspapers were publishing their last ‘detailed’ witness accounts of the Titanic disaster and their editorials reflected the mood of angry readers who had been misled by early accounts and, in the light of evidence given in New York and Washington, clearly desired to move forward; “In the midst of her rejoicing over the near approach of the realisation of her national aspirations, Ireland has been plunged with dreadful suddenness and unexpectedness into consternation and gloom. The imagination is terrified by the wreck of the Titanic, the sacrifice of human life, the human bodies, many of them those of Ireland’s sons and daughters, cut off in the flower of youth and when filled with the hope of a livelihood and a foreign country, grinding against the ice and washed about the ocean. The agonies of those hours of horror can never be figured in the human mind. Within a few square yards of sea upon that awful night there was played such a tragedy of fear and grief and pain as no human mind can even remotely conceive. The passengers on board the Titanic went to sleep after a normal day, with its petty chatter and its little pleasures and follies. The Wireless operators sent desperate messages across the ocean; but think of the tortured minds flashing messages all over the world and beyond the world. The thought of it is terrible. The hope would be that the end was swift to all that were to perish. An earthquake at lEast has that good side to it, and, it is said, those found dead in the lava of Pompeii show in the normal line of their features that they had no terror, but were caught by death before they knew that their tomorrow was not to be like their yesterday. The grim story of the Titanic is still only little-known. The half information of the moment leaves all people black in doubt. Especially there will be doubts; as to those giant vessels that have been the pride of our new century. The Olympic began badly; the Titanic will enter into a sad fame as the cause of the most awful sea tragedy of all record. It was the “unsinkable” and it is sunk; and sunk four short hours after the collision. Within a few days of its proud first taking to the high seas, it is at the bottom, its passengers are washing over the sea, and their intimates will be haunted for years by the thought of their fate” (Southern Star, 1912).

But the matter was not quite closed yet as the House of Commons announce a public enquiry into the loss of the Titanic which would open within a few days (Irish Independent, 1912). Charles Buxton informed the House of Commons that the scope of the Titanic enquiry would be wide enough to allow the courts to receive evidence bearing on the advisability of changing the present regulations of the Board of Trade as to the safety of human life on the steamers. He further stated that the Court of Inquiry would be open to the press, and the proceedings would be fully reported. In addition, he proposed to supply some copies of the official print of the proceedings, from day-to-day to the libraries of both Houses. He also confirmed that the interests of the general public would be represented by the Law Officers of the Crown; “Other persons might, by leave of the Judge, appear by counsel, and the court had full power to provide for the costs of the inquiry. The arrangements for Wireless Telegraphy under Titanic and other vessels to which she sent, or from which she received messages would be considered by the Court of Inquiry” (Buxton, 1912).

The Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, is asked if he would propose a resolution to appoint a committee of that House to investigate the circumstances connected with the loss of the Titanic and sending Wireless messages in connection therewith, instead of having the Board of Trade investigation in view of the fact that the Board of Trade must necessarily be itself on trial in any such investigation. The Prime Minister told the House that the Government were of the opinion that the court of inquiry, presided over by Lord Mersey, would afford the best means of arriving at a conclusion with regard to all the circumstances connected with the loss of the Titanic, and all questions of responsibility involved. The Court was an independent tribunal with full power to mould the inquiry according to its own discretion. He further denies that the Board of Trade had some representatives on the tribunal.

In reply to further questions Asquith says the Board of Trade had absolutely no power to direct the course of the inquiry. He is further challenged and informed that under the merchant shipping act, the court must report to the Board of Trade itself. How is that possible if they may find that the Board of Trade has been culpable? Asquith insists, there is no difficulty at all, “They send their report formally to the board of trade and are perfectly entitled to find the board of trade culpable” (Asquith, 1912).

The court of enquiry into the circumstances of the disaster to the Titanic was opened in the Scottish Hall, Buckingham Gate, West Minister, the Hall of the headquarters of the London Scottish Territorials, and there were over 1000 persons present including members of the general public. Lord Mersey, the Wreck Commissioner with five colleagues who were acting as assessors, took their places on a rostrum at the top of the room. In front of the commissioners were an unusually large number of counsel representing the numerous parties interested. Chief among these were; Board of Trade, the White Star Line and builders, underwriters, surviving passengers and officers, and other big shipping companies. Behind counsel were the numerous professional witnesses to be called including the builders, underwriters, surviving passengers and officers and representatives of other big shipping companies. Beside the platform was a big model of the Titanic that had been used by Harland & Wolff for the construction of the mammoth liner. Alongside was an enormous route chart of the North Atlantic, and to the left of the platform were other plans of the vessel. Over 300 witnesses had been subpoenaed and the  inquiry is predicted to  ‘necessarily’ last many weeks.

When Lord Mersey took his seat at 11;10 the seats are set apart for the public were by no means filled up. Capt Bigham, Secretary to the Commission, opened the proceedings by stating “the enquiry will now be opened into the Titanic” Sir Rufus Isaacs then said, “Before this inquiry proceeds, I desire, on behalf of his Majesty’s Government, to express our deepest sympathy with all those who mourn the loss of relatives and friends among the passengers, the officers, or the crew of this ill-fated vessel. This terrible disaster in mid ocean, both because in mere magnitude it exceeds any calamity in the history of the Mercantile Marine, and also because of the many harrowing incidents, which has in a profound and marked degree touched the hearts of the nation, and while not desiring in any way to anticipate the result of this inquiry, I cannot refrain from paying tribute of warm admiration of those whose manful devotion to duty and heroic sacrifices for the safety of others have maintained the best traditions of the sea. Before proceeding further I do not know if my learned friend has anything to add” (Isaacs, 1912). Sir Robert Finlay added “I desire to associate myself, on behalf of the owners of the Titanic, with the expressions which the Attorney General used. No words can express the sympathy which everyone must feel with those who have suffered. There is only one thing which gives some consolation, and to that the Attorney General has alluded, that the disaster has given an opportunity for a display of discipline and of heroism that is worthy of all the best traditions of the Marine of this country. I can say no more, for the sympathy which we feel on this occasion with those who have suffered is really beyond expression in words” (Finlay, 1912).

Isaacs then states that it was the earnest desire of the administration that a searching and thorough enquiry should be made with the object of ascertaining as fully and precisely as possible the circumstances surrounding the casualty, and of abducting lessons and conclusions that might help hereafter to promote the safety of vessels and life at sea; “it is the wish of the President of the Board of Trade, and the law officers of the Crown were equally desiring, that in the public interest every possible source of information and all available evidence would be placed before the inquiry”. It was proposed to call surviving members of the crew, and afterwards witnesses as to the construction and equipment of the vessel and a series of 26 questions framed by the Board of Trade would be asked. This would include questions such as the number of persons employed in any capacity on board, and the total number of passengers, discriminating between sex, adults, and children. Did the Titanic comply with the requirements of the Merchant Shipping Acts rules and regulations? Were any special provisions made in actual design and construction of the Titanic for the safety of those on board in the case of casualty? How was the Titanic officered and manned?; The number of boats, arrangements for manning and launching of them, and their capacity and had there been boat drill during the voyage?; Enquiries into Wireless installation and regulations for operators?; Were instructions as to navigation given to the master, and, if so, what were they?; Was the route taken usual and was it safe at this time of year?; Had the master discretion as to the route?; There will also be many questions related to what happened before warning was sent by Wireless to the Titanic and whether, after leaving Queenstown, information had not reached the Titanic by Wireless signals as to the existence of ice in certain latitudes, and was her course altered? (Freemans Journal, 1912).

There were a total of 36 days of official investigation. Lord Mersey and the various counsels, assessors and experts in marine law and shipping architecture, questioned White Star Line officials, Government officials, surviving passengers and crew, and those who had aided the rescue efforts. Organisations represented by legal counsels included shipping unions and Government organisations. Nearly 100 witnesses testified, answering more than 25,000 questions. The questioning resulted in a report that contained a detailed description of the ship, an account of the ship’s journey, a description of the damage caused by the iceberg, and an account of the evacuation and rescue. The final report was published on 30 July 1912. Its recommendations, along with those of the earlier United States Senate inquiry that had taken place in the month after the sinking, led to changes in safety practices following the disaster. The lines of questioning at the inquiry had resulted in a detailed description of the ship, an account of the ship’s journey, a description of the damage caused by the iceberg, an account of the evacuation and rescue. There was also a special section devoted to the circumstances of the Californian (Titanic Inquiry Project, 1912).

The report found that Titanic’s sinking was solely the result of colliding with the iceberg, not due to any inherent flaws with the ship, and that the collision had been brought about by a dangerously fast speed in icy waters; “The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons appearing in the annex hereto, that the loss of the said ship was due to collision with an iceberg, brought about by the excessive speed at which the ship was being navigated” (Titanic Inquiry Project, 1912). It also found that the lookout being kept was inadequate given the navigational hazards Titanic faced, and that the ship’s officers had been complacent. There were too few lifeboats available and they had not been properly filled or manned with trained seamen, though they had been lowered correctly. The inquiry concluded that the Californian “could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the Titanic. Had she done so she might have saved many if not all of the lives that were lost” (Butler, 1998).

The Board of Trade’s representative suggested to Lord Mersey that a formal inquiry should be held into Captain Lord’s “competency to continue as Master of a British ship” but no action was taken against him due to legal technicalities. The Board of Trade was criticised for its inadequate regulations, notably the failure to ensure that enough lifeboats were provided and that crews were given proper training in their use. The Duff Gordons were cleared of wrongdoing but it was made clear that they should have acted more tactfully (Butler, 1998)

In contrast to the American inquiry, the Mersey report did not condemn the failures of the Board of Trade, the White Star Line or Titanic’s captain, Edward Smith. The report found that although Smith was at fault for not changing course or slowing down, he had not been negligent because he had followed long-standing practice which had not previously been shown to be unsafe (Lynch, 1998) The inquiry noted that British ships alone had carried 3.5 million passengers over the previous decade with the loss of just 10 lives (Eaton & Haas, 1994) it concluded that Smith had merely done “only that which other skilled men would have done in the same position” However, the practice itself was faulty and “it is to be hoped that the last has been heard of this practice. What was a mistake in the case of the Titanic would without doubt be negligence in any similar case in the future” (Lynch, 1998)

The report’s recommendations, along with those of the earlier United States Senate inquiry that had taken place in the month after the sinking, led to changes in safety practices following the disaster. The report was well received by the British press. The Daily Telegraph commented that although “technically speaking, the report is not the last word, but in practice it would probably be treated as if it were” (Eaton & Haas, 1994) The Daily Mail suggested that it was “difficult to suppose that any court which had to inquire into the responsibility of the owners of the ship would disregard the expression of opinion of Lord Mersey and those who sat with him … The report having, in effect, acquitted them of all blame, it is not likely that any attempt will be made hereafter to establish the contrary” (Barczewski, 2011).

Others were more critical. In his memoirs, Charles Lightoller pointed out the inquiry’s conflict of interest; “A washing of dirty linen would help no one. The Board of Trade had passed that ship as in all respects fit for the sea … Now the Board of Trade was holding an inquiry into the loss of that ship – hence the whitewash brush” (Barczewski, 2011) Titanic historian Donald Lynch notes the consequences; “Apart from protecting itself, the [Board of Trade] had no interest in seeing the White Star Line found negligent. Any damage to White Star’s reputation or balance sheet would be bad for British shipping – and there was considerable potential for both. Negligence on the part of the shipping Company might pave the way for millions of dollars in damage claims and lawsuits that would tie up the courts for years, possibly break the White Star Line, and result in the loss of much of Britain’s lucrative shipping traffic to the Germans and the French” (Lynch, 1998).

Stephanie Barczewski notes the contrast between the approaches taken by the American and British inquiries. The British inquiry was much more technical, “the more learned and erudite of the two”, while the American inquiry’s report was a reflection of a comparatively poorly managed inquiry that had frequently allowed itself to get sidetracked. However, the American report took a much more robust stance on the failures that had led to the disaster. As Barczewski puts it, it “bristles with criticisms of established seafaring traditions and of the conduct of the Titanic’s builders, owners, officers and crew”, and conveys “righteous indignation” and a “passion to right the wrongs” done to the victims of the disaster and to prevent any recurrence. The authors of the two reports took markedly different interpretations of how the disaster had come about. The American report castigated the arrogance and complacency that had led to the disaster and held Captain Smith, the shipping industry and the Board of Trade culpable for their failures. The British report emphasized that “the importance of this Enquiry has to do with the future. No Enquiry can repair the past” (Barczewski, 2011)

“Signor Marconi whose name is world famed as the inventor of the Wireless system, yesterday began an important extension of the Wireless. Messages by Wireless may now be sent through any Telegraph office in the United Kingdom at a cheap rate to the United States or Canada”

(Ulster Herald, 1912)

In early May 1912 the financial pages are reporting that the Wireless market, as compared with some weeks ago, has developed remarkable weakness. “At one time yesterday Marconi ordinary shares fell under the previous day’s closing price and the panicky feeling endured for the remainder of the day” (Freemans Journal, 1912). The Irish Independent reports “Business in Marconi shares fell away to very meagre proportions at the Stock Exchange. Sellers of the various Wireless Telegraph issues came prominently forward, and, in the absence of adequate support, prices dropped all round” (Irish Independent, 1912).

The time was right for an exercise in damage limitation. As Marconi’s shares began to plummet the Irish media’s immediately started on rebuilding both his reputation and the reputation of his Company and began to publish articles in praise of the man they described as an “absolute genius”. The part which Wireless played in the tragedy of the Titanic suggests a note or two on the inventor of Wireless, Guglielmo Marconi, says the Southern Star newspaper; “To begin, anyone more unlike the typical Italian as we know him, dark, olive skinned, and given to gesticulation, than the propounder of the above gigantic scheme, it would be difficult to imagine. If anything Marconi is on the fair side; his wonderful eyes are of a greyish blue, and in manner he is the essence of quietness. But, then, he is only half an Italian, for his mother was Irish and from Enniscorthy, a member of a well-known family, and although born in Italy, Marconi was educated for a time in England at a private school at Bedford. Inventors are often poor, but Marconi’s father was a wealthy landed proprietor. At school he particularly objected to be made to learn things by heart, and to the methods of teaching handwriting, and to this day he condemns the latter, schoolboys being taught to write in a way they will never use in afterlife. Anyway, both at Bedford and at other schools in Italy, Marconi refused to study except in his own way and at his pet subjects. What were his early tastes? Music held foremost place; but his scientific tastes were also strong, and in his own way he studied chemistry and electricity at an age when most boys are mainly occupied with games. He was only 13 when he installed electric light in his father’s house, an achievement which made something of a sensation locally, electricity being little understood, in those days. He went to Bologna University and quite probably he would eventually have settled down as a country gentleman, as his father wished him to do, but for the discovery of “Hertzian Waves” in 1888. Prof Hertz’s demonstration, that a disruptive electrical discharge causes electromagnetic waves to radiate through the ‘Ether’(the air) with the velocity of light set Marconi thinking. In the end he conceived the idea of Wireless Telegraphy by means of “Hertzian Waves,” and spent several years quietly experimenting at his home until in 1896, he Patented his famous system. The same year, that is, 1896, Marconi went to London and astonished it and General Post Office officials by successfully Telegraphing without wire between St Martin’-Le-Grand and the Embankment. Like every inventor, Marconi met with great opposition and disbelief at first, but to date his work is widely embraced as the work of an absolute genius” (Ulster Herald, 1912). At the same time the Irish independent gave prominent position to another praising editorial regarding the “wonderful Wireless”; the time is fast approaching when Mr Marconi’s wonderful invention will be extensively used in the everyday transactions of big commercial undertakings. Already, of course, many business messages are transmitted by Marconi, and a great extension of its use in connection with the Telegraph may soon be expected. Arrangements have been made by which telegrams handed in at any Telegraph office in the United Kingdom can be transmitted by Wireless across the Atlantic instead of by cable. With the increased popularity and efficiency of the Marconi system and comparatively cheap rates the operators at Clifden may anticipate a busy time” (Irish Independent, 1912).

The Southern Star newspaper had something to add as well; “with all its gruesome details and its conflicting accounts, the fatal day on which the sad news of the sinking of the great ship Titanic was flashed to the world by the Wireless, will still be firmly implanted in the minds of many whose dear ones are no more. Mrs Jermyn of Ballydehob, is one of those who is not likely soon to forget the disaster, even though, happily for her, she is not to be reckoned amongst the big list of the afflicted. Her daughter, Annie, it is true, was amongst the Titanic’s passengers on the dreadful April night when the White Star leviathan struck the fatal iceberg and Mrs Jermyn was for many anxious hours naturally grief-stricken at the thought that she might be amongst the lost. On the Titanic, too, were Bridget Driscoll and Mary Kelly, also of Ballydehob, whose rescue we were glad to report last week. But, unhappily, Andy Keane, also Ballydehob was lost. But to return to Mrs Jermyn, on the day after the first tidings of the loss of the Titanic were received, it having been erroneously reported that Miss Jermyn had been a victim of disaster, Mrs Jermyn became almost delirious with grief. The neighbours collected around her house to offer her words of consolation and hope. The hours went on, but not a reassuring message arrived. To their amazement, in the evening, Mrs Jermyn announced to friends that she had seen her child, that she was in the yard, and out into the yard she went in ecstasy of joy. Presently she returned and declared a voice had told her “your daughter is saved” This cam to Mrs Jermyn considerably, and early on the next day she got a telegram which put the question of her daughter’s safety beyond all doubt. The extraordinary presentiment, coupled with the mysterious voice, has been the subject of general gossip in Ballydehob ever since” (Southern Star, 1912).

The Irish Independent had even more good news to report; “Wireless Telegraphy is now at the disposal of everybody in every Telegraph office of the United Kingdom at rates considerably below the cable standard. Four Marconi operators have been added to the staff of the Dublin Telegraph Department to deal with messages for dispatch to Clifden, which is the transmitting station from Glace Bay. During commercial hours in the day it has been decided to keep a clear through wire to Clifden from Dublin, and at night there is through communication between Clifden and London. The Post Office authorities already report a large increase in the number of American and Canadian telegrams handed in for dispatch. Mr Webb, of the firm of Goodbody and Webb, stockbrokers, Dame Street, said they have been using the Marconi system since April 23 last year with great advantage. The Marconi Company had lately been able to increase to speed of transmission, with the result that they had been gradually diminishing the number of their “cables” and adopting “Wireless” almost exclusively; “On one occasion they communicated with a client at sea in the Mediterranean, and the only delay was in finding him among the rest of the passengers” (Irish Independent, 1912).

The following day the Sunday independent reports; “One outcome of the Titanic disaster must be the advancement of Wireless Telegraphy, for human progress is too often based on our misadventures – indeed, trouble appears to be the motive power of progressive action. America is the first to wake up. Uncle Sam intends to make more use than ever before of the powers of the air to safeguard the interests of his people on land and sea. At his office in Washington he will soon be able to receive instant warning information concerning anything that goes on in all sections of the Atlantic Ocean, from the North Pole to the Equator, and even beyond – all this to be accomplished through the powers of the air, or, in order words, the Wireless Telegraph and some gigantic Towers near Washington. Through his Navy Department at Washington, it is reported by Mr William L Altdorfer, to whom we are indebted for the information, he has decided to build three gigantic Towers, one of them is to be 600 feet high and the other two 450 foot each. Towers of this great height, situated on the highest point near Washington, Uncle Sam will be able to direct the movements of his Wireless war vessels anywhere on the Atlantic Ocean within 3000 miles of Washington, and perhaps further, if the possibilities of the towers come up to expectations. Not only will he be able to issue instructions direct to his watchdogs of the deep by means of this powerful station, but he also plans to have sent ships scattered all over the Atlantic – from coast-to-coast and from as far North as the icebergs will permit, to as far South as the electric waves of the Wireless may be for forced to penetrate” (Sunday Independent, 1912).

“The lecture on Wireless Telegraphy which is to be given tonight by Fr Gill, SJ., At Belvedere College, promises to be of unusual interest, both on account of the circumstances which have occasioned it and because of the interest attaching to all connected with the name of Marconi at the present time”

(Freemans Journal, 1912)

Reports are now arriving in Ireland that Mr Melville Stone, General Manager of the Associated Press, has given evidence before the Senate committee and questioned about the dispatches received by the Associated Press on Monday, April 15, the day of the Titanic disaster. He gave a full history of each dispatch received and of its source, Mr Stone testified that a dispatch was recovered from the “Montréal Star” to the effect that passengers had been transferred and were en route to Halifax. Later this same Montréal message having been cabled to London was given out there by the Exchange Telegraph Company, and the Associated Press, London, repeated it back to New York, giving credit for the message to the Exchange Company. Mr Stone further stated that the “Montréal Star” primarily and the Exchange Telegraph Company’s secondary were responsible as the sources of the dispatch in question. The London office of the Associated Press was wholly free from criticism. During the inquiry Mr Stone had been asked a number of questions. What part of the Titanic story had he handled personally and he replied he had general supervision of the entire work. He was then asked how you obtained such information as you sent out on Monday. And what was the exact source of each message? Mr Stone replied the “Montréal Star” received the message to the effect that passengers had all been transferred and were being brought to Halifax. This message we sent to Mr Franklin’s office. He issued a reassuring bulletin saying that there was no cause for alarm. At 10;10 AM(3.10 PM London time) we received a dispatch from the London repeating practically the “Montréal Star’s” story. Later from all parts the same dispatch began to be reported. We received some news automatically through our general system of newsgathering and some in response to personal enquiries. From the Marconi Wireless station at Cape Race we received two messages on Sunday evening, and early on Monday. They came from the Virginian, and stated that she was 170 miles from the Titanic and expected to come along side at 10.00am on Monday morning. Mr Stone read these messages and then stated; “From midnight Sunday we had no trustworthy telegrams until 11;23 AM(4;25 PM London time). Then a dispatch was given out from the White Star offices by Mr Franklin to the effect that the Virginian had reported the transfer of the passengers, was underway, 20 boatloads being aboard the Carpathia. Mr Franklin, who gave out the telegram declined to give the full text” He was then asked was he aware of any attempt to suppress news. He replied I have no knowledge of any such thing. Do you approve of the Wireless operator selling their news to the newspapers? He replied no. He then added at 12;07 AM on Monday afternoon the Canadian press sent out the following telegram; “Norton Davidson, one of the Titanic’s passengers, has sent to the local office of his firm here stating all passengers are safe. The Titanic is now in tow of the Virginian” That was the last of the conspicuous fakes (Reuters Telegram, 1912).

As a result of the coverage now being given in New York and Washington to the “Big Money” telegrams the Irish media continue to support Marconi with favourable editorials; “Wireless Telegraphy fell under some undeserved disgrace and the first shock of the Titanic disaster. There was some confused idea, apparently, that it was ‘maid of all work’, when the great ship went down with all those lives, people scarcely remembered that of the hundreds saved all owed their rescue from the icy sea to the Carpathia, brought on the rescue by the Marconi message. This aspect of the case was brought into vigorous relief by Fr Henry Gill’s lecture last night in Dublin at the Belvedere College. There was a true touch in the reflection that but for the Wireless mystery the fate of the Titanic, with all its population, might have been a mystery, too, for all time. A few years ago there could have been no word of explanation; all might have been drowned and the great ship need not have left a trace; a couple of days might have wiped away the last vestige of the boats that put off from the wreck, the icebergs would have shifted away on their own journey and the wonder would have remained how the vessel could have disappeared on a quiet night. The anguish of the long waiting for news, with the doubts still lingering in many minds long after hope had lost all ground; this, too, must be counted in, and very seriously to the credit of the wonderful invention of our time which all but annihilates space as far as communication is concerned, raying information, warning, alarm, and need over thousand miles. At present it is mentioned with some enthusiasm that certain Government have made the Wireless installation compulsory on passenger vessels; the time will not be long in coming when the Wireless will be installed on every ship. The age before the Wireless was seen to ourselves as strangely ill-equipped and handicapped as the age before the railroad. It may well be that the change in the world’s ways to be brought about by means of this wonder of today would be greater than those produced by the railroad itself. As the lecturer of yesterday observed, this knowledge is as yet only on the threshold of the cave in which it lay hidden; it has scarcely taken the air; a few years and will be active in ways we no more foresee than our fathers foresaw the immeasurable work in front of the steam engine, the vast novelties and materials that would come into human life from that humble beginning, mocked by the thoughtless and by the old-fashioned. We at lEast, in our age of many inventions, have learned not to be scornful of the new, scarcely even to be surprised that any promise, even though now and then we have been deceived. Often enough inventions are announced that do not appear, but often on the other hand there springs up suddenly wonder unannounced and works swift miracles over the face of the Earth. We of this age therefore take all these announcements without emotion, with a grain of salt and also with a large grain of expectation, as belonging to a generation accustomed to the new thing. At the rate at which we go now, we may feel sure that the world of our grandchildren will bear little resemblance to which we see. There will be the sky above us and the soil beneath us, and Tulips was still flower proudly in May; but in nearly everything else of the environing things, we should be at a loss in the world of our great-grandchildren. For thousands of years little altered except in the realm of ideas and in the fashion of clothes. Suddenly in one century there came the railroad train and the electric Telegraph and Telephone, monstrous and delicate machinery, great ships, the vast trade and the worldwide communication, almost instantaneous; hosts of discoveries and devices with results that have made Peking practically near and far more important to Dublin than once Paris was. To our heirs we, so well satisfied with ourselves, shall seem to have lived the strangest dull lives among quaint old makeshifts; we will amuse them when they think of us with our queer pride in childish beginnings and ways so cramped by unconquered nature. It will be well for us if our amused grandchildren can find, as an offset to all our simplicity in matters of practical science, that we had at lEast, like the ancients of our thought, some nobleness of the mind and soul to save us from appearing imbecile and ridiculous in a world full of the working of astonishing powers (Freemans Journal, 1912).

The events of the recent past would severely tarnish the reputation of Marconi and his Company and he would do all in his power to limit the damage he was interviewed by a ‘Daily News’ representative on the subject of the Titanic disaster and its relation to Wireless Telegraphy. “The system of Wireless control in America is undoubtedly currently bad, he said. At present any one can put up a station for sending or receiving, and these amateurs, I find, receive all sorts of messages, which they misconstrue owing to the fact that they have not had a proper knowledge of the Morse system, and because their systems are imperfect. That is undoubtedly what took place in the present instance, and the Press, being extremely anxious to get news, did not take sufficient pains to verify the early messages” Asked if any developments were contemplated in connection with Wireless Telegraphy which could be used in similar circumstances in future, Mr Marconi said, “the only practical thing to do at the present moment was to have two operators on every ship. After all, even a Wireless man must have some sleep. There is absolutely no reliable way at present of arousing a sleeping operator by apparatus. Nor has any recording instrument yet been discovered that will give a faithful record of a message while the operator is absent. “I am working hard upon the subject, however, and have every hope that I shall be able to perfect an apparatus that will automatically give warning on the receipt of a message, and draw attention by means of a bell or other device” Asked if he would give evidence at the British Inquiry he replied, “I have not yet been asked to do so, but I am quite prepared to go before the court and tell them all I know. Then I think the truth will come out, and that is what I want” (Marconi, 1912). Mr Marconi is full of confidence as to the outcome of his great schemes for encircling the globe with a great system of Wireless. “We are proposing to erect very soon big stations for communicating direct between England and America, or rather between the vicinity of London and the vicinity of New York. I hope this service will be in operation within 12 months” He continued, “the messages will go through within a very few minutes, practically instantaneously. Time is at present occupied in transmitting messages to Clifden and repeating them on the other side from Glace Bay to New York by our arrangement with the Western Union on the other side the messages will be delivered as quickly as any cablegram” (Marconi, 1912)

It seemed almost as if shares in Marconi could not be excited as trade was “severely depressed” although trade in general was tolerably brisk on the Dublin Stock Exchange but an unsatisfactory tone pervaded the markets. The Wireless market was not so busy with shares starting badly and continuing to slump as the day progressed. In London, the “Financial Times” publishes a report of a meeting of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, in which the authorised capital stock of the Company was increased and the value of the shares was dramatically reduced. Arrangements are also made for entering actively into the business of transatlantic Wireless service between the United States and Great Britain, and the Company is about to erect high power stations in New York City. It was also confirmed at the meeting that the Marconi Company are proceeding against a firm of members of the London Stock Exchange for libel in respect of statements contained in a recent weekly report. The Company also explains that the Boston circuit court of appeals is now preventing the sale of the United Wireless Telegraph Company’s assets, but merely requires the trustees in bankruptcy of that Company to defer for the present the actual transfer of title. This would not in the lEast affect the sale to, nor the position of, the American Marconi Company, who were not parties to this motion. The report complained of allegations that the Marconi Company did not send their messages across the Atlantic by their own system, but by cable and debited the loss created by the difference in price to ‘advertisement account’. Mr Isaacs’s, Managing Director of the Marconi Company stated to an interviewer that the Company’s business continues in every way highly satisfactory, and “nothing has happened of an unfavourable nature, but rather the reverse, since our last communication to the shareholders” (Irish Independent, 1912).

New problems are starting to develop for Wireless operators, legitimate and otherwise, in the United States of America. Giving false alarms by Wireless Telegraphy is the neWest form of the practical chalk in the USA. Government aid was dispatched to a supposed shipwreck as the consequence of the “Wireless joke” The result of these “jokes” is that a Bill has been brought before the Senate insisting upon the licensing of all Wireless installations and their operators. By this means interference is controlled and secrecy insured for the Government’s stations in time of crisis. The installation and use of a private Wireless station in Britain is not possible without its detection by the controlling authorities. The moment and new Wireless station of any power comes into operation either the Post Office are one of the Marconi stations receives the signal. Steps are immediately taken to ascertain its whereabouts (Leitrim Observer, 1912). Other Irish newspapers were more focused on the new reality of “Wireless telephone”; if the report from Rome that messages sent by Wireless telephone have been distinctly heard at a distance of 160 miles are correct, a new development in the use of “Wireless” may be expected. 160 miles is but a little short the distance between Dublin and Cork, so that one can realise what a saving in the working of the telephone system in remote districts could be affected by the use of Wireless. It was, of course, known for some years past that Wireless telephone messages could be heard at distances of 20 or 30 miles, and a couple of years ago two French battleships were able to keep up communication by this means when 70 miles apart. But that conversation can be carried on at more than double that distance is something new and very exciting” (Irish Independent, 1912).

On May 20th 1912 the Postmaster General, Herbert Samuel, in his annual statement on the work of his Department outlines new proposals for reforms for extensions in the future; but the Irish Times is not very happy of a Government profiteering at the expense of controlling communications and make no attempt to conceal this fact in their Editorial. “The answer to the question whether Mr Samuel’s statement can be regarded as satisfactory depends entirely upon the standpoint from which the work of this particular department of state is considered. We may adopt the argument of Sir George Doughty, who expressed his belief that a Department of this character should not be run with the object of making a profit. The revenue, he believed, should be applied to the purpose of promoting the efficiency of the service. We do not think that this position is tenable. The Post Office is one of the few Government departments in which the ideal of a “business Government” is capable of application, and, at the same time, desirable. To turn it into a kind of bureau of National philanthropy is to defeat its best purposes. We have no doubt that the adoption of such a system would prove a useful vote-catching measure for the Government, and on that ground, if no other, we applaud Mr Samuel’s refusal to accept it. He spends the public money upon improving the service under his control, and looks for another dramatic rise in custom which will maintain the Department as a paying concern. It is a policy which has so far been justified by its success. In the year which Mr Samuel reviewed yesterday the increase in expenditure has been very considerable. This is partly explained by the normal growth of the service, which must necessarily expand from year to year, but it is mainly due to the transfer of the telephone system to the state. It is now possible to form a fair estimate of the value of the charges levelled against the telephone service at the beginning of the year. The truth probably is that the same grievances, such as they were, existed under the old regime, but the public, apparently, looked for a miraculous change when the Post Office took over the business. Any change must, of necessity, have been temporarily for the worse, and we have to thank the Postmaster General that this vast transaction which was completed with so little discomfort to the public. Mr Samuel hints at a rate reduction as soon as the Royal Commission has fixed transfer price. We note that the “farmers’ telephones” system is gaining in popularity. This is a proposition which Irish farmers would be well advised to consider in a favourable light. Another reform which will prove welcome is the proposal that telephone subscribers should be allowed to use the numbers as telegraphic addresses. Mr Samuel is doing his best to facilitate telegraphic communication abroad as well as at home. We’re promised reduced charges to the continent when the laying of the landlines is completed, and, possibly, a further reduction of cable rates to the Colonies. To the progress of the automatic telephone experiments we have already referred, as also to the progress of the Imperial Wireless scheme. Wireless, naturally, bulks largely in Mr Samuel’s statement. The important question of continuous communication between ships at sea, a matter whose urgency has been emphasised by the evidence at the Titanic enquiry, will be considered next month by an international conference. Mr Samuel’s statement, as a whole, is a worthy record of a hard and businesslike endeavour” (Irish Times, 1912). But the Imperial Wireless Scheme, as proposed by Samuel’s, would mean greater profits for Marconi as reported in the London times on the following day. “The Imperial Wireless Scheme of Communication is continuing to make progress. Six stations have been arranged for, one in England, two between England and India, one in India, one at Singapore, and one in South Africa. The Marconi Company guarantee apparatus capable of covering intervals of 2000 miles, and even more. The cost, in round figures, is £60,000 per station without sites and buildings. These stations, to be supplemented later by others, will do something to keep the remotest parts of the Empire in close touch with the Imperial capital, though we cannot regard the Wireless system proposed as a satisfactory substitute for a much greater reduction of ordinary cable rates that has yet been achieved. The details of this great scheme will in due course come before the House of Commons, but in bare outline it makes a powerful appeal to the imagination” (London Times, 1912). In addition to all of this by the end of May 1912 the only American Marconi Company announced that they are about to equip stations at New Orleans, that’s one island in the Caribbean Sea, and at Santa marked the, Colombia, providing direct Wireless communication between the two American continents (Irish Times, 1912). It seemed as if prosperous times were ahead again for Marconi.

Adding further to Marconi’s business restoration is news from Washington in the form of an announcement by Senator Smith delivering his speech on the report of the Sub-Committee which investigated the wreck of the Titanic. Smith states, “We absolutely recommend that all ships should have a continuous equipment of Wireless telegraphy and this is a reform upon which public opinion is already agreed” (Irish Times, 1912). But what Smith gives in one hand to Marconi he takes with the other and condemns the Company as agents of prostitution of talents or offices or services for reward. As if it was not enough for Smith to simply advocate the installation of Wireless telegraphy itself but to also suggest that such work should not be done by Marconi’s Company. In a well crafted speech he states, “By the aid of the Marconi genius, a gentleman sitting in his office in the capital of the Argentina Republic Road as in an open book a Wireless message direct from the coast of Ireland. When the world weeps together over a common glass, when nature moves in the same direction in all spheres, why should not the nations clear the sea of its conflicting idioms, and wisely regulate this new servant of humanity. To that end wages must be increased in proportion to the responsibility assumed; and the service to be useful must be made continuous night and day, while this new profession must rid itself of the spirit of venality to which, in my opinion, the world is in deficit for the systematic reign of silence concerning the details of this disaster” (Irish Times, 1912). As far as the American’s were now concerned Marconi’s Company was entirely responsible for the failure of adequate news supply in the days after the sinking of the Titanic. His Company are depicted as profiteers, at all costs, even in the time of enormous tragedy. Fortunately Marconi had a some influential friends in London who were about to change the course of history for the Italian inventor. One of these, a middle aged conservative politician was infuriated by the American senator’s comments and during what became known as the ‘Marconi Scandal’ Winston Churchill used a speech to mount an impassioned defence of Marconi and two embattled ministers David Lloyd George and Rufus Isaacs, asserting that there was “no stain of any kind” upon their characters.

“The committee does not believe that the Wireless operator of the Carpathia was duly vigilant in handling messages after the accident, and declares that the practice of allowing Wireless operators to sell their stories should be stopped.”

(Titanic Disaster American Inquiry Report, 1912)

BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THIS ARTICLE IS ONLY AVAILABLE ON REQUEST

Celtic Roots

Celtic Roots

Authors Note:

The following is a synopsis of Chapters 1 and 2 from ‘Celtic Mythology’  (Geddes & Grosset, 1999). I have extracted some of the key points in relation to the Irish Celts.

Gerard J. Hannan.

The Celts are much less well known to us than the Greeks and the Romans were although theirs was a great civilisation in its own way. The Celts were not empire builders, they were a tribal society. It is a problem that there is a serious lack of contemporary written history or literature in relation to the Celts. They had the ability to write but never really bothered to do so and it has been suggested that writing was not part of their social or religious culture and that their Druids or high priests forbid them to write things down.

Because of this, modern historians rely very much on oral tradition. Perhaps this is why the culture is rich in marvellous legends and stories handed down by word-of-mouth and as such are subject to variation. Archaeology has helped historians to understand the Celts.

It is rather fortunate that because the Celts believed that a dead person travelled to other worlds and should be accompanied by his or hers earthly possessions such as jewellery, clothing and valuables that we are left with some significant information about the culture. What the Celts have left us is positive evidence to the reality that theirs was an advanced culture.

Ireland’s earliest legendary and poetic records are of great interest and value. These records influenced the destiny of the Celts that created them and indeed the destiny of Ireland. In the period in which they were still fresh, belief and pride in them were powerful enough to bring scattered tribes together into Confederation. Furthermore they give inspiration to sculptors and poets to produce an art and literature unsurpassed, if not unequalled, by any other age or race. When the glory of the Celtic age had faded and her people had entered into the modern world they had left behind them a significant account of their culture for modern archaeologists.

Mythology is vital to literature. Celtic mythology has little of the heavy crudeness that repels one in Germanic and Scandinavian stories. It is as beautiful and graceful as the Greek and, unlike Greek, which is the reflection of a Mediterranean climate quite different from our temperate zone, it is our own. Gods should, surely, seem the inevitable outgrowth of the land they move in. The Celtic gods and heroes are the natural inhabitants of the Irish landscape, not seeming foreign and out of place in a scene where there is no vine or olive but shading in with our home grown Oak and Bracken, gorse and heath.

In the legend haunted Ireland, the Hills and Dales still hold memories of the ancient gods of the ancient race. There are regions once mysterious and romantic that the Celts held to be the homes of gods or outposts of other worlds. In Ireland, there is scarcely a place that is not connected in some way with the traditional exploits of the Red Branch champions or of Fionn and his mighty men. But the old deities are still remembered, dwindled into fairies perhaps but keeping the same attributes and often the same names. Many of these deities live on in modern culture as, for example, long dead saints of the early churches of Ireland. Their wonderful attributes and adventurers are in many cases only those of their original namesakes, the old gods, told afresh. And they still lived on in another more potent way. They have become a significant part of modern literature and their influence is immense, their primary poetic impulse is still resonant in Irish literature, playing a particularly strong part in works by 19th-century poets and writers. The elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits which haunted the waves and streams appear again as kings in the Irish annals or as saints and hermits. To trace the Irish kings and saints back to ‘elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits that haunted the woods and streams’ of Celtic romanticism is not an impossible stretch of the imagination.

The fabled deeds of St Patrick are embellished by romantic writers. These writings are contained in parchment manuscripts long preserved from destruction in great Irish houses and monasteries. Only during the 19th century have they been brought to light, copied and translated by patient scholars who grappled with the long obsolete dialects in which they were transcribed. Many of these volumes are curious miscellanies. Usually a single record of a great house or monastic community, everything was copied into it that the scholar of the family or brotherhood thought to be worth preserving. Hence they contain diverse material. There are translations of portions of the Bible and of the classics, lives of famous saints, together with works attributed to them; poems and romances of which, under a thin disguise, the old Gaelic gods and heroes; together with treatises on all the subjects then studied – grammar, prosody, law, history, geography, chronology and genealogies of important chiefs.

The majority of these documents were put together during the period that, roughly speaking, lasted from the beginning of the 12th century to the end of the 16th century. It was a time of literary revival after the turmoil of the previous epoch. In Ireland, the Norsemen, after long ravaging, had settled down peacefully and rendered the country comparatively quiet. The scattered remains of history, lay and ecclesiastical, of science and of legend were gathered together.

Of the Irish manuscripts, the earliest, and, perhaps the most important, on account of the great store of ancient Gaelic mythology which, in spite of its dilapidated condition, it still contains, is in the possession of the Irish Academy. Unfortunately, it is reduced to a fragment of 138 pages, but this remnant preserves a large number of romances relating to the old gods and heroes of Ireland. Among other things, it contains a complete account of the epic saga called the ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne’, the ‘raiding of the cattle of Cooley’, in which the hero, Cuchulainn, performed his greatest feats. This manuscript is called The Book Of The Dun Cow, from the tradition that it was copied from an earlier book written on the skin of a favourite animal belonging to St Ciaran, who lived in the seventh century. An entry on one of its pages reveals the name of its scribe, one Maelmuiri, whom we know to have been killed by robbers in the church of Clonmacnois in the year 1106.

Far more voluminous and only a little less ancient is the book of Leinster, which is said to have been compiled in the early part of the 12th century by Fionn Mac Gorman, Bishop of Kildare. This also contains an account of Cuchulain’s mighty deeds, which supplements the older version in the Tain Bo Cuailgne. Somewhat less important from the point of view of the student of Gaelic mythology: the Book Of Ballymote and the Yellow Book Of Lecan, belonging to the end of the 14th century, and the Books Of Lecan and of  Lismore, both attributed to the 15th century. Besides these six great collections, there survive many other manuscripts that also contain ancient mythical lore. In one of these, dating from the 15th century is to be found the story of the Battle of Magh Tuireadh, or Moytura, fought between the gods of Ireland and enemies, the Formorii, or demons of the deep sea. Other ancient manuscripts found in Scotland corroborate these Irish documents, add to the Cuchulain saga and make a more specialist subject of the other heroic cycle, that which relates the no less wonderful deeds of Fionn, Oisin and the Fianna. They also contain stories of other characters that are more ancient then either Fionn or Cuchulain, these are the Tua De Danaan, the God tribe of the ancient Gaels. The native literature bearing upon the mythology of Ireland may be attributed to a period that lasted from the beginning of the 12th century to the end of the 16th. This day’s marks the final amalgamation of the contents of the manuscript into the form in which they now exist without bearing at all upon the time of their authorship. As they are copies of ancient poems and tales from much older manuscripts, these books do not fix the period of the original composition of their contents. This has been proved both directly and inferentially. In some instances as with the Book of the Dun Cow the dates of authorship are actually given. In others, we may depend upon evidence that, if not quite so absolute, is nearly as convincing. Even where the writer does not state that he is copying from older manuscripts, it is obvious that this must have been the case from the glosses in his version. The scribes of the earlier Gaelic manuscripts very often found, in the documents from which they themselves were copying, words so archaic as to be unintelligible to the readers of their own period. To render them comprehensible, they were obliged to insert marginal notes that explained these obsolete words by reference to other manuscripts more ancient still. Often the mediaeval copyists have ignorantly moved these notes from the margin into the text, where they remain, like philological fossils, to give evidence of previous forms of life. The documents from which they were taken have perished, leaving the mediaeval copies as their sole record. The ancient legends of Ireland may not have been mere inventions of scholarly monks in the middle Ages. Circumstantial evidence can be an adduced to prove that the most important portions of Gaelic literature can be safely relegated to a period of several centuries prior to their now existing record. Our earliest version of the episode of the ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne’, which is the nucleus and centre of the ancient Gaelic heroic cycle of which Cuchulain, is the principal figure, is found in the 12th century Book of the Dun Cow. But legend tells us that at the beginning of the seventh century the Saga had not only been composed but had actually become as obsolete as to have been forgotten by the Bards. Their leader, Seanchan Torpeist, a historical character and chief bard of Ireland at that time, obtained permission from the saints to call Fergus, Cuchulain’s contemporary and a chief actor in the ‘Raid’, from the dead and received from the resurrected hero a true and full version. This tradition, dealing with a real person, surely shows that the story of the ‘Tain’ was known before the time of Seanchan and probably preserves the fact either that his version of Cuchulain’s famous deeds became the accepted one or that he was the first to put it in writing. Such considerations as these push back, with reasonable certainty, the existence of the Irish poems and prose tales, in something like the present shape, to a period before the seventh century. But this, again, means only that the myths, traditions and legends were current at that, to us early, but to them, in their actual substance, late date, in literary form. A Mythology must always be far older than the oldest verses and stories to celebrate it. Elaborate poems and sagas are not made in a day or in a year. The legends of the Gaelic gods and heroes could not have sprung full born out of some poet’s brain. The bard who first put them into artistic shape was setting down the primitive traditions of his race. We may therefore venture to describe them as not of the 12th century or of the seventh but as of a prehistoric and immemorial antiquity. Internal evidence bears this out. An examination of the Gaelic legendary romances shows, under embellishing details added by later hands, an inner core of primeval thought that brings them into line with the similar ideas of other races in the earliest stages of culture. Their ‘local colour’ may be that of their last ‘editor’ but their ‘plots’ are pre-mediaeval, pre-Christian, prehistoric. The characters of early Gaelic legend belong to the same stamp of imagination that created all Olympian and Titan, Aesir and Jotun. This aspect of the Celtic literary records was expressed by Matthew Arnold when he said, ‘it is evident that the mediaeval storyteller is pillaging and antiquity of which he does not fully possessed the secret’. So, too, with the figures, however reconciled with history, of the tree great Gaelic cycles: that of the Tua De Danaan, of the heroes of Ulster, of Fionn and the Fianna. Their divinity outshines their humanity; true their masks may be seen the faces of gods.

Yet, gods as they are, they had taken on the semblance of mortality by the time histories were fixed in the form in which we have them now. Their earliest records, if those could be restored to us, would doubtless show them as eternal and undying, changing their shapes at will but not passing away. But the post-Christian copyists, whether Irish or not, would not continence this. Hence we have the singular paradox of the deaths of immortals. There is hardly one of the figures of the Gaelic pantheon whose demise is not somewhere recorded. Usually they fell in the unceasing battles between the gods of darkness and of light. Their deaths in earlier cycles of myth, however, do not preclude their appearance in later ones. Only, indeed, with the closing of the lips of the last mortal who preserved his tradition can the life of a God be truly said to end.

Bibliography

Geddes & Grosset, 1999. Celtic Mythology. 2006 ed. New Lanark: Geddes & Grosset.

 

Harris & McCourt Feud

Bitter feud between fellow Limerick men over destiny of ‘Angela’s Ashes’

One person will be spinning furiously in his grave at the unveiling of sculptor Seamus Connolly’s bronze bust of Frank McCourt in Dublin’s Writers Museum.

The late Richard Harris would not take kindly to the bronze veneration of his fellow Limerick man and Angela’s Ashes author alongside such a luminary as John B Keane.

If the Man Called Horse actor was still living and breathing in his £2,000-a-week suite in London’s Savoy Hotel he would mouth the words ‘chancer’ and ‘fraud’ before dissolving into mischievous laughter and decanting to the nearby Coal Hole pub for a foaming pint of Boddingtons ale.

The feud between the Hollywood actor and the Pulitzer-winning author of the prototype misery memoir was a gossip columnist’s dream. But, alas, Harris died in 2002 aged 72 and McCourt seven years later aged 78. So neither is on hand to badmouth each other.

To his dying day Harris was convinced McCourt had exaggerated his impoverished childhood on the banks of the Shannon. Before fame swept McCourt to riches and fame, Harris knew him as a thirsty New York lecturer he occasionally encountered when touring with his lucrative earner, the musical Camelot.

I had no idea of the antagonism when, as said gossip columnist, I had one of my regular encounters with Harris in the Coal Hole one afternoon in the late Nineties.

We talked rugby and drank Boddingtons.

At about 6pm he asked me to join him in his suite atop the Savoy where he was planning to watch the Sky transmission of a football match involving his beloved Chelsea.

“I’m sorry, Richard,” I explained. “I can’t, I’m going around the corner to Penguin Books where they’re having a party to celebrate the millionth copy of Angela’s Ashes in paperback. Why don’t you come?”

His demeanour changed dramatically. “Angela’s Ashes? Frank McCourt? Will he be there?”

“Of course,” I replied. “He has flown in from New York especially.”

Then Harris said: “You ask McCourt what happened to his mother’s ashes. I know he f**king lost them.

“When his mother died he hadn’t a bob to rub together. He wanted to ship her ashes to Limerick to be scattered over the family grave. I was touring in Camelot and helped him out with cash to pay for the shipping.

“Frank went to a cheap shipper in Queens and he lost his mother’s ashes. He f**king lost them. You ask him.”

We finished our drinks and agreed to reconvene the following week at the Coal Hole. I meandered to the Penguin HQ and glass of wine in hand gravitated towards McCourt. He was surrounded by the usual meteorites of literary female totty who looked at him with unrequited adoration.

I introduced myself. He was charm itself. Then apropos of nothing I asked: “Tell me Frank, what happened to your mother’s ashes?”

The transformation was instant and extraordinary. He grabbed me by the throat and pushed me up against the boardroom wall.

“Harris sent you,” he screamed. “Richard Harris f**king sent you. You tell Harris I found my mother’s ashes. You go and tell him that.”

Having upset the famous author I was asked to leave the soiree. A badge of honour in my profession, I was unfazed, though my neck was a little sore.

A week later over more pints of Boddingtons in the Coal Hole I told Harris that McCourt had tried to strangle me. He was helpless with mirth. He couldn’t stop laughing.

“He’s a f**king chancer. He made up his childhood and he lost his mother’s ashes. What a fraud!’

Then Harris died. And before McCourt joined him on the banks of the celestial Shannon I caught up with him at an Irish embassy party for his second last book Teacher Man (his earlier follow-up to Angela’s Ashes, Tis was described by one reviewer as Tisn’t).

He recognised me and had the good grace to apologise for grabbing me by the throat when I turned up as Harris’s unwelcome emissary at Penguin. “I can tell you now. Yes, we did lose our mother’s ashes. I had too much to drink in a Manhattan bar and we left them behind. . . but we did eventually retrieve them.”

I hope Harris has given him a good ribbing in Paradise.

 

Originally published in

 

Resurrection (A Film Treatment)

ress

RESURRECTION

(Treatment)

by

Gerard J. Hannan

Act I

The sun falls on a small group of people standing around a grotto praying the Rosary and led by FR SIDD (45). Five noisy teenagers, four boys and girl, are playing with a football nearby. The priest interrupts the prayers and insists that the teenagers move away. The tomboy girl SARAH HARPER (15) sarcastically apologises and demands that the boys move away and they do. As the prayers continue the adults ignore the teenagers as they move up the country road toward a road level old stone railway bridge. The teenagers are soon at the bridge and still noisily playing.

The railway hand signal drops down. The teenagers fail to notice an old man walking with a large German shepherd dog approaching from nearby. The sound of the nearby train is deafening. Three of the boys jump on the bridge announcing that the air blowing up from beneath is ‘amazing’. SARAH with fingers in her ears laughingly jumps back from the wall. BOB MORIARTY (15) hugs Sarah and she jokingly jeers him for not standing on the bridge. The man with the dog is closer now and the boys remain standing on the bridge as the high-speed train passes underneath.

The old man and dog arrive on the bridge at the same moment as the train passes underneath the bridge. The dog, startled by the sound of the train, barks loudly and scares Sarah who leaps back from the angry barking dog. In her haste she loses footing and tumbles forward against DANNY MORIARTY (15) who then loses his balance and falls forward and down into the path of the high-speed train. The teenagers look on in absolute horror as Danny’s sudden scream abruptly ends. The dog continues barking loudly and the sound of the train fades into the distance.

Twenty five years later an Irish Catholic priest, Fr BOB MORIARTY (40) is alone in a barely furnished living room. By the side of the door there are a couple of small suitcases. On his table is an American travel book; beside it is a plane ticket. The radio is playing and he hears the presenter talking about abuse in the Catholic Church. He stands up and walks to the radio and abruptly switches it off. He starts to make himself some coffee and stares at a crucifix on the wall and whispers; ‘You may forgive them but I don’t’.

Suddenly the telephone rings and he answers it. The caller is SARAH HARPER (40). She tells him she urgently needs to see him and pleads with him to come visit her in Glen Oisin. Bob is hesitant to return to the village of his childhood. She insists it is urgent and he must come. Reluctantly he agrees to a fast visit that evening and explains he must come back to catch a flight. She thanks him and promises him she won’t keep him too long and they hang up. He pours himself coffee and stares out the window in silence.

A battered sign welcomes visitors to the village of Glen Oisin as Bob drives by. Bob parks his car and steps onto the empty street surveying the unchanged landscape of his childhood. He walks past the Grotto toward the Railway Bridge and stops for a moment to watch a train passing below. Suddenly he is a child again and he sees his Brother Danny looking over his shoulder and laughing then suddenly helplessly falling. A man’s voice wakes Bob from the momentary trance. ‘Hello Bob’, it is GARY MORIARTY (45), his older brother. He greets his brother and they hug.

The winter wind is howling around them as they approach a forsaken grave. Bob removes the creeping ivy to reveal the inscription DANIEL MORIARTY. He solemnly stares at the grave as Gary stands behind. They talk about Danny and reveal to each other that they both believe if Sarah had not overreacted to the dog the boy would still be alive. Gary reveals he never could forgive her for that. He tells Bob that Sarah was once his girlfriend but he finished it after a few dates because when he saw her all he could do was think of Danny.

As they walk towards the graveyard gates Bob tells Gary his reasons for returning to the village. Bob asks about his estranged father and Gary tells him that he has become worse since the death of their mother and he is now living in Cork. Gary asks his brother if he intends to take a break from the priesthood and Bob confirms that he just needs some time to reconsider his position and was going to spend a few months in America. Bob sits into his car and promises to meet Gary later at the local bar then drives off.

Bob arrives at Sarah’s home and knocks on the door. After a moment the door opens and Dr HENRY SMITH (60) greets Bob. They stand outside the door to speak and Dr. Smith informs Bob that Sarah has Cancer and is dying and it is only a matter of hours as she is heavily tranquilised on Morphine. He explains that she is distressed because her estranged son, BILLY HARPER (20), who departed for college two years earlier, has never once returned following ‘personal problems’. Sarah is hoping that Bob’s intervention could appease Billy and bring him to his mother’s deathbed.

Now indoors Bob, without hesitation, refuses to accept the futile mission based on past similar experiences that were unfruitful. He explains it would raise false hopes. The Doctor explains ‘you and I know that’ but asks the priest to be kinder to her and allow her to believe there is some hope. Bob agrees but explains that he would, when Sarah asks, agree to try but assures the Doctor that it would be futile as Billy, clearly knowing his mother is ill and not visiting, could not be influenced to act against his own will. Bob walks up the stairs.

Sarah is drowsy when Bob enters. She talks about her angry son Billy and weeps as she explains she has never revealed the father’s identity to Billy’s and this angered him. The pregnancy resulted from a shameful drunken night with a stranger. She tells Bob she loved his brother Danny and they had a teenage romance that still impacted on her life. Bob promises he will try locate Billy but needs a photograph. She produces one from under her pillow. He stares at it in shock. The boy is identical to Danny. Sarah has drifted back into a deep sleep.

ACT II

Bob arrives at a small empty bar and orders a drink. As he sips it, an intoxicated and dishevelled man BARRY HARPER (42) enters and approaches Bob. The BARMAN (60) shuns Barry but relents at Bob’s behest. Barry tells Bob he met Gary who told him he was in town. Barry states his life is pointless and how he crumbled at the news of his sister Sarah’s terminal cancer. Barry recalls Danny’s death and his remorse at not being there to catch Danny as he fell and now he could not be there for his sister ‘as she falls’ too.

Both men move to a table in the corner to talk. Bob tries to convince Barry that he is not responsible for Danny’s death. Barry refuses to accept this. Barry admits dark depressions and cannot rid himself of the image of Danny falling from the bridge. He tells Bob he believes that he will carry vivid memories, remorse and guilt with him to his grave. No words from Bob can convince Barry who remains tortured as he departs the bar. The BARMAN tells Bob that Barry is forever angry and depressed and finding fault at life and is best ignored.

Gary enters the bar and joins Bob at the table. Bob tells him about Barry but he dismisses it as typical behaviour. They discuss Bob’s reasons for leaving the priesthood. Bob explains it is not at all the lifestyle he believed it would be. He states that he now believes that he misinterpreted a dream for the holy calling to the priesthood. He explains that all he seems to be doing is dealing with death in all of its manifestations. Bob finishes his drink and tells Gary he would be staying overnight at a nearby Seminary then leaves the bar.

Bob enters the church through a side door and walks to the altar. Standing alone at the foot of the altar in silent prayer Bob fails to notice an old priest FR SIDD (75) silently sitting behind him. Fr Sidd asks him why he is so troubled. Bob, at first shocked at the old priest’s presence, sits with him and explains that he was considering giving up the priesthood. The old man seems unsurprised by the revelation and explains that the problem was the lack of spiritual enlightenment but God would respond to a heartfelt appeal to provide this nourishment.

Both men begin to walk down the aisle. Bob then tells Fr Sidd of the task that lay ahead and how best to encourage Billy Harper to return home. The old priest has little advice. Fr Sidd tells him that truth will reveal itself when necessary and not a moment sooner but to try convince the boy to return to his mother using ‘whatever words God puts into your mouth.’ The old priest reaches into his pocket and produces a small statue of the Holy Mother holding a baby. He hands the statue to Bob and says ‘give Billy this’.

The next morning Gary is sitting alone in his office reading through some papers. Bob enters and bids him good morning. Gary comments that Bob does not look well and Bob admits that he spent the night awake and was too tired to drive to Dublin but wanted Gary to travel with him to meet Billy Harper. Bob takes the photograph from his pocket to show Gary. Gary casually looks at the picture and hands it back saying ‘I don’t need that, I know what he looks like’. Bob is surprised that Gary makes no further comment and they depart.

On the road to Dublin Bob tells Gary that that striking resemblance of Billy to Danny suggested Danny may be the father. Gary becomes somewhat suspicious and recalls the fact that Sarah never openly admitted to anyone who was the father of her child. He dismisses the possibility that Danny fathered the child because he died five years prior to Billy’s birth. Gary suggests perhaps Billy could be older than they knew. Bob is confused as to why Gary seemed oblivious to the possibility that he was the father. Bob challenges Gary on this but he denies any such possibility.

At Trinity College Bob and Gary make their way to the Dean of Arts Office. Gary produces his badge and the receptionist cooperates. She calls the Dean and within moments he hastily emerges from his office. He invites the brothers into his office. The men enter and take a seat as the Dean dials a number and asks to have Billy Harper sent to his office immediately. The Dean hangs up and offers coffee to the men while they wait. Bob explains to the Dean that Billy’s mother is dying and has requested to see her son one final time.

There is a gentle knock on the door and the Dean quickly opens it. BILLY HARPER (22) enters the room and he is a good-looking, well groomed, intelligent bohemian looking man that looks beyond his years. On seeing the three men he seems surprised but immediately recognises Gary and shakes hands with him. Gary introduces him to Bob as the Dean excuses himself from the room. Billy takes a seat and sits upright, arms folded, firm expression and asks has she died? Bob replies that she is still alive and explains the situation while Gary stands silently in the background.

Billy tells Bob that he has no desire to see his mother dead or alive. He explains that he left Glen Oisin behind him and is making his own life in Dublin and while he has forgiven his mother for past crimes he has not forgotten them. Bob tells Billy that he knows the source of his anger but if he really wants to find out who his father is then maybe now was the time to do it because this may be the last chance. Billy laugh’s loudly and asks do you really think this is about my father?’

Billy states that there is more to this than identifying an incidental stranger. He explains to Bob that his mother’s crimes are much more than just that. He explains that he gave his mother his full forgiveness for withholding his father’s identity from him but he now has no desire whatsoever to reunite with his mother. Gary interjects and asks Billy would he reveal the reason why this seemingly irreparable rift has come about. Billy rises from his chair in anger and announces he is Gay and had been rejected by his mother who totally refused to accept his sexuality.

Bob and Gary are driving home. Gary tells Bob that during his brief relationship with Sarah they were never intimate. Bob is angered by Gary’s denials and demands he stops lying. Gary becomes irate and verbally attacks Bob for running away clearly unable to cope with his brother’s death, his mother’s death and his father’s alcoholism. Gary blames Bob for leaving him to deal alone with these all these tragic problems. In the heat of the row neither brother notices that the car has drifted to the wrong side of the road and it suddenly impacts with an oncoming car.

When Bob wakes he finds he is upside down and face-to-face with his brother. Bob reaches forward to touch his brother’s face. Gary’s eyes are half open but Bob realises that his brother is dying. Gary apologises for losing his temper and tells Bob he trusts him more than anybody else in the world. In his final confession he insists he is not Billy’s father. Bob hears the sound of an oncoming ambulance and begins to give his brother’s last rites. After a few seconds of prayer Bob’s voice begins to fade and he slips into a state of unconsciousness.

In the dark of night the railway signal drops to warn of a forthcoming train. From beyond the old Stone Bridge the lights of the train appear in the horizon. A man steps up onto the wall on the bridge and hands outstretched in cruciform he awaits the train. The beams of light from the train shine on the face of the man and it is Barry Hanlon. Just as the front of the train approaches the bridge Barry closes his eyes, smiles and whispers Amen. Hands still outstretched he silently drops himself down into the path of the train.

Bob wakes up on a hospital bed and sitting beside him is Fr Sidd. The old priest asks him how he feels. Bob asks the priest what happened and Fr Sidd tells him that he had an accident with Gary who did not survive. Bob rises to get out the bed but the old priest tries to stop him. Bob insists that he is feeling okay and needs to get on his feet. Fr Sidd reluctantly relents and allows Bob to sit on the edge of the bed. Bob begins to weep and the old priest tries to comfort him.

Sarah Harper is alone, erratically breathing, on her bed as Dr. Smith enters the room. He stands beside her and leans forward to listen to her heart with his stethoscope. He notices a tear rolling down her face. She struggles to speak and asks him where is Billy? He tells her that her son is on the way. She smiles and asks should he lie to a dying mother. The Doctor smiles and tells her about his Hippocratic Oath and could not lie even if he really wanted to. He then injects her and tells her to try to sleep.

In the hospital Bob tells Fr Sidd that he must go to Sarah to inform her of events. As Bob dresses Fr Sidd offers him coffee and Bob accepts. Fr Sidd leaves the room. Moments later a Doctor enters the room and asks Bob to sit on the bed. The doctor sympathises with Bob on the death of his brother and informs him of the suicide of Barry Hanlon. Bob immediately falls apart and has to get away. He dashes to the main entrance. When outside he hails a taxi and instructs the driver to take him to Sarah’s house.

The taxi is outside Sarah’s home and Bob jumps out. He dashes to the door and knocks on it. A Nurse opens the door and Bob rushes in. She tells him that Sarah is dying and the Doctor is with her. He follows the Nurse upstairs and they enter Sarah’s bedroom. Dr Smith is sitting by the side of the bed. Bob sits on the edge of the bed and asks if she can hear him to gently squeeze his hand which she does. He tells her that he found Billy but he would not return. Sarah opens her eyes.

The room is empty with only Billy sitting on the edge of the bed holding Sarah’s hand. Her tears are flowing as she tells him she loves him and is sorry for hurting him. She stares at him and tells him he has Danny’s face and eyes. He kisses her on the forehead and tells her that he loves her too. He tells her that she is a perfect mother and to go now for her reward from God and to be with Danny, the true love of her life. She closes her eyes for a moment and reopens them.

Sarah whispers the word ‘absolution’ to Bob. He begins to pray and Sarah’s hand slips from his. Bob looks at her peaceful face. He finishes praying and stands up as the nurse lifts the white sheet over Sarah’s face. Dr Smith whispers she is at peace now as Bob silently walks out of the room. Downstairs he opens the door and steps outside. The sun is rising behind nearby trees and soft beams of light pour onto his face. He raises his hand and gently removes the collar from around his neck as he walks dejected toward the garden gates.

Act Three

Inside the small country church the congregation are starting to depart to the sound of lone bell. At the foot of the altar there are three coffins. Bob, wearing a grey suit, white shirt and black tie, is standing there staring at them. Soon the church is empty and a group of men dressed in black, the undertakers, approach Bob and tell him that the time has come to bring the coffins outside. Bob asks for a few minutes alone and the undertakers walk away. Bob raises his head to see Fr Sidd standing on the steps of the altar.

Fr Sidd observes ‘I see from your attire that you have made your choice’ Bob hangs his head and remains silent. Fr Sidd tells him he is not listening to God. He explains that death is God’s way of speaking to mankind. When God takes a sibling he takes the past, when he takes a parent he takes the present, when he takes a child he takes the future. God has taken all three from Bob and left him with nothing. Fr Sidd explains that now Bob has been brought by divine forces back to a state of childlike grace.

Bob remains standing in silence. Slowly he raises his head to answer but Fr Sidd has left the altar. Bob turns, walks down the aisle to the church doors, he opens them and the blinding enters. He steps back away from the blinding light into the shadows. He watches the undertakers re-enter and begin to roll the three coffins down the aisle. From behind the sacristy door comes three priests in full vestments as they follow the coffins. The coffins are rolled outside and turned in three separate directions with each followed by one priest and small groups of mourners.

Nearby Sarah’s open grave Billy steps out from behind a large headstone. Behind him emerges an old man (MR. MORIARTY 80). Billy looks around and recognises him but tells him to go away. The old man listens as Billy speaks, ‘your real son needs you more than I do don’t abandon him like you did me’. Mr Moriarty tells Billy that he was conceived during Sarah’s relationship with Gary. He explains he loved Sarah but the romance was doomed because she shunned it and made him promise not to reveal himself and she would keep the secret from his wife.

Billy walks to the grave and places a flower on it. He makes his way to a nearby parked car. He sees Bob sitting alone outside the church. He approaches and calmly reveals that he always knew who his father was. He tells Bob he believes he is a true priest and that God had called him to Glen Oisin because he was needed. He tells him he is convinced that there is some higher power and that Bob had succeeded in showing him that his mother loved and protected him and others by keeping his father’s identity a secret.

Both men begin to walk to Billy’s car. Billy tells Bob that he had spoken to his father, many years earlier, and now, as he always did, he would continue to respect his mother’s wishes. As Billy sits into his car he tells Bob that ‘you are a messenger of God’ and to never doubt it. Bob puts his hand in his pocket and takes out the miniature Mother and Child statue that Fr Sidd had given him and places it into Billy’s hand whispering this is a gift from your mother. Billy looks at it, thanks him and departs.

Bob walks towards the church where Fr Sidd is standing at the door. Fr Sidd tells Bob he will soon retire. He tells him ‘it’s not a bad parish and the parishioners need a good priest’ and here would be the best place for Bob to continue his priesthood. Bob steps through the doors of the church and tells Fr Sidd there is nothing he would like more. Fr Sidd tells Bob that he has a christening in an hour and maybe he would like to do it. Bob smiles and agrees. The old priest closes the big church doors.

BLACKOUT

 

A Painful Struggle

If you were tracking the news from Ireland over the past two weeks, you might have noticed the ironic coincidence of two stories.  When the author of the international best seller “Angela’s Ashes,” Frank McCourt, died on July 19, the Irish press was as quick to praise him in death as it had been to condemn him a little more than a decade ago when he published his controversial memoir of his poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland. A few days after McCourt’s death, legislation came before the Irish Dail that would make acts of blasphemy a criminal offence.

Is someone in Ireland afraid that there might be another McCourt in the works?

When “Angela’s Ashes” appeared in print in 1996, McCourt’s depiction of his childhood in the slums of Limerick was a punch to the solar plexus of Irish respectability. The Celtic Tiger was then just rising with its promise of a new economically prosperous Ireland and was not amused by McCourt’s stories.
There were charges that McCourt fabricated or grossly exaggerated the facts. This struck me as a bit disingenuous. After all, Irish writers have a long tradition of stepping over a few facts when they get in the way of a good story. The real complaint against McCourt seemed to be: Why did he bring all this old stuff up now just when Ireland was promoting a new image?

The prophet has no honor at home award went to McCourt’s childhood hometown of Limerick. The money in Limerick was not on McCourt’s side.

“Particularly incensed,” one observer wrote, “were the citizens of Limerick who, by the late 1990s, had embraced the idea of Ireland as the Celtic Tiger and wanted only modernity, change and growth. Talks of typhoid, rats and outside lavatories were not welcome.”

By the late 1990s, Limerick was boomtown in the Irish equivalent “silicon valley.” A Dell Computer Plant opened in 1991 bringing more than 4,000 jobs to the city. Other hi-tech firms followed Dell’s lead. Johnson & Johnson opened up a facility in the city. By the time “Angela’s Ashes” was published, Limerick had already demolished its slum district — the “lanes” of McCourt’s childhood — and put in their place a park along the Shannon River and new office buildings.

Charges of lies and plagiarism
One of his fiercest critics, Paddy Malone, had been a childhood friend and neighbor of McCourt in the “lanes.” Malone ripped up a copy of “Angela’s Ashes” at a reading McCourt gave in Limerick, charging his one-time friend both with lies and plagiarism. The photograph on the back of McCourt’s book, Malone alleged, was his photo. The international film star Richard Harris, also a Limerick man, went to the town’s radio airwaves to charge McCourt with slandering not merely their hometown. Harris also attacked McCourt for slandering his own mother.

A popular Limerick radio host, Gerry Hannan relentlessly pursued McCourt’s case. Hannan may have had ulterior motives. He had written two volumes of memoirs about his own Limerick childhood that was much happier than McCourt’s.

I had only one encounter with Limerick’s anti-McCourt lobby. It didn’t happen in Limerick — a city I have only visited once and spent most of my time lost in traffic and asking for directions to another town. Far away from Ireland, my Limerick moment happened in the unlikely setting of Nebraska.

It was the summer of 1998, when the squabble over “Angela’s Ashes” was still in the literary news. Driving back to Minnesota after a vacation in the Rockies, I ventured into North Platte, bypassing the franchise land that has sprung up along the I-80 exits and heading into the now mostly forgotten town center.

A storefront sign read “Espresso and Irish Specialties.” Inside, I found a floor space from another era living out the last chapter in its retail life as a used books and furniture store. At the back of the store, a fountain counter featured espresso drinks, sandwiches and Irish trinkets. An older gentlemen stood behind the counter.

Overhearing his accent, I asked him: “So, if you don’t mind my asking, where are you from?”

“Limerick,” he replied with a brevity uncharacteristic of the Irish.

I couldn’t resist. “So,” I continued, “did Frankie McCourt make up all those stories?”

“Look at me!” He ordered. “How old do you think I am?”

“Middle sixties?” I guessed.

“That’s right,” he said. “And how old do you think Frankie McCourt is?”

“About the same.”

“That’s right. Same age, same Limerick, same time.” The man was visibly angry. “Now you tell me how could McCourt tell the world all those terrible lies about the Church and the priests?”

I changed the subject, asking if he had seen the beautiful Church of the Immaculate Conception just across the state line in Kansas.

‘It’s begrudgery’
To make sense out of why so much vitriol had been poured on McCourt, I turned to St. Paul’s Jim Rogers, writer and managing director of the Center for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas. Although Rogers has reservations about McCourt as a writer, he attributed the spitefulness of the critics to something other than literary standards.

“The Irish have a word for it,” he explained, “it’s begrudgery.”

“Angela’s Ashes” reaped for its author more than $8 million in international sales, a Pulitzer Prize and a box-office hit movie version. It’s hard not to be envious.

Rogers also sees a much more sensitive issue at play in the reaction to “Angela’s Ashes.” McCourt depicted an Irish Catholic Church that did nothing to help to his desperate family. A priest literally slammed the door in the face of the young Frankie McCourt when he sought help. In the years of the Irish Free State and early years of the Republic of Ireland, a cash starved Irish government was all too eager to fob off on the Catholic Church the responsibilities for providing social services.

Although McCourt may have overstated his point, Ireland understated the Church’s failure in social policy. Rogers suggests that there’s a lesson to be learned here. “Ireland tried ‘faith based initiatives,'” he said, “and it didn’t work.”

What is more, in 1997 McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes” was the first in a series of messages about a trust betrayed by the Irish Catholic Church. In 1998 a story broke about the discovery of a mass grave of 133 young women unearthed when the Good Shepherd Convent was closed in Cork. The women were among the thousands of “Magdalenes.” These were young Irish girls committed to orphanages run by the nuns where the girls labored in the infamous Magdalene Laundries. Their crime was to have born a child out of wedlock or perhaps to have impressed a parish priest, teacher or family member as displaying a promiscuous personality.

The worst news was yet to come. This May a court-appointed commission released the Ryan Report, which documented an “endemic” culture of abuse and rape in Irish church-run orphanages. From the 1930s until the last facility closed in the 1990s, more than 30, 000 Irish children underwent detention in these facilities chiefly run by the Christian Brothers order. The testimony revealed how the crimes of abuse against the children were compounded by the complicity of politicians and church officials both eager to cover up the matter. The public testimony that accompanied would have made even McCourt wince.

In the 1930s, McCourt was probably only one step away from becoming one more statistic to appear in the Ryan Report.

Paying tribute
Limerick has put aside its feud with McCourt. Its mayor wants to pay tribute July 20 to its most famous literary son by having his ashes spread across the Shannon and erecting a statue of McCourt to stand beside the city’s other most famous son, the actor Richard Harris.

Better rethink the latter idea. Harris and McCourt once got into a bar room brawl in New York. A “walking tour” of McCourt’s childhood neighborhood is one of the city’s major tourist attractions even if all the tour guide can show the tourists is where McCourt’s “lanes” stood before their demolition in urban renewal.

The city’s change of heart may be a sign that now that the ride on the Celtic Tiger is over, Limerick sees less of a need to disguise its history of poverty. Dell has announced plans to close its Limerick plant in 2010. Other hi-tech firms are following Dell’s lead. Familiar old stores are closing their doors. Unemployment today in Limerick is 14 percent and predicted to rise as high as 25 percent next year.

Maybe Limerick has decided in these hard economic times it makes no sense to knock McCourt. The “Angela’s Ashes” walking tour maybe the best thing going for the Limerick economy these days.

Meanwhile, the Irish Dail weighs the merits of a law criminalizing blasphemy. Somebody in Ireland must want legal protection in place in case McCourt embarrasses them by writing from the grave yet another volume of memoirs.

The Sting Of Memory

frank

 

THE STING OF MEMORY

FRANK MCCOURT, AUTHOR OF “ANGELA’S ASHES,” IS BEING HONORED IN HIS HOMETOWN OF LIMERICK. BUT SOME LOCALS HAVE THEIR IRISH UP ABOUT MCCOURT’S RECOLLECTION OF GRINDING POVERTY IN THE CITY’S “LANES.”

By Fawn Vrazo

The Philadelphia Inquirer November 4, 1997

LIMERICK, IRELAND: Frank McCourt is back in Limerick, the city whose poverty he depicted so vividly in his best-selling memoir Angela’s Ashes. It has not been the easiest of homecomings.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author cried last week on the stage at the beautiful new Limerick University. He was both overwhelmed and in a state of disbelief: The poor kid from Limerick’s slums was wearing a cap and gown, receiving an honorary doctorate as the city’s highest officials applauded him.

“It was very hard to get through that,” McCourt said after the ceremony.

The return home, which has McCourt staying in Limerick for two weeks as writer-in-residence at the university, has been difficult in other ways as well.

Around this west Ireland city, there are those who love Angela’s Ashes and those who hate Angela’s Ashes and many who love it but feel its compelling tale of excruciating Limerick hardship in the 1930s and ’40s was an exaggeration that goes somewhat beyond the truth.

McCourt has come in for criticism and re-evaluation here, and not only from boosters whose civic pride has been wounded by his searing recollections of dying babies, starving children and cruelly indifferent neighbors and kin.

“It’s good, but it isn’t all right. You know it was overdone,” said Eric Lynch, who grew up with McCourt on the poor “lanes” of Limerick and was a classmate with him at the Leamy National School. “But that’s what a writer does,” added Lynch, who remains a close friend.

The book’s “forensic evidence, so to speak, doesn’t add up,” said Jimmy Woulfe, deputy editor of the Limerick Leader newspaper. Still, Woulfe added, that should not “cloud the reality this was a magnificent piece of literature.”

Not all of the criticism has been that polite. One Limerick resident, Paddy Malone, a childhood friend of McCourt’s actor-brother Malachy McCourt, ripped the book into five pieces and threw it on the floor in front of McCourt when the author was here last summer for a book signing.

More recently, threatening letters were received by Limerick University officials after they announced their plans to honor McCourt. Extra security – in the form of two beefy security guards in plaid sport coats – was in evidence last Tuesday when McCourt received his honorary degree.

McCourt dismisses the book’s criticisms with firm scorn.

The complaints are “peripheral,” he said last week. “It has nothing to do with me. You write a book, and that’s it. It’s gone.”

But the 67-year-old McCourt, a longtime New York high school teacher with white hair and a pale, delicate face, concedes that Angela’s Ashes is “a memoir, not an exact history.”

“I’m not qualified to do that,” he told the audience at his doctoral degree ceremony.

He has admitted one error. In the book, childhood classmate Willie Harold is depicted walking to his first confession while “whispering about his big sin, that he looked at his sister’s naked body.’

‘ The problem was that Harold did not have a sister, and last year the by-then aging and cancer-ridden Harold approached McCourt at a book-signing event to point out the mistake.

“I settled that with him,” McCourt said last week. “[Harold] said, `I’m in bad shape, I don’t have any money, could you give me a book?’ ” Of course, said McCourt, and he did. If McCourt thought this was in any way an inadequate gesture to a sick, wronged friend, he did not indicate it. Harold has since died.

Chief among the contentions of critics here is that McCourt simply could not have had as poor a childhood as his book relates.

In a famous opening passage of Angela’s Ashes, which won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for biography, McCourt writes: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly wort h your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

In the 426 pages that follow, McCourt describes a childhood of harrowing destitution. The chief cause is the alcoholism of his father, Malachy McCourt, a Catholic from Northern Ireland who settled in Limerick with his wife and McCourt’s mother, the former Angela Sheehan of Limerick, after the McCourts moved to Ireland in the 1930s from New York.

While Malachy drinks away the family’s few dollars or pounds, a despairing Angela huddles in a bed or dazedly smokes cigarette after cigarette. McCourt’s beloved and weak baby sister, Margaret, dies at seven weeks in New York; his twin brothers Eugene and Oliver die from apparent pneumonia as toddlers in Limerick; McCourt himself nearly dies of typhoid fever; his first young lover, a Limerick girl, dies from the tuberculosis that is raging through the city at the time.

The McCourt children survive on sugar water, soured milk, boiled pigs’ heads and occasional handouts from relatives and shopkeepers, while confronting bone-chilling winter cold and attacks of bed fleas. In school, McCourt and his classmates, some of whom go shoeless in the winter, are beaten relentlessl y with canes by their teachers.

Reviewers swooned when the book was released, and readers worldwide have kept Angela’s Ashes at the top of best-seller lists for more than a year. “Outstanding . . . a bittersweet and grimly comic narrative of growing up dirt-poor in rain-sodden, priest-ridden Limerick,” wrote reviewer Boyd Tonkin of the New Statesman.

But was it really that bad? Gerard Hannan, a Limerick bookstore owner and radio broadcaster who has written a rebuttal to McCourt’s book, says that McCourt created “sort of an illusion of Limerick” that ignores the fact that the people of the city’s impoverished lanes on the north side of town banded together to share food and give each other support. “I felt he totally ignored the sense of community among the people,” said Hannan. Hannan’s own credibility is being questioned in Limerick, though, since his rebuttal book is called Ashes and has become quite a local best-seller by riding on the coattails of Angela’s Ashes’ success. But criticism of McCour t’s book is being raised by others as well. “Is this the picture of misery in the Lanes?” said a Page One headline last week in the Limerick Leader. Beneath it, there was a picture of McCourt in the 1940s, smiling broadly and wearing the neat uniform of the St. Joseph’s Boy Scout Troop.

McCourt does not mention in his book that he was in the Boy Scouts, local critics note, nor does he explain how his poverty-stricken mother, now deceased, still found money to send him to Irish dancing lessons, and to buy packs and packs of cigarettes.

His now-deceased father, Malachy, is depicted in the book as being scorned by local employers because of his Northern Ireland accent. But in fact he was given what were considered then to be prime jobs at the city’s cement factory and flour mill, Leader editor Woulfe observed. McCourt does write about those jobs in his book, noting that his father lost both of them because of drinking.

“Most people would salute the [university’s] acknowledgment of Frank McCourt while some of his peers who live in the lanes dispute the level of poverty – he seems to be just one of the boys,” said Woulfe. The Leader, though, has strongly supported Angela’s Ashes in editorials.

McCourt said in an interview that not only was his childhood as hard as his book says, “it was harder. It was harder. My brother [the younger Malachy] said I pulled my punches. I was moderate. And who would know? How can you tell another person’s [life], especially with an alcoholic father and a mother worn out from child-bearing?”

Appearing Wednesday at a creative writing workshop sponsored by the university, McCourt observed that his book is a memoir, “and a memoir is your impressions of your life, and that’s what I did. There are facts in there, but I excluded other things.”

Among things excluded from the book, said McCourt in an interview, were accounts of sexual abuse by a local priest. McCourt alluded, without elaboration, to himself and other Limerick boys being “interfered with, as they say” by a priest returning from an overseas mission.

But “I didn’t want to write that,” said McCourt, “because it’s standard now” to blame one’s adult problems on having been sexually abused.

McCourt bears no ill will toward Limerick, a city he describes as “beautiful.” He said he plans to help both the university’s outreach program to the children’s poor and the local St. Vincent de Paul Society, which rescued the poor young McCourts many times with handouts of clothes and furniture and food.

But as for the criticism of Angela’s Ashes, McCourt said, it’s just “all kinds of sniping. I think nothing of it.” 

Memoir Lashed And Loved

lanes

ANGELA’S ASHES’ AUTHOR FINDS FOES, FRIENDS IN LIMERICK

By Kevin Cullen

Boston Globe Staff October 29, 1997

LIMERICK, Ireland — When he came back to this city that he hates, loves, and can’t get over, Frank McCourt brought along his three brothers because, as he put it, “In Limerick, you’ve got to watch your back.”

McCourt, whose memoir of growing up destitute here, “Angela’s Ashes,” won the Pulitzer Prize for biography, returned yesterday to the city he has made famous to receive an honorary degree and take up his post as writer-in-residence at the University of Limerick.

But while McCourt’s poignant, unflinching account of how poor people were marginalized by the wider society and humiliated by the Roman Catholic Church is as wildly popular in Ireland as it is in the United States, there are some here who do not share the enthusiasm for a book that has s old more than 1 million copies worldwide.

It wouldn’t be Irish if there wasn’t a split, and the split here is between those who see “Angela’s Ashes” as an exaggerated, mean-spirited attack on the city and its people, and those who embrace the book’s art, humanity, and the attention, whether good or bad, it has brought Limerick.

Long derided as a backwater, and more recently as “Stab City” for its rough neighborhoods like Southill, Limerick has always had something of an inferiority complex. But as this city of 150,000, like the rest of Ireland, undergoes an economic renaissance, some people bitterly resent the image McCourt has presented to the rest of the world.

Gerard Hannan, who runs a bookshop here, has written what he calls “the other side of the story,” an account of those who grew up as poor and as disadvantaged as McCourt but who look back on those days fondly. Hannan claims McCourt embellished much of the misery contained in “Angela’s Ashes.” His literary retort to McCourt’s book is one of his own called “Ashes,” a title that he says, with something less than conviction, was a coincidence. Hannan’s book, which he published using his own money, is a view of Limerick through glasses far more rose-colored than McCourt’s.

“I loved `Angela’s Ashes.’ It was beautifully written,” Hannan says, sitting in the lounge of the Castletroy Park Hotel, just yards from where McCourt was celebrating yesterday with friends and family. “The problem with it is that it’s just one side of the story. Frank Mc Court had a miserable life. Lots of people grew up under the same conditions and don’t consider their lives miserable.’

Hannan says McCourt gets Limerick wrong. For example, McCourt ends his book with the single word “T’is” on the last page. Hannan says real Limerick people would say “T’was.”

It was inevitable, McCourt says, the confrontation between him and those who took his book the wrong way. “Begrudgers,” he says. “What would Ireland be without them?”

Everything is personal in this town. Hannan is angry that McCourt’s brother, Malachy, dismissed him as being from “the lower orders.”

“Do the McCourts know that I am a direct descendant of Bridey Hannan, who saved the life of Michael McCourt, Frank McCourt’s brother, as he was choking, something Frank McCourt writes about in his book?” Hannan asks.

The local newspaper, the Limerick Leader, has made disparaging McCourt a regular feature. Over the weekend, it published a half-page of pictures showing McCourt in a Boy Scout uniform, with a headline asking, “Is this the picture of misery?”

Brendan Halligan, editor of the Limerick Leader, denied that the paper was engaged in an ongoing campaign to discredit McCourt, even while citing recent stories that purported to do just that. One story noted that Mrs. Clohessy, the woman whose home McCourt described as the ultimate in squalor, was still alive at 94. Another quoted McCourt’s scoutmaster as saying he gave McCourt a job fixing bicycles at a time when McCourt claimed he was scrounging for work .

Halligan says many people in Limerick resent McCourt’s book, and says attempts to dismiss critics as a few isolated cranks are misleading. But while his paper frequently attacks McCourt, Halligan, who is friendly with McCourt’s brother, Alfie, says he considers the book “a work of art.”

“It’s the truth,” Halligan says. “Despite its factual inaccuracies, it faithfully captures the impressions of a child who grew up here in the 1930s and 1940s.”

McCourt is alternately annoyed and bemused by all this.

“Some people are running around town saying I made all this suffering up,” he says. “I wish I did. I would have had a nicer life. My sister and two brothers wouldn’t have died as children.”

McCourt always knew that some here would hate his book. In July, when he did a book-signing at O’Mahony’s, a bookstore he got thrown out of as a child, one of his contemporaries, Paddy Malone, stood before him and denounced him while tearing up a paperback copy of the book. Malone was a classmate of McCourt’s at Leamy School, which McCourt portrayed as a place where most teachers delighted in humiliating the students, especially those who came from the lanes, the slums that housed the poorest of Limerick. While he complains about McCourt writing about people with o ut their permission, Malone’s real beef seems to be that McCourt somehow got hold of a school photograph that appears on the book’s cover. Malone, who is one of the schoolboys in the sepia photo that captures McCourt’s sad, tortured eyes, says he owned the original photo. Malone has retained a lawyer and talks about copyright infringement.

University of Limerick president Edward Walsh scored a coup in getting McCourt to agree to return here. But after the news emerged, the university received telephone threats against McCourt. If McCourt is worried about his physical safety, he isn’t showing it. His family came here en masse, in a show of solidarity and pride.

“If the begrudgers want a piece of Frank, they’ll have to take on the lot of us,” says Malachy McCourt, who was a little brother in the book but has grown up to be much bigger than Frank.

Yesterday, however, as Ed Walsh handed a diploma to Frank McCourt, there were no begrudgers in sight. The pomp and circumstance were punctured by Malachy McCourt, who bellowed, “Good on ya, Frank!”

Frank McCourt began his address by thanking his three brothers. And then he wept. And then he composed himself and looked about the Jean Monet Theater and pointed out his old friends, the Souths, the Costellos, Eric Lynch, and his best friend Billy Campbell, the same Billy Campbell who would an hour later, when the crowd had melted, press into his hand a piece of pavement taken from the street in front of Mrs. O’Connell’s shop, the shop where young Frank McCourt begge d for food, the shop that has been razed like much of the Limerick that Frank McCourt has preserved for posterity.

“Limerick,” Frank McCourt says in closing, his voice steady, his eyes bright, “is as beautiful as everybody knows.”

Richard Harris On McCourt And Angela’s Ashes

harris

Richard Harris Stands Up For His Native City in Local Radio Interview

By Eugene Phelan

Airdate January 20th 2000

International film star Richard Harris has publicly lambasted his fellow Limerickman and contemporary Frank McCourt for his depiction of Limerick in the Pulitzer Prize winning book ANGELA’S ASHES.

He also launched an attack on film director ALAN PARKER whom he accuses of using Limerick as a ‘whipping boy’ to generate publicity for a twenty million-dollar flop.

In a frank two-hour live interview on the Limerick airwaves with Ireland’s most vocal McCourt critic Gerry Hannan, who presents a nighttime phone-in show on RLO, Harris spoke out for the first time on what he describes as a bitter attack on his native city.

Harris highlighted the fact that McCourt recently told the American media that the film star came from a different more up market part of Limerick than he did and couldn’t possible know about poverty and hardship on the lanes of Limerick.

‘But McCourt was very well versed in telling the press how well I lived. If he is so well informed about my life why is it unnecessary for me to be informed about his life?’

‘I knew Frank in his New York days and I found him to be probably the ugliest and the most bitter human being I have ever met in my entire life.

Frank was full of bitterness.

I don’t think I ever confronted a man that was so angry.

Ever fibre of his being was in rebellion against something.

I believe that he hated me with a passion because according to him I came from an elitist part of Limerick and because I became so successful.

Though he would use my success to promote himself he very much resented my success.

If Limerick is, as he claims, a city of begrudgers why then they did they give him an Honorary Doctorate at the University of Limerick and why did the Mayor propose making him a Freeman of Limerick?

Are these the acts of begrudgers?

I was offered an Honorary Doctorate by UL and though I never say never I would have to think very seriously about it because I don’t want to link myself to totally mediocre non-entities like McCourt.

So why does Harris believe that McCourt hates Limerick?

‘I really don’t know. I agree that there are stories about Limerick in ANGELA’S ASHES that just don’t make sense. Of course I knew that the poverty was going on but I also knew many people with difficult lives who grew up on the lanes of Limerick but yet, even to this day, there isn’t one ounce of bitterness in them.

There is a friendly tribal rivalry which exists in the rugby world in Limerick but when an outside team comes in to play they all come together in unison to support their own.

It is for that very reason that Limerick is unique.

The loyalty is absolutely astonishing and, I believe, that that element of Limerick totally by-passed the McCourts.

They are devoid of any sense of loyalty and are filled with hate for Limerick.

Here is a simple question.

Why wouldn’t Frank and Malachy McCourt hate Limerick – the fact is they hate each other.

Frank came out in a big campaign recently and knocked Malachy’s book.

When he was asked did he read Malachy’s book he said he wouldn’t read it.

He is quoted in some American newspapers as asking why Malachy dared to impose himself on my terrain.

They couldn’t even support each other.

Then Malachy came out and was vicious about Frank.

I’ve heard that Frank thinks of himself as a literary genius but I think his book has no literary merit whatsoever.

Recently the London Times carried an article about the terrible decline in the arts in the last century and it finished by saying that we started the last century with Henry James and we ended with Frank McCourt.

Harris laughs and says that he cannot think of anything more insulting.

But what about the Pulitzer Prize surely that is a real claim to fame?

‘Winning the Pulitzer is not that big a deal. I have seen hundreds of plays that have won the prize and you couldn’t sit half way through it. The Pulitzer is a common prize that means very little.

I was talking to Brian Friel recently who told me that there is not even one single line of poetry or literary merit in the book.

I asked Brian to explain to me why this book won the prize.

He believes that at the moment in America the fact that you are Irish is very fashionable and ANGELA’S ASHES, being Irish, is riding on this wave of enthusiasm for all things Irish.

Brian told me that if that attitude continues then the ANGELA’S ASHES of this world would deplete that opinion about Ireland.

A Coward Act
‘I first met Frank McCourt years ago in his brother Malachy’s pub called ‘Himself’ in New York and he was very derogative and derisive in his attitude and remarks about Limerick.

I was in discussion about Limerick to Malachy when Frank raised his fist and hit me a terrible belt on the nose. Like a hare running from a hound he raced toward the exit door and ran out of the pub. I said to Malachy, I’m afraid your brother is not really a Limerickman. When Malachy asked why not I told him that I have never yet been confronted by a Limerickman who ran away from a fight.’

We don’t do that in Limerick we stand our ground and we fight.

To run from a fight is not part of the Limerick character at all.’

‘I knew Malachy for years and he wrote a book called A MONK SWIMMING and I am very heavily featured throughout the book. I found both Malachy and Frank to be absolute users. They would use me and my position in America for them to gain some kind of notoriety and I can best characterise them both as users.

Angela’s Will to Die
‘I also knew Angela McCourt quite well and I visited her regularly and I spent a lot of time with her and they treated her really badly.

The way they spoke about their mother made me very angry.

They had an obvious disdain for their mother and I remember on one occasion in the pub where I grabbed her son Malachy by the neck and shouted that she is your mother and you cannot treat her like this.

Malachy’s only answer to me was that they were bringing her lots of beer and cigarettes in the hope that she would die because she is costing us rent money.

I believe in my heart that they were willing a death.

I found that very offensive to such an extent that I threatened to kill him.

‘When I met Angela she was in her old age and she was very quiet and once when I was alone with her she told me that she knew that they didn’t like her and wanted her dead.

She said that they don’t like me Dickie, they don’t treat me well, they don’t want me to be here, I am a nuisance to them and I am no more than a rock around their neck.

Angela told Richard that the boys treated her so badly that she wished she were dead and gone.

The Mystery of Angela’s Ashes
When Angela McCourt died she wanted to be buried in Limerick.

I happen to know that there is an Irish travel agency in New York where Malachy and Frank went to book tickets to take the coffin back to Limerick.

But the boys refused to pay the extra charge for the coffin.

So they decided to cremate their mother who allowed them to put her ashes into their overnight bags and take her back for nothing.

Now I know that Angela was a very devout Catholic and she would not have wanted to be cremated. Being cremated was something that she couldn’t countenance at all and she wanted to be buried.

But the boys were not willing to pay for that so they cremated her and put her into a tin.

When they got to the Airport in New York Frank turned to Malachy and asked ‘have you got her?’ and Malachy replied ‘Got who?’

They argued for a while and realised that the ashes had to be in one of the bags but neither one known which bag exactly.

The boys had to take separate flights for one reason or another and Malachy’s, who believed he had the ashes, plane got into trouble and had to go back to New York.

In all the coming and going the bags, containing the ashes, got lost.

It is a commonly held opinion amongst the Irish in New York that Angela’s Ashes are, in fact, buried away in some far distant remote lost property corner of Kennedy Airport in New York.

Limerick Loyalty
Speaking about Limerick’s influence on Frank McCourt – Harris believes that it is obvious that the author did not experience the true spirit of the city. ‘Limerick is a sporting city and when, as a young man, I had TB legions of my mates from the Young Munster’s Rugby Club of which I am a life time member came to see me in my sick bed. These guys were from the same background as the McCourts, they came from the lanes of Limerick and they had just as tough a time but, in spite of the poverty and hardship, they had an almost indestructible loyalty to Limerick.

You never heard from them one condemnation about Limerick. Not even one utterance of disloyalty and this was a quality that Frank never inherited.

Limerick people have passion about each other.

When I go back to Limerick they will attack me and they will make fun of me and they will pass jokes about me.

‘But God help if somebody from Dublin or London said anything nasty to a Limerickman about me – they would end up being killed.

‘Now that kind of loyalty is something that McCourt just did not have.

‘When Malachy McCourt played rugby he didn’t play with his own people. He didn’t play with Young Munster’s, St. Mary’s or Presentation, which was the clubs around his area. Instead he played for Bohemians and in those days they were the snobs, the most right wing club in Limerick.

Malachy elected not to play with his own class but to upgrade himself and play for Bohemians.

The man seems to be on a lifelong crusade to upgrade himself.

‘I believe that Malachy has always had ambitions above his station.

Alan Parker’s Agenda
We must remember that Hollywood is bereft of good material at the moment, all these remakes are getting tedious, ANGELA’S ASHES is such a worldwide phenomenon that it’s success was almost guaranteed.

But now that success seems highly unlikely.

Now it seems the only way to retrieve some of the investment is to create as much publicity as possible.

Alan Parker has come out in the past few days in a wealth of very bad publicity about Limerick.

He has been saying that Limerick is backward, uneducated and claiming that he got no cooperation whatsoever with the making of the movie.

He is accusing the people of Limerick of being catholic bigots.

All this negative publicity about Limerick is just a Hollywood publicity stunt to create interest in the film.

I believe that PARAMOUNT PICTURES know full well that this picture is not going to make it. It was test screened in America recently and the public reaction to it is very poor. Now they know they are into a twenty million-dollar loss here and they are drumming up as much bad publicity as they can to get people to come to the movie.

What they have done is they have picked Limerick as the whipping boy.

I have made 63 movies and I know how these guys operate.

I know exactly what they are doing and what they all about.

Alan Parker hasn’t directed a good movie in years, he destroyed EVITA, which went down the tubes for over one hundred million dollars, and he hoped that this was his chance to make a success.

The book was so successful and he hoped to ride on the coattails of the book but when he found out on screening tests that the movie is not going to make it his PR people, led by him, tried to create this huge publicity stunt just to get press.

‘They asked me a long time ago to come out and help them to create press but I refused because all I am doing is publicizing your picture.

That was my feeling until Parker came out and singled out Limerick for alleged prejudices, lack of education and so on. He even made the most stupid comment I ever heard in my life when he said that they are so backward in Limerick that they don’t even have EASTENDERS.

Can you imagine a man of culture making such a remark?

The man must have been mad to say it.

When I heard this I said to myself that this is it I have got to defend my city.

‘I am the man who should defend it, I love Limerick, although we have our bouts of hate and love this man has no right to make such ugly remarks and I will stand up against him and defend it now.

The portfolio that Alan Parker has given himself to try and create publicity for his movie at the expense of Limerick is totally unacceptable to me.

Angela’s Movie
‘I saw ANGELA’S ASHES this week and I think the only Oscar it deserves is for special rain effects. The movie is two and half-hours of rain.

Parker has taken the Limerick of that era and he has dated it back to the late 19th Century.

It is more Dickensian in its squalor than it is accurately Limerick.

‘If so much rain fell in Limerick we would be famous for our water polo teams.’

I felt that, for the people not from Limerick, the book is a thrashey ‘unputdownable’ read but with the movie you can’t wait to get out.

It is a boring, dull and very repetitive movie and is totally unmoving.

I admit that McCourt had a wonderful sense of humor, an ironic sense of humor, which is characteristic of most Limerick people but I found that the picture does not have one bit of it.

The movie is nothing short of a two hour moan and the book was one long moan and ‘Tis is even worse.

The movie is one long perpetual moan.

It like McCourt is screaming out for love.

‘Feel sorry for me, love me, an endless search for love.

But I doubt very much that if he finds this elusive love that he can reciprocate.

I don’t think he can give anything back, it’s too late, not when you can treat your mother like that, what does his treatment of his mother in the book tell you about his emotional condition?

I don’t think all the money he has made by tarnishing the good names of people who cannot defend themselves against him will give him a moment of happiness or will fill that hollow in his life.

 

Source:

LIMERICK ONLINE

A Miserable Liar?

Rarely has a book had such a compelling opening line. ‘When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.’

And so Frank McCourt, who died on Sunday aged 78 after a battle with skin cancer, launched a new literary genre: the misery memoir. Dozens have followed him – so much so that they are now generically called ‘mis-lit’. These tales of childhood woe have become highly lucrative.

Called ‘inspirational memoirs’ by publishers, ‘mis-lit’ now accounts for nine per cent of the British book market, shifting 1.9 million copies a year and generating £24 million of revenue. HarperCollins recently admitted to a 31 per cent increase in annual profits thanks to ‘mis-lit’.

But as well as starting a publishing phenomenon, McCourt’s searing bestseller Angela’s Ashes, which has sold some five million copies, also began a terrible feud.

Locals called him ‘a conman and a hoaxer’, and claim he ‘prostituted’ his own mother in his quest for literary stardom, by turning her into a downtrodden harlot who committed incest in his book.

One thing is not under debate – when it came to writing limpid, magical prose, McCourt was the real thing, following in his countrymen’s footsteps to emerge as an Irish writer par excellence.

So just who was the real Frank McCourt? Did he win the Pulitzer Prize with his lyrical, poignant memoir under false pretences? Or was he indeed the ultimate rags-to-riches story, who survived the grinding poverty of Limerick’s slums to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, triumphant?

The truth is, we may never know. Perhaps, as McCourt did in Angela’s Ashes, we had better begin at the beginning. In the book, set in the Thirties, McCourt writes that his parents returned when he was four from New York to Ireland, against the tide of Irish emigration.

His family consisted of ‘my brother, Malachy, three, the twins, Oliver and Eugene, barely one, and my sister, Margaret, dead and gone’.

His mother, the Angela of the book’s title – had become pregnant in New York after ‘a knee-trembler – the act itself done up against a wall’. Four months later, she married Malachy McCourt, her family having pressed him to do the decent thing.

So began a downward spiral into alcohol and poverty, with a feckless father drinking his wages away.

Frank McCourt

Subjective: Frank McCourt said the memoir chronicled his family and his emotions

Far worse was to come. The death of their daughter at seven weeks sent McCourt’s parents into an abyss of despair, from which they never emerged.

They return, despondent, by boat to Ireland – with Angela pregnant again. But soon, one of the twins, Oliver, has died, too.

His second child’s death precipitated McCourt Sr’s complete decline into alcoholism. He promised coal for the fire, rashers, eggs and tea for a celebration of Oliver’s life, but instead took his week’s dole to the pub.

School, full of bare-footed slum children, is no relief. The masters ‘hit you if you can’t say your name in Irish, if you can’t say the Hail Mary in Irish. If you don’t cry the masters hate you because you’ve made them look weak before the class and they promise themselves the next time they have you up they’ll draw tears or blood or both’.

Then, worse. ‘Six months after Oliver went, we woke on a mean November morning and there was Eugene, cold in the bed beside us.’ He had died of pneumonia.

Another brother is born, Michael – Angela’s sixth pregnancy. As her husband continues to drink away the dole, a friend tells her off for cursing God, saying: ‘Oh, Angela, you could go to Hell for that.’ ‘Aren’t I there already?’ she replies.

Another baby arrives, Alphonsus Joseph. No matter that his family fight for charity vouchers for food, furniture and medicine and share a stinking lavatory with six other houses, McCourt Sr drinks the baby’s christening money.

His father leaves for England, finally abandoning his family. When they are evicted for not paying rent, Angela takes her family to live with a cousin, Laman.

McCourt wrote that his mother and her cousin had an incestuous relationship. ‘She climbs to the loft with Laman’s last mug of tea. There are nights when we hear them grunting, moaning. I think they’re at the excitement up there.’

Laman also beat the children. At 14, McCourt got a job as a telegraph boy. At 19, he left Limerick behind for ever for a new life in America. He first lived in Connecticut, where he became a teacher. He wrote Angela’s Ashes in his mid-60s, and became hugely wealthy.

But how much of his landmark book was true? Did McCourt cross the line between fact and fiction?

Limerick locals, horrified at the squalid depiction of their town, counted a total of ‘117 lies or inaccuracies’ in the 426-page book, that range from obscure details to wrongly accusing one local man of being a Peeping Tom. They called for a boycott of the film of Angela’s Ashes.

Scene from Angela's AshesGrinding poverty: The film adaptation starred Emily Watson and Robert Carlisle

Paddy Malone, a retired coach driver who appears in the frayed school photograph on the book’s original cover, is among McCourt’s most furious detractors.

He, too, grew up in the Lanes of Limerick and went to the same school as McCourt.

‘I know nothing about literature, but I do know the difference between fact and fiction,’ says Malone. ‘McCourt calls this book a memoir, but it is filled with lies and exaggerations. The McCourts were never that poor. He has some cheek.’

Malone recalls the family having a pleasant green lawn behind their home, and Angela being overweight – despite the graphic descriptions of hunger in the book.

Limerick broadcaster Gerry Hannan spearheaded a campaign against Angela’s Ashes, confronting McCourt on a TV show and calling him a liar.

Although he is too young to remember the period of which McCourt writes, Hannan is convinced McCourt has twisted Limerick’s history to make his book more shocking.

‘As far as I’m concerned, he’s a conman and a hoaxer,’ says Hannan. ‘He knew the right things to say to get the result he wanted. He’s a darling on television. He’s got this beautiful brogue and he can put the charm on. And don’t get me wrong, the book is beautifully written. But it’s not true.’

Their three biggest criticisms of the book, aside from the endless grinding misery it depicts, include the description of a local boy, Willy Harold, as a Peeping Tom who spied on his naked sister. It turns out that Mr Harold, now dead, never had a sister – which McCourt did later acknowledge.

They also disputed McCourt’s account of his sexual relations with Teresa Carmody, when he was 14. She was dying of TB at the time, and locals were outraged that he sullied her memory.

Frank Prendergast, a former Limerick mayor and local historian who grew up within 200 yards of McCourt’s house, says that if McCourt did suffer, it was because he had a feckless father.

‘He suffered a unique poverty because his father was an alcoholic, not because he lived in Limerick,’ says Mr Prendergast. ‘But he has traduced people and institutions that are very dear to Limerick people.’

McCourt said: ‘I can’t get concerned with these things. There are people in Limerick who want to keep these controversies going. I told my own story. I wrote about my situation, my family, my parents, that’s what I experienced and what I felt.

‘Some of them know what it was like. They choose to take offence. In other words, they’re kidding themselves.’

Time will tell whether his impressionistic account of a brutal childhood endures. But whether embellished or not, it certainly left its mark on Limerick – and on literature itself.

 

Source:

DAILY MAIL

 

A City Descending Into ‘Ashes’

limerick

 

A City Descending Into ‘Ashes’

By Gerard Hannan

He was known by his childhood friends as Frank ‘The Flay’ McCourt because on his first day at Leamy’s School he was handed a small bun with hard burnt raisins on top. He had never seen a ‘burnt raisin’ in his life and he threw the bun on the floor and danced like a spoilt child on top of it. ‘I ain’t eating that it’s full of fleas,’ he howled as he pounded up and down on the bun. The other hungry boys watched and laughed at the strange behavior of an odd American speaking child who didn’t know the difference between a raisin and a flea. But the name stuck and from that day on he was known as ‘the flay McCourt.’ To this day there are people living in Limerick who don’t know who exactly Frank McCourt is until you tell them he was ‘the flay.’ Invariably they will reply, ‘ah that fellow, sure he was nothing short of a miserable scabby eyed ‘ol snob.’

McCourt himself has something ironic to say about fleas when he writes, ‘the flea sucks the blood from you mornin’ noon an’ night for that’s his nature an’ he can’t help himself.

‘But there is a peculiar mockery about the nickname in the light of the nature of ‘flays’ book,’ says one caller to a late-night radio talkshow in modern downtown Limerick.

He explains, ‘flea by name, flea by nature. A flea will attack you when you are fast asleep and at your most vulnerable. This ‘flay’ called McCourt attacked when other’s were dead.’

In Limerick city, the home of Frank McCourt’s alleged miserable Catholic poverty stricken childhood it is said that everybody loves the author except the people who know him and everybody loves Angela’s Ashes except the people who know the truth.

Since I first became involved in what the international media now describe as the ‘Ashes Debate’ I have been defined as an opportunist, publicity seeker, begrudger, ‘cashier’ on McCourt’s success, plagiarist, a cribber riding on the coattails of Angela’s Ashes, literary social climber and, perhaps most offensive of all, Malachy McCourt publicly described me as a descendant of the lowest orders from the lanes of Limerick. He failed to explain that if I was that then what did that make him but he later apologised and added that bygones should be bygones.

I have spoken to hundreds of journalists from all over the world and I can categorically state that not once did I ever initiate any phonecall, issued no press releases, or made any opening contact with any newspaper, magazine, radio or television station.

In short, if I was guilty of any one of the charges leveled against me then I was doing a very bad job of it indeed. So if I wasn’t making contact with the media about my opinions and feelings on the subject of Frank McCourt and his book then how were they getting my name and number?

The answer to this question came in November 1998 when I received a phonecall from the UK TV company ITV who were producing a special documentary for ‘The South Bank Show’ and wondered if I were willing to be interviewed.

I was surprised to receive the call and asked the researcher where she got my name and private number. Her reply was instant and shocking. ‘It was given to me by Frank McCourt.’

Following from that phonecall I then rang Mary Finnegan who was a researcher for CBS TV’s ’60 Minutes’ for which I had also been interviewed and asked her how she first got my name and number and again her answer surprised me. ‘It was given to our producers by Frank McCourt.’

So if I was ‘guilty’ of exploiting McCourt it was clear that he was a willing participant and was issuing my name ad-hoc to journalists and media folk globally.

This seems totally at odds with a quote he gave to the Daily Mail in January 2000 when he states, ‘I can’t get concerned with these critics, there are people in Limerick who want to keep these controversies going.’ (Amusingly, it can’t be seen as a complete lie as McCourt happened to be in Limerick at the time he gave the quote.) The one observation that kept coming up over and over again was the fact that I was only 40 years of age and was not in the position to speak with any great accuracy about life on the post-war lanes of Limerick.

I believe that any journalist or reporter is only as good as the research he or she is willing to put into any article (you don’t have to be a former inmate of Dachau to report on what life would have been like there when hundreds of people are willing to testify) and I rate myself as an acceptable researcher and reporter of facts.

Apart from this, and more significantly, I always felt that this ‘your too young to know the truth’ observation was completely out of context with the issue at hand. For me, Angela’s Ashes is, and always has been, a bitter, untrue attack on the true spirit of my native city of Limerick which I dearly love. It was a biased book written and ‘designed’ to do maximum damage to the ‘spirit’ of the city and it’s people. In short, Frank McCourt was no authority on that ‘spirit’ because he never experienced it. He existed rather than lived in Limerick for 12 years and buried himself away in the backstreets of the city but he was also a social recluse and an out and out intellectual snob primarily motivated by the desire to ‘get out’ of his hated Limerick and back to his much loved New York as quickly as possible. He had nothing but hatred for the people of Limerick, it’s institutions and beliefs and his book is proof positive of that fact. These pages will prove the veracity of my allegations.

I, on the other hand, have lived in Limerick for over 40 years and this automatically makes me a far better authority on the ‘spirit’ of my city than Frank McCourt will ever be. It’s as simple as that.

Frank McCourt’s bittersweet memoir of growing up poor in Limerick has sold millions of copies worldwide, camped on the New York Times bestsellers list for months on end, won a Pulitzer prize, translated into 25 languages and finally made into a multi-million pound Hollywood movie. It’s crushing story of destitution and human resilience has touched hearts across the world.

But in McCourt’s undesired adopted childhood town, the setting for his memoir, his tales have touched ‘raw nerve’ more than heart and has been attacked as mean-spirited fiction, cruel exaggeration and character assassination. There remains a small but persistent minority who accuse the author of distorting his family’s suffering and humiliation they endured at the hand’s of Limerick’s elite, especially the Roman Catholic clergy and laity. As a boy Frank McCourt ran barefoot in the post-war slums of Limerick rummaging for food and coal for his hard up family.

His home, he claims, was damp ridden and filthy, sewage ran from the outside toilet and there was no knowing where the family’s next meal was to come from.

The controversy was born within weeks of the publication of the book in 1996 when immediate local reaction was to describe it as 426 pages exercising a grudge against Limerick. Many of McCourt’s childhood playmates and neighbours say the book is rife with factual errors, exaggerates the poverty and, most importantly, humiliates his contemporaries by branding them with various sexual transgressions and other so-called sins.

Nowadays, some people in Limerick are utterly fed up with Angela’s Ashes and its story of the McCourt children who lived in the city’s slums (excepting those who died in the family’s communal bed) in the middle of last century. There are those who don’t believe Frank McCourt’s memoir, and those, such as Brendan Halligan, editor of the Limerick Leader, who wish Angela, the Ashes and everyone else would just go away. The book is a ghost haunting modern Limerick life: ‘It overshadows everything.’

Arguments over the veracity of McCourt’s account have, in the year’s since publication, caused endless fuss. The Limerick Leader is well-used to receiving letters that point out flaws in the McCourt children’s saga, and the filming has touched nerves over and over again. ‘Frank McCourt’s book,’ said one Limerick Leader editorial wearily, ‘generated more controversy in Limerick than anything since the opening of the interpretative centre in King John’s Castle. And that was a long time ago.’

The basic geography of the city has changed little since McCourt, who was born in Brooklyn, moved there with his family. The majestic River Shannon splits the city into three clear sections that are tied together by a series of bridges. Georgian brick buildings line the neatly gridded downtown streets. To someone from 1930’s Limerick the character of the city today would be totally unrecognisable. McCourt’s Limerick was poor, wet, malnourished, filthy and miserable. He lived with his parents and three brothers in ‘the lanes,’ the city’s crowded slum district. Consumption and fleas were rampant and the communal toilets overflowed with waste.

But all that is now firmly in the ‘good old days’ and Limerick has risen from the ashes to become a modern, fast moving, thriving small-time metropolis that is not ashamed to openly discuss the sins of her past. Limerick historian and ‘Angela’s Ashes’ tour operator Michael O’Donnell is the first to admit that McCourt’s Limerick is long since dead and those who take the tour will be disappointed if they expect to see lanes, poverty, misery and hardship.

One such ‘tourist’ was Mike Meyer of the Chicago Tribune who was left scratching his head as to why the tour is actually called after the book at all.

He writes, ‘We stood on Arthur’s Quay, a flat green park fronting the Shannon where once stood the lanes, a maze of poverty and damp. O’Donnell raised his voice above the traffic din. ‘Of course, people want to see the Limerick from `Angela’s Ashes,’ but it doesn’t exist. The city has changed so much, and I’m proud of that.’ O’Donnell walked quickly, belying his age of 65. He flicked out a Major cigarette and lit another in one quick motion and led us across the narrow streets.

What followed was a retelling of the Limerick portions of the book in front of sites where it happened. Up Henry Street and past the General Post Office, where O’Donnell smiled his way through a repetition of McCourt’s coupling with Theresa Carmody, wherein they have ‘the excitement.’

O’Donnell led us past the old Dock Road, formerly the setting for picking up stray bits of coal, now the home of a luxury hotel. Mill Lane, where Malachy begged for work, now hosts an office block. Limerick is a clanging, booming town and Dell computers have covered the city’s billboards with messages like, ‘Bored with your job? Join us! No experience necessary.’ The scenes of poverty in ‘Angela’s Ashes,’ O’Donnell noted, had to be filmed in Dublin and Cork. Limerick simply doesn’t have scummy enough sets anymore.

We bustled past kids in Catholic school uniforms to Windmill Street, site of the McCourts’ first Limerick home. The boulevards around it are a sea of To Let/For Sale signs, but O’Donnell took us back by telling some stories about the mattress and fleas and Pa Keating and dying babies. He’s a grand storyteller, Michael O’Donnell is, but I suspect he has better stories to tell than just Frank McCourt’s.

We continued on to Hartstonge Street and Roden Lane and Barrack Hill, and by now O’Donnell had retold most of McCourt’s Limerick life. Dusk broke over the city’s green hills, and we heard about some more of ‘the excitement’ (this time between Angela and Laman Griffin) and then it’s on to St. Joseph’s Church and the St. Vincent De Paul Society and Leamy’s School where the young McCourt was instructed to stock his mind, for it is a palace. O’Donnell paused and pointed to the doorway, ‘Can you imagine? A Pulitzer Prize winner coming from the lanes of Limerick and going to this very school. Why wouldn’t we be proud of him?’

We enjoyed a break at J.M. South’s pub, where McCourt had his first pint, but O’Donnell says he is on the job and sips Coke while I savor a fresh, creamy Guinness. O’Donnell explained that he charges four Irish punts for the tour and that the money goes into the St. Mary’s Integrated Development Program, which funds house painting, hedge cutting and window repairs for the older parishioners. ‘The people of Limerick are still benefiting from `Angela’s Ashes’,’ he said with a smile. Business keeps improving, especially during summer, when O’Donnell leads as many as three walks a day.

The drinking done for now, the two of us walked past the Carnegie Library (now an art museum) and People’s Park, where McCourt had ‘the excitement’ on his own. Youth hostels line Perry Square, facing the neatly manicured fenced-in park lawn. O’Donnell stopped us at Tait’s Clock to tell a story about Peter Tate, tailor to the Confederate Army, and later, having simply dyed the uniforms blue,

Custer’s Seventh Cavalry. ‘Can you imagine, Irish fighting Irish in North America, Irish fighting Indians? We fight everyone,’ he said, and laughed. I’m amazed at the wealth of architecture, monuments and neighborhoods we have walked through, details omitted from McCourt’s narrative, which made Limerick sound like wasteland. Maybe it used to be.’

As the controversy raged on throughout the streets of Limerick it quickly attracted the attention of the world’s journalists and media who flocked to the city to ascertain for themselves why ‘this book’ was being ‘flaked’ by some of the people of Limerick while the world’s intelligentsia continued to sing it’s praises.

It seemed to many people in Limerick that these journalists and reporters were evenly split into two clearly separate groups – firstly, those who loved Angela’s Ashes and it’s author and secondly – those who didn’t. Some came to defend him and prove him right while the others came to ‘exclusively’ reveal that the book was rampant with inconsistencies and that McCourt was the creator of a work of pure and absolute fiction.

Tara Mack of the Washington Post visited Limerick in January 2000 and was charismatic about what she found. ‘An economic boom in Ireland, fueled by subsidies from the European Union and growth in the hi-tech sector, has radically altered the fortunes of Limerick. The city’s economy is thriving. Resident’s, many of whom work at a Dell Computer plant, are confidant and prosperous. O’Connell Street, the main retail thoroughfare downtown, bustles with pedestrians and traffic. The tenements have been torn down.’

New York Times journalist Warren Hoge was not so upbeat. ‘This sodden city in Western Ireland has been such a hard-luck town that it cannot even lay claim to the form of verse everyone assumes was named after it. H.D. Inglis, author of an early travel guide came here in 1834 and found Limerick ‘the very vilest town’ he had ever visited. Heinrich Boll, the German Nobel prize-winning novelist saw it for the first time in 1950 and pronounced it ‘a gloomy little town’ with ‘everything submerged in sour darkness.’ Hoge continues, ‘More recently it has been made fun of in a popular television show as ‘stab city,’ a label – arising out of several muggings in the 1980’s – that the (then) Mayor Frank Leddin, finds so objectionable he will not utter it. Long considered Ireland’s most entrenched Catholic city it has suffered from stereotyping as ‘violent, intolerant, obscurantist and reactionary.’

Paul Daffey writing for the Evening Standard had a different spin on modern Limerick when he reported, ‘Two families were feuding over ascendancy in the drug trade. A member of one family was walking along a footpath when a car sidled up to the kerb. A member of the opposing family jumped out of the car and stabbed the pedestrian in the stomach – with a pitchfork.

The weapon of choice threw a rural twist on an urban tale. It was emblematic of an Ireland that, in the final decades of last century, was wrangling with itself over the shift from rural backwater to urban dynamism. The pitchfork incident could have taken place in Dublin or Cork, maybe even the light-spirited Galway, but somehow this seemed unlikely. Right or wrong, it did suggest merit behind Limerick’s reputation as Stab City. It is a reputation that Limerick hates, largely because it is distasteful, but also because the sobriquet was applied 30 years ago and the city has changed since then.

In the ’70s, the development of high-tech industries and the University of Limerick, which specialises in science and technology, brought a measure of wealth and vitality to the city. But it also created an income gap, with residents of rugged housing estates resenting the new order. Crime and violence were the inevitable result. The rest of the country gained the impression that stabbings were frequent. It titillated some to think of Limerick, with its reputation for inwardness and pious Catholicism, as a bloody frontier.

Violence in Limerick lessened in the ’90s after, among other things, the formation of ‘combat poverty’ groups with funds from the European Union. EU money was also put towards restoration of the town’s fading buildings. The Civic Trust, formed in the late ’80s as the first restoration body in Ireland, was instrumental in giving the worn city a facelift that impressed the rest of the country, although not enough to stop the stabbing slurs and the tittering. Frank Larkin, the public relations officer for Shannon Development, says half the city claims the poverty in Angela’s Ashes is exaggerated. ‘People felt it reflected poorly. They claim they had happy childhood’s and were happy in Limerick. You have that dichotomy of discussion. But there’s certainly a contrast between what Frank McCourt described and today.’

Larkin is unable to put a figure on Angela’s Ashes importance to the city, although he admits it has become a huge selling point. Other attractions include castles, cathedrals, Georgian architecture, the ‘Limerick Expo’ and the International Marching Bands Festival which attracts 40,000 people.

The city’s push – and for that matter Ireland’s push – to improve the poor quality of mid-range restaurants has spawned the International Food Festival, which is held annually, and the Good Food Circle of Restaurants. Limerick might be trying to improve its culinary standing but it has no doubts about its sporting prowess. The city thumps its chest about being Ireland’s sporting capital. It is, at best, a dubious claim, but one that receives support every autumn when Limerick hosts the battles between Munster and touring rugby sides from the Antipodes. Munster, the province that takes in the six counties in Ireland’s south-west, attacks the touring teams with a fervor that inevitably attracts ‘Gael force’ headlines. In 1978, the attack was so effective that Munster defeated New Zealand, a feat that was barely believed across Europe, and less so in New Zealand. The victory remains an Irish side’s only win over the All Blacks and it is not surprising that each player was guaranteed free pints for life.

The city has every right, however, to claim a rich history. Its city charter, drawn up in 1197, is the oldest in the British Isles, which includes Ireland and Britain, and King John’s Castle is a feature of the Heritage Precinct. The castle, built at the beginning of the 13th century, was the stronghold of the British empire in western Ireland and its presence is a reminder of Limerick’s struggles under a hated foreign power. The Heritage Precinct also includes the Castle Lane project, which is the reconstruction of a street from two centuries ago.

Downriver are the docks, which are undergoing a makeover not seen since the Vikings sailed up the Shannon in the ninth century. A handful of pubs in the city centre have also been refurbished. Some are modern and gleaming, but I preferred those with a traditional touch, such as WJ South’s on O’Connell Street. South’s is where Uncle Pa Keating bought the 16-year-old Frank McCourt his first pint. It looks like your average poky Irish pub from the street but opens out generously inside. It was a local for the men from the lanes of Limerick; now the clientele ranges from young professionals to older regulars. The floorboards and decor have been tastefully scrubbed up and Pa Keating would probably wonder where all the sawdust on the floor had gone. The bulldust, though, remains as thick on the ground as ever.

The Limerick banter is fun. Wit and irony are staples and all sentences are delivered with a delightful lilt. The accent is less distinctive than the sing-song carry-on in neighboring Cork but, since the publication of Angela’s Ashes, the language of Limerick is among the most distinctive in the world. Which, if anyone were in any doubt, just goes to show that the pen is mightier than the pitchfork.’

The controversy rapidly gained momentum over a period of two months after the publication of Angela’s Ashes and in that time the so called ‘inconsistencies’ started to emerge. ‘No one in Limerick denies that there was awful poverty in the city in the mid 1900’s, but further investigation has led them to wonder just how poor the McCourts really were. Some people have pointed out how overweight Angela and some of the children were, while the Limerick Leader dug up photographs of McCourt in his boy scout’s uniform. Scouting was expensive and usually for middle-class boys – ‘Is this the picture of misery?,’ asked the newspaper.’

The problem for the pro-McCourt camp is that their man’s mistakes are just the one’s that are likely to cause maximum offence among the people of Limerick, and the guardians of the truth. Queuing at a Limerick book-signing in 1997 was another contemporary from the Limerick Lanes, Willie Harold. Mr. Harold, now dead, appears in the book at his first confession, telling a priest how he has sinned, looking at his sister’s naked body. The problem is, Mr. Harold never had a sister. Many older Limerick people are incensed at the portrait of Angela herself. There’s no doubt that Mrs. McCourt would not like her son’s portrayal. Shortly before she died, in 1981, she was taken to see Frank and brother Malachy perform a stage show about their early lives. She stormed out, shouting: ‘It didn’t happen that way. It’s all a pack of lies.’

Mike Meyer of the Chicago Tribune saw a different Limerick to the one he expected having read Angela’s Ashes when he wrote, ‘Arriving in the city, I walked across the Sarsfield Bridge over the River Shannon. The description of the river was the only passage I remembered from ‘Angela’s Ashes,’ about how Angela could hear the river sing. The water surged quick under my feet, slicing the town in two, running the color of Guinness, all black flow and tan swells. It sang a song of urgency, and the first thought that struck me as I looked at Limerick was: This is a very pretty place.’

He continues, ‘A footpath edged the bank and I followed it west toward the ocean. A pair of swans swam calmly toward me, and past. There were no ashes here, only tranquility and the opposite bank lined with luxury hotels. I asked a few passersby what they thought of ‘Angela’s Ashes’ and about the controversy, but their responses were noncommittal.’

There can be no doubt that Angela’s Ashes has certainly placed Limerick firmly on the international map. The city has rarely attracted so much publicity and for that some of her natives are grateful. However, there are others who don’t believe for a moment that there is any truth whatsoever in the saying there is no such thing as bad publicity. In fact, some would go so far as to say that ‘no publicity’ would be better publicity than the sort of ballyhoo Angela’s Ashes generated for their native city.

Are these people really, as McCourt describes them? ‘Begrudgers.’

Angela’s Ashes: Untold Stories

angela

When I first heard of Angela ‘Sheehan’ McCourt in 1996 it was from two aunts of mine who told me that they went to Bingo every Saturday night with two ‘lovely women’ from the lanes of Limerick.

It was a regular Saturday night outing for the four ladies as they made their way through the streets of their native city to see if they could ‘turn a bob’ at the local bingo game.

Those so called ‘lovely women’ were Agnes ‘Aggie’ Keating and her gruff mannered but talkative soft-spoken sister Angela ‘Angie’ McCourt.

Angie had long since lost her childhood nickname of ‘Angel’ Sheehan and was nowadays gigantic in stature with a matching ‘heart’ and ‘spirit’ that were proclaimed for their kindness and gentleness of nature by those who knew her best.

In fact, there are some Limerick people who argue that the references to ‘the angel on the seventh step’ in the narrative may have been allusions to one-to-one conversations the young Frank had with his own mother.

‘Angie’ was born at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day at No. 3 Pump Lane in 1908 but not, as Frank states at the hands of mid-wife Nurse O’Halloran who, in fact, was not attending to that district.

She was, by all accounts, a very proud but stereotypical post-war, working class, hard pushed Irish slum mother who, like many of her contemporaries, was willing to do whatever was necessary to ensure that her family would survive all the hardships God would throw their way.

There were no price tags too high for Angie and her family and she was determined to ensure that her children would have the best that she could afford at any given time regardless of what personal sacrifices she had to make to achieve this.

Angie was perhaps one of the most ‘street wise’ women that ever graced the lanes of Limerick and her reputation as an innocent, humorous, soft spoken, polite but notably slothful person was justified.

In the following pages I have attempted to outline as best as possible the true story of Angela McCourt and her contemporaries as told by the people who remember her and them best, their families, neighbor’s, friends and acquaintances.

The very people who touched, in one way or another, their often hard and tragic lives during those days in Limerick. I have conducted hundreds of interviews on the airwaves of Limerick since the publication of Angela’s Ashes and I have quoted extensively from these.

I have also quoted extensively ‘The Old Limerick Journal’ from editions which were published long before the arrival of Angela’s Ashes so the commentaries can not be described by the pro-McCourt brigade as being ‘begrudging’ of the author’s success.

The primary character of Angela’s Ashes is without question Frank’s mother Angela who emerges from the narrative as a woman who cares little for her hungry and cold family, turns her back on an alcoholic husband, imposes herself on her family, silently accepts the hardships inflicted on her, lazily and selfishly lounges before the fire smoking cigarettes while her children starve, prostitutes herself with her own family members and goes through life on a selfish quest for pity, charity and state handouts.

The people who remember her say that this is a highly distorted, completely inaccurate depiction of the woman they remember as being almost the exact opposite of all these things. Those neighbours and friends and family who remember her insist that she was a delightful woman, who struggled valiantly to hold her family together and who earned the title ‘Angel of the lanes’ for her kindness to others.’

So who is speaking the facts – McCourt or his critics?

When we hear the testimonies of the latter the answer becomes perfectly clear. Are we to believe that the many people who have spoken out are all lying while Frank himself is the only one in the crowd to speak the truth?

By most accounts Angie had made herself very well known as a ‘character’ throughout the poverty stricken slums of Limerick.

She was best known for her wicked sense of humor, storytelling, gossiping, laughing and cajoling and tremendous sense of support and desire to help, albeit in a limited way, those she came into contact with.

It seems she was never without a ‘fag in her gob’ and spent most of her time leaning against the doorway of her home, brush in hand, perfectly willing to get into conversation for hours on end with anyone who cared to stop and chat with her.

Her childhood friend Moira Gallagher best remembers Angie as a loving and caring young girl who never hesitated to be the big sister to many of her contemporaries from the local neighborhood.

‘Angie was a talker all her life and that was the one thing that never changed about her when she came back from America.’ Moira claims.

But aren’t these glowing descriptions completely at odds with Frank McCourt’s perception of his own mother? A woman described as ‘pure useless’ by her mother, willing to have intercourse ‘at the drop of a hat’ with drunken strangers, sexually incestuous, manic-depressive, beggar, verbally coarse, ruthless to her children and husband, non-caring, lazy and selfish.

Could this be the same woman that was once known as ‘Angel’, a God fearing and lovable girl by her friends, companions and playmates?

So what do her friends have to say about it?

During her final days in Limerick she befriended her neighbor Josephine Malone former tenant of the McCourt family home at Barrack Hill and mother of Frank’s schoolmate Paddy Malone who still remembers Angela vividly as a very friendly, talkative and intelligent religious lady.

Paddy says that Angela was called the ‘Angel’ of the lanes and she was a robust, loving, caring woman – not the cold drudge that Frank paints her. He is infuriated by the allegation that Angela was having a sexual relationship with her first cousin ‘Laman’ Griffin.

Paddy told the Daily Record in Scotland that Angela was a very religious woman and, ‘I don’t believe she did that.’ ‘I cannot think of anything more wrong than to tear Angela’s name apart like that. She had been left down by men all her life and in the end Frank did the same thing.’

He further believes that Frank is guilty of mocking and prostituting his own mother. He was so distressed about this when Frank McCourt returned to Limerick in 1997 for a book-signing, he asked the author if he remembered him and then ripped the book in half, shouting: ‘You’re a disgrace to Ireland, the Church and your mother.’

‘Lies, lies, lies, lies,’ is how he described Angela’s Ashes to journalist Anne Molloy of the Irish News and further states that McCourt ‘prostitutes his mother’ in the book.

‘He named names. He insulted people,’ said Malone.

‘Most of the people are dead. But the families have to suffer and live with the consequences.’

‘Angie’ is foremost on the list of people whose names were sullied, critics say. In the book the writer says that she has ‘the excitement’ with her first cousin ‘Laman’ Griffin so that he will continue to let her family live with him rent-free. For many older residents, even the suggestion of such a thing is, as Angie might have phrased it, ‘beyond the beyonds.’

‘For a man to write what he wrote about his mother is unforgivable,’ said local historian and former two time Mayor of Limerick Frank Prendergast, who grew up near McCourt. He thought ‘Angela’s Ashes’ was ‘one of the most beautifully written books I ever read. But what I do resent very strongly as a Limerickman is that someone comes in and traduces the people and institutions who are very dear to the people of Limerick.’

He argues that if McCourt did suffer, it was because he had a feckless father, not because of the failings of the city or the Roman Catholic church or the tenants of Limerick’s lanes.

He told Rebecca Fowler of the Daily Mail (Jan 2000), ‘McCourt suffered a unique poverty because his father was an alcoholic, not because he lived in Limerick but he has reduced people and institutions that are very dear to Limerick people.’

‘If you see someone coming into your community saying something monstrously untrue, I don’t care if it’s the Queen of England or the Pope himself, it is our duty to point out the truth.’

Further testimony on McCourt’s distorted perception of reality comes from family friend and neighbor Josephine O’Reilly who says she used to play bingo with Angela and she cannot recognise her in the wan character portrayed in the book.

‘She had big, fat jaws and her body was as fat as mine,’ she says. ‘I’m the same age as Frank McCourt and I don’t remember ‘Angie’ as being anything like the way she is depicted in that book. If anything she was the exact opposite of almost everything Frank had to say about her.’

Even Angela herself apparently had reservations about the accuracy of her own son’s allegations against her. It is common information amongst the Irish community in New York that she once stood up in a theater where the two McCourt brothers (Frank and Malachy) were spinning stories of their childhood in a play called ‘A Couple Of Blaguards’ which, some say, was the template for Angela’s Ashes and said, ‘It didn’t happen that way! It’s all a pack of lies!’

Malachy acknowledges the incident to journalist Graydon Royce of the Star Tribune in 1997 who writes, ‘While their experiences have flowed from the mouths of Malachy and Frank, their mother, Angela, never came to terms with this public reckoning. She watched ‘Blaguards’ in New York years ago and expressed her irritation with it. ‘She stood up and said, ‘It wasn’t that way at all. It’s all a pack of lies,’ Malachy said.

‘And I said, ‘Well, come up on the stage and tell us your side of the story.’ ‘I will not,’ she said, ‘I wouldn’t be seen on the stage with the likes of ye.’

Malachy further pooh-poohs the notion that Angela would be offended by such descriptions in the Washington Post when he selfishly speculates on his mother’s thoughts on the incident.

‘It’s something that happens to the Irish when they come to America. They began to get amnesia about the circumstances that they’re from. My mother thought it was shameful to be talking about lavatories and buckets you would use for bodily functions, about poverty and being poor.’

But was it simply ‘lavatories and buckets’ that offended Angie?

While McCourt sees his detractors in Limerick as ‘begrudgers’ and ‘in need of psychological help’ one international journalist Gary Younge of the Guardian Newspaper (UK) sees it quiet differently.

He writes, ‘the complaints about Angela’s Ashes are understandable. McCourt has dismissed his detractors’ complaints by insisting that Angela’s Ashes is ‘a memoir, not an exact history.’ But, since the lives of Limerick’s working class rarely make it to the international stage, it is not unreasonable for them to want to see themselves portrayed accurately and sensitively.

It is a constant irritation to those on the margins that they are often ill represented by those who make it into the mainstream. ‘We who survived the camp are not true witnesses,’ wrote Primo Levi of his time in a Nazi concentration camp. ‘We, the survivors, are not only a tiny but an anomalous minority. We are those who through prevarication, skill or luck never touched bottom. Those who have, and have seen the face of the Gorgon, did not return, or returned wordless.’

The burden of representation on those who do emerge from desperate circumstances is a heavy one. But that is no excuse to try to deny the validity of their voice.

In the case of Angela’s Ashes there is, of course, no such thing as the Limerick experience but, instead, several Limerick experiences.’

In order to completely understand these ‘experiences’ of ‘Limerick poverty’ as McCourt describes it in his book it is necessary to take a closer look at how life really was for the people of the lanes in the period 1930 to 1950.

Limerick writer Paddy Carey affectionately remembered the lanes of that era vividly when he wrote in 1987, ‘There were several laneways running off Carey’s Road where I was born. You had King’s Lane, Young’s Lane, Richardson’s Lane, Dickson’s Lane, Sparling’s Lane, the Quarry Boreen, Anderson’s Court, Pump Lane, Walsh’s Lane, Punch’s Lane, Lee’s Lane, Donnelly’s Lane and Glover’s Lane.

Some of the laneways were paved with cobblestone and the houses in the laneways were small as a rule, but there were some exceptions. The houses had slated roofs, some of which had to be grouted with mortar when the rain leaked through. The houses had, for the most part, lime or cement frontages. There were, at the time, a few thatched houses left. Window shutters and half doors were in vogue then and many of these shutters were a throw-back to the War of Independence when they had been fitted to prevent the Black and Tans from shooting-up and wrecking the people’s homes.

The houses were invariably kept neat and tidy and the people were the salt-of-the-earth – a true spirit of Christian sharing pervaded the community.

There were all kinds of people living on the lanes, stonecutters, masons, dockers, railway workers, shoemakers, dressmakers, Corporation workers, painters, carpenters, fitters, seamen and, of course, many were forced to take the emigrant ships to the United States of America and Britain as unemployment was ever prevalent.

(In fact, McCourt’s memory fails him when he claims in ‘Tis’ that he sailed from Cork in October 1949 to America on the ‘MS Irish Oak’ but that was an impossibility because that ship, owned by The Limerick Steamship Company, was exclusively used as a cargo vessel and was torpedoed in 1943.)

‘The aftermath of the First World War and the Wall Street crash of 1929 did nothing to improve the situation. People were mostly poor, but happy, despite their circumstances. There were no electric appliances and gas cookers were a rare commodity. There were a few ranges and most cooking was done on open fires and baking on bastable ovens and griddles.

There was the rare radio, usually of the wet-battery type. Most babies were born in their mother’s homes or at the lying-in hospital in Bedford Row.’

It must also be clearly understood that Angela’s Ashes is not a book about the lanes of Limerick but merely set in them.

It is a book about a poverty stricken family who allegedly fall victim to a misconstrued ‘spirit’ of a city and it’s people. There is no doubt that an element of abject poverty did exist on the lanes but the questions are for whom and for what reasons?

The ‘poverty’ dwelled with a rather curious backdrop.

It is both interesting and important that Limerick in that era was in fact the capital of the food production industry in Ireland. The city’s importance in the food manufacturing and processing industry in the early part of the 1900’s was directly attributed to the existence of her three internationally famous bacon factories.

Business flourished at Matterson’s, Shaw’s and O’Mara’s as Limerick bacon and hams became well known and in heavy demand throughout the world.

Bacon curing was Limerick’s chief asset but there was also plenty of work, for those willing to do it, in the thriving flour mills and cement factories.

No one doubts the poverty of Limerick in the Thirties. They were tough times. But despite the collapse of a number of industries, including ale, paper and linen factories, there was still a lot of work albeit low paid. There was also a dual welfare system – backed by the Roman Catholic Church and state – for those who did run into trouble.

Many locals argue the system worked, by-and-large. The huge bacon industry meant there was always cheap food and – despite what McCourt says in his book – there was no shame in eating pig’s head, even on Christmas Day. Josephine O’Reilly who lived a stone’s throw from the McCourts believed that pig’s head was a delicacy. ‘You had money if you could dine on a pig’s head for Godsake there was no surer sign of no shortage of cash in the house if somebody came home with a pigs head under their arm.’

Actually they weren’t known as pig’s heads at all but as ‘a Minister’s face.’ You could go to Nonie Maher’s on Parnell Street and look on the long shelf behind the counter where the pig’s heads were lined up and ready for purchase. The women would go there and buy half a head for half a crown. There is a well known Limerick story about an old lady who calls to Nonie’s for her pig’s head and sees all the snouts looking down on her from the long shelf.

‘For God sake Nonie throw me down one of them minister’s faces and will you for Jasus sake make sure there is some class of a smile on it.’

Former Limerick politician, historian and writer the late Jim Kemmy sang the praises of the ‘pigs head’ in 1980 when he wrote, ‘Limerick was the centre of the country’s bacon curing industry. This position was reflected in many ways in the life of the city, particularly in it’s food. During the depressed times of the thirties, forties and fifties, ‘bones’ of all shapes and descriptions – backbones, eye-bones, breastbones, spare ribs, strips, lots and knuckles – were familiar sights on the kitchen tables of those working class families fortunate enough to be able to afford them. Pig’s heads, tails, toes (crubeens), sheep’s head and feet (trotters) were also eagerly devoured in many homes in those not too distant days.’

And so it was to this ‘thriving’ city that the McCourt family arrived. On their arrival in Limerick the McCourts’ lived for a few weeks on Little Barrington Street before they moved to Windmill Street.

One of their neighbors on Little Barrington Street was Gerry ‘Gigli’ Lillis (74) who claims he remembers the McCourt family quite clearly and the day they first came to town.

‘Gerry Lillis is Limerick to the core,’ says the Limerick Leader in a detailed article entitled ‘Gerry recalls memories of fame and the McCourt’s.’

As a young boy he lived a few doors from the famous McCourt family in Little Barrington Street.

‘My mother used to keep 80 hens and Bill Whelan’s (Composer of ‘Riverdance’) mother would come down every day for eggs. She told us that she wanted to build Bill up by giving him the white of the eggs.

‘I used to pal around with Frankie and I can best describe him as a very deep thinker but very clever. He would go round on his own a lot, he was a real loner.’

Gerry went to Leamy’s school and left when he was 13 years old to take up a messenger boy job with Hartstonge Street Dairies. After six months working there he moved to Hutchinson’s Newsagents on Cecil Street and then moved to England before coming back to Limerick to work as a taxi-driver right up to his retirement.

‘I loved the book and felt it was ninety-percent accurate. The atmosphere of the book was right but I felt that he exaggerated on his own lifestyle. He overstated the misery a bit too much.’

Gerry was born in 1925 at the Mechanics Institute on Pery Square where his father was caretaker of the building. His family moved in the early 1930’s to Little Barrington Street only months before the McCourt’s arrived.

‘There was great excitement on the street because American’s were moving in and I remember that the word spread like wildfire that the McCourt’s were back in town.’

Gerry remembers looking up the street and watching the family coming down with bags and trunks in hand and he says that his first impression was that they looked ‘well off’ and fairly prosperous..

‘They were dressed in colorful American clothing while we were in rags and I remember thinking to myself that I had never seen clothes like that before.’

The McCourt’s were moving into their Grandmother’s house and were to share it with Aggie Keathing (temporarily separated from her husband Pa) and Pat ‘Ab’ Sheehan.

‘Aggie was a good neighbor and was always there in times of trouble. She was the woman who would call to the house when there was a death in the family and she would not only wash the body but would help to organise the funeral.’ ‘I don’t believe that ‘Ab’ was (as Frank claimed) ever dropped on his head but he was a little bit simple and he was also, like his sister Aggie, very thrifty and shrewd.

Gerry remembered Angela before she went to America and thought she hadn’t changed much at all when she came back.

‘Angela was an overweight and very talkative woman and was well liked by the people of the lanes.’

He admits that there was a powerful sense of community alive and well on Little Barrington Street and has no doubt that the McCourt’s shared in that sense of community and were, for the most part, contributors to it.

‘My clearest recollection of Angela is a woman who always stood at the front door with a broom in her hand and a Woodbine cigarette in her mouth.

‘She would stand there for hours on end laughing and joking and talking to almost everybody who passed the door.’ Former neighbor Mae Leonard whose family owned the local shop frequented by Angela describes ‘Mrs. McCourt’ as ‘a great talker and storyteller.’

‘I’ll never forget that woman. She trots out all sorts of tales while she enjoys the Woodbine cigarette right down to the smallest butt. So closely does she smoke that cigarette that her upper lip is permanently brown – as iodine colored as her index finger and thumb.’

Leonard describes Angela as a large woman with a moon shaped face that has threads of broken veins purpling it. ‘Her tweed coat is shorter than the skirt, which hangs lankly some inches below it. The buttons are strained over her broad chest giving her a slightly humped appearance. A woolen headscarf holds the bushy pepper and salt hair in check.’

‘Mrs. McCourt has time to tell yarns ‘to beat the band’ and to me she was a storyteller to the power of brilliant.’

Lillis’s most abiding memory of Frank as a little boy is one of ‘a young man who was more reserved and a kid with more ambition in life than any other boy living on the lane.’

‘Frank was practically friendless and more ‘learned’ and did not connect with the other children on the lane. He never took part in the innocent childhood shenanigans we got up to. He was above all that.’

‘Unlike his younger brother Malachy who loved a bit of fun he was above the common herd and rarely, if ever, associated with the boys from the lanes.’

‘Their father Malachy had no savvy and was known around Limerick as a ‘shinner’ (Sinn Fein member) who frequented the pubs and was over generous when he had money. He spoke with a northern accent and always sang old rebels songs and told wild stories when he had a few pints taken.

‘The odd thing was that he always struck me as a highly intellectual man and he was hard to understand with his mix of big words and funny accent.’

It was obviously a happy community living on Little Barrington Street and Gerry says those were the best days of his life.

‘There were no bolts on door and people helped each other out every day and the McCourt family shared in that. I very often came home and found groups of women, including Angela, sitting around the table talking and smoking, laughing and joking and gossiping.’

However, Lillis does remember a strange incident-taking place that spoke in volumes about the lack of willingness of Angela to help out in times of trouble.

‘At the time there was talk of three members of the Sheehan family (Angela’s first cousins) being sent to Glin (a borstal for young unruly or orphaned boys just outside of Limerick) and the neighbors got together to prevent this from happening.

‘Their father had died with TB and a few months later their mother died too and there was nobody to look after the family.’

The plan was that Aggie Keating was to take one of the Sheehan boys, Lillis’s mother would take the second and Angela was to take little Tommy Sheehan.

Both Aggie and Mrs. Lillis agreed to take the boys but Angela, for no obvious reasons, quickly and callously refused and the boys were sent to Glin.

‘That decision did very little for her reputation and the people of the area were shocked that she would see her own nephews and niece packed off to Glin rather than help them in their time of need.

‘It must have caused something of a rift in an otherwise close-knit family and I’m surprised that McCourt never elaborated on it in his book.’

It’s clear from this that while Angela begged for received and accepted the support of her immediate family she was not willing to do the same for them when the need arose.

Lillis believes that it is possible that Angela simply could not afford to help her cousins but the reality is that she wasn’t willing to try.

That story is confirmed by the same boy in question who still resides in Limerick. Tommy Sheehan now lives in the city centre and remembers the day when Angela was asked to take him into her home.

‘I was only a child and I remember sitting on the floor and looking up into her face as she thought for a moment about the idea of taking me into her home. I was filled with a sense of childish excitement at the idea of going off to a special school but I didn’t know just how bad things would turn out to be. She shook her head and said words to the effect that her life was hard enough and how could she be expected to look after yet another child when she could barely look after her own. She dismissed the idea very quickly and then left the room and there was no more about it.’

In the book ‘Suffer The Little Children’ by Mary Raftery and Eoin O’Sullivan Tommy reminisces about those days and the consequences of Angela’s decision.

‘We were so hungry we’d eat dilisk (seaweed) along the strand at Glin. We’d eat haws off the bushes, and leaves on hedges as well, but it was mainly the dilisk. You’d have to sneak it up – if the Christian Brothers caught you, you’d get a hiding. It tasted very salty, but it wasn’t too bad. It probably saved our lives.’

Tom and Pat Sheehan were born two years apart and Angela was their aunt, their father’s sister. In 1945 their parents both died of tuberculosis within eleven months of each other. The two boys, then aged six and eight, were sent initially to the boys’ section of St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Killarney, run by the Sisters Of Mercy. Pat says, ‘When we were in Killarney, we got a big box of chocolates one time from our grandmother and even though we had been sent away she still cared for us. I firmly believe that she was the main reason that the McCourt boys didn’t end up in Glin Industrial School. Because they could very easily have. But it was Angela, their mother, and the grandmother who kept that family together.’

He continues, ‘But the grandmother died very shortly after she sent us these chocolates, and for us that was really the end of the family. Our Aunt Aggie visited us the odd time, and we were allowed out during the Summer to stay with our Uncle Ab, but we never really had much of a sense of family.’

Both Tom and Pat have few complaints about their time in Killarney. The food was adequate and the nun in charge was kind to them. They remember, however, that some of the lay women working there used to beat them.

When Tom and Pat reached the age of 10, they were each in turn transferred to St. Joseph’s Industrial School in Glin, run by the Christian Brothers. They were to find conditions in Glin dramatically different. It was big, with about 220 boys, ranging in age from about six to seventeen. What both brothers talk about most is the hunger.

Tom says, ‘We were just always starving. For breakfast, we got two slices of bread and dripping. Your dinner would be some kind of watery stew, hardly any meat, and a few potatoes if you were lucky. Supper, you got Indian meal, horrible lumpy yellow stuff. Around 1948, they phased out the Indian meal, and gave us gruel instead. It was a little bit better, but not much.

‘I used to climb over a little wall and go to the ash pit, where they burned the rubbish. I’d root around in there and often find bits of vegetables that I could eat.’

Pat agrees whole heartedly with his brother.

‘The only time you ever saw an apple was when you robbed an orchard. At night you couldn’t sleep because your guts would be rolling about so badly from the hunger. In the winter, you’d be freezing. We never had coats or jackets. Just short pants, shirt and jumper. They’d leave us out in the yard until eight o’clock at night, then we’d have to go in and have a wash before bed. The water was always freezing – we never had hot water for anything. So you’d be in bed, shivering, and it could take you till half-ten or eleven o’clock before you could get a bit warm. I’d be down under the blanket squeezing my feet to try and warm them up. And this was night after night, all winter long.

‘If you ever complained about anything, you’d be hammered. So you just never opened your mouth. The one thing that saved my life was my brother Tom, when he was working on the farm, he managed to slip me a turnip from time to time. I’d hide it, and wait until everything was quiet at night in the dormitory. Then I’d eat the turnip under the blankets. To my ears the sound of my teeth crunching the turnip was deafening. I was terrified eating them, but I was very, very grateful for those turnips.’

Tom adds, ‘When I was fourteen they put me working on the farm. That was a bit better, because you could steal the animals’ food It was my job to look after the pigs, all sixty or seventy of them. I’d have to clean out the sties, and I’d prepare their food as well – loads of boiled potatoes. But I made sure that I was Number One Pig, I fed myself first. The truth is that the pigs were better fed than the boys were. The Christian Brothers had a great big farm there. Some of the stuff, the potatoes and a few vegetables, would be used to feed the boys. But most of it was sold. The pigs would be sent into Matterson’s Meats for butchering, and the cattle were sold at the fair. They had a bout twenty cows, and the milk would be sent to the creamery. So it was like a commercial farm. The boys all worked on it for free, so I suppose they made a bit of money out of it.

He continues, ‘They also kept hens, about twenty of them. The eggs were strictly for the brothers – they’d have one in the mornings or maybe a fried egg with their tea. We only ever saw an egg at Easter. You would get one as a treat on Easter Sunday and that was your egg for the year. The egg store was a kind of hut and it was where boys would sometimes be taken for beatings from the Christian Brothers.’

Neither Pat nor Tom has any memory of anyone coming from outside to inspect conditions at the school.

Tom says, ‘We always knew the Christian Brothers could do what they liked. There was no one to stop them. They could kill you, and no one would know. I remember one Brother punched a boy in the refectory, in front of everyone, and knocked him out cold. He accused him of smoking and just knocked him flat. I got a kicking one night, I was about ten. This brother pulled me out of my bed and punched and kicked me all over the place. The only explanation was that he thought I was playing with myself. But he never really said why. We never saw any sexual abuse. But there was definitely sadism there. Maybe they got pleasure from that.’

Both Tom and Pat say that they have survived the experience of Glin. Neither feels that it damaged them unduly. Tom is married and still lives in Limerick. Pat emigrated for many years, and has now also returned to Limerick.

The McCourt’s soon moved to a place known as ‘the Windmill, just off Henry Street, where many of the houses on the street were pretentious with fine big rooms and it is best remembered by locals (of that time) as a hive of industry and trading for local merchants.

Because of it’s close proximity to the River Shannon it was said that in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s ships could sail right up to the doorsteps of the homes and consequently most of the inhabitants in the 30’s and 40’s were descendents of families who were in some way connected to ships and the sea.

Foreign names such as Genoux, Ketlabug, Sciascia, Alta and De Ferrar were a dime a dozen in the vicinity of Windmill Street and the area was deemed more prosperous than most other parts of the city in that time.

Butchers, fishermen and country people came there to sell their produce and the ‘Windmill’ was best known as a sort of self contained village which resulted in a lack of interest shown by the rest of the city in the every day life of the district.

Foreign, British and Scotch captains and sailors had spent a lot of time coming and going to and from the area and this earned the Windmill the unusual nickname of ‘the flags’ (short for ‘the flags of all nations’) by the locals.

Emigrant vessels also came and went from the quays just yards from the Windmill and houses had been built to accommodate the crews of these ships who would stay in Limerick for days at a time. There was no shortage of rooms on the street and this explains how the McCourt’s were so quick to find lodgings near their relatives Aggie and Pa Keating.

Limerick historian and writer Jack O’Sullivan writing for The Olde Limerick Journal states that, ‘The outstanding characteristic of the people of the Windmill was their friendship and loyalty to one another. This is still noticeable, especially among the older generation. They seemed to be one big family and joys and sorrows were shared alike.’ In view of this fact the question must be asked as to why the McCourt family didn’t experience or share in that spirit. What was so different about them?

Limerick historian and former resident Gerry Gallivan writing in Autumn 1987 also remembers the vicinity with great affection.

‘The Henry Street that I knew during the 1920’s and 1930’s was a comfortable, down to earth place to grow up in. It was a close knit community and, while we might not have all been on first name terms, there was very little we didn’t know about each other. One feature of life indelibly associated in my memory with the Windmill is the singing at the corner of the street. Around eight or nine o’clock at night, young men would gather on the steps near Bridie Brown’s to swap yarns and to sing old songs in natural untutored harmony. I have only to close my eyes in moments of nostalgia and I’m back once more in the drowsy calm of still summer evenings hearing them again, and the words of the old favorite ‘Heart of my Heart’ could have been written specially for them:

‘Heart of my heart, how I love that melody, Heart of my heart, bring back a memory, When we were kids at the corner of the street, We were rough and ready guys, But oh how we could harmonise.’

‘All right, so if it’s easy to be sentimental looking back from a distance of fifty years and more I readily admit it. There had to have been problems, disappointments, disruptions, of course there were, but none of it changes the fact that Henry Street was a good place for a youngster to be when feeling his way towards life.’

Most of those who lived on the lanes of Limerick speak in glowing terms about that sense of community spirit, which was rampant throughout the poverty stricken alleys.

Limerick writer, historian and former Leamy’s School pupil Paul Malone has clear, but more optimistic, recollections of life on Limerick’s warren of lanes and at the school. He was born and raised at 14 Picquet’s Lane (better known as Piggott’s Lane) which was one of the last of the lanes to be demolished.

In the Summer of 1986 he wrote:

‘The lane was narrow at the top and widened out into a triangular, open space at the lower half; it’s houses ran into Dixon’s Lane at the right and left angles, thus forming an enclosed playing area.

‘My family lived in the lane during the Second World War years and we were all very poor but, as we knew no better, we were happy enough. Our parents had to put up with great hardship caused by the harsh environment. Poverty was the one common feature we all shared. We had a cold water tap but no toilet and buckets were used by all the families and had to be emptied each night at the top of the lane. Each house had three rooms: a kitchen, bedroom and attic. There was also a little yard behind.

‘The neighbours were generous with what little they had and everyone seemed to help everyone else. If a man was out of work, a pot of boiled potatoes would be often sent up to his house, with a pinch of tea and sugar.

‘People pulled together and did their best to help one another and we would seek almost any occasion for a sing-song and get together.

‘At Leamys the masters were good and kind but we hated school and how we learned anything at all after all the ‘mooching’ (skipping) was a miracle. We all retained one common goal in life and that was to leave school at fourteen, get into long pants, find a job as a messenger-boy on a bike and have a few bob to spend – after we had given the wages to the mother.

‘Looking back now with nostalgia, I can only remember happiness and courage, along with grinding honesty.

Closer analysis of some of the primary characters and situations in Angela’s Ashes reveals that Frank was ‘liberal’ with the truth and ‘scarce’ with the reality when it came to how he perceived and then described each and every one of these people and circumstances.

It’s best to illustrate this by example.

From the outset it seems strange that Malachy McCourt (Snr) and Angela Sheehan McCourt should uproot their entire family, for no obvious reasons, and move back to Ireland from New York in the mid 1930’s when the trend at that time was the exact opposite.

The expensive journey back to Ireland for Malachy, a pregnant Angela and the four children (Frank, Malachy, Oliver and Eugene) was financed, we are told, by Angela’s mother Margaret ‘Grandma’ Sheehan. A simple enough revelation and an apparent statement of fact.

But does it stand up to close scrutiny?

The revelation seems rather odd for many different reasons.

Malachy is depicted throughout the narrative as man who refuses point blank to accept charity from any person regardless of how desperate the situation is.

He frequently lacerates Angela for begging from St. Vincent De Paul and refuses to accept charity from his own family and friends. He even finds it unacceptable for Angela to go to the Dock Road to pick up loose pieces of coal off the roads.

‘We’re not beggars’, he insists.

Yet, this proud and independent man willingly accepts the return fare from a complete stranger (to him) without so much as a single word of objection.

Is it also somewhat odd that if she did, in fact, pay for the journey home why did the McCourts go straight to Toome to see Malachy’s family?

Would it not have been more appropriate for them to go directly to the source of their generous benefactor and come to Limerick?

It seems unreasonable that Margaret would pay for the more expensive boat trip from New York to Donegal when it was slightly cheaper and more convenient for the family to sail directly into Cobh Harbour.

On top of this one must ask was it necessary to send the money in the first place?

Why not go directly to the local booking office, which was the done thing, and pay for the one way tickets and just notify the family in New York that the passage has been paid?

It also seems highly unlikely when one discovers that while Margaret was not a poor woman she did live in the slums of Limerick and was not noted by her still living grandchildren for her generosity.

McCourt refers to her miserliness may times throughout the narrative from the moment she appears right up to her death.

She even begrudges her hungry grandchildren food.

‘Grandma grumbles around the kitchen making tea and telling Mam to cut the loaf of bread and don’t make the cuts too thick.’

Her grandson Tommy Sheehan remembers her as a strict and severe woman who was not given to extraordinary acts of kindness. He does admit that she was some times willing to do all in her power to keep the family together under dire circumstances but he has no clear recollection of any acts of philanthropy.

Former Neighbor Gerry Lillis says that it doesn’t sound feasible that she could afford to pay for the entire family to travel to Ireland.

‘She was a very thrifty woman with only a little money to play with and I found it hard to believe that she could afford to ‘shell out’ for the trip.’

We can justifiably conclude then that it is possible that Margaret was not the generous benefactor at all. Limerick people ask, ‘So if she didn’t pay for the journey who did and why? But perhaps this is jumping a little too far ahead. There is a more significant question to be answered.

Why was Angela Sheehan sent to America in the first place?

We are told that she worked for a short time ‘ a charwoman, a skivvy, a maid’ but she could not manage the curtsy and for that reason her mother packed her off to America.

A very rash punishment for such a little crime.

But is there more to it then that?

There is a different theory on the reason for the sudden migration. This theory is based on a common rumor in Limerick amongst many senior citizens and McCourt contemporaries.

Is there any truth in the stories which flew around Limerick at the time of her sudden departure that she may have been pregnant and the Catholic family couldn’t face the disgrace of it and sent her off to her first cousins Philomena and Delia MacNamara in faraway New York?

The main text gives many clues to the possibility that this could very well have been the case.

Consider for a moment the testimony of Angela’s childhood friend Moira Gallagher who claimed that the woman was too much of a devout Catholic and too ‘anti man’ to literally jump off a boat in New York and on the very same night find herself up a lane with a drunken stranger (Malachy Snr.) having full penetrative sex described by the author as a ‘knee trembler.’

‘I knew Angela too well and it is inconceivable to me that such a thing could happen. It would go against everything that Angela ever believed during her teenage years in Limerick.’

However, there are clues to a different sequence of events than Frank reports in his memoirs.

The first salient clue is when McCourt discovers that his parents were married on March 28th 1930 while he was born five months later in August – the famous ‘knee trembler’ (a euphemism for the moment of his conception) allegedly took place on the previous November – a perfect nine month period and a ‘perfect’ explanation.

It could be true but it’s doubtful.

We are asked to believe that a God fearing, practically teetotal, (at that point in her life) Catholic Irish young woman arrives for no obvious reason in an unfamiliar country where on her first night she visits an Irish speakeasy where she meets up with a drunken stranger and in a matter of hours is having sex with him in a back-alley in the dead of night.

But is this explanation a little too ‘perfect’?

Further doubt is cast on McCourt’s theory on the sequence of events in an alleged letter from Philomena to Angela’s mother in Limerick when she writes:- ‘She’s married four years, five children and another on the way.’ Six children in 4 years (including one set of twins) is possible but perhaps more than just a little improbable.

The alternative story is that Angela was deeply involved in a romantic relationship with a married man back in Limerick. The relationship culminated in Angela becoming pregnant and her family immediately dispatched her to America through pure catholic shame.

It would have been totally unacceptable for a young catholic Irish girl to walk the streets of Limerick pregnant and with no sign of a husband.

When Angela’s family got wind of the forbidden relationship and the pregnancy they decided that the solution would be to send her out of the country as quickly as possible.

One rumor fuel’s the other and there are people in Limerick who suggest that it not beyond the realms of possibility that the ‘other man’ may very well have been kept in the dark about the pregnancy.

There are people who believe that when Malachy Snr. discovered this for the first time he deserted his wife and family and moved to England and that was the real reason for his sudden departure from the lanes of Limerick.

Living members of the McCourt family admit that there was some ‘deep dark secret’ in Limerick in those days and that these may very well have been the ultimate cause for the breakdown of Malachy’s and Angela’s marriage. It is fair to say that these stories are almost impossible to prove or disprove but then, on the other hand, so are many of Franks.

Closer investigation of the text reveals further odd facts.

On arrival from New York at the Grandpa McCourt’s house Malachy tells his family that they have to use the back entrance. A custom kept in the most well to do homes of that era. The back entrance was for commoners while the front door was for special visitors and dignitaries.

Were Malachy’s family people of financial substance?

Grandpa’s first greeting to his son Malachy on entering the house is ‘Och you’re here’ and this seems to indicate that they were expected. Meanwhile Grandma McCourt has no words of greeting for her son, wife and grandchildren. She merely turns her back and continues to cook. Expected but perhaps not wanted.

Why would a mother not want to see her own son after a long time on far distant shores?

During their first meal together there are no familial excited conversations but instead a deadly silence with only words of warning from Grandma to Malachy to the effect that it would be best for him to get out of Toome as quickly as possible.

Malachy responds by outlining his intention to stay in Toome, get a small house and find work on local farms. Not exactly the words of a man who uprooted his family with a great master plan.

The feeble scheme is quickly abandoned and the next morning the family are sent away on a bus to Dublin to seek out money from an IRA man in Dublin.

The man in question is one Charles Heggarty with an address in Terenure (a predominantly Protestant area of Dublin, in that era, and an unlikely place for an IRA official to set up headquarters from his home.)

During his meeting with Heggarty the first real clue to Malachy’s background is given when he alleges to the man that he fought with a flying column. It is clear when the facts about Malachy is presented that he was as far from being a republican ‘hero’ as is possible to get.

For the benefit of the story Malachy is seen by his son as a war hero who ‘done his bit’ for Ireland but can this claim be justified?

It is a well-known fact that the IRA are always unfailing in their loyalty to those who support the cause and they never refuse help to the people who were known to help them.

Why then was Malachy refused?

Could it be that Heggarty knew full well who Malachy really was and also knew that this man was not deserving in any way whatsoever of IRA financial support?

The McCourt family falls into the hands of a generous policeman who offers them overnight shelter, food and ultimately, with the help of his colleagues, the train fares to Limerick.

A telegram is sent to Grandma and she arrives to meet the family off the train at Limerick railway station. There is no acknowledgement of her kindness for paying the expensive boat tickets back from New York and instead she is described as having white hair, sour eyes, black shawl and no smile for any member of the newly arrived family.

They return to Grandma’s humble dwellings on the poverty stricken lanes of Limerick and the house is described in a fashion that indicates that it is not the home of a person of financial substance with money to throw away on expensive family tickets from New York to Ireland.

After an overnight stay the family move to Windmill Street and it is from this point on that the story starts to become more malicious to the people of Limerick.

Up to this, as can be seen from the points elaborated on, a lot of questions remain unanswered. The answers to many of these questions can be found by closer scrutiny of an ‘alternative theory’ on the true circumstances surrounding the family’s hasty departure from New York.

The family home on Classon Avenue in Brooklyn was located in the heartland of the New York Irish Mafia of the 1920’s/30’s and by ordinary standards would not have been an ideal setting to raise a family if crime was not the main breadwinner.

However, it was the perfect setting for any person involved in crime but needed the protection and fellowship of fellow criminals.

Why did Malachy choose to raise his family in such an environment?

There is a more significant clue to ruthlessness of the man following the death of his daughter ‘Margaret’ a drunken Malachy is accused by Angela’s cousins of selling the body for medical research.

Ireland of the pre-war era, like other European countries, was at its most unattractive with poverty, depression and economic dereliction rampant. Why did Malachy decide that this is a good time to go home?

What forced his hand and, perhaps more importantly, why depart so suddenly, literally in the dead of night, with little pre-planning and clearly in an urgent and hasty manner.

Interestingly, in those days it was the tradition in the New York Irish community to conduct a ‘wake’ for any person who emigrated. It was accepted as fact that any person who left the shores of America would never come back and the emigration was seen as a ‘little death.’

There was no ‘wake’ for the McCourt family, which begs the question why not?

Frank McCourt’s ‘miserable Irish Catholic childhood’ really began on that fatal voyage and it is clear from his writings that he has found it difficult to forgive those who surrounded him and inflicted it upon him.

Was Malachy, a born storyteller, really as shiftless and loquacious as his son alleges? How bad was the alleged ‘drinking problem’ that made Malachy abscond initially from New York and eventually, having offloaded his wife and family in the slums of Limerick, run into hiding in England and Canada?

Why was it necessary for Malachy to hide in the first place?

Such are the unanswered questions still being asked in Limerick.

In the absence of hard cold evidence the talented and experienced storytellers of Limerick begin to speculate, add fact to fiction and use all the clues that are given to them to construct an alternative theory about the entire affair.

It is from here the stories find their roots and with each and every retelling a new clue is added until such time as the theory, like a jigsaw, is complete and then it moves from story to possibility, possibility to probability and onto the final step of probability to undeniable fact.

Frank’s venomous writing gave license to the Limerick storytellers because what is good enough for him is good enough for them.

The battle-lines were drawn and the storytellers showed up in droves for the fight and this was one they wanted to win.

They distorted the facts, twisted the realities, bent the truth and were as liberal with the actualities as much as McCourt did.

On one side you had the McCourt leading the media to defend his definition of ‘truth’ while on the other there were the storytellers of Limerick.

It was a fair match and only the best storytellers could win. As the war heated up the stories appeared more fast and furious.

Frank’s most prominent memories of the city of Limerick include coughs, bronchitis, asthma, consumption, running noses, catarrh, odors of piss and alcoholic vomit and, of course, endless rain.

When the people of his era were not sneezing and coughing they busied themselves being pious at Mass, Benediction and Novena’s.

Is this a true and accurate reflection of the thousands of people who lived on the lanes of Limerick and, if so, have we any more than Frank’s word on it?

How and why did Malachy McCourt find himself in New York?

Did he have any gainful employment during his New York days?

The only references made to Malachy’s ability to earn money is when he finds ‘jobs’ in unspecified locations from time to time.

Were the ‘jobs’ he found legitimate or were they more acts of a criminal fashion that are best-left secret because of their violent and anti-social nature.

It is an established fact from the narrative that Malachy was indeed a criminal of some shape, size or description. In a passing early reference Frank glosses over some very significant questions when he describes his father as being wild, in trouble and for ‘some desperate act ending up a fugitive with a price on his head.’

What price?

What desperate act?

Fugitive on the run from who?

Why did he have to be ‘spirited from Ireland via cargo ship’ from Galway to New York and who organised the fast exit?

The fact of the matter is that Malachy wasn’t spirited out of Ireland on a Cargo ship at all but openly departed from Liverpool and arrived in New York on July 16th 1922 having sailed on the passenger ship ‘Adriatic.’

If McCourts allegations about his father were true a very different picture of the man as ‘Irish hero’ emerges because only clandestine bodies in cases of extreme emergency orchestrated these ‘fast exits’. Such escapes were the reserve of the ‘elite’ members of illegal organisations in the event of a serious life-threatening situation that could not be handled on home turf.

But the American’s would love such a hero and that was perhaps Frank’s only motive for depicting his father in such a fashion.

New York Times book critic Denis Donoghue rightly had his doubts about the validity of the claim and expressed them in 1996.

‘Mr. McCourt’s mother was woebegone for good reason as if on principle. His father, Malachy McCourt was an idler, a drunkard, a layabout, a singer of patriotic ballads, a praiser of gone times, a sentimentalist, a slob, a sot addicted to the company of sots. So the miseries of Frank McCourt’s childhood are attributable to his father. A more generous welfare system would have helped, but DeValera’s Ireland was in the throes of the ‘economic war’ with England, and life was hard. Nonetheless, neither Ireland not Catholicism was to blame; Malachy McCourt was the sole miscreant.’

‘ He would have done the same damage to wife and children if he had given up the Faith and stayed in Brooklyn. Fair is fair. To start at the beginning: Malachy McCourt was born and reared on a farm in Toome, County Antrim. We are asked to believe that he joined the old IRA and committed such gory deeds that a price was put on his head. It may be true, but I doubt it. Maybe he took up arms in the Rising of Easter Week 1916 or in the Troubles of the years leading to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922-23 and thought it was wise to clear off to America in 1923 or later. Frank McCourt gives no evidence, any detail. His father’s name does not appear in the list of those that fought in 1916 and was later given pensions for their services. I suspect that the whole story of escaping from Ireland is a fabrication on his father’s part, a tale of derring-do recited and repeated with an air of drama to impress the children.’

Back in New York we further learn that Malachy and a friend named John McErlaine had spent time in jail for hijacking a truck full of buttons. Is it more than coincidence that ‘buttons’ was a code word for ‘bourbon’ amongst the Irish Mafia during the prohibition era?

The act of hijacking clearly indicates that Malachy was open to acts of crime and obviously moving in criminal circles but with whom? What is the real story of this ‘hijack’ and what does it tell us about the man himself?

It is also relevant to ask that when Malachy told his children stories of the Irish mythological character Cuchulain were they euphemistic stories for the real life adventures of his close friend and New York contemporary Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll (pronounced by a childish Frank as ‘Coo-hoo-lin’).

Malachy told many stories to his drinking pals in the pubs of Limerick but they were dismissed as the silly fabrications of a romantically inclined alcoholic.

The storytellers of Limerick will tell you that on one occasion Malachy, back in the bars of Limerick, outrageously claimed to have had ‘inside knowledge’ of the whereabouts of the Lindbergh baby and also told tall tales about his exploits on the streets of New York with the Irish Mafia.

Frank makes many references in the text of ‘Angela’s Ashes’ to ‘the hound of Ulster’ which, ironically, was Coll’s nickname given to him by his fellow New York Irishmen prior to the ‘Mad Dog’ tag.

The narrative clearly suggests by insinuation that there may have been strong close links between McCourt and Coll’s gang.

What were these connections and how deep were they?

The answers to these questions are highly relevant to the story of ‘Angela’s Ashes’ because they shed a completely new light on the entire saga.

As the opening chapters progress we are told that Angela pays her first visit to Saint Vincent De Paul and her family have to stand in a queue of women wearing black shawls. She is told about a gentleman official named Mr. Quinlivan who is described as a ‘grinny ‘ol bastard’ and he continues to talk to and treat the women in a fashion that would render him highly unsuitable as a charity worker.

But is there more to Saint Vincent De Paul and Mr. Quinlivan than the vindictive descriptions suggest? What does Quinlivan’s family have to say about the depiction? Is his family and still living members of St. Vincent De Paul worthy of a closer hearing?

We next meet a woman shopkeeper from Parnell Street named McGrath whom, Angela is told to; ‘keep on eye on the oul’ bitch for she’ll cheat you on the weight.’

The unflattering description continues that the woman is a thief who is ‘forever on her knees abroad in Saint Joseph’s chapel clackin’ her rosary beads an’ breathing like a virgin martyr, the oul’ bitch.’

So how does Mrs. McGrath’s still living relatives respond to this unchristian depiction of a much-loved member of their family?

Angela McCourt is warned by her ‘begging women’ acquaintances at the offices of ‘St. Vincent De Paul’ that when she goes to McGrath’s Shop on Parnell Street the ‘oul’ bitch’ behind the counter will cheat.

The warning is clear, precise and most emphatic.

Angela is told that the oul’ bitch will put stuff on a paper on the scale with the paper hanging down on her side behind the counter where she thinks you can’t see it. The object of the exercise is to fraud the impoverished customer and get them to pay for something they are not getting.

Cecilia’s daughter Mary Gormley is still living in Limerick and is convinced that it was, in fact, a direct reference to her mother. Sure enough when Angela arrives at the shop Mrs. McGrath tries to con the woman by tampering with the weighing scales.

When Angela’s friend patronisingly assures Mrs. McGrath that there has been an error the woman steps back and admits that the scales is giving trouble and that her conscience is clear before God. The implication is that Mrs.

McGrath is clearly a dishonest woman who is willing to rob and cheat her customers in spite of the fact that she is also depicted as a religious lady with a catholic conscience. (The Mrs. McGrath in question has been clearly identified in Limerick as Mrs. Cecilia ‘Cecil’ McGrath who was the only businesswoman of that surname operating a premises in Parnell Street in that era.

In fact it was not a shop at all but a pub.

There were no weighing scales, no groceries, no St. Vincent De Paul callers and no obvious connection between the woman herself and the McCourt family other than the fact that her pub may very well have been one of Malachy’s occasional locals ‘My mother was a very religious woman and she was a daily visitor to Saint Joseph’s Church and she did have a premises on Parnell Street. ‘When I first read the book I was deeply hurt and offended because that was not the mother I remember at all.’

According to Mary’s account her mother was very well known and liked by all her customers and her honesty was never questioned, ‘I have clear recollections of coming and going as a child to and from my mother’s pub and there were never groceries for sale from that premises. There was a grocery shop up the road from us but it wasn’t McGrath’s and it was a man behind the counter and not a woman.’

She agrees that it may be possible that Malachy would have paid the occasional visit to the bar because the customers all came from the very lanes of Limerick where the McCourt’s lived.

‘I think it was very unfair to attack my mother’s honesty, uprightness and religious faith the way he did and I am at a loss to figure out why he would do such a thing to a person who has done nothing wrong against him.’

We are then introduced to Angela’s older sister Aggie (Sheehan) Keating and it is clear that this woman has no love for her sister and family, ‘Ye are the most ignorant bunch of Yanks I ever seen,’ she tells the children. Aggie, as seen through the eyes of her nephew, is a begrudging and barren aggressive woman who has little or no time for her husband and family.

She seizes every opportunity to insult and offend all those she comes in contact with and shows no common Christian mercy for Angela. Is this the real Aggie Keating and does this depiction sit comfortably with those who knew her well?

Frank and Malachy enroll at Leamy’s National School and we are introduced to an assortment of strict and cruel teachers who carry leather straps, canes, ash plants and blackthorn sticks with ‘knobs’ for beating pupils for every possible crime and misdemeanor.

The most vicious of these teachers is Mr. O’Dea who hates England and frequently demonstrates his cruelty to young boys by ‘pinching your sideburns’ until tears are shed.

We also meet the more cruel and vicious pupils who seem to develop a very quick contempt for the McCourt brothers. The stories told by these pupils about life at Leamy’s National School are much different than McCourt’s recollections. Their testimonies speak in volumes about the real Mr. O’Dea who emerges as one of the kindest and most compassionate teachers at the school.

After the death of Eugene the family move from their second Limerick home on Hartstonge Street to a, six-shillings a week rent ‘two-up two-down’ house, one of six, on Roden Lane located half way up the steep Barrack Hill.

The house is at the end of the lane and, we are told, is attached to a common lavatory used by the residents, eleven families, (in six houses?) of the lane. In winter the downstairs of the house is saturated in water and the family are forced to live upstairs in ‘little Italy.’

Son of the immediate former tenants of the house Paddy Malone has a completely different recollection of it’s condition.

‘We lived at number six Roden Lane for two years and in my time there I never saw one drop of water enter the house. McCourt claims that the downstairs was permanently saturated and that is not the case at all.’

Paddy says when his family left the house the McCourt family moved in that very evening. ‘People only moved late at night because they may have been ashamed about the few little possessions they had.’

Paddy also disputes McCourt’s description of the communal toilets at the end of the lane and says that people were very discrete about using these facilities.

‘It was a communal toilet that was shared by the residents of Roden Lane and they would come there after dark to empty their buckets but we rarely, if ever, knew that they were there or had been and gone. People were very hygienic and the families living on the lanes would never make a public issue about cleaning out their buckets.’

Also living on the lane with the McCourt’s were the Hannon’s, Downes, Chris and Connie Purtell and an old lady named Bridgie Godfrey.

Paddy says that these were all ‘highly respectable families’ and it is inconceivable to him that they would ‘smell up the lanes’ the way McCourt describes.

Paddy’s words are merely an example of some of the criticisms that have been leveled at Angela’s Ashes by the people who lived on the lanes and know exactly what they are talking about. They were there and have first hand experience. They ‘walked the walk’ and are worthy of a fair hearing because they feel that what they have to say is not only honest and valid but necessary because they wish to defend themselves against the writings of what they perceive as being a bitter attacker with a malicious intent to destroy the good names and reputations of innocent people who are no longer around to defend themselves.

They offer detailed insights into the characters of Angela’s Ashes and when their evidence and testimonies are taken into consideration a different picture starts to emerge.

A picture totally without comparison to that as painted by Frank McCourt and his book which those who know no better have embraced as non-fiction. With closer scrutiny of each of the main characters of Angela’s Ashes, the circumstances of their lives, the manner in which they behaved in private and in public, how they lived their lives, spoke their words and talked their talk reveals that McCourt’s depictions are certainly not beyond question.

County Antrim forms the north-east corner of Ireland, and a channel only 13 miles (21 km) wide separates Torr Head from the Scottish coast. Lough Neagh (the largest lake in Ireland or Britain) and the fertile valley of the Bann occupy the western part of the country, but the greater part of it is an irregular plateau of hills and uplands, dropping sharply to the sea on the north and east. Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland and a great port and industrial centre, is built where the River Lagan enters Belfast Lough, near the southern end of the county. On the east a magnificent coast runs north from Larne, curving round the base of steep headlands, between which the beautiful nine glens of Antrim open to the sea. Today, almost every bay along the coast is a link in a chain of fine holiday resorts. On the northern coast the Giant’s causeway is a celebrated natural wonder.

Malachy McCourt Snr. was the son of a rich farmer in Antrim who traveled to and from New York during the early 1900’s for reasons that were best kept secret and remain largely unknown by his descendents. There were, of course, strong rumors within the family that the Grandfather (Malachy’s dad) was, in fact, an IRA fundraiser who had to spend months at a time raising funds in America.

The money was then used to buy guns and ammunition to keep the ‘struggle’ to end British rule in Ireland going. Family sources are clear that he had strong connections during the Prohibition era with a small and badly organised Irish mob group in New York known as the ‘Westies’. They were the most powerful of the Hell’s Kitchen gangs and were mostly made up of Irish tough guys from the West Side. There weren’t too many money spinning rackets open to the ‘Westies’ but they specialised in burglary, pool halls and raiding the docks and the Hudson River Railroad.

There were five hundred or more men actively involved with the gang who also made a little money lending their services as ‘heavies’ to some political candidates but most of their time was spent fighting other gangs at the behest of the unofficial leaders Monk Eastman, Happy Jack Mullraney and a particularly aggressive character known as One Lung Curran. It was through such unsavory characters that Malachy McCourt’s father made most of his big connections in New York and over a thirty year period he became closely connected with a vicious Irish criminal known as Owney ‘The Killer’ Madden.

He was a sophisticated dresser and was highly respected in New York’s high society through his connections in bootleg liquor, nightclubs, taxicabs, laundries and cloak and cigarette concessions. He also controlled interest in the popular Cotten Club in Harlem where he held many of his meetings with McCourt. It was during one of these meetings that Malachy’s destiny was arranged.

Joey McRory (Frank McCourt’s first cousin now living in Derry) puts it best when he states:

‘It seems that Frank’s Grandfather was damn good at his job but as he got older he wanted to educate one of his sons to follow in his footsteps. For reasons best known to him it was decided that Malachy was to be the one to take up the work’

‘It is well known in our family that as a young man Malachy had developed a passion for alcohol that caused a lot of concern within his family. The move to the ‘big apple’ would have a lot of advantages. He could be slowly but surely alienated from his rightful inheritance should his love for booze take over his life and the feeling was that if they could ship him off to New York they would not have to watch his demise and the embarrassment he created in the hometown would be brought to an abrupt end from the moment of his departure.’

The move to New York, in spite of early signs, didn’t prove to be that successful. It seems the original plan was to have Malachy escort boxing champion Primo Carnera with the sole purpose of protecting Madden’s interest. The only real threat to Madden’s power in Hell’s Kitchen was Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll who tried to organise gangs to take over Madden’s territory. Coll was shot to death in February 1932.

Coll wasn’t originally from Hell’s Kitchen but was brought there at an early age to be raised by his sister. He started working for Dutch Schultz early on. His mean temper and killer instinct made him an important enforcer in the Schultz gang.

When he was 19 he killed a harmless bartender for not buying Schultz’s beer. He was acquitted and it was not long before he started getting on Schultz’s bad side. He started robbing places without permission and when Schultz told him to lay low for a while he demanded that he and Schultz became equal partners. Schultz refused and Coll started up his own gang. He started to raid Schultz’s bootlegging empire and did the same to Owney Madden. His downfall began in Summer 1931 when Schultz’s top man in Harlem ‘Joey Rao’ was standing outside the Helmar Social Club along with his two bodyguards and a crowd of kids. A speeding car came by firing shots everywhere. One kid was killed and four others wounded while Joey and his bodyguards were uninjured.

It was common knowledge that Coll was behind the shooting and he started to be nicknamed ‘the baby killer’. In early spring 1932 Coll was talking on the phone when a man walked in with a Thompson sub-machine gun and executed him.

Coll died in a pool of his own blood and the word hit the streets that Owney Madden had set up the killing.

Some months later Madden was sentenced to twelve months in prison and that put an end to the plan for Malachy who was left to fend for himself on the streets of a city he knew nothing about.

The story goes that during these idle months he started to frequent the Irish bars more and more and before too long he was best known for his big mouth, boisterous behavior and ability to create havoc by irritating those he encountered with his aggressive conduct.

For a small man he was well able to make a lot of noise and his drinking buddies soon tagged him ‘Weasel.’

It was only a question of time before Malachy made contact with Edward J. ‘Eddie’ McGrath who came up the ranks of the Irish mob as a bootlegger under Madden. The two men were not strangers to each other and McGrath took pity on ‘Weasel’ and decided to give him a helping hand in the form of occasional work.

McGrath was best known by the Irish as a decent man who ‘looked after’ any ‘Paddy’ who showed loyalty to him. Malachy knew how to cash in on the man’s weakness for the Irish and became a close companion and associate of the feared criminal.

McGrath also had some very influential political connections and was very involved with the union. He had been appointed an ILA ‘organiser at large’ by the Unions president and his right hand men were his brother-in-law John ‘Cockeye’ Dunn and Andrew ‘Squint’ Sheridan.

He controlled the numbers game throughout the port of New York and it is believed that Malachy got a job as a ‘money runner’ because of his ability to move quickly like a weasel in the night.

‘Weasel’ was making a lot of money then and very quickly earned himself a lot of respect from the Irish community because of his involvement with McGrath.

He was wearing the best clothes, went to the best restaurants and ate the best food. As the months rolled on McGrath took an even deeper liking to ‘Weasel’ and decided to give him important odd jobs ranging from running errands, delivering goods, armed delivery passenger and, from time to time, delivering whores to McGrath’s pre-arranged hotel rooms. It was in the course of one of these jobs that Malachy’s New York criminal career came to an abrupt end. Can Malachy’s own stories of why he absconded from New York be believed. There are still people in Limerick who recall Malachy’s endless yarn-spinning in the pubs of Limerick and what was once believed to be no more than a drunken brag looks now to have some semblance of the truth.

There are many people in Limerick who will testify that Malachy and his family, on their arrival to Ireland, were far from poor. Many of McCourt’s contemporaries have already publicly stated that the McCourt family were the best dressed children on the street. There seemed to be no real shortage of money for the first year or two of their Limerick days and that the real reason for Malachy’s pride was financial independence. The family didn’t need to beg, borrow or steal because there was no real shortage of money.

Malachy was, in fact, considered a very generous man who was well known throughout the lanes of Limerick for spending his money on long and expensive drinking sessions with many companions.

It is further believed that he was, in fact, the person who paid for the family to travel back to Ireland because he needed to get out of New York as quickly as possible.

In fact, he bragged about his wealth on many occasions when he had more than enough drink taken. He would claim that the only reason why he ever came to Limerick was because he had to get away from the gangsters in New York.

From the moment when Angela’s compulsive gambler and bigoted sister Aggie appears in the narrative she is depicted as a ‘fat cow’, uncouth and a hard hearted acrimonious brutal woman with little or no time for her sister and family, ‘they say she’s always angry because she has red hair or she has red hair because she’s always angry.’ ‘I don’t know why she is always angry. Her flat is warm and dry. She has electric light in the house and her own lavatory in the back yard.’

Aggie’s campaign of hatred against her sister and family commences with her initial appearance in the book. Her first action is to refuse her just arrived and exhausted sister, whom she describes as ‘so useless she couldn’t even scrub a floor’, the comfort of sharing her bed and from that point on the reader is led to believe that both Angela and Aggie were certainly not friends.

‘Mam doesn’t talk to her sister, Aunt Aggie’.

The contempt that Aggie shows for her own sister pales into insignificance by comparison to the disdainful manner with which she treats Malachy and her nephews whom she refers to as ‘Angela’s mistakes.’

When she is asked for help, ‘she’ll only bite your head off.’

On her next appearance she shows pure contempt for the newly arrived Americans when she is called on for help because her sister is losing a baby.

‘Ye are nothing but trouble since ye came from America,’ she responds when she is told that her sister is unwell. It is as if each time she enters the story she is guilty of new acts of unpleasantness and each one is worse than the last. She refuses to feed the hungry children porridge when requested to do so by her mother, jealously frowns on her sister’s ability to have children, venomously contradicts her sister at every available opportunity including unsympathetically when the grieving Angela was burying her son Eugene.

It seems as if the woman is on a lifelong crusade to inflict as much mental and physical pain, agony and suffering on her sister and family and is willing to stop at nothing to destroy Angela’s happiness.

She is nowhere to be seen when Angela buries her first son Oliver and her heartless behavior continues as she refuses to place the body of the deceased second child Eugene into the coffin, ‘that’s the job for the mother.’

She offers no words of comfort nor pays a visit to the profoundly ill young Frank when it is believed he is dying in hospital of typhoid fever, refuses to offer any help, support or compassion to the depressed Angela and brutalises her sister’s children when she is in hospital with pneumonia.

When the children are forced to stay with Aggie for a short while she seizes the opportunity to dish out horrifically ruthless abuse including namecalling, openly defecating before them, thumping and hitting them, stripping them naked and sending them out into the wintry cold – ‘I want to tell her it’s the middle of February, it’s freezing outside, we could all die, but I know if I open my mouth I might die right here on the kitchen floor.’

She forces the children out to her backyard where they have to scrub each other’s icy naked bodies until she orders them to stop and then makes them stand, still naked, in the shed to dry off.

When Pa Keating tries to defend the children he is told that it is none of his business, ‘they are not yours,’ before sending them out into the cold February night as she sits on front of her warm fire.

Her hatred for young Frank is obvious from the outset when she clatters, wallops and abuses him at every available opportunity. Even when he makes simple mistakes she is on top of him like a ton of bricks. When he has a minor mishap while attempting to start a fire she physically and verbally abuses the fearful child and compares him to his useless old man, ‘you have a puss on you like your father from the North.’

McCourt claims that Aggie tormented him all the time and called him ugly and hurtful names like ‘scabby eyes’ and the confused child tries to make himself unwell by standing out in the cold in an attempt to catch pneumonia just to get away from her mental and physical torture.

She continues in her campaign of hatred by telling the hungry children she can’t stand them and sends them out each morning into the cold day for hours on end with strict instructions not to come home until nighttime.

When the children ask for food they are beaten and slapped until they cry but, in the presence of an adult she experiences an incredible transformation.

When Malachy Snr returns he is given tea, eggs and sausages and a bottle of stout and when he leaves the house with his children she waves them off with an invitation to come back for tea anytime because they are good boys. It isn’t until her penultimate appearance in the book that we learn that there is another more human side to Aggie Keating. Her one and only act of kindness is when she takes a surprised teenage Frank, who is about to start work as a telegram boy, to Roches Stores to buy him a shirt, gansey, two pairs of shoes and stockings and a short pants, ‘fat and lazy, no son of her own, and still she buys me the clothes for my new job.’

Are we being given a fair, truthful and accurate narration of the woman described by her contemporaries as strict but honest, occasionally cantankerous but upright, religious but human and perhaps most of all, helpful, kind and considerate?

Is this one of the few occasions in ‘Angela’s Ashes’ when the author describes a character without distorting the reality?

Was ‘Aggie’ as cruel and brutal as the author claims?

Are the people who testify to Aggie’s good character simply unaware of her brutal side that only the McCourt boys themselves witnessed and experienced?

So which is the real ‘Aggie Keating’?

Was she a cold, hard, ruthless and brutal ol’ bitch or just simply a disagreeable but likable ordinary working class woman weighed down by her own personal little problems but willing to help and support her family, friends and neighbours if and when the need arose.

In fact, that need arose in the case of her first cousin Gerald ‘Laman’ Griffin when he died at Limerick City Home of ‘Myocarditis Gastric Carcinoma’ in 1961, a poverty-stricken man, the receipts at Thompson’s Funeral Parlour on Thomas Street clearly indicate that she paid in cash for the funeral.

More than this, Frank fails to mention in his book that at the alleged time he and his family were staying with Aggie there was in fact another person living in the house.

That person was Aggie’s niece Peggy Sheehan who came to live with her ‘Auntie Aggie’ and Pa after her parents had died.

Pat ‘Ab’ Sheehan was perhaps one of the best known of the ‘Limerick newsboys’ who were a highly respected group of local lads that dedicated their lives to going from door to door selling local and national newspapers.

Former ‘newsboy’, the late Frank Renihan remembered ‘Ab’ very clearly in 1980 when he wrote for The Olde Limerick Journal. ‘Another legendary seller was Ab Sheehan, who was renowned as a Young Munster fan and who sported a black and amber scarf the length of himself.’

According to Frank, ‘All the old Limerick newsboys who faithfully served the people of Limerick down through the years are now forgotten by the present generation. And there were some outstanding characters and personalities among these men. Their names, their doings and the stories told about them are never far from my mind.’

He continues, ‘When I entered the business selling newspapers meant physically fighting for your corner and punches were often exchanged. But in spite of the efforts of a rough, tough element, most of the newsboys survived.

‘The newsboys used to compete with one another to sell their papers to the sailors at the docks. The quay was often lined with ships and the boys would go aboard to provide a service that has long since ended. Other spots we used to concentrate on were the late cinemas, dance halls and forty-five drives. The people living in the housing estates got a special service of their own and they used to wait up until all hours – no matter how late the paperboy was on his rounds.’

‘For the newsboys it was a tough life. There was no guaranteed weekly wage and ‘wet time’ payments were unheard of. Late arrivals and unsold papers were occupational hazards. There were no handouts from the state, no medical cards, no holiday pay and no pension schemes. There was no economic security, many of them died penniless and are buried in paupers graves.’

Irish journalist Mary Kenny is angry at the manner in which Ireland, it’s people and institutions and more specifically Saint Vincent De Paul are depicted in Angela’s Ashes.

‘There is scarcely anyone in the whole story with an ounce of humanity. The McCourt family are all vile: the father is an aimless drunk, and the mother is a weak slut: the grandmother is a bigoted old bitch and the aunt is an embittered, scolding battle-ax. The Uncle is selfish and ignorant. The cousin is a loathsome brute. They are, as a clan, entirely devoid of family feeling or kindness for one another, at least when the children are young. Indeed, everyone in the Limerick of Angela’s Ashes is especially beastly to children. If the family is awful, the neighbours are ugly and mean-spirited, the representatives of the state are cruel and hard-hearted, and teachers, with one exception, are sadistic, twisted tyrants who deliberately mock poor children for their poverty. It goes without saying that the Church is sneering, cruel, rejecting, and exploitative, and the Saint Vincent De Paul are represented by most particularly odious characters who taunt poor women before they patronise them. You cannot libel a group of more than eight people, but if you could, the Vincent De Paul certainly would have a legal redress, they should do something to contradict their good name being attacked and undermined as it is in this book.’

We are told that the ruthless officials at Saint Vincent De Paul refer to the poor who seek help as ‘beggars’

‘Well I remember the war years. As a matter of fact, I was seven years of age when the second World War broke out. I have vivid memories of scarcities. Poverty in Limerick was common amongst the working people. Most of the men had gone to England, that ever open safety valve. Most households had money coming home from Britain. A familiar, and indeed a welcome sight was the wire-boy with the money-orders from the cities of London, Liverpool and Birmingham. A phrase well known then was ‘Any sign of the wire-boy?’

The telegram boy would race into our area ever conscious of his mission. He would distribute his post and would get the odd ‘tanner’ (sixpence) here and there. The telegram would be opened gingerly. It would be signed by the head of the house and cashed at the local huxter shop. Then the big vase would come down from the mantelpiece overflowing with pawnshop tickets.’

Stephen Carey, another of McCourt’s victims can be best described as a social apostle.

He dedicated his life to the catholic church and was famous throughout the length and breadth of the region for his devotion to the poor people of the lanes of Limerick.

Stephen was noted as a very decent and caring man who gave his life to the church and the community for which he was awarded the Papal Benemeranti Medal.

His living relatives have publicly testified to their abhorrence at the way in which their beloved family member was treated in Angela’s Ashes.

In the book Stephen is accused of slamming the door in the face of the young McCourt when he wanted to become an altar boy.

McCourt tells of how he and his father walk to Saint Joseph’s Church to see the sacristan, Stephen Carey, about young Frank becoming an altar boy. When they knock on the door, Stephen answers and McCourt tells in his book: ‘Stephen Carey looks at him, then me. He says, we don’t have room for him, and closes the door. Dad is still holding my hand and squeezes till it hurts and I want to cry out.’

But the Carey family are deeply hurt at the insulting manner in which Stephen was portrayed as a heartless man. ‘We thought it was unjust and hurtful what Mr. McCourt said about my father,’ said Marie Siegel, daughter of Stephen, (now living in Friedrichdorf, Germany) to Limerick Leader journalist Iain Dempsey in March 2000.

‘We want the people of Limerick to look on my father with kindness and not with malice. He spent his life in the church and was of great benefit to his native Limerick and it’s people.’

Diana Peckham (Granddaughter of Stephen) says, ‘My grandfather is portrayed in the book as a cold and heartless person who slams the door in the face of a poor little boy who wants to be an acolyte and with these few words from McCourt a very decent and caring man has been damned in the eyes of many readers around the world. My Grandfather was a great parish clerk, dedicating his life to the church and to the community.’

‘My family also suffered the loss of two infants who would have undoubtedly have lived had they been born into more modern times. Stephen did not blame fate or others for the things that went wrong in his life but gathered strength and carried on. Times were hard for everyone and he had an enormous faith and lived his life in accordance with Christian principles.’

‘My grandfather was always a gentleman and he viewed the world with compassion and he is part of Limerick history and represents all that is commendable in the Irish spirit.’

She further stated that she is ‘stung’ by the injustice that the book was published and embraced as a work of non-fiction when the author himself had often admitted that he has embellished imperfect memory.

Marie grew up on Saint Joseph’s Street just yards from McCourt’s home on Barrack Hill and was the eldest of nine children. Her father died in 1981.

She was not the only one to stand up in defense of her father.

Dr. Tom Ryan, honored by the Catholic Church by being made a Knight Commander of the Holy Sepulchre and one of Ireland’s most respected oil painters, also deemed it necessary to publicly comment.

Over the past 40 years Dr Tom Ryan has become one of Ireland’s most distinguished oil painters. His portraits and landscapes have ascended every art gallery of significance in the country.

They can be viewed in the State Rooms at Dublin Castle and in prestigious private collections.

‘His portraits capture a Who’s Who of Irish society’ says Limerick journalist Jimmy Woulfe. In fact, most people can get a glimpse of Tom’s work by simply reaching into a pocket or purse. He was commissioned by the Central Bank to draw the deer for the Irish £1 coin.

Tom, who has an honorary doctorate from UL, was born at 30, St Joseph’s Street, in a cul de sac leading to the People’s Park.

His memories of the neighborhood are far brighter than those set out by Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, a book which Tom is highly critical of.

‘Don’t mention that McCourt name to me again,’ he told Mr. Woulfe of the Limerick Leader in January 2000. When Woulfe asked him to elaborate, he continued: ‘He mentioned people whom I knew and respected. I was an altar boy in St Joseph’s where Stephen Carey was the parish clerk. Stephen was a very special man, a small man with black curly hair. He kept the church beautifully and attended to his duties in a very correct way. People liked and respected him. One of the things he taught me was the Morse code.

‘I think McCourt was malicious in the way be portrayed Stephen. The only way to sustain that deliberate antagonism was malice, and if he had written it about some town in the middle of the Ukraine it might have been easy for us to read it.

‘The book had a remarkable success and people are a bit intimidated by that. Certainly, some of the people who applauded it already had chips on their shoulder about Limerick. So this book was proof positive for them.

‘Take the Redemptorists. Apart from the rigidity which was fashionable in religious circles at that time, they were very generous as well. They looked after the poor; they looked after the necessitous. They set up a credit union. A totally admirable body of men and this bloody blackguard attacks them.’

Can this really be the same Stephen Carey who ruthlessly slammed the door on the face of an impoverished child seeking to befriend God by being his servant on the altar of Saint Joseph’s Church?

If not then the question must be asked as to why McCourt felt it necessary to discredit a ‘shining light’ of the Catholic Church.

One can do more than merely speculate as to his thinking.

In an interview with Jim Saah of ‘Uno Mas’ he admits to his loathing for the Catholic Church.

‘So now I just have nothing but contempt for the institution of the church. And the priests who should have known better, who were of no… not just of no use to us, they just ignored us. Except to threaten us. Come to pay our dues… although we didn’t have it. They were always looking for money. And they lived well. They were nice and fat, glowing. They had cars, they had crates of whiskey and wine delivered to their houses, and they preached poverty but as far as the institution of the church is concerned, I think it is despicable.’

Hardly the words of an unbiased man.

Clearly then it is not Carey the man that is under attack here at all but what he represented. Stephen was the archetype of all that is good about the Catholic Church. By discrediting him McCourt may well have known in his heart that only the people of Limerick would truly understand the level of bitterness of the attack.

To the rest of the world Stephen is no more than just another minor character in a book but to the people of Limerick he was an angel of the streets.

In the eyes of the people who knew Stephen the allegation is as outrageous as accusing Mother Treasa of being a thief.

By swiping at him McCourt was, in fact, swiping at the deeply held religious beliefs of his contemporaries. It was, in fact, a shocking allegation that Stephen could be so unkind.

In fact, the reality is, that many believe that this is no more than a made up story designed to serve McCourt’s selfish purpose to ‘have a go’ at Limerick and all it hold’s dear.

After all, we only have McCourt’s word on it and is that good enough to render the story true and not open to question?

Are we expected to believe that McCourt is telling the truth and Stephen’s family and highly distinguished acquaintances are liars?

Gerard ‘Laman’ Griffin appears in the latter pages of Angela’s Ashes and is very quickly defined as a chauvinistic crude and vulgar contemptuous, whiskey soaked, aggressive, willingly bedridden, figure who abuses, physically and verbally, Angela and her family.

The McCourt’s are forced to move into Laman’s small cottage on Rosbrien Road after the rent man on Roden Lane discovers the damage done to the house and evicts them.

The author is mystified as to why Angela’s first cousin Gerard is nicknamed Laman.

He earned the nickname as a child when his mother ran a small shop from the house and was noted for selling toffee apples. These were known in that time as ‘Laman apples’ and thus Gerard was known as Laman Griffin the man who sold Laman apples.

As Griffin snores, snorts, spits, belches, farts, blows his nose and spews out mucus for page after page the message is clear that this man is obviously an obnoxious and repulsive figure of a human being.

He spends his time pissing and excreting into a chamber pot and leaving the mess for Frankie and his mother to clean up.

But Frank is not alone in his hatred for Griffin.

Malachy, in his book ‘A Monk Swimming’ describes Laman as a drunken sot, ‘a cousin of my mother’s, and it wasn’t long before she was sharing his bed despite his cruelty to her and us. Part of the deal, I suppose, for giving us shelter.’

We also learn in a ‘by the way’ fashion that Laman was educated at Rockwell College, was an officer in the Royal Navy from which he was dishonorably discharged for drinking, member of the National Front and highly respected rugby player with the distinguished Young Munsters team in Limerick.

Frank tells us that Laman played when Young Munsters won the Bateman Cup in 1929 but, in fact, he did not play in that particular match because of a leg injury. But this misinformation may have just been through unawareness.

Perhaps the most controversial issue in the entire book for the people of Limerick is the manner in which McCourt makes sexual allegations against his mother.

However, it must be noted that McCourt never states for a clear fact that his mother and Laman were involved in a sexual relationship.

He merely alludes to it.

But that was more than enough to do the damage.

The first reference to the affair is made when young Frank is lying awake in bed and listening to ‘talking, grunting and moaning’ coming from the attic bedroom where Laman is with Angela.

‘I ‘m thirteen and I think they’re at the excitement up there.’

In fairness, the possibility that the alleged relationship may be no more than the product of a sexually fertile teenage imagination is not ruled out.

What would motivate a son to write such unprovable allegations about his own mother?

One can only speculate as to the answer.

By writing this he is clearly accusing his mother of breaking the sixth commandment. This is interesting because throughout the narrative this is the only commandment he repeatedly quotes ‘Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery’. He needs to reinforce the importance of this commandment for the reader because it is one that he obviously hold’s very very dear.

In short, break this one and you are really trash and fitting of any abuse that any person cares to hurl at you. He considers masturbation, bestiality and homosexuality forms of adultery.

His distorted interpretation of the word makes him a vile and repulsive sinner in his own eyes and if he can justifiably accuse his own mother of equal sin then it makes the load on his catholic conscience a little less burdensome.

The revelation that he believes his mother has broken this commandment makes her, in his estimation, a fitting target for his judgmental accusations.

Interestingly the fact that he is equally as judgmental to his mother prior to her ‘big sin’ with Griffin is further proof, if needed, of his maternal contempt.

Sex is foremost on his mind at the time of the alleged incident between Angela and Griffin and it is therefor fair to conclude that it is possible that they were totally innocent of the charge.

The reality may be that Gerald ‘Laman’ Griffin was an innocent party to the allegations leveled against him by Frank. It is possible that ‘Laman’ became a euphemism or name substitute for another man.

But because ‘Laman’ is long dead and has no known living relatives at the time of publication his name was used to protect the identity of the true perpetrator of the so called crime.

The facts about ‘Laman’ are in total contradiction to Frank’s revelations.

Laman was never a student at Rockwell College and was never in the British navy as Frank claimed. A detailed search of the records at the library at Rockwell College in Clonmel, County Tipperary in March 2000 produced no former records whatsoever of a Gerard, Gerald, Jerome or Jeremiah Griffin ever being in attendance at the school. However, there was a man by the name of Michael Griffin (surname merely a coincidence and no relation of Frank’s or Laman’s) who lived on Barrack Hill, just a stones throw from Frank’s home on Barrack Lane, who was a student at Rockwell and also spent some time in the British Merchant Marines.

Could he have been the ‘real’ Laman Griffin?

If so why would Frank intentionally conceal his identity while, at the same time, destroy the reputation of an innocent man?

Although he is totally ignored throughout the text of Angela’s Ashes Jackie Brosnan was a major player in the life of Frank McCourt. If he were to appear in McCourt’s narrative he would be a total contradiction to the illusion of ‘poverty and hardship’ that the author was creating.

Limerick businessman and former St. Joseph’s Scoutmaster Jackie had a tremendous influence on Frank McCourt’s teenage life in Limerick.

Not only was he the man who introduced McCourt to Saint Joseph’s Boyscouts, who were considered to be the ‘elite’ boyscout movement of that era, but he also employed McCourt for five years (1944 to 1949).

Jackie’s recollection’s of the young Frank, whom he describes as a ‘Walter Mitty’ type character, are nothing but pleasant and up to his death in Summer 1999 when he granted me an interview on his deathbed he defended the authenticity of ‘Angela’s Ashes’ at every available opportunity.

Jackie states in the interview that McCourt was a pleasant, outgoing, jovial and talented young man. He further reveals that Frank was an amazing drummer.

‘He was one of the best drummers I have ever seen in my life.’

This was an astonishing revelation in that McCourt fails to make any reference whatsoever in Angela’s Ashes to the fact that he was trained, at some expense to his family, to become a noted Bass drummer.

However, Jackie was a man who was not without unanswered questions as to the veracity of McCourt’s book which he says he loved in spite of it’s obvious mistakes.

In Brosnan’s words there was definitely a feeling of absolute loyalty shadowed by a sense of fear as he spoke about his recollections of the writer.

It seems that Frank without explanation made a conscious decision to protect the identity of Jackie Brosnan and seemed to have substituted his name and identity with that of an alleged ‘Irishtown’ community resident moneylender named Mrs. Brigid Finucane.

‘Finucane is a repellent moneylender who exploits the poor of Limerick, though Mr. McCourt has noticeably very carefully not written her as Jewish. It is a simple point of objective history that – for quite understandable historical reasons – moneylenders in Limerick were Jewish, but there are regulations now that you are only allowed to be critical of Catholics, so the moneylender in the story has to be made into a spiteful Catholic vixen, complete with statues of the Blessed Virgin scattered around her extortionate book-keeping.’

None of the people I interviewed had any recollection whatsoever of this lady and we can therefore fairly conclude that no such person existed.

Just another of Frank’s ‘made up’ characters.

As a post-office worker McCourt delivers a telegram to Finucane who offers him a commissioned job writing threatening letters to her customers. Frank, without hesitation, seizes the opportunity because he was desperate to go to America and saw this as a way of financing his trip.

He responds to Finucane’s demands to ‘threaten ’em, boy. Frighten the life out of them’ by composing letters to his laneway neighbours ‘ my own people’ and family friends and then proceeding to pilfer the money as a drunken Finucane slips into sleep while counting the profits.

McCourt arrives at Finucane’s home one evening to find her dead and help’s himself to a substantial amount of her money ‘enough to go to America’ and her accounts book which he later throws into the river Shannon. In the period Frank claims he was in the employ of Mrs. Finucane he was actually employed by Jackie Brosnan.

Jackie was the owner of a very busy ‘Radio and Bicycle Shop’ also offering a range of nursery items on Upper William Street in Limerick before, during and after the McCourt era. It was a matter of procedure that his customers would call to the shop and buy goods on what was commonly known as the ‘never never.’ This simply meant that the customer would take the goods away from the shop and return each week and pay the bill by installment. Jackie, being the soft hearted gentleman that he was would, more often than not, be taken advantage of by some of the less scrupled people who failed to pay up for the goods, ‘Many is the time I was left unpaid for goods,’ he openly admits in the interview.

Could it be that he perceived McCourt’s ability as a writer as the solution to his problem?

He first met Frank McCourt when the boy enlisted as a member of Saint Joseph’s Boyscout movement of which Brosnan was the scoutmaster at the time.

The two became very friendly after Frank learned that Brosnan was well known for owning a large business and had no shortage of money. It was only a question of weeks before the opportunistic teenage McCourt was in the employ of Brosnan where he worked as a ‘sales assistant’ and accounts keeper.

‘He was a great worker and willing to do any kind of work for me whether it was mending bicycles, selling radios, collecting accounts or sweeping the floor.’

Brosnan never thought of McCourt as being short of cash.

‘He was the only member of the Boyscout movement, that I can recall, who paid for everything in cash. He often went on daytrips with us all over Ireland and would always pay up front while the rest of the boys would have to pay a few pennies a week prior to the excursions. He even paid for his uniform in cash and that surprised me because it was totally unheard of at the time.’

Brosnan remained undoubting of McCourt’s honesty and was ‘surprised’ to read Frank’s confession of theft from Finucane.

(Interestingly the only Finucane that Brosnan remembered was his own lifetime friend and fellow businessman Vincent Finucane who still owns a TV and Radio Shop in Limerick.)

Even Jackie’s friends and acquaintances are mystified as to why his name was excluded from the writer’s memoirs. Limerick politician and former City Councilor Seamus Houlihan (66) who describes himself as a true Labour Party man and staunch Trade Unionist shared his teenage years in the same troop with McCourt in St. Joseph’s Boyscouts. ‘Young boys came from all walks of life to Saint Josephs but I suppose they were the ‘luckiest’ of the families from the lanes of Limerick. My mother insisted that I go to the boyscouts with my pal Dan Doyle from Dominic Street and little did I know then that these were to be some of the happiest years of my life.’

Seamus was born into a family of nine and says that in those post war years there was a shortage of food and clothing but that did not mean that the people were miserable.

‘We had great neighbours and a very good upbringing and there was a tremendous sense of community spirit rampant on the lanes of Limerick. I can’t understand why the McCourt family did not share in that experience. It is a complete mystery to me. People helped each other out all the time, it was the done thing in those days.

Neighborliness was very important amongst these tight-knit communities and it wasn’t possible to survive without the help of the people living next door or up the street. Everybody pulled together and that is how they got through the hardship of those times.’

Seamus has a vivid recollection of McCourt and describes him as a ‘very aloof young man.’ He was the type of guy that stayed in the background and it was as if he saw himself as being better than the rest of us.’

But there was one exception to this ‘aloofness’ and that was when Frank McCourt was banging his big Bass drum.

‘He was also an excellent Bass drummer and was one of the best I have ever seen. He played with the 10th Limerick Saint Joseph’s Boyscout Band and he knew how to draw attention to himself when he paraded the streets.’

Those days in Saint Josephs were days of contentment, fun and joy, for every member including McCourt.

‘We had to pay a penny a week for various activities and Frank took part in almost everything that went on. He attended lessons in Geography, History, went on the day trips, the outings and it was guaranteed that when something was going on Frank McCourt would be involved in some way or another.’

‘We took many daytrips by train to Youghal or Kilkee or Ballybunion and McCourt was on every one of them. I don’t remember an occasion when McCourt was not there, fag in the mouth and looking completely happy and contented.’ ‘Jackie Brosnan was a complete gentleman and a highly active member of the movement and he also seemed to have a close friendship with McCourt. They got on very well together and you rarely saw one without the other. It is a mystery to me why Frank didn’t write about his days with Jackie because the poor old man deserved to be acknowledged for his many kindnesses to the author.’

Peter and Anne McCourt lived in a place known as ‘White’s Lane’, a stone’s throw from Barrack Hill, up to 1935 when Anne died (Age 22) of consumption. The fact that there was another ‘McCourt’ family resident on the lanes just a few streets away from Frank’s home on Barrack Lane is, on the face of it, no more than a coincidence. However, is it also a coincidence that the McCourt family arrived in Limerick within a week or so of Anne’s death?

 

The ‘Ashes’ Interview

In a full and forthright EXCLUSIVE interview with Limerick.com controversial author, journalist and broadcaster Gerard Hannan talks about his Limerick childhood, his brush with the international media, his popularity as a tamed Irish shock-jock and his globally famous row with Pulitzer prize-winning author of Angela’s Ashes Frank McCourt.

Interview conducted by Jan Rice for Limerick.com

Dateline: June 8th. 2002

LIMERICK.COM: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.

HANNAN: You’re very welcome. Why should I turn down such an opportunity to communicate my thoughts and feelings?

LIMERICK.COM: You are best known internationally for your row with Frank McCourt and we will talk in detail about that in a little while but firstly will you tell us a little bit about who you are and where you come from?

HANNAN: Well, I was born in 1959 and raised in a place called Garryowen, which is a working class suburb of Limerick. I am the fifth son in a family of eight. My mother would say that my head was so big when I was born that she couldn’t walk for six months after having me. My mother had five sons in a row and then three girls.I was in the middle, I think they really wanted a girl so the next baby after me was Mary. Our family was split in two groups of 4 and I got stuck in with the girls. But I have always had a better relationship with my sisters than with my brothers. I love them all but, I have to say, the girls are like my three guardian angels. I am lucky because they are so honest. They will tell me that I am either an idiot or a hero with everything I get involved with. They are the only people that can really influence me. I think women are far more intelligent than men; they have a keener sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Men just throw their eyes up to God and hope that whatever the problem is; it will soon go away. Women will tackle the problem head on. So my sisters are important to me.that sounds a bit clinical.what they have to say is significant to me.

LIMERICK.COM: Did you have a happy childhood?

HANNAN: Absolutely. I really have no outstanding memories that would haunt me in any way whatsoever. Yes there were ups and downs like everybody else but as I get older I realise that what seemed important to me in my twenties has paled into insignificance in my early forties. What seemed like defining moments in my childhood was only important because I deemed them so. But as I get older I think more about what happened yesterday than what happened last year. Even bitter memories from my childhood have become somewhat sweet because I now realise that those moments have made me what I am and if I don’t accept what those moments tell me about myself then I don’t accept myself and nothing would be further from the truth. I totally accept myself so it follows that those moments are of no real consequence. I even feel awkward talking about them because it is giving them more importance than they actually deserve.

LIMERICK.COM: Can you give us an example?

HANNAN: Well I write about a defining moment from my childhood in TIS IN ME ASS when I was about six or seven years of age and my mother caught me playing with the girls. That, for one reason or another, was totally unacceptable to her so she put a dress on me and sent me out onto the street and at first I was mortified because my best friends were out there playing football while I was indoors playing ‘house’. That was a very bitter memory for me as a teenager and in my early twenties but nowadays it think the episode was very funny. When I wrote about it I was writing with my tongue firmly in my cheek and was milking it a bit for laughs. I figure if I had wrote about it in my twenties I would have been milking it for sympathy.

LIMERICK.COM: So what you are saying is.?

HANNAN: I am saying that we are all better off leaving our luggage behind us and if we can’t do that then we should look for something funny about the memory and that will help us to leave it behind. That’s what I believe, it may sound like a ‘cock and bull’ story to others but that’s what I believe God help me!

LIMERICK.COM: As I mentioned earlier you are best known internationally as Frank McCourt’s protagonist but in Limerick you have a completely different image because of the popularity of your nightly radio talk show. Tell us a bit about that.

HANNAN: I keep hearing about this so-called ‘international image’ but I honestly don’t think in my mind that there are any more than a handful of Limerick’s ex-pats and a couple of student’s of Irish literature who give any more than a flying damn about Gerry Hannan and his point of view on McCourt or any other subject for that matter..

LIMERICK.COM: You could be wrong.

HANNAN: Maybe.but I doubt it.

LIMERICK.COM: A random search of the internet came up with results where you were quoted in newspapers such as the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Sunday Times, C.N.N., ’60 Minutes with Ed Bradley’, BBC Radio and Television, The South Bank Show, German, French Japanese and Australian newspapers, magazines, radio and television so how then can you say that there is nobody out there who gives a damn?

HANNAN: Well that was then and this is now. That was an incredible period of my life and I learned a lot about how the media works. Journalists hunt in packs and they go through you for a short cut but then the whole thing dies and you become yesterdays news thanks be to God!

LIMERICK.COM: You are grateful for that?

HANNAN: Jesus yes. That was fun while it lasted but as this media attention went on and on I got really bored with it and eventually I stopped taking calls because everything I had to say was somehow twisted to suit the angle the journalist was coming from. The American journalists were always pro-McCourt and to them I was a two-headed monster from Limerick. The European media, with the exception of the Irish hacks, were very fair and balanced. Irish journalists saw me as an opportunist jumping on McCourt’s success. The Europeans grasped the concept of two sides to every story.

LIMERICK.COM: Let’s talk about your radio show for a moment.

HANNAN: Well I started broadcasting on local radio about twenty-five years ago, back in the pirate days; I immediately fell in love with the whole concept of radio. Back then I just went on and played music but as I got older I became more interested in talk radio. I loved what Howard Stern was doing in New York and I also knew there was some guy doing more or less the same thing in Dublin and it was proving extremely popular. Then, of course, there was Gerry Ryan on 2FM so I knew my day was coming. When I approached the local radio station in Limerick with the idea of a late night talk show they offered me a late night slot, the graveyard shift, on Sundays and I grabbed it. In a matter of months the show was running from Monday to Friday for three solid hours each night and it took off from there.

LIMERICK.COM: Why do you think your show is so popular?

HANNAN: I am still wondering about that. It is a complete mystery to me but I could hazard a guess at the answer. The popularity of the show has very little to do with me. The fact that so many people can have freedom of expression on the public airwaves is a very attractive proposition regardless of the presenter. The show furnishes ordinary people with a great opportunity for young and old alike to sing their songs, tell their stories, play their instruments, talk their talk, express their point of view, good, bad or indifferent, on any subject under the sun. It is radio with no rules. A sort of pot-pourri, if you like, of views, thoughts, talents, feelings and beliefs and I think you just can’t miss with that kind of a formula. Nobody knows, including myself, what is going to happen next and that keeps the whole thing interesting.

LIMERICK.COM: Are you a firm believer in freedom of expression?

HANNAN: Absolutely. But I only discovered that about myself when I started doing this show. People have every right to say exactly what is going on in their minds with regard to any issue and they also have a right to be heard. Of course there are certain rules and the greatest of these is you don’t get personal, hurt any individual or be disrespectful toward what they think or feel. After that, it is a sort of free for all. That’s democracy at it’s best and for as long as that freedom thrives in any society then that society can never be accused of being anything other than democratic.

LIMERICK.COM: Are there no exceptions to that rule?

HANNAN: None that I can think of off hand but I am open to contradiction. I don’t suggest for a moment that I am always right that would be undemocratic wouldn’t it?

LIMERICK.COM: You seem to have a great affinity for aged people; the national media once described you as ‘a defender of the elderly’ where does that come from?

HANNAN: I have no idea. I love to listen to elderly people talking to me on the radio show. They are always very interesting. The wisdom of years. They don’t take life as seriously as, let’s say, my generation would. They have seen it all and if you listen to what they have to say you can learn a lot. But, as for ‘defender of the elderly’, that’s a load of nonsense. If anything they defend me!

LIMERICK.COM: You frequently become involved in charity work in Limerick and were a founder member of ALJEFF (An organisation set up with the purpose of building a treatment centre for young addicts), you raised substantial funds for a local youth band to buy new instruments and uniforms for it’s thirty or more members, you also raised funds to pay for twenty or so mentally and physically handicapped young adults to travel to Lourdes and raised money to pay for an electronic wheelchair for a disabled young girl from the working-class suburb of Moyross – why?

HANNAN: The one great thing about the radio show is that it has an enormous audience and I think people are essentially good. When they hear of something worthwhile they respond immediately. I am fortunate to be in the position where I have their attention. It is these people that are the real unselfish ones here not me. I accept no praise, nor deserve any, for this work.

LIMERICK.COM: Are you religious?

HANNAN: I have no doubt God exists. I am very conscious of his presence in my life and would always aim to do my best to live my life to his satisfaction. I don’t believe that I am achieving that but I intend to keep trying to the best of my ability. If that makes me religious then I am.

LIMERICK.COM: Why have you remained single?

HANNAN: No comment.

LIMERICK.COM: Let’s talk about Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes and the famous international debate.

HANNAN: I wondered when you would get round to that!

LIMERICK.COM: When did you first hear of Angela’s Ashes?

HANNAN: I met McCourt briefly one morning in autumn 1997 when he approached me at the radio station to interview him about his new book Angela’s Ashes. I liked him at first and arranged to interview him later that same week but he never showed up. I didn’t actually get round to reading the book for some weeks but my immediate response was lack of interest and by the time I got half way through the book it became a bit of a drag for me to finish but I soon did.

LIMERICK.COM: You didn’t like it?

HANNAN: I didn’t dislike it. Nobody can deny that the book was brilliantly written. McCourt got the childhood voice absolutely perfect. There was a certain innocence about the whole thing that was impressive. I was touched by specific parts of the book but not enough to warrant any great praise. That may sound vindictive coming from me but that is how I felt and I must be honest. I reread the book some months later because I figured that I was biased first time round and the same held true so maybe it deserves another chance. I have heard the book being described as a work of genius but I am hard pressed to find why.

LIMERICK.COM: At what point in time did you decide to publicly challenge the authenticity of Angela’s Ashes?

HANNAN: There was no particular point in time. I started to discuss the book on the radio show and I was overwhelmed with the amount of calls I received complaining about the inaccuracies of Angela’s Ashes. These calls were coming from Limerick’s senior citizens who came from the lanes of Limerick in the McCourt era. People who walked the walk and knew more about the reality of life in that time than I ever could.

LIMERICK.COM: Are you not far too young at 40 to know or remember anything at all about life on the lanes of Limerick?

HANNAN: This is often said to me but I am a journalist and a student of social research with some education in Sociology. I deem myself an acceptable researcher and reporter of facts. I have often said you don’t need to have spent time in Nazi Germany to write about it. There are plenty of witnesses willing to discuss their experiences and they can paint a pretty accurate picture of what life would have been like there and then.

LIMERICK.COM: Your first book ASHES was published within weeks of ANGELA’S ASHES. How did this come about?

HANNAN: ASHES was not my first book. I wrote a book called ‘FROM CAMPFIRE TO CARNEGIE HALL’ in 1994; that was a good seller in Limerick too. It was about Limerick’s comedy duo TOM & PASCAL whom I loved as a child. I had been working on a book called ‘Penance’ which was set in Limerick and was about two childhood friends who grew up on the lanes. It was pretty much completed and I decided to change the name because I wanted it to be linked with ANGELA’S ASHES. The idea was to present another side to the story. There are always two sides to every story and this book was about people who came from the lanes but emerged from the experience with little or no bitterness.

LIMERICK.COM: Wasn’t it a bit opportunistic to call the book ASHES?

HANNAN: A journalist once told me that if I were in any other business, other than writing, I would have been given an enterprise award for the idea. Others have said it was opportunistic; it depends on how you look at it. For me it meant instant recognition for my book. There are lots of books published in Limerick every year and calling my book ASHES gave it an edge that it otherwise would not have had.

LIMERICK.COM: Did it sell well?

HANNAN: I think we sold about 20,000 copies all over Ireland. It is out of print now and it had three print runs. I am very satisfied with the sales.

LIMERICK.COM: How did McCourt respond to the book?

HANNAN: I have no idea. He never publicly criticised it other than on one occasion he told the Sunday Times that he had no doubt that it would be a runaway best seller to the borders of Limerick. Being that that was all I was aiming for in the first place I was impressed by his intended insult. Maybe I’m small minded and a little too insular in my thinking but I never believed for a moment than anyone other than a Limerick person would have any interest whatsoever in my books.

LIMERICK.COM: Were you surprised by the amount of international media attention you received after the publication of ASHES?

HANNAN: Surprised and amused. But of course I became suspicious when the American journalists started to ring me and I asked a researcher for ’60 Minutes’ how she got my number and she told me that it was given to her by Frank McCourt. Here was the man calling me an opportunist and he was dishing my number out to anyone who cared to write a few paragraphs. I suppose I made good press for him so we both gained from the so-called ‘war of words’.

LIMERICK.COM: Do you regret calling your book ASHES?

HANNAN: No. Why should I?

LIMERICK.COM: Well it’s now branded the ‘anti-McCourt’ book.

HANNAN: Only by those who haven’t read it and therefore know no better.

LIMERICK.COM: You once told the media that you could pinpoint 117 inaccuracies in ANGELA’S ASHES what were the main ones?

HANNAN: Well the top three would be the story about Willie Harold masturbating at the sight of his own sisters undressing. Harold had no sisters. The story about Frank’s mother having sexual relations as rent payment with her first cousin Laman Griffin. She never actually lived with him. The story about Treasa Carmody having oral sex with Frank on her deathbed; she died a long time before Frank says she did. There are others, I don’t believe Malachy Snr was actually Frank’s father, the McCourt’s were not as poor as Frank claimed, the list goes on and on. The book was vindictive towards Limerick and it’s people. There were plenty of scurrilous lies about innocent people and a lot of facts about the McCourt family were conveniently omitted. It’s a fairy tale disguised as fact.

LIMERICK.COM: Why did it vex you so much?

HANNAN: It just did. I am not a psychologist so I can’t explain why. All I can tell you is that I felt very strongly about it. I am a passionate person by nature and I stand up for what I believe in. That’s all.

LIMERICK.COM: Your controversial appearance on the Ireland’s most popular talk show THE LATE LATE SHOW is still well remembered for its ferociousness. Do you regret the strength of your attack on Frank McCourt?

HANNAN: (Laughs).Not at all. Perhaps I would act differently nowadays. I don’t feel quite as passionate about the subject these days. That was what I felt there and then and I acted accordingly. But I do feel that was really a one-to-one conversation with McCourt. He knew exactly where I was coming from, no one else did. He got the message loud and clear so my mission was accomplished. I am told he told a friend of his in New York that my actions reminded him of his own mother’s behaviour in a New York theatre when she jumped up from the audience and called him a liar. The whole thing took him aback but I believe he knew exactly what I was saying. Other people’s opinions on the matter really are of no consequence to me.

LIMERICK.COM: Were you really as angry as you appeared?

HANNAN: I suppose there was an element of ‘acting’ there too. But I wanted to get my point across and the best form of defence is attack they say. I wanted the moment to be memorable for McCourt and it was. McCourt was in Galway recently and he met a friend of mine from Limerick and told him that he had no ill will toward me because he felt the producers of the ‘Late Late’ were ambushing him. But I have to say there was no such prior discussion between the producers and myself. It may have been their agenda but it wasn’t mine. I was finally given a chance to confront McCourt and I took it and that was my only motive. The producers assured me that McCourt knew full well that I was going to be in the audience and I don’t see why they would lie about that.

LIMERICK.COM: Do you dislike McCourt as a person?

HANNAN: I don’t know him well enough to have any kind of an informed opinion. But I do believe from people who do know him that he is not a likable fellow at all. I believe he is a most sarcastic and bitter man. But that’s just going on second hand information.

LIMERICK.COM: Did you ever meet McCourt after the initial meeting in the radio station?

HANNAN: Just once in the Green Room after the ‘Late Late’ but it was only for a fleeting moment. He gave me a rather friendly smile while his wife was calling me a ‘scum ball’ from Limerick. He told her to hush-up and shook his head as he walked by. That was it.

LIMERICK.COM: And there has been no further contact?

HANNAN: People that I know to be personal friends of his have often made contact with me on different matters but there has been no direct contact nor do I expect there will ever be. I am sure I am no more than a very minor player in the life of Frank McCourt.

LIMERICK.COM: Let’s talk about your second book TIS IN ME ASS.

HANNAN: Now, that for me was where the real fun began.

LIMERICK.COM: Why do you say that?

HANNAN: Well my three books, ASHES, TIS IN ME ASS and FROM BARDS TO BLACKGUARDS are all part of one trilogy but they were all part of a sort of work-in-progress until the final part was complete. I first called the trilogy ‘The Penance Trilogy’, then changed it to ‘The Singland Trilogy’ – writers prerogative, then it finally became what it is now, ‘The Limerick Trilogy’. But TIS IN ME ASS was the most fun for me to write. I got great help from my brother Dominic who has a sort of photographic memory. I wrote about our childhood in Garryowen in the 1960’s and 70’s and I think it is a book that will be best appreciated in fifty years time when people wonder what life was like back then. I wanted it to be funny and I hope I achieved that.

LIMERICK.COM: So TIS IN ME ASS was a labour of love?

HANNAN: I love that cliché.

LIMERICK.COM: FROM BARDS TO BLACKGUARDS attempts to look at the history of Limerick storytelling right up to the writings of Frank McCourt. His presence is strong in your three books do you not fear being tagged ‘obsessed’ by Frank McCourt?

HANNAN: I’ve been called worse on a short walk.

LIMERICK.COM: Do you intend writing more books about McCourt?

HANNAN: (Laughs) I’m afraid the obsession has passed for the moment.

LIMERICK.COM: What are you working on now?

HANNAN: I have two books in draft form at the moment. I have been working for some time on a romantic novel called WHEN ANGELS WEEP and a children’s book called SHAWN OISIN. Look out Maeve Binchy and J.K. Rowlings I’m coming to get you!

LIMERICK.COM: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

HANNAN: You’re welcome.

The Myth of Irish Food

FOOD

This paper begins by assessing Roland Barthes theory of ‘Mythologies’ and its primary elements and uses these tools to analyse recent Irish media texts successfully advocating the consumption of Irish foods. However, while the ‘Buy Irish’ campaign has been successful in creating demand the Irish economy has failed in delivering Irish product to demanding consumers by ignoring the confusion as to ‘what is’ and ‘what is not’ Irish product. Using the examples of ‘Siucra’ Irish sugar and ‘Lyons Tea’, both publicly perceived as Irish but, in fact, imported goods and how each of these are marketed and promoted Barthes theory of Mythologies can demonstrate how myth can be exploited for commercial gain.

Roland Barthes classic ‘Mythologies’ (1984) while not explicitly focused on media has contributed a way of looking at language, images, signs and symbols that have helped media analysts to consider the ways in which our responses to media texts are framed by our reading of a symbolic language that is entirely cultural and based on oppositions and relations between significations. In other words, it is the difference between things, not the properties of individual things, that constructs meaning and Barthes’ ‘myth’ can be used to decode a single sign. (McDougall, 2012)

According to Roland Barthes his notion of Mythologies stems from his feeling of impatience at the sight of the ‘naturalness’ with which newspapers, art and common sense constantly dress up a reality which, even though it is the one we live in, is undoubtedly determined by history. Thus, he argues, nature and history are confused by ideological abuse. The notion of myth, he contends, seems to explain examples of the falsely obvious.

Myth, for Barthes, was a mode of representation characterised above all by its self evident truth, its naturalness. The origin of Mythologies lay in Barthes’ rejection of the way in which newspapers, magazines, films and exhibitions represented social constructions – the outcome of historical and political struggles – is simply natural or common sense. (Masterman, 1984) For Barthes’s, the production of myths is conditional upon two, linked repressions of history and of politics. The transformation of history into nature was, for Barthes, “the very principle of myth” (Masterman, 1984).

Language is a corpus of prescriptions and habits pervading the signifier’s expression without endowing it with form or content: “language is an abstract circle of truths” (Barthes, 1953) Barthes further states that ‘mythology’ is a language surrounding social phenomena in contemporary society. (Barthes, 1991) Myth, then, is a type of speech, a system of communication, a message. It is a mode of signification. Everything can be defined as a myth because there is no law forbidding discourse on any subject or matter. “A tree is a tree” but it is no longer a tree when it becomes the subject of the Romantic poets. It is a tree which is decorated, adapted for consumption and laden with literary self-indulgence. Some, but not all, objects created in mythical language become permanently mythological. Myth is a type of speech chosen by history and cannot possibly evolve from the ‘nature’ of things.

The media has served as a support to this mythical language. The images we are exposed to are given for specific purposes of signification. (Barthes, 1991) Pictures and words are predetermined texts distorted by mythology and decipherable by semiology. Such texts are no longer concerned with facts except inasmuch as they are endowed with significance. Semiology studies signification and is not a science that is necessary but sufficient in the deconstruction of these texts. Semiology postulates a relationship between signifier and signified but takes little account of the sign itself. There are functional implications to this distinction which are of capital importance for the study of myth as semiological schema.

Semiology is restricted because it knows only one operation: reading, or deciphering. (Barthes, 1991) This concept is best understood by looking at any text used for the purpose of public consumption. For example, the image of Mickey Mouse standing outside Disneyland in a wizards outfit waving a wand with magical stars flying all around him is an image constructed to signify that a holiday in Disney World will be magical. However, to each individual the signification is a mythological interpretation influenced by nature and history. The meaning of the myth has its own value; it belongs to a history which postulates a kind of knowledge, past, a memory, and a comparative order of facts, ideas, and decisions. It is this confusion between meaning and form which defines myth. The signifier, personified by Mickey Mouse, is the accomplice of the artificial concept. In relation to the signified, now motivated by a seemingly unambiguous text, is caused to unconditionally accept and utter the perpetrated myth. A whole new history is implanted into the myth and the signified becomes the signifier and this repetition of the concept through different forms is precious to the mythologist determined to decipher the myth. Myths are organic in that they grow, change and alter as history progresses and thus the deciphering of myths requires neologism to identify concepts that are not arbitrary. The association of signifier and signified and the relationship between the two can be defined as the signification. This signification is the myth itself and it too has characteristic modes of correlation of the mythical concept and the mythical form. The function of myth is to distort and deform but not obliterate or abolish the meaning. The mythical signifier is formless and based on historicity and as such is flexible.

Deciphering a myth is not a challenging process. “Disneyworld is magical” is a signified myth produced by the symbol of Mickey Mouse. The myth is perpetuated by the Media seeking a form for it. The creation of such form distorts the meaning and an ambiguous signification is transmitted. Myth transforms history into nature but to understand clearly how this process works a more appropriate and Irish example is needed.

One of Ireland’s most pervasive consumer myths in relation to food is ‘if it looks Irish, it is Irish’ and by patriotically consuming these products local and national economies will prosper, jobs will be created and ultimately an autonomous society can better endure the assault of globalisation. This successful myth, created by Media texts, propounds the virtues of Irish foods, shopping local and buying Irish. Consumers responded and market research suggests the demand for Irish products is escalating. However, the global economy has, perhaps deliberately, retaliated by filling market shelves with counterfeit Irish foodstuffs that are near impossible to differentiate from national produce.

A cursory search of any Irish newspaper reveals editorial, advertorials, advertising and reports on success stories of the Irish food industries luminary manufacturers reaping rewards of national and international recognition. “The strength of Ireland’s food industry is evident in the latest directory of the Top 100 food and drink manufacturers in Britain and Ireland” (ISSUU, 2011) According to the publication; “There are three Irish companies in the top 10”. (Irish Times, 2012). Such glowing accolades for the industry have perpetrated a myth to Irish consumers regarding the alleged superior quality of Irish food, endorsed by superior forces, which consequently enrich the demand for Irish home-produced foods. The campaign is successful in that the demand has increased.

Irish supermarket chain Dunnes Stores highlight their Irishness with the epitaph “The difference is we are Irish” while International Supermarket chains such as Tesco, Lidl, and Aldi are going to strains to create a mythological Irishness to consumers. The media is saturated in News articles reporting the latest of the innumerable ‘Irish’ food awards being presented to these international chains and their ‘local’ suppliers.  Blatant headlines such as; “Aldi’s Suppliers Success At National Irish Food Awards” (Nenagh Guardian, 2012), and “Great Times For Irish Cheese Makers” (Digby, 2012), are highlighting awards for Irish food companies such as Knockdrinna Gold, Killeen, Burren Gold and Dingle Peninsula Cheese. Such reports maintain an impression that Irish food is freely and readily available but this impression is not entirely accurate.

In an Irish Times report Manchan Magan challenged himself to “eating only Irish food” to determine is it possible to survive on Irish-made produce alone. “I turned to the supermarkets for Irish food and realised how complicated this was going to be.” (Magan, 2012) In his article he reveals that Boyne Valley Honey is not Irish, Donegal Catch fish is Chilean, Siucra Irish Sugar is British, Guinness’ main ingredients are Australian and Chips, as in Supermacs, an Irish fast-food chain which claims in their logo to be “100% Irish”, actually import Belgian potatoes. Magan concludes “If Irish goods were not so difficult to find, I’d never buy an imported product again.”

An estimated 45% of branded grocery food products sold in 2011/2012 was imported according to research which found that Ireland’s total grocery market was worth €7.1 billion with branded products making up 47% of that.  However, 45%, of the branded products sold in Ireland in 2011/2012 were actually imported (Kantar Worldpanel, 2012). Irish research has also uncovered “considerable confusion” (Love Irish Food, 2012) about well-known Irish brands. 80% of those surveyed believed imported ‘Siucra’ was produced in Ireland. Some 77% believed Lyons Tea was produced in Ireland and 71% thought the HB ice-cream brand was Irish. (Healy, 2012)

These results prove confusion over the origin of Irish foods. Imported brands with Irish-sounding names are confusing people. These foodstuffs might best be referred to as ‘mythical Irish’. There is also confusion about brands that might have been manufactured in Ireland previously but have moved their manufacturing facilities abroad. “These results give indication as to the confusion which exists” (Love Irish Food, 2012). The market for mythical-Irish foods is vibrant due to the demand for genuine Irish food. Research by Bord Bia found 85% of shoppers were loyal towards Irish brands. (Bord Bia, 2011) However, this research found half of branded products purchased as Irish were, in fact, imported. International manufacturers are clearly aware of the demand for genuine Irish food and have responded with branding foreign products with an artificial Irish identity.

This difficulty in finding Irish produce on supermarket shelves was highlighted by the Irish Food Writers’ Guild at its 18th Annual Awards. Myrtle Allen, “one of the pioneers of the movement to promote locally produced Irish food” (Irish Foodwriters Guild, 2010) claimed Irish farmers and growers produced some of the highest quality food in the world and yet it was often a challenge to find something as simple as an Irish apple in Irish shops. (Healy, 2012)

From this example we can understand clearly how the myth reader is led to rationalise the signified by means of the signifier; namely Irish consumers seeking Irish goods (the signified) and believing that they are buying genuine Irish goods presented to them by international companies, endorsed by Media texts (signifiers).  Large print Newspaper headlines such as “Retaining Loyalty to Irish Brands” and   “Irish consumers spending an estimated €1.5bn on imported food brands” imply that there is urgency for government, always presented by the press as the essence of efficacy, to legislate to protect the Irish economy.  The signification of the myth follows clearly from this: genuine Irish foodstuffs are suffering because the government is allowing fake Irish foodstuffs to be readily available to consumers. The myth is imperfectible and unquestionable; time or knowledge will not make it better and worse. (Barthes, 1991) Also, because the signifier and the signified have a natural relationship, the consumer takes the signification as factual. The availability of fake Irish foodstuffs is either due to the demand for cheaper home produced food or governments alleged choice not to protect the Irish food industry. In either case the government is accountable.

In any everyday situation we are likely to be confronted by thousands of signifying systems and instances of signifying output. We call these signs. These signifying systems include the language we use to communicate with, the signs that direct us to destinations, to the myriad of media texts that are presented to us or merge into the background of our everyday lives. (Long & Wall, 2009) We are relentlessly exposed throughout a normal day to these signs that plaster our environment and compete for our attention.

The Siucra and Lyons Tea advertisements are two such media text that might appear on a billboard or perhaps in a glossy magazine we might buy intentionally or browse to pass the time while waiting at the doctor’s surgery or hairdressing salon. We might pay them some close attention in a magazine or newspaper or glimpse them as we drive by or opt to ignore them if they appear as a pop-up as we surf the web. In all cases we rarely have to stop to pick up meaning and so all of the factors in these text works together in their impact.

Any analysis must begin with the text and what we make of it. The logic here is that for textual meaning to work we already know what it means; the object is to understand how it means what it does and how meaning is marshalled, organised and anchored in order to make each text effective. The meaning of the Siucra branding is clear, obvious and incontrovertible; by virtue of its name alone this product is Irish. Lyons Tea, previously manufactured in Ireland but capitalising on its historicity, in its ongoing campaign focuses on the idea that ‘talk’ is the secret ingredient in its tea; “It’s no secret that Irish people are both big talkers and big tea drinkers. The secret is we, at Lyons, have been adding talk to the tea” (Hurley, 2010). The encoded message is in the ‘we’ as one of ‘us’ Irish. Ireland’s king of talk radio Joe Duffy spearheads the campaign to reinforce the message. In both cases the images and words shown in the text is a combination of complex signs that are designed to sell more product but he subtext is ‘we are Irish’. Neither advertisement spells out anything directly or plainly for a reader but both remain loaded with significance. The ads have been constructed to have a certain affect. They both elevate brand recognition and urge us to buy the ‘Irish’ product. Closer examination of these subjectively constructed adverts demonstrates allegiance to the convention that the logo is clearly obvious thus suggesting Irish pride. Here then, at the level of mythology, nature is invoked in excess, but clearly not spoken about in an obvious way (‘Siucra is a natural Irish product and Lyons Tea enhances one’s communication abilities because ‘good Irish talkers’ drink ‘good Irish Lyons’ tea). The products are presented not as manufactured, artificial goods but as ‘natural’ and more desirable. The ‘Irish’ images become pawns of economic exchange. The products are not only desirable but also are accessible for all who can afford them. For the consumers who are the intended audience for these adverts, they are asked to recognise the images as natural Irish and therefore more desirable. Furthermore, we should not forget the alibi here that the denotative meanings confer upon the connotative aspects of the signs. These are, after all, just adverts and images, without hidden meanings, asking us to buy these products that will naturally enhance our lives but, in both cases, not only can we achieve these enhancements but also demonstrate patriotism and loyalty to our national identity.

In Roland Barthes essay on his concept of mythology ‘Myth Today’ (Barthes, 1991) he considers media images in his reading and his aim is to make a point about the nature of texts and the ideas they present, how they are all around us in everyday life and he saw media messages as never-ending rather than reducible to any one instance. At the level of connotation we can appreciate that such images, as demonstrated by Siucra and Lyons, present us with an association of patriotism by supporting Irish brands and, by such, there is already a symbolic aspect to the signs. However, if we consider the nature of myth the literalness of the images offers what Barthes calls an ‘alibi’ for any further interpretation or accusation that these are something more than innocent adverts; “it is again this duplicity of the signifier which determines the characters of the signification…myth is a type of speech defined by its intention…much more than by its literal sense…and in spite of this, its intension is somehow frozen, purified, eternalised, made absent by this literal sense. This constituent ambiguity of mythical speech has two consequences for the signification, which henceforth appears both like a notification and like a statement of fact” (Barthes, 1991).

Such mythological moments are part of a chain of signification in a culture (in this case Ireland of the 2000’s) and not an isolated case but part of a whole social context in which such meanings have value. It is an example of what Barthes calls a ‘type of speech’ in which ‘culture’ is turned into nature.

 

Bibliography

 

Barthes, R., 1953. Writing Degree Zero. 3rd ed. London: Cape Editions.

Barthes, R., 1991. Mythologies. 25th ed. Paris: Noonday Press & Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Bord Bia, 2011. Retaining Loyalty to Irish Brands – Brand Forum Presentation. Dublin, Bord Bia.

Digby, M., 2012. Cheese Wheeze. Irish Times, 29th September, p. 28.

Healy, A., 2012. Food for thought as writers champion Irish produce. Irish Times, 08th March, p. 3.

Healy, A., 2012. Imports account for 45% of branded food. Irish Times, 21st November, p. 9.

Hurley, L., 2010. Lyons Tea launches ad campaign. [Online]
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Irish Foodwriters Guild, 2010. Irish Foodwriters Guild. [Online]
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Nenagh Guardian, 2012. Aldi’s Tipp suppliers success at National Irish Food Awards. Nenagh Guardian, 27th October, p. 18.

 

 

 

 

The Screenplay: A New Paradigm

 

The Screenplay: A New Paradigm

By

Gerard J. Hannan

Screenplays are visual. Dialogue is at a minimum. Words are not all that is required to explain the story. Pictures should do all the work. Movies, by definition, are moving pictures. Pictures that move. (Keane, 1998) Writing a treatment accomplishes many goals. Treatments reflect the intricacies of plot and subtext, conflict and resolution as well as character dynamics. They also present the tone of the story; whether ironic, wry humorous, melodramatic, romantic, mysterious, or eerie. (Halperin, 2002)

Treatments are the prose form of a screenplay and usually written in the present tense and, like the screenplay, represent the here and now regardless of the historical context of the piece. Treatments are not written in stone and must allow for the dynamic nature of writing; every project is unique. No hard and fast rules exist in treatment or story development and its development is an exercise in creative discipline.

A Treatment provides one of the best means for creating meaningful characters. The first step is to create a brief character biography containing sufficient information to explain why the characters acts and reacts the way they do. The biography tells us something about the professional, personal, and private life of the character. The biography should be one page long and not go beyond the moment where the story begins. Treatments, like biographies, are blueprints containing the necessary elements of the story but they are also fluid to allow for the creative process.

Creating the story begins with writing a brief outline which gives the story its structure. The classic structure suggests that most stories break down into three parts, three set pieces, or acts. In Act I, the protagonists are called to action; in Act II, protagonists take action (conflicts with antagonists); in Act III, the protagonists overcome adversaries and solve the conflict.

Structure is best defined as a rising line of dramatic action; “a linear development of related dramatic incidents resulting in dramatic resolution. Or, a sequence of accidents, each following inevitably on the heels of the preceding one. Call it a plot.” (Flinn, 1999). In linear art form, there is always a start, middle, finish, and Syd Field’s paradigm (there are others) as the map of how the audience gets from start to end is the structure.

Some stories change direction for no apparent or relevant reason and thus lack structure. Using Field’s paradigm helps avoid such an occurrence and focuses the story. The story must be introduced from the very beginning of the screenplay. The audience has to be grabbed very quickly. The audience must know what the story is about and whom the story is about. The first scenes, the exposition, set up everything that follows. “This entire unit of dramatic action serves to establish three things: who the main character is, what the story is about, and what the dramatic situation is, the circumstances surrounding the action.” (Field, 2005)

Once the basic direction of the story is clear the next step is the development of an outline called ‘beats’ which are defining moments in the story. These beats are also ‘megascenes’ or large blocks of action linking together smaller moments in the story in order to pull the whole structure together. (Halperin, 2002) 

Beats provide a grand overview of the whole story indicating direction as well as important plot points. Megascenes become the first stop on the road to screenplay development. Whether a plot point is dramatised, told to the audience in narrative, takes place off screen, or is not in its rightful chronological order, don’t leave it out altogether. (Flinn, 1999)

When the writer is outlining the story, the steps are in the order in which they would progress in reality. A story seems more natural if one event grows out of another and characters are not believable unless their actions are properly motivated. Plot points are the stepping-stones that will carry the writer from start to end and these plot points must be believable in order to make the screenplay convincing. The driving force that makes the reader or viewer jump, along with the writer, from stepping-stone to stepping-stone is suspense.

The identity of a character cannot be revealed unless he or she reacts to a particular incident; the nature of the drama is to show the universal connection between all humans, regardless of race, colour, gender, or cultural differences. (Field, 2005) The first incident in the journey is called the ‘inciting incident’ because it sets the story in motion; it is the first big revelation and will draw the protagonist into the story. This incident serves two important functions: it starts the story and it grabs the attention of the audience. The ‘inciting incident’ is clearly distinct from the ‘key incident’; the latter affects both the internal and external aspects of the character and story.

Every good story has a problem that the protagonist must solve. In Act I the problem presents itself (Plot Point I); “the incident, episode or event that hooks into the action and spins it around in another direction” (Field, 2005) and the protagonist decides to deal or not deal with it.

Act II raises the excitement, or conflict or confrontation resulting from the protagonist’s decision; the hero faces enemies and by the middle of Act II the hero, reviews the problem and all seems lost (Plot Point II).

In Act III, the solution is discovered and the conflict is resolved. The most critical conflict is the ‘man against himself’, the villain within. (Keane, 1998)

Suspense is present in every successful script. Inevitability and predictability must never be confused. Suspense is created by inevitability being unpredictable. The audience must be surprised by the outcome of each event but must also be convinced that when it does happen it had to; “Inevitable but not predictable”; and in those four words lie the hardest thing to achieve in a plot, and easily the most important. (Flinn, 1999)

“Knowledge and mastery of the plot point is an essential requirement of writing a screenplay. They are the signposts, the goals, the objectives, the destination points of each act – forged links in the chain of dramatic action.” (Field, 2005)

A predictable outcome to any ‘what if’ scenario, facing the protagonist, does not make for an interesting story. Taking the predicted left turn may be the easy route but it is also the most boring. What if the character, accidentally or otherwise, takes an unpredicted right turn; what happens then? The story goes off in a different direction, which makes it even more interesting because new elements have been introduced. These ‘what ifs’ are plot points and they fill in the spaces between the beats or megascenes.

Whammies, high impact moments in the screenplay, are a concept designed for action films, but now applies across all genres. As many of these moments as can be fitted in are desirable. The more the merrier. Each must be larger and more spectacular than the last. (Flinn, 1999)

Plot points arise out of quandaries in which the protagonist finds himself or herself. They strengthen the character of the protagonist. New revelations late in the script are ‘cop outs’ and everything must be interrelated. New revelations can disorientate an audience; they must not be out of place and must resonate with the viewer and be within the context of the story.

Foreshadowing is a critical part of screenplay writing and accomplishes the feat of bringing in new revelations that will resonate. An early clue to a later revelation makes that revelation relevant. A new twist should create surprise but will only do so based on foreknowledge. Nothing satisfies the quality of unpredictability better than a turn in the plot that the audience does not expect. (Flinn, 1999)

Subtext, the unsaid, the underlying theme of the story, moves through the story with quiet determinism (Halperin, 2002) and only becomes apparent in the last part of the third act, which makes the film more satisfying. Screenplays are about something. That ‘something’ is the theme. The theme invokes a conclusion from the audience without lecturing them. The story, not the dialogue, should invoke the theme. “Keep in mind what you are trying to say.” (Flinn, 1999)

The scene is the most important element in the screenplay. It is where something specific happens; it is a specific cell of dramatic action – the place in which you tell the story. (Field, 2005) The purpose of the scene is twofold in that it moves the story forward or it reveals something new about the character. If the scene does not satisfy one or both of these requirements then it does not belong in the screenplay. A scene can be as long or as short as is necessary to relay the required information to advance the story.

Mega scenes and beats develop the intricacies of the story and lay down the foundation to expand the mise-en-scene, attitude of characters and subtext of the story. The treatment is an overview of these essential elements and a total comprehension of this fact makes for a perfect screenplay.

Treatments help to resolve enigmas that can be the downfall of any script. The story demands intricate plot and subtext to give the screenplay texture and substance. A good Treatment presents conflict and resolution as well as the interior and exterior workings of the characters, which becomes the guide through the complexity of creativity.

There is no formula for success but the use of the three-act-structure remains paramount in the development of the story. It is a set of rules that are worth learning. Setup, confrontation, and resolution, developing beats, plot points, and subtext are the primary elements that turn good screenwriting into excellent screenwriting. The treatment is the form that brings all these elements together as a cohesive unit.

Treatments are a most effective tool in the creative process; they provide a map across the creative landscape and are the first major step toward the creation of a screenplay; “the treatment becomes the searchlight cutting through the darkness and highlighting moments of drama and comedy necessary to illuminate the imagination.” (Halperin, 2002)

A screenplay is a story told with pictures, in dialogue and description, and placed within the context of dramatic structure. That is what it is; that is its nature. It is the art of visual storytelling. (Field, 2005)  A screenplay has three acts, which are setup, confrontation, and resolution. This elementary paradigm brings the basic idea into existence.

A good screenplay is evident from page one, word one. The style and layout, the way the story is set up, the grasp of dramatic situation, the introduction of the main character, the basic premise, or problem of the screenplay must be all set up in the first few pages of the script. Most film studios demand a definite three-act structure that is no longer than 120 minutes, there are exceptions, and the general rule of thumb is one minute of screen time to one page of script.

The hardest thing about writing a script is knowing what to write but knowing how to do it is a simple straightforward process. It must be remembered that a screenplay is a guide, a sequence strung together with dialogue and description; it is the landscape of the dream. (Field, 2005)

The main character is the one the story is about; In a novel the action takes place inside the character’s head but the nature of the screenplay deals in pictures and is a story told with pictures, dialogue and description, and placed within the context of dramatic structure.

Structure in relation to screenplay is the relationship between the parts of the script and the whole of the script. A good script consists of the combined elements creating a whole script. The relationship between these parts and the whole determines the quality of the final script. Structure is the glue that holds the story in place; it is the skeleton of the piece. It is the paradigm of dramatic structure.

Act I, the beginning or set up, consisting usually of the first thirty pages of the script, the writer sets up the story, establishes character, launches the dramatic premise, illustrates the situation, and creates the relationships between the main character and the other characters that inhabit the landscape of his or her world. The first ten pages of dramatic action is the most important part of the screenplay. The dramatic premise established in these pages is what the screenplay is about; it provides the dramatic thrust that drives the story to its conclusion.

Act II, usually about sixty pages in a standard screenplay, and is held together with the dramatic context known as Confrontation. The main character meets obstacle after obstacle that prevents the ultimate accomplishment of the his or her main goal which is defined as what the character wants to win, gain, get, or achieve during the course of the screenplay. (Field, 2005) Conflict is the main ingredient of drama. All drama is conflict, without conflict there can be no action; without action, there is no character and no character means no story and thus no screenplay.

Act III, twenty to thirty pages long, is held together with the dramatic context known as Resolution. Resolution, in this context, means solution. Act III resolves the story.

Beginning, middle and end, setup, confrontation and resolution are the elements that make up the whole. It is the relationship between these parts that determine the whole. However, a further element comes into play to carry the viewer comfortably from Act I to Act II and on into Act III and the way in which this is done by is by the use of two primary plot points.

A plot point is defined as any incident, episode, or event that hooks the action and spins it around in another direction. The first plot point in a screenplay appears in the latter end of Act I, the second plot point appears in the latter end of Act II, and thus, each plot point carries the viewer naturally into the next act. Plot points do not have to be big, dynamic scenes or sequences; they can be significant moments of dialogue that will move the story forward towards the conclusion.

This paradigm is a form, not a formula for guaranteed screenplay success; it establishes the structure, which is what holds the story together. The quality of the story is dependent on the writer and the idea. Story determines structure but structure does not determine story. (Field, 2005) This paradigm works. It is the foundation of every good screenplay, the foundation of dramatic structure.

Every screenplay starts with an idea and a subject to embody and dramatise that idea. The subject is an action and a character; the action being what the story is about and the character is the one the story is about; it is essential to isolate the generalised idea into a specific dramatic premise, which becomes the starting point of the screenplay. Knowing what you are writing about is essential as you develop action and characters. If you do not know what you are, writing about then you cannot expect others to know. When an idea can be expressed concisely in terms of action and character then the preparation for the screenplay has truly begun.

Developing the idea is accomplished through research. The more you know, the more you can communicate. Once the idea can be expressed in a line or two then the research can begin. The dramatic structure is determined by the character’s dramatic need – what the character needs to win, gain, or achieve. The characters dramatic needs are sacred because it is this that holds the story together. Research gives ideas and when you begin with your subject, you must think action and character. There are two kinds of action and these are emotional and physical. The story is dictated by the type of action one decides is the nature of the story.

All drama is conflict and once the need of the character is created then various obstacles preventing the fulfilment of that need can be created. Keeping the viewer interested using conflict, struggle, and obstacles is the role of the screenwriter. These obstacles must always move the story forward, towards its resolution. Without conflict, there is no action. Without action, there is no character. Action is character. What a person does is what he is, not what he says. (Field, 2005)

A plot is the character in action. Four types of characters generally populate movies; the hero, the villain, the friend and the lover. The hero should be human with strengths and frailties, common imperfections that an audience can identify with. “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself” (Field, 2005)

The best villains make the audience happy that nothing like this is happening to them. The villain is all-powerful and controls the story until the protagonist regains control. This means that the villain has control for two thirds of the screenplay, he engineers the plot and his desires conflict with those of the hero and this is the central conflict of the story. Characters, good and evil, should be the cause of everything and plot should be the effect, the characters should be in charge; they are the engines running the story. (Keane, 1998) Good characters are the core of good drama. The incidents one creates for the characters are the best way to illuminate who they are. To reveal their true nature can be accomplished only by action and not by words; their essential character. How the character responds to a particular incident or event, how they act and react, what they say and do is what really defines the essence of their character.

The friend is a reflection character and is actually the thought’s of the protagonist. The friend shares the hopes and dreams of the protagonist and allows the audience to know what the hero is thinking if and when necessary.

The romantic interest tugs at the protagonist’s heart and helps to demonstrate the human side of the hero or antihero. Their primary purpose, if not a main character, is to drive the hero forward and act as a “prime motivating force in the creation of believable characters.” (Keane, 1998)

To understand the characters, major or minor, it is necessary and helpful to create a brief biography for each one. Each section of the biography can be dedicated to a decade in the life of the character. The biography should bring the life story of the character from birth to now and use these ‘past lives’ to give substance to the dialogue the character uses in the screenplay. It helps the writer to know the character when it comes to dialogue or dilemma and how the character speaks or reacts to any given situation.

The biography builds the interior life of the character, the emotional life which allows the character to move and evolve in a definite ‘character arc’ through the story. The character will change as the story moves on; thoughts and feelings will have been altered. Creating the interior aspect of the character (what is going on inside) then the exterior portion of his or her story can be developed. This exterior aspect occurs during the actual time of the screenplay from fade-in to fade-out; regardless of the characters life span in-between. To develop the exterior in this way makes the character more real, believable, and multi-dimensional.

The best way to add realism to a character is to separate their lives into three different components – their professional, personal and private life. These areas of their private lives can be dramatised over the course of the screenplay. When composing the biography taking professional, personal, and private life into account it is best to do so without commonality with your own life. You are not your character. The character should remain active throughout the screenplay, he or she should be doing things and your character is what he or she does but, most important of all; know your character.

There are four main things, four essential qualities that go into the making of good characters and these are; dramatic need; point of view; attitude and transformation. The dramatic need drives the character through the storyline; it is their purpose or mission. This dramatic need may change through the course of the story and such changes usually occur at plot point one, the true beginning of the story. The dramatic need is the engine that powers the character through the story line. The main characters drive is the spine of the story. He or she is willing to do absolutely anything to accomplish his or her mission; break the law, kill, find new depths of courage and be willing to go to any lengths until they get what they want. That is the story. (Keane, 1998)

The second element of good character is point of view or the way a person sees, or views the world. This is the characters belief system. All human being’s, even fictional ones, have a point of view and that point of view is acquired through personal experience. The character believes in God or does not believe in God but either way it is his or her point of view. Knowing the characters point of view is a good way to generate conflict. Nothing progresses in a story except through conflict. (Keane, 1998)

The character’s attitude is their manner or opinion and is a way of acting or feeling that reveals a person’s personal opinion. Point of view is separate from attitude. When the basic core of the character is created but the distinction is academic; it does not really matter because the parts and the whole are really the same thing. It is only necessary to separate the concept in one’s own mind as they write the screenplay.

The element of change or transformation in a character is defined in terms of what is commonly referred to as the character arc. This is an articulation of a change in the nature of the character as a result of the events within the script. This transformation seems to be an essential aspect and adds another dimension to the character.

The writing of a screenplay is an adventure; one never really knows what will come out. As the screenplay develops so do the characters and the writer needs to trust his or her own ability to exercise the choice of action and direction during the ‘words on paper’ stage. (Field, 2005)

The dialogue the character uses is a function of the character’s depth as created in the biography. Writing dialogue is difficult and it serves two main purposes; it moves the story forward or it reveals information about the main character. If it fails in any of these functions then it is irrelevant. The result of preparation will be characters who are authentic and believable, real people in real situations.

The war between protagonist and antagonist is a major part of the story. The protagonist (the hero) is the centrepiece of the screenplay. They usually have some good qualities, some bad and usually the audience sees the events from his or her point of view. The audience should empathise not sympathise with the protagonist. The hero will always have helpers who are useful to the writer when the hero wants to express some inner thoughts.

The antagonist can come in all shapes and sizes and is normally, but not always, the binary opposite of the protagonist in every conceivable way. The antagonist helps move the story forward as much the protagonist does. The antagonist must get the same attention to detail as the protagonist. If the antagonist is an institution then it must be personified with an agent of that institution. (Keane, 1998)

In modern film, the device of a character having a single overwhelming characteristic is extremely popular and this is often because there is hardly time to develop a more detailed character. (Flinn, 1999) 

Other popular traits include rebels, misfits, fanatics and those with a hidden agenda where the reason remains concealed until the climax. In the protagonist there should be something, buried deep inside that can and will motivate him or her. The character trait makes the character interesting and this trait can be expressed in dialogue.

A character that does not need something is going to be a very boring character. The tragic flaw that is a fundamental part of the protagonists character will give him or her two main conflicts to face. Firstly they must get to the point of revelation and the action of resolution. Both are difficult and painful journeys. The hero’s imperfections make them more human.  (Keane, 1998)

The fundamental elements of storytelling are very simple. The events of the story take place at a crucial time in the protagonist’s life. He or she wants to reach their objective, by any means, as quickly and as painlessly as possible. This is the essence of a good story; how a character faces and deals with obstacles and whether or not these obstacles can be overcome.

The antagonists are those who oppose the protagonist’s success and are the creators of the obstacles using physical or emotional conflict. The protagonist must beat back the inner or outer demons otherwise; the story is not worth telling. (Keane, 1998) Originality and familiarity are essential ingredients in good stories; filmmakers are seeking original stories about real situations.

Screenplays are painful to read and nobody reads them for fun. Reading a bad screenplay can be excruciating but nobody really does it; they just get so far and then stop. The reader is usually a moviemaker who loves to make movies and not sit around all day reading scripts, especially bad ones. A screenplay is a blueprint for a film; no more, no less.

Selecting a title for the screenplay is a simple task. There are no good or bad titles. If the script is good, the title will be easily remembered. If the script is bad, the title will be quickly forgotten.

There is a finite number of stories and an infinite number of ways of telling them; “It is not what you write about but how you write about it” (Flinn, 1999).

Drama is conflict and conflict is drama. The screenwriter searches for ways to generate tension in the material. The writer always operates from the position of choice and responsibility. It is imperative to remember that the subject of the screenplay is an action and a character. Building the character, creating context and content, searching for a story are all part of the process. Create a character and a story will emerge.

Before one starts on the start of the story one needs to have an end. This may seem illogical but, in fact, it is perfectly true. Know the ending and work towards it. It may not be the final ending but it must be an ending. A new and perhaps better ending may come during the writing process, but at least have a basic ending before the writing process begins. If the writer is in doubt about how the story ends it is best to think of a positive ending. The purpose of art is to entertain; that does not mean everybody should live happily ever after but that the audience walk away feeling spiritually uplifted, fulfilled and satisfied. Resolve the story any way necessary but it is best to be positive and uplifting.

If the plot points in the story have a power then this power must escalate with each plot point. The drama must build up to the final climax, which must be the most dramatic point of all. His escalation can be anything from drama to character development. Not all endings are happy but all endings should have heart. If at the end of the piece, the viewer or reader is emotionally rewarded or affected then the story instantly becomes most attractive. Executives know that a film has a better chance of success if the story ends happily and the audience walks out of the theatre feeling good. An ending does not have to make you feel good, it just has to make you feel. (Flinn, 1999)

Many screenplays do not start quickly enough. It is very rare for more than ten pages to go by without the reader having a firm idea about the nature of the film. Ten pages are ten minutes and if the story has not started by fifteen minutes, it is already getting too late. (Flinn, 1999)

The first ten pages, also known as the exposition, defined as the information needed to move the story forward (Field, 2005). It is the setting forth of meaning or intent (the part of the play that introduces the theme and chief characters) and consists of delineation of the chief characters traits that are key to his or her motivation, the traits that will drive the character forward in the quest.

The exposition also sets out the theme or moral of the story but not reveal it. Exposition is associated with believability, probably the most important issue in the public acceptance of a movie, and final payoff. It is at this point that subtle seeds are sown. For something to be believable later in the script, it is imperative to sow the seeds of it as quickly as possible and the exposition stage is the best place to sow these seeds. By revealing facts at the early stage about the character or situation when it seems unimportant and using these facts later in the resolution gives more credibility to the plot than revealing facts in Act III for the first time. A simple rule; reveal up front, accept at end. Professional writing is distinguished by how something is disguised at this early stage in the screenplay. (Flinn, 1999) Finally, the exposition should demonstrate the style of the screenplay, no jokes if it is not a comedy.

The best way to open a screenplay is to know the ending. For the screenwriter the ending and the beginning are two sides of the same coin. (Field, 2005) When the writer is starting out he or she should know the resolution of the screenplay. Everybody dies, nobody dies, the bad person gets away, the bad person does not get away; the story moves forward; it follows a path, a direction; the line of development. The screenplay is the story of how the character gets there. The resolution must be clear in the writer’s mind; it is context, it holds the ending in place. To write a strong opening, the ending must be known. The story is a journey to a specific destination.

Most screenwriters have problems with endings. How to make it work effectively, so it is satisfying and fulfilling, so it makes an emotional impact; it does not seem contrived or predictable, so it is real and believable, not forced or fabricated; an ending that resolves all the main story points; an ending that works.

Nothing should be left unresolved unless there is good reason for doing so. In short, endings must satisfy beginnings (Flinn, 1999) and all conflicts introduced in the script must be fully resolved with the story fitting together. The final statement must satisfy the premise, the characters must drive the plot, the plot must be realistic for the characters, and above all coincidences must not be used to get out of a convoluted plot because believability is imperative. (Flinn, 1999)

Keeping this in mind the next question to ponder is what is the opening of the screenplay? How does it begin? What is the opening scene or sequence? The audience must be grabbed by the action very quickly; by page 10 of the screenplay is the general rule of thumb. This event is referred to as the inciting incident, which sets up the rest of the story.

The opening sequence must illustrate the nature of the story. The writer must know four things as he or she starts out; the ending, the beginning, Plot Point 1 and Plot Point 2, and in that order. These four events are the foundation stones of the screenplay. The reader must know three things within the first sequence the character; the premise and the situation or circumstances. The ending comes out of the beginning. Someone or something initiates an action and how that action is resolved becomes the storyline of the film.

 

Bibliography

Field, S. (2005). Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. New York: Delta/Bantam Dell.

Flinn, D. M. (1999). How Not To Write A Screenplay. California: Lone Eagle Publishing Company.

Halperin, M. (2002). Writing The Killer Treatment. California: Michael Wiese Productions.

Keane, C. (1998). How To Write A Selling Screenplay. New York: Broadway Books.

 

 

 

 

Syd Fields Three Act Structure Paradigm

 

“Structure is the prime element of film.” (Miller, 1984) “Screenplays are structure; that’s all they are. They are structure.” (Goldman, 1981) But, while the importance of structure is clear, interpretation is often less so. Syd Field’s ‘three-act-structure’ model is a perfectly natural device; not one that can be avoided by screenwriters. It is no more than a variation on the ‘start, middle and end’ model of all narratives. Using two films, Network (Lumet, 1976) and Magnolia (Anderson, 1999)it can be demonstrated that Field’s three-act structure; set-up, confrontation and resolution, is unavoidable and inevitable regardless of screenwriting and filmmaking techniques.

 

Network and the vast majority of Hollywood output are films with a classic linear story structure; send hero to battle, fire missiles at him, get him home dead or alive; it is a simple model, logical, chronological and embraced by the majority of film makers. The beginning, middle and end is the trusted template which defines American cinema. However, “a distinctly nonlinear structure has crept into Hollywood’s cinematic repertoire.” (Smith, 1999/2000) The emergence of films such as Pulp Fiction, Lone Star, English Patient and Magnolia do not use linear structure. But the question remains can the three-act formula be avoided?

 

Screenwriting expert Professor Robert McKee once described a story as a human being living a life that is more or less in balance; then comes the “inciting incident. The protagonist reacts, his life falls out of balance, and he now has had aroused in him a conscious or unconscious desire for whatever it is that will restore balance; “launching him on a quest for his object of desire against the forces of antagonism.” (Parker, 2003) McKee nailed the concept of the three-act structure that was the basis of debate initiated by Syd Field, an American writer and popular screenwriting guru.

 

Syd Field argues “The nature of the screenplay is as it has always been; a story told with pictures, dialogue and description, and placed within the context of dramatic structure” (Field, 2005). Field’s popular paradigm of three-act structure consists of set up, confrontation and resolution. Act 1, set up, we are introduced to the situation and characters and guided through ‘rising action’ into the main conflict of the story. Act 2, confrontation, is the continued rising action or conflict leading to the act conclusion or second plot point flagging the beginning of the falling action of Act 3, the resolution.

 

The three-act structure provides a framework to promote the story. Syd Field articulates, if you know the three-act paradigm, “you can simply pour your story into it.” (Field, 1982) Two narrated films demonstrating the paradigm are the linear plot of Network and the non-linear plot of Magnolia.  In Network the sole-protagonist, a suicidal manic depressive desires to depose his network and is assassinated as he preaches the insignificance of individuality (Network, 1976). In Magnolia, a montage of several interrelated protagonists with ‘paternal issues’ are in search of happiness (Magnolia, 1999). Both films, with multifaceted plots, are ‘poured’ into Field’s model.

 

In Network Field’s paradigm functions logically; Act 1’s inciting incident is Beale’s dismissal and threatened on-air suicide resulting in increased ratings. Beale’s reinstatement by exploitative employers is plot point one. In Act 2’s confrontation, individual vs. establishment, rising action remains evident as Beale’s sanity deteriorates. He denounces television and encourages viewers against it; “…I’m not going to take this anymore!” (Chayefsky, 1976) Plot point 2 is Beale’s discovery of UBS’s acquisition whereupon he demands public intervention. Act 3, resolution, falling action, Beale is manipulated into believing in business not individuality. He broadcasts this ‘propaganda’ and is assassinated as a traitor.

 

Magnolia, a non-linear mixed-genre melodrama using multiple characters, camouflages variations on Field’s model. The fragmented narrative leaps through characters subverting structure expectation. Eight troubled characters have similar goals (restoration of happiness) and occupy the space of the protagonist; “The plot poses questions; what to do and what is outcome?” (Dancyger & Russ, 2007) In Act 1 each character is haunted by their past; “We may be through with the past but the past isn’t through with us” (Magnolia, 1999) the first plot point is a montage of conflict scenarios brought to conclusion in plot point two leading to final resolution.

 

In both films conflict is an inherent incompatibility between objectives of protagonists and antagonists; “Conflict creates tension by adding doubt about outcome.” (Roberts & Jacobs, 2010) Both films appear opposites which is not the case. Environment’s destructiveness is the target of both films; protagonists are guides through complex antagonistic situations. In Network the antagonist wins and in Magnolia the protagonist(s) win, as with all stories; “One side wins in the end, but the film’s closure reconciles the two” (McBride, 1996). The structures of both narratives are almost indistinguishable and outcomes are inverted. Field’s model works equally well in each scenario.

 

The elements of Field’s model are evident in both films. The films are bookended with prologue and epilogue. The prologue sets tone, introduces concepts and pulls the audience into the story. True to Field’s model Act 1, in both films, establishing ‘main tension’ sets up characters, dramatic premise and situation. The first plot-point; “anchor of the story line” (Field, 2005), moves narrative forward; in Network when Beale is reinstated his journey begins. All the major plot-points in Magnolia revolve around parents; the first plot-point is a montage of events beginning a series of complex emotional obstacles which characters must overcome.

 

A classical narrative is structured around scenes; “In a tightly structured script, each scene has a mini goal or plot-point that leads the audience into the next scene” (Garrand, 1997). Although we don’t always know what is going to happen; “the structural patternings set us up for how it is going to happen” (Blumenberg, 1990). The plot-points yield tension and maintain interest in the story. They take place in major or minor form throughout the story with “reversals tending to be major plot-points opening up the story and providing a broader spectrum of options for characters.” (Dancyger & Russ, 2007).

 

The context of Act two is confrontation; “what the character wants to win, gain, get, or achieve during the course of the screenplay” (Field, 1982). In Network there is relentless confrontation as Beale becomes “the mad prophet of the airwaves” at odds with himself, his audience and ultimately with his superiors; “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone!” (Chayefsky, 1976). In Magnolia conflict occurs as the protagonists attempt to silence their inner demons. Deviating from Field’s model a resolution is achieved in Magnolia in Act 2 climax, the second plot-point, and creates new conflicts.

 

In Act three paces pick up and no new elements are exposed.  Resolution is achieved by story twists. In Network Beale commits suicide but does not pull the trigger. The narrator reappears to explain; “This was the story of Howard Beale…killed because he had lousy ratings.” (Chayefsky, 1976) In Magnolia the protagonists witness and casually accept a ‘frog rainfall’ with one protagonist observing ‘these things happen’. The prologue, a pastiche of ‘chance-events’ makes sense. Happiness is achieved through coincidence and chance. The narrator explains; “In the humble opinion of this narrator these strange things happen all the time….” (Magnolia, 1999).

 

There are other tensions in both movies. The subplots have tensions that can be mapped in three-act formula and beats; “pauses in dialogue altering how the protagonist pursues a goal” (Decker, 1998) which predict outcome. In Network most beats are unhappy; “I’m going to blow my brains out…on the air…in the middle of the seven o’clock news.” (Chayefsky, 1976) In Magnolia there are happy beats as when one protagonist