Category Archives: History

The John Hewitt Society Summer School 2018 – An Unforgettable Cultural Experience!

It was my honour to have been awarded a full Bursary by the John Hewitt Society and my privilege to attend their prestigious Summer School in late July 2018.


Situated in the Georgian surroundings of picturesque Armagh town, the Summer School takes place in the state-of-the-art venue of The Marketplace Theatre.


I have used words like incredible, transformative, inspiring, engaging and amazing to describe the week’s enticing and immersive cultural timetable but in reality the Summer School is all that and more.

The thoughtfully designed schedule ensures that none of the individual events overlap. Days began at 9.45 am and there were at least five daily hour-long sessions outside of the creative writing workshops and at least one evening event.

In an attempt to give you a flavour of how the week progressed I have summed up most of the lectures, interviews and events that I attended. But some of you may not want to read all of this so I have clearly headed each session which will enable you to

  1. Skim through this and choose to read the ones that interest you.
  2. Read the whole thing (it is long!)
  3. At least scroll down to the paragraph about the Radio Drama Workshop and read on from there,
  4. Leave now and never talk of this again.


Opening Address

This year’s Summer School’s opening address was delivered by Dr. Martin Manseragh, former Fianna Fáil T.D. and former Minister for Finance and the Arts. His fascinating talk shedding illumination on the complexities behind ‘simple’ political messages, spanning recent centuries, North and South of the border.


Fiction: Patrick Gale


Next up was an interview with author Patrick Gale who gave us insights into his writing process,
“Writing and reading are part of the same process.”
On character versus plot,
“Plot arises when you bring two characters together”
Answering a question about ‘wasted writing’,
“No creativity is wasted, you go down a path, and even if it is not used, you are enriched by the journey.”
I enjoyed this quote in particular,
“The whole fiction writing process is hugely therapeutic.”
He read and drew from his 2018 novel ‘Take Nothing With You’ during his interview.


Fiction and Photography – Travelling in a Strange Land: David Park & Sonya Whitefield


The evening discussion was with author David Park about his novel ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’ with photographs by Sonya Whitefield who, unfortunately, could not take part in the interview. Throughout the discussion we were given an understanding of the depth and spirituality of David Park, as a person and a writer, when he talked about his views of creativity,
“There is something redemptive and transcendent in art.”
“There are instinctive subconscious things in creativity.”
Also in his memories of the great snowfall of 1966,
“Never before and never after have I felt the weight of the universe.”
On his collaboration with Sonya Whitefield,
“The book is a finished item in itself but the photographs give it a different life.”
“There should be more opportunities for different art-forms to collaborate.”

Park read extracts from ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’

This lecture was followed by an exhibition of Sonya Whitefield’s thoughtfully taken photographs.



On Monday evening we were treated to beautiful poetry readings by Imtiaz Dharker and Michael Longley.

I woke up on the Tuesday feeling that I had already been there for a week and was ready for more of the same.


John Hewitt and the Irish at Coventry

The morning sessions began with Ciaran Davis’ lecture on John Hewitt’s time as Director of the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in post war Coventry (1957 -1972) and the difference in motivation behind his move (a secure job and a willingness to leave Belfast) in contrast to the many Irish people who were forced to see work in the city.

Hewitt’s vision was to help to regenerate the city and he felt that “A better society could be created by focussing on the local” and he brought in works by Stanley spencer and J.S.L. Lowry. While he was successful at first, ultimately, his vision was not supported by grant giving city officials.


Fiction – Liz Nugent


We were treated to an interview with the always entertaining, generous and modest author Liz Nugent whose third book ‘Skin Deep’ was published earlier in 2018. Nugent answers gave advice to new and emerging writers.
“The first piece I wrote that was broadcast was for Sunday Miscellany about a pair of gloves (15 minutes). You can start out with something small.”
She explained how the characters from her short story ‘Alice’ “…wouldn’t leave me alone…” and evolved into her first book ‘Unravelling Oliver’.
Answering a question about her dislikeable characters she quipped “I aim to disturb.” She followed this by talking about ‘Skin Deep’,
“As a writer I thought it would be interesting to explore a character who doesn’t care at all


Politics – Facing Change: The Identity Perspective 

Tuesday’s post workshops session was a talk by Dr. Nabeel Goheer, Assistant Secretary General at the Commonwealth Secretariat, on the current state of flux we are experiencing in the world and what this means to our global Identities.
“All of the cooperations we started building up since the Second World War are now being questioned.”
With 6.5 Million people being displaced by conflict identity has come back on a global level as a topic. He outlined the meaning of a global citizen as anyone who has enough wealth to invest a percentage of it into global issues or globally recognisable individuals who have the best values and can reach a worldwide audience.


Tuesday evening’s performance was a charming and quirky musical collection by Ulaid and Duke Special.



Politics – ‘Cross Border Studies’ 

Wednesday started with an interesting lecture on ‘Cross Border Studies’ with Professor Arthur Aughey, Emeritus Professor of Politics at Ulster University. He used the example of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the tangle of borders which were carved in Europe to demonstrate how,
“Frontiers are lines on a map but they are also a force of political ideologies.”
He went on to say that “One of the great objectives of the EU has been to remove the borders and the threats of the invasions of 1914-18 and 1939-45”
Issues in the Northern Ireland conflict was dominated by borders, terrorism and political identity and Professor Aughey recalled us that in 2017 Seamus Heaney suggested that the world had become a big Ulster.


Mary O’Donnell


Mary O’Donnell, novelist, short story writer and poet, was the next author interview I attended. She was so interesting to listen to that I forgot to take many notes but I came away with a couple of gems.
“If something isn’t working in poetry I ask myself if this will work in fiction.”
One of O’Donnell’s general tips about being a writer,
“You need to be in good health and you need to be living a selfish lifestyle to be a writer and that is not possible for everyone.”

Panel – Writing and Refugees 

The guest that stood out for me from the *Writing and Refugees* panel was the multi-talented Annie Waithira, who made the most unforgettable entrance and then served us food for thought with some choice statements.
“If you cannot hear our stories then you will never be able to get to know us.”
“Dear Ireland, why have you forgotten the immigrant?”
To steal from the John Hewitt Society twitter account
“She represents the absent voice in many contemporary debates: the refugee woman.”
Waithira explained that not every immigrant is on the same journey.
“Just because we came on the same boat does not mean we are of the same situation.”

This panel was followed by the opening of an exhibition “Daily Lives: Asylum Seekers in Italy and Ireland” by Mariusz Smiejek.

Music and Dance – Edges of Light

Our evening’s entertainment on Wednesday was “Edges of Light” collaboration between Irish Dance legend Colin Dunne, fiddler Tola Custy, harpist Maeve Gilchrist, and uilleann piper David Power.
An energetic and very entertaining musical and dance interpretation of the time in 1916 when Ireland was 25 minutes and 12 seconds behind the UK and so to coordinate Ireland with GMT the time went back only 35 minutes that October (but not everybody stuck to the rule).

Towards the end of the week I was working on my workshop exercise (more about that later) and so didn’t get to as many of the events as I would have liked.


“Challenging the Two Traditions: Women, Memory and Literature.” 

Writer and PhD researcher at Ulster University, Eli Davies, investigated the Northern Ireland conflict through the lens of the women involved and the upheaval paramilitary activities had on marriages and relationships in literature about the period,
“During the conflict the home was politicised.”
“The female figure is portrayed as queen, victim, peacemaker, but often used in service of the bigger male narrative.”
“Nell McCafferty pinpoints the mundane duties that the conflict affected as opposed to the macro issues.”
In Deirdre Madden’s ‘One by One in the Darkness’. Davies points out that  “The house becomes a person or a character in itself.”


Fiction – Sheila Llewellyn


The next interview was with author Sheila Llewellyn which centred about her debut novel ‘Walking Wounded’, which deals with how post-traumatic stress disorder was suffered and treated after the Second World War. The book has been praised by, among others, Pat Barker.
Llewellyn mentions that “the generation of writers who came after grew up with the narrative of the second World War.”
On research she said that “It satisfies my inner historian, I love doing the research but I have to hold myself back.”
While researching PTSD she came across recordings of soldiers recounting their experiences “You can hear them struggling to control the memories.”
One of her pre-war book loving characters returns with revulsion of literature because “Books lie because writers write a happy ending and life isn’t like that.”
Llewellyn says that a challenge that writers face is to portray some characters with as much integrity as possible while not liking them. 


Northern Ireland Political Collection at Linen Hall Library


The next lecture was a visually centred lecture from Belfast’s Linen Hall Library on the topic of the Northern Ireland Political Collection.
The library is most famous for its local and Irish collections.
Sometime in 1969, Jimmy Vitty, then Librarian of the Linen Hall Library, was handed a civil rights leaflet in a Belfast city centre bar. He kept it. Since then the Library has sought to collect all printed material relating to the ‘Troubles’.
The Political Collection is the only one of its kind that began collecting before a conflict was started.
In 1972 the collection almost shut down under the Special Powers Act which banned dealings with any anti-Government literature.
A former librarian of Linen Hall quipped that the Political Collection has “Something to offend everyone.”
The library has various individual collections as well, for example, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Archive, Northern Ireland Women’s Movement and more. As well as that they hold a Troubled Images Project which comprises of 16 volumes of press clippings from the early 1970s to 1994,
The digitalisation of the Political Collection is currently underway.


Fiction – Michael Hughes


The last event I attended was an interview with author Michael Hughes, whose most recent book “Country” is set during the Northern Irish conflict using the structure of Homer’s ‘Iliad’.  Hughes says said that he chose this approach because
“The Iliad took place among a small group of people who all know each other’s family history. A similar set up here in the Northern Ireland conflict”
He explained another reason for using the Iliad’s structure
“If you are writing about the conflict you will either to fictionalise or dramatise accounts of real people which isn’t fair to them.”


Creative Workshops

Throughout the week there was a choice of seven different creative workshops to attend, ‘Getting Started’ with Nessa O’Mahoney,’ Poetry’ with David Wheatley, ‘Poetry’ with Siobhán Campbell, ‘Short Story’ with Mary O’Donnell, ‘Fiction’ with Bernie McGill, ‘Memoir’ with Ferdia McKenna and the workshop that I opted for was ‘Radio Drama’ with Eoin McNamee.


Radio Drama Workshop

Eoin McNamee proved to be an excellent facilitator and on our first session he sent us out to the winding streets of Armagh with the quest of returning with a snippet of colloquial conversation. He then guided each of us to expand these snippets gradually into a short radio drama. The feedback he gave to the individual students acted as mini tutorials in the nuances of writing for radio for everybody at the workshop.


Creative Showcase

At 4.00 pm on Friday the Creative Writing Showcase took place. At least three people from each workshop read out their work. It was a shared pleasure to listen to the wealth of talent and promise from the bursary students chosen to read.

Thursday and Friday evening’s theatrical performances were a double bill from the remarkably astonishing mind and bodies (so to speak) of Mikel Murfi, “The Man In The Woman’s Shoes” and “I Hear You and Rejoice”. If you haven’t seen Murfi’s one man shows yet I urge you to rectify that. These two presentations were such a perfect way to finish off this culture laden week.

But it was not over yet. We all strolled down to the Armagh Centre for a fun open mic night.

During the week I met an eclectic range of people who fast became a strong foundation on which to grow a new creative family and it was their company that turned the cultural experience into an unforgettable adventure.

I woke up on Saturday morning in the charming and quirky Charlemont Arms Hotel with the feeling that I had been back to the best parts of university for a week – the pleasure of learning without the pressure of exams.

I came away with the feeling that I wanted to work towards something astounding but if I don’t manage that I’m definitely aiming higher than before.

If you have an interest in encountering culture I advise you to attend in 2019, see you there.

Finally I have to send many, many thanks the John Hewitt Society for awarding me this incredible opportunity and putting together an unforgettable week and to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs who kindly funded the ROI bursary students.

EPIC Ireland – A Journey of A People – A Museum Reviewed

My trip to Ireland’s newest Museum – courtesy of EPIC Ireland.

When I told a few friends I was planning a visit to the Irish Diaspora museum

EPIC Ireland – A Journey of A People

I got some typical Irish begrudging reactions. “That’s just for American tourists” and similar views.

Well begrudgers, you can eat that begrudgery followed by  humble pie. EPIC Ireland doesn’t just live up to its name but redefines the whole museum experience. It delivers history through deft use of 21st Century technology while mixing sparse and thoughtful design in the CHQ building which has a cool history all of its own.


When you descend into EPIC you are greeted with a charming ‘passport’ to the Irish Diaspora Museum. I see this being embraced by the generations of schoolchildren who will pass though the museum. We are told to stamp our passport (which doubles as a handy map) in each room.


At the entrance you are greeted with columns of dazzling colour and a video of an incoming tide splashed up against the 200 year old walls of the CHQ building’s lower level. The lights are low and this creates a fittingly eerie atmosphere.


When I think of the Irish diaspora two time periods spring to mind; the mid to late 1800s and the 1960s – 80s. But EPIC, (living up to its name) charts many of the reasons, some of the journeys and many of the kinds of people who left throughout the history of our country from 500 A.D. to our present century.


Within the ancient walls the designers have considerately fashioned a theme for each room that suits the information being relayed. The first three rooms chart the journey from Ireland to the various countries that my ancestors found refuge. It then proceeds to focus on the descendants of those people who left and the impact they had on those countries.


EPIC untangles hundreds of their stories at the touch of multiple screens and audio experiences. There are stories of bravery, of hope, despair, creativity, achievement in many spheres, infamy, deception, even cross-dressing and much more. These stories are from both the Irish who first arrived on the shores of their new worlds and in subsequent room the stories of their descendants.


EPIC delivers a refreshing balance as we hear the positive aspects of our Irish History standing shoulder to shoulder with the negative ones.



There are also a number of amusing quizzes to take which proves that EPIC is not without a sense of humour.


One of the many highlights of the tour was reading the scanned letters that Irish immigrants had sent home.  Seeing a digital image of the original letters and reading the words of these ordinary people brought me closer to the struggles of the original Irish Diaspora.


I could go on but I don’t want to spoil the experience any further. I spent three and a half hours there and could have spent the same amount of time again and still not taken in everything it has to offer.


One more thing, don’t forget to look at the floors.



This Museum goes to Eleven.



Preserving Ireland on Film – The Irish Film Institute’s Archive Tour on Culture Night

Due to two of my friend’s birthday celebrations coinciding on Culture Night in Dublin I was only able to make one event and appropriately it was Film related.

The tour of the usually-not-open-to-the-public Archives of the Irish Film Institute begins in the foyer where we are met by the head of the Archive Kassandra O’Connell who leads us to the Tiernan McBride reference Library in the Archive while being in the Irish Film Institute complex it is a separate building.


We are given a talk about the history of the Archive and how it was aligned with the Catholic Church in the 1940s, who saw the potential of film as a means of communication, the first organisation in the country to have the required facilities. She explains about the move away from the church in the 1970s.

Kassandra tells us about the Horgan Brothers in Cork from 1910s whose interest in the young industry was not matched by the contents of their wallets. So they built this and this camera


this projector and opened their own cinema in 1917. They went around the country making recordings and even the first Irish animated feet of reel.

The reference library contains the documentation, articles and production notes for the Irish related Films they have already collected (e.g. Neil Jordan provides them with the production notes of the films he makes).


We are then led down stairs to meet two of the Archive’s Collections Officers, Columb Gilna McManus and Anja Mahler, who show us the pain-staking work they do: their enthusiasm is infectious.


Film donated to the Archive can be anything from features, documentaries to home movies; some in need of repair before being viewed frame by frame. They explain that the great value of private collections; any documentation of Ireland on film provides a new insight into our countries history and sometimes they uncover new angles on a historical events. The receive reels of film in all sorts of conditions.


The Archive’s storage rooms (six in all) are especially air conditioned and packed with reels of their collection.


This Archive is a must for any film or film preservation enthusiasts and an important resource for students of Irish film.


If you have any old reels or footage at home please get in touch with them and assist in filling the archive gap between 1897 and the 1940s when there was no film archiving taking place in Ireland.

Get in touch and find out more about the Archive here.

The Mysterious Life and Death of William Desmond Taylor

William Desmond Taylor arrived in Hollywood in 1911 or 12 with only a few dollars in his pocket. He appeared to be in his thirties, was handsome, charming, and generous of spirit. These traits combined with being a natural on the saddle of a horse bagged him his first few parts as an extra. He made fast friends in the budding silent movie industry and began to pick up larger roles. He did admit that he had some previous acting experience in New York but talked very little about the rest of his background. 

After 4 years of acting Taylor was getting older and itching to try his hand on the other side of the camera. He got his chance at the Balboa Studios on Long Beach. The studios had been the launch pad for many stars in the previous decade such as Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. He began by making a handful of shorts, on one, The Awakening, Taylor met, fell in love and became engaged to with his leading lady Neva Gerber. She was separated from her older husband who refused to give her a divorce. Their next film, within the same year, was Taylor’s first feature, The Judge’s Wife. The story was about a man’s sacrifice to save a lady’s reputation. Taylor told people during the production that he had spent three years in prison to protect the honour of a woman he had loved. It turns out that there was no actual evidence to back this up. Perhaps Taylor’s skills with fantasy were beginning to bleed into his own reality.

Taylor consistently made movies until 1919 and worked with the likes of Mary Pickford, Wallace Beery, Wallace Reid, Dustin Farnum and other major stars of the era. He grew very close to a lesser known actress called Mary Miles Minter who, (records become a little hazy here) he either became romantically involved with or she was infatuated with him. Sources close to him at the time could not see him falling for her as they met when she was still in her teens and he was in his early 40s. Through her he was acquainted with Miles’ overbearing mother Charlotte Shelby.

As with all directors Taylor made a few flops but some of his biggest successes were with classic book adaptations like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Anne of Green Gables. Not only had he a string of successful movies, a fashionable address at Alvarado Court Apartments he had a nice car and a valet named Edward Sands.

All was going well and in 1918 Taylor felt the pull of the army as the First Word War still battled in Europe. He enlisted but by the time he was ready the war had ended. He did some administration work and was honourably discharged in 1919. He traveled back to Hollywood. His engagement to Neva Gerber ended amicably and he was connected to the troubled star Mabel Normand.

Normand had been a rising multi-talented writer/director and star, engaged to Mack Sennet (creator of the Keystone Cops in which she appeared regularly) but Sennet cheated on her and a bad movie deal left her low on funds, she then moved to the Goldwyn Motion Picture Company where there were rumours that she had an affair with Sam Goldwyn. Somewhere along the way she became hooked on cocaine which badly affected her career. She then met Taylor and there were rumours that he may have taken drugs with her but he never showed any signs of addiction. Either way Taylor tried to help her quit. The details surrounding their relationship differs from witness to witness, some claim they were in love while others say they were friends. Returning back from a holiday in 1921 Taylor found that his valet, Sands, had swindled him by forging cheques, crashing and ditching his car before disappearing. Taylor took it well, hired another valet Henry Peavey, and continued making movies.

Mabel visited Taylor on the evening of February 1 1922 to borrow a book and left at 7.45pm. A few minutes later his neighbour, Faith McLean, heard a loud noise, looked out the window and saw a man walk out of Taylor’s apartment, he too looked around and went back inside. A few minutes later she noticed him stroll away and presumed that the noise she must have heard was the backfire of a car. It wasn’t until the next morning that Taylor’s Valet No. 2 Peavey arrived to find his boss dead on the floor of the apartment. This is when things began to get very strange.


The police were called and a Doctor arrived examined him and concluded that the cause of death was natural. The Doctor then left and very soon after the police turned him over revealing a bullet wound in his back. Taylor had a huge amount of cash on his person at the time and expensive jewelry so a burglary was ruled out. The Doctor never surfaced and the mystery and gossip surrounding Taylor’s death sprouted legs. All the people close to him were suspected and investigated, his two valets, Sands and Peavoy, Minter and her mother Shelby, Faith MClean and Mabel Desmond. While some of the suspects flung accusations at each other they were all were eventually cleared.

Through the investigation there were rumours of papers being stolen from his apartment after his death, drug dealers, old army enemies arriving into town, talk of Taylor being gay or bisexual and even a massive cover up major studio heads. There may have been some foundation for the last rumour as the young movie industry has been hit by two recent scandals. The Rape charges against Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and the death by Morphine addiction of supposedly clean cut Wallace Reid. If there had been any nefarious activity on Taylor’s behalf the Studios would have had every reason to destroy any evidence that linked them to the dead director.

As the investigation began to stumble on a new voice entered the fray, one Ethel Hamilton, Taylor’s wife from New York. They had been married in 1901, she was an actress and he successfully sold antiques. Taylor, she said, while being a lovely person, suffered from bouts of aphasia and one day in 1908 he left her an envelope with $500 and disappeared from her and their daughter’s lives. It was only years later when she saw him in a movie that she pointed to the screen and said to her daughter “That’s your Daddy!”. She bore no ill will to him but Taylor and his daughter kept in touch until the time of his death.

Hamilton revealed that Taylor was Irish, his real name was William Deane-Tanner, born in Co. Carlow in Ireland. The third child of a retired British Army Major, by all accounts he got on badly with his father and ran away to the theatre when he was a young teenager. He was then sent to Runnymeade in Kansas, a sort of juvenile home that promised to turn delinquents into gentlemen farmers. Deane-Tanner (Taylor) stayed long enough to become familiar with horses but soon escaped and found himself in New York where he met and married Ethel Hamilton.

The revelation that Taylor’s brother Denis Dean-Tanner had disappeared from his wife in New York two years after Taylor had done the same made the rumour-mill turn even faster. Through the investigation Mary Miles Minter’s love letters were found in Taylor’s apartment and Mabel Normand cocaine habit exposed crippled both actresses’ careers. Multiple actresses made death bed confessions to killing Taylor. There were rumours hat the police were told to cut the investigation short, To this day his murder was never solved.

Mary Miles Minter

The mystery referred to as Taylorology has spawned many books and was referenced in Billy Wilder’s 1960 movie, “Sunset Boulevard”, which concerns a murder in Hollywood, the main character’s name is Norma Desmond (Mabel Normand & William Desmond Taylor).

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?


Further  Taylor/Deane-Tanner reading.

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood. by William J. Mann,

Dalkey gets Obama’d

The news that Michelle, Malia and Sascha Obama were going to visit Dalkey, the village responsible for my idyllic childhood, in South Co. Dublin hit the media the day before it happened and they ran with it for the next 48 hours. They were not just visiting Dalkey either, they were going to have a bite to eat in my local pub, Finnegans, at 12.30, the papers said. I realised that I’d have to find somewhere else to have lunch.

Finnegans of Dalkey

I arrived at the Dart Station at about 12pm and was greeted by a heavy GardaI presence and a couple of barriers blocking the run from Castle Street (Dalkey’s main thoroughfare) up Railway Road and around to Sorrento Road on whose corner Finnegans sits, this day adorned with “Old Glory” swaying playfully in the Irish breeze.

I knew that I hadn’t missed the First family of the U.S. quite yet so I strolled into the village and soaked up my Dalkey. There was a loose crowd filling and milling about Castle Street as if roads, paths, or cars hadn’t been invented yet, the Gardai seemed at the same time oblivious and attentive. Select Stores served me a cup of black tea (I felt bad as they are a reputable health food shop). I perched myself comfortably and this was my view.


It seemed that the minute I settled down there was a stirring among the Gardai. People were pushed off the road to the pavements and the crowd looked much thicker. I wondered how many plainclothes secret service people were among them. For the next few minutes the only movement was the further thickening of the crowd as classes of local primary schools, families and passers-by stopped to wonder.

Hand held flags fluttered, strangers chatted, and camera phones were at the ready. Some local children had made welcoming signs.

A Dalkey Welcome

As the time wore on their enthusiasm waned.

The Welcome Settling.

Another commotion arrived with a ripple of murmurings and almost synchronised symphony of craned necks swept along the crowded streets, a false alarm as a child-minder armed with a child in a buggy, eager to get across the road, broke ranks and was quickly shepherded to the other side.

Castle Street Surge.

Why did she choose Dalkey? I ran through a potted history of my old village as I knew it. It’s history dates back to the 700s. St. Begnet founded a church on the main land and another on the striking Dalkey Island before the Vikings took over and used the natural depths of Dalkey Sound and to their advantage making the village a busy trading hub which resulted in Coliemore Harbour, at one stage, being named as Dublin’s 3rd port.  Dalkey Island also holds a Martello tower and the ruins of a fort and is currently inhabited by goats. Jump forward many centuries and Dalkey was the end of the line for the first experimental Atmospheric Railway. George Bernard Shaw was the first writer to take up residence in Dalkey and has been followed to this day by a litany of other writers and celebrities from many fields.

Coliemore Harbour, Dalkey Sound & Island

But none of this really explained why Michelle Obama and her children had chosen to lunch in the village. By now the Gardai had been joined by a generous helping of obvious secret service representatives, who were making the crowd even tighter. Another commotion, people surges and flags were on the go once more while murmurings became more animated and suddenly it became a little bit clearer as to why they were here…

Mr. and Mrs Hewson

Mr. (Bono) & Mrs. Hewson were joining them.

The whole length of Castle Street was flanked with people hoping to catch a glimpse of the Obamas as they made their way from Glendalough. False alarm followed false alarm as my tea’s heat and volume diminished.


And then….

As they arrived

They zipped passed…

On their way by

and were gone as fast as they had arrived.

In the aftermath of the excitement I floated through the crowds happy to see the local businesses profiting from the lofty visitors. Though may people still didn’t actually know what had occurred. I retreated to The Corner Note Café for a late lunch.

Lunch at The Corner Note

My thanks goes to the Obamas for not only visiting but pouring the spotlight of the world on Dalkey for one afternoon, I thank them and even though he seems to garner so much criticism I thank Bono for his part as well.

To find out more about Dalkey here are a few links.

Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre

I Love Dalkey on Facebook

Dalkey On Wikipedia

Dalkey Island On Wikipedia

If you use twitter check out my own list of Dalkey related accounts here.

The Origin of April Fool’s Day

Instead of writing a blog that was an April Fool in itself (a bit obvious) I have devised a short test for you in the vein of Call My Bluff.

Below are three explanations for the origin of April Fool’s Day but only one is correct.

Can you guess?

(Answer below)


 Stańczyk (1480-1560) was a famous Polish court jester. to three Polish kings: Alexander, Sigismund the Old and Sigismund Augustus. Records tell us that Stańczyk began working for Alexander early in April 1503. On the first anniversary of his employment Alexander allowed the popular Stańczyk to play a trick on him. The tradition was taken up by the rest of the country where, at first, the head of each household was the target. It soon became a general day for prank-playing and quickly spread outside the countries borders.


From the Middle Ages New Year’s Day was celebrated in most European towns on The Feast of The Annunciation , March 25. In some areas of France, this New Year’s celebration was a week-long holiday ending on April 1. Many sources suggest that April Fool’s Day originated because those who celebrated the New Year on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates.


Fruit Foole was first recorded as a dessert in 1598 in “The Good Huswife’s Jewell” by Thomas Dawson but had been around for at least a century before. Traditionally served on the first day of April and with the name Foole (from the french Fouler, to press) being similar to the English Fool the dessert was accompanied with a prank. The dessert tradition fell away by the mid 19 century but the April Fool’s Day pranks endured.

Scroll down for answer…


















































Follow @Beanmimo

Every Irish Winner At The Academy Awards – The Oscars!

(updated 2020)

In the wake of the 2013 Academy Awards  I searched the internet but could not find a definitive list of Irish winners in Oscar History. I opened the Academy Awards site and searched though the history of the awards, Googling every Irish, English, and Scottish sounding winner’s name.

If, by chance, I have missed anyone please leave a comment below!

(This post has been viewed by 3,000+ people and no one has come back to me yet.)

Included are people born in Ireland, Northern Ireland and those who hold dual citizenship with Ireland and another country.



won 11 Best Art/Set Direction Oscars between 1930 and 1956

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1930)
The Merry Widow (1934)
Pride and Prejudice (1940)
Blossoms in the Dust (1941)
Gaslight (1944)
The Yearling (1946)
Little Women (1949)
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Julius Caesar (1953)
Somebody Up There Likes me (1956)

Born in Dublin, Gibbons moved to study in New York and is credited with the design of the Oscar statuette.


Best (Adapted) Screenplay Pygmalion (1939)

Born in Dublin, Shaw was the first person to receive a Nobel Prize and an Oscar and held that record until Bob Dylan matched his success in 2019.


Best Actor in a Supporting Role Going My Way (1944)

Born in Dublin, Fitzgerald was the only actor ever nominated for the Academy Award for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in the same year for the same role. After he received this double nomination, the Academy immediately changed their rules to prevent this from happening again, rules which have remained unchanged to this day.


has won two  Oscars.

(shared) – Best Makeup Quest for Fire (1981)
(shared) – Best Makeup Dracula (1992)

Born in Kildare, Michèle holds a US, EU and Canadian Passport she is also fluent in English, French, Spanish and some Irish.


(shared) – Best Art Direction Out of Africa (1986)

Born in Ireland, McAvin presented the IFI Irish Film Archive with her Academy Award and Emmy statuettes, along with a collection of books, photographs and sketches that she had collected throughout her distinguished career.


the only actor to have won three awards for Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

Best Actor My Left Foot (1989)
Best Actor There Will Be Blood (2007)
Best Actor Lincoln (2013)

Though he was born in the UK Day-Lewis is also an Irish Citizen and lives here in Co. Wicklow.

Here are a few roles which he turned down:

Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), a role in Terminator Salvation (2009), Jor-El in Superman: Man of Steel (2013), lead role in Mary Reilly (1996), a role in Cutthroat Island (1995), the lead role in The English Patient (1996), Simon Templar in The Saint (1997).

The late and great Sir John Gielgud had this to say about Day-Lewis,
“He had what every actor in Hollywood wants: talent. And what every actor in England wants: looks”.


Best Actress in a Supporting Role Actress My Left Foot (1989)

Born in Dublin Fricker was once heard to say
“When you are lying drunk at the airport you’re Irish. When you win an Oscar you’re British.”


Best Original Screenplay  The Crying Game (1993)

Born in Sligo, Jordan is quoted as saying,
“I’m fascinated by monsters, monstrous people and fascinated with illogic and irrationality.”


Honorary Academy Award in 2003

Born in Connemara, on accepting the award O’Toole, at 78, vowed to
“…win the lovely bugger outright”.


Best Documentary Short – A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin (2006)

Though born in New York, Marrinan holds dual Irish & U.S. citizenship, and as part of her acceptance speech she said,
“I’d like to thank the Academy for seating me next to George Clooney at the nominee’s luncheon.”


Best Short Film (Live Action) Six Shooter (2006)

Born in the U.K., McDonagh holds both Irish and U.K. passports. Since moving into film, McDonagh has frequently used actors that have also appeared in the original theatre runs of his plays.


(Shared) Best Song Once (2008)

Born in Dublin, Hansard was the first Irishman to win an Oscar for Best Song. He was offered a shot at the part of Rorschach in Watchmen (2009) but had to bow out due to the fanfare surrounding his Oscar nomination (and ultimate win) for song “Falling Slowly” from Once (2006).


(as part of a team) – Best Visual Effects – Avatar (2010)

Born in Ireland Baneham worked as an animator or animation supervisor for the following films, The Iron Giant, Cats & Dogs, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and oversaw the animation of the character of Gollum) on The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.


Father and Daughter

Best Short Film (Live Action) The Shore (2012)

Born in Belfast, Terry George is quoted as saying,
“Film today is more and more concentrated on the amusement park element. If a writer can attach an actor or a producer who has some clout, then you can arm yourself. Otherwise, a script simply becomes a road map to attract money and talent.”

Maureen O’Hara


Honourary Achievement Award 2015

Born in Ranelagh, Dublin as Maureen FitzSimons she mentioned three men in her acceptance speech who shaped her career, Charles Laughton, John Wayne and John Ford. O’Hara is quotes as saying

“I made John Wayne sexy. I take credit for that.”

Benjamin Cleary


Best Short Film (Live Action) – Stutterer (2016)

Benjamin Cleary is an Irish writer, director and producer from Dublin.

During his acceptance speech Cleary said:

“Every day is a proud day to be Irish, but today even more so… Sláinte!”


BONUS Trivia from 2020

There was no Irish Oscar winner in 2020 but we still managed to score well!

Irish composer Ms. Eímear Noone became the first woman to conduct an orchestra at the Oscars!

Eímear Noone

You may also enjoy Every Irish Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Compiled from




Check your local Irish Cinema here

The Catalpa Rescue: A Pivotal Moment in Irish History

I have summarised the following true life adventure from two sources, if you would like to skip to the bottom you can watch the 54min documentary “The Catalpa Escape” on youtube or buy a copy of “The Fenian Wild Geese” by Ormonde P. Waters.

Failed Rising of 1867

The Irish struggle for separation from Britain had suffered since the late the 1840’s because of The Great Famine and subsequent emigration. It was revived when James Stephens returned to Dublin from the American Civil War in the mid 1850s and consolidated the various groups of Fenians.

Another returnee (from the French Foreign legion), John Devoy worked hard with Stephens in the years leading up to the planned Fenian Rising of 1866 which was postponed by Stephens to 1867 and then scuppered by British Military Intelligence.

Devoy’s efforts of recruiting the loyalty of between 13,000 and 15,000 Irishmen enlisted in the British army cost him 5 years in prison and then exile to America.

But the fate of the 62 identified Fenians in the British army was far worse. Their behaviour, seen as treason, meant they were sentenced to penal servitude for life in Freemantle Prison, Australia, in today’s terms like being sent to the moon.

Devoy prospered in America, forging links with the American based Irish Fenian group, Clan na Gael, and worked for the New York Herald. In 1874 he received a letter which he read out at a Clan meeting. It was from James Hogan and Martin Wilson, two of the Fenian convicts in Fremantle. It outlined their tomb-like existence and it appealed for his help.

The Plan

With previous experience breaking people out of gaols, Devoy proposed that a ship with fifteen fully armed men would sail to Fremantle and rescue the Fenian Prisoners. But they did not own a ship nor did they have the men and most importantly they had no money for the plan.

A letter was circulated around the members of Clan Na Gael and amazingly $7,000 came flooding back.

With the assistance of John Boyle O’Reilly (one of the only men to have escaped Fremantle Prison) they bought an old whaling ship “Catalpa” at the cost of $19,000 (Clan members re-mortgage their houses to foot the bill) and refitted her for the journey. A retired 1st mate, George Anthony was recruited and despite being Protestant he recognised the injustice and agreed to Captain the ship.

The ‘Catalpa’ set sail in April 1875 with the aim of reaching Fremantle in January 1876. Only Captain Anthony knew about the rescue, to make sure that the cover story was secure, the rest of the crew were real whalers.

Devoy put the second part of the plan in action. He needed someone with inside knowledge to be waiting for the ‘Catalpa’ when she arrived. So he chose John J. Breslin, another man with knowledge of prison breaks, who was sent to Fremantle with the rest of the money to pose as a philanthropist looking for an investment.

They could not risk alerting the prisoners about the plan. The prisoners Hogan and Wilson, believing that the letter has not reached Devoy, sent another letter to Ireland looking for help. Breslin arrived in Fremantle and began to sow his cover story with success.

Just before the January date he got word to the prisoners that a rescue was imminent but his message was premature as January turns to February and there was no sign of the ‘Catalapa’. He did managed to get a tour of the heavily armed Fremantle Prison, nicknamed ‘The Establishment’ and realised that for this rescue to have any hope of success it would have to take place when the men were outside of the building.

It had now been many months since Breslin arrived and local interest in his ‘philanthropy’ was fading. He had traveled all over the colony but had not invested a penny, the authorities were tiring of him and invitations were running dry. The ‘Catalpa’’s no show worried Breslin and a number of unfolding events threatened to undermine the rescue completely.

As he played for time he had almost run out of cash. By chance he met a man called John King, who turned out to be from an Australian branch of the Fenians, they both realised that they were there to free the prisoners and King had funds. He convinced King to abandon his plan and told him that there was a ship on its way with fully armed men (Breslin still held out hope). King agreed and handed over enough cash that kept him going for another while.

By this time Breslin had been in Fremantle long enough to notice new faces. When two men arrived showing interest in ‘The Establishment’ and the Fenians inside, he feared they may have been British Spies but King became friendly with them and it turned out they were another rescue team sent in response to the prisoner’s second letter to Ireland. Still this worried Breslin. If too many people showed interest this would surely alert someone in authority.

Back in America British intelligence had discovered Devoy’s plan and sent word to Fremantle. Breslin did not know of this and had managed to convince the third rescue party to join him and King. Their job would be to cut the communication wires on the day of the rescue.

Days turned into weeks and there was still no sign of ‘Catalpa’.

The Authorities received the British warning about the planned rescue but luckily they chose to completely ignore it. They found it impossible to believe that with a barren desert one side and shark infested waters on the other that six men could be rescued from ‘The Establishment’.

Meanwhile on the 29th March, nearly 2 months late, after Captain Anthony had to deal with malfunctioning equipment, a disastrous whaling catch and a mutinous crew, the ‘Catalpa’ finally arrived in the environs of Fremantle harbour.

The Rescue

Captain Anthony made contact with Breslin and the plan was finally set for Easter Monday 1876. Anthony and a handful of his men left the ‘Catalpa’ off shore (just beyond British Waters) with his First Mate in charge. They rowed a long boat to a designated beach. Breslin had alerted the Prisoners but only two were signed for duties beyond the walls of ‘The Establishment’. The other four prisoners were able to bluff their way onto the duty. Breslin signaled and they all slipped away. While Captain Anthony waited on the beach he was spotted by a local taking an early stroll. The local saw the prisoners arrive and made his way back to Fremantle to alert the authorities. Anthony, Breslin and the six prisoners left the shore but were still visible when the police arrived on the beach.

In the long boat Breslin read out the copy of a letter he had sent to the Governor of Fremantle Prison, it informs him that Breslin had released the prisoners who were only guilty of ‘love of country and hatred of tyranny’. The mood in the long boat is high.

Once the police arrive back they sent out two ships to intercept them. What followed was an endurance race. The rescue party faced hours of hard rowing but finally managed to sight the ‘Catalpa’.

Before they could reach their destination a massive storm engulfed the small boat. They managed to survive the night and again began to row. Before they were anywhere close to ‘Catalpa’ the saw an Australian ship, the ‘Georgette’, steaming toward them. Anthony instructed them to pull in their oars and lay low in the boat. Luckily the ‘Georgette’ did not spot them and arrived alongside the ‘Catalpa’ and demanded the return of the prisoners but The First Mate turned them away.

Instead of making more demands The ‘Georgette’ had to return to the harbour because it had run out of fuel. So the rescue boat once again began to row to the ‘Catalpa’. Another boat was sighted, this time the pilot boat from Fremantle harbour, the race is on and the rescue boat arrived at the ‘Catalpa’ first. The prisoners climbed aboard, exhausted but they could hardly believe that they were finally free.

As they were about to leave the wind dropped and the ‘Catalpa’ was becalmed and became a sitting duck when the refuelled ‘Georgette’ arrived with more demands and a shot across the bows. The ‘Georgette’ was heavily armed. If this boiled down to a marine battle the Australian ship would have been the victors. Captain Anthony thought on his feet and raised the American Flag hoping that the Georgette would be unwilling to cause an international dispute. This seemed to have worked as the Australian ship held off.

But they were actually biding their time as both ships drifted back toward British waters. Just as they were about to cross that boundary the wind picked up and the ‘Catalpa’ tacked away safely.

The Aftermath

When the ‘Catalpa’ arrived back in America 1,000s of Fenians lined the streets to welcome them home. The escape had made headlines around the world, in Dublin there was a torchlight procession while the British accused the Americans of aiding and abetting terrorists.

Sadly the 6 prisoners never fully recovered from their ordeal in Fremantle Prison. Captain Anthony retired comfortably and Clan na Gael even paid for the mortgage on his house.While Breslin continued to plan and fight for Irish Freedom for the rest of his life.

The daring and international rescue had reignited the spirit in the Fenians quest for Irish freedom.

It was Devoy who gained most from the rescue. He became the leader of Clan na Gael. He cut such a dominant figure that almost 30 years later, in the lead up to The Easter Rising of 1916, Padraig Pearse visited him in America for advice on strategy. ‘The 1916 Rising’ famously put Ireland straight on to the path of attaining the state of a Republic in 1921.

Thank you to @WorldIrish for re-posting this adventure here.