Monday 14th September 2009

At the 5000 year old Loughcrew megalithic cairn T in Ireland, the rising sun on the mornings around the equinox illuminate the passage and chamber. Michael Fox informs me that the Office of Public Works will have staff in attendance at Cairn T on the mornings of Sunday the 20th of September, Monday the 21st September and Tuesday the 22nd September from 7.15am until 8.30am.
Video of previous illumination :

Thursday August 27th 2009

Mountbatten Assassination

When is murder not murder?

Today is the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten here in Mullaghmore. The media won' t let us forget about it and the event has spawned numerous TV documentaries, radio interviews and acres of newsprint. C'est la vie or in Irish sin a bfhuil — but we would rather be known for our wild and beautiful scenery or our hospitality and friendliness to visitors, from wherever they come. From out this legion of opinion and commentary have come some interesting observations:


Is one person's atrocity or grief better or worse than another's? Is 'murder' justifiable?
History teaches that it is. It all depends on who's doing the killing.

The first thing I learned in my experience in the US Army was to dehumanize the enemy, then of course it became alright for me or you to go out and kill this person or persons and feel good about it. Killing 'wogs' and 'gooks' is good! Killing Americans, or English, or Irish is bad. You see the difference is we're real people and we matter! They don't.

Vincent Browne writing last Sunday in the Sunday Business Post reflects that 'the deliberate killing of people one knows to be innocent is murder.' But where does that leave the current Afghan war, he asks?:
'We know as a certainty, and Barack Obama knows as a certainty, and the American public knows as a certainty that the US [and British] conduct of the war in Afghanistan involves the killing of innocent people by the use of aerial bombings and indiscriminate ground attacks... Does the fact that, unlike the scene at Mullaghmore, no particular innocent people are identifiable make any difference?
I can't see how it does, in either instance,' he concludes.

An interesting observation — and wasn't it Brendan Behan who said: 'You can always tell who the terrorist is. He's the one with the small bomb!'

Mountbatten or Margaret Perry: who should we remember and who should we forget?
Many people will remember that Mountbatten was not the only victim of the troubles in Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo.  Margaret Perry was killed, in the most brutal of circumstances, in the woods under Mountbatten’s holiday home, Classiebawn Castle, in June 1992, on the instruction of RUC police informer Gregory Burns.  Two other RUC informers Aidan Starrs and John Dignam carried out the killing.  Afterwards there was a cover-up by RUC Special Branch.

Yet no one comes to grieve or to put flowers on the spot where she died! Ever!  Why is it that one human life is more valued than another?  No one seems to remember, or want to remember her anniversaries.  Is Margaret Perry’s life not as valued as Mountbatten's?  Should she not be remembered as well?  And if not why not? If she were Lady Margaret Perry of British royalty would things then be different! 

Councillor Sean McEniff of Bundoran, Co Donegal has jumped on the bandwagon by proposing a memorial for Mountbatten.  As a public representative surely he should be the first to recognize the hurt suffered by all, including the thousands of people sent out on coffin ships from the Classiebawn estate by Lord Mountbatten’s forbear, Lord Palmerston!

John Donne’s words are as true today as when they were spoken: "…Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

The day that terror visited Sligo’s shores
Reproduced here below, by kind permission of the author and the Sunday Business Post, is an article by Emmanuel Kehoe

"In these days of commonplace daily death, when killings, random or otherwise, are almost the small change of Irish reporting and only in exceptional circumstances get more than a few paragraphs or brief segments of television or radio news, it’s hard to imagine a time when the taking of life was a rare and terrible thing in this part of Ireland. By 1979,when the IRA killed Lord Louis Mountbatten in the Republic, Dublin and Monaghan had already felt the destructive power of car bombs, but that could be seen as coming from outside, a lethal spillover from the conflict in the North. But ‘ordinary’ murders, without political or sectarian motive, and in those days before drugs provided people with reasons to kill, were quite rare.

North of the border, death played a stronger hand. Bombing, assassination, abduction and sectarian murder seemed everyday occurrences. In February 1979, the Shankill Butchers, 11 loyalists who had been killing Catholics randomly since 1972, were sentenced to a total of 2,000 years in prison. In April of that year - the month before Margaret Thatcher became prime minister - the IRA shot dead five British soldiers in Belfast; killed four RUC men with a 1,000lb car bomb in Bessbrook, Co Armagh; and shot dead a woman prison officer. Some of the killings in 1979 especially ruthless - earlier in the year, the IRA had shot dead a former prison officer and his wife at their home in Belfast - or tragic, such as the two 16-year-old Catholic boys mistakenly blown up by the IRA in Darkley, Co Armagh.'They would not be the only unlucky innocents to die that year.

So it was not surprising that many people driving from say, Dublin to Letterkenny, would take the long way round, through Sligo and the Barnesmore Gap, rather than go through the Six Counties. And if they glanced to the left between Sligo and Bundoran, they would have seen the prominent pile of Classiebawn Castle, where Earl Mountbatten of Burma spent his summer holidays - the man who had accepted the Japanese surrender at Singapore, the last Viceroy of India, messing about in boats off an Irish beach.

Paul Maxwell
It was this scene that John Maxwell movingly revisited in Mountbatten: Return to Mullaghmore (RTE One). Maxwell’s 15year-old son Paul died when the IRA blew up Mounbatten’s boat, another incidental victim of desperate men, along with Mountbatten’s teenage nephew, Nicholas Knatchbull, and the octogenarian Baroness Brabourne. In Yeats’s words, it must have seemed to the bereaved that: ‘The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned.’

Palmerston and his coffin ships

Classiebawn itself was something of an imperial statement. The building was begun by John Henry Temple, Lord Palmerston. One of those landlords who behaved badly to his starving tenants during the Famine, his agents shipped large numbers of them to Quebec in poor quality ships. Of the 477 people who embarked on the Lord Ashburton, for example, the last ship bearing people from Palmerston’s estates,107 died at sea. It wasn’t that Palmerston was some idle ne’er-do-well absentee - he was Britain’s foreign secretary at the time of the Famine, would later twice serve as prime minister and was very much a founding Victorian.

The turreted castle with a somewhat dark history was completed in the 1870s, and Mountbatten’s connection with the place began when he married the hugely wealthy Edwina Ashley, part of whose inheritance it was. A great-grandson of Queen Victoria, whose nine children had provided breeding stock for the royal families of Europe, Mountbatten wasn’t a chinless wonder but an able naval officer and a tough administrator. However, the couple’s existence (like the lives of many upper-class couples of the period) was unconventional and prone to scandals. Both had a reputation for having bisexual affairs and it was widely believed that Mountbatten persisted in his interest in younger men for many years.

A sexually confused Mountbatten
In 2004, London saw a production of Keeping Dickie Happy, a new play by Jeremy Kingston, theatre critic of the Times, in which a sexually confused Mountbatten, on the brink of marriage, spends time with a naval friend, his real-life chum Noel Coward, Coward’s boyfriend and Agatha Christie in a Devon hotel. In 1932, the Mountbattens were ordered by King George V to sue the People newspaper for alleging that a society hostess, popularly identified as Edwina, was having an affair with ‘‘a coloured man’’. Edwina was able honestly to deny in court that she had ever met Paul Robeson, who was rumoured to be her lover, but the man in question may well have been Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, a bisexual Grenadian jazz pianist. This scenario was developed in Hutch: High Society’s Favourite Gigolo, which was shown last November on Channel 4. Hutch was involved with numbers of show business men and society women, and may also have had a relationship much later with Princess Margaret.
Edwina is also alleged to have had a passionate relationship with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, while she was Vicereine of India during the transfer of power, a time when the sub-continent suffered scenes of appalling violence far beyond anything the North would ever see.

Insufficent security at Mullaghmore?

By 1979, republicans had developed a new taste for high-profile targets. In March, the IRA killed Richard Sykes, the British ambassador to the Netherlands, along with his valet Krel Straub, in the Hague. An even greater shock to the establishment, was the INLA killing of Airey Neave, the Conservative Party’s spokesman on the north. A bomb attached to his car blew up as he left the car park of the House of Commons. Neave, a close friend of Margaret Thatcher, had famously escaped from Colditz in World War II.
So why did the British allow Mountbatten, with his royal connections and long history of senior military service, to continue holidaying in Mullaghmore with low-level security? Was it arrogance or innocence that led him to request, as former detective garda Kevin Henry said in 'Return To Mullaghmore', that the security be reduced, it supposedly having been much more intense in previous years?

It was Mountbatten’s wish that Henry should not accompany him to sea on his locally built boat Shadow V that saved the detective from death or injury on August 27, 1979. Philip Ziegler, Mountbatten’s official biographer, claims the earl consulted with the British authorities every year and, each time, was given the all-clear. The Irish government seems not to have been concerned either. ‘‘We had no inhibition or anxiety at all because we knew he was a very welcome visitor down there, and we were very anxious to ensure that he would always come back. It was, after all, a family place," said Michael O’Kennedy, then minister for foreign affairs.

Yet Ruairí O’Brádaigh, president of Sinn Féin in 1979, said: ‘‘He was very, very ill-advised to be going there every August. What was he thinking about? And what were his security advisers thinking about?" The IRA had long kept Mountbatten on its books, if not always in its sights. O’Brádaigh said: ‘‘I was aware of his presence there back in the very early 1960s . . . ’60 or ’61,when I was in charge of the IRA and an application came from a unit operating in west Fermanagh to, erm, to deal with Lord Mountbatten. But I ruled it out at the time, because he was in the 26 counties. Now if he crossed the border and we became aware of it, that was a different matter entirely." Back then, the IRA was confining its activities to the North but, by the end of the 1970s, things were very different. Yet still the holidays went on and local people went to work in the castle every summer.

Too long a sacrifice hath made a stone of the heart
: WB Yeats

John Maxwell

John Maxwell had been coming to Mullaghmore from Enniskillen since he was ten years old. In time, his children would enjoy the place as much as he had as a boy, ‘‘until Paul was killed, of course’’. Maxwell had some concerns when his son was offered the job of taking care of Mountbatten’s boat but ‘‘I thought to myself the security . . . if somebody wanted to take Mountbatten out they could do it in another way rather than involve small kids or anybody else that was with him at the time, and I though the risk didn’t seem to be all that high anyway’’.

But times had changed and, to paraphrase Yeats, the heart had grown brutal from feeding on fantasies. The IRA in its latest manifestation had, after all, killed many innocent people through the 1970s with its bombing campaign. Only the year before, the inexplicable bombing of the La Mon restaurant in Belfast had taken the lives of 12 people. Maxwell’s description of the events of that day deeply personalised Trevor Birney’s excellent film that otherwise captured the shocked official response to the killings at Mullaghmore and, later that day, of 18 British soldiers, most of them paras, at Narrow Water near Warrenpoint.

A tigerish Margaret Thatcher, new in her job - unlike Jack Lynch, whose time as Taoiseach was almost at an end - stormed into the North to visit wounded soldiers. Lynch was on holiday in Portugal and the cabinet met in his absence. Lynch, other Irish ministers and officials attended Mountbatten’s funeral and Dermot Nally, secretary to the government at the time, recalled the hostility in the streets. Nally also described Thatcher’s reaction at a meeting with Lynch and others in Downing Street when someone suggested that there might be some sympathy for the IRA but not for its methods: ‘‘She became furious. She jumped up from her chair, she thumped the table, and was almost about to leap over the table."

Mountbatten should have spoken up!
John Maxwell seldom goes back to Mullaghmore. Since his son’s death, he has helped to establish an integrated primary school in Enniskillen. He would like to meet Thomas McMahon, the man convicted of the Shadow V bombing. ‘‘I like to think there’s no such thing as a completely evil person, and there’s some good in everybody," he said. ‘‘And if I could see enough in Thomas McMahon if I did meet him, it would in some strange way make it a bit easier for me. But he doesn’t want to meet me, so that will probably never arise."

Ruairi O'Bradaigh

O’Kennedy said: ‘‘I think I was somewhat ashamed. In fact, I was. Still feel a bit of that. Because we had developed a relationship . . . we were showing our maturity as a people, we had a confidence to engage with the British government, not always in agreement, and then to see this happen. You’d have to feel somewhat ashamed. I did, Jack did. But I think our British counterparts understood that too."

The irony is that it now seems Mountbatten favoured a united Ireland as the only solution to the Northern situation, and had offered his cooperation to the Irish government.

This was news to O’Brádaigh, who said: ‘‘He should have spoken up."

See also Mountbatten: A Retrospective

Friday August 14th

'Shell to Sea' supporters in Grange, Co. Sligo

'Shell to Sea' member Michael O'Seighn and his wife celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary at Grange

Barry’s of Grange was recently the venue for a benefit concert with an astonishing roll call of gifted performers.  Rarely does one find such a strong representation of the Arts in the North West gathered together at a single event.  The legendary Donegal fiddle players, Tommy Peoples and Danny Meehan as well as John Carty and Gerry Harrington played to a packed house.  The new and innovative band, The Unwanted, consisting of Cathy Jordan, Rick Epping and Seamie O’Dowd also performed.  Sligo based author and poet, Dermot Healy, gave a reading of his work, and Dublin actor Donal O’Kelly as well as Galway based comedian Little John Nee also made contributions.  Other performers included flute player Gregory Daly and Francis Gaffney on guitar.

The dispute

Revellers dancing to the music of Rick Epping, Gerry Harrington and Francis Gaffney.

A brief outline to the background of the dispute in Rossport, which was the motivation for the concert, was given by Dr Mark Garavan and Rossport fisherman Pat O’Donnell.  The concert was in support of the people of Rossport and their struggle to maintain their livelihoods and traditional way of life in the face of a potentially lethal development which threatens to overwhelm them.  On the night, fifth generation fisherman Pat O’Donnell gave a first hand account of the threat to his local crab processing business, culminating in the sinking of his boat and removal of his fishing gear.  Michael O'Seighin and his wife Margaret took the opportunity to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Michael, along with other protesters, spent several months in jail in an effort to prevent Shell from establishing a refinery in their area. The event in Barry’s was not just a night of great entertainment but also an important event in a broader social and cultural context. 

Background information on the Shell dispute HERE

Friday August 1st

"When the drink is in the wit is out."

Sligoman Raymond Farrell was up in court lately on foot of two arrest warrants and several other little matters. A little bit of trouble with the drink you see, which demon caused him to be up before Judge Gibbons in Sligo Court on charges of 'criminal damage', dishonouring bail conditions by failure to appear in court, and threatening, abusive and insulting behavior. Oh yes: 'when the drink is in the wit is out'!

Disclaiming any knowledge of two arrest warrants that were out for him he said he just didn't know he had to be in court. His solicitor, Robert Walsh, said the defendant had a habit of getting confused about court dates and had medical certificates to the effect. He was trying to get into an addiction centre and if his client finished up in jail it would not help his addiction. The judge wasn't impressed.

'Well, he won't get any drink there' he said. Which seemed a reasonable point!

That made sense to the judge but Farrell wasn't giving up. He had been trying to get into Sligo General Hospital for addiction counselling, he reasoned. "I do be in a bad way after drinking," he said.
In fact it was another reason why he didn't turn up in court. Because he was that bad!

The judge must have been hard of hearing because he said: "Why didn't you turn up in court?"
"I wasn't fit to physically," Farrell repeated in as scholarly a manner as he could muster.

Castlerea no center of learning!
He went on to explain that he was planning to go back to school to do business and accountancy. Oh yes!: "In Castlerea prison", he explained further, "they don't do business and accountancy. I was there for three years," he said.
He had the floor at this point and added that growing up in Sligo was very hard. "When you come out of prison," he said, "the gardai think you're up to the same old capers." All he wanted to do in life was to better himself but it never seemed to work out that way. "I want to get help. If you got the Probation service to help me, you will see I have changed."
The strong arm of the law in the person of Inspector Sean McGinty then stepped up to the mark at this point to throw a dash of cold water on Farrells prospects of a brighter future by revealing that every time he was due in court he, "had to be arrested and brought here."
The defendant bristled that he had been off the booze for two whole days. All he did was go for a little walk and the next thing he knew he was in handcuffs. "You never know what's around the next corner," he philosophised ruefully.

Another day in court
Later during the hearing the defendant's aunt, Margaret Flannery, said she would take it upon herself to make sure the defendant was in court next time upon which the judge said he admired her courage and he admonished Farrell that he should in return have the greatest respect for his aunt and granted the defendant bail until next Thursday.

Saturday July 15th 2009

Latest on Sligo's Coffin Ship 'The Carricks of Whitehaven'

Carricks of Whitehaven project ends

Ambassador Patrick Binns

Tremendous enthusiasm for this project was generated both overseas and in Sligo.  Ambassador Patrick Binns in the Canadian Embassy in Dublin took up the challenge with great enthusiasm and generous offers of financial assistance were pledged from interested parties in Ireland and Canada. The project had developed to a stage where a delegation from Sligo was on the point of travelling to Blanc Sablon in Canada to recover the timbers when the devastating news came that following an investigation on site by archaeologists in the employ of Parks Canada there is a serious question whether the wreck and artefacts in Blanc Sablon are actually those of the Carricks of Whitehaven.

I am grateful to my correspondents in Blanc Sablon who brought the Carrick connection to my attention in the first place — and indeed the remains of the ship may lie somewhere on that shore. However until some evidence comes to light that may refute the assertions below regarding the hulk in question, the project is at an end.  This is a portion of the report of Canada’s Parks Department archaeologists following a survey of the wreck, Ambassador Binns’ email to me following our conversation, and my reply:

Archaeological Assessment

  • “…Many elements of the beached hull section are not consistent with what we know of the Carricks
    • The Carricks was copper sheathed, this hull was not copper sheathed (no sheathing, copper tacks or copper-alloy bolts).
    • This hull shows evidence of a small engine. The Carricks was a sailing brig and there is absolutely no evidence that it was transformed to become a steamship with propeller. On the contrary, the noted repairs in historical documentation found to date mention decks and top-sides repairs but do not mention propulsion. Also, the wrecking accounts still refer to her as a brig and not as a steamer, which they would have. In addition, it is highly unlikely that an old sailing vessel would have been equipped with the very latest technology, even more so since this vessel was used as an immigrant transport, ships notoriously in bad shape.
    • Propeller lying on shore at Blanc Sablon
      The propeller found is too big for this hull, and too modern for the time-period of the Carricks.
    • Wood species is soft-wood, more likely Canadian-built than English-built vessel.
    • Estimated dimensions are too small for the Carricks.
    • The letter from the period states that the wreck or part of it was sold in Cap des Rosiers. For the wreck to have drifted this far is highly improbable and the interpretation that the bell was recovered to be sold or reused is more likely.


  • Remains represent more than one site.
  • In the opinion of the UAS archaeologists, not only is there is no evidence that allows to link the beached hull section to the Carricks of Whitehaven, but observed evidence contradicts this interpretation.”

Ambassador Patrick Binns' Letter


Thank you for speaking with us this morning. We were disappointed to learn, and to advise you, that the Report on the Carricks of Whitehaven investigation has determined that the wreck observed is not the Carricks.  I appreciate the enthusiasm, commitment and time which you and others have put into this Project.  Despite the Report's conclusions, I would be pleased to meet with you, and others, in the future, to discuss the wonderful relationship between the Sligo Region and Canada.

Pat Binns
Ambassador / Ambassadeur
Embassy of Canada / Ambassade du Canada

Famine Committee's response

“Dear Ambassador Binns,

Thank you so much for all the trouble you have taken since the news of the 'discovery' of the hulk of the Carricks of Whitehaven. 

Although the news is disappointing the generous response of the Canadian Embassy and the priority that you personally gave the project has been a heart-warming and a positive experience for us.  Indeed it is entirely reminiscent of the generous response of the Canadian people, and particularly of the province of Quebec, to the ragged wretches that arrived on your shores in such great and overwhelming numbers in the mid 19th century.

Our Committee would indeed be very pleased to meet with you either in Dublin or in Sligo.  We do hope that you will travel to Sligo sometime soon on which occasion we will be glad to give you a good Sligo welcome in an official, or indeed if you prefer, in an unofficial capacity.  There is much to do and see here, and as we have seen, a great historical connection between the Sligo region and Canada. 

Yours sincerely,

Joe Mc Gowan (Chairman)
Co. Sligo Famine Commemoration Committee,
“Dún Caológ”, Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo”

And so the Carricks project comes to an end — but in Mark McGowan’s pragmatic and reflective response to the news we can see that our efforts were not, after all, entirely in vain:
“…There is a thrill in chasing the puzzle and the mystery and, though the end result was not what we might have wanted, the pleasure was in being part of that mighty little band that sought a common goal. It has been a pleasure to connect with you and the Sligo Heritage group. Should you ever need my assistance, don't 
hesitate to contact that "Canadian McGowan”...”

A Brig similar in build to the Carricks of Whitehaven

Tuesday June 22nd 2009

The Bolivian pig
A frequent correspondent, Paul Burns, has been in touch with me lately to tell me that he has been reading A Bitter Wind. Paul's emails are always interesting so this one I would like to share with you:
   I am enjoying The Bitter Wind very much, a chapter at a time, since it is not a book to be hurried, and each incident in it provokes reflection. This morning, I was reading the portion on pigs, which brought back several memories--and a pig joke that perhaps originated in Ireland.

One memory is of sitting in a dirt-floor restaurant in a very isolated town in Bolivia, while my driver had a flat tire repaired. There was an enormous dog sleeping in the corner, or so I thought before the "dog" arose and came over to my table to stare at me expectantly, almost at face level. I suppose it wanted food scraps, but since all I was imbibing was a soft drink, I could not oblige it, became nervous, and retreated out the door. A pig in a restaurant probably made all kinds of sense to Bolivians, but in my country it would result in the police being called.
My mother, born in a small town in the frigid north, said her father slaughtered a pig every fall and hung it outside the back door where it provided the family's meat for the winter--preserved by the intense cold in that portion of the country. She and her siblings grew up on pig meat and pig fat, and never a worry about high cholesterol. Years later, when she visited me in a South American country and I asked her to make those wonderful cakes and pies of my childhood, she agreed to do so of course, but she had to have lard. I had to search most of the grocery stores in the city to find "grasa de puerco," as the Latins call it, because even there lard was becoming a rarity. You hardly ever see it in our USA markets anymore. Despite that diet, mother lived to 101, which makes me wonder why I am swallowing these anti-cholesterol pills my doctor prescribed
Fortunes of a three legged pig
The joke concerns a traveler whose car breaks down on a country road. The farmer to whom he appeals for help calls into the next town to order up a tow truck, but since it will not arrive for several hours, the farmer invites him to join the family for dinner. At the table are two small children and a three-legged pig. The traveler struggles to avoid asking an impolite question, such as why there is a pig at the table, but finally he cannot restrain himself. Well, the farmer replies, when the boy was just a toddler he fell into the pig pen, and this pig fended off the others who might have regarded him as a free meal. Then later, the small girl fell into the mill race, and this pig dove in and dragged her to safety. I see, said the traveler. You certainly owe this pig a great deal, and I now understand why you regard it as a member of your family. Did it lose the missing leg in the mill race?
No, said the farmer, but a pig who has done all that much for the family, you can't eat all at once!

Keep up the good work,


Thursday 7th May 2009

Sligo Famine Ship emerges from the ice!

More on the Carrick of Whitehaven.
Before reading this item please go HERE and HERE and scroll down for background and previous articles on the wrecking of the Carrick of Whitehaven.

Hulk of the famine ship Carrick of Whitehaven wrecked at Cap de Rosier, beached at Blanc Sablon. Photo: courtesy of Brian Burke

Further to this information I was astonished to learn last winter that the hulk of the ‘Carrick’, wrecked in 1847, still exists!  Brian Burke who lives near Blanc Sablon informed me that the tide was low when the Carrick was driven on the rocks at Cap de Rosier in Gaspe:
“When the high tide came in it lifted the Carrick off the rocks.  It was carried by the wind and tide down to Blanc Sablon.” 
It seems the timbers were buried in sand that shifted a few years ago and exposed the wreck, or what was left of it.  Blanc Sablon is c350 miles away from Gaspe on the northern side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Go HERE for Google map of the area.

Covered first in sand and then in ice
On discovering the existence of the Carrick I have been in contact with Brian Burke who further informed me that the wreck was covered in ice during the winter.  He kindly offered to take a photo of the timbers emerging from the frozen ocean.  It’s interesting to note that in Ireland we complain if the weather is not pleasant, sun shining and birds singing in April.  How surprising it is to learn then that in this part of the world massive sheets of ‘bay ice’ cover the sea up to the end of April.  Another correspondent, Donald Delisle, sent me photos of an icebreaker off the shores of Gaspe on the 30th of April.  Consider then the plight of the poorly clothed and starving emigrants from Sligo arriving on those shores in normal conditions, let alone being shipwrecked in the freezing waters and thrown on the merciless rocks!

April 28th 2009: Carrick of Whitehaven emerging from the ice at Blanc Sablon.

What should we do?
Now that we know where the remains of this ship lie shouldn’t we repatriate at least some of these historic timbers to Ireland and to Sligo?  It must be done soon.  Buried in sand the hulk was protected from the grinding action of the ice for many years.  Now that it is exposed it cannot last much longer.  Through SligoHeritage, and as much publicity as it is possible to gain from the media, I make the strongest appeal to the people of Sligo and persons with Sligo connections to acquire some of the planks of this vessel before it is destroyed and disappears forever. 

Won’t you help us?  Correspondence and information please to SligoHeritage at

April 25th 2009: Ice breaker at work in Gaspé Bay. Photo: Courtesy of Donald Delisle

Bealtaine May1st 2009

To celebrate Bealtaine, the ancient Celtic festival midway between the spring equinox and summer solstice, Michael at Knowth has sent us this extended version of the Loughcrew Equinox Video. Go HERE

Easter Monday 2009

Easter Commemorations

Picture left shows a wreath being laid by Pearse Gilligan and Larry Mullin at the Markievicz Memorial in Rathcormack, Co. Sligo.  The flag was raised by local resident Padhraig Branley. Larry read excerpts from a novel by Italo Siddu inspired by a visit to Lissadell House some years ago.

A grey-stoned oyster
Which has no pearl
Stolen by time
The gaze of old strangers
From the huge windows
… and no gazelle with a silk kimono…

Italo lives in Italy and is completing a novel based on the life of Markievicz which he expects to publish this year in Italian and English.  Larry announced that as this is the 100th anniversray of the founding of Na Fianna by Constance Markievicz a lecture by author Anne Haverty at a Sligo venue is planned.
SligoHeritage host Joe McGowan read excerpts from Con's writings and a poem written to Constance Markievicz by her sister Eva:

To C. M. on her prison birthday, February, 1917:

What has time to do with thee,
Who hast found the victor's way?
To be rich in poverty, 
Without sunshine to be gay,
To be free in a priso
n cell?
Nay, on that undreamed judgement day,
When, on the old-world's scrap-heap flung,
Powers and empires pass away,
Radiant and unconquerable
Thou shalt be young.
                                                Eva Gore-Booth    

Decision to transfer Cancer Services an Obscenity
The Government decision to persist in transferring the excellent breast cancer services from Sligo to University College Hospital Galway is an obscenity and should not be tolerated by the people of Sligo or Galway, said Galway City councillor Catherine Connolly, when she addressed those attending the Connolly Forum’s annual Easter 1916 Commemoration Ceremony in Sligo on Easter Sunday.

Led by Flag-bearers carrying the Tricolour and the Plough and the Stars, those participating in the ceremony marched from Cairns Drive to the Republican Plot in Sligo cemetery to hear the former Galway Mayor deliver the oration.  Apparently seeing any display of patriotism as a threat to the State, two Garda Special Branch in a light blue, Dublin registered car, their faces concealed, watched the little group move off.    

The speakers dealt with issues of political and economic concern to the people of Sligo: “For freedom to have any real meaning in the 21st century Ireland must have a public health system based on need and not greed and profit.” Cllr Connolly said. “Currently the ‘Dynamic Duo’ Professor Keane and Minister Mary Harney wish to make Galway a centre of excellence and in the process destroy a centre of excellence in Sligo.  In so doing they ignore key telling features that characterise UCHG and make it impossible for it to be a centre of excellence…

Nationalise the Banks!
Cllr Declan Bree, who presided at the ceremony, said “We live in a time when there is a deep cynicism and a significant distrust of politics and everything associated with political and economic life in this country…
…In an effort to bailout the banks and property speculators and to prop up the establishment, our National Pension Fund is being raided and squandered.   Those who control political and economic power have put their own survival first and will attempt to make not only the present generation but the next generation pay for that survival by putting the county in pawn to international bankers and finance houses….
 “Instead of bailing out the banks the government should have nationalised the banks and repudiated their debts.” said Cllr Bree.
Following the oration as a lone piper played a lament, Ms Brenda Barr, laid a wreath on behalf of the Connolly Forum and Mr Brian Scanlon laid a wreath on behalf of the People’s Movement.   The ceremony concluded with the National Anthem.

Good Friday April 10th 2009

Annual 1916 Easter Rising Commemoration Ceremony at the Republican Plot in Sligo Cemetery on Easter Sunday at 12 Noon. Speaker: Cllr. Catherine Connolly (Galway). Chair: Cllr. Declan Bree. Everyone welcome.

There will be a flag raising and wreathlaying ceremony at the Markievicz Memorial in the village of Rathcormack at 11.00 am on Easter Sunday morning.

In the news:
Assylum Seeker

The case of an assylum seeking Nigerian woman, Pamela Izevbekhai, has been making headlines here in Ireland over the past two years. She has a hard core of faithful supporters in Sligo but they may be feeling let down over recent revelations that documents supporting her case have been forged. Gerry McLaughlin of the Sligo Weekender reports that the mother-of-two may face a grilling from gardai over the faked documents which were used to back her claims to avoid a deportation order.
Detectives from the National Immigration Bureau will wait until the end of Pamela’s current Supreme Court bid to stop the deportation of herself and her two daughters Naomi, 8, and Gemina, 6, before considering questioning her under anti-fraud laws. Senior garda sources told the Sunday Business Post newspaper that they were “compelled” to launch an investigation where there was a belief that a forgery had been used in support of an application to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner.

Fake documents
The fake documents claimed that Mrs Izevbekhai’s baby Elizabeth died from female circumcision in 1994. And she has been subsequently trying to prove the existence of her daughter Elizabeth through contacts in Nigeria. Ms Izebekhai claims her two daughters will also suffer female circumcision if returned to Nigeria. The Nigerian government have admitted to the United Nations that this practice is a problem they can’t police. Yet their ambassador Dr Kemafo Chikwe claimed that the practice was “very insignificant and was “voluntary”.
Ireland has previously been considered a 'soft touch' for assylum seekers wishing to enter the EU. The revelation that forged documents were used to support the case threatens to erode future support for asylum seekers: “She is just one of 2,000 claims but it does set things back. Already there has been a bit of a backlash,” said a source.

Meanwhile it has emerged that the government is refusing to offer Ms Izevbekhai a deal of staying in Ireland in return for dropping her legal challenge against deportation. The Department of Foreign Affairs has written to the European Court of Human Rights to say that the Department of Justice does not propose to make a “friendly settlement”.The Department of Foreign Affairs describe her legal challenge as an “abuse of process” and accuses her of “deception”. Ms Izevbekhai’s case was adjourned on Friday at the Supreme Court after her legal team withdrew from the case. Her counsel Mel Crystal said they had withdrawn because they had been presented with “conflicting evidence”. The court has also accepted an affidavit stating that the documents presented were fake.

March 23rd

For images of the Equinox Sunrise at Loughcrew on the 20th March go HERE

March 16th 2009

Irish Government Ministers flee the country!
Is there any other nation in the world where its leading politicians head abroad on their national holiday? It's very strange behaviour! Answers HERE.
The Irish Government announced it has dramatically scaled back the annual St. Patrick's Day travel plans though. Costs will be kept to a minimum they say, but yet Brian Cowen and nine senior Ministers will be jetting off to places foreign anywhere from America to Australia and points between. Seven junior ministers are also exiting the country to 'celebrate' our national holiday!
The Taoiseach will be in New York with Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin before heading to Washington to present the traditional bowl of Shamrock to President Obama at the White House. I'd volunteer to go myself but I just love it too much down on Achill Island (Go here and scroll down) on that day. (Truth to tell I don't think they'd put their hand in their pocket for me anyway!)

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan will be in London, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey goes to Canada, Energy Minister Eamon Ryan hits California and New York, while Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Eamon Ó Cuiv will hit Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Seven Ministers of State will tour cities in the US, India and Europe while the Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and Ministers Mary Harney, Willie O'Dea, Batt O'Keeffe and myself are among those staying at home to run the country.
If you happen to see any of our travellers wish them a Happy St. Patrick's Day for me — and a Happy St. Patrick's Day also to my readers wherever you may be.

February 21st 2009

This interesting article is reprinted from the Irish Times.

"After 16 years in Canada, I came home to Ireland. Big mistake. A really big mistake . . ." writes BRENDAN LANDERS.


THERE ARE three types of people who uproot themselves and emigrate to make their lives anew in a country that is not their own by birthright. Some are gifted with itchy feet and a lust for adventure – they abandon their homeland to satisfy their curiosity about the wide world beyond. Some are fortunate enough to happen upon a foreign place that touches their soul or to bond with a person who makes the prospect of migration more attractive than a life lived at home without the other. And some are forced to emigrate because their native place has nothing substantial to offer them in life.

Most of us who left Ireland during the 1980s fell into the third category. We went away not because we had itchy feet, had found our Eldorado or fallen in love with an exotic foreigner, but because Ireland had nothing to offer us. No jobs, no opportunities, no scope to follow our dreams or aspire to even a modicum of success in life. The Irish economy was broken and it would take a miracle to fix it.

Fianna Fail. L to R: ex Taoiseach Bertie Ahearn, Louth TD Seamus Kirk, present Taoiseach Brian Cowen

Dismal Finances
Along with the dismal state of the nation’s finances, there was a sense that whatever wealth existed was hoarded greedily by a coterie of well-connected professionals, wide boys and golden circles. The land of our birth offered us nothing but tacit encouragement to leave. Brian Lenihan snr, the father of our current Minister for Finance, put it succinctly when he said: “Sure we can’t all live on a small island.”

Emigration was expected of us and so, forlorn and abandoned, we departed. We overcame our grief, our disappointment, our homesickness, our longing for the day-to-day company of our families and friends.

We settled and went about the business of building new lives for ourselves in our homes away from home. We didn’t expect to live in Ireland again.

Hope springs anew
Then, after a decade or so of exile, a sequence of remarkable events conspired to persuade us that maybe miracles can happen after all. We watched agog as Ireland underwent an awesome transformation. The country transmogrified from an impoverished backwater racked by unemployment and a culture of despair into the epitome of cool and a clamorous hothouse of self-indulgent affluence.

U2 became the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world and, unlike previous Irish rock stars such as Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher and the Boomtown Rats, who all invariably moved to London at the first taste of success, they stayed in Dublin. Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan directed world-class movies that won Oscars and they stayed in Ireland instead of moving to Hollywood. Alan Parker made a movie of The Commitments and Roddy Doyle bestrode the world of literature, won the Booker Prize and didn’t move to Paris or New York.

By virtue of Michael Flatley’s dazzling footwork, Riverdance created a sensation in theatres throughout the world and Flatley actually moved to Ireland. The IRA declared a ceasefire and the country was at peace, albeit tentatively so. Michael D Higgins served as minister for arts, culture and the Gaeltacht. A poet in Cabinet, for God’s sake – it was like 1916 all over again. Tribunals were exposing corruption in a host of establishment institutions and there was much heady talk of a brave new world of openness, honesty, transparency and ethics in public life.

Hope peeped out from under the carpet.

Mary Robinson, a principled, liberal woman, won the presidency and put a candle in the window of her residence in the Phoenix Park as a beacon of light and a welcome home to the children of the diaspora. For us, this was a revolutionary act of sensitivity unprecedented in the country’s history. US multinationals flocked to Ireland to invest their money and gain a toehold in Europe, and the eponymous Celtic Tiger was born. Money talked the talk and Ireland quickly learned to walk the walk. There was full employment. We went home on holidays and we shook our heads in bemusement at the profusion of “Help Wanted” signs in shop windows.

The Irish government sent emissaries throughout the diaspora, asking us to come home and take our place in the new Ireland. They promised jobs, prosperity, vindication and a proud place in a proud new Ireland. And we, poor fools, chose to believe them. How could we have refused, we who had, for years, deep inside ourselves, wondered what life might have been like if we’d been able to stay home?

Going Home
We dared to believe, stifled our doubts, bought into the new zeitgeist and gave up the lives we had so carefully and painfully constructed. We sold our houses, packed our furniture into containers, uprooted our families and came back to Ireland.

Things were good at first. We found jobs that paid well. So what if the houses cost a fortune – all our savings went into the deposit and we still had to borrow a small fortune – weren’t the universities free for our kids and won’t they have a wonderful life without the shadow of emigration hanging over their heads? And weren’t the old-age pensions going up? And wasn’t this a grand new country after all its troubles?

Health Minister Mary Harney

We blinked when we saw the old and infirm racked up like refugees on trolleys in hospital waiting rooms, enduring conditions that would be embarrassing in the developing world. We baulked when we saw the subversion of progressive initiatives like the Freedom of Information Act and the Equality Agency. We gaped in disbelief as successive ministers for finance behaved like lumpen proletariat lottery winners, squandered billions of euro in budget surpluses and pumped up inflation – had they no mothers, we wondered, to instill in them the good sense of saving for a rainy day?

We were overwhelmed with dejected deja vu when our taoiseach tied himself up in verbal knots trying to explain his ill-gotten gains at the Mahon tribunal. And we wept in despair when, in the face of his chicanery, the people re-elected him. But the final nail was hammered into the coffin of our disenchantment when the financial crash came and the Government’s first instinct was to make the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society pay for its mistakes. We finally had to admit to ourselves that the golden circles hadn’t gone away, they’d just put on new coats.

Now here we are, utterly faithless in the disposition of our elected politicians, plagued with anxiety and insecurity, one job-loss away from ruin. Our savings are gone and our houses are virtually worthless. Our children face a bleak future and the heart-rending prospect of forced emigration. We made a terrible mistake. We came back. Because we wanted to, we believed that the country had changed.

We believed in the miracle.

We believed in the politicians.

In the electorate.

We were wrong.

Never again.

For news of Sligo go to these sites:

The Sligo Champion

Sligo Weekender

Sligo Post

Ocean FM

Midwest Radio

For previous SligoHeritage Newsround articles go to: Newsround Archives

February 7th 2009

See craft project update below

The programme on behalf of Sligo County Council Heritage office, to research and record practitioners of arts and crafts in Sligo county, is now complete. Many thanks to those who contacted me with details of interesting people to visit. Processing and editing will now proceed. Copies will be sent to the relevant authorities and a series of radio broadcasts is also planned.

Interviews have been conducted with:


August 2008
1 Brennan, Mick, Derry (north of Grange)             Blacksmith
2 Clancy, Patrick , Bunduff                                   Harnessmaker
3 Clarke, Keith, Derry                                       Butcher/Beekeeper
4 Dickson, Walter, Tawley, Co. Leitrim            Stonemason
5 Kelly, Ted, Ballintogher                              Strawcraft
6 Rogers, Cillian, Dromore West             Artist
7 Kelly, Colm, Monasteraden              Farmer/woodworker 

September 2008       
8 Welch, Clare, Castlebaldwin            Information on flax growing, weaving etc.
9 Egan, Paddy, Ballymote                     Wheelright/Coachbuilder
10 Surlis, John, Monasteraden              Woodwork/Furniture 
11 Monds, Bertie, Drumcliffe                     Craftsman, showed and trained horses.                        
12 Devaney, Paddy, Carraroe                   Ploughman     
13 Gowran, Joe, Drumcliffe                     Traditional skills, wall building, wattles, willowcraft etc.                                    
14 Melody Kieron, Drumfad                       Sculptor, stonemason

October 2008
15  George and Violet Hunter, Carraroe, Buttermaker                
16  Holland, Rosaleen, Drumcliffe, Weaver/Liomra craft               
17  Branley, Chris, Rathcormack    Miner/entrepeneur/rags to riches

Ted and Mrs. Maughan (No. 20 at left) at home in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo

18  Moore Seamus, Drumfad                  Strawcraft/farmer.
19  Harrison, Pakie, Creevymore, Cliffoney            Farmer
20  Maughan, Ted, Cherryfield, Ballyhaunis Tinker/Tinsmith/Traveller 
21  Kane, Joe, Ballyhaunis                                      Tailor

November 2008

22 McCann, Johnny, Milk Harbour, Boatbuilder               
23 Hession, Seamus, Sligo town                          Coffinmaker
24 Nealon, Tom, Tourlestrane        Basketweaver                  
25 Quirke, Michael, Teesan                                    Sculptor  
26 Shannon, Mick, Sligo   Instrumentmaker/blacksmith/musician
27 Hannon, Johnny, Monasteraden         Basketweaver            28 Rogers, Brian, Dromore West                   Thatcher        
29 O’Neill, Peadair, Enniscrone                       Fisherman  

December 2008
 Scully, Kathleen, Killavil                                      Crochet, knitting
Henry, Mae, Killavil,                                     Folklore
Gillen, Martina, ‘Cat and the Moon’ Castle St., Sligo.  Jeweller
Flatley, Michéal, Aughris,             Stonemason/local historian/folklorist
Gallagher, Lizzie, Moneygold. Weaver
Tansey, Seamus, Gurteen/Belfast                         Musician/writer
Duffy, Pat James, Killavil                              Local historian/folklorist         
Cawley, Molly, Ballymote                                     Crochet/liomra/knitting
Flynn, Liam, Tubbercurry            Ploughman/Wrenboys/New Years Eve custom
Mullaney, Noel, Sooey:          Traditional cures/rate collector/ex-county footballer
Christy Harte, Lislarry (?)                    Fisherman
Mae Feehily, Calry                            Needlework, buttermaking, arts and crafts
Seamus O’Dubthaigh, Aghamore            playwright, stage carpenter, teacher, radio personality
Cronnolly, Michael                                    Instrument maker, musician
Lomax, Rodney                                    Boatbuilder 

     December 19th 2008

This year don't miss the winter solstice: Go HERE

For an article on the Christmas Mummers go HERE
Read all about the Wrenboys HERE

'One Irishman's Christmas' (while the tiger was still alive) HERE and HERE (scroll down)

Nollaig shona agus Athblían Faoi Mhaise agaibh go leir.
Happy Christmas to all my readers wherever you may be. Peace and happiness in your homes and hearts.

October 13th 2008

Given the strange times we live in this retrospective reflection by Michael Viney, who writes for the Irish Times, is worth reproducing for SligoHeritage readers:

"Now is the time to skin the lawn. Stack the tiles of turf under the laurels, where they will rot down nicely for the seed-bed. Meanwhile, there are raised beds to dig and leaves to be gathered for winter compost. . .” That was this column, in October, 1981, with advice to the people of Mount Merrion on growing vegetables to meet hard times.  “Are things so bad,” this newspaper’s leading article had asked, “that we all should, as in wartime, try to keep our own hens, plant our own spuds, dig our own turf? . . .The alternative lifers may counsel that we should . . .make sloe gin and blackberry wine . . .” For sloe gin, as I had to point out, you needed the gin to start with.

“Another Life” of that time makes wry reading. There were the Vineys, in the early experiments of a “simple” life, while too many people beyond the mountains were having austerity thrust upon them. Thrift, as we came to realise, is something of a luxury: the really poor can’t afford it. But at least we’d both had early training. In our childhoods - Ethna’s in rural Cavan, mine in wartime Britain - thrift was the perfectly ordinary grist of domestic life. We had both slept on worn sheets that our mothers remade sides-to-middle., I went to school, somewhat shamefaced, in a shiny silver mackintosh my father had tailored from a piece of barrage balloon.
Golden Rules
The great gulf in experience between the affluent, urban young of today and the reality of past recessions comes across now in fragments overheard from radio: “we’ll just have to do without so many lattes” - or the presenter of a farming programme on cheaper cuts of meat referring to “our parsimonious grandparents”. She meant thrifty but couldn’t dredge up the word. The American Depression of the 1930s breathes from the pages of a little yellow book sent to Ethna by an emigrant grandmother. The Golden Rule Book was published in 1933, when almost 16 million Americans were drawing home relief. It drew on the letters that had flooded in to a nationwide Thrift Suggestion contest. One New York businessman reckoned that the average man of his class could save $70 a year by shaving himself instead of paying a barber, and another $12 by shining his own shoes instead of paying a (black) bootblack. What was to happen to barbers and bootblacks, he didn’t say.
Along with sensible low-cost menus to ward off malnutrition came many suggestions for supplementing family income. There were practical ideas for canning garden surpluses and offering book-keeping services, but also the young lady artist drawing picture-maps to help the week-end guests of the wealthy find their way to country houses. A business wife cut out bridge luncheons and theatre parties and her husband mowed his own lawn, but, rather more authentically, was learning to mend her son’s sneakers with a patch from a tyre-puncture kit. For the American middle class, thrift in the Depression was using coloured tablecloths to save on laundry bills, but also stuffing a cabbage with minced meat and making it last two days. It was rubbing glycerine into a hot-water bottle to prolong its life, turning the collars of shirts, and framing last year’s Christmas cards to make this year’s Christmas presents.
To Spend or Save?
Thrift – or the fear of it – begins to loom again and one wonders how well equipped for it the tiger’s Irish orphans would be. Many are using more thrift than they know, having eagerly mastered skills that, for the middle class 80 years ago, were too cheaply hired to bother with, and with power tools and freezers to help, at least until the power runs out. The present crisis should be grist to the proponents of local currencies and skill-bartering schemes to help insulate communities from the spasms of global capitalism. The trouble is, of course, that thrift and self-sufficiency are toxic –to use the new word – to the modern economy, in which consumption is the engine of employment and growth. For a couple of decades, until age and comfort caught up with us, we were very poor citizens indeed, buying few goods and services and paying very little VAT . Our goats, ducks, hens and bees worked away for a pittance and paid no tax. What we sowed and harvested we consumed ourselves, thus denying the nation the multiplier effect of added value and transport.
So alternative lifers are the last people to offer sound advice in a recession. Should we have been out there with everybody else, borrowing as a way of life and helping to create the debt that makes the capitalist world go round?

(I am grateful to Michael Viney for permission to reproduce the above article with sketch. Michael's books are: 'A Years Turning', 'Another Life', 'Ireland: A Natural History and, just published with his wife Ethna: 'Ireland's Ocean: A Natural History')

 September 20th, 2008

Did you miss the Autumn Equinox!:

At the 5000 year old Loughcrew megalithic cairn T in Ireland, the rising sun
on the mornings around the equinox illuminates the passage and chamber.

The Office of Public Works staff in attendance at Cairn T,
Loughcrew on the mornings of Saturday the 20th of September, Sunday the 21st
September and Monday the 22nd September from 7.15am until 8.30am.

For a video of the illuminations click on:






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