Janet's thread

A weblog, mostly about knitting but other topics appear

Thinking of Things Irish February 14, 2011


In sorting through some of my postcards this morning, I came across this one of the Zetland Hotel, overlooking Cashel Bay in Connemara, Ireland.  The Zetland Hotel is where relatively new husband Ian and I spent a lovely weekend in December 1968, only a few months   after we had moved there from Kenya.  It was such a treat to find this hotel.  We had a very spacious room, reminiscent of the rooms in the old hotels in Kenya, particularly the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri, where we spent part of our honeymoon.   Since our honeymoon incorporated Valentine’s Day 1968, in a convoluted way that makes this a good card to post on Valentine’s Day – yes it’s still Valentine’s Day here in Seattle, even though it’s almost over in Ireland, 8 hours ahead of us.

The Zetland Hotel is still there in Cashel Connemara.  A very popular spot.  What struck me then in 1968 when I was a newcomer to Ireland, were the lovely peat fires and the friendliness and casualness of the hospitality.  And I particularly remember the open door to the office and the huge pile of money just sitting there on the desk.  I could hardly believe it, particularly coming from Kenya, or anywhere, where such a trusting situation would not have occurred.

The other memory from that hotel was the bright full moon, a clear crisp night, and daylight not until about 10 a.m.  This was December and  my birthday weekend so I have a few anchors there to pinpoint the Zetland in my memory.

A few years later French President De Gaulle came to Ireland and he too stayed at the Zetland.  I wonder if he had that nice front room that we had occupied.

A bit of postal history also from that card.  I like the address to which it was sent.  Roger Casement Street in Cavan.  I can’t make out the postmark.  Maybe my friend Maire can help me here. It looks like CONAGA…..I can’t make out the rest.  The website showing the Irish names for places in that part of Connemara doesn’t have anything resembling that.   But the stamp – the green 2 penny stamp – the first stamp issued by the new independent country the Irish Free State, 1922.  Note that the stamp shows the entire island of Ireland.  The North of Ireland was not officially recognized as being a separate entity.    A lot of history lies behind the design of that stamp!  A history I might add that is very complicated and I still have much to learn in trying to understand it.


More reading June 21, 2010

Filed under: Authors,Book covers,Books,First World War,Irish History,Reading — Janet @ 2:48 pm

This is a book which has been on my shelf since Christmas  – I wasn’t terribly attracted by the cover on the dust jacket ……..but the book turned out to be excellent.  A novel but it incorporated historical fact about Niagara Falls and the surrounding area in the early part of the 20th century.  Really a very absorbing book and rather unusual.  The author, Cathy Marie Buchanan, is a Canadian writer who grew up in the Toronto area.

I like the historic postcard of the Falls – this is the back cover of the dust jacket.

Now here is another book that has been on my shelf for a while, it’s been there for longer ago than last Christmas.  But it sat on someone else’s shelf many years ago, a person in Dungannon Northern Ireland.  The book was published by The Companion Book Club, London in the 1950’s. The book was originally published by Allen & Unwin.  Whenever I see books like this in used book sales or book fairs I look at them quite closely and if I haven’t read the book many years ago I tend to buy it.  Invariably it turns out to be a good read.  This book, Two Eggs on My Plate, was written by a Norwegian, Oluf Reed Olsen, and translated by F. M. Lyon.  It is an incredible story telling of the authors years in the Resistance during the 2nd World War in Norway.  For me, this non-fiction account reads far better than any fiction I have read about that period in history.  And incidentally, since this is the time around the Summer Solstice, I took note that the drops to the Resistance fighters could only take place up until early April and then had to be suspended until the autumn when the hours of darkness were longer.

The Companion Book Club was similar to a publisher in the U.S. who republished popular best sellers.   I can’t think of the name at the moment.  The Readers Digest condensed books were a different species but similar in making best sellers available to a wider readership.

And here is another book about Irish History.  Not very interesting to me at first as the author, who is Sean Molloy’s grandaughter, goes in to detail about each battle that was fought in the area around Cork, territory not familiar to me.  But I decided it had been worth struggling through the first bit in order to appreciate the later stages of the book when this rebel guerrilla fighter became a politican and served in Government in a number of Ministries.  I was impressed by the author’s extensive research into official documents and records.

And now one more book, a volume of over 900 pages.  Not a book to read cover to cover, but I did about 15 years ago when I was one of the proof readers.  It’s good to see it in soft cover – and to find that in the Preface there is an acknowledgement of my proof reading efforts.  And being paid to read it was really a pleasure.

  A New History of Ireland, Volume VI, Ireland Under the Union, 1870-1921


Muriel Gahan, Pioneer June 13, 2010

Filed under: Biography,Country Markets,Craftwork,Ireland,Irish History,Weaving — Janet @ 11:36 am

Pioneer might not be quite the right word in writing about Muriel Gahan but she certainly did yeomanlike work in resurrecting and preserving the crafts traditional to Ireland, particularly weaving.   What caught my eye in yesterday’s Irish Times was this picture of a painting which once hung in Muriel Gahan’s office at the well-loved Country Shop in Dublin.  Muriel and the Country Shop are no longer with us.  Muriel was born in 1897 and died in 1995.  The Country Shop, a Dublin institution, was founded in 1930.  It ceased operations in 1978.

  painting which hung in the office of the late Muriel Gahan at the Country Shop in St. Stephen’s Green.  It is a large untitled abstract by Evie Hone (1894-1955).  Evie Hone is well known to us here in Dundrum.  Several of her stained glass windows are in St. Naithi’s Church.  She had a studion in nearby Rathfarnham.  The estimated price range for the abstract painting to be auctioned at de Vere’s is Euro 25,000-35,000.

Quite by chance yesterday I also found a copy of the biography written about Muriel Gahan.  Deeds Not Words, The Life and Work of Muriel Gahan, Champion of rural women and craftworkers, by Geraldine Mitchell.  Geraldine Mitchell is a journalist, poet, and biographer.  And incidentally, Geraldine is the niece of Lillias Mitchell who was a pioneer in her own right.  Lillias, among other distinctions, was a pioneer in the setting up of the Irish Guild of Weavers Spinners & Dyers in 1975.  My memory of Muriel Gahan is of her opening one of the Exhibitions held by the Guild back in its early days.  The Guild had a large Exhibition in the Bank of Ireland on Leeson Street and that year it was held in conjunction with the Woodturners.  A biography of Lillias Mitchell would be a good sequel to the volume on Muriel Gahan.  Lillias was a close friend to many of us in the Guild – she passed away in the year 2000 at the age of 85.


Spot the Difference, Part 1 June 11, 2010

Filed under: Censorship,Ireland,Irish History,World War II — Janet @ 6:59 pm

As I read on about Ireland during the years 1939-1945, I am struck by some of the parallels with my own experiences and impressions coming here in 1968 to live permanently.  Before I came I had little idea of the differences and similarities between the North and the South.  Little by little I have become more aware but it has been a slow process.  My husband Ian told me we were coming to a new country for both of us.  Odd I thought, Dublin is only a little over 100 miles south of Belfast.  And I thought well it’s a lot newer for me than it is for him.  Before we came I tried to read up a bit about our new country.  We were in Kenya and I can remember 3 books that I found in the bookshops in Nairobi.     One by Mary Bromage, an Irish American writer whose book on De Valera was published in 1956.     I still see paperback copies of it occasionally in book sales.  Another book which I read was Maurice O’Sullivan’s Twenty Years A Growing.      (photo from the internet, as is the following.

“Muiris Ó Súilleabháin /mʷirʲiʃ o: sˠu:lʲəvʷɑ:nʲ/ (aka Maurice O’Sullivan) (19 February 1904 – 25 June 1950) became famous for his memoir of growing up on the Great Blasket Island off the western coast of Ireland, Fiche Bliain ag Fás (Twenty Years a’Growing), published in Irish and English in 1933. As one of the last areas of Ireland in which the old Irish language and culture had continued unchanged, the Great Blasket Island was a place of enormous interest to those seeking traditional Irish narratives. Ó Súilleabháin was persuaded to write his memoirs by George Derwent Thomson, a linguist and professor of Greek who had come to the island to hear and learn the Irish language. Thomson edited and assembled the memoir, and arranged for its translation into English with the help of Moya Llewelyn Davies.

  again from the internet – the house where Muiris (Maurice) Ó Súilleabháin (O’Sullivan  grew up

The third book which I found was Cecil Woodham-Smith’s book about the Famine.

  this was grim reading and I’m not sure I finished it.

Reading these books in preparation for coming to Ireland was at least a start, but even after 40 years of living here I feel I’ still have a lot to discover.  I wish there were some sort of term like Americo-Irish the way writers describe Anglo-Irish people; because I too now feel loyalty to Ireland, Britain,and America.  These feelings of divided loyalties are explored fairly clearly in the book I’m reading now, That Neutral Island by Clair Wills.    What I particularly like about the book is that she writes quite a bit about the literary figures of those years and what they wrote, for example Elizabeth Bowen, Kate O’Brien, Louis MacNiece, Denis Johnston, and Francis Stuart. 


Ireland and the Emergency June 10, 2010

I love reading social history type books and this is a good one, so far.  That Neutral Island, A History of Ireland During the Second World War, by Clair Wills.

I was just a youngster during the War Years and was only aware of what was happening in my more immediate world of family and neighbourhood friends.  In the suburbs of Boston we were not affected by the War in the same way as countries on the other side of the Atlantic.  Now living in Ireland for so many years I have been very curious about what life was like here during those crucial years and  I love hearing my contemporaries tell what their experiences were during this time.  One friend, slightly older than I am, tells me that she was at boarding school during that time – a boarder at Wesley College, located on Stephen’s Green.  She was hardly affected.  And when she went home it was to a farm in County Kildare.  No shortage of essential food there.  But curiously, and what a number of people have said, is that she never knew what a banana was until after the War.  This is one of the things that seems to stand out in people’s minds when they remember the War years.  Only it was not War as such – it was called the Emergency.

One of my memories of the Second World War is of the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor – it was my fifth birthday.  The terrible news came through on the radio.  I was sitting at the desk in our living room and for some reason had a fountain pen in my hand – I accidentally spattered the wall with blue ink.  As the War progressed I was aware of not being able to get butter and we had Oleo margarine as a distasteful substitute.  We saved fat and took the tins to the local butcher.  Spam was frequently on the menu.  Gasoline was rationed so trips in the family car were few and far between.  You could hardly say we suffered.

My brother graduated from high school the following year in June 1942 when he turned 18 a month later, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.  We were very proud of him in his uniform.  Our thoughts and letters followed him around the U.S. as he went from one training station to another, Lake Forest Illinois, San Diego California, Fitchburg Massachusetts, Pensacola Florida.  I became more aware of the geography of the U.S.  Occasionally he came home on leave and how happy we were.  Much to my father’s relief my brother was not sent overseas and eventually he was honourably discharged when the War was over.

My older sister graduated from high school in 1943 and enrolled for nurses’ training in Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge so she continued to live at home.  And my other sister graduated from high school in 1944.  She went down to Washington to do secretarial work in one of the war departments.

Ireland was a part of the world I scarcely heard of.  The headlines during those years were all about the War in the Pacific and not so much about Europe, and more particularly not about Ireland.  I was certainly not aware of the thorny issue of Partition and Ireland’s troubled history.  I might possibly have had an awareness of Ireland through the medium of Irish fairy tales.  Modern Library books were popular in our house and I see that a volume of Irish Fairy and Folk Tales was an early publication in the Modern Library Series. 

As the years went by I became a stamp collector, and I still have some of the Irish stamps which I first collected in the 1940’s.     The following images and information are from wikipedia.

  lst stamp issued in 1922 by the Irish Free State

first definitive series, low values, issued 1922-23.  The designs were: Sword of Light, Map of Ireland, Celtic Cross, Arms of the Four Provinces and St. Patrick.


100 Years of the Girl Guides April 11, 2010

  This picture and article were in the Irish Times a few days ago.  It caught my eye particularly because I know some of the people in the picture and 2 of our grandchildren are considering joining the Scouts or the Camp Fire Girls in Seattle.  Don’t you just love the uniforms.  The Girl Guides are coming up to their centenary – in fact I now find that the Centenary was yesterday, April 10.   The uniform worn by the person on the left is from the 1930’s, the Brownie uniform is from the 1920’s, another uniform is from the 1950’s, and the 3 on the right are the new Guides, Brownie, and Leaders’ uniforms.  I also like the Irish Girl Guides sign over the door in the background and of course the typical red brick house so familiar to us in Dublin.

  To quote the subarticle – ‘New uniform would not look out of place in a shopping centre’      The shopping centre pictured is our local Dundrum Town Centre.  And four of the people modeling the uniforms attend my local Christ Church Taney

I found 2 more wonderful pictures from the WAGGGS website.

  Gold Cord Recipients, 1964, Canada

  1911, History of Guiding


The Year 1969 in Review December 29, 2009

Filed under: History,Ireland,Irish History,Memories — Janet @ 3:56 pm

National Geographic Cover September 1969      photo by Jim Sugar

Last night there was a very interesting programme on Irish Television RTE 1.  It was about a photographer, Jim Sugar, who came to Ireland from the U.S. in 1969 on a photographic assignment for the National Geographic.  He took 1000’s of photographs, only a few of which were actually published in the September 1969 issue of the magazine.  One of his photographs was used for the cover – an accolade indeed for a young 21 year old student.  The girl on the cover was a 16 year old student normally resident in Churchtown (near where I lived) at the time and she was visiting the Aran Islands while Jim was there.

Jim returned to Ireland during this past year, 2009, to see how Ireland had changed and to try to find the people and places he had photographed when he was here before.  It was a particularly fascinating programme for us because 1969 was the first summer we were here.  (We came to Dublin from Kenya in October 1968, preceded by a two month stay in Belfast.)

Among other subjects whom Jim photographed 40 years ago, he found the 1969 cover girl who is now the Director of the National Concert Hall.

I would like to obtain a copy of the September 1969 issue of the National Geographic.  Jim’s photographs really are a treasure, particularly his photo of a funeral procession in the Aran Islands.  My textile friends would be especially interested in what the men and women were wearing.


Erin Go Bragh December 28, 2009

Erin go Bragh

There was a fascinating article in the Irish Times today by Donal McMahon in An Irishman’s Diary.

The photograph in the article shows a little girl sitting on her young soldier father’s knee.  Her father was killed not long afterward when that little girl was just over 15 months old.  It took over 80 years for that little girl, Ina,  to find out the truth about his death.   At the age of 10 that little girl Ina lost her mother and she grew up with cousins and was sent to boarding school.  When she asked about her father, all she could find out was that he had been shot during the Troubles.  She eventually married and had a family who, in turn, grew up ignorant about their grandfather.  Ina knew her father had served with the British Army during the First World War but after that there was a blank.  In actuality, after her death her son Donal found out that his grandfather had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Now with the resources of the Irish Times archives, Donal has found that his grandfather, Sergeant Thomas Enright, RIC, had been shot dead on December 14th, 1921.  This took place at a turning point in Irish history.  The Anglo-Irish Treaty had been signed eight days previously and was to be ratified by overwhelming majorities in both houses of the English parliament two days later on December 16th.   

Sergeant Thomas Enright, of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and a Constable friend were attending a coursing meeting at which Thomas had entered two dogs.  They wore plain clothes.  They visited the hotel where the draw was made for the following day’s coursing.  They left the hotel (the establishment) shortly after 11 p.m., and as soon as they appeared on the street a volley of revolver shots was fired at them by a group of men who were standing near the post office.  Thomas was age 31.

Donal shared his findings with his mother.  He speculates that it is quite possible that reading the account of her father’s death brought some sort of closure to Ina.  She passed away scarcely 2 weeks later.

Donal goes on to write that happily we now have an Ireland where it is possible at last to break the silence surrounding those who served in the police and army of pre-independence times.  The men who shot Thomas, and the reporters of the time, were not to know that Thomas carried a tattoo on his right arm:  “Erin go Bragh”

Reflections – 74 years ago today,  December 28, 1935, was my parents’ wedding day.   My father-to-be had 3 children, age 11, 9, and 8.  My sisters-to-be were flower girls, and the ceremony was held in Winchester Massachusetts in the parental home of my mother-to-be.  I suspect that her sisters, my aunts, were her bridesmaids.   I must ask my sisters, now 83 and 82, and my 96 year old aunt for more of the details.  Or maybe I can search the archives of the Boston newspapers.

I blogged a few days ago about The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.       Many questions were unanswered in the investigation of this case – many family secrets still remained.   After reading it I thought about the probability that most families have secrets, some quite innocent but will never be uncovered, others that will be revealed in the course of time if we know the right questions to ask.


Online Resource for Materials of Irish Interest November 12, 2009

How rapidly things are changing in the world of libraries.  In 1993/1994 when I did my degree in Library and Information Studies at University College Dublin, the concept of email was just being introduced.  Near the end of the course we were invited to a talk on the soon to be introduced world wide web.  How far we have come since then.  In today’s Irish Times there was an article on the introduction of a new database for research on matters of Irish interest.

Online for references of Irish interest

What a wonderful resource.  According to the article, the Sources Database for Irish Research has records of books and periodicals of Irish interest held in the National Library of Ireland and research centres and universities in the US, Britain, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.


Award for Downloading Knitting Patterns September 30, 2009

Filed under: Ageing,Irish History,Knitting,Knitting revival — Janet @ 8:33 am

95 year old winner  95 year old winner of the Silver Surfer IT award, photo from the front page of the Irish Times, Sept. 29, 2009

And a very deserving winner indeed.  According to the Irish Times she has mastered a computer which she received from her family last Christmas.  She uses the computer to surf the internet, send e-mails, talk to her 7 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren via Skype.  She taught herself how to use the computer, she said, through her own “sense of discovery” and also took a class. 

The Minister for Older People presented several other awards.  One was to a 75 year old woman for being such a dedicated IT learner.  She is a volunteer in a local school, teaching the children to knit and sew, and she downloads patterns from the internet and prints them off for her weekly classes.  This is fine to present this woman with an award but really I find the wording rather patronising.   I feel a bit incensed about this, being slightly over 70 myself.   I don’t like being considered an older person for one thing – although I guess I am.  And the implication that older people are doing something wonderful if they learn to use a computer. ( Older people are not stupid!)  And thirdly, the linking of older people and knitting.  It’s true that most older women did knit at some point in their lives and probably no longer do this craft that they were once so good at.  I think it’s more for lack of motivation rather than for lack of skill.  In earlier years, most women knit for their families.  Now there is not that motive of economic necessity.  The current trend is for people of all ages, but mainly younger people, to knit with trendy yarns and to knit fashion items as opposed to strictly utilitarian garments