As we celebrate Ireland and all things Irish this St Patrick’s Day, there is no better time to also reflect on the Irish contribution to the wider world. In his new book, What have the Irish ever done for us?, author David Forsythe does exactly that. The book from Currach Books features wonderful illustrations by Alba Esteban and details the achievements and contributions of numerous Irish people all around the world. Here we get a sneak peek at a few of those included in the book.
John Boyd Dunlop & William Harvey Du Cros
It was a Belfast vet by the name of John Boyd Dunlop and a Dublin cycling enthusiast named William Harvey du Cros who came up with the innovation that would make the age of the motorcar possible. Dunlop created an early pneumatic tyre to make his son’s bone-shaking tricycle rides along the cobbled streets of Belfast more comfortable. The design was soon taken up by racing cyclists where Du Cross first spotted it. He took Dunlop’s idea global with the Dunlop Rubber Company.
As unlikely as it may seem the modern submarine is indeed an Irish invention, developed by the talented John P. Holland from Liscannor in County Clare. The US Navy purchased Holland’s design in 1900 where the USS Holland became the first commissioned submarine in history. Its success led to other navies also purchasing the designs including Japan and the United Kingdom where five ‘Holland Class’ submarines were commissioned.
Engineer James Martin from Crossgar in County Down made the first successful test of an aircraft ejector seat in January 1945 when Bernard Lynch successfully ejected. The Martin-Baker ejector seat went into production soon afterwards and to date has saved more than seven thousand lives around the world.
Inventive tattoo artist Samuel O’Reilly did much more than come up with artistic tattoo designs. It was O’Reilly who patented the first electric tattoo machine in New York in 1891. O’Reilly’s invention made tattooing much safer, much quicker and cheaper to do. Without him the modern popularity of tattooing would not have been possible.
Cork woman Cynthia Longfield became known as “Madame Dragonfly” thanks to her adventurous career as a globetrotting entomologist. She collected specimens all around the world discovering several new species and became a leading authority on Dragonflies. She became an honorary associate of the Natural History Museum in London where much of her work is cataloged.
Eileen Marie Collins
Proud Irish American Eileen Marie Collins became the first female space shuttle commander aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1999. Eileen also piloted the space shuttle Discovery in 1995 and the Atlantis in 1997. During her final mission in 2005 on Discovery she became the first pilot to manoeuvre a shuttle through a 360-degree roll.
Ninette de Valois
Ninette de Valois was the stage name of Edris Stannus from Blessington, County Wicklow. When injury cut her career as a ballet dancer short she formed her own ballet company performing in Dublin and London. The company she formed at the Sadler’s Wells theatre in London would go on to become the England’s national ballet company, the Royal Ballet.
An image created by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick in 1968 is among the most recognized by any artist from any era. The black-on-red image of Che’s face has since become one of the most recognized images in the world, a symbol of protest and rebellion, and now appears on everything from mugs to posters and t-shirts.
Dublin-born writer Bram Stoker will forever be remembered for writing Dracula, first published in 1897. It was immediately successful and has continued to grow in popularity ever since its publication. Dracula has become the most successful horror novel in history and one of the most adapted and influential works of any genre.
Irish American Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, better known by her pen name of Nellie Bly, was a pioneering investigative reporter. She became world-famous in 1889 when she successfully embarked on a round-the-world trip with the aim of beating the fictitious Around the World in Eighty Days achieved by Phileas Fogg.
What have the Irish ever done for us? Is available in all good bookshops or online at www.currachbooks.com.
Happy New Year, 2020
Let the bells ring, and the cannon fire!
Happy New Year to all.
January 1 is the first day of the Gregorian calendar year. It’s a public holiday in the U.S. and many other countries. Traditionally, it is a day when people analyze their lives and decide what changes or improvements they want to make in the coming year.
This day has been observed as New Year’s Day in most English-speaking countries since the British Calendar Act of 1751. Before that time, the New Year began on March 25, approximately the date of the vernal equinox.
On January 1, the Earth begins another orbit of the sun, during which it will travel about 583,416,000 miles in 365.2422 days.
In some countries, New Year’s Day is called “Everyman’s Birthday,” and everyone becomes one year older on this day rather than on the anniversary of their birth.
In the U.S., many people encourage fate to bring them good luck in the coming year by eating “lucky” foods. Some like corned beef and cabbage. Many think black-eyed peas or red beans and rice will do the trick.
Whatever you believe, here’s hoping you have a new year filled with love, luck, and prosperity!
Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day with kids
On January 20, Americans across the country will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The holiday presents a unique opportunity to honor the legacy of the civil rights leader and to follow his example by volunteering. However, for those with children, it’s also an opportunity to help kids understand why it’s more than a day off school. Here are some ways you can share the day with them.
Read to them
There are a number of accessible biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. Reading one with your kids is a great way to teach them about the civil rights movement and, depending on their age, to help them develop their understanding of the ongoing civil rights struggles taking place in America today.
Make a themed craft
For younger or more artistically-minded kids, try creating artwork centered around a theme like peace, diversity, acceptance or generosity. These values are all central to MLK Jr.’s legacy. You could create peace signs, doves or garlands made up of diverse people holding hands.
Bring your kids to museums and libraries holding events for the holiday. These institutions often have activities for younger kids while providing informative installations for older children and teenagers. Some places also hold parades and marches you can attend.
Watch the “I have a dream” speech
If your kids are older, watch the speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a timeless articulation of his message and watching it presents an opportunity for you and your kids to discuss how the speech continues to be relevant today. Perhaps it’ll even provide insight into ways they could volunteer.
Exposing young people to the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. is a key way to help keep his message alive. This year, take a bit of time to share his insight and wisdom with your children.
To resolve or not: New Year promises and their critics
Making New Year’s resolutions is a tradition, of sorts, but a much maligned tradition through the years.
In 1908, the Lawrence Weekly World opined that any day would be good for a resolution but since New Year Resolutions were a custom, people should not be ‘laughed out of adopting one.’
“May be you will be able to keep them. At any rate, you will be better for trying.”
In 1916, the Mansfield Mirror In Mansfield, MO., pointed out that while it is fashionable to joke about resolutions, there’s no date better than Jan. 1, unless you do it on your birthday.
“A man who makes ten New Year’s resolutions, every one of them good, and breaks nine, is better off than if he made none at all.”
In the 1926, the Brooklyn Eagle (clipped by Newspapers.com) wrote that New Year customs have fallen on hard times, since customs used to be sensible and useful. In ancient England, everyone cleaned out their chimney. And, according to the paper, in China and Japan, everyone paid their debts.
But, in Paris, according to the Brooklyn paper, fashionable people drove their fashionable carriages throughout the city just for fun. Meanwhile, beggars fleeced everyone else.
Fortunately, the Brooklyn paper did find someone sensible to talk about resolutions. Chauncey Depew, an officer of the New York Central Railroad, said only two resolutions should be made:
“It would be a wise plan if a man and his wife should make some sort of pledge to each other every year — that’s a contract and I believe a good thing. And everybody on New Year’s Day ought to say that, ‘With God’s help, I will meet all obligations for the coming year in a way which He will approve.’
The new year always looks shiny and new, wrote Brooklyn columnist Mignon Rittenhouse almost 100 years ago, but watch out! Looks are deceptive and before you know it that unsoiled year is full of follies and foolishness.
Mistletoe winds its way through human history
Being kissed under the mistletoe has been a Christmas tradition for more than a thousand years. But mistletoe is not only associated with a gentle kiss, it has a lore all its own.
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that lives off trees. It has attracted human attention for thousands of years because, in the depth of winter, it is green. That made it a natural for legend and ritual, especially fertility rituals.
The actual kissing under the plant may have begun with the Greeks in their agricultural festival, according to The Wall Street Journal, but its kissing properties continue to this day where, as the old song puts it, we can see mama kissing Santa Claus.
To the ancient Scandinavians, mistletoe symbolized peace. Enemies meeting under the mistletoe declared a truce until the following day. On a more domestic note, disgruntled spouses kissed and made up under the greenery.
The Druids believed mistletoe possessed magical powers. Their priests cut the plant with golden sickles and gathered the trimmings on white cloth so the plant would never touch the earth and lose its enchantment.
The French didn’t like it. They said mistletoe was cursed because it grew on the wood from which the cross of Christ was made and that it was doomed to be a rootless parasite forever.
In the Middle Ages, mistletoe was hung from ceilings in Europe to ward off evil, or it was dangled over doors to prevent the entrance of witches. If mistletoe was suspended over a crib, the child was said to be safe from kidnapping.
Viking lore describes the goddess of love, Frigga, who made each plant and animal promise not to kill her son Baldur. She forgot the mistletoe plant and Baldur was killed by a spear made from it.
The white berries on the mistletoe are said to have been created from her tears.
When her son returned to life, Frigga proclaimed the mistletoe to be sacred. She kissed everyone who passed under it and decreed the plant should henceforth bring love. This is said to be the origin of kissing under the mistletoe.
So go ahead. Kiss under the mistletoe, have fun doing it, and give a nod to Frigga for starting a very enjoyable custom.
In 1776, the fate of America turned on the Christmas Crossing
At Christmastime in 1776, George Washington’s troops were in retreat, barely keeping ahead of the Redcoats. The Revolution was in great danger of collapsing.
Washington’s troops had reached Trenton on the Delaware River on Dec. 2. Gathering every boat they could find so the British couldn’t follow, they crossed the river into Pennsylvania.
Washington expected the British to attack when the river froze, but they delayed.
The American troops were described by an enemy officer as “dying of the cold, without blankets, and very ill-supplied with provisions.” Meanwhile, some 1,000 Hessians, German professional soldiers, had arrived in Trenton.
With morale crumbling, one fiery supporter of the Revolution refused to despair. Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, had written a new essay, the first in a series he called The American Crisis. It was published on Dec. 19. The troops were inspired as they read:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Washington formed an audacious plan. He would cross the Delaware some nine miles north of Trenton and surprise the garrison. The Hessian commander said the Patriots were just farmers, and he never prepared for an attack.
The crossing began at 6 p.m. on Dec. 25. After nine hours, the last boatload of men and cannons were on the shore. Then came the nine-mile ordeal through freezing wind and hail to reach Trenton.
Washington and his men attacked the Hessians shortly after dawn, surprising them completely. It was over in two hours with nearly 900 taken prisoner. The Americans suffered few casualties.
The Christmas victory at Trenton marked a turning point of the American Revolution. The effect on troop morale was tremendous, because they had taken on the King’s forces and won. As word of the victory spread, confidence in Washington and in the Revolution was revived. Once written off as beaten, Americans fought on and won.
The Wonderful World of Rudolpha: Rudolpha at the general store
Rudolpha the reindeer, teacher at the North Pole Animal Day Care, is shopping. As she enters the general store, the owner, Chatty the elf greets her.
“Rudolpha, my dear, what brings you in today?”
“Hi Chatty! I’m looking for craft supplies to make Santa Clauses with the children this week.”
“Wonderful, wonderful. I’ll let you take a look around. Let me know if you need anything.” The shopkeeper is never able to keep quiet for long though. As Rudolpha heads to the crafting section, he says, “I think I’m going to sell the store.”
“Really?” asks Rudolpha who can’t imagine the kind old elf without his shop.
“Yes. I’m getting older, and running a business is hard work. The only thing that I’ll miss is chatting with my wonderful customers. I suppose I’ll get to hang out at the Holly Cafe more often. Although Moka may get tired of me spending all my time in her coffee shop,” Chatty laughs.
Rudolpha smiles, imagining Moka the elf, owner of the cafe, watching Chatty talking to her customers.
“I’m going to have to start emptying the back of the store,” continues Chatty. “That’s going to be a lot of work.”
“What do you keep back there?” asks the teacher.
“Just a bunch of old junk that can’t be sold.”
“Could I take a look?”
“Of course,” says Chatty, opening the door with a theatrical flourish, “take anything you like.”
The reindeer feels like she’s entered Ali Baba’s cave of wonders. Everywhere she turns are mountains of forgotten items. Here a pile of ripped blankets, there some necklaces with broken clasps. On the shelves are toys with missing pieces. Against the wall are mismatched pairs of skis. In the back are big buckets with holes in the bottom.
Rudolpha is thrilled. She picks up some chipped square bowls, a reindeer toy that’s missing half its stuffing, wrinkled blue tissue paper, frayed white ribbon and two elf dolls, one that’s missing a hat and the other with only one shoe.
“What are you going to do with all that?” asks Chatty as Rudolpha re-enters the store.
“Make a model of the North Pole! It’ll be an even better project for the kids than making Santas. We’ll make some repairs and the children can collect pinecones. Once that’s done, we’ll have everything we need to make Christmas trees, houses, streams and snowy roads. The reindeer and the elves can be our characters.”
“What a wonderful idea. I should have let you into the backroom long ago. Feel free to return any time you need materials.”
“Thanks! I’m sure I’ll be back soon.”
Thinking about all the things she might do with the items in Chatty’s back room, Rudolpha happily makes her way home.
Written by Johannie Dufour and Sarah Beauregard
Translated by Cyan Caruso-Comas