In wishing readers a Happy New Year for 2014 I would like to thank everyone who has looked at my blog during 2013. I have tried to do an article every day but unfortunately slipped a bit in the last two months. However the success of yesterday’s blog on the Miss-Fitts has given me a few ideas about the sort of story to attract more readers in 2014. I set myself a target of getting 100 views a day and ended the year with an average of 77 daily. My posts have now received over 28,000 views in 110 countries around the world, mainly in the United Kingdom (50%), Ireland and the United States (in that order). My posts on the ice hockey during the World Police and Fire Games when I worked as a volunteer at the Odyssey Arena proved very popular. Keep watching these pages! Remember you can sign up and receive a daily feed of my blog by filling in the form and sending me your email address.
The late MP for West Belfast and SDLP founder member Gerry Fitt jokingly referred to his five daughters as the ‘Miss Fitts’. Lord Fitt died in August 2005 aged 79. The picture is of one of his daughters, Geraldine, at the family home at 85 Antrim Road in North Belfast looking out through a window covered with a security grill. The picture appears on page 11 of The Irish Universe of Friday July 3rd 1973, the same one featured in yesterday’s blog on ‘Ulster’s Greatest Chance’.
“MOST moving press picture of the week: pretty young girl, chin on folded hands, behind a mesh of iron and steel: She’s Geraldine Fitt, daughter of Mr. Gerry Fitt, the S.D.L.P. leader, gazing through the protective screen at their house on the Antrim Road, Belfast West (sic.). Before the days of violence, Mr. Fitt’s daughters sometimes accompanied him to meetings, and people said, ‘Here comes the new group: Gerry and the Miss-Fitts'”. Justin, The Irish Universe, Friday July 6th 1973.
There is no photographer’s name on the picture but it could have been one issued through a news agency as it turned up in other newspapers including some in the United States. A similar photo appears in the Lakeland Ledger (Florida) on July 2nd 1973 under the heading ‘BARRICADED WORLD’:
‘From her window in Antrim Road, 11-year-old Geraldine Fitt views the outside world — through a steel-mesh barricade. After the assassination of Paddy Wilson, her father’s agent and an Ulster (sic.) senator, William Whitelaw ordered a full security net for Fitt’s house in Belfast, Northern Ireland, gives protection against anything except bullets’.
Gerry Fitt and his family were forced to leave their fortress home on the Antrim Road and move to London in July 1983 after it was attacked by republicans. He had lost his seat to Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin at the Westminster election the previous month and was created a peer in the House of Lords. A biography written by journalist and commentator Chris Ryder was published by Brehon Press in 2006: ‘Fighting Fitt’.
Dear Dr Haass, the front page headline in bold type in the newspaper proclaims ‘It’s Ulster’s Greatest Chance’. Is it referring to your reconvened talks, hopefully edging towards an agreement on outstanding issues in the peace process? No, it’s a reminder of the political situation in Northern Ireland forty years ago. The date on the paper is Friday July 6 1973. The story written by Donal Magee in Belfast appeared in the Catholic newspaper, The (Irish) Universe, a tabloid rival to the Catholic Herald (edited by my father from 1962-66). Both papers had their main office in those days in Fleet Street and I remember when this was the hub of all journalism in England.
The story was about the election results for ‘The new Assembly’: yes, there was a power-sharing administration between unionists and nationalists for a short while. But the Council of Ireland provisions in the Sunningdale agreement reached between the British and Irish governments in December 1973 were opposed by the majority of unionists and loyalists and led to the downfall of Brian Faulkner’s administration in May 1974. So here is a reminder to a younger generation of what Northern Ireland politics was like in those days, when the S.D.L.P. emerged ‘convinced that at the next election they could emerge as the largest party’……..
“The new Assembly . . . IT’S ULSTER’S GREATEST CHANCE Donal Magee: Belfast
THE Assembly election results which disappointed the official Unionists, hardline Unionists, Republicans and Liberals, but not the Social Democratic and Labour Party, which represents the majority of Catholic opinion, has given the most optimistic prospect for the building of a new Northern Ireland.
This assessment may come as a surprise to many in Britain, where the Press has been universally pessimistic about the results.
But it is the view of the keenest observers of the Northern Ireland scene. Add to this the healthy political climate now being created between Dublin and London as a result of the Cosgrave-Heath talks this week, and it can be understood that this optimism is not without foundation. The full effects of this new understanding will, it is said here (Belfast), be seen by the end of the year when the new Assembly takes shape and is put to the test.
The political climate has so improved that a visit of a high-ranking member of the British government to Dublin – even Mr Heath himself – for further talks with the Irish government is on the cards. But by that time the political shape and constitution of the new Northern Ireland Assembly will be known and the way prepared for tripartite talks. I understand that the Faulkner – Craig – Paisley parties fear a quickening of the comings and goings between London and Dublin as a result of the favourable interpretation now taken of the Assembly poll. The result reveals that the most united party to emerge from the election is the S.D.L.P. One of the party’s executive told me that they intend to set the pace and that they are now convinced that at the next election they could emerge as the largest party. He said: “Our assessment may seem exaggerated post-election optimism. It is not”. Strengthened by the over – * To Back Page
CHANCE FOR ULSTER * From Page 1
(over-)whelming rejection of violence by the electorate, the 19 S.D.L.P. members are meeting early next week to review their position. In the meantime no statements of their intentions are forthcoming and talk of an alliance with the official Unionists, which really would make history, is premature though not discounted. In this connection, any alliance would depend on who leads the official Unionists. It is absolutely certain that the S.D.L.P. would not form a coalition with Unionists led by Mr. Faulkner, who is heartily distrusted by Catholics. They may, however, be prepared to come to terms with a party lead by a more “acceptable” politician and the name of Mr. Roy Bradford has been mooted. Mr. Bradford had one of the largest majorities of any candidate in the election.
His was a remarkable achievement when one considers that he stood in the supposedly militant dockland constituency in which one of his opponents was the U.D.A. leader Tommy Herron. Bradford has also shown conciliatory tendencies towards Catholics. He has taken a more liberal view than most mainstream Unionists both towards the minority in Ulster and towards the proposed Council of Ireland. And his political thinking is geared toward the European dimension. An alliance between the official Unionists and the Craig-Paisley coalition is certainly out of the question. No church leader has made any official pronouncement on the result of the election. Cardinal Conway and the other Catholic bishops are in Germany at a conference of the European bishops but I understand that the Cardinal has privately expressed satisfaction”.
There was a leading article headlined ‘A Vote for Moderation’ inside on page 10:
“A VOTE FOR MODERATION
The experience of the last three years has shown that political investment in Northern Ireland, in terms of time, labour, patience and perseverance, produces very little dividend. So it was no disappointment to find that the election for the assembly has not noticeably transformed a situation that has shown itself almost invincible against efforts to rationalise it. But if we are resigned to measuring progress towards peace in that embattled province on a micrometer gauge, we have some reason for hope as we contemplate the indecisive and as yet ambiguous results of the poll. We can be thankful, for a start, at the unexpectedly high success of the Social and Democratic Labour Party (sic.), to which Catholics have rallied. Then again, the IRA’s failure to get more than a handful of the electorate to boycott the election or invalidate their papers is a healthy rejection symptom, the more so as the more notorious of the Protestant militants were also sent on their way”.
Much will depend in the coming weeks on the attitudes of Mr. Gerry Fitt, the S.D.L.P. leader, and Mr. Brian Faulkner, both of whom are guardedly prepared to give the White Paper a trial. A short time ago neither would think of doing a deal with the other. But both are being forced by the march of events into new attitudes. Mr. Fitt finds his party for the first time in a position to exercise considerable power and this is not likely to be effectively exploited by a negative policy of intransigence. Mr, Faulkner, who is noted for political finesse and pragmatism, is fighting for survival. As a return to Protestant ascendancy through alliance with the anti- White Paper unionists is out, he has come round to viewing the possibility of power-sharing with the S.D.L.P. There is a danger here, however, that he may not carry all his supporters with him. It has even been suggested that he might lose as many as one-third. If this prospect is real his dilemma could usher in a new era of stalemate. Despite all this, the really significant fact is that the overall vote came down heavily on the side of moderation. This is more important than the rejection of the White Paper by a majority of unionists”.
Even after forty years with an entirely different political party balance and a new power-sharing government, it seems Dr Haass still has many difficulties to face as he attempts to find a way through the competing demands of unionists and loyalists, nationalists and republicans.
Feeding time: not at the zoo but in the back garden of my parents’ house in suburban South Dublin, not far from Belfield. My sister has already ensured that the birds are well provided for over the winter. In the past I have also seen a fox scampering across the lawn and my youngest brother has also observed it. But yesterday (Friday) I got a good view of the latest garden visitor, a grey squirrel.
I notice that Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is involved with a red squirrel conservation project and is asking people to report sightings of both red and grey squirrels, which I have now done. There are two species of squirrel in Ireland, the red squirrel and the grey squirrel. The red squirrel is native but is undergoing a steady decline across the country. This is largely due to competition from the introduced grey squirrel, which came to Ireland from North America in 1911. This pattern has been observed over much of Dublin and red squirrels are now confined to just a few locations. The presence of the grey squirrel is regarded as a continuous threat to their survival.
This particular grey squirrel seems to have become very domesticated to the extent that I was able to take a picture of it as it sat on the steps at the patio doors in our kitchen. We are lucky to have other visitors that keep my mother amused although there are certain dogs or cats she does not like.
But my mother, with her limited sight, is always glad to see birds such as the robins, blackbirds, blue tits and a pair of collared doves who seem to know exactly when to come looking for their food. When any greedy pigeons come swooping down my mother tries to ensure they are chased away….
At this time of year with such bad weather conditions please remember the birds and other wildlife, even in urban areas!
On a recent visit to Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, the guide Paddy Gleeson took us into the crypt with the sarcophagus of Daniel O’Connell and the remains of some of his relatives in the base of the round tower that dominates the graveyard which O’Connell himself established in 1828. We were shown the inside of the tower and saw where there used to be a staircase leading to the top. But a loyalist bomb attack in January 1971 destroyed the stairs and its windows. Now Susan Daly Editor of The Journal.ie reports resident historian Shane MacThomais as saying that plans are at an advanced stage to replace the wooden stairs and allow visitors access to a viewing platform at the top……
Bombed staircase in O’Connell Tower at Glasnevin to be rebuilt
Planning permission secured to rebuild structure 40 years after loyalists blew up original wooden stairs which led to top windows
“VISITORS TO THE O’Connell round tower monument in Glasnevin cemetery will soon be able to climb to the top for the first time in over 40 years. The winding wooden staircase that once ran up the centre of the 168ft-high tower was bombed to pieces by loyalists in 1971.
TheJournal.ie has learned that the Glasnevin Trust has secured planning permission to reconstruct a wooden stair that will provide access to the four windows at the top of the tower. These face north, south, east and west and as Glasnevin already lies 110ft above sea level, the view spans from Meath to the Dublin mountains, and up to mountain ranges in Louth. Construction is expected to begin in about two months’ time.
Shane MacThomais, resident historian at Glasnevin cemetery, told TheJournal.ie that the timbers to be used for the stairs have already been cut and are being seasoned so that they won’t contract or expand to any great degree when in situ. Enough of the estimated €500,000 building cost has been raised to begin the process and the Trust is hoping for funding from the private sector for its completion”.
The landmark was one of three blown up by loyalists in Dublin in January 1971. Glasnevin Trust is run by the Dublin Cemeteries Committee, a not-for-profit group established by Daniel O’Connell himself in 1828, with a remit ‘to bury people of all religions and none’.
The Glasnevin museum opened in 2010. Among the famous people buried here are Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera, Jim Larkin, Padraig Pearse, Constance Markievicz, Brendan Behan, Charles Stewart Parnell, Maud Gonne, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington and many others. For details of tours of the cemetery, you can click here.
A visit to Emy Lake near Emyvale in County Monaghan a year ago provided me with one of the first stories for my daily blog, which I began on January 1st 2013, as well as providing a beautiful photo for the cover page. A nice 4km walk has been developed alongside the lake and the path has been improved so that it is accessible for buggies. Great work done by a dedicated committee of volunteers.
This is what I wrote last year: EMY LOUGH SWIM: Congratulations to all who took part in the annual Emy Lough Christmas dip for charity near Emyvale in County Monaghan. Organised by the friends and parents of people with intellectual disability. I spotted Paul Bowe father of the rugby international Tommy who is recovering from injury and also Sammy Leslie from Castle Leslie in nearby Glaslough among the participants. My car temperature said 8C but I’m sure the water was considerably colder, even though the sun shone and it was the mildest such day for the dip in many years.
After the wind and snow yesterday morning on Christmas Eve (Tuesday), the weather in 2013 was almost better than last year with a good deal of sunshine. This time Tommy Bowe was able to take a dip along with his younger brother David and sister Hannah and their father Paul. Sammy Leslie from nearby Castle Leslie in Glaslough was back again wearing a red Santa top!
Mark Leslie was also there, easy to spot with a Japanese bandana. He was one of two hardy swimmers who swam out as far as a small island in the lake and returned safely to shore, with two volunteers on standby in a rowing boat in case anyone got into difficulty.
The Leslie family have been good supporters of this event which began 41 years ago under the stewardship of scout leader the late Benny McKenna and subsequently the late Garda Sergeant Dan Rogan. Similarly the Bowe family from Inishdevlin.
Among the supporters there this afternoon for the dip at 1pm was the actress Orla Brady who was staying at Castle Leslie. She is appearing in tonight’s special Christmas episode on BBC1 of Dr Who, in the role of Tasha Lem, a friend of the time traveller.
Last year I came without any cash so this year I made sure I gave two donations and my daughter who was with me also contributed to this worthy cause. It was a pleasant half hour in very tranquil surroundings and a nice way to spend part of Christmas Day. For more details of the event see www.emyvale.net.
Just to prove I was there: Cameraman Gregory Murphy got a new profile picture of me as I was being interviewed at the lakeside by Peadar McMahon. I had to admit to him it wasn’t as he suggested the Fermanagh colours draped around my neck, but possibly an Ireland emblem (for Tommy Bowe no doubt); then I revealed it was in fact my Shamrock Rovers FC scarf! I added my congratulations to all those hardy people who had decided to take the plunge to support the great work of the Monaghan group, who included some Special Olympics athletes. Well done!
Wishing all my readers a Happy Christmas, wherever you are and whoever you are with. No better way to bring in the Christmas cheer than with the Bugle Babes who I mentioned yesterday. They have been entertaining shoppers all week in the elegant Brown Thomas store on Grafton Street in Dublin. Their music could be heard ‘a cappella’ (which I am told means without instrumental accompaniment) so you could appreciated the range in their voices.
Meanwhile news came through on Christmas Eve of two developments in stories I have featured this year. On twitter I mentioned the campaign to save from demolition Cregagh Presbyterian Church in East Belfast. It has been confirmed by the campaigners that the building constructed c.1928 is now a listed one. It already has an entry in the NI Historic Buildings database.
Then almost simultaneously I received an email about an article I wrote in September on Samuel Munro from Lurgan, a former TUC President who had also served as President of Belfast Trades Council. It was based on a talk given in Belfast by the labour historian Francis Devine. Someone in England (originally from Bangor County Down) who says he is a great grandson of Munro had found the blog and is now seeking to make a connection with Munro’s granddaughter, who lives in England and who was thought to be the last known relative of the former Northern Whig typesetter. She had presented to the ICTU a bell originating from Belfast Trades Council, which has now been placed on a wall at the John Hewitt bar along with a plaque. So at least one success story from the 27,400 views my daily blogs have had! Happy Christmas one and all!