Tag Archives: History

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 66. On Downton Abbey and Period Dramas.

What better way to learn about history than to check out quality televised period dramas. Last weekend saw the return to our screens of the excellent Downton Abbey, the kind of programming the British seem to do so well.

The first series began with the sinking of the Titanic and ended with the outbreak of World War I. These historic events are seen through the eyes of well-written characters that live and work in the stately manor of Downton Abbey.

As a writer, I find it challenging and refreshing to see history unfold through fictional characters.Who says television doesn’t educate?



100 Words, 100 Days: Day 61. On History.

I mentioned to a customer the other night that I was taking a weekend trip to London in a couple of weeks. He liked England, he said, it is steeped in history. Ireland, on the other hand, has no real history to speak of.

I disagreed. Ireland has a fascinating history because of its ties with England. For better or worse, our relationship with our closest neighbour is an essential part of our history.

Can you imagine someone writing an autobiography that didn’t include any relationships or active engagement with another living soul? It would be boring and isolationist. People need people.


100 Words, 100 Days: Day 56. On The Great Famine.

'Skibbereen 1847' by Cork artist James Mahoney

Last night a friend and I had the pleasure of listening to three Irish writers read from novels they had written that were inspired by a period of history known as the Great Famine (1845-1852). The setting was the Jeanie Johnston, a Famine Ship that took emigrants from Ireland to America and Canada. It was renowned for never losing any of its passengers on the many journeys it made across the Atlantic.

I was humbled by my experience because 1) I love being in the company of other writers and 2) I still know very little about my country’s history. More on this soon.


100 Words, 100 Days: Day 51. On History.

History can be as dull as a October day in Leitrim and as dry as the Saharan landscape. But when all else fails, and stuff needs to be learned, add sex to the mixture and, Hell’s Bells, watch the application forms for history degrees arrive in the post or online.

It all started with HBO’s series Rome, if you ask me. A place where togas were optional rather than required attire. Then you had Henry VIII and The Tudors gallivanting their way around medieval England. Now with The Borgias along for the ride, maybe there’ll be an influx of new priests.


The Case of The Porterhouse Queen

The following is a story I wrote on WEbook.com a couple of years ago. It’s a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, fan-fiction if you would. It’s not very accurate in a historic sense, so take its claims with a pinch of salt. Just read and (hopefully) enjoy. Thank you.


“I think we’ve been rumbled, Holmes,” I said, casting a quick glance at my companion. We’d been sitting in the Stag’s Head near the south bank of the Liffey, the river that runs through Dublin, the principal city of the Irish Free State, for nearly seven hours. Holmes was nursing a brandy and port. I was drinking a Gold Label.

“Never fear, Watson. I daresay our stipend will cover another round. Would you do the honors?” Holmes did not look at me while he talked. Instead he was carefully examining a large oil painting that hung on the wall behind the serving counter. It was, I estimated, seven feet in length across and four feet down. It had been hung dead centre and was the only decoration the proprietor had deemed suitable for his premises. The rest of the public house was bereft of any such embellishment, save for the obvious and necessary gas-lighting.

“If I must. Are you staying with the brandy? I have to admit I’m not really taken with Irish whiskey and I don’t feel too comfortable asking for scotch.”

“Nonsense, Watson. The Irish and Scottish are linked in history. They are but one people divided by a sea. I would assume our good host would stock a fine range of malted, if you would but ask. In fact, ask for two Glenfiddich. That should brighten up his day.”

I went up to the counter. The proprietor was busy polishing a tray of stemmed champagne flutes. He was making quite a fuss of it too. I caught his eye and ordered for myself and Holmes. Indeed he did stock the bottle my friend had suggested and poured two generous measures. I paid the man and was on my way back to our table when he called me back.

“Your friend,” he said. “He seems very curious about my painting. He hasn’t taken his eyes off it since the two of you came in.” The proprietor, who was a stocky man in his mid-fifties, spoke with a Dublin brogue that was very rarely heard in London. His shaven head reflected the gas-light above him. “Is he a buyer or a seller?”

“Neither, I should imagine. He knows what he likes. He has a painting almost like that back home in his flat.”

“In London?”

“Yes. My accent gives it away.”

“Not just your accent, sir. I’ve been expecting you, Dr. Watson. Your good self and the gentleman with you, the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. I must say it’s quite an honor having you both in my establishment.”

I was stunned speechless, but managed to squeeze out a muted thanks.

“What’s wrong, Watson?” Holmes asked when I returned with our drinks. “You look like someone told you the Baskerville hound was outside waiting for us.”

“Holmes, this is no time for your attempt at humor. I told you we’d been rumbled. Our host has been expecting us. Why is that? And why is it that you don’t look in the least bit concerned?”

“Sit down, Watson, there’s a good chap. We’re in no immediate danger here. We’re on a mission for His Majest’y’s Government.”

I was perplexed to say the least. Holmes had once again neglected to tell me the full nature of our visit to Dublin. I was disappointed with my close friend’s behavour. I really didn’t think he was the same man when he came back from near death at the Reichenback Falls. Moriarty had perished that fateful day while trying to murder Holmes, and a part of me believed that Holmes was actually missing his insane nemesis.

“Do you care to explain more?” I asked. “He knows who we are. He even referred to you as the ‘famous detective’.”

“My brother Mycroft believes there is something hidden somewhere in that painting. Something of national importance to both British and Irish govenments. I can’t tell you as yet.”

“Holmes, I thought you had retired from all that. I haven’t written of your adventures for over ten years now. Your loyal followers are convinced you’ve died again. Even the Baker Street Irregulars have grown up and gone into banking.”

“A reference from Sherlock Holmes is worth its weight in gold, Watson. Children have to be allowed to leave and pursue careers. I’ve been following Lestrade’s progress. He’s still a pompous ass, but he’s made considerable progress up the ladder in Scotland Yard. He’s an Assistant Chief Constable now. What are you smiling at?”

“Lestrade being a pompous ass. I wonder sometimes from whom he learned that particular trait. It most certainly wasn’t from me.”

“Careful, Watson. I may just leave you here in this den of iniquity.”

At this point a group of travelers came through the door. There were ten of them. They congregated at the serving counter. The landlord busied himself serving them porter from a barrel he kept out of sight. It was jet black with a thin head of creamy foam. All ten had the same in large tankards. I turned my attention back to Holmes.

“I won’t have you keep me in the dark. Why is that painting so damn important? It’s just a steamer.”

“Not just any old steamer, Watson. It’s ‘The Porterhouse Queen’. It was being built in Belfast around the same time as the ‘RMS Titanic’. It made only one journey, but fortunately didn’t meet with the same fate as her more illustrious elder sister. She lies idle in Southampton however. Her owners can’t find anyone to take her out again.”

“The ‘Titanic’ sunk 25 years ago, Holmes. I’m still not seeing any connection.”

“The two ships are not why we’re here, Watson.”

“Come on Holmes. Out with it.” I was starting to lose patience with my companion.

“Do you see our fellow travelers?” he said, meaning the group that had just come in. They were enjoying a lively discussion and I noticed that one particular gentleman was paying close attention to Holmes and myself. He was quite tall, over six foot, thin but athletic. He wore a small pair of round spectacles, resting at the top of a nose that could only be described as Roman. Caesar would have been proud of it.

“Have a look at the tray with the champagne flutes, Watson. How many glasses do you see?”

I counted them from where I was sitting. “A dozen,” I said.

“There are ten of them, are there not?”

I thought for a moment. “And two of us.”

“Correct, Watson. That’s the first piece of the puzzle.”

“What’s the next?”

“The gentleman looking over at us is the next piece. His name is Eamon de Valera.”

“De Valera? Isn’t he………?”

“The President of the Irish Free State? Yes, he is. He is also the man we have come to see. The man Mycroft wants to do business with. He owns the painting. The landlord is minding it for him.”

Holmes raised his hand to de Valera. The President lifted his glass of porter in salute to Holmes and myself. He turned around to his own companions, spoke with them for a bit and then beckoned us over to join him.

Holmes was first to greet him. “Mr. de Valera, it is an honor for me to represent my King and government on this historic day.”

“Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, the pleasure is all mine. You’ve been a bit quiet of late. Have you retired?”

“For all intents and purposes, yes. Occasionally I take up smaller cases to alleviate the boredom I sometimes feel. Isn’t that correct, Watson?”

“Yes, but you never take me along on these so-called ‘smaller cases’.”

“Inconsequential matters, Watson. Today, though, is a different matter. I’m sure the President would agree.”

“Mr. Holmes,” said de Valera, ‘your brother gave me some assurances that this matter would be dealt with today. Am I correct in that assumption?”

“I would need to closely examine the painting to be sure. But if all is in order, the agreement stands.”

“What agreement, Holmes?” I was completely at a loss to explain to myself what was going on.

“All in good time, Watson. Landlord, if you could help me with the painting please.” Holmes and the landlord stood on either side of the painting and removed it carefully from its position. They laid it face down on the cobbled floor. Holmes took a swiss army knife from his coat pocket and, in small deliberate motions, removed the painting from its frame.

When that job was completed, de Valera crouched down beside Holmes. “Take away the backing board. You’ll find what you require beneath it.” This Holmes did.

Underneath were four sheets of paper, slightly yellowing in colour. There was writing on them, as well as diagrams and maps. Holmes put on a pair of black leather gloves that he had retrieved from another of his pockets. He gently lifted up one of the sheets.

“These are written in German, Watson. On them are plans for the invasion of Europe. Hitler intends to take control over Poland, the Netherlands, France and, finally, Great Britain. Can you vouch for their authenticity, Mr de Valera?”

The Irish President smiled. “I’ve had my spies in Germany since we became a state. We worked closely with your government, but had to keep it quiet. As you’d imagine, there is still a lot of hostility between our two countries. There would have been uproar in parliament if word got out. My IRA lads were thorough. The plans are real. Your brother will prove that.”

“I’ve no doubt he will. His office has been keeping a very watchful eye over Hitler and his Nazi party. He thinks, and knows, that a war is coming. Churchill believes him. Chamberlain doesn’t.”

“Chamberlain is a fool,” de Valera said with added malice. “He thinks he can shake hands with that dictator and everything will go away.”

“The Prime Minister is misguided. Churchill will take his place if and when war comes.”

“It’ll come. I can bet my country’s independence on it.”

Holmes folded the sheets of paper and tucked them safely into an inside pocket. “There’s a boat waiting for us at Dun Laoighre harbour. I trust you can provide transport?”

“Already arranged, but first……”

“Ah yes, there is something else. One last thing.”

Holmes had many pockets in his coat. From another one he produced an envelope. With surprise I noted the Royal Seal. King George had written whatever was inside. I had remained silent throughout, but now I couldn’t contain myself.

“Holmes, what in God’s name is going on here?”

It was de Valera who answered.

“My spies found plans that Hitler plans to invade Europe and launch an attack from France onto mainland Britain. My government and yours, without the knowledge of Prime Minister Chamberlain, came to an agreement. We would hand over the plans and, in return, would be allowed to remain neutral should war break out.

“We are a new state, recovering from our own civil war. We can barely afford to be involved in another, more far-reaching one. Your king agreed, in principle, providing the plans were genuine. I believe they are. This letter, which Mr. Holmes holds in his hand, is as important to this country as the Proclamation of Independence was twenty one years ago.

“We will help out if we can, but we won’t be forced into doing so. That goes for both sides. Hitler’s Germany won’t be welcomed here either.”

Holmes passed the letter over to de Valera. The Irishman broke the seal and read its contents. When he was finished he nodded. “This calls for champagne. Harry, I really hope you remembered to chill the Dom Perignon.”

“It would be more than my life’s worth if I didn’t, Eamon.”

De Valera smiled. “Harry and I go back a long time. If anyone else were to call me Eamon, I’d do them an injury. Come gentlemen, join my friends and I for a toast to our sucess.”

We were handed our glasses. We raised them in salute to God, King, Ireland, Great Britain and, above all, peace in our time.

On This Day…4 October

Monday, 4 October 2010

The 2010 Ryder Cup has gone into a fourth day for the first time in its 83 year history. The inclement weather (i.e. the rain came down in elephant-sized buckets) called a halt to yesterday morning’s play. The organizers have decided to play all twelve singles matches today, starting at 9am GMT. This bit of information will be important for future posts of On This Day.

You see? That’s what I call thinking forward – history is made every day.

So what did happen on this day in other years? Let’s find out and start with…

1537 – The first complete English-language Bible (the Matthew Bible) is printed, with translations by William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale.

1582 – Pope Gregory XIII implements the Gregorian Calendar. In Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain, October 4 of this year is followed directly by October 15. So if your birthday fell between October 5 and 14, hard luck.

Image: hbcho.com

1830 – Creation of the state of Belgium after separation from The Netherlands. This makes Hercules Poirot and Tintin very happy indeed.

1883 – First run of the Orient Express. Getting tickets for this journey proved to be murder.

1910 – Declaration of the Portuguese Republic. King Manuel II flees to the United Kingdom…and lands a part in TV reality show, The X-Monarch Factor.

1965 – Becoming the first Pope to ever visit the United States of America and the Western hemisphere, Pope Paul VI arrives in New York.

1997 – The second largest cash robbery in U.S. history occurs at the Charlotte, North Carolina office of Loomis, Fargo and Company. An FBI investigation eventually results in 24 convictions and the recovery of approximately 95% of the $17.3 million in cash which had been taken.

Birthdays today include:

For the gentlemen: the beautiful Susan Sarandon (Image: time.com)

Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon is 61. (Sorry, Tim, she’s mine now!)

Alicia (Clueless) Silverstone is 31 – and the less said about Batman and Robin, the better.

Chris Lowe, one half of electro-pop duo Pet Shop Boys, is 52.

Janis Joplin died today in 1970. She was just 27-years-old.

On This Day…28 September

Tuesday, 27 September 2010

Welcome to today’s installment of On This Day, your daily trawl down memory lane. Some of us will not remember a lot of what happened in years gone by. Some of us will hardly remember what happened yesterday. They have pills for that, you know. Take two and call me in the morning – if you remember.

Where shall we start? Oh yes – how about on this day in…

351 – Battle of Mursa Major: the Roman Emperor Constantius II defeats the usurper Magnentius. Didn’t Sir Ian McKellen play him in the X-Men movies?

1066 – William the Conqueror invades England: the Norman Conquest begins. Good for William; bad for Norman.

1322 – Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor defeats Frederick I of Austria in the Battle of Mühldorf. Bloody hell – those Romans keep themselves busy, what with all this usurping, bribing and what-not.

1787 – The newly completed United States Constitution is voted on by the U.S. Congress to be sent to the state legislatures for approval.

1791 – France becomes the first European country to emancipate its Jewish population.

Image: nationmaster.com

1844 – Oscar I of Sweden-Norway is crowned king of Sweden. He stopped being a grouch.

1867 – The United States takes control of Midway Island.

1928 – The U.K. Parliament passes the Dangerous Drugs Act outlawing cannabis. Duuuuuuude!!

1961 – A military coup in Damascus effectively ends the United Arab Republic, the union between Egypt and Syria.

1971 – The Parliament of the United Kingdom passes the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 banning the medicinal use of cannabis. Duuuuuuuuude!!

1975 – The Spaghetti House siege, in which nine people are taken hostage, takes place in London. I thought they were “pasta” all that.

2008 – SpaceX launches the first ever private spacecraft, the Falcon 1 into orbit.

Happy birthday to:

Brigitte Bardot, French sex symbol of the Sixties, is 76.

Birthday girl Hilary Duff (Image: reviews.in.88db.com)

Ben E. King, American r&b singer, is 72.

Helen Shapiro, English singer, is 64.

Jim Diamond, formerly with the band PHD and singer of I Should Have Known Better, is 57.

Janeane Garofalo, American actress and comedian (and a personal favourite of mine) is 46. Hey, Janeane, you and I should hook up sometime, you know. Call me…please.

Hilary Duff, American actress and singer, is 23. Too young for me, unfortunately.

On this day in 2003, the world of film lost a controversial figure in the shape of Elia Kazan. His testimony as a “friendly witness” before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952, which cost him the respect of many liberal friends and colleagues. He was a three-time Oscar-winner.

On This Day…25 September

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Good morning, good day, good evening, and welcome to Saturday’s installment of On This Day. I hope you’re well and that you enjoy your weekend. To set you off on the right path, here’s your daily trip down memory lane. Way down memory lane. So way down in fact, we’re starting with what happened on this day in…

303 – On a voyage preaching the gospel, Saint Fermin of Pamplona is beheaded in Amiens, France. A bit of a wasted journey if you ask me. The French are not for turning.

1066 – The Battle of Stamford Bridge marks the end of the Viking invasions of England. Chelsea FC play their home games there now. I thought John Terry looked like a Norse, all right.

1690 – Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick, the first newspaper to appear in the Americas, is published for the first and only time. No one bought obviously.

The Bill of Rights

1789 – The U.S. Congress passes twelve amendments to the United States Constitution: the Congressional Apportionment Amendment (which was never ratified), the Congressional Compensation Amendment, and the ten that are known as the Bill of Rights.

1906 – In the presence of the king and before a great crowd, Leonardo Torres Quevedo successfully demonstrates the invention of the Telekino in the port of Bilbao, guiding a boat from the shore, in what is considered the birth of the remote control.

1944 – World War II: Surviving elements of the British 1st Airborne Division withdraw from Arnhem in the Netherlands, thus ending the Battle of Arnhem and Operation Market Garden. It was A Bridge Too Far.

1983 – Maze Prison escape: 38 republican prisoners, armed with 6 handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of the Maze prison. It is the largest prison escape since WWII and in British history.

1996 – The last of the Magdalene Asylums closes in Ireland; just one of the many scandals Ireland has endured under the institution of the Catholic Church.

Celebrity birthdays today include:

Mr & Mrs Zeta-Jones Douglas (Image: babble.com)

Catherine Zeta Jones and her husband, Michael Douglas, share their birthdays today. She is 41, he is 66. We wish Michael well as he recovers from throat cancer.

Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, is 59 and still strong with the Force.

Maria Doyle Kennedy, Irish singer, actress and star of The Commitments, is 46.

Hollywood actor Will Smith is 42.

On This Day…24 September

Friday, 24 September 2010

And so we arrive at another Friday. A day which can only mean one thing for your friendly neighbourhood aardvark: DATE NIGHT!!

So while I’m busy getting myself scrubbed up for a night out with Her Ladyship, I’ll leave you with titbits and morsels from bygone times. Starting with events on this day in…

1180 – Manuel I Komnenos, last Emperor of the Komnenian restoration dies. The Byzantine Empire slips into terminal decline. Poor things!

1645 – Battle of Rowton Heath, Parliamentarian victory over a Royalist army commanded in person by King Charles. It’s good when a king makes a personal appearance. Could’ve got him killed, though.

1789 – The United States Congress passed a Judiciary Act that provided an attorney general and The Supreme Court.

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming. (Image: destination360.com)

1869 – “Black Friday”: Gold prices plummet after Ulysses S. Grant orders the Treasury to sell large quantities of gold after Jay Gould and James Fisk plot to control the market. So, no Goldfinger, then.

1906 – U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaims Devils Tower in Wyoming as the nation’s first National Monument.

1950 – Forest fires black out the sun over portions of Canada and New England. A Blue moon (in the astronomical sense) is seen as far away as Europe.

1990 – Periodic Great White Spot observed on Saturn. NASA sends up a ship filled with Clearasil.

Trump Tower, Chicago. (Image: news.medill.northwestern.edu)

1979 – Compu-Serve launches the first consumer internet service, which features the first public electronic mail service.

2008 – The Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago is topped off at 1,389 feet (423 m), at the time becoming the world’s highest residence above ground-level.

Celebrating birthdays today are:

Hercules actor and all-round nice guy, Kevin Sorbo is 52.

John Logan, American screenwriter and Oscar-winner for Gladiator, is 49.

Nia Vardalos, the Canadian actress and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is 48.

Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), American children’s writer (b. 1904) and creator of The Cat in the Hat died on this day in 1991. I never “got” him myself, but I know he has legions of fans. This is for you.

On This Day…23 September

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Welcome to another action-packed, thrill-a-minute piece of history trivia. I hope you get as much fun out of reading these as I do putting them together. They take time, but it’s time well spent.

Today we start with…

1122 – Concordat of Worms: an agreement between Pope Calixtus II and Holy Roman Emperor Henry V near the city of Worms. It brought to an end the first phase of the power struggle between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Emperors. And you thought it was all about gathering live bait for fishing…

1779 – American Revolution: a squadron commanded by John Paul Jones on board the USS Bonhomme Richard wins the Battle of Flamborough Head, off the coast of England, against two British warships. 1-0 to the US.

A photogenic bunch, don't you think? (Image: 19cbaseball.com)

1845 – The Knickerbockers Baseball Club, the first baseball team to play under the modern rules, is founded in New York.

1889 – Nintendo Koppai (Later Nintendo Company, Limited) is founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi to produce and market the playing card game Hanafuda.

1909 – The Phantom of the Opera (original title: Le Fantôme de l’Opéra), a novel by French writer Gaston Leroux, was first published as a serialization in Le Gaulois. So now we know who to blame for the musical.

1952 – Richard Nixon makes his “Checkers speech”.

1999 – NASA announces that it has lost contact with the Mars Climate Orbiter.

2002 – The first public version of the web browser Mozilla Firefox (“Phoenix 0.1”) is released.

Happy birthday to:

Mickey Rooney is a venerable 90 today.

Jason Alexander as George (Image: seinfeldscripts.com)

The Spanish singing superstar Julio Iglesias is 67.

Paolo Rossi, the Italian footballer who won the World Cup Golden Boot in 1982, is 54.

Jason Alexander, who plays George from the hit series Seinfeld, is 51.

Eric Miller, Irish rugby player, is 35.

But the birthday I really want to celebrate today is the Boss, Bruce Springsteen. He turns 61 and shows no sign of ever slowing down.

Go on ya good thing!