Thundering headlines but life carried on…

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Thundering headlines but life carried on…

As the Republic was formed, this newspaper reported myriad events, writes Liam Collins as he peruses those editions


O’Connell Street, Dublin, in the years after the Republic was declared. Photo: Charles W Cushman Collection, Indiana University Archives
O’Connell Street, Dublin, in the years after the Republic was declared. Photo: Charles W Cushman Collection, Indiana University Archives

On Sunday, April 17, 1949, the eve of Eire becoming the Republic of Ireland, the Sunday Independent proudly carried the story with the sub-heading “Guns Will Thunder and Trumpets Will Sound”.

But this momentous moment was happening against the backdrop of ordinary people living ordinary lives in the soon-to-be-declared independent State.

The newspaper featured a photo of Mrs S Oppenheim, an American visitor, studying the form at the Phoenix Park Races, while three matronly wives of Government ministers, Mrs Norton, Mrs McGilligan and Mrs Mac Eoin, were attending the premiere of Joan of Arc at the Metropole Cinema in O’Connell Street, Dublin; leaving the planning of ‘Irexit’ from the British Commonwealth of Nations to their busy husbands.

The front page of that Sunday’s paper carried a report on the first televised address by the Pope – who had been around so long it wasn’t necessary for the newspaper to say his name. He was, after all, the Pope – but for readers today, he was Pope Pius XII, who had what is now called a “long and controversial pontificate” from 1939 to 1958.

Among the ‘important’ news items – including the story that India would be sending an Ambassador to Dublin, the first country to do so and the US was expected to follow suit – there were the mundane stories of the hottest Easter in the 20th Century, and a shadow over Clonmel, where the shoe factory, which employed more than 500 people, was under threat.

“Owing to widespread depression in the industry, it has been forced to put employees on short time since the beginning of the year, and is faced with further cuts,” said the report.

On the political front, Minister for External Affairs Sean MacBride was still stuck in the US but would be back to attend a re-scheduled meeting of Europe’s Council of Ministers, which he’d done so much to bring about.

Money, too, was a matter of importance. Take Mr Henry Rhys Maunsell, a solicitor who came from an ancient Limerick family, but living until the time of his death at Rathleigh, Killiney, Co Dublin, with offices in Merrion Square. A bottom of the front page story told us that he had left £86,577 (equivalent in today’s money to over €3.5m) in his will.

Mr Maunsell, a former President of Lansdowne Rugby Club (1944-45) and past President of the Irish Lawn Tennis Association and Fitzwilliam Tennis Club, was clearly a man of means. But his estate paid more than £31,000 in death duties (equivalent in today’s money to more than £1.1m). It was also a time when the two certainties, death and taxes, came together.

With a little less money you could get a special value handbag at Kellett’s of George’s Street, Dublin for 15 shillings and 11 pence or “all wool worsted Flannel Trousers” at Galligan’s of Henry Street, Dublin for 53 shillings and 11 pence – so Ben Dunne Senior wasn’t the first to pitch his prices just a penny shy of the real price. Cassidy’s of George’s Street waxed lyrical with a rhyming advert: “I could write a Sonnet… To help you choose your Easter Bonnet.”

And when himself and herself were kitted out in the handbags, bonnet and flannel trousers, they were encouraged to buy a packet of Afton cigarettes with the tagline “Virginia Comes to Stay”.

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And if you didn’t have cash to flash, well there were other ways to pass the time under the headline “Use Your Legs And Save Your Money”. “The only cheap amusement in the post-war world is walking and when I say cheap, I mean cheap,” the young recruit to An Oige told me with great emphasis yesterday,” began a story from an intrepid Sunday Independent reporter about the new hill-walking organisation. The only costs involved were the 1 shilling and four pence bus fare to Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

The point about “the more things change the more they stay the same” was probably better illustrated in the previous week’s Sunday Independent of April 10, with news of an innovative plan to solve the housing crisis. “Eire may have pre-fabricated houses to cope with pressing requirements,” was the introduction to a story with the headline: “Pre-Fabricated Houses Coming.”

“This was stated by the Minister for Local Government (Mr TJ Murphy) when he arrived at Dublin Airport last night from London where he has been discussing housing with the British Ministry of Health.

“Much valuable information had been obtained in regard to British methods of dealing with the housing problem which information would be of assistance in dealing with the problem here,” went the report. “Mr Murphy said he was satisfied the traditional type of housing in this country would not supply the housing needs for a long time and it was possible that the erection of pre-fabricated houses might be undertaken to a limited extend in order to cope with the most pressing requirements.”

In tones reminiscent of the inexhaustible Brexit negotiations, another headline tells us: “British Envoy On Intimate Links” – no, not a diplomatic scandal, but the oft-strained links between Ireland and Britain. This was the theme of the new British “representative” (no ambassadors to a Free State) Sir Gilbert Laithwaite, who succeeded Lord Rugby in the post.

“The special relationship which exists between our two countries forms the basis for those many close and intimate links between them which it will be my aim and privilege to maintain,” he said, in what he then described as “these difficult and anxious days”.

Back then Kildare GAA were just as obdurate as they were in 2018 when they refused to play Mayo in Croke Park and insisted on Newbridge or Nowhere.

That Sunday in April, 1949, the front page ‘off lead’ went “GAA Suspend Kildare”.

Why was such drastic action taken against the Kildare County Board – had it defied the ‘infamous’ ban on “foreign games” as it was called? It had, in a sense. The Kildare County Board permitted greyhound racing on its Newbridge ground, which was part of the town’s military barracks and declined to stop when the Central Council’s ordered that either the dogs or the County Board had to go.

In echoes of more recent events in the country’s history, the County Board was to reconvene later that week with the intention of going to the High Court to challenge the Central Council’s ruling.

That Sunday, eight days before he officially presided over the formal declaration of a Republic of Ireland, Taoiseach John A Costello in the company of Mr AD Stocks, the famous English international, was pictured attending Londonbridge Road to see a united-Ireland hockey team defeat England 3-2 and “again” claim the Triple Crown.

On the political front, Eamon de Valera was his usual obtuse self, refusing to attend the coming Easter Monday celebrations for the coming into force of the Republic of Ireland Act. Described as “another historic step in the long march of the Irish nation towards freedom and independence” the story tells us that Mr de Valera has said “no” to an invitation from the Taoiseach.

Tucked away on the front page among important matters of church, state and sport was probably the most poignant story of that Sunday, April 10, 1949, and it wasn’t connected to the new Republic, it hadn’t anything to do with Ireland at all – but it did mark a very significant moment in history possibly more widely known than the date of Ireland’s declaration of a Republic.

Under the heading “Race To Save Trapped Child”, we are told that a crew of miners were “feverishly” boring a shaft to try and rescue three-year-old Kathy Fiscus, who two days earlier and fallen into a 14-inch disused vertical water pipe and was trapped 100 feet below ground in San Marino, California.

“I think that there is a chance that Kathy is still alive,” the fire chief is quoted as saying, because there had been a tug on a length of rope lowered into the pipe and a voice heard the previous Friday.

In this era of rolling news, this event is now recognised as the first news story to be shown live on television; broadcast, by local station KTLA, all over the United States to those who had televsision sets.

While the Sunday Independent carried the Saturday night story, the tragic outcome played on Sunday. When the miners got to her, Kathy was dead “and has been since she was last heard speaking on Friday” concluded the doctor. The inscription on Kathy’s grave reads: “One Little Girl Who United the World for a Moment.”

In a way this family tragedy, forgotten but for its significance in television history, is also a reminder that empires come and go, nations rise and fall, history is filled with significant moments – but tragedy is a personal event that remains undimmed by the passage of time for those involved, and long after the reporters and headline writers have moved on to the next great event.

Sunday Independent


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