Sunday 25 September 2016

Fervour, border patrols and Nelson's eyesore

Damian Corless

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

The news reported in the Irish Independent of April 11, 1966, included the fact that the traditional Easter wedding was becoming less common and that the author Evelyn Waugh had died at the age of 62. However, there was really only one story of note and it was summed up in two front page headlines, Nation Honours Men Of 1916 (the role of women had been written out for the previous 40 years) and Vast Crowd Sees Parade. The tone of the celebrations, as illustrated in the photos, were militaristic.

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The question of precisely what the crowd would see on Dublin's O'Connell Street had preoccupied minds for the previous month, since Nelson's Pillar, where the Spire stands today, had been half demolished by a freelance IRA bomber. The Troubles in the North would not ignite for three more years and the IRA in 1966 were thought to have expired, so much of the nation was traumatised.

The Pillar had towered over the heart of the city since 1809. It had been erected to commemorate the Admiral's victory over France in the 1798 Battle of the Nile. It was popularly known as The City Sofa because idle citizens would lounge on the steps watching the world go by.

A month after the felling of the Sea Lord, few were mourning his loss. The nation during Easter week 1966 was caught up in a Golden Jubilee frenzy. There was a problem, however. There had not been sufficient time to mend the scar at the heart of O'Connell Street. On Easter Sunday members of the Old IRA - veterans of the 1916 Rising - were to march past the GPO as the Guard of Honour. The upshot was that the newspapers and Telefis Éireann angled their cameras to make the scene look as normal as possible.

There were cases where the Golden Jubilee fervour was taken to extremes. Kilkee Town Commission patriotically passed a proposal to enact all its business through the Irish language. One member stormed out protesting: "I don't know a damn thing you are talking about." He wasn't the only one. The inaugural meeting as gaeilge lasted just 21 minutes instead of the usual two hours.

The Independent reported that Ireland's favourite men in Aran jumpers, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, would Sing of the Rising at Dublin's Adelphi Theatre. The country's bestselling records included a collection of rebel songs by Arthur Murphy (later of RTÉ's Mailbag) and a compilation entitled From 1916. The paper also told that the impressive sum of £9,000 had been splurged on commemorative postage stamps.

Fearful that the Golden Jubilee would get out of hand, Stormont parliament rushed through several new laws, and had effectively closed the border by shutting down the North-South train service from Saturday morning to Sunday night and manning all the crossings.

League of Ireland football was attracting big crowds, though not always well behaved ones. Reporting gate receipts of £480 at Waterford's Kilcohan Park, the paper told of 'Hooliganism, Injuries' following a match with Shelbourne.

Also included in the paper was a special jubilee supplement with a full-colour souvenir cover, centre-spread and back page, which have been reproduced in the centre of this week's Review.

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