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Magazine Still Holds Its Own

My dad would occasionally arrive home clutching an armload of Ireland's Own.

I think he used to borrow them from someone. My mother was always just relieved that he hadn't brought home a pup, because he used to do that a lot, and it really annoyed her. Once home, he would sit stoically by the fire, reading Ireland's Own for all to see. He would hold it aloft. It was important for us to see him reading it. The words "now we're talking" were never said aloud, but they were implicit in every breath, every self-satisfied "hmm" and every eyebrow raised lovingly to heaven.

Sitting stage left, stabbing leaves with darts -- don't ask -- his youngest son sat derisively. "Cling to the fading embers of old Ireland if you must, old man, but that world is past and mine is still to come," I might have said, but didn't. Mine was to be Stuff magazine, Empire, Q and Uncut, all of which makes my recent fascination with his old fave all the more surprising.

I have to admit it, of late, I've been walking past the glossies -- the bikini-clad girls holding iPods -- to gaze in wonderment at Ireland's Own's unchanged pages. Its paper remains of 19th century provenance, its stories as old as time.

It just tells stories you don't hear anymore, about people you didn't know existed and a time you feel may never have been. It's like time-travel in your hands. It gives you a warm feeling, a re-engagement with innocence. And, its killer app: it makes you laugh without trying to. It's Eric and Ernie on a stick.

The latest edition offers you the chance to 'spring cleanse'. You will achieve this blissful state and get your body ready for the summer through a treatment of colon control capsules. "Good health," it tells you, "begins with inner cleaning and daily elimination." It adds: "Say goodbye to bowel problems," and just in case you're worried, it assures you that all herbs are produced "in our dispensary by hand". Leafing through its pages, you will discover a woman in Australia who'd like to hear from people who've met "fairies", a competition to win a week in Medjugorje that involves you texting the word 'pilgrim' -- and that isn't a Pixies album -- to a number, and ads for what it calls 'grave maintenance'.

Amidst telling you things you already know -- flares were fashionable in the 70s -- the meat of the magazine are articles about people you've probably never heard of: Brian Gamlin, who designed the modern dartboard; Francis Crosby, America's most prolific hymn-writer; and Patrick Bronte, the man from Co Down whose daughters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, eventually did well at that writing game.

But the pick of the bunch this week was Victor August Herbert, a 19th century composer who wrote Ah Sweet Mystery of Life, a song I will always remember from Young Frankenstein, when Frau Blücher shares a bed with the monster. Relayed in his story was the simple truth that Victor was born in 1859 to Edward Herbert and the enigmatically named Fanny Lover. Trust me, you won't find that kind of stuff anywhere else. My dad was on to something.

Tune into Tom Dunne on Newstalk 106-108FM on weekdays, 9am to noon


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