Panic and Procrastination: passion or practicality?

I’ve recently been hit with a dose of reality that I have just six short weeks left to draft my MA thesis. Do I forge ahead with the optimistic idea I initially proposed? Investigating the personal histories of those who lived and worked on the Hazelwood Estate in the 18th and 19th centuries seemed a good marriage of my own personal interest in genealogy and local cultural heritage as well as the practical choice given its recent public interest in the site.

Having stood derelict since the construction of a vast industrial complex factory on its doorstep, Hazelwood House has long been ignored as an important monument of Ireland’s past. Until recently that is when the site has come back into the public consciousness for a variety of reasons and with several public interest angles. With the proposed redevelopment of the factory as a Whiskey Distillery and the refurbishment of the Georgian pile as a Visitor Centre. In the meantime, in advance of these developments. The cavernous former video tape production complex has become home to an ambitious Art Exhibition entitled Magnetism.

Magnetism

Photo credit: @sligotoday

 The History of Colonial Power in Ireland has been a difficult one to respect for many people but with emotional distance we have become more accepting of the Big House dwellers of old as a legitimate brand of Irish-ness we can embrace without the sense of patronised subjection that has often accompanied the often uncomfortable history of the landed gentry in Ireland.

My intent was to explore the interaction of the symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Anglo-Irish landowners and the more identifiable but historically under-represented tenants and servants. My aim was to flesh out the lives of the ordinary population that lived and worked on the Hazelwood Demesne Lands and use this as a microcosm of Irish society in general during the 200 year span from its construction in 1730 to its abandonment in the 1930’s.

Having been continually occupied by successive generations of the same family I felt Hazelwood House and Demesne provided a stable case study for how a single family maintained working relationships with the surrounding tenancy over a span of Irish History from the post Cromwellian land grants of the early 18th century to the devastating cholera epidemic of 1832 that helped inspire Bram Stokers Dracula, to the Great Famine of the mid-19th century, and the political upheavals of the early 20th century that lead to the eventual collapse of the Landlord system the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy.

Now, with six weeks to go and with my characteristically lax approach to planning and organisation this idea is starting to seem a gargantuan task. So do I consign it to the “maybe another time” file in favour of running with a personal project that, although not immediately as romantic or inspiring as the Hazelwood Histories idea, is of greater interest to me on a personal level.

That is compiling the genealogy of my own family and presenting it in a way that lifts it from dull presentation of historical fact to a visually engaging means of accessing various individual and intertwined storylines. There’s several transatlantic crossing, a few arranged marriages, a scattering of untimely deaths, a sprinkling of religious conversions and even a few mysterious strangers!

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A family wedding 1937: Who are some of these people?

Obviously I’m interested in these people because I inherited their DNA. But they too lived through interesting times, and they also represent the under-investigated lives of ordinary Irish people in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. So what should it be? Personal interest or Public History?

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Group Inspiration for Digital Art Project

As part of the History if Digital Arts module in my MA course in Digital Arts and Humanities, myself and my classmates were asked to submit an example of something artistic we had produced in the past. In turn we would be inspired by each others submissions to create an original piece of Digital Art.

LuClaBri

 “Clabrílu” by Colleen O’Hara

I took a landscape photograph submitted by Claudia, a section of a night-scape photograph submitted by Bríd and an image of a crochet piece created by Lucy.

The apophansis of the original structure

 “The Apophasis of the Original Structure” by Claudia Sartori

WobblyMoon

 “Wobbly Moon” by Bríd Harrington

swirl

 “Swirl” by Lucy Lyons

Using Photoshop I first altered the colour balance of Claudia’s photo, I then cropped and changed the ratio and colour of Lucy’s image and superimposed this twice in differed rations on new layers. I then cropped the light effects from Bríd’s photo and replicated it several times within the same layer.

I considered adding a line drawing submitted by another class member but felt it made the overall composition too busy and didn’t gel well with the rest of the imagery used.

I’m happy with my final product. I think it’s aesthetically pleasing and the other students whose work I used are also happy with the overall result. One has even adopted it as her Facebook profile picture, which is a lovely vote of confidence.

Part of the assignment was to come up with an appropriately pompous Gallery blurb to accompany the work of art here is mine:

Colleen’s work plays on the integrity of substance and the melancholy of forgotten fancies. The juxtaposition of open landscape and rugged methods of transportation with dreamlike swirls and dancing lights evoke daydreams of imaginary escape and reveries of chimerical adventure. 

Unexpected Discoveries

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Recently I went to visit the grave of two of my great-great grandparents. It’s a grave I had never been to before and If any living relatives had ever been, it was so long ago that visual descriptions and exact locations were vague, but in the interests of collecting information I set off.

The Cassidy family lived in the townland of Tullaghan from at least the mid 19th century. Tullaghan is located on the narrow 5km coastline of Co. Leitrim, sandwiched between Counties Sligo and Donegal. Finner graveyard is located 8km North of where my great-grandmother grew up. Somewhat unusually it is not only several villages away, but across the border in Co. Donegal.

Finner map

The graveyard was easy to spot, standing on a small hill adjacent to the main road and surrounded on all sides by rolling fields. The ruins of what appears to be a medieval stone church was the only sign of the parish that was once located here. With the haphazard layout typical of older cemeteries, the ground level undulated sharply around the unevenly laid out graves.

Finding the grave I was looking for, I was delighted to discover that not only was there the white marble stone and statue I had expected but a much older recumbent grave slab, complete with well weathered lettering. This represents an even older grave and a potential source of information on members of previous generations I hadn’t been aware of.

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The words were difficult to decipher until the sun came out and threw some of the engraving into relief. After taking a wax rubbing and some interpretive finger-tip reading (I could have used someone who reads braile) I was able to piece together a fairly complete transcription of the stone’s words.

IHS

Here lyeth the body of

Michael Cassidy Who

departed this life the (28?)

day of August 1764

            Aged 47 yrs

Also the body of John

Cassidy his son Who

departed this life the (31st)

July (1790?) aged 41 years

            And also the

body of James Cassidy

Who departed this life the 8th

day of March 1765

            Aged (48?)

As with everything in Genealogy research, one tiny bit of information can lead to multiple avenues for further investigation. The graveyard is currently listed as a Roman Catholic cemetery under the protection of a local church in Bundoran town, however I am told its denomination may have changed multiple times over the years. Why did this family use a grave plot that was an hours walk from where they lived?

It seems surprising that a Catholic family of small farmers (as they were at the beginning of the 20th century) would have been able to afford a grave slab in the 18th century. Its possible that in the 18th century the family lived much closer and the ruined church was where they attended mass on a weekly basis. Perhaps over the generations the family moved further away but held onto the traditional burial plot.

Were they in fact a relatively comfortable family who, as the centuries rolled on, experienced reduced status and circumstances? The other issue is that the gap in dates mean a missing link in the genealogy connecting my great-great-grandparents with the 18th century Cassidy’s whose grave they share.

Or were the later Cassidy’s themselves not certain if they were related to the men in the 18th century grave, and merely claimed it as a family plot based just on the shared surname. It will have to remain an intriguing mystery until more information can be found.

Crowdsourced Spatial Participation Project for DH6010

I have some experience with the principles of mapping and using mapping tools having previously worked in Archaeology so I chose to undertake the Townland Boundary mapping project for this assignment. I began by opening an Open Street Map account and explored the different levels of participation it allowed. Based on the relative simplicity of what was possible I felt confidant I was up to a more advanced level of participation.

I followed the instructions and emailed the townland mapping mailing list to request a specific map sheet from an out of copyright 1900 map. I had initially hoped to map the locality in which I grew up but found the whole County had already been completed. So I chose my map sheet somewhat arbitrarily, although I purposely chose a coastal area as I find it easier to keep track of geographical bearings if there’s a definite boundary to refer to.

Slice reserved on Mapcraft

My map sliced reserved on Mapcraft

Map rectified

Rectifying the out of copyright map slice in Mapwarper

I ran into some confusion in JOSM when I had trouble being able to make my rectified map visible after sending it to JOSM from Mapwarper after rectifying it. I was able to tweet the person who had made the instructional videos who was very helpful and admitted there were a few steps he had overlooked while making the videos. This sorted out the issue and I was able to carry on with the project.

Weird graphics

JOSM before figuring out how to make the Out of Copyright map visible

townlands

Rectified map visible in JOSM

The actual drawing in of the features was a pretty simple process. I added in a few minor roads that were missing, realigned stretches of the coastline to more accurately follow the geography and added in several ringforts tat hadn’t already been mapped. I hope that my contributions were a useful addition to the overall project.

JOSM mapped

Completed project

Im glad I took part as it was a fun exercise to play around with although it was fiddly to initially get the hang of it and figure out how all of the various programmes, i.e. Mapwarper, Mapcraft and JOSM interacted with each other. Being able to directly ask someone who was very familiar with and invested in the project was indispensable. If I had just been going from the instructions and tutorial videos it would have taken far longer to learn the individual steps by trial and error.

I think this type of crowd-sourced spatial mapping project could be of use to my project so I intend to familiarise myself with it further and explore what else is capable with it. I could see myself using it or something similar to map out features of a working Demesne House and its Demesne lands, using a combination of modern aerial maps and historical maps. For a project of the size I have in  mind it wouldn’t necessarily require the number of contributors crowd-sourcing allows but I can definitely see how for a more expansive project its an ideal resource.

Review of TimeGlider for DH6010

I accessed TimeGlider through the DiRT directory and it functioned very well as a tool for Genealogy timeline construction. I tried several other timeline and graph making tools such as google graphs, Gephi, Graphviz and Flare but found TimeGlider to be the most suited to my needs and to have the most user-friendly interface.

I wanted to compare the lifespans of a contemporary generation in a visual format and this was perfect for that purpose as it allows several timelines to be plotted alongside each other. It also seems to have far greater scope than what I have used it for so far. I could see in the future as my project expands, incorporating further information and producing more elaborate and interwoven timelines.

Some criticisms were that I wasn’t able to insert events to individual timelines but this may have been due to my own unfamiliarity with the software. This is something I hope to expand on in future.

http://timeglider.com/t/21246c60fb68a34b“>My TimeGlider project

Structure:
Gathering information
Is there a website about this tool? Yes, Using TimeGlider involved signing up to a free (for students) online account at http://www.timeglider.com and simply adding information the a blank template. The result is accessible for free via the website.
Did you collect and summarize information on this website? Yes I imputed my own data to create several basic timelines on one page
Is there research-articles about the tool? Did you read them? Yes, The application had received favorable user reviews on several websites including http://www.itbabble.com, where users applied it to creating study plans. At the hub.com, PR professionals reported using it successfully to plan events and on a WordPress account called Future Teachers, student teachers had used it to map out timetables.
Does the information gathered (websites + articles) show that the tool fits your research’s goals? All of the reviews I read emphasised the clear layout and ease of use and based on the types of charts the reviewers were compiling and its relevance to a wide range of projects I felt it would suit my needs.
Maturity/stability of the tool
Did you find a roadmap for the tool? I couldn’t locate a definite progress timeline for this tool but from what I read on several different posts was that it first appeared in 2011. This was also the year it was added to the DiRT directory.
If yes, is it far from its first version (the version that will have all the functionalities the tool is scheduled to have)?
I was able to see some screenshots of what the tool looked like in its early stages,the user interface as been updated since then and from reading reviews some of the functions have been streamlined and tweaked for more accessibility but in general it seems to function in a similar fashion as it did in 2011.
Is it stable? (which means: trying the tool and/or going to forums / discussions lists to see what its users are telling about the tool) From what I can tell the site is stable and well maintained, with no glaring critiscisms coming up in the user reviews I located. I found it to be very clearly laid out and simple to use. I particularly liked the option to emphasise certain timelines over others, allowing particular individuals or events to stand out over others. For my own fairly rudimentary test project it was straightforward to create individual timelines using my own data and edit the details of each one according to my own visual preferences. I am unsure if there would be issues with creating a more complicated chart, but the initial experience was an encouraging one.
Sustainability of the tool
How long has this tool been available for? From what I gather the tool has been in existence since at least 2011.
Is there a strong community supporting it? The tool appears to be popular among its users.
Is it open-source? Yes the tool is free to access online, no download necessary
Can you export your data and your results? Yes, the end product can be shared via a link to the webpage.
What kind of export? shared link
Sustainability of your research
Do you understand how the tool works (including its algorithm)? Yes, it creates a basic visual based on the dates and information I supplied. However,I’m afraid I cant say I understand the algorithm as I’m unclear on what an algorithm actually is!
Will the tool allow your research’s results to be verifiable and reproducible? I believe the finished timeline product is verifiable in that int information I supplied is represented clearly in the visuals, and reproducible in that it can be shared or the raw data taken and used elsewhere.

In pursuit of Ghosts: A more active approach to Genealogy

There is only so much that official documents can tell you about family members you have neither met nor shared contemporary experiences with. If someone asked me to describe someone I know and interact with regularly I would not say “look at their birth certificate, it has all you need to know”. So in an attempt to find out more about my predecessors I decided to explore some of the places they lived.

Gardener’s Cottage, Doonally House

One of my great-grandfathers was the Gardener at Doonally House, Sligo in the early 20th century. Doonally House was built c.1830 by the Parke family. The Parke’s were granted lands in the 17th century, having previously belonged to the O’Conners.

According to O’Rourke, the Parkes received land under the Cromwellian settlement and established themselves in Sligo from that time. Captain Roger Parke built Parke’s Castle, on the shores of Lough Gill. The family held land in  the baronies of Tireragh, Tirerrill and Carbury as well as in County Leitrim. In the 1870’s the Parke’s were the proprietors of over 700 acres each in county Sligo. They had a UK residence in the 19th century at Chiselhampton, Wallingford.

In 1906 Roger K. Parke is recorded as the occupier of property at Doonally townland, barony of Carbury, including a mansion house. http://www.landedestates.ie

The house and lands were sold to the Department of Agriculture and functioned as the North West Cattle Breeders Association Headquarters until fairly recently.

Doonally House

According to census records from 1911, my great-grandfather lived there probably in a Gardeners cottage, so with the intention of locating his house I visited Doonally House over the Christmas break. Seeing as the site was used for cattle breeding it wasn’t surprising to see the cut stone farmyard buildings had been altered to house breeding cattle. I even found what can only be described as the equivalent of a blow up doll for bulls. A vaguely cow shaped frame covered in mouldy cow hides, designed to dupe the bull into thinking he was romancing an alluring bovine female!

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Doonally House itself was a strange hybrid of former colonial glory and small scale Governmental administration. The interior was all drooping lace curtains strung across ivy covered sash windows juxtaposed with signs promoting artificial insemination.

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I didn’t find anything in the end that could definitively be described as a Gardeners Cottage, but it was interesting to roam around the grounds where some relative I never had the chance to meet once spent their days.

Moll’s House, Masshill

My next port of call was from my mother’s side of the family. My great-aunt Moll’s house in Masshill, Sligo. Moll’s husband’s family had purchased the house from the owners of Markree Castle, the Coopers. It had formerly been used as a hunting lodge for well-to-do guests of the Coopers. This explained the large stone (now roofless) outbuildings, which would have functioned as stables for the traveller’s horses. Unfortunately without a dedicated caretaker, the house has fallen into a sad state despite having been occupied until relatively recently.

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The remote situation of the house however, lends itself well to the accidental discovery of time capsules. Less than a kilometer from this house stands a one room school house dating from 1910. These structures are currently being cataloged on a beautiful blog here. 

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Thesis proposal presentation: Social History, Genealogy and Reinterpreting the Past

Since a combination of nerves and fast moving slides conspired against me making a truly eloquent presentation, I’m posting my notes and slideshow here for posterity!

Accompanying Slideshow

(Slide 1) I’d like to speak about a few general ideas I have for a thesis topic. I have two areas of interest in mind that could either be combined or maybe approached as stand alone projects. Both are still quite fluid so I’m open to constructive criticism!

(Slide 2) I’m interested in social history particularly of the 19th and early 20th centuries in Ireland. I’m also interested in the use of genealogy in connection with this. There was a lot of social and political upheaval in the country during this time and it’s also a period of Irish history for which there is fairly rich documentary resources to draw from.

(Slide 3) In terms of genealogy there is plenty of scope for public interaction through digital mediums. It’s a form of historical research that thrives on contributions from individuals and crowd sourcing. Many public records have been or are in the process of being digitised. Many are free to access online. It’s an area of research that’s very accessible and has potential for further development and exploration. I’m interested in exploring how personal genealogical research could be used in a multidisciplinary way.

(Slide 4) Handwritten original documents are raw data that has greater potential when made available to a wider audience and are rendered more searchable. They have the added advantage in my opinion of having the visual element of handwriting. incidental notations can also provide information.

(Slide 5) Being able to connect a time period to the experiences of an individual person makes learning about history more poignant and tangible. I’m considering the possibility of using elements from my own genealogical research as a potential case study to illustrate issues affecting an ordinary woman and her family in the early 20th century.

(Slide 6) This is Bridget Brogan’s wedding photo. She was born on a farm in Cavan in the 1870’s, she moved to Dublin as a young woman where she worked as a domestic servant before marrying a fellow servant and becoming a housewife.

(Slide 7) Within six years of this fairly impressive looking wedding, she had died of TB in the county home, along with her infant son.  When it comes to history and the lives of individuals the tendency is to see them as static entities, rich or poor, dynamic or passive. I’d like to animate history and present it as something vibrant and ongoing with resonance for the living today.

(Slide 8) This brings me to the second strand of my idea. I’m intrigued by how history is presented, interpreted and re-integrated into the ongoing timeline. This is Hazelwood House in Sligo, it’s an 18th century Palladian mansion built by the Wynne family in the 1730’s and occupied  by them until its abandonment in 1923.

(Slide 9) The house was sold to the government 1937 and occupied by the Irish Army during the Second World War after which it functioned as a psychiatric hospital.  In 1969 it was sold to a manufacturer of nylon thread who constructed the factory building to the rear of the demesne house. In 1987 the property was sold to South Korean manufacturers of video-tape, Saehan. It was at this point that Hazelwood House fell out of use. Saehan Media vacated the premises in 2005 and has been derelict since then.

(Slide 10) Hazelwood House along with the derelict factory site are currently on the market but it’s in a precarious grey area in terms of development potential. Industrial buyers are put off by the listed building to be restored and maintained, whereas investors interested in the historic building don’t look favourably on the massive commercial property on the front doorstep of an otherwise idyllic location.

(Slide 11) The site stands on a wooded peninsula within 3km of Sligo town. Hazelwood Demesne lands have several established walking paths and Lough Gill is a popular location for water sports and fishing.

(Slide 12) Several groups have been advocating to save Hazelwood House for posterity. The site was recently the subject of a third level tourism project by students of Sligo IT. The development potential of the site to the heritage and tourism sector might be an interesting tangent to explore.

(Slide 13) I like the idea that two completely incongruous definitions of the word obsolete occupy the same geographical space and are sharing their descent back to nature. It’s a wonderfully weird experience to see these two crumbling structures juxtaposed both very different monuments to affluence. It reminds me of the work of Tarquin Blake with his Abandoned Ireland photography which portray a romantic view of a culture that is no more.

(Slide 14) It also reminds me of the photography of Sarah Stevens. Her Derelict Nation project started as a blog and she has since progressed onto exhibitions. In contrast to Tarquin Blake her photographs present a less glamorous but more intimate look at architectural decomposition and how it fits into the surrounding society.

(Slide 15) Considering the multifaceted interests and problems with Hazelwood I think it would make an interesting topic for a thesis. In terms of heritage tourism it would be interesting to develop an interactive exhibition for visitors including maps, information and games. Genealogy could be incorporated as a way to illustrate the lives of individuals working and living on the Demesne, a way of showing that landed estates were about more than just the family who owned the house. It also has potential to be used as the basis for an artistic project.

(Slide 16) I’m not quite sure yet how I would interpret these ideas using the digital humanities. Neatline sound like a nice piece of software that would be usefully employed within a history and place based project with map and timeline generation. I’m looking forward to exploring new ways to bring research and the arts to a wider public. Thank you for listening!

The pitfalls of the Genealogy Jigsaw

Ever since discovering the 1901/1911 census online about five years ago I’ve been trying to dig deeper into my family history. I’ve come to discover that it is a lot like trying to piece together a broken pot (something I’ve also studied!) Some of the pieces might be missing and sometimes it feels like it’s all finally coming together until one particularly mis-shapen sherd refuses to fit and forces you to step back and admit you’ll have to take it all apart again. Luckily I enjoy this kind of puzzle. With genealogy, you rarely get the complete picture, there will be gaps and holes but hopefully you’ll end up with a recognisable pot in the end!

Recently my aunt sent me an amazing photograph of my great-grandparents wedding in 1905. The groom’s name is Henry Harrington. My aunt was told by my grandmother that he was born in Co. Wicklow and that he was a Gardener by profession, having trained as a horticulturist or so the family stories go. One would assume his parents must have had some money to educate him, yet there appears to be no record of him in Ireland prior to this wedding photo.

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I went to the General Registers Office in Dublin to look for his birth certificate and thought I was making headway when I found this.

H Harrington birth cert

Using his parents names I searched for siblings and found three brothers, James, Joseph and William. From here I went back to the 1901 census and found this.

Clearly this was Henry’s father John, still living with William and James. He must have packed in his position as a General Merchant in Wicklow, and become a Gentleman farmer in rural Dublin, sharing their house with several servants. There must have been a period spent living in Kildare where two daughter’s were born, Agnes and Elizabeth (presumably with a younger wife, now dead we presume). The household return attached to this record indicates John Harrington acted as a landlord to several tenants, a fairly comfortable situation it would seem.

From there I tried to locate Elizabeth in the 1911 census and found her here living with her brother Joseph and a widow named Annie Harrington (presumably the wife of a deceased brother). So I chased her up, where was Annie in 1901, which brother was she married to?

She was here, living with her husband Henry J  Harrington. I found this Henry had left money to his widow, Annie in 1906 when he died. So this couldn’t be the man in the photograph that went on to father my grandmother in 1908.

This was the ill-fitting sherd that proved I’d been reconstructing the wrong pot. The Henry I was searching for is still a bit of a mystery, but I have learned a lot about the life and family of another unrelated Henry, and although he wasn’t who I was looking for, I feel like I know him in some way after tracing this man’s life as it unfolded over 100 years ago.

Ireland’s first KR-2

My dad’s a flying instructor and a mechanic. In the early – mid eighties he built a small two seater plane. I remember playing in and around it as it took shape in the airport hangar. There was a section of the interior that went between the two seats, a gearbox I guess you’d call it. This part was built from plywood and to my toddler brain it looked like a horsey. Weird the things that stick out as important! I became dad’s first passenger in that plane.When he was filmed for a tv show segment I am in the footage although I’m too small to be seen in the cockpit.

This is an article that he wrote for the Experimental Aircraft association magazine in 1987. I’ve edited out some of the more technical descriptions.

Irish KR-2

By Gerry O’Hara (EAA 134211)

I’m pleased to report to my fellow EAA members that Ireland’s first KR-2 has flown at last, and very nicely at that. It took to the air after 4,000 + hours of construction time, spread over four years from the first of October 1981 to the 19th of February 1986 with me as the pilot. The dream of a lifetime has been realized, a wonderful feeling.

I am typical of probably most EAA members in having been deeply impressed by aviation since childhood. I grew up building and flying model airplanes, and managed to build and fly a gyroglider in 1971. Based on the Bensen but built from regular materials, it was great fun to fly tethered on windy days and towed behind a car over local beaches. Eventually, I damaged the rotor blades in a bad landing and decided then it would be safer to learn how to fly before building a new set of blades.

My problem was that there were no flying clubs in the area, but, finally, I heard of one being recently established in the next county, some 50 miles away. I joined in late 1973 and soloed the club’s only airplane, a Cherokee 140, in May of 1974. I met some people from my own home county there and by 1975 we had formed our own club, bought a used 150 hp French built Rallye and rented a field from which to fly it. By 1976, I had my Private license.

It was about this time that I came across the Rand-Robinson ad in Sport Aviation. I was very impressed with the specs on the KR-2 and decicjed that if I was ever going to build a plane, this must surely be the one. I had seen and heard of VW powered single seaters, but a 2-placer with such a compact airframe seemed too good to be true. I sent off for a set of plans almost immediately.

The idea of sculpting foam appealed to me greatly as I have a flair for eyeballing things and I liked working with wood. I earn my bread at tool and die making, and the metal parts should be fun, I thought. What turned out to be not so funny were the shipping charges on a Rand-Robinson basic materials kit from California to Ireland. The shipping would cost more than the kit! I was disappointed as I could not afford the total costs at the time.

A few more years went by in which I built myself a house and got myself an instructor’s rating. By this time our club was flying a Cessna 150 and a 172. One evening at the club, which had moved to a new location, a fellow member brought up the question of homebuilt airplanes. He was quite interested in them, so I passed him on three sets of plans I had purchased over the years, it was now early 1980. A few days later we met again and he seemed quite impressed by the KR and suggested a partnership to build one. A deal was made on the spot, and my new partner, Gerry Callen, managed to work out a very favourable shipping deal. Having been involved in a very successful tool making company he formed some years earlier, he had the invaluable import/export expertise to arrange our shipping. The kit arrived in early 1981.

Work commenced on the first of October 1981, after we had gone over to England to see a newly completed KR-2, the first to fly there. We were very impressed with the little plane, and after having a lengthy chat with the builder/pilot, we had some food for thought on ways to improve it. I now know why modifications are discouraged in the plans … but it is very rewarding having successfully incorporated ours.

My partner missed out on much of the personal turmoil, committed as he was to his ever expanding business, but, nevertheless, he took care of importing the endless bits and pieces, long winded phone calls, etc., and even lugged the propeller back from the USA in 1983 while returning from a business trip there. So, as a team we got our plane flying.

I spent almost two months taxiing around the apron and with an occasional run down our 4000 ft. hard surface runway with the tail up and on the 8th of February 1986, I got a brief lift-off to a few feet and back on again. It went lovely, I was convinced. So the call went out to the inspector to get the final inspection carried out so I could go for it.

The word was out on February 19, 1986, EI-BOV had been given its permit. Like all big occasions, Sligo’s lazy airport erupted with the curious and their cameras, bless their hearts, but mess this up and it gets captured through a hundred lenses!

It was a distracted pre-flight but I knew the plane’s structure like the back of my hand, I consoled myself. I slid in, latched the canopy and saw the gallery melt into a tinted background. Taxiing out was pleasantly familiar. I had become accustomed to the bathtub posture, poor forward visibility and the trundling tailwheel. As I weaved to the holding point, however, I was beset by sticky palms and dry lips, like my first solo all over again. Please, God, no noseovers, no swings, no splinters … and all those bloody cameras!

“Oscar Victor, cleared to one-one-zero — call ready,” I mimicked to an empty rack. Didn’t need radio anyway, had the airport to myself. This was the gig of the year. I suddenly felt regressive, my kingdom for a nosewheel! I consoled myself. I didn’t want to miss this test flight. My thoughts then return to reality. Can I get it down safely? Getting this bird below 100 takes an effort. I flew twice more that day, 40 minutes total time.

That’s a brief look at Ireland’s first KR-2. My next ambition is to get to Oshkosh someday but it’s unlikely to be by KR-2! The little motif I painted on the front decking is of a chick ascending from an eggshell, wings spread, circled by a rainbow and with the word “Kittyhawk” completing the circle below. Before the first flight, a workmate asked “When is ‘Operation Kittyhawk’ taking place?” that was the incentive. Along with the fact that my little girl, Colleen, coincidentally shares her birthday with the anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. She was, of course, my first passenger.

I have flown the KR-2 about 25 hours at this writing, and to sum up, I’d like to say that if anyone manages to complete their project and get it flying successfully, they not only have an aircraft to be proud of, but also a wonderful technical education … and much more. I personally owe much to Sport Aviation magazine and EAA.

Here’s a little history of aviation in Sligo

A nostalgia piece I wrote for a local newspaper

The Christmas Package from America – Published in the Sligo Weekender, 27th December 2012

Although Christmas is a time of year where tradition is important, with the passage of time, the festive season has subtly changed. Some things like the decorated tree and Christmas pudding remain constant but how has Christmas changed in the eyes of the elderly people of Sligo from when they were young?

May Feeney was the eldest of five children and grew up on a farm in Cloontyprocklish near Grange, Co. Sligo. When May was still in Primary school in the 40’s her mother raised brown turkeys at home. Every year they would bring ten or sometimes as maybe twenty turkeys to the Christmas mart which was held in the field behind Lang’s in Grange village. Other people would have stalls selling Christmas wreaths along with the usual items on sale.

GRANGEStreet

Grange Village c.1945 with Lang’s pub and shop in the foreground

May and her four younger siblings would eagerly anticipate letters and maybe a package from their relatives in New York. On Christmas Eve the children would leave their shoes and socks around the open fire in the hopes Santa would leave something inside. The whole family went to confession on Christmas Eve. The children next door, whose father worked in Derry, would get sophisticated British made gifts. May and her siblings would beg their parents to let them go over to play with the shop bought toys the neighbours had.

At Mass on Christmas Day May would sing in the gallery with the church choir. There was no going out at night over the Christmas period besides maybe to a ceili. The 6th of January was almost as big a celebration as Christmas day. People dressed up in funny clothes and that tradition was still going on up to 30 years ago in Grange says May. Although the custom has died out in Sligo it continues to this day in other locations across the country.

Wren boys

Wren Boys

May went to secondary school in the old Technical College on Quay Street, which is now the VEC building. She left at the age of 15 and worked as a waitress in the Yeats Hotel in Rosses Point. During the 1950’s it was a very high class establishment and a popular place with the Gore-Booths, still a very well to do family. May worked at just one wedding and it sticks out in her memory because it was the first time she’d ever seen a grapefruit!

In the mid-fifties work was very scarce for young people. Many of May’s classmates went to London to work in the car factories. Being so young, May’s parents encouraged her to go to New York where she had an Aunt who was married to a Police officer from Ballinasloe. The journey to New York was a long one; she first travelled to London where she met a friend of her Police Officer Uncle, a man who worked with the FBI. With him she travelled to Southampton where she was given a small shared room on the SS United States. The FBI Officer had a room in first class, with the help of a waiter she managed to sneak into his room. May said she couldn’t describe how nice the room was, “I never saw anything like it.”

May lived in the basement of her Aunt and Uncle’s apartment in Queens. The shops in New York started putting up Christmas decorations in October but nothing like to the extent of today. She remembers getting the train over the bridge to Manhattan and seeing the streets and buildings all lit up. Working in New York, May was now the one sending packages home at Christmas. Bloomingdales was the place for anyone who had a few dollars to spend. She would send clothes, cakes and jellies, all the things you couldn’t get at home, along with a few dollars in cash to her family every year.

shopping new york

Christmas shoppers in 1950’s New York

Her New York cousins often brought May into town to go dancing. Rock and Roll was just getting started and everyone from Doctors to shopkeeper’s sons were getting into it. She also saw many Irish acts in the dance halls during that time such as Paddy Noonan and Dean Morrissey.

rock and roll

Rock and Roll was popular with all the young people

Christmas was not as religious in America as it was at home. The Irish community celebrated it amongst themselves. Many of the people May worked with in New York were Russian Jews, immigrants to America after the Second World War. They had their own holidays. She remembers them being very fond of the Irish and despite having different beliefs and customs; the two communities were quite close. They always remembered to send a mass card if someone died and the wealthier Jewish ladies always preferred to have Irish girls working for them.

May returned to Ireland in 1961 to care for her mother. She travelled home on a Greek Ocean Liner on its very last voyage and landed during Hurricane Debbie. The passengers had to wait on board for two days once the boat had docked while the storm raged. May never saw a storm as bad either in America or Ireland. When she was finally able to get back to her parents house in Cloontyprocklish she watched the roof’s being lifted from the houses of her neighbours, “it was terrible.”

May never married and has no children of her own but she has many nieces, nephews and grand nieces and nephews, some of them living as far away as Australia. Living abroad at Christmas has changed a lot since May lived in Queens. We no longer rely on the Christmas package from distant lands to keep in touch with loved ones abroad during the festive season.