Was Charles Hughesdon the last surviving eyewitness of Michael Collins’ funeral?

A few years ago I came across this obituary in the Daily Telegraph. It seems a little parochial to wonder if, in the midst of a busy and incident-packed life, one of Charles Hughesdon’s achievements was to be the last surviving eyewitness of Michael Collins’ funeral:


During the First World War the family moved to a flat above the Johnny Walker offices, and Hughesdon was educated at the nearby Raine’s Foundation Grammar School. A notion (soon abandoned) that he might be suited to the priesthood allowed for a short spell in 1922 at a seminary near Dublin, where he attended the funeral of Michael Collins.

Surely he was the only attendee at Collins’ funeral to have an affair with Shirley Bassey (amongst others):

[His] marriage, however, was informed by a flexible attitude to fidelity: extramarital liaisons were considered “medicinal”. Hughesdon had flings with both the first and second wife of his friend Tyrone Power. In 1955 he was introduced to Shirley Bassey, then in her late teens, who was at the time lighting up the West End. The pair conducted an affair for several years, meeting up in Britain, America and Australia. The singer even joined Hughesdon and his family for a Boxing Day party at which she and Florence Desmond duetted. “It was riotous,” recalled Hughesdon. “Finally after much laughter and Shirley dancing barefoot on the billiards table a few of us finished in the sauna bath.”

As with William Seabrook and Talbot Mundy, the opening line of Hughesdon’s obit says it all:

Charles Hughesdon, who has died aged 104, was a daredevil aviator, champion ballroom dancer, insurance broker and airline executive who married the film star Florence Desmond and boasted of affairs with Shirley Bassey and Margot Fonteyn.

Hughesdon was 13 or so at Collins’ funeral, and presumably there were younger children present at what was a vast occasion. But how many retained some memory of the event in later life? When he died in 2014 even a day old infant at Collins’ funeral would be 92. At the very least, Charles Hughesdon was among the last.


Beshoff’s Chip Shop Founder was Last Survivor of Potemkin Mutiny

From his 1987 New York Times obituary:

Ivan Beshoff, the last survivor of the 1905 mutiny on the Russian battleship Potemkin, a harbinger of the Russian Revolution, died Sunday, his family said today. His birth certificate said he was 102 years old, but he contended he was 104.

Born near the Black Sea port of Odessa, Mr. Beshoff abandoned chemistry studies and joined the navy, serving in the engine room of the Potemkin.

The mutiny over poor food was the first mass expression of discontent in Czar Nicholas II’s military and later came to be seen as a prelude to the 1917 Russian Revolution.

The mutineers killed the captain and several officers. The entire Black Sea fleet was ordered to suppress the rebellion, but crews refused to fire on the battleship, and it sailed for 11 days before surrendering.

Mr. Beshoff had said he fled through Turkey to London, where he met Lenin. He settled in Ireland in 1913, saying he had tired of the sea.

Mr. Beshoff worked for a Soviet oil distribution company and was twice arrested as a Soviet spy, but became a beloved figure in the Irish community.

After World War II, he opened a fish and chips shop in Dublin. His sons opened branches elsewhere in the city.

Weirdly (to my mind) Beshoff’s don’t mention this on their website… although we do have this historical tidbit:

Grandfather Ivan Beshoff came to Ireland from Russia in 1913 and lived to 104 years. His father lived to 108 and his grandfather to 115 – enough said about the goodness of fish.

Choctaw artist/writer Waylon Gary White Deer to lead Tipperary Famine Walk 28th July 2018

Choctaw artist Waylon Gary White Deer  to lead Tipperary Famine Walk in Ballingarry on 28th July. From the Ballingarry Facebook Page:


You are invited to this year’s Famine 1848 Walk which takes place in Ballingarry from the Young Ireland and National Flag Monument in the village of The Commons to Famine Warhouse 1848, the OPW national heritage Museum on Saturday, 28 July at 3pm.

The Walk will be led by Waylon Gary White Deer from the Choctaw Nation in the United States. The Walk will recall the extraordinary act of kindness of the Choctaws to the starving Irish during the Great Famine

Organised by the Ballingarry 1848 Society.

Waylon Gary White Deer’s website describes him as a “Choctaw Indian Painter and Author based in Co. Donegal, Ireland”. This profile pictures him in front of Muckish and describes him as living in the “Donegal Gaeltacht”

The Commons claims to be first place the tricolour was flown as an Irish national flag.

Stained Glass from St Mary’s Church, Aughnacloy, Parish of Aghaloo and Carntell, Co. Tyrone

Stained Glass from St Mary’s Church, Aughnacloy, Parish of Aghaloo and Carntell, Co. Tyrone

This parish has three Churches – St Mary’s Church Aughnacloy, St Joseph’s Church Caledon & St Brigid’s Church Killens. St Mary’s Church is located just beyond the main road of Aughnacloy in the direction of Omagh.

The stained glass here is pleasingly direct and could be called old-fashioned. On the day I visited it was extremely sunny which led to some wonderful effects, which I have not captured adequately here. As well as a crucifixion above the altar, most of the windows had a thread of themes from the Rosary or associated with Mary.

I liked this triptych of windows on the Visitation, St Joseph, and St Anne:

Here are my efforts at taking pictures of the windows above the altar:

Here is the other side of the altar, windows on the Annunciation, the Nativity, and presenting Our Lady (?possible crowned in Heaven):

I did make an effort to capture the light thrown by some of the windows on the floor. Here goes!



Stained Glass from St Patrick’s Church, Crossmaglen (Creggan Upper Parish), Co. Armagh

Stained Glass from St Patrick’s Church, Crossmaglen (Creggan Upper Parish), Co. Armagh

This is the parish church of Upper Creggan parish in Crossmaglen, Co Armagh.

St Patrick’s Church has a photo gallery on Flickr and an informative website. In 2015 this fine church received a grant from the UK Government Listed Places of Worship repair fund for urgent roof repairs.

On the entrance doors there is an image of the shrine of the bell of St Patrick, which I note is also featured on the front page of the parish website:

On the door beside this, is a stern-looking St Patrick:


My skills in photographing stained glass with my phone camera are pretty limited, but photographing the often-magnificent pieces above the altar is a particular challenge (see Killenaule photos for proof). St Patrick’s has an outstanding example, and I tried to take photos of the individual panels, but they were too blurry for inclusion.

I liked these images of St Patrick and Our Lady (at first I thought crushing the serpent but I think on looking at the photo the green band below Her feet is part of her garment) on each transept:

“Conas tá an misneach?” / “How is the courage?”

I have been reading the beautifully produced book Aneas – Saíocht ó thraidisiún Gaelach na Mumhan. This book features various proverbs, sayings and idioms of Munster Irish, with a text accompanying each in both Irish and English (interestingly, while the texts are similar in theme and sentiment, they are not direct translations of each other) The book features haunting photos by Lanke Haouche Perren (the cover is reproduced below and the photo below is from Haouche Perren’s LinkedIn page)

Aneas 21.1.14-600x600

“Conas tá an misneach?”

Ar an misneach a mhairimid. Coimeádann sé an dé ionainn, nuair a chaithimid coimeád sa tsúil, agus an saol dorcha timpeall orainn, go drí go ngealann an ghrian aris dúinn. Rud a dhéanann, le foighne. Aithníonn an beannú coitianta seo i gCora Dhuibhne tábacht an mhisnigh, tuigeann sé a leochaileacht, tacaíonn sé lena fhorbairt. Léargas deas é ar fhealsúnacht an chultúir.


Éilíonn gach aon tsaol agus gach aon tréimhse sa tsaol, a mhisneach uathach féin. Agus ins na laethanta diana trína bhfuil an oiread sín daoine ag streachailt faoi láthair, ni mór misneach a chothú. Níl aon rud buan. Casfaidh an roth.  Mar a deir ráiteas gaoiseach eile:

“Is mairg a báitear le linn an anaithe / Mar tagann an ghrian in ndiadh na fearthainne”


My own translation of this (apologies for any errors, and the English text from the book is certainly more elegant as a piece of prose):

We live on courage. It keeps us going, when we come across difficulties in our way, and life is dark around us, until the sun shines again on us. It does things to us. This saying from Corca Dhuibhne reminds us of the importance of courage, it understands it is fragile, it needs to be given support. It is a good insight into the philosophy of the culture.

In every life and in every period of life, courage is needed. And these days of trial, when so many people are struggling, courage must be maintained. Nothing is permanent. The wheel turns. As another saying has it:

“Sad the  he who drowns in the storm / for the sun comes after the rain”

The English text in the book:

This is a common greeting in Corca Dhuibhne. It reveals a great deal about the culture of the region. Courage is fundamental to a good life, sustaining us through the bad times, allowing us to reach the good. The question in itself implies communal support for the individual in daily life. It indicates a comprehension of the volatility of courage: it ned not always be strong, it may waver, it needs support and development.

In  modern society where chaos threatens, and social systems under strain, the need for courage is manifest. It is well to remember that cycles change. The sun shines again. no matter how strong the storm. We endure, things will improve. Keep up your courage, and accept the help of those who help you to sustain it.


“Voyagers in the Vault of Heaven: The Phenomenon of Ships in the Sky in Medieval Ireland and Beyond” – a paper by Michael McCaughran links the Kilnaruane Pillar, Françoise Henry and Seamus Heaney

Via Medievalists.Net, I came across this paper from 1998
this paper (on page 175 of the PDF):

Abstract :

This paper explores the phenomenon of ships voyaging in the sky. Such fantastical sightings are considered primarily in an early medieval Irish context, but evidence from places as widely separated in time and place as thirteenth-century England and eighteenth-century Canada is also addressed. The earliest material representation of an Irish currach (skin boat) being rowed heavenwards is on an eighth-century carved stone pillar.

By connecting this iconographic evidence to the appearance of ships in the sky above a Celtic monastery, a framework is established from which to investigate the “airship” mirabilia. Understanding the cultural gulf that exists between medieval and modern thinking is central to the concept of “ships in the air.” The paper addresses the significance of the ship as an enduring cultural metaphor and religious symbol and affirms these meanings.


The paper begins:

The glories of early Christian Irish art are manifest
in preserved illuminated manuscripts,
intricate metalwork and the monumental carved
stone crosses, pillars and slabs that still survive
today in the countryside, churchyards and
monastic ruins of Ireland. While the richly
carved high crosses of the ninth and tenth
centuries, with their emphasis on figuration, are
the fullest expression of representational art,
earlier carved and incised stoneworks are no
less significant in terms of their iconography,
decoration and symbolism.’

The eighth-century Kilnaruane pillar stone
(Fig . 1), overlooking Bantry Bay in County Cork,
is of particular interest to maritime archeologists,
historians and ethnologists, because its
Christian-theme carvings include a unique preViking
depiction of the Irish skin-covered boat
known as a “currach.” Prior to the arrival of the
Vikings in the ninth and ninth centuries with
their advanced wooden boatbuilding technology,
the skin-covered currach was the common
seagoing craft of Ireland. It was of key importance
to the sea-connected Celtic Church and
figured prominently in the “immrama” or mystical
voyage tales of early Christian Ireland,
together with the story of St Brendan’s voyage
to the Promised Land, which achieved great
popularity in medieval Europe . Today the
currach, in its canvas-covered derivative form,
is still in use on the Atlantic seaboard of western
Ireland, where material remnants of the
European past often have found their last resting place.

The Kilnaruane pillar stone is new to me (I have only been to Bantry once, I am sorry to say) Here is an MA Thesis by Vanja Stojanovic from 2015 (from the University of Guelph in Canada) on the stone:

This thesis considers the iconography and site of the last-surviving (fragmentary)
standing cross in south-west Ireland: the Kilnaruane High Cross. Overlooking Bantry Bay atop a
hill in west Cork, this monument is situated within a rectilinear earth enclosure among a number
of stone fragments, including four corner posts of a tomb-shrine, two bullaun stones, and a
perforated pivot-stone. In addition, the following study reassesses the iconography on the northeast
and south-west faces of the high cross as well as the high cross itself in light of other
monumental high crosses, with a particular emphasis on its stylistic qualities, construction, and
dating. The results suggest that both the iconography and location of the Kilnaruane high cross
and site allude to a potential pilgrimage round located in the Bantry Bay area – situated, as it
were, on the periphery of peninsular Kerry and the thriving culture of seafaring voyage in the

Stojanovic provides a detailed review of the literature on this cross, relatively neglected. It features in the work of Francoise Henry:

Some fifteen years later, Françoise Henry would mention the high cross in her 1932
doctoral thesis La Sculpture Irlandise Pendant les Douze Premiers Siècles de l’ètre Chrétienne
which was subsequently published in 1933.16 In her 1940 book Irish Art in the Early Christian
Period, Henry would again include the high cross in a short paragraph.17 While Crawford
describes snakes and sea-horses in the upper-most part of the south-west face, Henry suggests “snake-like beasts arranged swastika-fashion,” and curiously enough, would completely omit the
Greek cross where Crawford had accurately recognized it.”
18 Alternatively, the orans figure does
not go unnoticed, but is described as a familiar image of early Christian iconography found
abroad and in various mediums, including the Roman catacombs and some sarcophagi, but
Henry does not offer any specific examples in this regard.19 In addition to the descriptions,
Henry also provides some brief iconographic interpretations. For example, the cruciform above
the rudder “can leave little doubt that we have a representation of the boat of the church,” and
Crawford’s ‘two figures holding an object between them,’ Henry corrects as a “crude
representation of St Paul and St Anthony kneeling on both sides of the wafer-shaped bread
brought to them by the bird.”20 It is clear that Henry was familiar with the iconography of Saint
Jerome’s (c.347-420) fourth-century Vita Pauli from which the story of the two saints originates.

Henry was also the first to recognize the weathered image of the boat and five oarsmen
on the north-east face where Lewis, Windele, and Crawford had not. The uniqueness of the
image is clear in Henry’s commentary: “The unexpected thing about it is that it shoots straight
upwards amidst a sea of crosses…very literally portrayed as sailing to Heaven.”21 Additionally,
other significant contributions by Henry include: the observation of two ‘incisions’ on top of the
shaft and the suggestion of an eighth-century date of origin based on stylistic and iconographic
affinities to comparable examples, particularly to the realism of the Ahenny Cross, Co. Tipperary

Ahenny was Henry’s introduction to High Crosses, when a friend from the area brought her to the crosses there.

Back to McCaughran:

In charting the Irish phenomenon of “ships
in the air,” the first task is to assemble core
accounts and descriptions from documentary
sources. References in the Annals of Ulster
(quoted above) and the Annals of Ireland, otherwise
known as the Annals of the Four
Masters, are characteristically brief. The latter
records that in “The Age of Christ 743 ships
with their crews were plainly seen in the sky
this year.”” Allowing for historical disparity
this entry may well be referring to the same
event that the Annals of Ulster record as having
occurred over Clonmacnoise in 749. Early
Christian and medieval Ireland was particularly
rich in miraculous happenings and the
appearance of airships was only one example
of a large number of wonderful events recorded
in the annals and other primary sources. Many
of these “wonders” of Ireland, or “mirabilia,”
were sky-related and included a steeple of fire
in the air, a cross raised up in the air, together
with showers of silver, honey and blood.
12 In
the ninteenth century and early years of the present
century, Kuno Meyer and other Celtic
scholars researched the primary sources of the
Irish “mirabilia” and published annotated translations
of these accounts of wonders, including
the sighting of ships in the air.
13 It is clear from
this material that airships made appearances at
two key locations, namely the monastery of
Clonmacnoise and the important gathering fair
of Tailltenn, now Teltown, in County Meath.

McCaughran , as Vanja Stojanovic, ultimately focuses on literary rather than archaeological sources, and links the mirabila to a mindset we find difficult to enter into. McCaughran cites Seamus Heaney’s work as something of an exception, suggesting perhaps that this “medieval” mindset is not so far away as all that:

Despite their variations, these chronicles
have common characteristics and share a number
of features that are readily identifiable :
” Extraordinary happenings are regarded
as actual historical events and are transmitted
during the Middle Ages as fact, not fiction,
despite their supernatural dimension.
” The events are witnessed by numerous
people, both secular (Teltown) and religious
(Clonmacnoise) .
” Seen from the ground, vessels are floating
in the air above.
Seen from the vessels, the air between
them and the ground below is perceived as
water in which fish swim and which enables
the vessels to float above a submarine world.
” This air/water is life-giving oxygen to
the people on the ground, but is lifethreatening
water to the swimming aircrew who
almost drown.
” Air/water is the common element, which
envelopes both ground people and sky people,
as the heights above and the depths below.
Essentially the central theme of the “airship”
mirabilia is that, not only is an inversion
of the natural order of things possible, but that
the natural order of things can be perceived
from complementary perspectives and that
simultaneously the marvellous is both in the
world and out of the world.

A modern Irish reworking of this medieval
wonder theme can be located in the luminous
poetry of Seamus Heaney, who draws on the
experience of living in Ireland, past and present,
and imagines it into the universal. More than
twenty years before he was awarded the Nobel
Literature Prize in 1995, Heaney wrote: “I have
always listened for poems, they come sometimes
like bodies out of a bog, almost complete,
seeming to have been laid down a long time ago,
surfacing with a touch of mystery . . .my quest
for definition, while it may lead backward, is
conducted in the living speech of the landscape
I was born into. “19

The dualism of much
of Heaney’s poetry, the imaginative tensions
between what is and what might be, is manifest
in a wonderfully fluid poem that navigates
the marvellous encounter between the monks
of Clonmacnoise and the airship that appeared
above them while at their prayers .20
After telling how the ship’s anchor hooked
itself by accident into the altar rails of the oratory
and “the big hull rocked to a standstill,” a
crewman came down from the ship to free the
anchor, but it was no good. The abbot said “this
man can’t bear our life here and will drown,”
so the monks helped to release him and the
ship . As the fantastic ship resumes its aerial voyage,
our world view is transfigured by the poet,
for “the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed
back/Out of the marvellous as he had known it .”

The twentieth-century mindset, cultured in
post-Enlightenment quasi-rationalist and scientific
thinking, often has difficulty in comprehending
the cultural frames of older, simpler societies,
where the distinctions between reality and the
marvellous are blurred and where transitions
between them are normal and natural. In a
recent investigative journey through the European
Middle Ages, Christopher Frayling has delineated
the great gulf between modern and
medieval thinking. “Today,” he writes, “there is
an assumption that beneath the surface things
are fundamentally incoherent (part of a chaosmos),
whereas then there was an assumption that
beneath the surface things were fundamentally
coherent (part of a cosmos) – a reflection of the
will of God.

1121 In this earlier world, a symbolic
framework of order and structure was predicated
on belief and faith in the transcendent
God. The medieval view of the universe was
essentially Platonic and Biblical in origin . In it the
heavens, the earth and all creation were ranged
in an unalterable, hierarchical and interlocking
system of order, from the angels down to man
– for whom the world existed – and thence
to the flora and fauna and all living things

The Heaney poem quoted is from his sequence Squarings, specifically the eighth poem of the section “Lightenings”:

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.