Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe, and a cheers to the Poe Toaster

Poe would be 210 if he was alive today, which would be a surprising development for all concerned. And presumably today will see the appearance of the Poe Toaster at Poe’s Baltimore grave. Alas, this is a revival of the original mysterious decades-long toaster:

 

Poe Toaster is a media epithet popularly used to refer to an unidentified person (or more probably two persons in succession, possibly father and son) who, for over seven decades, paid an annual tribute to American author Edgar Allan Poe by visiting the cenotaph marking his original grave in Baltimore, Maryland, in the early hours of January 19, Poe’s birthday. The shadowy figure, dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat and white scarf, would pour himself a glass of cognac and raise a toast to Poe’s memory, then vanish into the night, leaving three roses in a distinctive arrangement and the unfinished bottle of cognac. Onlookers gathered annually in hopes of glimpsing the elusive Toaster, who did not seek publicity and was rarely seen or photographed.

According to eyewitness reports and notes accompanying offerings in later years, the original Toaster made the annual visitation from sometime in the 1930s (though no report appeared in print until 1950) until his death in 1998, after which the tradition was passed to “a son”.[1] Controversial statements were made in some notes left by the post-1998 Toaster, and in 2006 an unsuccessful attempt was made by several onlookers to detain and identify him. In 2010 there was no visit by the Toaster,[2] nor has he appeared any year since, signaling an end to the 75-year tradition.[3][4]

Pleasingly, the revival since 2016 has maintained the anonymity aspect:

 

In 2015, the Maryland Historical Society organized a competition to select a new individual to resurrect the annual tribute in a modified, tourism-friendly form. The new Toaster—who will also remain anonymous—made his first appearance during the daylight hours of January 16, 2016 (a Saturday, three days before Poe’s birthday), wearing the traditional garb and playing Saint-Saëns‘ Danse macabre on a violin. After raising the traditional cognac toast and placing the roses, he intoned, “Cineri gloria sera venit” (“Glory paid to one’s ashes comes too late”, from an epigram by the Roman poet Martial), and departed.[25]

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“he was an affectionate husband and tender father, in friendship steady and sincere; to all beneath him courteous, truly just and therefore universally esteemed and beloved. He lived under the influence of religion and died cheerfully supported by it ” – the grave of Jeffry Prendergast, buried in 1713 by his 99 year old father who would live to 111

Readers may note I am partial to the wisdom of gravestones , or even just a striking epitaph. . Trying to find out more about the holy well I came across in Newcastle (Tipperary) I naturally looked at the ever wonderful Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland. I found this post from 2012 on graveyard recording in Newcastle. I was struck especially by this passage – the epitaph itself, and the singular facts of Thomas Prendergast’s longevity (so atypical of the time, or is it our perception of the time? and I am of course aware of the issues around reliable dates of birth from those times) and having the melancholy duty of burying his son:

The interior of the church is packed with approximately 60 burials. At the east end are three unusual burials. A chest tomb sits in the NE corner of the church. The inscription of the tomb is worn away and impossible to read. O’ Hallian in his book Tales from the Deise gives the following account of the inscription

Here lyeth the body of Jeffry Prendergast of Mullough in the county of Tipperary who served in Flanders as Captain under the Great Duke of Marlbourugh, from whom he had the honour of reciting public thanks for his services at the siege of Ayr in 1710. Died 1713. he was an affectionate husband and tender father, in friendship steady and sincere; to all beneath him courteous, truly just and therefore universally esteemed and beloved. He lived under the influence of religion and died cheerfully supported by it the 27th day of March in the 64th year of his life.

John Burke’s A Genealogical and Heraldic History of Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies….. records that Jeffrey’s father Thomas Prendergast, esq was born in 1614 and married Elinor the sister of Walter the 11th Earl of Ormond. The text also says Thomas died in 1725, aged 111 years ‘as appears on his tombstone at Newcastle, near Clonmel’. Once the survey is complete if the tombstone commemorating Thomas survives I am sure the volunteers will uncover it. I would wonder if he was not interred with his son Jeffery.

There is more on the Prendergasts on the NUI Galway Landed Estates page.

Francis Lai RIP

Francis Lai, French composer of soundtracks such as A Man And A Woman and Love Story (and, um,  Emmanuelle 2) has died. From the Variety Obit:

Lai’s plaintive piano melody for “Love Story,” the 1970 tearjerker that made stars of Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, was his biggest hit, earning him an Oscar and a Golden Globe. His soundtrack recording was all over radio in early 1971, reaching no. 37 as a single and no. 2 as a soundtrack album. When lyrics were added to the melody, Andy Williams sang “Where Do I Begin” to no. 7 on the charts that same year.

The score almost didn’t happen. Lai initially turned down the assignment, he told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. But French actor Alain Delon, who had seen a cut of the film, called Lai and convinced him to delay his summer vacation.

Delon and producer Robert Evans flew to Paris with a print, screened it for him and, said Lai, “I came out of the screening incredibly moved. I went straight home, sat at my keyboard and wrote that theme that very night.”

Lai had already achieved a modicum of fame with his romantic theme for “A Man and a Woman,” French director Claude Lelouch’s art-house hit of 1966. The combination of Lai’s accordion and the wordless “da-ba-da-ba-da, da-ba-da-ba-da” vocals of a male-female duo struck a chord with record-buyers, propelling the soundtrack album to no. 10 on the American charts.

Here is Samba Saravah, sung (and spoken) by Pierre Barouh, from the self same A Man and A Woman soundtrack, which has an effortless sense of cool.

YouTube:

Spotify:

All September’s #ExtinctinIreland posts in one handy page

As demanded by absolutely no-one, here are all the posts I have done this month on species extinct in Ireland since the coming of humanity….

Extinct in Ireland: September 1st, the sturgeon

Extinct in Ireland: September 2, the wolf

Extinct in Ireland, September 3. The Capercaillie

Extinct in Ireland, September 4th, the Bittern

Extinct in Ireland, September 5th, the Barberry Carpet Moth – last seen in Clonmel!

Extinct in Ireland: September 6th, Perkin’s Mining Bee (Andrena rosae)

Extinct in Ireland, September 7th, the Corn Bunting

Extinct in Ireland, September 8th, Triple Spotted Clay Moth (Xestia ditrapezium)

Extinct in Ireland, September 9th, Black-necked Grebe

Extinct in Ireland, September 10th, the Great Auk

Extinct in Ireland, September 11th. Meadow Saxifrage

Extinct in Ireland September 12th – Spiral Chalk Moss (Pterygoneurum lamellatum)

Extinct in Ireland, September 13th – Lapidary snail, Heligonica lapicida

Extinct in Ireland, September 14th, The Diminutive Diver (Bidessus minutissimus)

Extinct in Ireland, September 15th, The Beautiful Moss Beetle, Hydraena pulchella

Extinct in Ireland, September 16th, the wild boar

Extinct in Ireland, September 17th, Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis annua)

Extinct in Ireland, September 18th – the Osprey

Extinct in Ireland, September 19th, Spotted crake

Extinct in Ireland, 20th September, the Woodlark

Extinct in Ireland, September 21st – the red squirrel

Extinct in Ireland, September 22nd – the purple sea urchin -Paracentrosus lividus

Extinct in Ireland, September 23rd, the North Atlantic right whale

Extinct in Ireland, September 24th- Rannoch rush (Scheuchzeria pallustris) and the life of John Moore

Extinct in Ireland, September 25th, the mud pond snail, Omphiscola glabra

Extinct in Ireland, September 26th, Large copper (Lycaena Dispar)

Extinct in Ireland, September 27th – Small mountain ringlet (Erebia epiphron)

Extinct in Ireland, September 28th – the golden eagle

Extinct in Ireland, September 29th, the Lynx

Extinct in Ireland, September 30th, the crane

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Extinct in Ireland, September 30th, the crane

The final species I have selected for this month of Irish extinctions is the crane. The crane only went extinct in late medieval times, and features much in Irish poetry and song before this. This 2011 Irish Times piece by Lorna Siggins deals with a sighting of a flock in Castletownroche, Co Cork (home of labyrinths, dinosaurs and spies):

While there have been occasional sightings, cranes have not bred here since the early 18th century and were under severe pressure for several centuries before. The majestic bird breeds across northern Europe, Russia and the Ukraine.

Cranes were once so prevalent here that their Irish name “corr” is recorded in hundreds of place names – such as “Curragh” or “crane meadow” in Co Kildare.

“Few native birds can rival the widespread cultural footprint and the connections with Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the druids, St Colmcille and the Book of Kells,” said Mr O’Toole.

Druids believed in transmigration of the soul and the cranes were said to carry the spirits of the dead. They are best known for their migratory trumpeting and their predilection for display.

“Research by Prof Fergus Kelly suggests that the ‘peata corr’ was the third commonest pet after dogs and cats during the Brehon Law period,” said Mr O’Toole. “The crane bag was a well known magical container in our ancient folklore, which had associations with Manannán Mac Lir, the great sea god, Lúgh and Fionn Mac Cumhaill.”

Its familiar bald red patch on its crown is depicted in the Book of Kells, and St Colmcille was known as the “crane cleric”, he added.

Colonisers from Viking and Anglo-Norman times who had no qualms about eating the bird may have contributed to its demise, along with an increase in the fox population, said Mr O’Toole.

Here is a 2015 piece from The Argus (Co. Louth local paper) on a crane flock in Louth:

There was great excitement among local bird watchers last week when a flock nine Cranes were seen near the M1 at the turn off for Ardee just west of Dunleer. There has only been one verified sighting of a Crane previously in Louth on March 19 2012 in Drogheda.

This most recent sighting was by Billy Clarke and has led to speculation that the birds may be relocating somewhere in Louth.

Cranes are long distance migrants from southern Europe to north eastern Europe. They have also been reintroduced in the UK. in Somerset where there is a flock of around 50 birds with colour rings on legs so as to record their movements.

Cranes are a common sight in much of Europe and are famous for their spectacular dancing display.

It’s believed that these majestic birds have been extinct in Ireland for over 300 years. Sightings at various parts of Ireland in recent years has led to speculation that the European Crane might return to Ireland to breed thanks to a warming climate, just as little egret has done.

I have posted before about some ambivalence at the spread of Little Egret. It is on one level still a little exotic and a bit thrilling, on another it is a sign that the climate is changing, with all that implies. The fact that flocks of cranes are being sighted, albeit sporadically, in Ireland is perhaps another mixed blessing.

On that possibly uplifting, possibly not note, this is the last Extinct in Ireland post. It has been a rather saddening, albeit educational process. Sadly there was no shortage of species to choose from, and in the end it was more a question of what to leave out (for instance out of the three raptors which the Golden Eagle Trust have reintroduced, only focusing on the Golden Eagle)

I hope readers have taken something from this – for Irish readers particularly, I hope any complacency about Ireland being a wonderful place for wildlife is dissipated.

Extinct in Ireland, September 24th- Rannoch rush (Scheuchzeria pallustris) and the life of John Moore

220px-Scheuchzeria_palustris_-_floweringFrom Wikipedia:


Scheuchzeria palustris (Rannoch-rush,[2] or pod grass), is a flowering plant in the family Scheuchzeriaceae, in which there is only one species and Scheuchzeria is the only genus. In the APG II system it is placed in the order Alismatales of the monocots.[3]

The only species, the only genus, and only in one site in the British Isles: Rannoch Moor, in Scotland.

But it was not always so. From the Facebook page of the Irish Peatland Conservation Council:

In the early days of the peat industry Pollagh Bog in Co. Offaly was scheduled for development by Bord na Mona. This site had an extensive spring-fed flush habitat which was the only known station for Scheuchzeria palustris (the RANNOCH Rush). Prof John Moore – a peatland expert – wanted the bog conserved, but at the time that was not on any commercial agenda. With the extinction of the rush imminent, Prof Moore transplanted it to the soak system on Clara Bog. It did not survive. Today Pollagh Bog is part of the post industrial Lough Boora Parklands which people enjoy visiting – such a pity we lost this interesting bog plant.

I did a little bit of searching from Prof John Moore. It seems (I am not entirely sure, but the times seem to fit) that Prof Moore is Prof Fr John Moore SJ, profiled in this article. I don’t know if anyone can confirm this?

The interview with Prof Fr Moore linked above is from 2016. He certainly had an eventful life, (like Fr Padraig de Brun one wonders if his intellectual achievements would be more celebrated in contemporary Ireland if he wasn’t a priest), as indicated from the below:

When John Moore entered the Society of Jesus’ noviciate straight from secondary school, it was customary at the time. Like the other young Jesuits who came straight from secondary school, he was assigned to study for a degree in UCD. He did first Arts but switched over to Science the following year. In his final year one of the research projects he undertook was a follow up survey of vegetation in the Dublin Mountains, which had been researched 50 years previously by the famous naturalist, Lloyd Praeger, the results being published in 1905. He was required to re-survey the parts closer to Dublin and write up the results.

After getting his B.Sc. degree he was sent to study philosophy in the Irish midlands. A few days before he left Dublin, the Fr. Provincial (who had been his Master of Novices and knew all about his scientific interests) suggested that he might look around and start work in an informal way on his Ph.D. during his spare time. He was fascinated by the vast areas of Bogland which stretched in all directions and discovered that a local bog had two very rare plants growing on it: one a rare rush never seen in Ireland before, the other one found in only one other place in Ireland. So he decided to work eventually on a Ph.D. thesis on the ‘Bogs of Ireland’.

During the holiday periods he decided to finish the re-survey of the mountain area south of Dublin, covering the whole area of Praeger’s original survey. He wrote up the results during his spare time while studying Theology at Milltown Park. He finished the job before leaving for ‘Tertianship’, the final year of Jesuit formation which focusses on deepening one’s spiritual life. He was sent to Germany for this stage of his formation, so he left the manuscript with the Professor of Botany to see it through the printing process.

While in Germany his paper on the “Resurvey of the Vegetation south of Dublin” appeared in print and his Professor in Dublin sent him a few reprints. These he distributed to some of the ecologists living on the European Mainland. To his surprise, a reply came back immediately from the famed German ecologist, Reinhold Tüxen. He, along with the famous French ecologist Braun-Blanquet, had been invited to Ireland after Europe began to recover from the effects of World War II. They published their results (in German) in 1952 and John had critiqued some of their work in his paper. Tüxen was extremely pleased. He wrote “Although we published our Irish material 10 years previously, nobody seems even to have read it, let alone critiqued it! “Can you visit me before you return?” Tüxen asked. And so began a long and valued relationship of scientific interests with Reinhold Tüxen.

Before John’s ordination, his Provincial casually mentioned to John that UCD (University College Dublin) had requested to have him on its staff after he had finished his Jesuit studies. “I said ‘Yes’ – is that OK for you John?” All he could say was “You are the boss! If you want me to take up the offer, that is OK by me.”

So John taught for 23 years at UCD, Botany Dept., being eventually appointed Professor and Head of Department.

In the 1970’s the Irish Government was sending quite a lot of official aid to Zambia University, financing lecturers from the Irish Universities to give courses at the University of Zambia. Fr Michael J. Kelly, SJ, a good friend of John since the novitiate, was at this time Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University in Lusaka and was much involved in arranging this government aid; he petitioned the Irish Government to finance John to come as External Examiner of the Biology Department. John accepted the offer and was very struck by the difficulties of running a third world University according to First World standards. When his work in the University was finished John stayed on for some time in order to visit the Irish Jesuit Missioners and help in their work.

John returned to UCD in time to organise things for the new academic year. It was while making his annual retreat in the Jesuit retreat-house, Manresa in Dublin that it happened.

John had been 23 years in the Botany Department of UCD. He was unexpectedly overcome with a very strong feeling that he should relocate to Zambia! Having prayed over the matter, he sent a letter to the Provincial requesting to be sent to the Zambian mission. He was quite late going onto the missions at 56 years of age.