Saturday, January 14, 2023

Michael Hennigan's year of 1953 and 70 years later

"Tour Bus made a short stop here. A small village near Galway. May 14, 1953"
Photo by Martin J. Walsh Jr on a trip to Ireland in 1953, from Minnesota

The Irish Times newspaper reported on Saturday 17 January 1953 that weather conditions would be good and this was the day my mother gave birth at St Anthony's Hospital, in the southwest Irish town of Dunmanway, County Cork. I was named Michael Anthony Hennigan with the first name after my father. I had two older brothers and Maurice the eldest had been named after his paternal grandfather while Thomas was named after his maternal grandfather.

My parents had a farm east of the town and the quality of the land was not good.

On 16 January, a resolution in the US Senate called for the end of Irish partition. The future Irish American president co-sponsored the resolution.

On 18 January 1953, a political group calling itself Sinn Féin, (Irish: 'We Ourselves' or 'Ourselves Alone') said it would contest all 12 constituencies in the next Westminster elections in Northern Ireland (this Sinn Féin was a separate entity from the Provisional IRA and its political wing called Sinn Féin, that were created in Belfast in January 1970).

On 31 January, Dublin Airport's weather station showed a jump in rain and high gusts of 61.9 knots per hour. However, the Republic of Ireland escaped the massive storm damage that day, and into 1 February. The MV Princess Victoria ferry sailing between Stranraer, Scotland and Larne, Northern Ireland, sank during a storm with 133 lives lost, including every woman and child aboard while 44 men survived. In the North Sea, the storm caused extensive flooding. There were 19 deaths in Scotland; 307 in England; 28 in Belgium, and 1,836 in The Netherlands where the dykes were breached.

This event resulted in the greatest storm surge in the North Sea, on record.

The Dutch Republic of the 1600s had developed the first modern economy and with high urbanisation, canals linked towns. (The Little Dutch Boy who saved Haarlem from flooding by putting his finger in the dyke was an invention of an American writer and it was first published in 1865.)

Poor economics

A British House of Commons report published last year noted that "Ireland’s trade with the UK as a proportion of its total trade has gradually declined over time — in 1953, 91% of the Republic of Ireland’s goods exports were to the UK; by 2021, this had fallen to 11%."

Merchandise exports from foreign-controlled firms in Ireland accounted for the diversification.

In 1953 about 80% of merchandise exports were live animals, food, drink and tobacco while the remaining 20% were industrial goods.

A market in Dunmanway 1953: Population 950 (town), area population 1,500
Electricity consumers 355, Annual report Electricity Supply Board 1953

In January 1953 The New York Times reported that in 1951 Irish exports to the US dollar area were 10% of imports, leaving a gap of $98mn. There was an improvement in 1952.

My dad-1955-holding me (left hand) & Brendan my brother

GDP (gross domestic product) per capita in Ireland was about half that of Switzerland; the UK; Denmark and The Netherlands while West Germany, 8 years after the Second World War, was 31% ahead, based on estimates by Angus Maddison, the late British economic historian.

West Germany reported a merchandise surplus in 1952 and it has never had a deficit since then.

Ireland had annual growth in GDP in 1950-1958 of 0.9% which was the worst performance in Western Europe.

Poor economic conditions resulted in strained public services.

Maurice, Thomas, Mary and me in 1966

In a debate in Dáil Éireann (Lower House of Parliament) in October 1953, a West Cork representative referred to reports on schools not far from Dunmanway town. The Ballymoney National School, Ballineen, was reported on by an Assistant County Medical Officer of Health: "Water supply for drinking, not satisfactory; for washing, not satisfactory; no lavatory basins available; school built in 1839, two storey. Schoolrooms; upper storey reached by stone steps; general structure, damp; roof, poor; floors, poor; school unsuitable." A neighbouring school at Lisbealad, Dunmanway also needed attention: "Repairs to school premises required; roof poor in places, reslated; replaster gable end; internal plaster of walls; floor repairs and redecoration."

According to Tom Garvin, professor emeritus of politics at University College Dublin, one immediate and obvious contrast between the three leading Dublin newspapers in the 1950s was their attitude to farming. “The Irish Times and Irish Independent assumed that the economic future of the Republic of Ireland was agrarian,” he said.  “And articles on agriculture, the reluctance of the young to go into farming, and the need for agricultural scientific education were commonplace – both papers had large farm readership.”

“In stark contrast, The Irish Press was determinedly pro-industry while remaining equally nostalgic about the small farm ancestry of its readers; generally it ignored farming in favour of industry and vocational training. It never discussed farming as a serious career choice.”

In the years 1946-1961 over 500,000 emigrated, mainly to Great Britain. During those years the population remained below 3mn.

'The Quiet Man' and the Diaspora

I am in the middle of this 1958 photo
In January 1953 the Irish Government launched An Tóstal (The Gathering), which was a series of festivals to run until 1958, celebrating Irish life. The primary purpose was to encourage members of the Irish diaspora to visit Ireland, in particular Irish Americans.

The success of 'The Quiet Man' film, which had been produced in Cong, County Mayo in 1952, was an excellent opportunity to boost tourism.

The parents of renowned Hollywood film director, Séan Aloysius Kilmartin O’Feeney, known professionally as John Ford, had emigrated from County Galway in 1872. Séan was the last of 13 children.

He won his fourth Oscar for 'The Quiet Man' in February 1953.

It was based on a 1933 Saturday Evening Post short story of the same name by Maurice Walsh, who was an Irish civil servant.

Ford directed 'The Informer' in 1935 which was based on a novel by Liam O'Flaherty that was set in the Irish civil war year of 1922.

The 'Quiet Man' story was synopsised "After accidentally killing an opponent in the ring, boxer Séan Thornton leaves America and returns to his native Ireland, hoping to buy his family's homestead and live in peace. In doing so, he runs afoul of Will Danaher, who long coveted the property. Spitefully, Will objects when his fiery sister, Mary Kate, begins a romance with Séan and refuses to hand over her dowry. Mary Kate refuses to consummate the marriage until Séan retrieves the money."

The leading stars of 'The Quiet Man' were John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Barry Fitzgerald and Victor McLaglen.

O'Hara was a Dubliner and her family name had been FitzSimons. English actor Charles Laughton gave her the choice of 'O’Mara' or 'O’Hara.'

O'Hara starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn in 1939 and Hollywood's 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' with Laughton. She was 19 years old.

Fitzgerlad (William Joseph Shields), another Dubliner, had a successful Hollywood career, and he won an Oscar in 1945 for Best Supporting Actor. Victor McLaglen won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Ford's 'The Informer' (1935).

In 1970 Maureen O'Hara and her husband Captain Charles F. Blair Jr, bought a house in Glengarriff, West Cork, overlooking Bantry Bay. I had a summer job at the Eccles Hotel and sometimes I would serve them afternoon tea.

Three years later I met John Wayne at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. He said "Céad míle fáilte" — the translation from Gaelic is "One hundred thousand welcomes" in English.

Gaelic games, the arts, fairs and drink

Ireland has two national games: Gaelic football, and hurling. In early September 1953 Cork won the All-Ireland hurling championship beating Galway. Attendance at Croke Park in Dublin was 71,195.

Christy Ring was the star and he would win another medal in 1954, making it a record at the time.

With John Wayne, Colorado Springs 1973
We had moved to Bandon, the biggest town in West Cork, and at about 12 years old, I had a part-time job in the Jeffers retail store that became the first supermarket in West Cork. On one occasion I saw that Christy Ring was in the café in the store. I asked him for his autograph and he asked "What do you want that for?" He did provide it!

In the Gaelic football championship, Kerry, our neighbouring county, in southwest Ireland, beat Armagh. The attendance was 86,155.

Samuel Beckett was in exile in Paris and in January 1953 his play 'Waiting For Godot' had its first public stage première in French as 'En attendant Godot' in Paris. His novel 'The Unnamable' was also published in French in that year.

In 1953 the Irish government banned Anatole France’s 'A Mummer’s Tale' (for immorality), Hemingway’s 'The Sun Also Rises' and 'Across the River and Into the Trees (for immorality), all the works of John Steinbeck (for subversion and immorality) including 'Of Mice and Men' and 'The Grapes of Wrath,' all the works of Émile Zola, who had died in 1902 (for immorality), and most works by William Faulkner (for immortality).

The Irish had reputation for heavy drinking and well-known writers were often drunk.

Heavy drinking after games and at farmer fairs was common.

Brendan (right) and me off Swanage, England 1971.
We always had summer jobs and when I couldn't
get a third visa for the US in 1976 I got a job in
London as a navvy (typically a construction site labourer) 😀

Writer George William Russell, or AE, wrote in 1925 that the Irish had twice as many licensed premises as England and three times as many as Scotland. "Ballyhaunis, with a total population of a thousand, has a drink shop for every twenty of its inhabitants ...How many of these towns can boast a bookshop, a gymnasium, a public swimming bath or a village hall? Throughout the greater part of rural Ireland such things are still looked on as ridiculous luxuries, and the mark of social progress is demonstrated by the opening of two public houses when one would suffice."

In 1958 the Central Statistics Office (CSO) reported that Ireland’s per capita consumption was 64.3 litres of beer and 1.2 litres of spirits, while the British data were 79.1 and 1.1, respectively.

Seán Lemass, the taoiseach (prime minister), complained of the "persistent and irritating falsehoods" about the "drunken Irish," stating that "even the BBC Television service rarely, if ever, presents a play about Ireland without the characters moving around in clouds of alcoholic vapour."

The Pioneers Total Abstinence Association, founded in 1898, went from strength to strength in the first half of the twentieth century and, by 1959, claimed a membership of nearly 500,000. About 90,000 had attended the association’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in Dublin’s Croke Park stadium that year.

The CSO had misreported the data in 1958 given the large number that was abstaining, to counter the mainly boozers!

...and 70 years later

The Irish population in 2022 reached 5.1mn people. It is the first time the population has exceeded 5mn since the census of 1851 — in the aftermath of the Potato Famine.

The Republic of Ireland's area on the island had a population of over 6.5mn in 1841.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has Household net adjusted disposable income in 2020 (last year of full country data), measured in US$ at 2015 PPPs (purchasing power standard) per capita.

Ireland's average in 2220 was 29,400; the UK's was 29,900 and Switzerland's was 39,200 (the real value is lower for Ireland: almost half of the adult population paid private health insurance policy in Ireland in 2021, which was an average €1470 / $1,740 a year [Health Insurance Authority]. Voluntary occupational pensions are also a problem in Ireland compared with mandatory state + occupational pensions in some countries.)

Ireland had a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021 of $106,400. After adjustments for multinational distortions plus a rise of $48bn in the fantasy that Ireland exports Apple's iPhones to China, the number was $47,600 compared with Denmark's $64,900; Switzerland's $75,950 and the UK at $49,600.

Foreign-born in Ireland overtake Irish-born in countries overseas In 1960/1961 Irish-born in the UK, the US and Australia (21,000) were 37% of the home population

Leprechaun economics continue to distort Ireland's statistics — A fake amount of €118bn was added to merchandise exports that did not relate to economic activity in Ireland

Irish Genealogy Page: Hennigans and Walls in County Cork

Ireland's low number of multinational firms and poor exporting record

Ireland in 1922 not the poorest state in Western Europe but it was in 1973

Clockwise 1) on the terrace of the Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs 2) I had a summer job in a Cobh,  County Cork hotel in 1972. Here having a joke with a customer 3) My parents in 1978 with me at the conferring of the Master's Degree in Economic Science at University College Cork.