I’m not sure if any people in the world have such a passion for history as the Irish. Maybe it’s an island thing but, with the year of the Gathering Ireland upon us, it becomes increasingly apparent that the history of Ireland is completely entwined with that of the Irish abroad, the people of Irish descent who are now scattered all over this globe.
Wistorical is the latest project from historian Turtle Bunbury, author of the best-selling ‘Vanishing Ireland’ books and co-presenter of the popular RTE television series ‘Genealogy Roadshow’. Every day, he posts a fascinating story from Irish history on Wistorical’s Facebook page, each succinctly told and strikingly illustrated.
One of Wistorical’s driving goals is to bridge that link, to resurrect the stories of some of those forgotten Irish people who made such an impact abroad.
We certainly get around. William Grace of Laois made enough money out of Peruvian guano to become the first Catholic Mayor of New York. Thomas Cruse of Leitrim became the richest man in Montana. Annie Moore of Cork was the first person registered as an immigrant at Ellis Island back in 1892.
Captain John Barry of Wexford is hailed as ‘The Father of the American Navy’, while William Browne, a Mayo man, founded the Argentinean Navy. Knox D’Arcy, another Mayo man, was arguably the world’s first oil tycoon.
Perhaps better known as Lola Montez, Rosanna Gilbert of Sligo became virtual Queen of Bavaria in the 1840s, while Mexican wine owes its existence to James Concannon of the Aran Islands.
James Hoban of Kilkenny designed and built the White House. John Henry Foley of Dublin sculpted the most eminent Victorians of his age for city squares from Calcutta to Richmond, Virginia. The artist Thomas Hickey, also of Dublin, was amongst the first to capture native life of colonial India on canvas.
The cast of characters you’ll already find on Wistorical are an unlikely lot of heroes, villains, eccentrics and crackpots.
As well as first generation Irish, Wistorical looks at famous people with Irish origins. Grace Kelly’s Mayo connections may be well known but who many knew that Elvis Presley and Walt Disney were Carlow men? Amongst others whose Irish roots are explored are those of Billy the Kid, Gregory Peck, Michelle Obama, the outlaw Ned Kelly and Rihanna.
Other posts consider unusual visitors to Ireland - Charlotte Bronte enjoying a honeymoon in Banagher, Co. Offaly; Handel the composer lying low with Mrs. Vernon in Clontarf Castle; Errol Flynn’s father racing around Belfast during the deadly Blitz; and, particularly compelling, the two French women who travelled through Ireland in 1913 taking what are now regarded as the first colour photographs of Irish people.
Ships & Squares
It’s not just people that get the Wistorical treatment. Hail the Jeanie Johnson, the ship that delivered 2,500 emigrants to America during the Famine without a single loss of life. Epic streetscapes showing the Dublin docklands, Patriock Street in Cork and a Galway City market in the 1890s, the latter a fantastic image with a laughing policeman.
Or what about the elaborate Conolly’s Folly in Co. Kildare, built for famine relief in 1740? Or Bindon Blood Stoney’s diving bell? And muse upon the Moone High Cross with its 1200-year-old depiction of Abraham and Isaac, or the creation of Merrion Square in Dublin and Eyre Square in Galway.
Consider the wake of Big Bertha, the oldest cow in the world, or the Castlecomer coal man who got a lift home from the pub on his horse. And what about the 140-year-old Countess who fell out of an apple tree?
History breathes from every field and every street. Wistorical seeks out the uplifting, positive and fascinating stories from our past and to breathe fresh life into them through the mediums of the modern age. It makes history exciting, and is perfect for who anyone who enjoys a good story.
Wistorical will be developing an app in 2013.
In the meantime, check out www.facebook.com/Wistorical
Remembering Irish transatlantic pilot hero Colonel James Fitzmaurice