Back in black

My Movie 1

That gif tells you all you need to know: Whiskey! Craft! Fire!

If, however, you need more information, there’s this:

It’s always enriching when established brands and emerging talents come together, so have the schedule for the Jameson Black Barrel Craft Market which runs from November 27th – 29th should not be missed. 

The free three-day craft market  which is a project between Jameson and and emerging talents of the Irish craft community will feature some amazing talent  who are pushing the taste buds of craftsmanship. Inspirational makers like Hazel House, Grand Grand, Liadain Aiken,  Garvan De Bruir, Hen’s Teeth Prints, Slated.ie, Mamukko, Bonagrew and Bryans Master Cobblers will be exhibiting their products at the fully covered market.

The  venue the The Bernard Shaw backyard on Richmond Street in Dublin 2 in association with Bodytonic will be completely transformed for the event, it will feature a full schedule of  barber shop services, artisan food pairings live craft demonstrations, music acts, and whiskey tastings throughout the weekend.

Years of experience and craft go into the precise selection of whiskeys used to produce Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel which was the Gold medal for best blended Irish whiskey under €60 at the recent Irish Whiskey Awards, the latest release from the Jameson Family. Made from a blend of rich pot still and a small batch grain whiskey, this special whiskey is uniquely matured in hand-crafted flamed charred black barrels for a rich smooth taste.

So if you’re interested in whiskey and want to see what the best of Irish crafts take over a superb venue for the weekend,go along and have a great time and you may even pick up the perfect gifts for Christmas.

Friday 27th November

5:00pm – Craft market opens for trade

5:00pm – DJ set by Sarah Byrne (Faune//War)

5:45pm – Cooperage demonstration hosted by Jameson’s Master Cooper, Ger Buckley

6:15pm – Live music by Corner Boy

7:15pm – DJ Sarah Byrne (Faune//War)

7:30pm – ‘Meet the Masters’ hosted by Jameson’s Master of Maturation, Kevin O’Gorman

10:00pm – Craft market wraps for the night but its business as usual for The Bernard Shaw.

Saturday 28th November

2:00pm – Craft Market opens for trade

2:00pm – This Greedy Pig DJs

3:45pm – Cooperage demonstration hosted by Jameson’s Master Cooper, Ger Buckley

4:30pm – Live music by The Young Folk

5:30pm – This Greedy Pig DJs

5:45pm – Cooperage demonstration hosted by Jameson’s Master Cooper, Ger Buckley

8:00pm – Craft market wraps for the night but its business as usual for The Bernard Shaw.

Sunday 29th November

2:00pm – Craft Market opens for trade

2:00pm – DJ Handsome Paddy

3:00pm – Cooperage demonstration hosted by Jameson’s Master Cooper, Ger Buckley

3:30pm – Live music by Cry Monster Cry

4:15pm – DJ Handsome Paddy

4:45pm – ‘Meet the Masters’ hosted by Jameson’s Global Ambassador Dave McCabe”

5:15pm – Live music by Cry Monster Cry

6:00pm – DJ set by Handsome Paddy

8:00pm – Craft Market wraps for the night but its business as usual for the Bernard Shaw.

 


No tickets necessary – over 18s only

And the video, if you need visuals on all that:

Still not convinced? Did I mention the free whiskey?

Dingle and ready to mingle

My Movie

I took part in the Dingle Distillery whiskey school – it’s a great way to spend a couple of days in an amazing part of the country. I highly recommend it. The article ran in the Irish Examiner over the summer, but here it is in full.

If Oliver Hughes has a crystal ball, he isn’t telling – and as a former criminal barrister, his poker face is probably more resilient than most. But the evidence suggests that he might.

Exhibit A: Back in 1996, before micro breweries were becoming such an industry that they were getting tax breaks in the budget, Oliver and his cousin Liam LaHart decided to set up the Porterhouse. Oliver had seen the success of micro-breweries in the UK and decided the stagnant beer market here could do with some revitalizing. Many thought he was mad – the notion that a pub could survive without serving big brand beers on draught was completely alien. Some publicans began betting amongst themselves on how long it would last – six months, maybe a year. But last he did – in fact, the Porterhouse thrived, and expanded.

Exhibit B: Oliver had another idea – open a distillery. The current liquid gold rush in Ireland has seen big hitters investing here in the past 12 months, with up to 25 distilleries in various stages of development. But Oliver’s vision of an independent Irish distillery came long before the current boom. In fact, it was more than a decade ago that he first envisioned it. As for the reasoning behind his startling act of foresight: “Well distilling is actually a lot easier than brewing, so it just made sense,” is his reply.

‘Easy’ it may be, but he still brought in some expert help. John McDougall is one of the few people alive who has worked across all the whisky regions of Scotland and across multiple styles, and he helped design and set up the distillery. And as for its location, in beautiful Dingle, Oliver’s explanation is just as deceptively straightforward: “I came to Dingle with my then-girlfriend-now-wife 30 years ago and fell in love with the place, so it was perfect.”

But it isn’t just the romance of Dingle that makes a difference – the distillery sits next to the estuary of Dingle harbor, warmed by the briney, balmy airs of the Gulf Stream and the temperate microclimate it creates in west Kerry. Whiskey ages faster in the warmth here; and the barrels will absorb sea air, brushed by the occasional cool breeze drifting down from the mountains. Whiskey from Dingle will never be the same as whiskey from Dublin, or Belfast, or any of the other traditional centres of distilling in Ireland. Or at least that is what you would expect, as their spirit has not yet reached the three years minimum spent in a cask, a period which imparts almost 80% of the flavor.

All this detail may seem confusing to the average consumer, but Oliver’s distillery is hoping to educate the public on the who, what, why and when of Irish whiskey.   The Dingle Distillery Whiskey Academy is two days of hands-on training in this most ancient – and Irish – of arts. What marks this academy out is the fact that it is entirely conducted within the distillery itself – as you are learning the theory you are also seeing it happen in front of you. This is no sterile classroom setting, far from reality– this is right in the beating heart of a busy operation. As you absorb the lore of distilling you are inhaling the evaporated spirit (known as the angel’s share), with lessons occasionally interrupted by the sound of clanking pipes.

The tutor for the academy is Michael Walsh, who at just 25 must be one of the youngest in the world to assume the role of Master Distiller. Most of the distillery staff are young men who would have emigrated if it hadn’t been for Oliver’s vision, a fact that distillery manager Mary Ferriter is quick to point out. Mary was our host for the two days of the academy – serving Dingle Gin and tonics during lunch on the lawn outside, next to the old waterwheel that powered the sawmill that once occupied the building. Mary is as warm and enthusiastic as you would expect from someone who once ran a year-round Christmas shop named Dingle Elf. Like all the distillery staff, Mary is a multi-tasker – she also delivers their award-winning Dingle Gin and Dingle Vodka to outlets along the peninsula, like a legitimate Dukes Of Hazard. On one run to Castlegregory we travelled over the Conor Pass, far above valleys littered with remnants of Famine villages, places so isolated they are almost cut off from the rest of the world. Even in this day and age, access to broadband is a problem down here. But the community understands the importance of banding together – they are all behind the distillery, and proud to support it.

Within Dingle itself there is a growing whiskey scene. Dick Mack’s pub recently won Munster Whiskey Pub Of The Year and then went on to win the national title – manager Finn MacDonnell the latest in his family to run the pub, founded by his family more than a century ago. It boasts an incredible array of Irish and international whiskeys, including a bottle of 1973 Midleton, a measure of which costs 200 euro. Many recession-scorched Irish people may balk at that price, but while I was there one American tourist paid the asking price and more in dollars for a single dram. Finn’s selection of whiskeys was co-ordinated with help from Peter White, a Dublin firefighter by day (and night) and whiskey guru by night (and day). Peter, the current president of the Irish Whiskey Society, frequents Dingle a lot, as his mother hailed from the village, and is just one of the whiskeyvangelists promoting our national drink out of sheer love for it.

Another enthusiast is John Moriarty of The Park Hotel Kenmare and Dublin Bar Academy, who is also one of the tutors in Dingle Distillery. John and Michael work like a tag team, talking us through the history of distilling, from Irish monks adapting Mooirsh alchemists’ equipment, to the revolution of the column still, the rise of blends, the decline of Irish whiskey in the late 1800s/early 1900s, and on to the present day – which is seeing Irish whiskey become the fastest growing spirit in the world. They also talked us through the lexicon – single malt, pure pot still, wort, mashtun, draff, feints, low wines, cuts, non-age statements – and on to the different types of cask used.

We also got to fill a cask each – not to take home sadly. Putting a hose in a barrel and pulling a lever might seem like a straightforward task, but this writer still managed to spray the exterior of the barrel, himself and the master distiller in one fell swoop.

But as the last module of my two-day experience at the academy, I think I still graduated. As for the Dingle whiskey, we will just have to wait – it reaches legal age at the end of this year, with a release expected early next year. But you don’t need a crystal ball to know that as the first independent Irish whiskey in a long time, this is going to be one special release.

The Dingle Distillery Whiskey Academy runs on the following dates: August 12th & 13th; October 27th & 28th; November 18th & 19th; December 16th & 17th. The two days cost €450, while the distillery tour is €10 per person. For more info email tours@dingledistillery.ie or call: 086 777 5551 or 086 829 9944.

I also made a ridiculous video: 

Distilling in the name of….

So I got to take part in the Irish Whiskey Academy here in my hometown, along with a bunch of whisk(e)y writers, bloggers and promoters. It was a lot of fun, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in whiskey….and a grand to spare. This article originally appeared in the Irish Examiner shortly before Christmas. The photos were all taken by me, which might explain why they are rubbish. 

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Every Christmas I watch Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory with the same sense of wonder I had when I was a kid. As someone cursed with a relentlessly sweet tooth, I still like to imagine that the inside of any factory that produces my favorite things would be as magical. Obviously tastes change and people grow, and after careful consultation with my cholesterol levels, I switched my allegiances to a more mature indulgence – whiskey.  So to get access to a distillery is a treat indeed. The distillery is a mysterious thing. Access to any modern production facilities is a rare event; for members of the public it is almost impossible to get a glimpse of the inner workings of any plant; health and safety laws, Lean production and a wariness about transparency meant that unless you have Bosco’s Magic Door, you aren’t getting inside. But one of the greatest distilleries in the world is changing all that.

Midleton Distillery’s Irish Whiskey Academy opened in 2013, and since then it has educated and entertained hundreds of drinks professionals, writers, bartenders, and sales people. The scope of the academy is now being widened to include ‘amateur enthusiasts’ – or ‘lushes’, as we are better known – like myself. The academy building fittingly sits between the historic distillery building – now home to the heritage centre – and the newer plant which is one of the largest, most efficient in the world, having just tweaked their processes to see a reduction in energy requirements per litre of pure alcohol by a whopping 20%.

The academy itself is a converted grain manager’s office, and our tutor was Dave McCabe, whose youth belies his incredible breadth of knowledge. I was on the course with whiskey bloggers, writers and industry insiders, and no matter how obscure or scientific the question, he knew the answer. With beautifully illustrated chalkboards in the classroom section of the facility, he brought us through the history of whiskey – nationally, locally and globally – as well as a refreshingly straightforward breakdown of the production of whiskey in east Cork.

We started with a walkthrough of the old distillery, learning about how whiskey was produced on that site for 200 years. We passed the distiller’s cottage, where Master Distiller Emeritus Barry Crockett was born and raised, through the courtyard where former distillery manager Sandy Ross landed after an exploding pot still blew him out a window, leaving him flat on his back on the cobbles. He was given the rest of the day off, but showed up for work the next day. It takes hard men to make the hard stuff.

Back in the classroom we covered the raw materials, as well as the brewing and fermentation process, then it was on with the high-vis vests, phones into the lockers and off to the new plant, where we visited the grains depot, brewhouse, fermentation facility, and even had a stillhouse meeting with current Master Distiller Brian Nation. Brian is a busy man, who switches between the scientific demands of running one of the biggest   distilleries in the world and the promotional aspect of the job, sharing his knowledge and passion for whiskey around the globe. And he isn’t the only whiskey guru we had access to; we also met Kevin O’Gorman, a man who has so much energy and enthusiasm for his work that it’s hard to imagine him having the patience to watch a kettle boil. But patience he has. As Irish Distillers’s head of maturation, Kevin is charged with keeping watch over the thousands of barrels of alcohol as they slowly mature for the legally required minimum of three years – and often much longer. Kevin watches over the casks as they sleep through the years, monitoring room temperature as the wood of the staves slowly inhales and exhales the liquid, giving it colour, character and life. His domain is the warehouses packed with massive bourbon, port and sherry casks from around the world, loaded on pallets in lots of four, and then stacked seven high.

He watches on helpless as up to a percentage of each cask is lost to evaporation, an amount known as the angel’s share. As long as whiskey has been made, this has been part of the process. There is not way to stop it.

Another frustration comes in the repair of casks. Some of them simply can’t take the pressure of their sleeping brethren above, and begin to split. If the damage is small, and accessible to the master cooper, then it may be repaired. But if the split is bad, and the cask is behind or beneath many others, they simply have to let the pressure take its toll, and watch on as thousands of euro worth of whiskey seeps out. It’s can’t be an easy job.

We had a tasting with Kevin in one of the warehouses, number 42 to be precise, cracking open a port pipe, a sherry butt, and a bourbon cask. It’s hard to describe how special it was. There, in that vast modern cathedral, we filled glasses straight from the barrel, and stood there silently sipping, the only noise a sporadic beep from the security system off in the distance. The flavors of the whiskey was almost enough to make your ears pop.

Centuries ago, Irish monks copied the design of Moorish alembic stills to distill their ale into uisce beatha. Later, it was casked for storage, and whiskey as we know it was born. Not much has changed; the ingredient used by the epicurean alchemists in Midleton are the same – water, grain, wood and time. In a world obsessed with speeding up production, there is much to celebrate here. The race to the bottom in our demand for faster food and cheaper products has led to standards falling in both. Not so here – this may be a massive operation, but there is the same respect for the craft, the product and the consumer as there ever was. The academy is part of this celebration of tradition and technique – it has a level of openness, transparency and honesty that you will almost never encounter in large companies.

We rounded out the day with pot still tastings, then it was back to our hotel to prepare for dinner. Our lodgings were the aristocratic surrounds of the Castlemartyr Resort, a building whose history, like that of whiskey, is another rare blend of science and religion, having previously been home to Robert Boyle, of Boyle’s Law fame, and in later years becoming a Carmelite Monastery. Another part of the academy package is dinner in a premium restaurant – for us it was Ballymaloe, which so much has been written about I don’t need to add anything, other than it has to be experienced to be believed.

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The following day we started with a coopering demonstration by master cooper Ger Buckley. Ger is a fifth generation cooper, and can take a barrel apart and put it back together in moments. He talked us through the craft and history of coopering, reinforcing the sense that little has changed in either the tools or the barrels themselves in centuries.

Afterwards we met with archivist Carol Quinn, who introduced us to some of the incredible characters, stories and history of Irish Distillers. She spoke about Paddy O’Flaherty, a consummate showman who understood the power of marketing and PR long before anyone else in the industry, to the point where the whiskey he sold took on his name – we even got to see the contract that allowed the company to use his name as a trademark. Carol is also recording the stories of the more recent characters, as she is recording an oral history of the formers workers in the Midleton plant, capturing all their stories and lore before it is all lost in the sands of time.

Then it was on to more tastings, site visits – including the spiritstore and casking facility – and lunch in the heritage centre, complete with ice cream cones served in Midleton Rare boxes.

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Our last module was blending, where we were broken into teams of four and given four different types of spirits to make a single blend with. After much nose work, and even more tasting, my team finally came up with a blend of half sherry cask-aged pot still and half bourbon pot still. We even gave it a name – The Kurgan – which you will know from Scottish history as the Russian bad guy in Highlander. It even came with a tagline – ‘there can be only one’. Well, it was either that or ‘it will take your head off’.

We got samples of our blends to take home, and while I have yet to find the right occasion to enjoy mine, I have no doubt that the memories of an extraordinary few days in Midleton will last a lot longer. The lessons taken from the academy aren’t simply the science and the history of whiskey – it’s an appreciation of the drink itself, and what it means to the Irish people. Whiskey is liquid history. It records our highs and lows, our struggles and success, our innovation, creativity and strength of spirit. Its story is one of collisions and unions – between science and religion, alcohol and wood, empire and freedom, grain and water. The academy, nestled as it is between the past and future of Irish Distillers, teaches you how these elements blend together to make this most Irish of libations, its significance to our identity, and what is yet to come.

THE FACTS: A range of courses are available depending on the individual’s level of knowledge, with the first ‘Enthusiasts’ course taking place earlier this month. Participants have the opportunity to meet some of the distillery team, learn about brewing, fermentation, distillation and blending, watch a cooperage demonstration and enjoy a tutored whiskey tasting with one of the production Masters. As part of the package, participants will stay in five star accommodation, visit one of the area’s finest restaurants and at the end of the course, they will receive a personalised bottle of Irish whiskey.

One-day ‘Discoverer’ courses, for those who have minimal knowledge about Irish whiskeys but want to learn more, are available from February 2015 while four-hour afternoon courses are also available. See http://www.irishwhiskeyacademy.com/ for full details.

What we leave behind

So I wrote an article for the Irish Examiner about researching genealogy. I went on a bit, and they rightly cut it down. However, given that this is the unregulated, self-indulgent wasteland of blogging, I’m going to post the unabridged version for you to snooze through:

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Via https://todayinirishhistory.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/fitzmaurice-stamp1.jpg

Carpe diem 

You probably remember the scene in Dead Poet’s Society.  Robin Williams’s character tries to teach his students about the importance of existing in the moment, always being aware of your own mortality. He gets them to look at a cabinet of photos of the school’s oldboys as young men – young men now long dead – and  tells  his students that they too will some day turn cold and die.

For me, the internet is like that cabinet: Old photos much like the ones in this scene regularly appear on Flickr.  Portraits from Guys in Cork often pop up on accounts around the world, uploaded with no knowledge of who the people in the photos are, or what their links to the family might be, found in a shoebox after a relative passed away, too late to ask why these photos were taken.  Were they parting gifts from Cork’s emigrants chasing a dream in the land of opportunity, forget-me-nots to long lost loves, or just a need for something permanent in lives that in a short space of time endured so much change? Their stoic, emotionless poses hint at a million narratives. Finding what those stories are, what our own stories are, can be a difficult task.

Now in it’s eighth year, Who Do You Think You Are? Live drew thousands last year, and this year it’s set to do the same, running as it does from February 20-22 in the Olympia in London.  But the TV show on which the conference is based make genealogy look easy – and in the UK it may be slightly moreso. They can move with relative ease through several centuries of records. Here, where we had an oral tradition – and a lot of conflicts that  destroyed records – it is more of a challenge. The uploading of the census from the last century is a great starting point – and beyond that, subscription websites like FindMyPast.ie are an invaluable resource, offering a vast array of documents and search advice and tips, access to newspapers across the world that can be sifted through using a basic word search, or more advanced time sensitive searches if you have more of an idea of what you’re looking for. The archive helps greatly in fleshing out those official documents;  we may have had an oral traditions, but thankfully, as Arthur Miller said, a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself.

When I set about searching out my distant relatives, I soon realized that having a slightly obscure name like Linnane helps – good luck sifting through the Murphy clan to find those you’re directly related to. Searching the archives of the then Cork Examiner – recently added to the FindMyPast archive – turns up quite a few stories about my ancestors and their heroic deeds – blowing themselves up, being executed by firing squads at the roadside, being smoked out of caves along the Kerry coast and then executed; it seems I come from a long line of people who were as bad at hiding their contempt for authority as they were at hiding themselves. Reading through their stories makes you realize that the birth of our nation was a bloody chaotic thing, that by the time we had finally won our freedom, every family had lost a piece of itself, and every inch of the land must surely have had some blood spilled on it.  Our great grandparents fought so hard and sacrificed so much to simply have a home to call their own it’s little wonder that we inherited a deep insecurity about our sense of place, and our need to own our land, which led to the frantic obsession with property over the last ten years.

Starker than the stories of my namesakes and their brutal struggles for freedom are the ones from the aftermath of the Famine. The Cork Examiner reacts to a report in the Clare Journal (Clare being the heartland for my family name) of a house that had to be broken into over concerns for its residents when neighbours started complaining of a stench: The sherriff broke the door down, to find the Widow Quinn, her daughter and two Linnane children dead from starvation, rotting on the floor. Rats had eaten much of them.

In an Examiner editorial of November 29, 1848, titled ‘The Palace and The Cabin’, they wrote: “Pleasure reigns in the queen’s palace – starvation and death, two grim monarchs, riots in the peasant’s cabin. Yet the British queen and the Irish peasant are – rather, were – the same flesh and blood. But the queen is surrounded by flattering courtiers, and soothing strains, and varied amusements, and pomp, and luxury, and magnificence; while the peasant-mother dies on her couch of broke straw, and lies rotting and mouldering away for twelve days in the charnel house, once her dwelling. She died of absolute starvation, though living under the protection of the proud queen of England; and three more dead bodies – of starved children – lay rotting on the same floor.

‘What a horrible tale they tell – a tale that, in a Christian land, in this age of luxury and refinement, will doubtless be received with astonishment and doubt. Four human creatures, dying in this fair and fruitful land of literal starvation! A dead mother lying for a fortnight beside her dying child – think of it ye, round whose hearts home loves have twined! Four unburied corpses for as many days tainting the air breathed by the victims famine had not claimed! Merciful Providence, could the world of human suffering produce a parallel for this fearful picture? Yet our rulers stir not – they hold not out even the promise of relief to the ears – offer no pledge, as of yore, though the boasts ‘credit of the country and means of the Treasury’ are still at their command, and in their keeping.”

The paper’s coverage is scathing – they point the finger of blame directly at our rulers. Four people lay dead in a house – the Quinn woman and her child for twelve days, and two Linnane children were trapped in the house with the bodies for eight days before they too died – in a country that was still producing large amounts of food and drink; just not food and drink that was intended for the average Irish peasant. The Famine is not ancient history – browsing through FindMyPast makes you realize that it’s only a few generations ago. What marks must it have left on our national psyche, what trauma must we all carry.

But there were also uplifting stories. Take my grandfather’s first cousin, Colonel James Fitzmaurice. Born in Dublin in 1898, raised in Portlaois and expelled from school in Waterford at 15, he tried to join the British army when he was underage but his parents discovered and he was sent home. Two years later he did sign up, and began an exemplary military career. When a clerical error meant he was sent to the Somme in July 1916 aged just 17, he saw the grim realities of war first-hand. But he still thirsted for adventure, and hated lying in the trenches.

He volunteered for any mission he could sign up for, which saw him rise to acting sergeant by age 18.  He signed up for the RAF and was soon a co-pilot on the world’s first night airmail flight between Folkstone and Cologne. In 1922 he resigned from the RAF and came home to join the Irish Air Force at Baldonnel, where he hungered for a new adventure. He set his sights on crossing the Atlantic, and after one failed attempt in 1927, on 12th April he set off from Baldonnel on the Bremen with two Germans, Captain Hermann Koehl and Gunther Freiherr von Hunefeld.

Fitzmaurice later wrote “Dear old Ireland seemed nestled in peaceful sleep as we smashed through the air on our great adventure.”

They landed on Greenly Island in Labrador on Friday, April  13, 1928. They had endured oil leaks and brutal storms, but made history for the first East-West crossing of the Atlantic.

All the papers at the time report the jubilant scenes, and how the flyers met US President Calvin Coollidge a few days later, who presented them with the US Distinguished Flying Cross. When they came home to Baldonnel they were greeted by the Government led by WT Cosgrave, who gave the trio the Freedom Of Dublin.

He was a symbol of unity – an Irishman who fought with the British forces in the Great War against the Germans and went on to make history by flying with two German pilots.

After the crossing, Fitzmaurice tried to interest the government in commercial aviation, but with no luck. His efforts ignored, he resigned from the air force, and went to America to work in aircraft design.  While in Germany in 1933 attempting to negotiate with German aircraft manufacturers, he witnessed the Reichstag building in Berlin burning down. On the same trip, he even had a meeting with Adolf Hitler.

He moved back to England in 1939 and opened a club for servicemen in London during the war. He moved to Dublin in 1951 and tried his hand at journalism, with little success. He lived in relative obscurity in Harcourt Street, not quite in poverty, but not like an aviation hero either.

He died in Baggott Street Hospital in September 1965 and received a state funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery.

He once wrote: “In Irish air transport much has been achieved and a great future develops, of which our people will be justly proud. I feel certain that in that pride of achievement, the adventure of the Bremen will be seen in all its full significance, and that my dead comrades and I, will therefore, not soon be forgotten”.

But he was forgotten, at least by descendants like me. Looking at his photo I wonder what would he think of me: Untouched by war, well-fed, surrounded by loved ones, and still finding plenty to complain about; he survived the Somme, I nearly cry when I stub my toe; he made aviation history, I complain loudly when waiting for my bags at Cork Airport.

What would any of my ancestors think of me, with a fridge full of food, perfect health and living free? I doubt they would be impressed. I think of those children in Clare, slowly starving to death for want of a bit of bread, as my kids ask me for iPads for Christmas.

Digging through FindMyPast is a sobering experience; you can hear the voices of your predecessors whispering across the centuries to you, asking what you have achieved, if you seized the day like they did. Their stories, my story, is no different than any other Irish person: We have survived brutal oppression, starvation, unintentional genocide, bloody struggles for freedom, a civil war that tore the country apart and several recessions – and yet we push on.

These archives are a testament to all Ireland has achieved, and to the strength of the human spirit, told through a million stories of heroism and tragedy that lead directly to all of us. It frames us all as the makers of history – let’s just hope our contribution won’t be recorded as a series of Facebook rants about the price of the new iPhone.