via GraphJam

via GraphJam

Over the past month, media of all hues has been awash with commentary on the upcoming Marriage Referendum. By and large, it’s been a one sided debate. Most commentators I have seen are firmly pro-marriage equality. They are facing off against a much smaller No campaign dominated, in the main, by oddballs.

The rhetoric of the No campaigners is dominated by conservative religious doctrines and anti-gay fear mongering that would seem more at home in the 1970’s. With their talk of cancer rates, marrying your granny and allowing homosexuals to marry (so long as it’s the opposite sex) the only good they are doing is to expose themselves as bigots. They do no justice to their cause. Ironically, they may even be recruiting sergeants to the Yes camp – forcing people who would not ordinarily vote to cast their ballots.

In my opinion, the crank commentators are not the problem. I expect that the referendum outcome will be a solid Yes, however I also suspect that somewhere between 25% and 35% of the population will vote No – a depressingly high statistic given the paucity of charisma and rational arguments from the anti-amendment side.

No, the real battle is not against the extremists. The group the Yes campaign need to pay most attention to is the unaffected, the smug and the unconcerned.

Put it this way: there are still a lot of people in Ireland who are not knowingly familiar with LGBT people. Where they have gay friends, they may not be aware they are gay. To them, homosexual issues have no real relevance to their lives. Their views on homosexuality will, of course, depend on the person, but in many cases I suspect it may be informed by nothing more than lazy prejudices – that two men kissing is ‘yucky’, or that homosexual sex is gross, or we didn’t have any of that when we were growing up, or something of that ilk. And that’s about as much thought as they will have put into these issues. Because of the lives they lead and the friendship networks they have, marriage equality is a non-issue.

I suspect this is quite a large cohort of people. They will go to the polls and vote No, not because the Catholic bishops told them to, or because the Iona Institute had some fantastically compelling arguments, but because they would prefer their world to stay the same.

The real battle is against the smug. It will be a difficult job to change many of these mindsets in the run up to the vote, but appealing towards greater acceptance of different walks of life will help. A positive approach that promotes tolerance and common justice may be more persuasive than constantly chasing the extremists around the pages of social media.

I travelled back to Singapore last week – a welcome change from the bitter cold of Cork in January. While it was mainly a work visit, I got a chance to do some sightseeing.

Singapore Apartments

Singapore is a tiny island, not much bigger than metropolitan Dublin; but it packs a population of over 5 million people. Because land is not an option, people build upwards. Thousands of apartments dot the landscape. The racial mixture in each block is carefully managed to promote harmony amongst the resident ethnic populations.

Singapore Gardens by the Bay

There are a lot of tourist attractions, particularly around the Marina Bay area. The Gardens by the Bay, shown above, is particularly spectacular at night, with stunning colours and a laser light show illuminating the park.

Singapore Botanic

We did not go to these gardens; instead we went to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It’s a gem. I’d love to have spent a few days there. The National Orchid Garden is a must-see. Here are a few examples of the flowers on display.

The Orchard Road area has some interesting street art and artistic gems. Here’s a piece that particularly impressed me. At a distance it looks like a large urn, but when you look closer, the whole vessel is made from just 4 letters. Very clever.

I’ve been nominated by Belana and Quinie to list 7 things most people don’t know about me.

Gosh – this is a tough one. Rummaging through the trash of my memories and proclivities, it’s quite a challenge to come up with one thing, let alone seven. Anyhoo, here goes.

1) I hate parsnips. Hate, hate, hate. I’ve never liked them. As a child I also hated mushrooms, carrots and pickled beetroot, but I managed to control my disgust mechanisms. I will eat them without any concerns that I might be poisoned. But parsnips? NEVER.

2) I’m not much of a music fan, but I have a wide range of musical tastes. My music collection is full of songs that I have gleaned from Shazam and Internet radio stations. It’s mixture of samba, rap, female vocals, country and classical. Recent downloads include Missy Elliot, The Chemical Brothers, Florence and the Machine and Miserere Mei. Random as hell.

3) History is my thing, these days. I’m currently reading about the Battle of Waterloo. Other books in my collection include an abridged history of Russia, an abridged history of World War I, the story of Europe after World War II and Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman.

4) I don’t do enough reading these days, so I often listen to podcasts on my way to work. My favourite podcasts are This American Life, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe and 99% Invisible. I also listen to the BBC History Extra podcast and RTE’s history podcast. Not Dan Carlin though. Man, you need lots of time for that.

5) For years I was involved with H2G2, a crazy yet fascinating online community loosely associated with Douglas Adams. My moniker is/was Woodpigeon. I wrote around 30 guide entries on all sorts of random subjects. I drifted away after a while, when real life got in the way and social media came of age. It was fun and I made a lot of great friends, but what a time sink.

6) Ok, this is going to sound hugely nerdy, but I’d love to have the time to properly figure out the mechanics of solid objects. I’d love to be able to develop my own simple physics engine, and understand the principles behind it, where two dimensional objects rotate and move around subject to various different forces and impacts. I’m almost embarrassed telling you that one.

7) Have I changed my mind recently about something I once strongly believed? Yes, actually. I used to be a fervent believer in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test – you know, ESTP and INTJ etc. Well, it turns out that it’s complete bunkum. Neither Myers nor Briggs had much of a basis for the underlying philosophy of the MBTI and there are much sounder tests of personality around.

That’s seven things. You can wake up now!

I was about 13 years old when I came out to my dad. I’m sure he had known it for years already and had probably prepared for the worst. He must often have wondered what he did wrong to have a son like me. He had his dreams, but alas, those aspirations would never be fulfilled.

He had to face the truth. I was utterly useless at hurling.

Now, it wasn’t all bad, because I was equally rubbish at football, tennis or golf. In fact, almost all sports eluded me. For a man of sport, in a county where the ability to play hurling was more important than winning the Nobel Prize or landing on the Moon, his first son was an unfortunate freak of nature.

The thing was, my dad was exceptionally good at sport. In his youth, he played Minor hurling for Kilkenny (which made him a minor god in the locality). He loved nothing better than to go to a game, or watch a match on the TV. I remember going to many matches with him during my childhood – and being bored out of my wits – while he savoured every puck of the ball. There was no-one quite like my dad to read a game and explain how a team won or lost. For me, it was just a mass of confusion.

In my teens, he encouraged me to take up golf. Surprisingly, I loved it. I was never much good at it, of course, but I enjoyed the game and I enjoyed being with him. We both loved ideas, so in between shots, we debated endlessly with each other – science, politics, religion, current affairs: you name it. In a time when I was learning how to be an adult, these games brought us both together.

That’s one of my memories of dad. He passed away ten years ago this month, after a long illness that slowly sucked any quality of life away from him. I miss those games of golf. I miss going with him to hurling games listening him talk about the tactics, the heroes and the mistakes. Most of all, I miss him.

Now, with sons of my own – all of whom, incomprehensibly, are very talented sports players – I feel that an important part of him has been passed on. It’s a nice feeling.

I only started watching Game of Thrones a few months ago. Having finally brought myself up to date, I am converted. Here are some of the reasons why. Lots of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it, my apologies.

The Geography

I was originally attracted to Game of Thrones when I discovered that southern Westeros was just a slightly modified, upturned and greatly enlarged version of the island of Ireland. King’s Landing is Galway, Casterly Rock is Dublin, and Oldtown is Belfast. Sort of.

There are also interesting similarities with Britain, with King’s Landing not so different, geographically, to London; and Lannister and Stark not echoing Lancaster and York. The Great Wall is clearly a nod in the direction of Hadrian’s Wall, just south of the Scottish borders.

Imprinted over this is a greater European picture. Game of Thrones is set in a region far greater than the UK and Ireland, reaching all the way from Scandinavia to North Africa. You can see traces of cultures throughout the series. The primary focus is English, with Northern and Southern accents plainly evident. Dorne is Spain and Essos is Middle Eastern.

The History

The Game of Thrones borrows nearly everything from the Middle Ages. These were violent times, and nothing is left to the imagination. The castles and keeps are from that period, as is the weaponry and clothing. The tortures, murders and battles are brutally medieval and fights for supremacy are truly Machiavellian.

While the North is a gloomy, dreary place, full of capricious attacks and Viking rampages, Kings Landing is altogether more Byzantine. The slave-kingdoms of the East echo an Islamic caliphate, with “Khaleesi” Daenerys married to the Khan of a Mongol-like horde. The celibate Night Watch watchers are a semi-religious cast: monks of a bygone age.

The Characters

The landscape and historical setting is greatly enhanced by its cast of heroes, pawns and villains. Foremost among them is Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage. Tyrion is wonderful – delightfully intelligent, cunning, debauched, humorous and empathic, while suffering damaging abuse and ridicule often from those closest to him. You can’t help but root for him.

Empathy with the misfits and marginalised is a common theme throughout the series. The girl Arya, who would be a boy; Brienne of Tarth, a grown up in the same vein; Bran the crippled boy on his mission to the north; the devious eunuch Varys; John Snow, the illegitimate son of Ned Stark – none of these are minor roles.

Then there are the shades of light and dark. While there are a few unredeemable monsters, many characters are more complex. Few heroes are whiter than white. Catelyn Stark’s treatment of John Snow is one example, as are the motivations of Littlefinger and Sansa Stark in the last series – both people stepping outside their assigned characters when events demand it.

The Stories

The older I get, the more I detest the straightforward story, because nothing in life is straightforward. Most of the time, it’s all incidental mayhem. The creators of Game of Thrones capture this perfectly. There is often an aimlessness about the journeys and unexpected tragedies are alarmingly commonplace.

But the stories, as they are, are compelling. John Snow’s seduction by Ygritte and his subsequent betrayal is heartbreaking, as is Ned Stark’s treatment by Cersei and Joffrey. Tyrion competently defends Kings Landing only to be disgraced by his father. The comeuppance of Theon Greyjoy, a man deserving of his fate, is almost too much to bear.

And you think the stories are going in a certain direction when – BAM – they turn into something altogether more ghastly. The Red Wedding, anyone?

A link to today?

Many science fiction and fantasy stories tell us more about today than they do about the times they were written. Game of Thrones is no different. It’s a modern tale in that it speaks to contemporary gender roles, despite an official insistence (by the likes of Tywin Lannister) on traditionalism. Arya and Brienne want more as women in a largely patriarchal culture. Homosexual relationships are seen as normal, if still somewhat secretive.

Ravens and the little birds of Lord Varys serve as a rudimentary Internet, and Varys’ character speaks to achievement by merit as opposed to noble background.

Unlike the Lord of the Rings, there is less racism. There is bad and good in all cultures. This is clearest with the Wildlings, as they flee from the terror to their north. The Night Watch acknowledge them as humans like themselves, with the misfortune of living on the wrong side of the Wall.

There is also an interplay between religion and atheism taking place that mirrors the outside world. Stanis Baratheon represents a world of religious fanaticism while other characters are more agnostic in their outlook. This, of course, is not an issue of this age alone, but in a world threatened by ISIS and Islamist fanaticism it rings a bitter note.

Final note?

I cannot wait until the start of series 5. I just can’t.

Now that the incident in Paris is a few days old, I’ve had some time to gather my thoughts about it.

I was struck by a tweet sent out by Michael Deacon of the Telegraph. It made me rethink this dreadful incident.

I agree.

In the end, the terrorists probably didn’t care much about drawings of Muhammad or the insult to Islam. What was more on their mind was attacking something that we in the West hold very dear; in this case, freedom of expression. This was something likely to provoke a response aimed at the wider Muslim community. With the fire-bombings of mosques and the bolstering of anti-immigrant marches, they succeeded in getting the reaction they expected. Our culture holds other things in high esteem: tolerance, sexual freedom, secularism, Christianity, the right to vote. We should expect attacks on them too.

Contrary to some official statements, the jihadi death cults DO have something to do with Islam. But no more so than the Shining Path and the Khmer Rouge were related to socialism, or the Nazi terror emerged from nationalism. It’s not inevitable that religion – even ideology – will create death cults. All they do is to provide a fertile background from which a death cult narrative can emerge. Despite how deep the flaws in the underlying philosophies, we can’t blame all adherents of an ideology for the emergence of nihilistic terrorism from within.

We need to make a very clear distinction between Islam and the jihadi death culture. Jihadism is a narrative, a story that has been carefully concocted to deny its adherents their basic humanity. It’s a story that places themselves as the victim, fighting against a conspiracy of epic proportions, where everyone on the outside is the enemy – men, women and little children. It’s a narrative that appeals to a certain personality and a certain mindset. Even when people are born into the most desperate of circumstances, it is not inevitable that they will radicalise into death cult adherents.

While countering the social circumstances that create fertile recruitment grounds for jihadism, we need to combat that narrative. One way to do this is to show alternatives from within the community itself. We need to celebrate and support Muslim successes and the essential humanism that is as much part of their community as it is ours. Now is not a time to alienate our Muslim compatriots. It’s a time to embrace them. They are as much victims of this horror as we are, if not more so.

This latest horror story from Paris has filled me with dread. What with all the kidnappings, the rapes, the bombings and beheadings in the past year. The mass graves, the terrorism of innocent people, the droves of young men burning their passports and pledging allegiance to the harshest edicts of a 7th century philosophy. Where does this instinct to kill and butcher come from? Is it Islam?

The whole Islam / Islamism debate is a minefield, to borrow an unfortunate metaphor. To what extent are you being Islamophobic when you criticise these brutal killers and their methods? There is a danger you will find common ground with some of the worst, most right wing elements in Western society. If you stay quiet about it you make a mockery of the values upon which our society is based – tolerance, empathy, the robust sharing and challenging of ideas, to mention a few. It’s a tightrope.

Islamism should be a core target of sceptics and humanists, because it represents the very worst extreme that blind belief can lead one to. Homeopathy and psychics might screw up someone’s value system and quality of life, but Islamism kills and terrorises, while subjecting all sorts of minorities to cruelty and despair. It’s a depravity – the very negation of free thought and forthright argument.

On the other hand, humanism stands with all people: black, white and brown, rich and poor, native and foreign, male and female, young and old. People from Muslim countries have as much a right to live in peace, security and happiness as anyone else. Castigating and criminalising whole sections of society just because of the actions of a small few is repulsive to me.

People are precious. People are important. The ideas in their minds are not so special. Nobody should ever be killed or injured for their beliefs. but beliefs should never give anyone a license to kill or injure. For that reason, all beliefs should be subjected to robust scrutiny and if necessary, ridicule.

People have mothers, brothers, sisters and friends. Ideas don’t. People shout with joy and weep tears. We worry for them when they get sick. We miss them when they die. Ideas don’t have hospitals, nor do we give them gravestones. People can live on after abandoning damaging beliefs, but it so often happens that damaging beliefs result in death.

Islam is a belief. But mass killings of the past centuries didn’t all need Islam to justify them. It’s just the ogre of the moment. There is something deeper here that can take a belief and turn it into something truly evil. When we criticise the average believer, we taking aim at a convenient target, but it’s the wrong one. It’s radicalism in all its forms that we need to focus on.

The world of inspirational speaking is a popular (and lucrative) part of modern culture – particularly in the fields of motivation, success, health, wealth and leadership. People will spend huge sums just to hear the best speakers tell us how we can change our lives for the better. Some of it may indeed be useful, but much of it is just, well, bubblegum.

There is a world of a difference between how persuasive something is, and whether the key messages are in any way true. A very skilled storyteller could easily convince you of something that is factually inaccurate – perhaps even an outright lie – and you would not necessarily know.

Establishing whether something is true takes quite a lot of work, most of it far removed from the world of public speaking and presentation. It’s done in the back rooms, through hard work, testing, studies, experiments, draft publications, criticism, argument, peer review, detailed scrutiny, and most of all – good evidence. It requires specialisation and familiarisation with the field and a readiness to accept that new evidence might upset what is known. It requires expertise – something that the vast majority of us will never have. Nobody can be an expert in everything, so we are all vulnerable to the messages we are given. We even fail in distinguishing proper experts from pretend experts. It’s a minefield.

Fortunately, there is a difference between most pretenders and people who actually know what they are talking about. Where experts are usually tentative, pretenders are certain. Where experts will cite exceptions, pretenders will dismiss them out of hand. Where experts will qualify their remarks, pretenders will have no such qualms.

The best we can do is to recognise the tricks. Here are 5 red flags to be on the look out for.

Anecdote over evidence

Anecdotes are nicely packaged stories designed to support the points being made. While they can be very compelling, they are not considered to be good evidence. Anecdotes can be very subjective (one person’s testimony only) and selective (leaving out details that do not support the point being made). They are lacking in any rigour and ignorant of alternative factors. They can be coloured and adjusted through time and practice. What they are good at is creating a powerful emotional response in an audience. The more perfect the anecdote seems, the more wary we must be.

Style over substance

It’s amazing what we can do nowadays to deliver the perfect message. Presentations can be enhanced through powerful imagery, humour, appeals to emotion and common sense. Music and sound-effects can be used. The colour, the font design, the transitions – it’s all at the fingertips of the skilled presenter to enhance the message. The presenters themselves can use vocal variety, body language and simple stories to get through to us. It’s an art in itself and the more swish it seems, the more we should be looking for the underlying substance. The basis of the presentation is still important – if it’s not there, or justified merely through common sense or “everyone knows this” – our suspicions should be raised.

Too Good to be True

Experts are aware of the many pitfalls in declaring a breakthrough too hastily, so they tend to qualify their arguments, preferring to publicise their small advances rather than one big denouement. Discoveries tend to build up over time, as alternative possibilities are systematically closed off. Often, we are unaware that a great breakthrough has been made because the underlying work was revealed in dribs and drabs. It’s only when we look back that we can see progress. The pretender has no such qualms. To them, their discovery is the best thing since the wheel. The worst of them compare themselves to Newton or Einstein. They have an unshakable belief that they are right, and that their critics are deluded or malign. Seemingly amazing or stunning announcements require a great deal of support to be accepted.

Sciencey Super-words

Many pretenders will abuse the scientific lexicon if they feel it will help their ideas gain legitimacy. We need to be very careful of words like “quantum”, “multiverse”, “laws of attraction”, “neural”, “magnetic”, “epigenetic” and many other words, particularly when they are used in medical or motivational contexts. Similar words we need to be careful about are “organic”, “natural”, “healing”, “chemical”, “genetically modified” and “toxic” – as their impact is often more emotional than factual.

Perfectly Parcelled Evidence

Finally, pretenders love science when they can make it suit their aims. If a scientific study is found, even obliquely, to agree with the message being promoted, you can be certain to see it mentioned as they make their claims. No mention is ever made about whether the study actually supports the points being made, or whether the methodology was poor, or any other study that contradicts the message. We have to be careful, particularly if the message is rather extraordinary. In new fields of study, there may be an enormous debate still raging, where no strong conclusions can yet be made. In older fields, it is likely that the study being mentioned has long been debunked and a consensus reached. A small amount of research on the Internet might tell you more.

In this sometimes stressful year, I often let my eyes do the talking for me. Here are some of my favourite photos from 2014. I hope you like them. Click on any of them to get a better view.

1. Storm Clouds

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January of 2014 was incredibly stormy, with high winds lashing the coast at least once a week. One compensation was the wonderful cloudscapes such as this one above, taken in Garryvoe, Co. Cork.

2.  Shanghai Surprise

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2014 was the Chinese New Year of the Horse. On my first ever trip to China in February I came across this wonderful display in the city of Shanghai.

3. The Long Walk

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The annual 19km Ballycotton Cliff Walk is one of my favourite hikes, as it marks the approach of spring and the end of winter. This photo was taken on March 16th.

 4. Garnish Island

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The wonderful gardens of Garnish Island in West Cork are full of surprises. This photo, from April, was perhaps early in the year for full bloom, but the flowers of spring always have a special place in my heart.

5. Rhododendron Blooms

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John F. Kennedy Park in Co. Wexford holds plenty of surprises too. During our visit in April I came across this wonderful display as a rhododendron bush shed its flowers.

6. Barley Fields

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A quick walk up the hill gives me a wonderful view over south Munster, from the Celtic Sea all the way to the Knockmealdowns, the Comeraghs and even the Galtees in the far distance.

7. Leaping Laddies

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By July, we had finally accepted that this was going to be one of the great summers. That’s worth jumping around for.

8. Summer Bees

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Bumblebees were everywhere this year. They go about their business with no real interest in us – focused on one thing only: nectar. When they have too much, they fall asleep, putting up a leg if you come too close. Mad about them, I am.

9. Coco the Cat

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Well, the Internet is all about cat photos, right? Right?

10. Glounthane Sunrise

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With the nights lengthening in October, I caught this morning sunrise in Glounthane, Co. Cork.

11. Ha’penny Bridge

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I took this during a day trip to Dublin in October. It captures many of its iconic structures quite well, I think.

12. Belvelly Castle

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I won’t forget the 26th of November too quickly. I had taken a few days off work and I rose early to discover a fog-shrouded landscape. What followed were some of my favourite photographs of the year. This one was taken from Belvelly Bridge near Fota Island.

13. Midleton Estuary

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After Cobh, I drove to Midleton, where I came across this scene. My parents had a painting at home that reminds me of this photo.

14. Castlemartyr Resort

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Then on to Castlemartyr Resort, where I took this photo as the sun was rising. Sometimes, you are just in the right place at the right time.

15. Little Spider

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After buying a macro lens for my iPhone in late November, I came across this little fellow climbing around a dandelion clock.

16. Dawn by the Lee

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This photo is from the 16th of December, taken during my morning commute. Though the sun had not yet risen, I just had to stop my car and start snapping.

17. Running Along

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I took this photo on Garryvoe beach just yesterday. It’s like the boys are running from a nuclear explosion.

18. Ballycotton Island

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Taken just this morning, this photo again saw me leaping out of my car. The sun was perfectly positioned over Ballycotton Island. Just glorious.

If any of you are interested, I post regularly to Instagram, and less often to Flickr. Maybe I’ll see you there.

2015 Anniversaries

Ten Years Ago (2005): Hurricane Katrina slams into New Orleans, prompting unprecedented chaos and mass evacuation. The Cassini-Huygens probe landed on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Death of Pope John Paul II. Death of Rosa Parks. The A380 “superjumbo” makes its first flight. London awarded the 2012 Olympic games. The following day, a terrorist attack in the London Underground kills 52 people. Further terrorist bombings take place in Iraq, Bali, New Delhi, the Lebanon and Jordan. The Ferns Report into clerical child abuse, is released. The Kitzmiller vs Dover lawsuit deals a huge blow to Intelligent Design proponents in the US.

Twenty Five Years Ago (1990): West Germany and East Germany are reunified into a single state. Nelson Mandela is released from imprisonment in South Africa. The “Pale Blue Dot” photo is taken by Voyager 1. The Hubble Space Telescope is launched. The Republic of Ireland reaches the quarter finals of the Italia ’90 World Cup. Death of Jim Henson. Iraq invades Kuwait, triggering the first Gulf War. Mary Robinson becomes President of Ireland. Margaret Thatcher steps down as UK Prime Minister. The Channel Tunnel connects Britain to mainland Europe.

Fifty Years Ago (1965): Death of Winston Churchill. Assassination of Malcolm X. American combat troops arrive in South Vietnam. Civil Rights activists, lead by Martin Luther King, march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Mariner 4 takes close-up photos of Mars for the first time. Singapore becomes a sovereign country. Death of Stan Laurel. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley arrested for the Moors Murders.

Seventy Five Years Ago (1940): Nazi Germany invades Denmark and Norway, then Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. British forces abandon mainland France through Dunkirk. British cities and towns suffer through the Blitz. Thousands of people are killed by the Soviets in Katyn, Poland. The Soviet Union annexes the Baltic States. Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker make their screen debuts. First ever MacDonald’s restaurant established in California. Leon Trotsky is killed. The Lascaux cave paintings are discovered. John Charles McQuaid is consecrated Archbishop of Dublin.

One Hundred Years Ago (1915): The RMS Lusitania is sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Cork, killing 1,198 passengers and crew. The Second Battle of Ypres is fought. Poison gas deployed on the front for the first time. The Allies engage Turkey in the Gallipoli Campaign. Albert Einstein formulates his General Theory of Relativity. The Stop Sign makes its debut in Detroit. Death of Joseph O’Donovan Rossa, founder of the Fenians.

Two Hundred Years Ago (1815): Napoleon Bonaparte escapes Elba and quickly re-takes France. He is defeated in the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena. His exile ends 30 years of hostilities between Britain and France. Mount Tambora erupts in Indonesia: it is the greatest volcanic eruption in modern times. Foundation of the National History Museum in Dublin.

Three Hundred Years Ago (1715): The Sun King, Louis XIV of France, dies of gangrene in Versailles, after a reign of 72 years. A solar eclipse passes over London; the last to do so for 700 years. Beginning of the first major Jacobite rebellion in Scotland.

Four Hundred Years Ago (1615): The Tokugawa Shogunate successfully besieges Osaka Castle in Japan, commencing a period of unopposed rule that would last almost 250 years.

Five Hundred Years Ago (1515): The city of Havana in Cuba is founded by Conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar.

Six Hundred Years Ago (1415): The English defeat the French in the Battle of Agincourt. Pope Gregory XII resigns – the last pope to do so until Pope Benedict XVI in 2013. A brutal precursor to the Protestant Reformation when Bohemian reformer Jan Hus is tried and burned at the stake in Konstanz.

Seven Hundred Years Ago (1315): The Great Famine of 1315 begins, killing up to 25% of the population across Western Europe. The Scottish, under Edward Bruce, invade Ireland. Large parts of Ireland are devastated in the subsequent campaign.

Eight Hundred Years Ago (1215): King John of England agrees to the Magna Carta, establishing common rights and placing subsequent monarchs under the rule of law. Genghis Khan’s Mongols capture and destroy the city of Beijing.

One Thousand Years Ago (1015): King Canute of Denmark invades England. The following year, he became King of England.

One Thousand Six Hundred Years Ago (415): A Christian mob murders Hypatia of Alexandria, a famous mathematician and philosopher.

Two Thousand Years Ago (15 AD): Strabo completed the draft edition of “Geography“: a 17 volume description of the known world at the time.

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