Sunday, August 29, 2010
The Irish Times - Saturday, August 28, 2010
Controversial: Alexislin kitchen, which had a gala opening in 1847, served a soup whose nutritional value was criticised. Illustration courtesy of the National Library of Ireland
A French cook who catered for high society in 19th-century London came to Ireland with a scheme to help feed the starving population. Britons regarded him as a saviour. But his vats of soup went down less well here, despite his efforts to put his scientific methods to good use
WHETHER IT is as a boon to our diets or just as an outlet for a bombastic personality, we think of the celebrity chef as a modern phenomenon. But the breed is not new. During the Famine a star performer set out to revolutionise catering for the destitute. A French genius named Alexis Soyer, culinary darling of London, came to Dublin in April 1847 to set up a huge soup kitchen.
Born in 1809 in Meaux-en-Brie – home of the cheese – the cook who came to Ireland’s aid had a frugal boyhood. His grocer parents thought he was best suited for the church, but at the age of 11 he left school to try his skill in the kitchens of Paris, where he moved steadily up the ranks.
When he was 21 Soyer arrived in England, where he landed a job with the Duke of Cambridge. In 1837 he became the founding chef de cuisine of the Reform Club, an elite London meeting ground for Whigs and radicals. After their long days campaigning, these male ideologues dined lavishly on Soyer’s breaded lamb cutlets and fish en papillotte .
Soyer was a walking contradiction. He straddled two worlds, one of reformist concern for the poor, the other of serving the appetites of the rich. Married to Emma Jones, an artist, widowed early and then linked romantically with a ballerina, he was a popular and charismatic dandy. He dressed flamboyantly, with crimson velvet waistcoats, diamonds, a hunter’s hat, a neckerchief and a gilt cane. A contemporary described his “voluminous lapels”, glossy boots and “gloves the colour of beurre frais ”.
He was the quintessential celebrity chef and the toast of London society. He catered for 2,000 at Queen Victoria’s coronation breakfast and made decadent suppers and 30-course banquets for dignitaries and royalty, including King Albert and the Turkish pasha.
Soyer’s shrewd self-publicity, vanity and wealth were matched by immense communitarian efforts. A chef who kept a spotless public profile – things have changed since – Soyer began in January 1837 to write letters to the influential Times newspaper.
He was concerned about Ireland’s “dreadful calamity of starvation”. It was the second failure of the potato crop, and disease – typhus, yellow fever, tuberculosis, scurvy – was spreading. After a particularly bleak winter labourers were either dying or rioting while Lord Russell’s government fruitlessly pondered what to do.
The Soup Kitchen Act of 1847 called for food to be distributed under Sir Robert Peel’s Relief Commission. But with British taxpayers unwilling to pay for Irish needs, the government was overly dependent on private benevolence. Quaker soup kitchens were rarely productive or efficient enough. But Soyer believed he had devised a palatable soup that was easy to prepare, “of trifling expense” and, if properly administered, capable of helping to arrest the crisis.
The key word was “palatable” – the poor were believed to have simpler alimentary needs than the rich – so the soup required only a leg of meat, dripping, flour, root vegetables, pearl barley and fresh herbs to revitalise. Soyer published his “receipts”, meticulously calculating the price of each ingredient and the measurement needed to minimise waste: 100 tons, he promised with bravura, could be made for just £1.
More than willing to shift responsibility elsewhere, the government sponsored Soyer to set up a soup kitchen in Dublin. In keeping with the philanthropic fashion of the time, so well parodied in Dickens’s novels, Soyer offered an advance of £30 from his own pocket. Donations then flowed from the public.
On April 5th, 1847, the gala launch took place on the esplanade of the Royal Barracks (now the National Museum at Collins Barracks) in Dublin. The soup kitchen was a temporary hall of wooden boards, its centrepiece a towering 1,100-litre steam cauldron and glaze pan fitted with wheels, surrounded by bains-marie, a monumental bread oven and coal fires, chopping tables, tubs on wheels, meat blocks, water basins and tables with spoons chained on, plus a pantry for bread and biscuits that each abject soul would get on leaving.
The press reported “a large and brilliant assemblage” invited to approve the soup and explore the kitchen. These gentry, unaffected by blights or food shortages, could marvel abstractly at the ingenuity, command and flair of Soyer, who held forth magisterially.
Then the paupers were brought in. First they lined up outside the tent in a zigzag passage designed to prevent contamination. In a dehumanising conveyor-belt system, the bell was rung and 100 paupers at a time entered, said grace, ate, cleaned their bowls and left with a biscuit. They were allowed six minutes to eat.
One spectator, Sir John Burgoyne, likened this method of eating to watching chained animals. But the experiment was declared a success. The aim was to have 1,000 diners
per hour and 5,000 per day, but soon the kitchen was serving 8,750 meals per day. A further 3,000 portions were delivered by donkey carts to remoter parish cottages. The Relief Commissioners retained use of the kitchen until harvest time, when distribution stopped.
Although the British press presented Soyer as a messianic saviour, Irish journalists reviled him. The Freeman’s Journal mentioned his “wealthy and inappropriate air of celebration” among “a public parade of wretchedness”. The angry consensus was that the British had sent, in Soyer, a propaganda emissary with the blinding razzmatazz of an entrepreneur to detract from the real crisis of impoverishment.
Furthermore, the soup wasn’t good enough. The minuscule amount of meat it contained would barely keep the starving labourer alive, while the liquid base was for many unpalatable. The archbishop of Tuam referred to it as a “worthless mass of roots and warm water” while Punch lampooned it as “economical grog” made by “a broth of a boy”.
Soyer defended his creation, saying that “the poor do not want fattening – they want feeding”. This was Soyer’s dictum: that people can nourish themselves decently and cheaply. Coinciding with the opening of his kitchen, he published The Poorman’s Regenerator , a cookery pamphlet. The other day I found a copy, a yellowed tome the size of my hand. Although sentences such as “the mendicant eats with the greatest pleasure a piece of brown bread or a potato” make it unclear who it was written for, it shows a remarkably modern, ecological slant on how to reduce food miles and eat from local sources.
In his pamphlet Soyer urges people to “use and not abuse nature’s productions” – a fastidious critic even in dire circumstances, he describes other Irish soups as burnt, tasteless and unevenly cooked – and lists the wealth of ingredients available in Ireland, including buckwheat, oats, peas, lentils, yams, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, celery, kelp, Irish moss, dillisk, spinach and sorrel.
Soyer didn’t linger. After a magnificent farewell party on April 10th at Freemasons’ Hall on College Green, he disappeared from Ireland and travelled to the Crimean War to tackle the unsanitary conditions of hospital kitchens and malnourishment in the military. While he was there he collaborated with Florence Nightingale and wrote another cookbook.
When he returned from the war he died of apoplexy, in August 1858, aged 48, having worked himself to the end.
Soyer may have been a problematic figure when he came to Ireland in 1847. His genius lay in his economy, his resourcefulness and the productivity he achieved through scientific adaptation. Without modern marketing he couldn’t, in the style of a Jamie Oliver, teach people how to grow food or to cook. Still, he was a prodigious inventor, designing kitchens suited to everyone from soldier to gastronome, plus a “magic stove” and gadgets whose models remain, with his cookbooks, the relics of his public works – as well as patented bottled sauces that, in the spirit of a modern billionaire chef, bore his winking image on the label.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
By Colin Gleeson and Elaine Keogh, Irish Independent
Tuesday August 24 2010
ARISTOCRAT Lord Henry Mountcharles has donated four 18th-Century cottages that formerly housed workers of the Slane Castle estate to boost tourism in Slane village.
The single-storey stone artisan buildings, located on Chapel Street in Slane, Co Meath, were built in 1701 by the Conyngham family, who have owned the Slane estate since that time.
Lord Henry, the current head of the family, yesterday "gifted" the cottages to the local authority.
The buildings have been vacant for many years and will require refurbishment by the council, which plans to use them as a tourism and heritage centre.
Lord Henry said he wanted to see the cottages become "a heartbeat" for tourism in the area.
"Slane has such a vibrant and rich heritage going back to St Patrick," he said. "It is one of the most significant 18th-century villages in the country, and it needed a boost in terms of getting a heartbeat in the centre.
"I decided these buildings were absolutely ideal. They are in a central location and are at the starting point of the Slane heritage trail.
"I also made a commitment that we as a family will kickstart the project, in terms of what is going to happen inside the building, with a gift or a grant to the Slane Historical Society, to assist with things like audiovisual displays.
"It is really important there be community development if we're going to get ourselves out of the hole we're in.
"Tourism is one of the most important things.
"The local hotel here has closed down, and other businesses in the area have also closed down. Hopefully, the more visitors we can attract, it will work as part of a revitalisation.
"I love this area and that is why I'm doing this. I grew up here and this is where my heart lies. I have grandchildren living in the village," he added.
A spokesperson for Meath county manager Tom Dowling said he was delighted with the gift, and plans to restore the cottages are in place.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Historians from Immaculata University comb through the evidence at the site of an overgrown memorial to the rail workers in Malvern, Philadelphia. Picture: AP
by Breda Heffernan
Tuesday August 17 2010
US historians trying to uncover a mystery surrounding the mass death of 57 Irish immigrants nearly 180 years ago, have found evidence they may have been murdered.
Previously it had been thought the group -- they died within weeks of starting gruelling work on the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad in 1832 -- were cholera victims.
However, four skulls unearthed from the mass grave suggest the men suffered blows to the head and at least one may have been shot in an outpouring of anti-Irish violence.
Dr William Watson, chairman of the history department at Immaculata University and his twin brother, Frank, have spent the past eight years trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the deaths of the Irish workers at Malvern, Pennsylvania.
Dr Watson said the revelation that at least four of the men had died violent deaths proved "this was much more than a cholera epidemic".
Anti-Irish feelings ran high in 19th Century America and the men lived in a shanty near the railway tracks where they worked.
It is now believed that while many died of cholera, some were killed by vigilantes because of prejudice, tension between affluent residents and these poor transient workers, or because of a fear that the cholera would spread.
"I don't think we need to be so hesitant in coming to the conclusion now that violence was the cause of death and not cholera, although these men might have had cholera," anthropologist Janet Monge, also working on the project, said.
Examinations reveal a number of clues about the men's lifestyle.
Their bones indicate that while they had poor diets, the labourers were still muscular.
Coffin nails were also recovered from the site indicating some were given a formal burial.
However, it is understood the families in Ireland were never told what happened to their loved ones.
Using passenger records, the Watsons believe some of the group had sailed from Ireland to Philadelphia four months before their deaths and were originally from counties Donegal, Derry and Tyrone. The brothers hope to eventually recover all the remains, identify the men and bury them properly, either in the US or in Ireland.
"We see this more as a recovery mission -- get them out of this ignominious burial place," said Dr Watson.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Aug 11 2010 06:36 PM ET
David Wolper, the legendary Hollywood producer who brought Roots and The Thorn Birds to the small screen, has died at 82 of congestive heart failure and complications from Parkinson’s Disease, according to the AP. Roots was watched by 130 million people back in 1977, roughly half the population of the country at the time. Wolper also produced for the big screen, including 1971′s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and, years later, 1992′s Oscar-winning police drama LA Confidential.
Friday, August 6, 2010
August 6, 2010
PROVO, Utah, Aug. 6, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Ancestry.com Inc. (Nasdaq:ACOM) announced today that it has acquired leading professional genealogy research firm, ProGenealogists, Inc.
Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, ProGenealogists specializes in genealogical, forensic and family history research. During its 10-year history, the firm has become a trusted name in professional genealogy, finding great success with client research and expanding both its domestic and international capabilities. As a part of Ancestry.com, ProGenealogists will continue to provide premier family history research to its existing clients while extending the Ancestry.com reach across the genealogy value chain.
"We are delighted to welcome ProGenealogists into the Ancestry.com network," said David Rinn, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development for Ancestry.com. "With this acquisition Ancestry.com can better serve subscribers who are seeking dedicated, personal support in their family history research. As a natural service extension for
Ancestry.com, we expect the addition of ProGenealogists will also enhance and expand the professional research offerings currently available through Ancestry.com Expert Connect."
"Ancestry.com is definitely in a class by itself in the genealogy industry," said Natalie Cottrill, CEO of ProGenealogists, Inc. "We are excited to become part of the Ancestry.com family and look forward to finding new ways to help more people interested in learning about their roots."
Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Ancestry.com does not expect the acquisition to have a material impact on its financial guidance as issued in connection with its second quarter earnings release on July 29, 2010.
ProGenealogists and Ancestry.com have worked together on several initiatives over the past few years including driving the research for the NBC television program, "Who Do You Think You Are?" which traced the family histories of celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker, Lisa Kudrow, Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon, Emmitt Smith, Matthew Broderick and Spike Lee. Ancestry.com will continue leveraging the expertise at ProGenealogists for similar initiatives in the future.
Ancestry.com Inc. (Nasdaq:ACOM) is the world's largest online family history resource, with more than one million paying subscribers. More than 5 billion records have been added to the site in the past 13 years. Ancestry users have created more than 18 million family trees containing over 1.8 billion profiles. Ancestry.com has local Web sites directed at nine countries, including its flagship Web site at www.ancestry.com.
About ProGenealogists, Inc.
ProGenealogists, Inc. is a consortium of professional genealogists who specialize in genealogical, forensic, and family history research. The firm services thousands of professional, government, media, and individual clients worldwide. In addition, the firm has published numerous articles and research tools on their award winning website, www.progenealogists.com
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
THE long-lost memoirs of a man who served in Roger Casement’s ‘Irish
Brigade’ in Germany during the First World War have been published –
over 40 years after the first draft of the book mysteriously went missing
from the author’s deathbed.
In 2005 Kevin Keogh (51), from Ard na Greine, first stumbled on the
manuscript for the book, which was written by his grandfather Michael
He had been carrying out some research into his family history when he
came across photos of his grandfather on the internet, and realised soon
afterwards that the raw material of Michael Keogh’s fascinating and
unfinished book lay undiscovered but intact in the UCD archives.
UCD released the book back to the Keogh family, who enlisted the help
of author and historian Brian Maye to cross-reference all the times, dates,
places and events described in the book.
Five years and much meticulous research later, ‘With Casement’s Irish
Brigade’ was published by Choice Publishing Ltd earlier this month, with
an introduction written by Brian Maye.
The book is a fascinating account of an Irishman who led an exciting,
adventurous and at times dangerous life. He boasted the unusual honour
of fighting and being decorated by both sides in World War I. Originally
a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Michael Keogh joined the
British Army in 1914, winning the George’s Cross for bravery for his role
in the very early stages of the Great War, where he fought in such famous
campaigns as the Battle of Mons.
As a prisoner of war, Keogh joined Roger Casement’s Irish Brigade and
subsequently joined the German Army, fighting on the Western Front and
later against the Munich Soviet in 1919.
He was decorated by the Germans with the Iron Cross for gallantry.
One fascinating episode described in the book is when Michael Keogh
rescued and probably saved the life of a young German soldier who was
being savagely attacked by a gang of his peers over his controversial views.
That man was Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler.
Kevin Keogh told Northside People: “My grandfather crossed paths with
Adolf Hitler on three occasions. “The first time my grandfather took any
notice of Lance Corporal Hitler was September 1918 near Ligny on the French
border. “Hitler was in the same Bavarian 16th Infantry Regiment as my
grandfather. Hitler was being carried on a stretcher outside a field-dressing
“The second time is of more historical interest. I quote my grandfather:
‘I was back in Munich in the late spring of 1919 when, after some days of
bitter fighting, the Frikorps & the regular army had overthrown the Reds.
‘I had fought my way into Munich as a captain in command of the
machine-gun company in the Frikorps Epp - led by General [later Field
‘A few weeks later I was the officer of the day in the Turken Strasse barracks
when I got an urgent call about eight o'clock in the evening.
‘A riot had broken out over two political agents in the gymnasium. These
"political officers" as they were called, were allowed to visit each barracks and
make speeches or approach the men for votes and support.
‘I ordered out a sergeant and six men and, with fixed bayonets, led them off on
‘There were about 200 men in the gymnasium, among them some tough
‘Two political agents, who had been lecturing from a table top, had been dragged
to the floor and were being beaten up. Some of the mob were trying to save them.
‘Bayonets were beginning to flash. The two on the floor were in danger of being
kicked to death.
‘I ordered the guard to fire one round over the heads of the rioters. It stopped the
commotion. We hauled out the two politicians. Both were cut, bleeding and in need
of a doctor. The crowd around muttered and growled, boiling for blood.
‘We carried them to the guardroom and called a doctor. While waiting for him I
‘The fellow with the moustache gave his name promptly: Adolf Hitler. It was the
Lance Corporal of Ligny. I would not have recognised him. He had been five months
in hospital, in Passewalk, Pomerania. He was thin and emaciated from his wounds.
‘Then he began to talk about his "new party". The other man with him was Zimmer.
They had come to the barracks as political agents for the new National Socialist
German Workers’ Party [NSDAP], which Hitler and six others had founded.
‘The next time I saw him, he was no longer in need of a guardroom for his safety. I
was standing on the fringe of a vast crowd. The place was Nuremberg and the year
was 1930. The month was August. Hitler was on a massive platform, furled in the
Swastika flags of his National Socialist German Workers’ Party, much better known
by its abbreviation, Nazi.
‘One month later, his party won 107 of the seats in the Reichstag. And the fate of
Germany lay in his hands.’” Upon his discharge from the German army in 1919,
Keogh came home and took part in the War of Independence, gunrunning for the IRA
Grandson Kevin said it was a thrilling moment for his family when they realised they
had rediscovered their grandfather’s legacy.
“We grew up hearing the stories about my grandfather, and especially about his book
which he spent 30 careful years re-drafting and editing – he never went anywhere
without it,” he stated.
Just before Michael Keogh died in 1964, his son Kevin (now aged 84 and living in Swords)
went to visit him at James Connolly Memorial Hospital in Blanchardstown. His father was
in a very distressed state, and claimed that a man dressed as a priest had taken his papers from
under his pillow. The war veteran died two days later, and it took 40 years for the papers
“The original documents were there, a lot of them in handwriting – although we had been
told the stories many times there were lots of details in the book that even my father had
never known about his father,” added Kevin Keogh.
This fascinating account of a larger-than-life Irishman is a must for anyone interested in
history, war or true-life adventure. Scriptwriters should form a queue.
l ‘With Casement’s Irish Brigade’ is available online from Choice Publishing Ltd. Drogheda,