Fake Histories #33  Is Elvis still taking care of business?

iu.jpeg

Depending on when you were born, Elvis Presley—who died forty-two years ago today—was the King of Rock and Roll and a practising demi-God, or a morbidly obese Las Vegas cabaret singer who didn’t even write his own songs. It largely depends on whether you were born in the forties—in which case he was a genius—or the fifties—in which case you were more of a Beatles type anyway.

Falling squarely into the latter category I was one of those people who was puzzled at the mawkish outpouring of grief when Elvis died on 16 August 1977 and those spangly white costumes, which latterly had almost been painted on to his frame, were no more. Personally, I was more affected by the death of the great Groucho Marx the same week.

As is the case with most icons there are many myths surrounding the life, times and music of Elvis Presley. Among these is the notion that Presley and Oprah Winfrey are related. Which occasionally morphs into the narrative that Oprah’s ancestors were once slaves on the Presley estate. This, however, is hard to reconcile with the idea of Elvis being descended from an impoverished line of Mississippi sharecroppers who were forced to shoot, skin and eat squirrels to stay alive. Plantation owners were more of the ‘mint julep on the porch’ variety.

Then there is the rumour that Elvis had a pet chimpanzee named Scatter who died of alcoholic poisoning. Well, this one definitely has at least an element of truth about it. Elvis had a lot of pets, and one of them was a chimpanzee named Scatter who often dressed, like his owner, in Hawaiian shirts. Whether or not he was spoon-fed liquor and died as a result, however, remains merely a nasty rumour.

But, of course, the abiding myth that surrounds Elvis is that he is still ‘taking care of business’, holed up somewhere with that other great immortal Jim Morrison. Neither man, thousands of people fervently hold as an act of blind faith,  ever left the building.

Apparently, the King’s Graceland mansion included a secret tunnel dating back to the days of the Underground Railroad, when slaves were smuggled out of the South to freedom in the North. Elvis is supposed to have abandoned his career by means of this nineteenth-century convenience, rather than actually having died of a heart attack on his own twentieth-century convenience. He is then alleged to have purchased a ticket to Buenos Aires in the name of John Burrows the day after his faked death. Why is this significant, you ask? And I will tell you, as breathlessly as possible. The man who bought the ticket looked very Elvish and the alias ‘John Burrows’ was often used by Presley’s management team when booking hotel rooms for him anonymously.

Presleyean conspiracy theorists also point to the misspelling of his middle name on his gravestone as a clear indication of an intention to simulate his own demise. Now when you look at this gravestone it clearly reads ‘Elvis Aaron Presley’, the spelling being all present and correct. Except, apparently, Elvis’s middle name on his birth certificate was spelt ‘A-R-O-N’ as opposed to the more conventional ‘A-A-R-O-N.’ Which monumental typo, obviously demonstrates a clear intent to leave a wax dummy in your open coffin and do a bunk for Argentina where your savings would immediately have been eroded by rampant inflation.

The wax dummy theory, by the way, is lent credence by the weight of the coffin, which clocked in at nine hundred pounds. This was, supposedly, because it housed an air conditioning unit to prevent the wax from melting in the August Tennessee heat. Clearly, it had nothing to do with the fact that Elvis himself weighed almost nine hundred pounds at the time of his death.

iu-1.jpeg

Between 1977 and 1981 six of his new releases became top ten singles. This prompted people unfamiliar with the concept of ‘recording’ or ‘archive’ to assume that he was still active in the music business. He was also said to have appeared as an extra in the film Home Alone thirteen years after his faked death. Sightings of him are now more frequent than those of the much older and more credible Loch Ness monster. You can expect him to turn up soon doing tours of Graceland, and for the first miracles to be cited in his name.

So, is Elvis still alive somewhere, possibly working as a vaquero on the Argentinian Pampas, at the grand old age of eighty-four? Well, we should probably assume that he was dead when an autopsy was performed on his body and, tentatively and regrettably, accept this as fake history.

iu-2.jpeg

Fake Histories #32   Beachboy Dennis Wilson barely escaped being murdered by the Manson gang in 1969?

 

iu-2.jpegiu.jpeg

According to the writer Joan Didion the 1960s may have ended fifty years ago today. Technically she was out by four months and twenty-two days, but Didion was writing about a shocking event that banished the optimism, playfulness, and naivety of that decade. Because it was half a century ago today that a promising young actor named Sharon Tate, wife of film director, Roman Polanski, was murdered in Los Angeles. She wasn’t the only victim, four others were slaughtered along with her, as was her unborn son.

They were the victims of a  demented cult or a devious group of psychopathic killers covering up a crime committed by one of their members, that’s depending on which account you read. They were, or so the California courts were told, under the guidance and tutelage of a quasi-Messianic figure named Charles Manson, a petty criminal released from prison in March 1967. A number of personal and second-hand accounts have been written about the rampage of Manson’s acolytes—including the best-selling ‘true crime’ novel of all time, Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, who was one of the team that prosecuted Manson in 1970. Their accounts are contradictory and in the case of cult members trying to impress parole boards with the level of their penitence, utterly unreliable.

Ironically, Manson was not present at Tate crime scene, much of the murderous work was carried out by two of the memoirists, Susan Atkins and Charles ‘Tex’ Watson. In addition to the five so-called ‘Tate’ murders, the Manson gang went on to kill a Los Angeles couple, Leno and Rosemary La Bianca and were also found guilty of two more killings, a body count of nine over a period of three weeks.

And it didn’t all end in 1970 when many of the members of the cult were jailed for life, or handed hefty prison terms. Another member of the group, Lynette Fromme, nicknamed ‘Squeaky’, who avoided jail in 1970, made a name for herself in 1975 when she attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford with a .45 semi-automatic pistol. Twelve years later she broke out of prison and, apparently, went in search of Manson who, she had heard, had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. She was recaptured within two days and was released in 2009 after thirty-four years in jail. Manson died in prison in 2017 after being incarcerated for forty-eight years.

But amid the horror of their crimes one, often overlooked, episode in the preamble to the murders was the relationship between the so-called Manson ‘family’ and the mercurial Dennis Wilson, drummer, and co-founder of the Beach Boys. Wilson had picked up two female members of the family hitchhiking, brought them to his home, and left for a recording session. When he returned it was to find Manson, and a number of his followers, ensconced in his house. Instead of calling the police Wilson befriended Manson, who saw himself as a budding rock star. Wilson was sufficiently impressed with Manson’s songwriting abilities to record him in his brother Brian’s studio. Wilson even persuaded the Beach Boys to cover one of Manson’s songs—originally entitled ‘Cease to Exist’ – this was changed to the more innocuous ‘Never Learn Not to Love’—as a B-side. When Manson was not credited on the record the relationship turned sour. Manson is said to have threatened to kill Denis Wilson and was beaten up by Wilson as a result.

But to allege that Wilson might have been a specific target for the murderous activities of the Manson gang is something of a stretch. It presupposes a level of organisation, and homicidal mentoring on the part of Manson himself, that doesn’t appear to exist outside of the myth-making of Vincent Bugliosi’s best-selling Helter Skelter. While Manson, and many of his acolytes, were undoubtedly evil, they were not evil geniuses. Neither did they necessarily kill at the behest of Manson himself. Their atrocities, far from being commanded by a charismatic guru figure, may have been ‘copy-cat’ murders designed to convince LA Police that they had arrested another ‘family’ member, Robert Beausoleil, in error, for the killing of a drug dealer.

Wilson certainly forked out a lot of money to the Manson ‘family’—much of to treat the STDs of the famously promiscuous cult members—he even walked out of his own house and left Manson in situ when their relationship turned nasty. But there is no evidence that Manson had any plans to do away with Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson. That’s fake history.

iu-1.jpeg

Fake Histories #31  – The Irish tricolour was first unveiled when it was flown over the GPO in 1916?

 

iu.jpeg

He was one of the most colourful and erratic characters in 19thcentury Irish history. Thomas Francis Meagher was born to a wealthy Waterford merchant family in 1823. He was educated by the Jesuits at Clongowes wood and later at Stonyhurst in England, where he replaced his Irish accent with a clipped upper-class English drawl – something that was to alienate many of his fellow-countrymen in the years that followed.

His involvement with the Young Ireland movement in the 1840s led to his falling out with Daniel O’Connell and a drift towards militancy. This culminated in the farcical 1848 rebellion – but before that dismal revolutionary failure, Meagher had conferred on the Irish nation perhaps his most abiding legacy – the green, white and orange tricolour. He had been gifted the flag on a visit to France, it was unveiled in his native Waterford in 1848, and its use in the 1916 rising copper-fastened its status as the flag of the Irish republic. It gained formal recognition in Article 7 of the 1937 constitution.

Meagher’s involvement in the 1848 rebellion led to his transportation to Tasmania. 1852 he escaped to the USA where, arguably, he made a greater contribution to American history than he did to that of his native country.

His most significant impact came after the outbreak of the Civil War. Taking over command of the Irish brigade from Michael Corcoran he proved to be an excellent recruiter for the Union army.  Knowing his target market well one of Meagher’s recruiting posters read –‘The Cotton Lords and Traitor Allies of England Must Be Put Down Once and for All.’

To his detractors, of whom there were many, Meagher was a self-important, fractious and pompous alcoholic. But to his troops he was their General, known to one and all in the Irish Brigade as ‘Meagher of the Sword’. His reputation was sealed by an iconic engraving of the celebrated American artists Currier and Ives in which he was depicted on horseback leading the Irish Brigade into the Battle of Fair Oaks in June 1862.

After the Civil War, Meagher was rewarded by the US administration—if indeed it can be described as a reward—with something called the secretaryship of the territory of Montana.  This may sound like he was expected to take minutes of a lot of meetings, but that is not how things turned out. On Meagher’s arrival in the future capital of the state, Helena, the sitting governor just upped and left. That should probably have served as a warning to the Waterford man that perhaps he too should make his excuses and scarper.

Instead, Meagher became acting governor of the territory and found himself in charge of a large and relatively lawless region of the American West. Not all the inhabitants were friendly. The assertive Lakota nation disputed the writ of the Federal government in suitably muscular fashion. In addition to an Indian war, Meagher also found himself in the middle of some vicious factional disputes among the tiny white population. As Meagher had something of a shortish fuse he didn’t take long to make enemies.  Indeed it may have been his political adversaries who were responsible for his mysterious death on 1 July 1867. He died at Fort Benton on the Missouri river when he disappeared from a steamboat. His body was never found. It was presumed to have been whisked away rapidly by the fierce river currents. Various theories have been advanced as to the cause of his death, the most popular is that he was drunk and fell overboard. Others suggest he was killed by native Americans, renegade Confederates or Montanan political enemies. We shall never know.

iu-1.jpeg

Statues honour the man who gave us the Irish tricolour, in the Mall in Waterford, and outside the Capitol building in Helena, Montana. Both depict him on horseback waving his sword. There is also a bust of the man near the spot where he disappeared more than 150 years ago.

So, in answer to the question was the Irish tricolour first unveiled when it was flown over the GPO in 1916, no it wasn’t. That event took place in the city of Waterford sixty-eight years before the Easter Rising.  [It’s fake history].

 

Fake Histories #30   British 19th-century​ public hangings were always carnival occasions?

iu-2.jpeg

 

It was one of the most celebrated miscarriages of justice in nineteenth-century British history, based on so-called forensic evidence that makes the appalling convictions of the Birmingham Six in 1975 seem almost benign by comparison. The difference was that the person convicted did not survive to benefit from the subsequent campaign designed to exonerate her.

Eliza Fenning was the daughter of an Irish-born soldier and was twenty-one years of age when she was taken on as a cook in the household of Robert and Charlotte Turner in London’s Chancery Lane. On the evening of 21 March 1815 she cooked a meal for herself,  her employers, the father of Robert Turner, and a young apprentice, Robert Gadsdell.

Later that night all five exhibited signs of extreme food poisoning. A doctor—John Marshall—was sent for, but all five recovered. Turner, however, encouraged by his wife, harboured suspicions as to the source of the poisoning. Charlotte Turner expressed misgivings about the insistence on the part of Eliza Fenning that she prepare dumplings on the night of the ill-fated meal. The remains of these were examined in a rather dubious experiment by John Marshall, who proclaimed them contaminated with arsenic. Robert Turner claimed that a quantity arsenic—freely available at the time for the extermination of vermin—had gone missing from his study. Suspicion fell on Eliza Fenning. Although she too had eaten the dumplings, she was arrested and later charged with attempted murder.

At Fenning’s trial, Marshall gave evidence of his so-called ‘findings’—at the time no reliable scientific test existed which might have proved the presence of arsenic. Charlotte Turner offered a possible revenge motive for Fenning’s allegedly homicidal intentions. She told the court that she had scolded Fenning the previous week when she had caught the young cook in the bedroom of their two apprentices, in a ‘state of undress’. Subsequently, Mrs. Turner continued, she had been treated by Fenning with less than the required level of respect and deference.

At her trial, Eliza Fenning had no legal representation. The trial judge, in his summing up, made no secret of his conviction that Fenning was guilty, despite the flimsy and circumstantial nature of the evidence against her. The jury, thus prompted, took only a few minutes to convict her. The following day the judge sentenced her to death for the attempted murder of the Turners and Gadsdell, although he had the option, had he chosen to exercise it, of ordering her transportation to Australia instead. She was hanged on 26 July 1815 outside the walls of Newgate prison before a large crowd, said to have numbered more than forty thousand. Unlike other public hangings, the atmosphere on this occasion was not of a carnival nature. The crowd was reported as behaving in a sullen fashion. Most would have seen the execution of the young working-class servant girl—who had the temerity to have learned to read—as judicial murder of one of their own. Fenning was still protesting her innocence as she went to her death.

There was an immediate adverse reaction to her conviction and execution. The radical newspapers of the day, such as the Examiner and the Traveller, condemned the nature of the evidence, and the use of capital punishment in the case. Establishment newspapers, however, like the Observer, supported the verdict, pointing out to its readers that ‘her father and mother are both from Ireland, and are both Roman Catholics.’

iu.jpeg

The Turner’s house was attacked by a mob shortly after the execution of Eliza Fenning, and more than ten thousand people are said to have attended her funeral.

A journalist, John Watkins, took up the case of Fenning and published a riposte to the testimony that had convicted her. He eviscerated the prosecution evidence, most notably, that of the doctor/chemist John Marshall. Watkins pointed out that Marshall claimed to have distilled half a teaspoon of arsenic from the dough left behind in the pan used to make the murderous dumplings. Extrapolating from that, Watkins estimated that the dumplings themselves would have contained eighteen hundred grains of arsenic. Five grains of arsenic is enough to kill most human beings, yet the Turners, Fenning, and Gadsdell had survived an amount of three hundred and sixty times that dosage. The palpably unsafe nature of Fenning’s conviction helped accelerate the introduction of proper forensic standards into British crime detection, and expert court testimony over the subsequent half-century.

So, not all public hangings in 19thcentury Britain were carnival occasions, certainly not in the case of Eliza Fenning. That’s fake history.

iu-1.jpegiu-3.jpeg

 

 

Fake Histories #29   The lunar landings of the 1960s and 70s were all faked by NASA?

iu.jpeg

It gave us satellite TV, laptops, carbon monoxide detectors, the Black and Decker Dustbuster, Teflon, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins—not the one who was left cooling his heels while the real action was taking place a few hundred miles away, that was Eamon de Valera.

I’m talking about the space race of the 1960s between the USA and something called the Soviet Union. It culminated fifty years ago this week in the landing of two Americans on the surface of the moon. Or did it? Was the whole enterprise an elaborate fake? For years dedicated fake scientists have argued that the entire Apollo programme was one gigantic hoax.

Exhibit A for the conspiracy theorists is the planting of the American flag by Buzz Aldrin. Like many expensive Dublin restaurants, the moon has no atmosphere worth speaking about. But when Aldrin stuck the Stars and Stripes in the lunar surface it appeared to move. This, the Apollo Eleven deniers conclude, indicated the presence of wind. As anyone who did Junior Cert science can tell you, there is no such thing as a breezy vacuum. Not only that, the flag managed to stay aloft throughout the lengthy extra-vehicular activity of Armstrong and Aldrin.

Therefore, Dr. Strangelove director Stanley Kubrick filmed the whole thing in the Hollywood Hills for NASA. Why? because the USA was miles behind the Russians in the space race, and if they lost that they would lose the Cold War, six-love, six-love. They also wanted to distract American citizens from the ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ War with some good news about the billions being spent on their behalf to land a dozen astronauts on a dust-covered rock. Furthermore, Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chafee were murdered by the American aeronautic ‘deep state’ when Apollo 1 went on fire before take-off in 1967. They were executed because they were going to spill the beans about this massive conspiracy and cause huge embarrassment to the Johnson administration.        NASA’s spurious insistence that the movement of the flag was caused by the very act of planting it in the moon dust, has been dismissed out of hand by all right-thinking conspiracy theorists. They also reject the proffered explanation for the continued erect state of the flag. The best NASA could come up with, was that it had been equipped with a traversal pole along the top in order to prevent it from hanging loose. Phooey!

shutterstock-285636983.jpg

The whole flag episode was dusted off for different reasons in 2018 when ultra-patriotic Americans, always on the lookout for cheese-eating surrender monkey slurs—men like the Florida Republican Senator, Marco Rubio—went out of their way to be outraged that the planting of the flag was ignored in the film First Man. This was the biopic of Neil Armstrong, starring Ryan Gosling. So now we know why. The director, the highly suspect French-American, Damian Chazelle, just wanted to avoid a lunar Twitterspat. If he depicted the planting of the flag, he was damned if there was no breeze, and he was damned if there was.

But that’s just Exhibit A. There’s much much more. Some of it is really exciting. Where are the stars, for example? All that dark lunar sky and not a single star to be seen.  You can safely ignore the astronomical fabrication which claims that the reflection of the sun’s light on the lunar surface would have been intense enough to eliminate all traces of starlight. Then there’s the rock with the letter ‘C’ painted on it. This was clearly left lying around by a set dresser or a ‘best boy’ – whatever they are. It features in one of the photographs released by NASA. Pay no attention whatever to their desperate explanation that it’s merely an imperfection on the photographic negative. Baloney.

Finally, there’s the unmistakable appearance in the top right-hand corner of another photograph of Brian O’Driscoll in hiking boots. OK, I just made that one up.

Apparently, it would have required up to 400,000 people to maintain silence for any or all of these conspiracy theories to be true – and what’s so incredible about that? There must have been at least that many people working in the Irish banking sector in 2008

So, were all the Apollo moon landings grotesque, but artistically successful fakes, directed by Stanley Kubrick and perpetrated by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration? Oh, for God’s sake, grow up!

iu-2.jpeg

 

 

 

Fake Histories #28   Did King Billy give the Pope a bloody nose on 12 July 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne?

 

iu-2.jpeg

Today was a day for celebrating a two-hundred-year-old tradition in Northern Ireland. The Orange Order, founded in 1795, has been celebrating the Twelfth of July since 1796. They don’t hang about when it comes to a good march. Mostly, in the two hundred and twenty three years since the first parade, they have gone off peacefully enough, with the worst unrest taking place at the notorious clash at Dolly’s Brae, near Castlewellan, in 1849, when a contested procession led to a skirmish which resulted in an unknown number of dead Catholic protestors, possibly as many as thirty, though this figure is disputed by historians.

Orange marches are usually seen by one side as an expression of their culture, and by the other as a blatant sectarian provocation. But the event they commemorate should be known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ because of its very own glorious complexities.

The fact is that when members of the Orange Order parade on 12 July in honour of the victory of King William at the Battle of the Boyne, they should keep a couple of things in mind. First, they might ask themselves are they commemorating the scuffle at the Boyne in 1690, or the far more significant Battle of Aughrim in 1691? Because Aughrim, the battle that finally ended Jacobite resistance in Ireland, was actually fought on 12 July, whereas the far less important Battle of the Boyne was fought on 1 July.

This is because of a Pope and a Roman Emperor. At the end of the 17thcentury, Ireland still went by the old Julian calendar, a survivor from the halcyon days of the Roman empire. The British Protestant administration which governed the country had rejected the new Gregorian calendar, adopted in 1582 because it was the brainchild of a servant of the antichrist himself, Pope Gregory XIII.

iu-1.jpeg

So, initially at least, celebrations of the ‘Glorious Twelfth’— not to be confused with the open season on harmless Scottish grouse with which it shares its name—were meant to commemorate 1691, not 1690. Then, sometime around the middle of the 18thcentury, Ireland finally adopted the Gregorian calendar and suddenly the anniversary of the Battle of Aughrim fell on 22 July. No problem to the highly adaptable Orange Order, we’ll celebrate the Boyne instead, because its anniversary now falls on the Twelfth!

Then there’s the second more awkward consideration for revelling Orangemen. Technically they should find some room on their banners for Pope Alexander VIII, because, back in 1690, he was an ally of William of Orange! Let me repeat that in case it was drowned out by the beating of a Lambeg drum … the Pope and King Billy were on the same side.

Allow me to explain this mightily inconvenient fact. The Battle of the Boyne was actually part of a much larger global conflict known as the Nine Years War. This began in 1688 and, no prizes for guessing ended in 1697.  It was also called The War of the Grand Alliance, the War of the League of Augsburg and, in North America, King  William’s war. It was fought between France and … just about everybody else. James II of England, being a good Catholic, was an ally of the French. William, a good Protestant, and an even better Dutchman was King Louis XIV’s sworn and implacable enemy.

So where does the Pope come into all this? Well Pope Alexander VIII, ruler of the Papal States, was an enemy of King Louis XIV. As we all know the most basic mathematical equation in realpolitik and war is, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. That made King Billy and Pope Alex very big buddies indeed. The corollary of that equation is ‘the friend of my enemy, is my enemy too’. This meant that King James II, for all that he was a staunch Catholic, was not on the same side of the quarrel as his own Pope. It also meant that the Catholic Irish opponents of William of Orange were not only fighting for an English King, but they were also doing so in opposition to the Pontiff in Rome.

When news of the Williamite victory over the Jacobites reached Rome, the Pope ordered that the bells of the Vatican City should be rung in celebration. It’s just possible this may not have come up in the speeches of various Grand Masters after today’s parades.

So, in answer to the question did King Billy give the Pope a bloody nose on the 12th July 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne? N,o he didn’t. It was 1 July, and they were on the same team. That’s fake history.

iu.jpeg

BTW – King Billy didn’t go into battle on white charger either. That’s fake history too!

Fake Histories #27  Christopher Columbus discovered America?

 

christopher-columbus-wc-9254209-2-raw.jpg

Yesterday America did what it does best, parades. Lots and lots of them. It’s hard to beat an American parade, whether it’s celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, the Chinese New Year, or Independence Day, with marching bands, baton twirling and expressions of love and loyalty to motherland, or fatherland, depending on your gender preference.

So with the focus on the USA this week it’s worth asking the thorny old question, was Christopher Columbus the first to locate America, and if he didn’t why does everyone give him credit for the discovery?

First of all, let’s sort out what we mean by ‘discover’. After all, it’s not like he found it down the side of the couch. There were plenty of people there before him. In the Eurocentric world of the fifteenth century you ‘discovered’ something when you were the first European to get there and begin the process of eliminating any indigenous peoples who had been around for the previous few millennia and had the cheek to assume ownership.

As is well known, when Columbus sailed out into the Atlantic in 1492 he was hoping to hit the eastern suburbs of Asia. Instead, he landed in the Bahamas, travelled on to Cuba and Hispaniola, kidnapped a few natives, and headed back to Spain to figure out how to exploit his good fortune. This is why America isn’t called Columbia, and the best the USA could do for him was call Columbus Day (12 October), and a few cities, after him. A later Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, figured out that what Columbus had ‘discovered’ was nowhere near Asia. He realised it was an integral land mass and won the naming rights – hence the Americas, north AND south are called after Amerigo. Roll over Columbus. I suppose Americans should consider themselves lucky, Amerigo could have insisted on the place being called North and South Vespucci.

Of course, neither of those peripatetic Italian gentlemen even came close to being the first Europeans to land on any part of the continent of America. There are numerous prior claimants, some fanciful and some proven beyond doubt. Let’s take them in order of appearance, or invention. Starting with our own St. Brendan the Navigator, the world’s most famous Kerryman. Brendan, a sixth-century monk, is reputed to have built a variation of a traditional currach and sailed westwards with a crew of fellow monks to what is described in an 8thcentury text as the Isle of the Blessed.

Until 1976 it was generally believed to be impossible to sail something as relatively flimsy as a currach across the Atlantic Ocean until the explorer Tim Severin did just that. Severin didn’t prove that Brendan had got there–the possibility that he reached Iceland is more likely—but he did demonstrate that it was possible.

Which brings us to the Vikings. Their ancient sagas told of an adventurer named Erik Thorvaldsson, or Erik the Red who became the first permanent European settler of Greenland. Obviously, he hadn’t ventured too far inland before he gave the new snow and ice covered landmass a name.

Erik the Red had a son named Leif, assumed to have been born in Iceland. Leif Erikson was as adventurous as his father and journeyed even further westward, to a place he called Vinland because of the profusion of wild vines and grapes. In the 1960s the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad, and his wife Anne, an archaeologist, identified a site on the northern tip of Newfoundland which showed evidence of Norse settlement five hundred years before the voyage of Christopher Columbus. According to the Icelandic sagas, Leif Erikson didn’t remain long in Vinland, relations with the indigenous tribes of the area were not good, the Norsemen felt outnumbered and insecure and abandoned to settlement. Who knows, some of them may even have made it all the way back to Dublin in time for the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

The work of the Ingstads in uncovering the Viking settlement offered confirmation of the Icelandic sagas and the European ‘discovery’ of North America around the end of the first millennium. In 1969 the United States Congress conferred recognition on the Norse role in the settlement of North America by establishing 9 October as Leif Erikson day.

Which secures the Viking claim to have got there first, until such time as some enterprising Irish archaeologist discovers the site of St. Brendan’s first American monastery and consigns Leif Erikson to the dustbin of history. Should that come about the Irish government should immediately petition the United Nations for the USA to be renamed, West Kerry.

But did Columbus get to America first, with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria in 1492? Not by half a millennium, that’s fake history.

iStock-638225164.jpg