Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Fantastic 120-Year-Old Color Pictures of Ireland

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

There's a lot more to the Emerald Isle than the supposed World’s Greatest Snake Exterminator. Need some proof? Just check out these photochrom prints of Ireland taken between 1890 and 1900 and organized by county, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

County Antrim

Royal Avenue, Belfast

While Belfast’s main shopping district was a popular target of IRA attacks in the seventies and eighties, most of the buildings in this image are still standing after all this time.

Rustic Bridge in Glenariff

With its picturesque trees and waterfalls, Glenariff Forest Park is quite a popular tourist destination these days. The area is nicknamed “Queen of the Glens”—the largest and most beautiful glen in the county.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Amazingly, this rope bridge linking Carrick Island to the mainland is still in use. It has become a major tourist attraction. To be fair, though, it has been redesigned and improved over the years to make it safer.

Portrush

While the beaches of Portrush are still a draw for tourists, the town is now also known for its dance clubs and Barry’s Amusements, the largest amusement park in Northern Ireland.

Giant's Causeway

You might recognize this famous icon from the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. The weird natural design is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The hot lava cooled so fast that it created deep, giant cracks that eventually broke into the columns you see today.

County Wicklow

Vale of Avoca

The River Avoca flows only through the County Wicklow, where it starts off as two distinct rivers and then flows together at one point, known as the Vale of Avoca. This vale is located inside the town of Avoca, pictured here.

Poulaphouca Fall

The entire center of County Wicklow is made up of the Wicklow Mountains, which are naturally adorned with a number of rivers and stunning waterfalls like this one. This particular waterfall no longer exists since the Poulaphouca Reservoir was completed in 1940.

Bray

Up until the mid-1700s, Bray was a sleepy fishing village, but as the people of Dublin started to seek sanctuary outside the crowded city, the town’s population grew quickly. By the mid-1800s the town had become the largest seaside resort in the country. These days, Bray is home to the country's only dedicated film studios, Ardmore Studios. The company has produced such classics as Excalibur and Braveheart.

The Dargle Bridge

The River Dargle is named An Deargail in Gaelic, which translates to "little red spot." While it’s not obvious in this picture, the name is a reference to the fact that most rocks in the river are tinted red.

Enniskerry

While this small town only has a population of around 2,500, its gorgeous scenery (the town is located at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains) and close proximity to Bray make it a popular tourist destination year round.

County Dublin

Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin

This beautiful hotel opened in 1824 and is still open for business, currently operating under the banner of Marriott International. The hotel even played an important role in Irish history. In 1922, it served as the meeting place for the creators of the Irish Constitution and room 112, where it was drafted, is now fittingly known as The Constitution Room.

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

Officially known as the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Patrick, this icon of Ireland was founded all the way back in 1191 and now serves as the National Cathedral of Ireland. It also holds the record for the tallest church in Ireland, boasting a spire that stands 140 feet tall.

Phoenix Park, Dublin

No, this isn’t an early picture of the Washington Monument. The obelisk in the background is instead the Wellington Monument, found in Phoenix Park, Dublin. The obelisk is the tallest in Europe and is dedicated to the great deeds of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

County Cork

Roches Royal Hotel, Glengarriff Harbor

While this particular hotel may no longer be in business, the small town of Glengarriff (population 800) is still a popular tourist destination providing seaside views adorned with paired high mountain peaks and quaint peat bogs scattered across the town.

Glengarriff Harbor

The town is named for the Glengarriff Forest, Gleann Garbh in Gaelic, which means "rough glen.” The forest is indeed home to a rough glen and some of the oldest oak and birch groves left in Ireland.

Blackrock Castle

Blackrock Castle was originally constructed as a fort intended to keep away pirates and other potential threats. While a few remains of the original building still stand, most of it was destroyed in a fire in 1827 and replaced with the current structure that was completed in 1829. While the castle was used for a variety of purposes throughout the ages, it now serves as Ireland’s first fully interactive astronomy center, which is open to the public.

County Waterford

Dungarven Bridge and Harbor

The Gaelic name for this city is Dún Garbháin, which translates to "Garbhan's fort", referring to Saint Garbhan who founded a church there in the seventh century. These days, Dungarven is the administrative center of County Waterford.

The Quays, Waterford

Waterford is the oldest city in all of Ireland, established back in 914. One thousand years later and the city is still the fifth largest in the country. Of course, these days, Waterford is best known for its crystal. Sadly, Waterford Crystal shut down its factory in the town in 2009 after operating in the town for over 225 years. Thanks to the Waterford City Council and Waterford Chamber of Commerce, though, guests can now visit The Waterford Crystal Visitor Center instead.

County Kerry

Ross Castle, Killarney

This stunning castle looks largely the same now as it did back when this picture was taken, despite the recent renovations that have allowed it to become open to the public. Back in the late 1400s, this castle was one of the strongest military posts in the country. In fact, during the Irish Confederate Wars of the 1600s, it was one of the last castles to surrender; the leader of the battle only did so after the castle was attacked via water—something no one inside the stronghold saw coming.

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Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
When John Lennon and Yoko Ono Mailed Acorns to World Leaders
 Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John Lennon and Yoko Ono had a big year in 1969. Following a quick wedding ceremony in Gibraltar, they hopped over to Amsterdam and used their honeymoon suite at the Hilton as a stage for their week-long “Bed-In for Peace” protest against the Vietnam War. A week later they were in Vienna wearing bags over their bodies and declaring the formation of a comical new philosophy called “bagism." Their goal, they said, was to promote "total communication" by getting people to focus on their message instead of their skin color, ethnicity, clothes, or in Lennon's case, hair length.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with a sign reading "bagism"
Bob Aylott, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

These attention-grabbing antics were among their most famous peace efforts, but that same year they undertook a very different project. This time, away from the cameras, Lennon and Ono mailed acorns to some of the world's most important leaders and asked that they be planted in support of world peace.

The idea had been a year in the making. While filming a part for a movie called A Love Story on June 15, 1968, Lennon and Ono planted two acorns at England’s Coventry Cathedral, which had been bombed during WWII and was later rebuilt as a symbol of peace. They were “planted in east and westerly positions,” symbolizing the union of Lennon and Ono and their respective cultures.

Then, in 1969, they decided to scale up their "peace acorn" project. Along with two acorns placed in a small, round case, they sent world leaders a letter that read: “Enclosed in this package we are sending you two living sculptures—which are acorns—in the hope that you will plant them in your garden and grow two oak trees for world peace. Yours with love, John and Yoko Ono Lennon.”

Like the proverb “Great oaks from little acorns grow,” the couple understood the power of small gestures and wanted to start a conversation that would get world leaders thinking about the possibility of peace—or in Lennon's words, to encourage them to "give peace a chance."

John and Yoko hold up a protest sign that says "War is over if you want it."
Frank Barratt, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They did provoke some thought, at least. In a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon explained, “We got reaction to sending acorns—different heads of state actually planted their acorns, lots of them wrote to us answering about the acorns. We sent acorns to practically everybody in the world.”

The two acorns were “submitted to Her Majesty [Queen Elizabeth II] in due course,” according to a letter that the Privy Purse Office at Buckingham Palace sent to the Lennons. A response from Malaysia confirmed that the acorns were to be planted in Kuala Lumpur’s Palace Gardens, and another letter from South Africa indicated that they would be planted on then-president Jim Fouché’s farm.

Golda Meir, then-prime minister of Israel, reportedly said something along the lines of, “I don’t know who they are but if it’s for peace, we’re for it,” Lennon told Rolling Stone. An official response sent by Meir’s assistant director in 1970 read, “Mrs. Meir very much appreciated the gesture, the underlying symbolism of which she would indeed like to see take root within a realistic framework.”

One particularly polite response came from Cambodia's head of state, Norodom Sihanouk, who worried he had erred in addressing Lennon and Ono as Mr. and Mrs. (he hadn't). He wrote, “Dear Sir and Madam, I may have wrongly assumed the friendly donators of acorns are husband and wife, and would like to submit ‘preventive’ apologies, together with my sincerest thanks for their gift.”

Norodom Sihanouk at a naval event
Norodom Sihanouk at a naval event in 1960
Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ono saved all of these letters, and photocopies can be viewed on her website. For his part, Lennon memorialized the event in The Beatles single "The Ballad of John and Yoko." In case you've ever wondered what the line "50 acorns tied in a sack" means, the verse in question references the events following their honeymoon and return to London:

Caught the early plane back to London
Fifty acorns tied in a sack
The men from the press
Said we wish you success
It's good to have the both of you back

To mark the 40th anniversary of the peace acorn offering in 2009, Ono recreated the act and sent acorns to 123 world leaders, including Barack and Michelle Obama. Next year, for the 50th anniversary, it remains to be seen if the famous peace acorns will again make their way around the world. If you happen to be a president or the Queen, you might want to save a spot in your garden, just in case.

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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