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A round-up of today's other stories in brief

Ireland's Tarantino of the 1940s

TODAY IS the 25th anniversary of the death of Ireland’s most prolific film director of the 20th century (and my uncle) Brian Desmond Hurst.

Hurst was a flamboyant and sometimes dark film-maker – a Quentin Tarantino of the 1940s – and directed the classic Scrooge(1951) starring Alastair Sim.

Born in east Belfast in 1895, Hans Moore Hawthorn Hurst was the “lucky” seventh child. Not that he had much luck in his first 20 years, with his mother dying in childbirth when he was three and his father, a metal worker in the shipyard, passing away when he was 16.

Hurst was then very much on his own. Bored with linen factory work, he joined the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles when the first World War was declared and survived his battalion’s slaughter at Gallipoli on August 9th and 10th, 1915. Half his comrades were killed or wounded and many more lost their minds.

Returning to Belfast, Hans changed his name to Brian Desmond Hurst and a grant saw him travel to Canada and art school. Chance encounters led to set design work in Hollywood and then a meeting with John Ford. His luck had started to change.

His debut in front of the camera was alongside fellow debutant John Wayne in Ford’s silent film Hangman’s House(1928) set in Co Wicklow.

Ford took Hurst under his wing and taught him to direct, including work on Arrowsmith(1931).

On returning to the UK, Hurst settled in London’s Belgravia where he remained for the rest of his life, returning frequently to Ulster for what he called a spiritual bath.

He built a formidable directing career and launched many careers, including giving early roles to Richard Attenborough, Vanessa Redgrave and Roger Moore. His first film The Tell-Tale Heart(1934) was thought too horrible to show in many cinemas.

He is credited with directing Irish Hearts(1934), possibly Ireland’s first feature-length talkie. His War of Independence love story Ourselves Alone(1936) caused a reviewer in The Irish Timesto declare “I am confident that this film . . . will be declared picture of the year”. It was misunderstood and banned in Northern Ireland.

Hurst went on to direct Britain’s first film noir On the Night of the Fire(1939). The theme music Warsaw Concerto from his Dangerous Moonlight(1941) is instantly recognisable while the biggest grossing war film for nearly a decade was Hurst’s Theirs is the Glory(1946).

He returned to an Irish theme with Hungry Hill(1947) before directing a series of box office successes, including Scrooge(1951), Tom Brown’s Schooldays(1951), Malta Story(1953) and The Black Tent(1956).

In April 2011 the Directors Guild of Great Britain erected one of its cherished blue plaques to Hurst in Belfast (it has also erected one in the city to David Lean). Last month RTÉ Radio 1’s acclaimed Documentary on One series aired An Irishman Chained to the Truth which looked at Hurst’s life.

Twenty-five years on from his death, Hurst seems to be getting the recognition he deserves.

– Allan Smith

The graveyard snake and the praying woman

A LADY praying in a west Clare graveyard was paid an unexpected visit by a serpent last week – in this case a North American corn snake, which had escaped from its owner.

Following a call to the Garda, local dog warden Frankie Coote was tasked with identifying and collecting the four-and-a-half-foot male snake. Coote believes the snake had been living in the graveyard for some time, picking off vermin for food.

“The owner is close by and maybe he let him out to have a snake about and he disappeared. I think he was living there for about five weeks. They will generally survive the summer, but after that the winter will kill them – either that or St Patrick.”

The North American corn snake’s normal lifespan can be up to 30 years.

This isn’t the first time Clare ISPCA has had to deal with reptiles. Demand for pet snakes and lizards has boomed in recent years, and the problems for local animal rescue services are rising.

“We do get more and more calls now. I am aware people have 10-12-foot-long snakes just in Co Clare alone,” says Coote. “There is nothing I can do about it. I feel there should be legislation.

“I know of one person who has a python in a house in a housing estate.”

One solution, Coote believes, is for the type of restrictions imposed on dog and cat owners to apply also to owners of exotic pets.

“With dogs, there is responsibility attached. I can check the licence, and the owner has to pay a replacement charge if they stray, and account for any expense incurred by our services. But then a fella can walk down the street with a lion or tiger, and there’s nothing any dog warden can do about it. It doesn’t make any sense.”

– Brian O’Connell

Painting for supper pays off for artist

FORGET SINGING for your supper: one Irish artist has come up with a novel way of sketching for his supper.

Cycling painter Liam Daly (below) has spent the past few months on a painting tour of Ireland, relying almost solely on the kindness of strangers.

Daly set out on July 1st with the ambition of cycling through the 32 counties of Ireland. His plan was to advertise his tour on Twitter (where Daly goes by @eolai) and, in return for a bite to eat and a bed for the night, he would paint a scene for his hosts of their house or vista (above right), by way of payment.

Last Friday, Daly ended his tour, having managed to cycle to 29 counties, taking in over 2,000 miles, and along the way producing some 30 new paintings, which he gave to his various hosts. “I simply sent out a message telling people what I was doing, and said if you put me up and give me food and shelter, I will paint a picture of your house or the view from your house,” Daly explains. “Very quickly I had between 40 and 50 individual offers. In the end, over 100 people contacted me offering a bed, and I had to, in fact, turn a lot of people down.”

Daly says some people even paid for accommodation for him in advance, and one bicycle shop in Dublin sent him spare tyres following a series of punctures. His tour could not have been made possible or as hassle-free, he believes, were it not for his commitment to online social media.

“I sell virtually all of my paintings through social media, so I am a fan of it. It works for me in terms of making a living and making trips like this possible.”

Having moved back to Ireland from America some years ago, he says the trip was a chance to take in some sightseeing, on a relatively low budget. As for any ambitions to take in the three counties he missed, he says he has more pressing matters to attend to first: “I have no other plans at the moment, except a cup of tea when I get home.” See bicyclistic.com.

– Brian O’Connell