17 Dec 2007
Many weeks ago, I asked you for your best guess on what the first entry in U2 Diary will be. You may have noticed that I never gave you the answer. I will below.
But telling you that information is not the main point of this post; the main point is to show you something you may already know: U2 fans are amazing.
Of all the fans that have helped with the research for this book, probably no one has done more than a guy in Ireland named Donal Murphy. (You may know him from the comments here on U2Diary.com, or from various message boards and mailing lists.) After one of my lengthy “calls for help” posts, Donal emailed me privately with the results of his research. If I remember correctly, he had gone to his local library and looked up old Irish newspapers on microfiche to find the hidden nugget of information I was seeking. I couldn’t believe it!
Then he did it again after I posted another batch of questions. It got to the point that, a few weeks ago, I sheepishly emailed Donal and asked if he wouldn’t mind making one more library trip for me. I had a problem: I was suddenly unsure of the very first diary entry in the book.
That entry is for the wedding of Bob Hewson and Iris Rankin*, a mixed-faith marriage that was controversial for its time, and had an undeniable impact on their son, Paul, his future outlook on religion, life, everything, and on the band Paul would join at the age of 15. In Eamon Dunphy’s book, he gives very specific details about the wedding — the church, the neighborhood, and the date, which he gives as August 6, 1950. Then, while reading U2 by U2, I noticed a photo of that wedding with a caption indicating it took place in 1949. ACK!
You can’t have the very first entry in the book be wrong, I thought. So I asked Donal if he would investigate for me. Here’s his account of what happened after that:
Matt asked me to look into the matter for him. The date was not available anywhere on the web, and the only leads were Dunphy’s date of August 6th 1950 and a photograph of their wedding day in U2 by U2, labeled 1949. To be honest, my initial reaction was Dunphy probably had it right; he had the date, the church name and the address of the church. But Matt had to get it checked.
First off was a check on the Irish Times Premium Plus website. This gives access to every scrap of the Irish Times. I was hoping that there might be a marriage announcement. No luck. On reflection, in the Ireland of the 1950′s the average person did not put marriage notices in the paper, these were more for wealthy people. In any case, the Hewson’s wedding was an extremely rare event. A Catholic marrying a Protestant was a rare event, but a Catholic marrying a Protestant in a Protestant church was extremely rare. So it was always a long shot it would be publicly announced in a newspaper.
At this juncture, I told Matt that the only place the information could be found was in Church and State records, none of which are available online.
I then started off with what we had, the name of the Church – John The Baptist Church in Drumcondra. I am not used to searching for churches or religious organisations, but I found a church with the same name, but in a different parish – Clontarf. (At the time I assumed Dunphy had the wrong church.) I telephoned the Reverend at this church, and he told me that he did not have records going back to 1950, so he gave me the number of the Representative Church Body (RCB) Library, a Protestant organisation with extensive archival material. They did a search for me but found nothing.
Where to next?, I thought. Well, it then occurred to me that maybe I had the wrong church, but the person in the RCB had suggested the name of another Reverend who was stationed in a church of the same name but in Drumcondra. The records for this church were not in the RCB library but were held at the church. I telephoned him, and as he was recently retired, he gave me the name of the church treasurer, who also has access to the marriage records. His name is Brian Freeman. When I told him I was trying to track down the marriage date of Bono’s parents, he immediately replied, “Rankin/Hewson”. I thought YES, I am finally talking to the right person. Within minutes he had looked up the records and confirmed the date as August 19th 1950 – married by the Reverend Fergus Day.
Eureka! Amazingly Dunphy got it wrong; he had the right church, right address but somewhere along the line the date in the book is wrong. Even more amazingly the year listed in U2 by U2 is wrong. Brian Freeman sent a confirmation of the date to me. (see photo below)
It was very interesting tracking all this down, and nice to see that the correct date will finally be in print for the first time.
Thanks to all who helped me in getting this information, the various Reverends I spoke to, the RCB library and Brian Freeman.
See what I mean? Are U2 fans amazing, or what? At right is the letter that Brian Freeman sent to Donal, with confirmation of the wedding date of Bob Hewson and Iris Rankin. You can click the thumbnail to see a larger version.
Donal emailed me after each step of the process he describes above, and never once did he sound like he was ready to give up. These were just minor obstacles to overcome, and overcome them he did. August 19, 1950 — the things you learn.
Donal, thank you for all your help on U2 Diary — but especially this one.
*In the survey I did many weeks ago, many of you suggested the first diary entry should be the date U2 first played together — either in 1976 as Feedback or 1978 as U2. You might wonder why I’m going back to 1950 and this wedding, and to that question I would simply say this: The history of the United States didn’t begin on July 4, 1776. There were a great many things that happened earlier to make July 4, 1776, possible.
Of course, I should also add a disclaimer: My editor may decide the book shouldn’t begin with the Hewson/Rankin wedding, in which case all of the above is a moot point. :)