Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tuesday's Tips: Going to the bookshelf to find family history

Today I am going to my bookshelf in order to suggest books which you may find useful in learning about the history of this time, and your family's connection to it. There is an ever increasing body of work about this period in Irish history. If you want to find the books in a library near you, then go to World Cat (i.e. World Catalogue), fill in the details of your location, and it will tell you which libraries closest to you have copies of these books.  All of these books are also available for purchase online.  If your local library doesn't own a copy, consider donating one of the books in your family's name.

You will find many texts which focus on the significant figures of the period; however, texts which focus on leaders such as Eamon DeValera and Michael Collins often do not pay much attention to less well known individuals, those we might call the 'rank and file' members, those whom we might find on our own family trees.

As we near the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, we are beginning to see the appearance of many more books focussed on the experiences of the lesser known individuals.  Here are three of my favourites which may be helpful to you.

The 1916 Easter Rebellion Handbook

This book is an essential part of any library of modern Irish history.  First published in 1916 by the Irish Times newspaper, and now offered in a new edition, this book contains eyewitness reports about the revolt and its aftermath, as well as lots of information about the Irish rebels and the British forces who took part in the action.

For family history research purposes some of the best parts of this book are as follows:
1]  The official lists of prisoners deported and released, including address details and dates of release.
2]  Official lists of casualties including members of the British military, Royal Irish Constabulary, Dublin Metropolitan Police, and Irish Volunteers.
3]  A full list of the premises that were damaged during the Rebellion.

Dublin in Rebellion: A Directory 1913-1923

Author Joseph E.A. Connell Jr. consulted a wide variety of sources to create this comprehensive directory of a decade of upheaval in Dublin.  The book lists historic locations in Dublin on a street by street basis, describing events beginning with the 1913 Lockout through to the end of the Irish Civil War, and including details about who was there and what they did.  It also includes details about important sites outside of Dublin.  Some of the information in the appendices of this book overlap what appears in The 1916 Rebellion Handbook, but overall it is well worth consulting.

No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary years 1900-1923

This extraordinary text, by author Sinéad McCoole, goes beyond the mainstream histories of Irish women activists such as Maud Gonne and Countess Markievicz.  It uncovers hidden stories of many women from all over Ireland, who participated in the fight to free the land they loved.

In addition to the inclusion of the biographies of seventy-three activists, this book is filled with images of personal possessions, as well as photographs from family albums, and illustrations from autograph books the women kept while they were interned.

For family history research purposes you may find female family members in the prisoner lists:
1]  The listing of those women imprisoned after the 1916 Easter Rising.
2]  A previously unpublished listing of over 500 women who were arrested during the Irish Civil War, including address details.

I hope you find these books useful in your search for the history of Irish ancestors who may have played a part in freeing Ireland from British rule.

As always, good luck with your research!



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

'Tittering Lily', and childhood tales of Ringsend

My mom's favourite stories from her childhood in Ringsend Dublin often include her closest friend, a girl named Lily Cowzer. Apparently one of the most memorable things about Lily was her laugh, a very breathy 'schti sthee sthee'. If this blog could include sound effects, this story would be accompanied by the laughing sounds my mom makes whenever she shares tales of her adventures with her friend Lily. Aunt Alice would always know when Lily was in the house, because even if the girls tried to keep Lily quiet, inevitably she would start to laugh. Aunt Alice would call down from upstairs to say, "Is that tittering Lily Cowzer, I hear? Tell her to go home."

I've heard Mom's stories many times, and I never tire of hearing them. They are always funny in some way or other, but more than that, there is a kind of sweetness and sadness to her recollections. In sharing with you this story from my mother's childhood, I want to take you back in time, so I'm going to use my mother's first name, Mary.

Four little girls and the Grand Canal

On a bright and very warm summer afternoon in Dublin, Mary, her sister Bernadette, and their friends little Lily Cowzer and Martha Doyle had some time on their hands. Near to their homes in Ringsend is the Grand Canal, a long and very old waterway which winds its way from Dublin all the way to the River Shannon. Many times the girls had been warned by Aunt Alice not to go near the canal, for fear that they might fall in. Mary and Bernadette risked a cane beating if Aunt Alice learned they had disobeyed her, but that did not stop them. As the story goes, it seems that elder sister Bernadette had quite a streak of mischief in her, and she prodded the girls to go, although my guess is Mary, Martha and Lily didn't need much prodding.

Nevertheless, off to the canal they went. As I mentioned, it was a very warm summer day in Dublin, and some of the boys in the neighbourhood had stripped down to their shorts (actual shorts, not underwear), and were jumping into the canal to cool off. Mary found the canal water a bit frightening because she thought it was very deep, a belief which was confirmed for her by the blackness of the water. In Mary's imagination the bones of other disobedient children were laid across the bottom of the canal's distant floor, forever lost, and she didn't want to join their number.

The Grand Canal Locks at Leeson St. Bridge,  Ballsbridge
The four girls quickly, but carefully, scurried across the gates of the canal lock to sit on the side opposite the side from which the boys were jumping into the deep water. The girls did not want to get splashed, and then have to explain wet clothing to Aunt Alice. They plunked themselves down well away from the boys, and let their legs dangle over the side of the cool stone wall.

They sat there laughing and talking for quite some time, nudging each other, giggling over the silly boys, and relaxing in the lovely sunshine. Suddenly, one of the shoes Martha was wearing somehow came undone, and fell off her foot into the water.

The four girls jumped up and began shrieking as though one of them had fallen into the canal. They laid down on their bellies, and although the distance was impossible for four such little girls, Mary, Martha, Lily, and Bernadette stretched their arms and their legs as far as they could in a desperate attempt to retrieve the lost shoe before it sank, but they could not reach it.

A couple of the boys came over to help. Each one jumped in and dove under the water searching as best he could in order to find the errant shoe, but it was all to no avail. Although the shoe was most certainly gone, the girls knew they could not return home without it.

Six o'clock came, and Ringsend Church rang out the bells of the Angelus. Mary knew her father would be stopped on the bridge over the River Dodder near their house, on his way home from work, standing next to his bicycle with his hat over his heart. He would be whispering the lines of the Angelus prayer to the peal of the bells. So too, she knew they were now late home. They would have to go home without the shoe. Mary and Bernadette would have to tell the the truth about what happened, and they would have to face the wrath of Aunt Alice.

When they arrived at Mary and Bernadette's house, the four girls stood by the front door, breaking their hearts crying. Long gone was Lily's laugh. Martha made her way over the road to her house to tell her mother of the fate of her shoe, and face whatever punishment might come. Mary said the girls cried, not so much because they were frightened of beatings, but more because they knew their fathers worked so very hard to take care of their families, and shoes cost real money.

Mary and her sister Bernadette didn't receive a beating that day for disobeying Aunt Alice. That was not Alice's way. Instead she would hold off on delivering the punishment until the children least expected it, believing that they would truly remember the punishment, and learn from it.

Mary vividly recalls the day she received the beating for her part in the loss of that shoe. At school, weeks after the shoe was lost, Mary had been given the prize of a small picture of Jesus Christ as a reward for perfecting her lessons. Mary still remembers how happy she felt on the way home from school, excited to show Aunt Alice the prize. It was then that Alice decided the time was right for the caning, and she was right, Mary never forgot it.

My dear mother Mary will celebrate her 81st birthday in May, and each time she tells me of the punishment she received, there is never a hint of rancour in her tone. When I am indignant about the cruel way in which she was treated, my mom will say, "that is the way things were done". She always reminds me that if it were not for Aunt Alice coming to live with the family after the death of their mother, Mom and her siblings may have been taken away from the home into which they were born.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Those Places Thursday: The Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin

On Parnell Square, north of the Liffey, the Garden of Remembrance stands as a tribute to all of those Irish whose lives were lost in the pursuit of freedom from foreign rule.  During her May 2011 visit to Dublin, amid some controversy, Queen Elizabeth of Britain, accompanied by Irish President Mary McAleese, laid a wreath in the garden, marking the beginning of a new era in Anglo-Irish relations.

The garden was designed by Dáithí P. Hanly.  In addition to the sunken cruciform water-feature, its focal point is Oisín Kelly's sculpture, 'The Children of Lir', a symbol of rebirth and resurrection.  The mythological story of the Children of Lir tells of their transformation into swans by the magic of an evil step-mother who dooms them to swim the waters of Ireland for nine hundred years.  In the context of the Garden of Remembrance, the statue symbolizes the rebirth of Ireland after the trauma of over seven hundred years of foreign rule.

Dublin poet Liam MacUistin's "We Saw a Vision", an aisling style poem, written in Irish, English and French is emblazoned on the stone wall at the same end of the garden as the sculpture.

We Saw A Vision

In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,
We lit the light of hope,
And it was not extinguished,
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision,
We planted the tree of valour,
And it blossomed
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision,
We melted the snow of lethargy,
And the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river,
The vision became a reality,
Winter became summer,
Bondage became freedom,
And this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generation of freedom remember us,
The generation of the vision.

Click on photos to view larger versions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What is the legacy of a People?

LEGACY: legacy |ˈlegəsē|: noun ( pl. -cies)
• a thing handed down by a predecessor. Origin: late Middle English; from Old French legacie, from medieval Latin legatia ‘legateship,’ from legatus ‘person delegated’.

In the Oxford English dictionary, standing apart from the pronunciation and etymology of the word 'legacy', is a very simple and succinct definition, "a thing handed down by a predecessor".   I think it's safe to assume that many people would say a legacy is a positive thing; however, what happens when a legacy is not a good thing?  What happens when you inherit something which is socially unpalatable?  What if the legacy of the people from whom you descend is not a legacy at all, but is a stereotype which does not touch your life, although many people assume it does?  What if your assumed legacy is alcoholism?

I am Irish, and so this legacy comes to me.

Recently, I had to have a mammogram re-check. Anyone who has had mammogram associated 'issues' will relate, without me getting into any of the ugly details. The radiologist asked about my family background, and if there is a family history of breast cancer. I laughed nervously and answered quite honestly, "I don't know. I'm Irish and in my experience Irish families don't really discuss such matters".  I answered in this way because, in my experience, Irish families don't.  Some members of our Irish family seem to use a sort of code when talking about illness, referring to serious diseases using phrases such as 'the illness'. When my father died of lung cancer, a few members of our family referred to the cancer 'your dad's misfortune' or even the 'C word'. 

The radiologist laughed when I said this and came back with a response I've heard too many times before. "Oh, come on", she said, "not even when they've had one too many beers at the pub?". Immediately I recognized an unmistakeable edge in my tone when I explained to her that, other than me, no one in my family drinks alcohol. My mother simply isn't interested; my elder brother tried alcohol when he was seventeen, and disliked it so much he never had it again. Occasionally I enjoy good red wine, and yes I might even have a half-pint or two of Guinness when I'm in Ireland. Seemingly incredulous she said, "Really? No one else in your family drinks?". It is clear that she does not believe me, and in truth it doesn't really matter what I say, because she has already decided who we are based on one word, IRISH.

I am Irish, and so this legacy comes to me.

A friend of mine is a psychiatrist.  He calls alcoholism 'The Irish Disease'.  Once, I asked him if he ever had an Irish patient who was an alcoholic. He said he didn't recall any Irish patients, but certainly did deal with people from Scotland and England who were alcoholics. He then explained that 'everyone knows' alcoholism is the Irish disease.  I expressed surprise at the fact that he knows 'everyone', and then very sarcastically explained that, even assuming his contention might very well be true, the Scottish and the English are different ethnic groups from the Irish. Well from 'THAT' area of the world was his less than brilliant comeback.

The nation of Ireland has produced some of the greatest minds on the planet in the realms of literature and political philosophy, but it appears as though, at times, this is easily forgotten. The 'drunken Paddy' is always remembered.

I am Irish, and so this legacy comes to me.

A stereotype often emerges out of a given group because it fits some of the members of that group, of that there can be no doubt; however, just because a stereotype exists, does that mean we all fit into it?

Think about every colonized race of people in history and the stereotypes which were perpetuated about them.  Think about the stereotypes associated with the people from whom you descend.

'Alcoholic', 'Lazy bum', 'Cheapskate', 'Shylock', 'Welfare Queen'?

Does the stereotype fit someone in your family tree?  Perhaps it does, but does that mean that's all there is to the whole person, or to the whole ethic group?  NO.  Human beings are not two dimensional figures, neither all saint nor all sinner. No matter how simple a life we may lead, we are complex individuals.  Each of us has both good qualities and bad, no matter what our country of origin.

My interest lies in uncovering all dimensions of the individuals in my family tree, within the stories of their lives.  If alcoholism is part of the story, then certainly I acknowledge it; however, falling prey to the temptation to slot all individuals into stereotypes is just not that interesting to me.


Monday, January 16, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Free Online Sources for Irish Family History and Genealogy

Despite budgetary constraints amid the financial meltdown that still plagues the island of my ancestors, when it comes to Irish genealogy sources available online, there is an ongoing effort to make available as many family history and genealogy resources as possible, and all FREE of charge.

A sincere THANK YOU must go out both to individuals and to organizations who are working their fingers to the bone to provide an abundance of free resources for online researchers.

The Finding Irish Family: Research Aids page of this blog has a long list of resources, both free and paid, available for Irish family history research.  With a tip of my hat and a thank you to Amy Coffin for creating the blogging meme 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy, I would like to put the spotlight on some of those online sources which can be accessed for free. There are many others, so be sure to have a look at the research aids page.

Click on the blue links to access websites and pages.

1. 1901/1911 Irish Census - The National Archives of Ireland

Ever since parts of these census documents were first posted on their website years ago, the NAI have worked hard to update and improve this site.  Not only can you view all of the information available from these census records, but you can view the original census documents, and all for free.

All thirty-two counties on the island are included.  The census can not only be searched by surname but also by religion, occupation, relationship to the head of the family, literacy status, county or country of origin, Irish language proficiency, specified illnesses, and child survival information.   They have accounted for almost any search term you might think of.  As stated on the site, "you can now search for female married teachers in County Cork, or how many people spoke Irish in Ballyshannon, or how many Presbyterians there were in Roscommon".

Also visit the NAI Genealogy advice page on which they have their own long list of Irish genealogy websites, some of which are free.

Also be sure to connect with county hubs such as The Wexford County Hub, on which you can learn about the history of the area. Follow this link for an article about the Wexford workhouse, an article which provides some very interesting information and features some great images too.

2. The National Library of Ireland Digital Photograph Database

Through the NLI's free online photograph database, you can view over 33,000 photographs from the collections of some of Ireland's most respected photographers of history.  Browse the collections of the Keogh Brothers, A. H. Poole, and others who used the medium of photography, beginning as early as 1860, to visually record the history of the land and its people.

3. Are you just beginning your Irish family history research, and need advice about Irish records? Take a look at the NLI's Family History introduction, and download the PDF which outlines resources available, and includes need to know addresses.

4.  Ireland Genealogy Projects Archives

As the name suggests this is a project, so the work is ongoing, and regularly updated.  Check this site often for updates.  All thirty-two counties on the entire island are included.  Some counties have more information posted than others.  In particular, the work done by those focussed on County Dublin is excellent.  Special mention has to go to Yvonne Russell and Joyce Tunstead who have done a spectacular job posting hundreds of headstone photographs and transcriptions.

5. Irish Genealogy

If you have ancestors who were hatched, matched or dispatched in County Carlow, County Dublin, County Kerry, or the Diocese of Cork & Ross, then you will want to search the church records on the Irish government website called 'Irish Genealogy'.  They are currently working on adding County Monaghan, Diocese of Clogher.  Although the site is slow to update, there are over three million records here, all available to view for free, and most include images of the original parish registers.

6. Cyndi's List

Cyndi has done an outstanding job bringing together over 3800 links across 32 categories for research, both free and paid, in the area of Ireland, and the United Kingdom.  Ireland has been a Free State only since 1922, and a Republic with no political ties to Britain since 1949, meaning some information applicable to your Irish ancestors may likely be found in British resources, so make sure to check them out as well.

As always, Happy Researching!



Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Leinster House, the seat of the Oireachtas, Irish Parliament

The main gates on Kildare Street, Dublin

The main entrance through which members of government enter, and heads of State are welcomed.

Leinster House, the beautiful, almost palace-like complex which is the seat of Irish government (Oireachtas), has evolved over time, beginning with the vision of James Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare, whose plan it was to have built for him the most stately Georgian mansion Dublin had ever seen.

Within the complex are the two Houses of the Oireachtas (National Parliament), comprising the Dáil Éireann (the House of Representatives) and the Seanad Éireann (the Senate).

James Fitzgerald commissioned famed German architect Richard Cassels to build what would then be known as Kildare House.  Construction of the house took place from 1745 until 1747, in what was then an unfashionable area of Dublin known as Molesworth’s Field; however, just as the Earl foretold, the area around Kildare house soon became the most desirable in the city.  In 1776, when the Earl became Duke of Leinster, the house was renamed Leinster House.

It has been claimed that Leinster House was the model for Irish architect James Hoban when he created the White House. Born in county Kilkenny in 1762, Hoban studied architecture in Dublin, and would have had the opportunity to study the design of Leinster House.

In 1815 the third Duke of Leinster, Augustus Frederick, sold the mansion to the Royal Dublin Society for £10,000 and a yearly rent of £600.  The Society made extensive additions to the house, most notably the lecture theatre, which later became the chamber of the Dáil Éireann.

After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the new government took over part of Leinster House for parliamentary use.  The entire building was acquired by the State in 1924.

Evidently the architect Cassels did not foresee the brilliant future of this magnificent house, because in the inscription on the cornerstone he makes reference to the house one day being in ruins.  The Latin inscription translated to English reads as follows:

The house,

of which this stone is the foundation,

James, twentieth Earl of Kildare,

caused to be erected in Molesworth's field,

in the year of our Lord 1747.
Hence learn, whenever, in some unhappy day,

you light on the ruins of so great a mansion,
of what worth he was who built it,

and how frail all things are,

when such memorials of such men cannot outlive misfortune.

Click on photographs to view larger versions.
All photographs Copyright©irisheyesjg2012. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tuesday's Tips: Seeking Irish History in an Auction House

For the second time I journeyed down the road of seeking Irish history in an auction house.  In December of 2010 I wrote about my first experience with the auction process.  Although participating in an auction of historical memorabilia is not for the faint of heart, I recommend it if you are interested in owning a 'piece' of history, or even if you are just interested in the process and seeing what kinds of items are auctioned.

In this instance, once again I participated in an auction held by Whyte's Auction House in Dublin.  Since I had previously bid in their auction of History, Literature & Collectibles, they mailed me this catalogue in advance of the auction.

My wish list for this auction was a little longer, and since I had the hard copy catalogue, I was able to peruse it beforehand, and mark my maximum bid price next to lots* in which I was interested.  I set an overall budget before the auction, and decided that money planned for certain lots could be moved to other lots if I lost out on the bid.  For example, I was interested in a 'lot' of early 20th century Irish newspaper photographs, but the bidding got way out of my league very quickly, and so I reallocated the funds I had planned to spend on the photographs to another lot in which I was interested.

There were two items in particular at the top of my wish list:

1) Lot #290 - 1916 Thom's Dublin City and County Directory.

2) Lot #384 - 1930 Letter from the Active Service Unit Dublin Brigade Veterans.

My wish list included two other lots, in addition to the lot of newspaper photographs, one of 1916 postcards, and another of period photographs.  Very quickly it became clear that I would have no chance of winning these lots, and so I ceased to bid on them.

The last lot on my list was Lot #397 - 1798-1921: A collection of Irish Revolutionary period books.

With the reallocation of funds, as I mentioned, I won the bid for the 1916 Directory and the 1930 letter.  I had enough left in my budget to bid on the last lot on my list and I won that bid as well.

After making arrangements to have the items shipped to me I received them in late October of 2011.  The 1916 directory is extraordinary, as is the letter, which includes a complete listing of all members of the Dublin Active Service Unit, and the collection of books is outstanding.

Some heavy reading
The collection of books includes a very battered and fragile 1833 copy of Sir Jonah Barrington's The Rise and Fall of The Irish Nation.  The book includes what is probably one of the first 'Black Lists' ever in print in which Sir Barrington lists the names of those who sold out Ireland in voting for the Act of Union.  Clearly Barrington had a lot to get off his chest, and he wanted to make sure everyone who picked up the book knew it.

Click on the photograph of the book cover
to view the full title of the book.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have these pieces in my collection.

Long story short, since this is a tips post, here are my original tips along with a couple of new ones:

1. Seek out reputable auction sites with good reviews, and attend live auctions if you are able, or attend online 'live', if that option is available.

2. Take a chance. Most auction houses have items priced for museum budgets, or for the wallets of the rich and famous, but many also have available some very reasonably priced pieces.

3. Create a wish list.  Take a look at the entire online catalog, and create a wish list of the items you would like to bid on. Create the list in order of preference, and be fully prepared to lose out on some of the items on your wish list when they go to higher bidders.  If a higher bidder wins the lot you have bid on, then just move down your list.

4. Set your budget limit and do not exceed it!  A live auction is very exciting and you can easily get caught up in that excitement, so know your limit, and stay within it.  You may be bidding against museums and individuals with very deep pockets, and although it is very disappointing to lose an item you may have had your heart set on, it's better than suffering buyer's remorse.

5. Invest in history.  You may come across something extraordinary which connects to your family, or at the very least to their country of origin.  In my own family history 1916 was a very significant year, so to have Thom's Directory for that year is a wonderful thing for which I am truly grateful.

Note: *'Lot' is the term used by auctioneers to refer to the number given to a piece that will be sold in auction.  A lot may consist of one item or a group of items.

Click on photographs to view larger versions.
Copyright©irisheyesjg2012. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dublin Streetscapes

Okay, I admit it, I'm a gawker.  I love to look at places, and at people and things that pass by, especially in Dublin.  I don't know what it is about the place, but it seems so full of possibility that I just have to drink in every sight.  Guess I'm back to the little sponge allusion again.  Also, I like the idea of travelling along the same streets my ancestors once walked.  Here are a few Dublin City streetscapes that I captured in September.  I hope you enjoy them.

Looking back at Christchurch Cathedral.
Where Leinster Street meets Parliament.
Through the gate on Marlborough Street.
Off North Brunswick Street in Stoneybatter.
As Dame Street turns into Cork Hill.
Looking toward the Wellington Monument in Phoenix Park.

Click on photographs to view larger version.
All photographs Copyright©irisheyesjg2012. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

'A change is as good as a rest'

Once again I am quoting my dad in the title of this post, 'a change is as good as a rest'.  I've decided to refresh the look of 'On a flesh and bone foundation': an Irish History.  Over the last month I have wrestled with the idea of not only changing the background, but changing the title of this blog as well. However, after talking to a friend about it, I decided that the title is what it is because of the meaning behind it.  My friend asked me why my blog has the title it does, and in order to answer her I had to cast my thoughts way back to the beginning of this blog.

I am very blessed to have my wonderful family members in Australia, England, and The United States of America, but the fact is that my family history, at its foundation, is essentially an Irish family history. My mother, my father, and my brother are all Irish born, and in the many generations back from them our family members were born, lived and died in Ireland.   Although I am first generation Canadian, I hold Irish Citizenship and travel on an Irish passport.  In the west country of Ireland, our paternal name can be traced back to the 8th century.

We are Irish to our very core, and that was what inspired the title of this blog, 'On a flesh and bone foundation': An Irish History.  Although I have been composing basic family trees and doing some family history research since I was about 15 years old, for me building on the foundation of my family began in earnest after the death of my dad.  The drive to rediscover the history of our family pushed my research further than ever before.  There is something about getting a sense of the mortality of family members that brings such research into sharp focus.

Along the way, with respect to the title of this blog, I have encountered what was probably inevitable, given the inclusion of the words 'flesh' and 'bone', and I have at times regretted the title; however, the fact is the title still fits.  The 'bones' of this story are the documents, the official records of birth, marriage, death, and so on, which stand as proof of my connection to my ancestors.  The 'flesh' is the stories of my ancestors, the glorious and the ignoble, the joyous and the heartbreaking, all of the times which fill out the skeleton of a life.

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