More important, however, was the address she gave at a dinner at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on Tuesday:
Contacts between Ireland and Turkey are not simply a recent tourist phenomenon however. In the mid nineteenth century a million of Ireland's citizens died of starvation. During that Famine, Turkey's then leader Sultan Abdul Majid sent three ships loaded with food to Ireland. In your state archives, there is a letter of profound thanks for that generosity, signed by a large number of Ireland's public figures and clergy. The cargo was unloaded in a port called Drogheda and since then at the insistence of the people, the star and crescent of your country forms part of the town's coat of arms. Those symbols of Turkish kindness are to be found today on the crest of Drogheda's football team - a fitting contemporary link given that football is as much a national passion in Turkey as it is in Ireland.Oh. Oh dear.
The story about how the star and crescent were added to Drogheda's coat of arms as a gesture of gratitude to the Ottoman Empire is a tenacious myth. In fact, according to Liam Reilly of the Old Drogheda Society, "There are no records with the Drogheda Port Authority of this [the landing of an aid consignment at Drogheda] ever happening". A spokesperson for the President has admitted the error.
When did the town adopt the star and crescent, exactly? In my cursory web-based rooting around in search of the answer (get thee to a library, Fred), I've found more than one. Reilly says it goes back to the granting of Drogheda's first town charter in 1210, during the reign of King John, whose symbol the star and crescent apparently was. The town's official tourism website concurs. Other sources, such as the Drogheda Rotary Club site, date the emblem to a charter presented to the town by Richard I (who also had the star and crescent as a personal symbol) in 1194. (The town did hold 800th anniversary celebrations in 1994.)
Either way, its provenance is royal, it predates the Famine by centuries, and it was later chosen by Drogheda United to adorn their crest. Another club with the star and crescent on their badge is Portsmouth. Like Drogheda, they took it from their town's emblem. Portsmouth was (according to the city council) granted its first town charter by Richard I in 1194. A correspondent to the Guardian's Knowledge feature last year seemed to imply that United had nicked the motif from Portsmouth. This is not so. Irish football may look towards England, but there are limits, good God.
Fans of Drogheda United and Trabzonspor have struck up a friendship in recent years, based on their mutual claretandblueness and, um, the Ottoman story. Hmmm. Also, the Wikipedia entry for the town of Drogheda has seen in recent months a determined effort to establish the tale as the Wikitruth. One edit included the somewhat bizarre line "Due to this the Irish people, especially those in Drogheda, are friendly to the Turks".
Glossing over the fact that Drogheda's coat of arms also has three lions on it, I draw your attention to another part of the Prez's musings. "[F]ootball is as much a national passion in Turkey as it is in Ireland"? More than a tad impudent — football (assuming we're talking only of soccer here) is a national passion in Ireland when it suits us. The vaguely hooliesque behaviour of a few skangery knobweasels who attach themselves to some clubs here hardly counts.
Here's a genuine connection between the Irish and the, um, Turkans: