Astrazeneca has sold its stake in Moderna for more than $1 billion: The Times | Reuters

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FILE PHOTO: The AstraZeneca logo is pictured outside the AstraZeneca office building in Brussels as part of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination campaign, Belgium, January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

(Reuters) — AstraZeneca Plc has sold its stake in Moderna Inc for more than $1 billion after the American biotechnology company’s shares soared on the back of its coronavirus vaccine breakthrough, The Times reported.

The report added that it was not clear when and over what period AstraZeneca sold its full holding in Moderna.

Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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UK earmarks a further $2.3 billion for its COVID vaccine push | Reuters

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FILE PHOTO: A health worker prepares an injection with a dose of Astra Zeneca coronavirus vaccine, at a vaccination centre in Westfield Stratford City shopping centre, amid the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) — British finance minister Rishi Sunak will announce an extra 1.65 billion pounds ($2.30 billion) to fund the country’s fast vaccination rollout as part of his annual budget statement on Wednesday, the finance ministry said.

“Protecting ourselves against the virus means we will be able to lift restrictions, reopen our economy and focus our attention on creating jobs and stimulating growth,” Sunak said in a statement.

Britain has so far given a first vaccination more than 20 million people, or more than one in three adults, Europe’s fastest vaccination rollout.

“The new money will continue to vaccinate the population and ensure every adult is offered a dose of a vaccine by July 31,” the ministry said.

A further 33 million pounds will be spent on vaccine testing and development to protect against future outbreaks and variants and 22 million pounds will fund a study to test the effectiveness of combinations of different COVID-19 vaccines.

Writing by William Schomberg; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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At least 18 protesters killed in Myanmar in worst violence since coup | Reuters

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(Reuters) — Myanmar police fired on protesters around the country on Sunday and at least 18 people were killed in the worst violence since a Feb. 1 military coup, the United Nations said, calling on the international community to act to stop the repression.

Protesters take cover as they clash with riot police officers during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

Crowds of demonstrators came under fire in various parts of the biggest city of Yangon after stun grenades, tear gas and shots in the air failed to break up their protests.

Across the country, protesters wearing plastic work helmets and with makeshift shields faced off against police and soldiers in battle gear, including some from units notorious for tough crackdowns on ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar’s border regions.

“Severe action will be inevitably taken” against “riotous protesters”, the state-run Global New Light Of Myanmar said. The army had previously shown restraint, but could not ignore “anarchic mobs”.

Several wounded people were hauled away in Yangon by fellow protesters, leaving bloody smears on pavements, media images showed. One man died after arriving at a hospital with a bullet in his chest, said a doctor who asked not to be identified.

“Police and military forces have confronted peaceful demonstrations, using lethal force and less-than-lethal force that – according to credible information received by the UN Human Rights Office – has left at least 18 people dead and over 30 wounded,” the U.N. human rights office said.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the army seized power and detained elected government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership on Feb. 1, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.

The coup, which brought a halt to tentative steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, has drawn hundreds of thousands onto the streets and the condemnation of Western countries.

Among at least five killed in Yangon was internet network engineer Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing, medics said. A day earlier he had asked on Facebook how many dead bodies it would take for the United Nations to take action.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on its members to do more.

“The Secretary-General urges the international community to come together and send a clear signal to the military that it must respect the will of the people of Myanmar as expressed through the election and stop the repression,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned what he called “abhorrent violence” by Myanmar security forces.

“We stand firmly with the courageous people of Burma & encourage all countries to speak with one voice in support of their will,” Blinken said on Twitter, adding the United States “will continue to promote accountability for those responsible.”

Teacher Tin New Yee died after police swooped to disperse a teachers’ protest with stun grenades, sending the crowd fleeing, her daughter and a fellow teacher said.

Outside a Yangon medical school, doctors and students in white lab coats scattered after police hurled stun grenades. A group called the Whitecoat Alliance of medics said more than 50 medical staff had been arrested.

Three people were killed at Dawei in the south, politician Kyaw Min Htike told Reuters from the town. Two died in the second city of Mandalay, Myanmar Now media and a resident said. Resident Sai Tun told Reuters one woman was shot in the head.

Police and the spokesman for the ruling military council did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Police broke up protests in other towns, including Lashio in the northeast, Myeik in the deep south and Hpa-An in the east, residents and media said.

‘OUTRAGEOUS’

Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing said last week authorities were using minimal force.

Nevertheless, at least 21 protesters have now died in the turmoil. The army said a policeman had been killed.

Defiance of the coup has emerged not just on the streets but more broadly in the civil service, municipal administration, the judiciary, the education and health sectors and the media.

Activists across Asia held protests in support, with the rallying cry “Milk Tea Alliance” which first united pro-democracy activists in Thailand and Hong Kong.

State-run MRTV television said more than 470 people were arrested on Saturday. It was not clear how many were detained on Sunday.

“We are heartbroken to see the loss of so many lives in Myanmar,” the U.S. embassy said. The Canadian Embassy said it was appalled. Indonesia, which has taken a diplomatic lead within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the crisis, expressed deep concern.

Youth activist Esther Ze Naw said people were battling the fear they had lived with under military rule.

While some Western countries have imposed limited sanctions, the generals have traditionally shrugged off diplomatic pressure. They have promised to hold a new election but not set a date.

Suu Kyi’s party and supporters said the result of the November vote must be respected.

Suu Kyi, 75, who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest, faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols. The next hearing in her case is on Monday.

Reporting by Reuters Staff; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols and Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Robert Birsel, Matthew Tostevin and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Jane Merriman and Daniel Wallis

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Hyatt calls hate symbols ‘abhorrent’ after CPAC stage compared to sign used by Nazis | Reuters

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FILE PHOTO: Signs on stage are shown as technicians work before the start of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S., February 25, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Hyatt Hotels Corp called symbols of hate “abhorrent” on Sunday after the design of a stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference at one of its hotels drew comparisons to a Norse rune used by Nazis during World War Two.

High-profile Republicans including former President Donald Trump are attending the four-day event in Orlando, Florida, as conflict rages between Trump allies and establishment politicians trying to distance the party from him.

A photo of the CPAC stage went viral on social media on Saturday, with thousands of Twitter users sharing posts comparing its distinctive design to an othala rune, one of many ancient European symbols that Nazis adopted to “reconstruct a mythic ‘Aryan’ past,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The ceiling of the conference room featured a lighting display in the same shape as the stage, according to Reuters photographs.

Hyatt said all aspects of conference logistics, including the stage design, were managed by the American Conservative Union, which organized the conference.

The comparisons were “outrageous and slanderous,” Matt Schlapp, American Conservative Union chair, said in a Twitter post on Saturday. He added the organization had a “long standing commitment to the Jewish community” and that the conference featured several Jewish speakers.

In its statement on Sunday, Hyatt said: “We take the concern raised about the prospect of symbols of hate being included in the stage design at CPAC 2021 very seriously as all such symbols are abhorrent and unequivocally counter to our values as a company.”

Some Trump supporters who launched a deadly attack against the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 carried Confederate flags, which many Americans see as a symbol of oppression and slavery. Extremism experts said some of the rioters were members of white nationalist groups.

Trump’s presence has dominated this year’s CPAC, with his supporters parading a larger-than-life golden statue of the former president through the lobby of the hotel, according to a video posted on social media.

Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Heather Timmons and Peter Cooney

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Commuters face season ticket hike of nearly £3,500 in a decade, analysis reveals

Some commuters have faced a season ticket hike of nearly £3,500 in the past decade, new analysis has revealed. 

In a study of more than 180 train routes, the Labour Party found the average commuter will be paying £3,144 for their season ticket, a 43 per cent increase from 2010. 

The highest increase is projected to be on a Virgin Trains season ticket between Birmingham and London Euston, which will have risen by £3,467 since 2010 and now costs £11,204.  

It comes after the Government’s announcement of a 2.6 per cent increase in ticket prices for passengers in England and Wales. 

Union leaders have accused train operators of "profiteering" despite a huge reduction in the number of travellers because of the pandemic.  

Average fares have risen two-and-a-half times faster than wages, according to Labour.  

The 2.6 per cent increase means rail fares in England and Wales are going to rise above inflation for the first time in seven years, with the Government accused of "pricing the railways out of existence".

Increases had been based on the Retail Price Index since January 2014, but this policy has been axed because of the "unprecedented taxpayer support" given to the rail industry during Covid-19.

The cost of an annual season ticket from Brighton to London will rise £129 to £5,109 — while a yearly pass from Liverpool to Manchester will now cost an additional £70, hitting £2,762.

The Scottish government is introducing smaller rises — with an increase of 1.6 per cent for peak travel, and 0.6 per cent for off-peak journeys.  

The Government and devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales took over rail franchise agreements from train operators last March after workers were encouraged to stay at home, with demand collapsing as a result.

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: "This fare hike will make rail unaffordable for many and discourage people from getting back on to the network when lockdown restrictions ease in the coming months."

Meanwhile Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, commented: "As the Government raises fares for rail passengers and freezes pay for rail workers, it is business as usual for the private rail industry.

"Rail companies raking in hundreds of millions of pounds in profit every year prior to the pandemic was bad enough but now in a corporate Covid cash grab scandal of epic proportions, we learn they stand to actually increase the share they take in ticket revenues with profits equivalent to 15p of every pound passengers paid on rail fares.”

A spokesman from the Department for Transport said: "Passengers returning to the railway deserve punctual and reliable journeys at a fair price.

“This is the lowest increase in four years — despite unprecedented taxpayer support for the rail industry during the pandemic of around £10 billion, and billions more being spent on new infrastructure.

“By delaying the change in fares, passengers who needed to renew season tickets were able to get a better deal, and we will set our further plans to offer cheaper, more flexible tickets for commuters in due course.”

Trump hints at 2024 bid, repeats election lies | Reuters

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, U.S. February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

NEW YORK (Reuters) — Former President Donald Trump on Sunday hinted at another run for the White House in 2024 while repeating his discredited claims that Democrats “stole” the 2020 election.

Trump made the remarks during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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Trump says he has no plans to form third party | Reuters

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, U.S. February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

NEW YORK (Reuters) — Former U.S. President Donald Trump told a conservative audience on Sunday he has no plans to start a new party to compete with the Republican Party.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida, Trump called reports that he was plotting a form a third party “fake news.” Trump has clashed with Republicans who rejected his bid to overthrow the presidential election and supported his impeachment.

Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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English parish church discovers its painting of last supper was done in Titian’s workshop

A vast painting of The Last Supper that has hung in a parish church in Herefordshire since the turn of the last century is being seen in a new light following the discovery of crucial evidence that links it to the workshop of Titian, one of the 16th-century’s greatest masters.  

A 12.5-foot-long painting in St Michael and All Angels church in Ledbury, was long assumed to be a much later copy. Hanging high on a wall, in a dark and dirty state, its potential had been missed. 

Ronald Moore, a conservator and art historian, removed centuries of discoloured varnish and was astonished to discover Titian’s inscribed name, a bold under-drawing worthy of Titian himself and an apostle that must be a portrait of him as the facial features precisely match his self-portrait.

In a three-year study, he linked it to a 1775 letter in which its former owner, John Skippe, an Oxford-educated artist and noted collector, wrote of buying “a most capital and well-preserved picture by Titian” from a wealthy Venetian family, adding that it was commissioned by a Venetian convent. It was donated to the Ledbury church in 1909 by one of Skippe’s descendants.

“It’s so big and nobody’s taken any notice of it for 110 years,” Mr Moore said. “Anything coming from Titian’s workshop is very important indeed.”

View of the painting of The Last Supper in the St Michael and All Angels Church in the Herefordshire market town of Ledbury

Credit: John Lawrence 

He was asked to examine it while in the church, restoring a 19th-century copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper: “An awful lot of pictures in churches look like Old Masters, but they’re in fact much later. That’s no doubt what everyone imagined about the Titian workshop picture…

“I could see it was a bit special, but I didn’t know how special. It’s about ten feet off the ground, so you can’t see it unless you stand on a ladder.”

Microscopic examination of the picture under ultraviolet light revealed the inscribed name on a jug on the floor, as in another Titian Last Supper. Although damaged, much of the letters TITIANVS could be seen. 

“That was the absolutely crucial discovery,” Mr Moore said. “I can’t say Titian definitely did the underdrawing, but it’s awfully like him. Very few people would have drawn out a picture on that scale in such a bold manner…

“Very significantly, no evidence of a spolvero — or tracing — can be seen. The painting contains many pentimenti — changes made during the work — indicating that this was a continuous creative process. Such changes could only be made under the direction of a master painter.”

The signature, which was found on the vast painting of The Last Supper that has hung in a parish church in Herefordshire since the turn of the last century 

Mr Moore, a consultant to auction houses and private collectors, has concluded that the painting was created over some 20 years by various painters associated with Titian’s workshop, who were highly adept at simulating his style.

Titian’s workshop was incredibly busy, although little has been written on it, Mr Moore said: “He had so many commissions, he simply couldn’t keep up… Some were from people like Philip II of Spain. His [commissions] were important and a convent’s… probably wasn’t at all. So that’s why I think this picture got left behind.”

The evidence has led him to conclude that the painting was completed around 1580, following the death of Titian in August 1576 and his son Orazio a month later, who are among family members possibly depicted as apostles.

He has no doubt that the first apostle, wearing a golden robe, is Titian as a young man. Computer facial recognition software and overlaid images confirmed that the features mirror those in a self-portrait painting and a drawing: “Profiles, ears, eyes, noses all matched.”

The most likely painter of that figure would be Orazio Vecellio, Titian’s son, painting early in 1576. The painting also bears a monogram identifying Titian’s long-term collaborator, Girolamo Dente, and the date of Titian’s death above his portrait, “significant identification of the master”, Mr Moore said. Among other artists, he detects the hand of Palma il Giovane, who completed Titian’s Pietà, left unfinished at his death.

Saint Michael and All Angels Church in the ancient market town of Ledbury, Herefordshire

Credit: Sue Martin

He added: “The [Ledbury] painting has suffered damage over the years and what we now see is not as it once appeared. Many glazes had been removed in old restorations. Much detail and tone has been lost. Blues changed dramatically due to smalt going grey, glazes have altered colours.”

While the church deed of gift refers to “a Last Supper after Titian”, Mr Moore found references to visitors viewing “the Titian” at Skippe’s home. 

Asked whether the picture is now too valuable for the church to keep, he said: “That’s a tricky one. It was donated on the understanding that it always stays in the church.”

Its early history in a Venetian convent was discovered with the help of Count Francesco da Mosto of Venice — the historian who presents a popular BBC television series on Italy — as his own family had known Titian. Mr Moore was further aided by researcher Patricia Kenny and Professor Alessandra Zamperini of Verona University.

Keith Hilton-Turvey, the church’s rector, expressed excitement: “We’ve really appreciated all the work that he’s done and all that he’s discovered.”

Mr Moore’s research will appear in his forthcoming book, Titian’s Lost Last Supper: A New Workshop Discovery, to be published on March 26 by Unicorn Publishing.

Earl Spencer takes diving lessons to join hunt for lost White Ship 

It was a 12th Century Titanic, a disaster that killed the cream of the English aristocracy including the heir to the throne and led to nearly 20 years of violent conflict.   

In June marine archaeologists searching for the wreck of the White Ship will be joined by Earl Spencer, author of a best selling book about the sinking.

The Earl has been having diving lessons in order to join the expedition.   They will be searching for any trace of the White Ship which was reputed to be the fastest vessel afloat when it sank in November 1120 on its way from Barfleur in Normandy to Southampton.

Although the boat which was built along the lines of a Viking longship went down less than half a mile from shore only one of the 300 people on board survived. 

Any treasure its passengers of assembled royals and aristos were bringing from Normandy was salvaged shortly after the sinking but many other items, including metal fittings and personal possessions, are believed to still lie on the seabed near the rock that sank her.

'Wreck Of The White Ship', 1120, (c1850)

The Earl, writing as Charles Spencer, is a best-selling author of historical non-fiction and the younger brother of the late Princess Diana.  He said: “I have dived before but it was rather a long time ago.”

The story of the White Ship has fascinated him since he was a schoolboy but is surprisingly little known considering its disastrous consequences for medieval England.  After Henry I’s death the absence of a male heir led to a period known as The Anarchy. 

A replica of the 12th century White Ship — so called because she was lime-washed at a time when most vessels were waterproofed with bitumen — is to be built alongside a full size replica of the 7th century Sutton Hoo longship, subject of the chart-topping Netflix movie The Dig.  When it is finished the two vessels will give historians a far clearer picture of how such ships ruled the waves for nearly 500 years.

Earl Spencer, 56, said: “The White Ship was clinker built with over-lapping planks pinned together with metal rivets and that is what we are really looking for and how we will know we have found it.”

The Sutton Hoo boat and the White Ship mark the beginning and the end of the era of the longship.  The resemblance to longships sailed by the Vikings when they raided the north of England or said across the Atlantic was no coincidence.  Henry’s father William the Conqueror, who led the invasion in 1066, was descended from Norsemen who had settled in northern France, hence the name Norman.  

Normandy where the dives will take place 

Credit: Digital Vision 

Henry I was returning to England from Normandy having defeated the French king Louis the Fat and forced him to concede that his son William Adelin was heir to the Dukedom of Normandy.  

Many of the passengers and crew on board the open longship were drunk and in uproarious mood after celebrating victory over the French.  Henry had set off in his own boat a little earlier and the crew of the White Ship were urged to catch up and beat him to Southampton. 

After the collision Prince William Adelin, Henry’s only legitimate son and heir who had supplied the booze, was taken off the sinking White Ship by his bodyguard.  But hearing the cries of his half sister Matilda the prince insisted they turn around whereupon the small boat was swamped by drowning passengers.   

In the dark and travelling at high speed propelled by a sail and 50 oarsmen the White Ship hit a notorious rock known as Quillebœuf which is submerged at high tide. The sole survivor Berold, a butcher from Rouen, managed to cling to the rock until help arrived. 

King Henry I learns of the death of his son and heir, William the Aetheling, who was killed when the 'White Ship' was wrecked in 1120.

Credit: Hulton Archive

Earl Spencer added: “William had three extraordinarily large casks of wine brought on board and in return for the flattery of the crew he encouraged them to join in the drinking. It was a very bad move.

“It was a medieval Titanic although a far more powerful group of people drowned than the poor people who died on the Titanic.  The Titanic would have had to have the equivalent of half the Cabinet on board to compete in terms of knock on tragedy for the country.  It was the beginning of the end of Norman rule.”

The reconstruction of the White Ship and the expedition are being supported  by the Oxford based Institute for Digital Archaeology.   Roger Michel, the IDA’s executive director, said: “The Earl is the world’s leading expert on the White Ship.   Given the historical importance of the event it is startling how little research had been done into it.  It would be impossible to do it without him.

”In addition to the reconstruction we will create a very high quality 3D computer animation that will recreate Barfleur harbour and the sinking of the White Ship.  I hope Charles will also help with some of the public engagement around it.”

Bronze age spear found by a metal detectorist on a Jersey beach

One of the most spectacular bronze age weapons discovered in northern Europe has been found by a metal detectorist on a Jersey beach.

The perfectly preserved 35cm long spear head made from copper alloy was found buried point down at the low water mark on one of the lowest tides of the year. 

It is in such good condition that the finder Jay Cornick thought it must be a modern fishing spear.  He put it in his bag and didn’t think much more about it until he showed it to archaeologists from Jersey Heritage.

The spearhead was found last August but the find has only now been made public after radio carbon dating confirmed it is at least 3,000 years old.  Remains of the wooden haft which were still in the socket of the spear head also confirmed it had been made from field maple, which was commonly used for hafting tools and weapons in the late Bronze Age.

No similar spear head has been found in the Channel Islands although a handful of similar examples have been found in France which is just 14 miles from Jersey.  Most bronze age spear heads discovered in the islands have been much smaller and part of hoards that were deliberately broken and buried as part of some long forgotten ritual.

A rare and complete metal spearhead dating back thousands of years to the Late Bronze Age has been discovered in Jersey

Mr Cornick, 34, an electrical engineer, had detected on the beach near Gorey Harbour in the east of the island many times before making the find.  He said: “It was very close to the harbour wall,  Down on that part of the beach we usually find a lot of musket balls and old bullets and that’s what it sounded like.  It was just about the first signal I got, I was in two minds whether to dig it but I did anyway.

“It was a good 15in to 18in deep.  It was at a 45 degree angle and when I dug it I saw the end of it and just pulled it out. It came out with a sucking sound.  It was deep enough into the black clayey sand that doesn’t move with the tide that it may have been there since it went in.”

He said: “When I found the spear I didn’t think it was that important or that old.  My initial thought when I dug it out was that it was a modern fishing spear and probably less than 100 years old so it was just thrown in my bag until I got back to the car.  Then I looked again and thought it might have a little bit of age to it.”

After sharing a photograph with Neil Mahrer, the conservation specialist with Jersey Heritage, Mr Cornick wrapped the still damp spearhead in a bin bag and took to the museum in St Helier where it went on display this week. Mr Mahrer described the find as “incredible”.  

Mr Cornick says he has only had it in his possession for three days and does not know whether he will get a “finder’s fee”.

The carbon dating carried out by York Archaeological Trust confirmed the wooden haft dates from between 1207 BC and 1004 BC. 

Olga Finch, Jersey Heritage’s Curator of Archaeology, said: “The spearhead is a really exciting find for Jersey – it is unique and very rare in terms of its large size and the fact that it is intact. 

“This spearhead is completely different from everything else we have.”

The style of spear head is known as Tréboul after a site in Brittany but this example is so large and delicate that Mr Mahrer says it is possible it was made for ceremonial use.   It is thought it survived in such good condition because it was protected from the air by the black sand.

Somehow it had survived not only the construction of Gorey Harbour and the medieval castle which dominates the headland but three millennia of tides and winter storms.