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Thursday, 26 November 2015

26 November 1972: Dramatic and bloody events occurred in the City of Dublin on this day: A Bombing was carried out on a crowded City Centre cinema. There was also the arrest and imprisonment for contempt of Court of one Kevin O’Kelly, a well known RTE journalist, plus an unsuccessful attempt by the IRA to rescue one of their top men, Seán Mac Stiofáin [above], from the Mater Hospital in the north inner City.

At 1.25 a.m. a bomb exploded in a laneway connecting Burgh Quay to Leinster Market. It was placed beside the rear exit door of the Film Centre cinema, O’Connell Bridge House. A late film was in progress: there were 3 staff and approximately 156 patrons in the cinema at the time of the explosion. No one was killed in the blast, but some 40 people were taken to hospital for treatment. It is believed that agent provocateurs sent over from Britain were responsible for this attack.

The events leading to O’Kelly and Mac Stiofáin’s arrests had begun on Sunday 19 November when RTE Radio broadcast a report based on an interview by Kevin O'Kelly with the IRA Chief of Staff, Seán Mac Stiofáin. The leading Republican figure had been apprehended soon afterwards and brought before the Courts. O'Kelly was found guilty of contempt of Court when, during the conduct of the trial of Mac Stiofáin, he refused to identify the defendant as the subject of that interview.

The IRA Leader had embarked upon a Hunger Strike soon after he was arrested. He was convicted of being ‘a member of an unlawful organisation’ and as his condition was deteriorating he was sent to the Mater Hospital where he was to be placed under observation. That Sunday afternoon a crowd of about seven thousand people had gathered outside the GPO and marched to the hospital to demand his release. Later that night a rescue party of eight IRA men, two disguised as Priests and the others as Hospital Doctors tried to free Mac Stiofáin but were themselves captured. Two of the men had guns, and shots were exchanged with Special Branch detectives, resulting in minor injuries to a detective, two civilians and one of the raiders. The Prisoner was then transferred by helicopter to the Curragh General Military Hospital to serve the rest of his six month sentence while his erstwhile rescuers were each sent down for seven years for their audacity when they in turn faced the Courts.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

25 November 1913: The foundation of the Irish Volunteers in the Rotunda, Dublin on this day. The aim of the new organisation was to counter the Ulster Volunteers in providing a similar force for Irish nationalists in the event of an armed confrontation over Home Rule. The first President was Eoin MacNeill but it drew support from a wide spectrum of Irish nationalist opinion.

The idea arose from an article he wrote some weeks previously in An Claidheamh Soluis, an Irish language newspaper. His proposal was called ‘The North began’. In it MacNeill put forward the idea that a Force be established that would counter the formation of the UVF in the North. He intended to ensure that Irish Nationalism was not left unarmed and vulnerable as the political situation developed. It estimated that some 7,000 people went to the Rotunda’s Large Concert hall that night, with some 4,000 inside and another 3,000 outside. The meeting was called with the specific intention of raising a National Volunteer Force to be called ‘The Irish Volunteers’. In the Notices issued around Dublin in advance of the meeting it was stated that:

The purpose of the Irish Volunteers will be to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland.

The new organisation quickly mushroomed and by April 1914 it was estimated to have around 80,000 members and by July that year some 160,000 men had signed up but only a few thousands had any weapons with which to fight. Nevertheless such a formidable body of public opinion could not be easily ignored by the British Government and all the indicators were that a bloody clash of arms was imminent in the late summer of 1914 between the Nationalist and Unionist armed camps over the thorny issue of Partition.

Only the outbreak of the Great War precluded what otherwise would have been a Civil War here. The Irish Volunteers then split on the question of involvement in the Conflict with most though by no means all following John Redmond’s call for enlistment in the British Army while a core membership remained under MacNeill’s nominal control.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

24 November 1865: The dramatic rescue of James Stephens of the IRB from the Richmond Prison [above], Dublin on this day. The Fenian Leader was rescued from Richmond Prison in Dublin after only a few weeks captivity. He had been held only a few weeks when his escape was organised from without and within the prison itself. Inside the Richmond were John J. Breslin who was a hospital warder and a Daniel Byrne, an ordinary warder. The two men were sworn members of the I.R.B. and willing to help. On the outside the acting leader of the Organisation was Colonel Thomas Kelly and he helped put together a support team from within the Fenians to ensure that once on the outside Stephens remained free. At great risk Breslin managed to take wax impressions of the two keys he needed, one for Stephens cell, which was held in the Governors office and another for one of the outer doors. On the night of the actual rescue everything went according to plan. Only one other prisoner (a common criminal) was incarcerated on the same wing as Stephens and he wisely kept his mouth shut.

Once outside Stephens was ushered away to a safe house in the Summerhill area of the City where he remained for a number of months. The British put a price of £1,000 on his head but even this amount did not yield any informer willing to betray him. He eventually he made his way to Paris where he lived for many years and after a brief stay in Switzerland he returned home in 1891 and was left undisturbed by the Castle. He died in 1901.

It is curious to note that his escape from incarceration was an event that many Irish People at the time erroneously believed to have been acquiesced in by the British Government of the day. It was certainly an easy triumph for Irish Republicans that hugely embarrassed the occupying power.

The locale of Richmond Prison later became Wellington Barracks and after Independence was known as Griffith Barracks. Today the site is occupied by Griffith College on the South Circular Rd, Dublin.

Monday, 23 November 2015

23 November 1867: Execution of the Manchester Martyrs William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien. They were publicly hanged for their alleged role in the rescue of Fenian prisoners in which a Constable Brett was fatally wounded. Although neither Larkin, Allen and O’Brien had fired the fatal shot nor had they had any intention to kill anybody, they were hanged as accessories to the death of the policeman.

The martyrs were hanged in front of the New Bailey prison in Salford, Manchester. Part of the wall was removed so that the public could witness the event. The morning of their execution was a cold and foggy one. Large crowds, marshalled by police and troops had assembled to witness the spectacle. Shortly after 8 O’Clock the men were led out and hanged, the bodies dropping out of sight into the pit below and out of sight of the onlookers.

They were buried in quicklime in Strangeways Prison. Today they rest in a mass grave in Blackley Cemetery, Plot number C.2711. Manchester. Their noble stand in the dock and on the gallows inspired T. D. Sullivan to pen the famous ballad ‘God save Ireland’.

When the news of their execution reached Ireland, solemn funeral processions were held, and three coffinless hearses proceeded to Glasnevin Cemetery, followed by 60,000 mourners. Allen was a native of Tipperary, O'Brien came from Ballymacoda, Co. Cork, and Larkin from Lusmagh, Co Offaly.

It was widely felt amongst the Irish both at home and abroad that these men were wrongly hanged as it was not their intention to kill and nor had they. The brave and courageous stand they took in the Dock and upon the Gallows inspired Irish People around the World and helped to restore morale in the wake of the abortive Rising of 1867.

Ironically the first prisoner to utter these immortal words was one O'Meagher Condon who had his death sentence commuted to Life Imprisonment while another man Thomas Maguire was released from captivity as the case against him was so poor even the English Media felt he should be set free.

Numerous monuments were erected to the Martyrs in the wake of their deaths across Ireland incl a symbolic grave to these brave men in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

The famous song, which their sacrifice gave birth to, opens with the lines:
High upon the gallows tree, swung the noble-hearted three,
By the vengeful tyrant, stricken in their bloom.
But they met him face to face with the courage of their race,
And they went with souls undaunted to their doom.

"God save Ireland," said the heroes.
"God save Ireland," said them all.
"Whether on the scaffold high, or the battlefield we die,
No matter when, for Ireland dear we fall!"


Sunday, 22 November 2015

22 November 1963: President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullets as his motorcade wound through Dallas, Texas on this day. Kennedy was the youngest man elected President and he was the youngest to die. He was hardly past his first thousand days in office. His great grandparents hailed from Co Wexford and had fled Ireland in the 1840s to Boston, Massachusetts.

His Inaugural Address offered the memorable injunction: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

His untimely and brutal death triggered a wave of shock and grief throughout Ireland that very night as word rapidly spread across the airwaves and by word of mouth that the President had succumbed to his wounds. He had visited this Country only a few months previously and had been met with a huge and ecstatic welcome. His election as President in 1960 was a source of great pride to the Irish People and of some advantage to the Country in its International relations.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

21 November 615 AD: The death of St Columbanus at Bobbio in northern Italy on this day. Columbanus was the greatest of the Irish Apostles to preach the Faith on the Continent. He founded a string of monasteries that acted as bases from which his disciples spread the Word amongst the new Germanic kingdoms that emerged in the wake of the collapse of Roman power. Columbanus (the Latinised form of Columbán, meaning ‘the white dove’) was born in Ireland in 543, Prior to his birth, his mother was said to have had visions of bearing a child who, in the judgement of those interpreting the visions, would become a "remarkable genius".Columbanus was well-educated in the areas of grammar, rhetoric, geometry, and the Holy Scriptures.

Columbanus left home to study under Sinell, Abbot of Cluaninis in Lough Erne. Under Sinell's instruction, Columbanus composed a commentary on the Psalms. He then moved to Bangor Abbey on the coast of north east Ireland, where Saint Comgall was serving as the abbot. He stayed at Bangor until his fortieth year, when he received Comgall's permission to travel to the continent.
So after many years there as a leading member of the community he felt the call to go abroad and spread the Gospel amongst the Heathens. With some reluctance he was allowed to depart by his mentor and took twelve followers with him. Proceeding through Scotland and England they made their way to eastern France to the Court of the King of Burgundy. Here Columbanus was well received and given the old castle of Annegray in the isolated Vosges Mountains upon which to found a Monastery. Here the abbot and his monks led the simplest of lives, their food oftentimes consisting of nothing but forest herbs, berries, and the bark of young trees. So great was the devotion to Columbanus and so great were the numbers who flocked to witness his Piety and Sanctity that soon another site was required to cope with the influx of followers and penitents. Thus a new site was established at Luxeuil just a few miles away and Columbanus ruled his religious domain from there. However his great success evoked jealousy amongst the Frankish bishops and they conspired against him.

Forced to flee he made his way down the Loire to catch a ship home to Ireland but a great storm swept the vessel back into the Bay. Columbanus then decided that he would make his way back across France to the Rhine Valley in order to reach the Suevi and Alamanni, to whom he wished to preach the Gospel. After a couple of years of mixed success in what is now Switzerland his small band of followers reached northern Italy and the Court of King Agilulf at Milan in the year 612 AD. The King although a follower of the heretical Arian viewpoint was favourably disposed to Columbanus and gave him a plot of land on the Bobbio river near Genoa in which to establish himself. Here the Saint passed the last years of his life.

Columbanus is best known in monastic circles for his set of ‘Rules’ which governed the way each monk within the community had to conduct themselves. The Rule of Saint Columbanus embodied the customs of Bangor and other Celtic monasteries. It consisted of ten chapters, on the subjects of obedience, silence, food, poverty, humility, chastity, choir offices, discretion, mortification, and perfection.

However Columbanus did not lead a perfect life. According to his biographer Jonas and other sources, he could be impetuous and even headstrong, for by nature he was eager, passionate, and dauntless. These qualities were both the source of his power and the cause of his mistakes. His virtues, however, were quite remarkable. Like many saints, he had a great love for God's creatures. Stories claim that as he walked in the woods, it was not uncommon for birds to land on his shoulders to be caressed, or for squirrels to run down from the trees and nestle in the folds of his cowl. Although a strong defender of his Celtic traditions, he never wavered in showing deep respect for the Holy See as the supreme authority.

It possible that Columbanus had travelled to Rome at some stage in his life to meet Pope Gregory to discuss various matters but he also communicated with his successor Pope Boniface on the Paschal question over when exactly Easter should be celebrated. The Celtic Church still followed the old ways of observance and Columbanus was eager to ensure that he did the right thing. He wrote to the Pontiff Theodore I that:

We Irish though dwelling at the far ends of the earth, are all disciples of St. Peter and St. Paul. . . Neither heretic, nor Jew, nor schismatic has ever been among us; but the Catholic Faith. Just as it was first delivered to us by yourselves, the successors of the Apostles, is held by us unchanged . . . we are bound to the Chair of Peter, and although Rome is great and renowned, through that Chair alone is she looked on as great and illustrious among us…

By this stage Columbanus was over 70 years old and his end was approaching. He prepared for death by retiring to his cave on the mountainside overlooking the Trebbia River and when he died his remains were interred in the Abbey Church in Bobbio. His final resting place became a site of pilgrimage and was famed throughout Western Europe as the site where one of the Christianity’s greatest advocates lay buried. It still exists today. [above]

Thursday, 19 November 2015

19 November 1807: The sinkings of the Prince of Wales & the Rochdale Packet ships * in Dublin Bay on this day. A convoy of British troop transport ships set sail from Dublin. It comprised five ships: the Sarah, the Lark, the Albion, the Rochdale and the Prince of Wales. Two of the ships, the Rochdale and the Prince of Wales did not make it to their destination. They ended up being wrecked on the South Bull in Dublin Bay, with the loss of approximately 380 lives. Public outcry was one of the key factors that brought about the construction of what is now known as Dun Laoghaire East Pier.

The Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales, the Parkgate packet ship, was a 103-ton wooden brig of Chester, originally built in Wales. It was en route to Liverpool with recruits from the South Cork and South Mayo Militia for the 18th and 97th Regiments.

The stormy weather prevented the Prince of Wales from anchoring in Dublin Bay and it was forced to anchor off Bray Head in an attempt to gain some shelter. The wind direction changed and went SE, driving the Prince of Wales across Dublin Bay. It eventually ran ashore at Blackrock House. Captain Jones, the crew, two soldiers, a steward and his wife managed to get on board one of the ship’s boats and got ashore safely. The Prince of Wales started to break up soon afterwards and became a total wreck, with the loss of 120 lives.

The Rochdale suffered a similar fate near Seapoint, just 20 feet from the shore. The ships were part of a military fleet bound for Liverpool that had left Dublin that morning. Snow and sleet showers backed by a heavy wind developed as the ships made their way out of Dublin Bay and as night came on they were blown onto the sandbanks just off shore where the ships capsized and foundered. It is estimated that some 120 were lost from the Prince of Wales and about 265 from the Rochdale.

The Rochdale

The Rochdale, a brig of Liverpool, was also en route with some passengers and 265 soldiers of the 97th Regiment. It encountered an easterly gale and a snow storm shortly after leaving Dublin Bay and was driven back into Dublin Bay by strong winds and could be seen from both Dalkey and Dun Laoghaire as it burned blue lights and fired guns as signals of distress.

In an attempt to prevent the vessel from being blown ashore, several anchors were dropped, but these failed when the cables snapped. The vessel was driven helplessly past Dun Laoghaire Pier and went ashore on rocks under the Martello Tower at Seapoint, half a mile from where the Prince of Wales had gone ashore.

Even though the wreck was only yards away from the shore all 265 aboard, including 42 women and 29 children, perished as the poor visibility and darkness of the night prevented them from comprehending their exact position. The next day the lower hull of the Rochdale was found to be completely smashed out, but the decks were relatively intact.

* like above