Thursday, 17 April 2014

17 April 1876: The whaling vessel Catalpa rescued six Irish prisoners from British Captivity on this day. The ship under Captain George S. Anthony carried out one of the most daring and long distance rescues in history when she was used to spirit away the six Fenian prisoners from Freemantle, Australia. Even though the British quickly realised the men had fled and gave chase the ship could not be boarded as she flew the American flag. The rescued men (Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Robert Cranston and James Wilson) were brought safely to New York City. The Fenians John Devoy and John J. Breslin planned the rescue operation from America and Breslin was dispatched to Australia to co-ordinate the rescue.

In July 1874 the Clan na Gael Organisation in the USA decided to rescue the six prisoners who were excluded from a conditional pardon for all civilian Fenian prisoners. These men had been members of the British Army and thus considered outright ‘Traitors’ by the British. John Devoy was assigned to co-ordinate this rescue. He saw that funds were raised and a Captain George S. Anthony was ‘head hunted’ to undertake the dangerous mission. When it was put to him he was willing to take the risk. It was then decided that the voyage must look like a whaling voyage, thus Captain Anthony went looking for a suitable ship. In the port of Boston he found one that suited his needs and purchased the Catalpa, a three-master whaler, for $5200.

The ship set out from New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA, in April 1875. The Voyage was undertaken with the deliberate intention engaging in a daring a yearlong mission of international rescue. On 28 March 1876 the Catalpa arrived off Bunbury Harbour, Western Australia and a meeting was set up between Captain Anthony and John Breslin. At this meeting they agreed the rescue date should be on 6 April. However due to the presence of a British gunboat at the Harbour and the information that another gunboat was due to arrive they rescheduled the rescue for 17 April.

With the help of the prison chaplain, the six men escaped to the coast where Captain Anthony was waiting with a small whaleboat that would take them to the Catalpa. The resistance they overcame, both from armed British vessels and a furious sea storm, made their escape the stuff of legend. The British attempted to capture the Catalpa but Captain Anthony had the Flag of the United States raised and warned the prospective boarders that such a move would be viewed as an Act of War. They thought the better of it and the Catalpa made good her escape.
The Catalpa landed the ‘Freemantle Six’ in New York Harbour on 19 August 1876. Though Captain Anthony would never again put to sea in open waters for fear of arrest by the British, his rescue voyage, made mostly without the use of a functioning chronometer, is one of the greatest feats of seamanship ever recorded in nautical annals.




Wednesday, 16 April 2014

16 April 1172: King Henry II departed from Ireland on this day. He had landed in Waterford in October 1171 with a powerful force of well-equipped knights, archers and foot soldiers. He subsequently received the allegiance of many of the provincial kings of Munster and Leinster. However the High King of Ireland Rory O’Connor/Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair kept his distance and the chief Ulster kings ignored Henry’s visit alltogether. King Henry though was the most powerful man in Western Europe and his name alone carried tremendous weight. He ensured by his presence at the Irish Church’s Council of Cashel that the type of Church Reform in favour in England was adopted in Ireland.
While his Ecclesiastical Mission was the purported reason for his Expedition into Ireland he also had designs to bring the whole of the Country under his sway. He brought to heel his Anglo-Norman mercenaries and adventurers and tried to ensure that they recognised that anything they had taken in Ireland was his to grant and not theirs by right of conquest. He arrived in Dublin in mid November and wintered over in Dublin. He stayed outside the walls and in a Palace made of wattles that was specially built by local craftsmen. There he celebrated Christmas in some style, entertaining his guests lavishly. This rustic Court served as his Royal seat of power for the duration of his stay in the City.

His most compelling reason for coming to Ireland when he did however was his implication in the Murder of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral and the wrath that came down upon him from the Papacy as a result. So Ireland was a politic place for him to be until the furore died down and he judged it safe to return. Though Henry probably meant to spend a few more months in Ireland events abroad meant that he had to cut short his stay here and return forthwith. The winter was a bad one and few ships reached Ireland that carried any news of worth. Sensing that somewhere in his patchwork quilt ‘Angevin Empire’ would require his attention before too long Henry left Dublin for Wexford in the month of March for the port of Wexford. It was there he received news that the Papal Legates awaited him in Normandy to demand explanations for his conduct. He thus departed from our shores on the Easter Sunday of 1172– never to return.

The king of the Saxons (namely, Henry, son of the Empress) went from Ireland on Easter Sunday [April 16th] after celebration of Mass.

The Annals of Ulster

Monday, 7 April 2014

7 April: 1973 - Death of the old Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid [above] . He was head of the Dublin Diocese from 1940 to 1972 and a man who ruled his fiefdom with an Iron Hand.

He was born in Cootehill, Co. Cavan, on 28 July 1895, to Dr. Eugene McQuaid and Jennie Corry. His mother died a week later and his father, a doctor, signed her death certificate. A little over a year later he married a woman named Agnes, who raised John and his sister Helen as her own. In his teens John learned that Agnes was not his real mother. Further children were born to Eugene and Agnes McQuaid.

Educated at Blackrock College and Clongowes, two of the top private Catholic schools in the Country, he went on to complete his University Education at UCD where he mastered on the Life of the Roman pagan philosopher Seneca. He then took up his studies for the priesthood and was was ordained at Kimmage in Dublin in 1924.

After a brief stay in Rome he returned to Ireland and was appointed to the staff of Blackrock College in 1925. He served as Dean of Studies from 1925–1931 and President of the College from 1931–1939. In this time he ran the school with a strict hand and encouraged the boys in Sport, Rugby in particular and also in classical studies.

However it was in his role as advisor to the President Eamon De Valera that he is best known for ensuring that a strong Catholic ethos was written into the new Irish Constitution of 1937, where the ‘Special Position’ of the Church was specifically recognised. Though recent commentators have pointed out that this had no actual legal meaning as such. It was removed from the Constitution in 1972 in a Referendum.

In 1940 McQuaid was appointed Archbishop of Dublin and from the start he had some overiding concerns. He wanted to ensure that the Church remained dominant in Irish Society and that a Catholic education was given to the children of the Diocese He also had great concerns about the widespread poverty in the city and encouraged acts of Charity towards the poor.

He was basically a typical Irish Archbishop in religiosity but with a lot more intelligence, drive and determination than most. His most controversial moment came in 1951 when he became embroiled in the legislation for a Bill that was before the Irish Parliament ( the Dail) that was known as the Mother & Child Scheme. McQuaid opposed it as giving more power to the State as against the Church. He was not the only one and the Irish Medical Organisation also rowed in against it for reasons of their own. The popular Minister of Health, Noel Browne, was forced to resign. But it proved a Pyrrhic Victory for the Church and for McQuaid in particular as public opinion slowly moved away from accepting the Church as the primary source of moral authority.

Further controversy dogged him in 1955 when he voiced opposition to the visit of the Communist soccer team from Yugoslavia (where in fairness Catholics were given a hard time) to Dublin yet over 20,000 people turned up to see them!

But Ireland was changing and even more so after 1960 when increased social prosperity brought into being new ways of thinking. The arrival of Television and foreign travel meant that people had a broader view of the World and its many and varied ways than heretofore.

It was though the opening of the Second Vatican Council in Rome in 1962 that put the cat amongst the pidgons as many of the Faithful saw hope for fundamental change in the strict and outdated modes of operation of the Church. McQuaid was deeply suspicious of change and made it pretty clear where he stood on the issue. He will always be remembered for his attempt to reassure his flock at the end of the Council that "No change will worry the tranquility of your Christian lives".

His eminent position in the decision making process of the Irish State became an increasing anachronism as the 1960's wore on. Politicians offering him public deference became a source of embarrassment and indeed anger to many voters, particularly in the upwardly mobile classes in South Dublin, where McQuaid lived himself.

He was a shy and reserved man who lived frugally and alone. He visited the sick in hospitals nearly every night and ensured that the Church’s works of Charity continued unabated. But these are now almost forgotten and his errors of judgement remembered.

Dr. McQuaid formally relinquished the government of the Archdiocese of Dublin when his successor was ordained Archbishop in February 1972.

‘On Saturday 7 April 1973 McQuaid was too ill to get up at his usual time of 6.30am to say Mass at his private residence in Killiney Co. Dublin. He was taken to Loughlinstown Hospital where he died within an hour. Shortly before his death he asked nurse Margaret O'Dowd if he had any chance of reaching heaven. She told him that if he as Archbishop could not get to heaven, few would. This answer appeared to satisfy him and he lay back on the pillow to await death. He died at about 11am. He is buried in St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese.’

Saturday, 5 April 2014

5 April 1895: Oscar Wilde was arrested at the Cadogan Hotel, London, for homosexual offences with Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the 8th Marquis of Queensbury. In Room 118 he was arrested after spending time with his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, affectionately known as 'Bosie'. Lord Alfred's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, had suspected Wilde and his own son to be in an illicit relationship, and he challenged Wilde with a scribbled accusation of 'Somdomy' (sic).

Oscar Wilde knew that the arrest was coming, and ignored friends' pleas for him to flee the country. The Poet Laureate John Betjeman took up the tragic tale in his poem "The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at The Cadogan Hotel":

A thump, and a murmur of voices--
(Oh, why must they make such a din?)
As the door of the bedroom swung open
"Mr. Woilde, we 'ave come for tew take yew
Where felons and criminals dwell:
We must ask yew tew leave with us quietly
For this is the Cadogan Hotel.

The Hotel is still a going concern and is situated on Sloane Street, the famous Belgravia thoroughfare connecting the well-heeled districts of Chelsea and Knightsbridge in the City of London.

Friday, 4 April 2014

April 4 1774: Oliver Goldsmith, Irish novelist, playwright and poet, died in London on this day. He was born in the Irish Midlands in about 1730 the son of an Anglican clergyman. At the age of eight he had a severe attack of smallpox which disfigured him for life. He studied Theology and Law at Trinity College in Dublin during the 1740s and eventually graduated from there as a Bachelor of Arts in 1749. While a student he picked up a taste for the good life of drinking, singing and playing cards. He spent some time studying Medicine in Edinburgh and in Leiden in the Austrian Netherlands but gave it up. He then drifted about and wandered on foot across Flanders, France, Switzerland and Northern Italy. He survived on his wits and ‘busked’ for a living when he could.

He settled in London in 1756 and started to earn an income by the pen. Necessity being the mother of invention he produced much low grade material but some gems too as he honed his art. His fortunate inclusion in ‘the Club’ of Samuel Johnson gave him an introduction to many of the City’s literati. He is pictured above [far right] in distinguished company with other of Dr Johnson's choice companions. Though Boswell depicted him as a ridiculous, blundering, but tender hearted and generous creature.

His most famous works are his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) a humorous melodrama and his short and ironic poem An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog of the same year ; his poem The Deserted Village (1770) a lament on a fictional Irish village in the Midlands and his play She Stoops to Conquer (1773) a comedy of manners, all made his name. He also turned out many works of lesser importance incl Histories and works on Philosophy which helped give him a lucrative income.
He was known as a very generous man but with extravagant tastes and when he died he owed £2,000 – a small fortune in those days. He had a close relationship with Mary Horneck, with whom he fell in love in 1769 but they never married. He died after a short illness in 1774 and was buried in the Church of St Mary or ‘The Temple’. His Latin Epitaph by Johnson was praise indeed:

Oliver Goldsmith: A Poet, Naturalist, and Historian, who left scarcely any style of writing untouched, and touched nothing that he did not adorn. Of all the passions, whether smiles were to move or tears, a powerful yet gentle master. In genius, vivid, versatile, sublime. In style, clear, elevated, elegant.

A statue of him stands outside the front doors of his old Alma Mater, Trinity College Dublin.




Thursday, 3 April 2014

3 April 1925: The amalgamation of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) with An Garda Síochána took place on this day.

The Capital’s own Police Force had been established under an Act of the British Parliament in 1836 and the force had become operational in January 1838. It was closely modelled on the London Metropolitan Police founded by Sir John Peel. While never a greatly popular force with Dubliners the DMP had nevertheless proved to be a magnet to men (mostly countrymen) in search of secure employment in the city with a guaranteed pension at the end of their service. Its members were unarmed unless on specific duties and the individual members relied on their formidable physical strength to settle affairs on the street when necessary. Among the generally undersized citizenry of Dublin they certainly stood out as men not to be trifled with.

Things started to turn sour for the DMP in 1913 when there was serious labour unrest in Dublin. In a fight for Trade Union recognition the employers resorted to locking out the workers till they dropped their demand for the right to belong to one. The DMP as a result found itself involved in upholding the interests of the employers at the expense of the workers rights. Vicious street battles developed with the police involved in sometimes fatal baton charges, which lost them a lot of credibility and respect with the public. Of course the DMP men suffered too! Then the events of 1914, when the DMP and the British Army tried unsuccessfully to block the distribution of the weapons landed at Howth, further weakened their morale and general standing. Indeed as a result of this incident the Assistant Commissioner had to resign.

The outbreak of the Great War saw a considerable number of the men volunteer for war service from which, no doubt, a high proportion never returned. The Easter Rising of 1916 was yet another shock to its morale. By the time the War of Independence started in 1919 the force was at a low ebb, which the events of the next two and a half years did nothing to alleviate. By and large they escaped the deadly fate of so many of their counterparts in the RIC simply because of their unarmed status. So long as they turned a blind eye to the activities of the IRA then they were allowed to proceed with the enforcement of the civil law. Not so the men of the ‘ G ’ Division. They were armed and were tasked by the British with hunting down Republicans in the city. Michael Collins had his own answer to them: the men of ‘ the Squad ‘, a select group of gunmen who were given the job of eliminating especially dangerous opponents of the Republic in Dublin. In this they succeeded brilliantly, and effectively put a stop to the flow of intelligence to the British administration in Dublin Castle.

By the Summer of 1921 Irish recruitment to the DMP was at a standstill and the ranks had to be filled by taking on men from across the water, many of them British ex-servicemen. With the Truce of July 1921 the DMP was left hanging in the air, not knowing whether they would be kept on or swept aside in the impending change of government.

When the new Government took over they decided to retain the DMP at least temporarily as the only fully trained Police Force in the State. In Irish the Force was known as Políní Átha Cliath and cap badges were issued to reflect this.

In 1923 Major General W.R.E. Murphy DSO, MC [above]was appointed to command as Chief Commissioner and he was able to instil a sense of purpose back into the Force. He had numerous difficulties to contend with both internal and external. Many of the men wished to retire and Jim Larkin had returned from America and organised a series of Strikes across the City. On the other hand Murphy was instrumental in ensuring that Frank Duff’s efforts to shut down the notorious Red Light district known as the Monto succeeded. In sport the DMP continued to enjoy great success their crowning glory being winning the World Tug of War Championship in London in 1924.

However Kevin O’Higgins had decided that two police forces in one State was one too many and in 1925 the DMP was amalgamated into the Garda Siochana. Murphy became a Deputy Commissioner of the Garda under General O’Duffy with whom he had served in the Irish Civil war. Thus after a run of 87 years Dublin’s own Police Force and its formidable Constables came to be seen no more on the streets of the Fair City.




Wednesday, 2 April 2014

2 April 1914: The Foundation of Cumann na Ban on this day.  It was formed to organise the Women of Ireland to help in the fight for Ireland’s Freedom. Its first ‘official’ meeting was in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin [above]. Agnes O’Farrelly was its first president and Mary Colum was one of its first organisers. The initial provisional committee consisted of O’Farrelly, Agnes MacNeill, Nancy O’Rahilly, Mary Colum, Jennie Wyse-Power, Louise Gavan-Duffy, Maire Tuohy and Maureen MacDonagh O’Mahoney. Its primary appeal was to women who could give time to the establishment of the organisation, women who did not need to work, but soon most were women who worked for a living—influenced by suffrage and labour issues.

Although it had its own command structures, the Cumann as a whole was subordinate to the Volunteers. Most early members were wives, girlfriends or sisters of male nationalists whose interest in the success of the Rising was due to their family ties to it. The women of Cumann na mBan used their unique position to increase the visibility of Irish women in the struggle for independence.

Following the split between John Redmond’s National Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers, the Cumann na mBan convention of November 1914 voted to support the minority Irish Volunteers led by Eoin MacNeill. Cumann na mBan issued a statement in the Irish Volunteer: ‘We came into being to advance the cause of Irish liberty . . . We feel bound to make the pronouncement that to urge or encourage Irish Volunteers to enlist in the British Army cannot, under any circumstances, be regarded as consistent with the work we have set ourselves to do.’

In 1916 there were three branches in Dublin: central, with headquarters at 25 Parnell Square; Inghinidhe na nÉireann, based at 6 Harcourt Street; and Columcill in Blackhall Place. In contrast with other organisations, the Cumann na mBan preserved its position after the Rising and it is probably because of its existence that the struggle for independence continued. The commitment of women before, during and after the Rising helped to bring the Irish nation to support the separatist movement. The widows of those executed in Kilmainham Gaol after the Rising did more to draw attention to the independence movement than any other group. The widows and female relatives of the executed and captives filled the voids in leadership and ensured that Irish independence did not die with their loved ones.