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Monday, 26 June 2017

26‭ ‬June‭ ‬1932:‭ ‬The Eucharistic Congress culminated on this day when over one million people attended the Pontifical High Mass in the Phoenix Park,‭ ‬Dublin.‭ ‬The Chief Celebrant was the‭ ‬Papal Legate Cardinal‭ ‬Lorenzo Lauri,‭ ‬personally selected by Pope‭  ‬Pius XI himself.‭ ‬The Holy Father had charged him to:

Go to Ireland in my name and say to the good people assembled there that the Holy Father loves Ireland and sends to Ireland and its inhabitants and visitors not the usual Apostolic blessing but a very special all embracing one.

The arrival of the Cardinal and the holding of the‭ ‬19th Eucharistic Congress in Dublin was seen as a great honour for the Catholics of Ireland.‭ ‬The week long event saw huge displays of religious devotion with crowds of tens of thousands in attendance at various events.‭ ‬The high point of the Eucharistic Congress came on the final Sunday of the week‭’‬s festivities in the form of a massive open air mass in the Phoenix Park. An ornate High Altar flanked with choirs and bands from all over the Catholic world was the main focus of attention.‭ ‬The Cardinal was accompanied by the highest ranks of the Irish Catholic Hierarchy in his fulfilment of his celebration of the Mass.‭ ‬In addition thousands of the Clergy were there to witness and partake in the biggest religious gathering the Country had ever seen.

‭“‬It is‭ ‬12.30.‭ ‬The Bishops are assembling,‭ ‬their purple shining through the green of the trees.‭ ‬They march in hundreds,‭ ‬slowly,‭ ‬pensively,‭ ‬the Bishops of the world,‭ ‬in white and black and red,‭ ‬in cream and gold and brown.‭ ‬They file through the three thousand priests like a coloured thread being drawn through white silk.‭ ‬Then up the crimson carpet,‭ ‬turning right and left to the colonnades of the altar,‭ ‬and there they sit and seen from afar through the white pillars,‭ ‬each group looking like Leonardo da Vinci‭’‬s painting of the Last Supper.‭”


The Government of Mr Eamon De Valera and the leading members of the Opposition were in attendance as well as numerous dignitaries from home and abroad.‭ ‬The huge multitude heard Mass broadcast over an extensive PA system,‭ ‬the largest in the world at that time.‭ ‬The event was listened to across the Nation and internationally through the medium of Radio Athlone.‭ ‬Count John McCormack gave a brilliant rendition of the‭ ‬Panis Angelicus ‭(‬Bread of the Angels‭)‬ to the multitude that grew praise from many quarters.‭

The audition was marvellous,‭ ‬whether it was of the full tones of the Cardinal Legate as he spoke the Mass,‭ ‬the tuneful antiphon of the choir,‭ ‬the sharp clamour of the trumpets as they paid homage at the elevation of the Host,‭ ‬or the beautiful voice of John Mc Cormack that came clear and bell like,‭ ‬borne without a tremor over the whole silent space,‭ ‬midway through the Service.‭ ‬It was at that moment of the Elevation of the Host,‭ ‬the supreme point in Catholic ritual,‭ ‬that one fully realised the common mind that swallowed up all individuality in the immense throng.‭ ‬Flung together in their hundreds of thousands,‭ ‬like the sands on the seashore,‭ ‬these people were merely parts of a great organism which was performing a great act of faith,‭ ‬with no more ego in them than the sands themselves.


Prior to the closing ceremony a special blessing by Pope Pius XI broadcasting directly from the Vatican was relayed to the huge congregation.‭ ‬This marked the culmination of a series of events held over the previous four days,‭ ‬which saw scenes of unprecedented devotion by the Catholics of Ireland.‭

The Eucharistic Congress entered Catholic folk memory and remained the greatest public gathering in Ireland until the visit of Pope John Paul II in‭ ‬1979,‭ ‬which also took place in the Phoenix Park.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

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25‭ ‬June‭ ‬1731:‭ ‬The Dublin Society was founded on this day.‭ ‬The society was originally founded by members of the Dublin Philosophical Society as the‭ '‬Dublin Society for improving Husbandry,‭ ‬Manufactures and other Useful Arts‭'‬.‭ ‬On‭ ‬8‭ ‬July‭ ‬1731‭ ‬-‭ ‬a couple of weeks after initial foundation‭ ‬-‭ ‬the designation‭ '‬and Sciences‭' ‬was added to the end of its name.‭

The aim of the Society's founders was to improve Ireland's economic condition by promoting the development of Agriculture,‭ ‬Arts,‭ ‬Science and Industry.‭ ‬Initially confined to publishing pamphlets on new discoveries and best practice,‭ ‬the Society as a publishing house developed and broadened its remit to include scientific journals and books.‭

It grew out of the‭ ‬18th century desire for agricultural and industrial improvement.‭ ‬Membership reached‭ ‬300‭ ‬by the‭ ‬1740s,‭ ‬with a royal charter being received in‭ ‬1750.‭ ‬The society offered grants‭ (‘‬premiums‭’) ‬for land reclamation,‭ ‬livestock breeding,‭ ‬fisheries,‭ ‬and textiles.‭ ‬The‭ ‘‬Royal‭’ ‬title was added in‭ ‬1820‭ ‬and today the RDS has its HQ at Simmonscourt in Ballsbridge,‭ ‬Dublin where it host hundreds of events throughout the year incl the Horse Show.

Several gentlemen having agreed to meet in the Philosophical Rooms in Trinity College Dublin in order to promote Improvements of all kinds,‭ ‬and Dr.‭ ‬Stephens being desired,‭ ‬took the Chair.‭
It was proposed and unanimously agreed unto,‭ ‬to form a Society,‭ ‬by the name of the Dublin Society,‭ ‬for improving Husbandry,‭ ‬Manufactures,‭ ‬and other useful arts.‭

It was proposed and resolved,‭ ‬that all the present,‭ ‬and all such who should become members of the Society,‭ ‬shall subscribe their names to a Paper,‭ ‬containing their agreement to form a Society for the purposes aforesaid.‭

Ordered that a Committee of all the members present do meet next Thursday.,‭ ‬in the Philosophical Rooms in Trinity College Dublin to consider of a Plan or Rules for the Government of the Society,‭ ‬any three thereof to be a Quorum,‭ ‬and that notice be sent to the members in Town,‭ ‬the day before the time for meeting.‭ ‬The Society adjourned to this day fortnight.

Present:‭ ‬Judge Ward.‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Stephens.‭
Sir Th.‭ ‬Molyneux.‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Magnaten.‭
Th.‭ ‬Upton,‭ ‬Esq.‭ ‬Dr.‭ [‬John‭] ‬Madden.‭
John Pratt,‭ ‬Esq.‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Lehunte.‭
Rich.‭ ‬Warburton,‭ ‬Esq.‭ ‬Mr.‭ ‬Walton.‭
Rev.‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Whitecomb.‭ ‬Mr.‭ ‬Prior.‭
Arthur Dobs,‭ ‬Esq.‭ ‬W.‭ ‬Maple.‭

Saturday, 24 June 2017

24‭ ‬June‭ ‬1798:‭ ‬The Battle of Castlecomer on this day.‭ ‬The picturesque County Kilkenny town of Castlecomer was burnt to the ground as the Army of the United Irishmen from Wexford clashed with the Crown Forces in the streets of the town.‭ ‬Major General Charles Asgil of the British Army had about‭ ‬1,400‭ ‬men in total to oppose the‭ ‬5,000‭ ‬or so under Father John Murphy.‭ ‬In the wake of the defeat at Vinegar Hill on‭ ‬21‭ ‬June it was decided by the Insurgents to leave County Wexford and advance on Castlecomer where it was hoped the militant colliers there would join them.‭ ‬In the event quite a few did but were of limited fighting value.‭ ‬Asgil himself had advanced from Kilkenny City with about‭ ‬1,000‭ ‬men to relieve the troops defending Castlecomer.‭ ‬He sent ahead some‭ ‬100‭ ‬men to augment the‭ ‬300‭ ‬or so already there.‭ ‬Walter Butler,‭ ‬a local Bigwig and the future‭ ‬18th Earl of Ormonde commanded the garrison within the town.

The Insurgents advanced upon the town in two columns,‭ ‬one under Father Murphy himself and the other under Miles‭ ‬Byrne.‭ ‬They eventually joined forces within the town and drew up plans to assault by storm Castlecomer House that still held out.‭ ‬But the appearance of Asgil’s relief force on the heights outside the town meant that the Wexfordmen had to turn their attention to that quarter.‭ ‬The British General opened up with artillery to cover the retreat of the trapped garrison.‭ ‬Asgil held his ground long enough for his trapped soldiers‭ & ‬supporters in the town to get out and then he marched away.

Early in the morning of the‭ ‬24th the rebel troops diminished by desertion to about‭ ‬8,000‭ ‬descended from the heights and advancing towards Castlecomer defeated a body of about two hundred and fifty men at a place called Coolbawn a mile and a half from that town which they entered with the slaughter of about fifty Loyalists.‭ ‬The town was set on fire‭ – ‬and of this conflagration each party accuses the other.‭ ‬The General arriving at length with his army,‭ ‬fired with his artillery on the streets and houses not knowing that many Loyalists were still in the place who were making a desperate defence to prevent their families and friends from falling into the enemies hands.‭ ‬This firing however determined the rebels to retire from the town about four O'clock in the afternoon,‭ ‬which furnished an opportunity to Protestants there assembled to retreat with the general to Kilkenny,‭ ‬but they were obliged to leave their good s a prey to the enemy who took full possession of the place as soon as the Royal Army retreated.‭

Musgrave’s History of the Rebellion in Ireland,‭ ‬in the Year‭ ‬1798

The forces Loyal to the Crown had a lucky escape as the Loyalists within and the troops without would have been overwhelmed had the relative numbers been known in the Insurgent camp.‭ ‬But an early morning fog and the smoke of the buildings alight within the town along with the firing of the guns masked the weakness of the Loyalist position.‭ ‬In the event Murphy decided that it was no use proceeding into areas where the prospects of revolt were so poor and after a brief foray into County Laois it was decided to return to Wexford and fight it out there.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

22 June 1921: King George V opened the first session of the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast on this day, thus formally dividing Ireland into two political entities.

The genesis of the division lay in the Ulster Unionists opposition to the establishment of a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland. Their campaign against it dated back to 1886 when the British Prime Minister Gladstone had first brought a Bill before the British Parliament for its introduction. The bill was defeated and while it passed the House of Commons in 1893 it fell in the Lords.

However in 1909 the House of Lords had blocked the introduction of the Budget brought in by the Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George. The British Government then brought in legislation to limit the power of the House of Lords to block a Bill passed by the Lower House to two parliamentary sessions and no more. This momentous change meant that sooner or later a new Home Rule Bill was bound to be passed and implemented.

In 1912 the Ulster Unionists organised themselves in para-military formations under an organisation known as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Armed with weapons from Germany and Austria-Hungary they defied British Government attempts to introduce Home Rule for all of Ireland. The outbreak of the Great War stymied a looming Civil War situation and while Home Rule was passed in September 1914 it was suspended for the duration of the War.

With the ending of the Great War the issue of where Ulster stood in relation to the rest of Ireland once again came to the fore. By that stage the Ulster Unionist Council had accepted the concept of Home Rule if the six northern counties of Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone were at least temporally excluded from its terms.

With the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1919 and the decline of British power throughout much of the Country the likelihood of a deal being struck between Unionists and Nationalists became more remote.

On this basis the British Government decided to proceed with a plan to put before its Parliament a Bill to partition Ireland into two polities – Northern Ireland & Southern Ireland.

Consequently after the General Election of May 1921 in which unionist candidates won most of the seats in the Six Counties the formation of a northern State centred on Belfast was proceeded with.

It was on this basis that King George V was dispatched to the North to officiate at the opening of Northern Parliament on 22 June 1921 in Belfast’s City Hall

Addressing the members of the Senate and House of Commons from his throne he said:

"For all those who love Ireland, as I do with all my heart, this is a profoundly moving occasion in Irish history. My memories of the Irish people date back to the time when I spent many happy days in Ireland as midshipman. My affection for the Irish people has been deepened by the successive visits since that time, and I have watched with constant sympathy the course of their affairs.

"I could not have allowed myself to give Ireland by deputy alone my earnest prayers and good wishes in the new era which opens with this ceremony, and I have therefore come in person, as the Head of the Empire, to inaugurate this Parliament on Irish soil.

"I inaugurate it with deep-felt hope, and I feel assured that you will do your utmost to make it an instrument of happiness and good government for all parts of the community which you represent.

"This is a great and critical occasion in the history of the Six Counties, but not for the Six Counties alone for every thing which interest them touches Ireland, and everything which touches Ireland finds an echo in the remotest part of the Empire....

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

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21 June 1854: Midshipman Charles Davis Lucas, by an act of outstanding bravery on board HMS Hecla was awarded the first Victoria Cross for his actions on this day. Midshipman Lucas was a native of  County Armagh.  He won the medal during a British Naval Expedition to the Baltic during the ‘Crimean War’. The fleet under Admiral Napier commenced a bombardment of the island fortress of Bomarsund. Three ships were sent forward to undertake the task, led by Captain Hall.

‘At the height of the bombardment, a live shell from an enemy battery landed on Hecla's upper-deck, with its fuse still hissing. All hands were ordered to fling themselves flat on the deck, but Lucas, with what Hall called in a letter to Napier next day 'great coolness and presence of mind', ran forward, picked up the shell and tossed it overboard. It exploded with a tremendous roar before it hit the water. Some minor damage was done to the ship's side and two men were slightly hurt but, thanks to Lucas, nobody was killed or seriously wounded. He was immediately promoted to Acting Lieutenant for his bravery, and the Admiralty later confirmed the promotion on Napier's strongest recommendation.’ 
'The VC at Sea' by John Winton. 

The 6-gun steam paddle sloop Hecla was under the direct command of Capitan Hall himself who reported to the Admiral that:

With regard to Mr. Lucas, I have the pleasure to report a remarkable instance of coolness and presence of mind in action, he having taken up, and thrown overboard, a live shell thrown on board the 'Hecla' by the enemy, while the fuse was burning.

Queen Victoria invested Charles Lucas with his Victoria Cross on the 26th June 1857 in Hyde Park, London. Lucas eventually reached the rank of Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy. He died on the 7th August 1914, aged 80, at his home in Great Culverden, Kent, and was buried in St. Lawrence's Churchyard, Mereworth.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

20 June 1210: King John of England landed at Crook, near Waterford on this day.

Johannes, grandson of the Empress [Matilda], king of the Saxons, came to Erinn, with a great fleet, in this year

After arriving he commanded a great hosting of the men of Erinn to Ulidia, to apprehend Hugo de Laci,

or to expel him from Erinn, and to capture Carraic-Fergusa.

Hugo left Erinn, and the persons who were defending the

Carraic abandoned it, and came to the king; and the

king put men of his own company into it.

Annals of Loch Cé 1210 AD

Sailing from south Wales he was to remain in Ireland throughout the rest of the summer.

His mission in Ireland was not so much to subdue the Irish Kings who still held power over large swathes of the Country, but instead to bring to heel the more powerful of the Anglo-Norman Lords who defied him. King John was a most unpopular Monarch in England and faced constant trouble with his Lords and Barons who resented his attempts to rule them. A ruthless and devious man he - probably with good reason-  trusted very few of his councillors who advised him.

The main objects of his attention were the De Lacy family, specifically Walter Earl of Meath and Hugh the Earl of Ulster. He believed they could act as a power base for malcontents back in England. Indeed they had backed the struggle of the once powerful Marcher Lord William de Braose against the King. It was to crush this family and punish the De Lacy's for their lack of loyalty that drove him to take a well armed military force to Ireland.

De Braose fled to England when he heard of the King's movements. There he endeavoured to make peace with his master, but failing to do so, he carefully avoided putting himself in his power, and took refuge in France.

John had been to Ireland before in 1185 when his father King Henry II had given him the title 'Lord of Ireland', but John had turned his journey into a Fiasco but upsetting the Irish kings with his youthful folly and the Gaels resented his attitude to them.

After arriving in Waterford he came to Dublin where he was well received and after leaving the capital he advanced into Meath from which Walter de Lacy then fled. King John then met up with King Cathal Crobhderg O'Conner of Connacht near Ardbraccan, Co Meath. King Cathal recognised him as his Lord in return for being re-assured as the recognised & rightful King of Connacht. The two kings then proceeded northwards where they besieged the powerful fortress of Carrigfergus in Ulster which was taken, though Hugh made good his escape.

While in the North he also parlayed with King Aedh O'Neil of Tir Eoghan (Tyrone), whom he wished to secure homage and take hostages from. Keeping his distance, O'Neill made a pretence of wanting to help with the siege and being prepared to offer some kind of agreement to subordinate himself to the English King, but he pleaded for time to consult his advisors. He donated a supply of cattle to feed John's troops. He was though really loath to submit and have to give over important hostages, incl. his own son, to such a volatile character as King John. The negotiations fizzled out and O'Neill backed off and went home.

Cathal Crovderg was in a weaker position as his kingdom was riven by rivalries which he had to return home to sort out. He had made a promise to hand over his eldest son, Aed O'Conner, to King John. He would then have him conveyed to England as a security against King Cathal remaining in submission. However Cathal's wife would have none of it and the Irish king had to return to King John empty handed. When they next met at Rathwire in County Westmeath, as arranged, but without his son, the King of England was anything but pleased and seems to have forcibly apprehended four of Cathal's sub-kings and royal officers, whom he brought back to England.

Soon after King John left Ireland, arriving back at Fishguard in Wales on 26 August. His Expedition here was overall a success for him. He had smashed the power of the De Lacy's, secured the city of Limerick, reformed the government of Dublin and the eastern counties and brought even as powerful figure as William Marshal of Leinster, the greatest Knight of the age, to heel.

But his attempts to bring the Kings of Connacht and Tir Eoghan under his thumb both failed, and while not the primary objective of his expedition John's ham fisted attempts only alienated these Irish Kings who rightly did not trust this ruthless man.

A final and horrible chapter to this attempt to punish his opponents was the fate of Maud De Braose and her infant son William de Braose. Captured in Scotland they were conveyed in chains to King John who had them imprisoned in Windsor Castle. They were locked up together but only given food and no water on the first day of their incarceration. Thereafter nothing. When the jailors yanked open the door to their cell 11 days later all that was left was their emaciated corpses.

John died in 1216, probably from dysentery, as he desperately tried to hold his Kingdom together from Revolt. His expedition here was the last by a serving King of England for 184 years until  Richard II, another unloved Monarch, arrived here in the year 1394.

Effigy of King John [above] from his tomb in Worcester Cathedral

Sunday, 18 June 2017

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18 June 1815: The Battle of Waterloo took place on this day. This great battle was fought out some 10 kilometres south of the Belgic city of Brussels, along the Ridge of Mont St Jean and on the fields to the south and east of it. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by the combined armies of the Duke of Wellington of the British & Allied Armies and Marshal Blucher leading the forces of Prussia. It was a battle in which men of many nations participated. Men from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the United Provinces (Holland + Belgium), Hanover, Wurttemberg, Prussia and other minor German states fought the forces of France to decide the fate of Europe.

Many soldiers in the British Army were recruited in Ireland though surprisingly few regiments with ‘Irish’ in their title played a part on the day. The Duke of Wellington was born in Dublin and spent much his early life in Ireland, his family hailing from Co Meath. At least three infantry or cavalry brigades were led by Anglo-Irish generals. Commanding the 9th British Infantry Brigade was Major General Sir Denis Pack, a native of County Kilkenny, Major General Sir William Ponsonby (KIA) led the 2nd British (Union) Cavalry Brigade, so-called because it included an English, a Scottish and an Irish regiment . Major General Sir John Ormsby Vandeleur led the 4th British Cavalry Brigade, a light cavalry formation. There were also some five battalion commanders with Irish connections who served in the Waterloo campaign. However it was in the lower ranks of the British Army that the highest number of men who were either from Ireland or of Irish origin served.

While the British Army had 10 infantry regiments and 4 cavalry ones with ‘Irish’ in their description only three actually saw service in this campaign: 1st Battalion, 27th (Inniskilling) Foot; 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons and the 18th (King's Irish) Hussars. They all saw heavy action in the actual battle, the 27th in particular taking huge casualties whilst in Square in the front line.

The British Army who fought that day fielded about 28,000 men drawn from England & Wales, Scotland and Ireland. At that time the Irish (Catholic, Protestant & Dissenter) comprised some 38% of the population of these islands. That ratio was well reflected in the ranks of the military force present at Waterloo with the Irish having a strong presence pretty well across the board in all arms Cavalry, Infantry and Artillery. Most of these were poor men, labourers and weavers who found in the Army a relatively secure measure of employment and shelter.

By all accounts the Irish were good fighters but rightly or wrongly were seen as undisciplined off the battlefield. Many were from Catholic households but the Protestant population were represented as best we can judge in numbers that matched their proportion of the Country’s population. The rank and file were seen as the ‘scum of the earth’ by Wellington and probably by most of the Officer Class too. In some respects he was right as many were there because they were outcasts and misfits from civil society or rough men who sought a fighting career. But they could fight and fight well - and that's what they were there to do.

When the battle ended that evening some 7,500 men of the British Army laid dead, dying or severely wounded on the battlefield - some 28% of the force engaged. On a per capita basis that would be around 3,000 or so men from Ireland who fell that day - a heavy enough toll. On the other hand the population of the island was some Six Million souls in 1815 so while a severe loss to those that had family in the Military it would not have been seen as a National cause for grief. Indeed many at home might well have wished for a French Victory that day - Daniel O’Connell being one of them.

There are a number of roads and landmarks in Ireland still that commemorate the battle that day. The most imposing being the Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park in Dublin that commemorates the Duke of Wellington’s Victories. The halfpenny footbridge over the river Liffey in Dublin City Centre is officially ‘Wellington’ bridge and in the suburbs south of the city are the Wellington and Waterloo roads. In Trim Co Meath where his family hailed from there is also a monument to honour him.

But while still a Hero in Britain his legacy in most of Ireland is less sure given his vehement opposition to Catholic emancipation and his eventual sour acceptance of its political necessity. If Waterloo is remembered at all here its for it marking the end of Napoleon Bonaparte’s career rather than any part that Ireland played in his Downfall.

Next to the illustrious Duke the Irishman who is most worthy of mention was Sergeant James Graham of 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards from Clones Co Monaghan. He helped in closing the gates of the Hougoumont Farmhouse which was a vital strategic point on the battlefield, positioned out in front of the right of the allied line. It was attacked throughout the day by thousands of French infantrymen, but held out to the end.The Duke nominated him as 'the bravest of the Brave' and mentioned in him in his Supplementary Dispatches on the Battle:

He assisted Lieutenant-colonel Macdonnell* in closing the gates, which had been left open for the purpose of communication, and which the enemy were in the act of forcing. His brother, a corporal in the regiment, was lying wounded in a barn, which was on fire, and Graham removed him so as to be secure from the fire, and then returned to his duty.

* Coldstream Guards and the senior British Officer at Hougoumont.