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Saturday, 24 February 2018

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24 February 1943: Thirty five girls and their 80 year old cook were killed when fire swept through their dormitory at St. Joseph's Orphanage & Industrial School in Cavan Town on this day.

In the early hours the morning a fire broke out in the basement laundry of the Orphanage. The Institution was run by the enclosed order of Poor Clare nuns who were charged with the protection of the girls. The fire spread very rapidly and quickly took hold. Local people did their best to try and rescue those within. When entry was finally gained it was too late to reach many of the terrified screaming children trapped in the top floor dormitories.

The local fire service was totally overwhelmed and by the time they had brought their inadequate equipment to bear the flames had taken hold, the roof had caved in and the building was soon firmly ablaze. Thirty five children and an elderly lay woman were burned to death. The following day the remains of the thirty six bodies were recovered from the blackened ruins. They were put in just eight coffins and buried subsequently in a mass grave.

The children who died were:
Mary Harrison -15 years of age from Dublin
Mary Hughes - 15 years of age from Killeshandra
Ellen McHugh -15 years of age from Blacklion
Kathleen & Frances Kiely - 12 & 9 years of age from Virginia
Mary & Margaret Lynch - 15 & 10 years of age from Cavan
Josephine & Mona Cassidy - 15 & 11 years of age from Belfast
Kathleen Reilly – 14 years of age from Butlersbridge
Mary  & Josephine Carroll – 12 yrs & 10 years of age from Castlerahan
Mary & Susan McKiernan - 16 & 14 years of age from Dromard
Rose Wright – 11 years of age from Ballyjamesduff
Mary & Nora Barrett - 12 years of age -Twins – from Dublin
Mary Kelly - 10 years of age from Ballinagh
Mary Brady – 7 years of age from Ballinagh
Dorothy Daly – 7 years of age from Cootehill
Mary Ivers – 12 years of age from Kilcoole Wicklow
Philomena Regan – 9 years of age from Dublin
Harriet & Ellen Payne - 11 & 8 years of age from Dublin
Teresa White – 6 years of age from Dublin
Mary Roche - 6 years of age from Dublin
Ellen Morgan – 10 years of age from Virginia
Elizabeth Heaphy - 4 years of age from Swords
Mary O'Hara – 7 years of age from Kilnaleck
Bernadette Serridge - 5 years of age from Dublin
Katherine & Margaret Chambers - 9 & 7 years of age from Enniskillen
Mary Lowry – 17 years of age from Drumcrow, Cavan
Bridget & Mary Galligan - 17 & 18 years of age Drumcassidy, Cavan
&
Mary Smith 80 years of age employed as Cook


Thursday, 22 February 2018


23‭ February 1886: Lord Randolph Churchill spoke at a meeting in Belfast in which he uttered the phrase ‘Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right.’

Lord Churchill was anxious to undermine the rapport that had developed between the Liberal Party under William Gladstone and the Irish Parliamentary Party under Charles Stewart Parnell.‭ The Liberals had won the General Election the previous year but had not secured an overall majority. ‬They then relied on Parnell to secure their hold on the House of Commons. The price for such support was Gladstone committing himself to bring forward a Bill for Home Rule for Ireland in the current session of Parliament.

Churchill was fundamentally opposed to Home Rule and planned to use his name in Ulster to give heart to those within the ranks of the Orange Order that were prepared to resist by any means the bringing in of such a measure.‭ He had written to a friend some days previously what his plan was:
I decided some time ago that if the G.O.M.‭* ‬went for Home Rule, the Orange card would be the one to play. Please God it may turn out to be the ace of trumps and not the two.
‭* ‬Grand Old Man‭ – ‬Mr Gladstone

The revitalised Orange Order had sponsored meetings for all who were against Home Rule.‭ ‬It arranged the meeting in the Ulster Hall at which the main speaker was to be Lord Randolph Churchill himself. He gave, to a wildly enthusiastic audience, a slogan that was to become their rallying cry in the years ahead:

‭ ‬Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right.

Thus began the close association between the Conservative Party and the Unionists in Ireland that was to such a feature of Anglo-Irish relations for decades to come.



22 February 1973: Elizabeth Bowen author, socialite and spy[?] died on this day. Of Anglo Irish stock she was born at 15 Herbert Place in the city of Dublin on 7 June 1899. Her parents were Henry Charles Cole Bowen and Florence (née Colley) Bowen. In 1907 her father declined into mental illness and she moved with her mother to England where they took up residence at the seaside town of Hythe in Kent. Tragedy was to strike her again though when her mother died in 1912. After that she was brought up by a committee of Aunts and shunted back and forth between them.

It was only as she grew older that she realised the chasm between the closed world of the Anglo-Irish set she belonged to and the bulk of the Catholic population of Ireland:

‘It was not until after the end of those seven winters that I understood that we Protestants were a minority, and that the unquestioned rules of our being came, in fact, from the closeness of a minority world’...
I took the existence of Roman Catholics for granted but met few and was not interested in them. They were simply “the others,” whose world lay alongside ours but never touched.'

Elizabeth Bowen, Bowen’s Court & Seven Winters: Memories of a Dublin Childhood, (London: Virago, 1984;1942)

After some time at art school in London she decided that her talent lay in writing. She mixed with the Bloomsbury Group, which contained some the most talented and outrageous (for the time) people involved in the London Arts scene. Her first book, a collection of short stories entitled Encounters was published in 1923. It was in that year she married one Alan Cameron. He had served in the Great War in which he was badly gassed. The marriage has been described as "a sexless but contented union." The marriage was reportedly never consummated! She reputedly had numerous extra martial affairs with other men though they stayed married until his death in 1952.

The great love of her life was Charles Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat of great charm and intelligence from a privileged Nova Scotia background. They first met in 1941 and continued an On-Off relationship for over 30 years until her death. She really could not live without knowing that he loved her - but to him she was a fascinating creature though not the absolute centre of his life. He later married another woman and that must have hurt Elizabeth - but there was nothing she could really do about it.

But while an author of some note its clear her personal life was an unsettled one. The loss of her parents while still a child must have had a had a huge impact on her psyche that left her reserved and unsure in human relations though with a great deal of silent perception on the frailties of the human condition. Though somewhat cryptic in style her reading of human nature was what made her novels such gems in the way she described her characters and the rarefied world that they moved through.
Strangely in Ireland she is remembered as much for her writing reports from here during the Second World War to the British Ministry of Information in London about the attitudes and feelings of the Great and the Ordinary towards Britain and the War - for which some have labelled her a ‘Spy’. A matter of opinion really.

She tried to spend as much time as possible at her beloved Bowen’s Court in Cork, the family seat she inherited in 1930. But while it was a idyll away from the drudgery of London its upkeep was a huge burden on her finances. Eventually it led her to a nervous breakdown, a string of unpaid debts and the sale and eventual demolition of Bowens Court in 1960. She returned to London and witnessed the ‘Swinging Sixties’ there. A smoker she developed Lung Cancer in 1972. That year she saw out her last Christmas in Ireland staying with friends in Kinsale Co Cork. She died in London on 22 February 1973, aged 73. She is buried with her husband in Farahy Co Cork  churchyard, close to the gates of Bowen's Court, where there is a memorial plaque to her.

Her best-known novels are The Death of the Heart and The Heat of the Day, but her own favourite was The Last September, published when she was still in her 20s; it was, she said, the work of hers “nearest to my heart”.

Her prose is so subtle and allusive that it would be a disservice to quote from her, but read almost any descriptive passage in The Last September and you will understand her greatness.
John Banville Irish Times 7 March 2015




Wednesday, 21 February 2018


21‭ ‬February 1922: A new Police Force, the ‘Civic Guard’ began its first Recruitment campaign on this day. It was intended to replace the Royal Irish Constabulary as the instrument charged with Law enforcement within the prospective Irish Free State that was due to come into full operation by the end of the year.

In January‭ ‬1922,‭ the Provisional Government had decided that the Royal Irish Constabulary was to be disbanded "as soon as possible". They decided to replace the Republican Police with a regular police force under a trained police officer. Michael Collins had reported to the Provisional Government on 28 January that a police organising committee was being formed, that would include members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police.

The committee held their first meeting in the Gresham Hotel on Thursday,‭ ‬9 February,‭ ‬with General Richard Mulcahy, Michael Collins,‭ ‬and Michael J.‭ ‬Staines among those in attendance. Work was started immediately under Michael Staines T.D. [above] as the acting chairman. A veteran of the Easter Rising he had been active in the administration of the National Arbitration Courts and the Republican Police during the War of Independence.‭

Volunteer Brigade Officers around the Country were requested to dispatch suitable recruits for training to a temporary headquarters at the Royal Dublin Society in Ballsbridge,‭ ‬Dublin. Any candidates who attended for examination were to be at least 5' 9", unmarried and between the ages of 19 and 27. They were compelled to sit examinations in reading spelling and arithmetic to gain entry as cadets. The first man to join the Civic Guard was an ex RIC man P. J. Kerrigan.

However the name‭ ‘Civic Guard’ was not formally decided upon until 27 February and on the following 10 March, ‬Michael Joseph Staines [above] was formally appointed as its first Commissioner. In August of the following year the Police Force of the State was renamed An Garda Síochána ‭ (Guardians of the Peace) and has remained the name of the Force ever since. Michael Staines was then retrospectively recognised as the first Commissioner of the Garda Síochána. His most famous saying was that:‬

The Garda Síochána will succeed,‭ ‬not by force of arms or numbers,
but by their moral authority as servants of the people.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018


20 February 1644: The Execution of Sir Connor Maguire - ‘The Maguire’ of Fermanagh at Tyburn, London on this day*. He was hanged, drawn and quartered for ‘High Treason’. Maguire had been one of the leaders of the 1641 Rising in Ireland and was tasked with seizing Dublin Castle from the English. At the last moment the plans were discovered and the plot was aborted. He was quickly captured and eventually confessed to his role in the affair. In June 1642 he and other prisoners were sent over to London and held in the Tower under severe conditions. They were then sent to Newgate Prison and held as ‘close prisoners’ - bread and water diet in close confinement. Moved back to the Tower they were treated somewhat better. The guard loosened Maguire and others managed to escape but while waiting for a ship to the Continent they were recognised and recaptured after just a few weeks of freedom.

'The peerage in Maguire’s case made a difficulty. There were several precedents for trying in England treasons committed in Ireland. That being admitted as good law, it was easy to show that an Irish peer was a commoner in England, and as such Maguire was tried. Many points of law were raised, but the facts were patent, and he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. On the cart at Tyburn Maguire was cruelly harassed about religious matters, but he remained firm. He carried in his hand some curious papers, partly of a devotional character, with directions as to how he should bear himself. He declared that he forgave all his 'enemies and defenders, even those that have a hand in my death,' and that he died a Roman catholic.'
Dictionary of National Biography

On February 20 1644 Lord Maguire to whom the executioner would have shown some favour by leaving him to hang on the gallows until he should be quite dead and meanwhile the executioner was busy kindling the fire with which his entrails were to be burned after his death but so inhuman were the officers that they totally denied Lord Maguire the services of one of our Fathers on the scaffold and they waited not for the executioner but one of them cut the rope with a halberd and let the Lord Maguire drop alive and then called the executioner to open him alive and very ill the executioner did it the said Lord Maguire making resistance with his hand and defending himself with such little strength as he had; and such was the cruelty that for sheer compassion the executioner bore not to look upon him in such torment, and, to have done with him, speedily handled his knife well and cut his throat.
Letter from Father Hugh Burke, bishop of Kilmacduagh
Eyewitness to Irish History
By Peter Berresford Ellis

* Near Marble Arch



Monday, 19 February 2018


19 February 1921: Brigadier-General Frank Percy Crozier CB, CMG DSO the head of the
 ‘ Black and Tans’ submitted his resignation on this day. The General was disgusted at the undisciplined antics of many of the ‘cadets’  under his command of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary  (RIC). He had made inquiries that seemed to him to point the finger of blame at men under his nominal control in the murder of Father Griffin in Galway and the projected murder of Bishop Fogarty. He had sent back in disgrace 21 of the more outrageous members of his force to Britain only to discover that General Tudor, the overall head of the RIC, had recalled them for duty in Ireland. This proved a catalyst in Crozier deciding to resign his position. 

Following questions put to Sir Hamar Greenwood, Chief Secretary for Ireland, by the Irish MP Captain Redmond in the House of Commons this news became public and the affair became an open scandal. The notorious reputation of the ‘Black & Tans’ was further enhanced and their bloody reign was now open for all to see.

Born in Bermuda in 1879 Crozier spent a great deal of his youth in Ireland but was educated in England. He had seen active service in the Boer War and later in Northern Nigeria. He served in World War One leading the 9th Royal Irish Rifles, whose rank and file were drawn from Loyalist West Belfast. He led them 'over the top' on 1 July 1916 and displayed great bravery but also ruthlessness against those who wilted in the advance on the German positions. He was a hard man if ever there was one and an Empire Loyalist to boot. He was somewhat eccentric in his opinions and actions and not everyone found him a trustworthy character. But even he found the actions of some of his subordinates unacceptable and of course no fighting force can survive if discipline is not enforced. In this instance he really had no choice but to resign once his Authority over his men was flouted  by those above him in the Chain of Command.

Crozier drifted off into obscurity after this and spent his last years putting his energies and pen to the cause of peace,  denouncing war as a means of settling international disputes in a series of books that sought to portray war with uncompromising brutality. These included ‘A Brass Hat in No Mans Land’ about his time on the Western Front with amongst others the 36th Ulster Division and  ‘Ireland Forever’ on his time in charge of the ‘Black & Tans’. He died in 1937.





Sunday, 18 February 2018


18 February 1366: The Viceroy, Lionel Duke of Clarence summoned a Parliament at Kilkenny on this day. From this emerged in the following year the series of infamous ordinances that became popularly known as the ‘Statutes of Kilkenny’ and were designed to put a legal framework on the division of Ireland into two separate peoples: the English and the Irish. In fact it was one Statute and contained thirty-five articles of note.

It was officially entitled:

A Statute of the Fortieth Year of King Edward III., enacted in a parliament held in Kilkenny, A.D. 1367, before Lionel Duke of Clarence, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
 

For instance if any man took a name after the Irish fashion, used the Irish language, or dress, or mode of riding (without saddle), or adopted any other Irish customs, all his lands and houses were forfeited, and he himself was put into jail till he could find security that he would comply with the law. The Irish living among the English were permitted to remain, but were forbidden to use the Irish language under the same penalty. To use or submit to the Brehon law [Gaelic Law] or to exact 'coyne and livery' [extractions and billeting of soldiers on households] was treason. The Irish game of Hurling was also banned - a game which is still played today - esp in Kilkenny!

The Statute of Kilkenny, though not exhibiting quite so hostile a spirit against the Irish as we find sometimes represented, yet carried out consistently the vicious and fatal policy of separation adopted by the government from the beginning. It was intended to apply only to the English, and was framed entirely in their interests. Its chief aim was to withdraw them from all contact with the "Irish enemies"--so the natives are designated all through the act--to separate the two races for evermore.
From A Concise History of Ireland by P. W. Joyce

Lionel was the third son of King Edward III [above] and certainly was well placed to have the King’s ear on matters relating to how to rule over Ireland. Nevertheless the Duke of Clarence did not have much success in Ireland and these measures were more the result of desperation than the confident exercise of power by him. They were more an attempt to hold back the tide as the English Colony in Ireland continued to disintegrate and shrink in size and influence.

Bizarrely the noble Duke was not long to survive his sojourn in Ireland, some years later he died suddenly at Alba in the province of Piedmont in northern Italy while enjoying the comforts of his second wife, one Violante Visconti, daughter of the Lord of Pavia. He was probably poisoned by his father in Law in order to block the enormous Dowry he demanded as payment for marrying the man’s daughter!