Wednesday, 3 June 2020


3 June 618 AD: The death of St Kevin/Naomh Caoimhghin at Glendaloch ( Gleann Da Locha - The Valley of the two Lakes) on this day. 

Caoimhghin means of fair birth and it would seem that St Kevin was born into a dominant family whose People controlled what is now north Wicklow in the 6th century. He was baptized by Cronan, and educated by St Petroc during that saint's sojourn in Ireland. He lived in solitude at Disert-Coemgen for seven years, sleeping on a dolmen (now known as "Saint Kevin's Bed") perched on a perilous precipice, that an angel had led him to, and later established a church for his own community at Glendalough. This monastery was to become the parent of several others. Eventually, Glendalough, with its seven churches, became one of the chief pilgrimage destinations in Ireland.

St. Kevin is said to have first lived in Kilnamanagh (church of the monks) in what is modern-day Tallaght, Dublin 24, but moved on to Glendalough in order to avoid the company of his followers, a group of monks who founded a monastery on the site. Locals say that it was his monastery that was demolished by developers in the 1970s when building the housing estate that is there today. St. Kevin’s well is all that remains today as the plot was unsuitable for building. It is now surrounded by a garden kept by locals in the saint’s honour. St. Kevin is today the patron saint of the Kilnamanagh parish.

After Bishop Lugidus ordained Kevin a priest he left Killnamanagh and set out to find his own hermitage. On arrival in Glendalough Kevin chose the area of the upper lake and settled on the south side of the foot of that lake in St. Kevin's Bed, an artificial cave about thirty feet above the level of the lake which was originally a Bronze Age tomb. Kevin lived the life of a hermit there with an extraordinary closeness to nature, his companions were the animals and birds all around him. He lived as a hermit for seven years wearing only animal skins, sleeping on stones and eating very sparingly.

Disciples were soon attracted to Kevin and establishment of a further settlement enclosed by a wall, called Kevin's Cell and Reefert Church, situated nearer the lakeshore. All this building and expansion would have bothered Kevin who never really wanted to leave his hermit's life and seemed to have sought solitude and the life of a hermit whenever possible. By 540 Saint Kevin's fame as a teacher and holy man had spread far and wide. Many people came to seek his help and guidance.In time Glendalough grew into a renowned seminary of saints and scholars.

In 544 Kevin went to the Hill of Uisneach in Co.Westmeath to establish a league of brotherly friendship with other holy abbots. Until his death around 618 Kevin presided over his monastery in Glendalough, living his life by fasting, praying and teaching.
Image: http://www.imogenstuart.com



Tuesday, 2 June 2020


Colliding worlds? Shane the Proud and the advance of the Tudors in ...


2‭ June 1567: The death of Shane O’Neill on this day. The MacDonnells of Antrim murdered him after he sought refuge amongst them following his defeat at the Battle of Farsetmore. Séan the Proud/An Díomais Ó Néill was born in circa 1530. He was the son of Conn Bacach O'Neill, who was created the 1st Earl of Tyrone by the English. Conn decided that to placate the Tudors he would make his eldest but illegitimate son Matthew his legal heir under the English Law. This was unacceptable to Shane who slew his brother and other members of his family. This was to ensure that on his father’s death he would be declared ‘The O’Neill’ and thus the legitimate ruler of his ancestors lands in the North according to traditions of the Gael.

Notwithstanding this the English tried to rope him in anyway as the most powerful man in Ulster.‭ But Shane was determined to keep his distance and be his own man as much as he could. After engaging in conflict with the Earl of Sussex and managing to evade his enemy’s traps he was granted safe passage to London. In 1562, accompanied by the Irish Earls of Ormonde and Kildare, he had an audience at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I. Her courtiers were agog at Shane’s Bodyguard of Gallowglass warriors and his own apparel. The Queen however did not want an expensive War against this colourful Gaelic Chieftain and cut a deal with him. In return for recognising her position as Queen she would recognise him as the O’Neill and both sides agreed to a more pacific relationship in future.

On return Shane quickly suppressed any dissent within his own lands and then waged War against the O’Donnell’s of Donegal and the MacDonnell’s of Antrim.‭ He raided into Fermanagh and used his new found legitimacy to shove his weight around. But these attacks proved disconcerting to the English who did not want Shane, or any other Gaelic Leader, to gain sway over the other Chieftain’s and prove a thorn in their side. Divide et imperia was the name of the game as far as the English were concerned and Shane was not playing it their way. Elizabeth at last authorized Sussex to take the field against Shane, but two separate expeditions failed to accomplish anything except some depredations in O'Neill's country.

In‭ 1565 O’Neill defeated the MacDonnell’s at the Battle of Glenshesk and took Sorley Boy MacDonnell prisoner. He also held as his captive one Calvagh O’Donnell, who he allegedly kept in cage while he took his wife for his mistress! O’Neill also armed the common people to fight his wars and hired bands of Scottish mercenaries to augment his forces. By this stage he was the most powerful man in the North and that the English had to recognise that like it or not.

By‭ 1566 they had had enough and an expedition was dispatched to Derry to establish a fort there. Meanwhile Lord Deputy Sidney marched from Dublin with a small but well armed force, which traversed the O’Neills heartland in Tyrone, pillaging and burning and turning the lesser Chieftains against him. The following year Shane decided to strike back and re establish his sway over the O’Donnell’s of Donegal.

But in May‭ ‬1567 he suffered a shock defeat at Farsetmore at the hands of these O’Donnell’s. He had to flee the field of battle with just a small band of followers. While feared he had no true allies and in desperation he threw himself upon the mercy of the MacDonnells of Antrim. It is not certain whether his death was a deliberate act of assassination or the result of a fight but his demise was greeted with relief in Dublin and by Queen Elizabeth of England who wrote:

'that we give thanks to Almighty God by whom we hold and rule all that we enjoy, for his goodness and favour shown in the punishment and extinguishing of such a rebellion so long continued'
Sidney State Papers 1565-70
T.OLaidhin

The balance of probability is that English agents bribed Alexander Og MacDonnell,‭ ‬his reluctant host, to kill him. And indeed they had no love for the man. The English demanded his head as proof of his death.  On receipt it was dispatched to the City where it was displayed upon the walls of Dublin Castle. Thus ended the violent and bloody career of one of the most formidable and colourful characters that 16th Century Ireland produced.

Monday, 1 June 2020



1 June 1866: The start of the Fenian Invasion of Canada & the Battle of Ridgeway on this day.
The invading force of more than 1,300 Irishmen 'The Fenians' was determined to attack the British Empire on its own soil to divert British military resources from Ireland and cause the Empire International embarrassment. They met no resistance when they crossed the Niagara River on June 1 but by the time they reached Ridgeway a Canadian force was deployed in front of them with orders to engage and defeat them.

At Ridgeway the Canadians initially stood their ground by as the day wore on they broke ranks and became visibly disorganised. The Irish commander, Colonel O'Neill spotted their discomfort and quickly ordered a bayonet charge that completely routed the inexperienced Canadians. The Fenians took and briefly held the town of Ridgeway. Then, expecting to be overwhelmed by British reinforcements, they quickly turned back to Fort Erie where they fought a second battle - Battle of Fort Erie - against a small but determined detachment of Canadians holding the town.

The Canadian loss was 7 killed on the field, 2 died of wounds in the immediate days following the battle, and 4 died of wounds or disease later and 37 were wounded, some severely enough to require amputation of their limbs. O'Neill said he had four or five men killed, but Canadians claimed to have found six Fenian bodies on the field. A U.S. gunboat prevented reinforcements of 10,000 waiting to cross and join the invasion and the invading force of Fenians retreated back to Buffalo.

Thus ended a bizarre and unsuccessful attempt by the US based Fenians (many of them Irish veterans of the US Civil War) to attack Britain through Canada. While tactically well conducted there was no chance of success once the US authorities blocked supplies and reinforcements reaching Colonel O'Neill's men on the Canadian side of the border. This episode was a fiasco and a waste of badly needed money and resources where they could have had no lasting effect. O'Neill withdrew on 3 June to United States territory where he and his men were arrested.




Saturday, 30 May 2020


30 May 1951: A General Election was held in the Irish Republic. The 1st Inter-Party Government under John A. Costello was defeated and Eamon De Valera was elected once again as Taoiseach.

TDs returned:
Fianna Fáil (Eamon de Valera): 69
Fine Gael (Richard Mulcahy): 40
Labour (William Norton): 16
Clann na Talmhan (Michael Donnellan): 6
Clann na Poblachta (Seán MacBride): 2
Independents: 14

The general election of 1951 was caused by a number of crises within the First Inter-Party Government, most notably the Mother and Child Scheme. While the whole affair, which saw the resignation of the Minister for Health, Noël Browne, was not entirely to blame for the collapse of the government it added to the pressure between the various political parties. There were other problems facing the country such as rising prices, balance of payments problems and two farmer TDs withdrew their support for the government because of rising milk prices.

The election result was inconclusive. Fianna Fáil's support increased by 61,000 votes, however, the party only gained one extra seat. The coalition parties had mixed fortunes. Fine Gael were the big winners increasing to forty seats. The Labour Party patched up its differences with the National Labour Party and fought the election together but in spite of this the party lost seats. Clann na Poblachta were the big losers of the election. Three years earlier the party was a big political threat, but now the party was shattered.

Fianna Fáil had not won enough seats to govern alone. However, the party was able to form a government with the support of Noël Browne, the sacked Minister for Health, and other Independent deputies.

De Valera was to stay in power for another 3 years until he lost to another Coalition headed by Fine Gael and Labour





Friday, 29 May 2020


29 May 1914: The loss of the passenger liner Empress of Ireland on this day. The ship sank within minutes of being involved in a collision with a Norwegian SS Storstad in the St Lawrence river, Canada. The vessel had only left port in Quebec a few hours previously, but it was under a new Captain and sailed into a bank of fog where after spotting the approaching Storstad it tried to avoid contact but was unable to do so. Both skippers blamed the other but a subsequent Court of Inquiry blamed the Norwegian for the impact. A verdict that the Norwegians never accepted.

Of the 1,477 persons on board the ship, 1,012 (840 passengers, 172 crew) died. The number of those who were killed is the largest of any Canadian maritime accident in peacetime.
Empress of Ireland was built by at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland and was launched in 1906.The liner had just begun her 96th sailing when she sank.

There were only 465 survivors, 4 of whom were children (the other 134 children were lost) and 41 of whom were women (the other 269 women were lost). The fact that most passengers were asleep at the time of the sinking (most not even awakened by the collision) also contributed to the loss of life when they were drowned in their cabins, most of them from the starboard side where the collision happened.

One of the survivors was Captain Kendall, who was on the bridge at the time, and quickly ordered the lifeboats to be launched. When Empress of Ireland lurched onto her side, he was thrown from the bridge into the water, and was taken down with her as she began to go under. Swimming to the surface, he clung to a wooden grate long enough for crew members aboard a nearby lifeboat to row over and pull him in. Immediately, he took command of the small boat, and began rescue operations.
The lifeboat's crew successfully pulled in many people from the water, and when the boat was full, Kendall ordered the crew to row to the lights of the mysterious vessel that had rammed them, so that the survivors could be dropped off. Kendall and the crew made a few more trips between the nearby Storstad and the wreckage to search for more survivors. After an hour or two, Kendall gave up, since any survivors who were still in the water would have either succumbed to the freezing cold or had drowned by then.

While the ship had an Irish name there was no specific Irish connection other than she was based in Liverpool and sailed weekly back and forth across the Atlantic. However outside of Ireland it was the case that Liverpool was the most ‘Irish’ city on Earth, and at that time one, if not the greatest Shipping Port in the World. Many of the crew would undoubtedly have had Irish links.

Sadly this terrible disaster has been almost forgotten, wedged as it is between the far more well know maritime disasters of the Titanic [1912] and the Lusitania [1915] which resonated with the public mind down the years.

The wreck lies in 40 metres (130 ft) of water, making it accessible to divers. Many artifacts from the wreckage have been retrieved. Some are on display in the Empress of Ireland Pavilion at the Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père in Rimouski, Quebec. The Canadian government has passed legislation to protect the site. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Empress_of_Ireland#Passengers_and_crew

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Image result for alice stopford green

28 May 1929: The death of the Irish Historian Alice Stopford Green on this day. Her father was the Rector of Kells  Co Meath where she was born in 1847. Despite the terrible conditions in the Country at the time Alice was raised in some comfort and educated herself through the use of her fathers extensive Library in Greek, German and metaphysics. At about the age of sixteen she was attacked by an eye ailment, rendering her temporarily blind. In 1873 her family moved to Dublin and there, hungry for knowledge, she started to attend lectures in physics at the College of Sciences. 

After her father’s death she moved with her mother and sisters to London, where she was noticed by an emerging Oxford historian, John Richard Green. In 1877 they were married. He made his name through the publication of a work called A short history of the English people which sold well. She acted as his secretary and assistant and things seemed to be going well. However in 1883 her husband suddenly died and she was on her own. Undeterred she set out to make a name for herself as an Historian in her own right and as a Woman of Letters. She had a formidable list of correspondents in the English speaking World. Her early works—a life of Henry II and a long two-volume study of Town life in the fifteenth century—confirmed her abilities as someone capable of producing serious works of History.

Though mildly interested in Irish affairs she resided in London and took a keen interest in Africa. Green found her niche editing the ‘Journal of the African Society’, which she did until 1906 and was of the opinion that Black Africans had their own cultures and traditions that should be highlighted and respected. The Boer War was something of a catalyst in how she viewed the Empire and she visited the prison camp on the island of St Helena where Boer prisoners-of-war were being held. In October 1900, returning to England aboard a steamship, she wrote to John Holt: I am certain if this Empire is to be held together at all that Englishmen will have to think more of knowledge v intelligence, & trust less to the argument.

With the growth of the Irish Revival at home and a renewed interest in Old Irish History she set about the study of it. Much influenced by her late husband’s focus on social and economic aspects of historical change she came out in 1908 with her seminal work The Making of Ireland and its Undoing 1200-1600. This was a bit of a shocker in the stuffy world of Irish Historiography and it seems ruffled quite a few feathers! But it did establish her as a prominent Irish historian as opposed to a British one.

With the growth of the Home Rule Crises in 1912 and the arming of the Northern Loyalists she became convinced that Nationalist Ireland had to reciprocate and helped along with Sir Roger Casement and others to land guns in Ireland to counter any attempt to Partition the Country. However it was only in 1918 that she moved to Dublin where she took up residence at 30 St Stephen’s Green where her house became a hub of social and political interaction. While she was an Irish historian and patriot she was not one of violent persuasion.

When the Treaty was signed in 1921 she fully supported it. In 1922 she won a seat in Seanad Éireann  as a Senator of the new Irish Free State. She remained as a member until her death. Her final major work was History of the Irish State to 1014. Again in this volume she attempted to lay out the cultural, social and legal framework of Ireland and the National character and culture of the People up until that date and steered away from a political history of the period. 

Alice Stopford Green died on this day in 1929 - just two days short of her 82nd birthday. She is buried in Deans Grange cemetery Co Dublin.


Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Ireland in History Day by Day

27 May 1224: Cathal Crovderg [‘Redhand’] O'Conor, king of Connacht, son of Turlough and brother of Rory O'Conor (the last 'High King' of Ireland), died at the age of 72. He was the last of the great Irish Kings. His death opened the way for the Norman takeover of Connacht.

King Cathal had to play what might be described in today's terms as a masterly game of 'Realpolitik' in his time as King. He was faced with a range of enemies both internal and external who wished to bring him down. Depending on circumstances he was prepared to 'switch sides' and play one off against another. He built alliances with Thomond (north Munster), Tir Owen and Fermanagh in the North and sometimes with the Anglo-Norman invaders. But he was not averse to throwing himself at the mercy of the Justicar in Dublin when he was forced to flee his own kingdom. From his base west of the river Shannon he was forced to deal with the Norman invaders. He was a competent leader despite problems, avoiding major conflicts and winning battles. Ua Conchobair attempted to make the best of the new situation with Ireland divided between Norman and Gaelic rulers.

He succeeded as head of the O'Conors on his brother Rory's death in 1198. The early part of his reign was passed in contests with the Anglo-Normans and with his nephew Cathal Carrach, who at one time succeeded in expelling him from his territories. In 1201, however, Cathal Crovderg, with the assistance of the Anglo Norman De Burghs, defeated and slew his nephew in battle near Boyle.

On his nephews death Cathal was finally in a position to have himself inaugurated as King of Connacht in the traditional way, surrounded by his close family and retainers along with the heads of the important monasteries and with the vassal families of the O’Conors in attendance. This ancient ceremony took place at Carn Fraoich near Ráth Cruachan [above] in County Roscommon. But in some ways it was an empty title too as Cathal was also a vassal of the King of England. He certainly did not have free sway over the whole province, just a portion thereof on sufferance really.

On King John's arrival in Ireland in 1210, he paid him homage, and by the surrender of a portion of his territories, secured to himself a tolerably peaceful old age. He died in the abbey of Knockmoy (having assumed the habit of a Grey Friar) in 1224. The principal abode of the heads of the O'Connor family at this period was around Rathcroghan, near Tulsk, in the County of Roscommon.

He founded Ballintubber Abbey in 1216, and was succeeded by his son, Aedh mac Cathal Crobdearg Ua Conchobair. His wife, Mor Ní Briain, was a daughter of King Domnall Mór Ua Briain of Thomond, died in 1218. By the end of his Life he had come to accept the primacy of the King of England as also 'Lord of Ireland' as a political necessity and only wished to have his son recognised by King Henry III of England as his successor.

He wrote to King Henry in 1224 shortly before his death:

'To his dear Lord Henry,by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, from his faithful King of Connacht, greeting, and bond of sincere affection with faithful obedience.'
'We feel sure that you have heard, through the trusty men and counsellors of your father and your own, how that we did not fail to give faithful and devoted service to the Lord John, your father of happy memory ; and since his death, as your trusty servants stationed in Ireland know and have learned, we are not failing to give devoted obedience to you, nor do we wish ever as long as we live to fail you. Wherefore, although we possess a charter for the land of Connacht from the Lord your father given to ourselves and our heirs, and by name to Od [Aedh] our son and heir...'
LETTER FROM CATHAL "CROVDEARG" O'CONOR, KING OF CONNACHT, TO HENRY III, circa 1224
Taken from A History of Ireland by Eleanor Hull

His eulogy in the Annals of Connacht relates the attributes that a true King was expected to portray to his People:
'A great affliction befell the country then, the loss of Cathal Crobderg son of Toirrdelbach O Conchobair, king of Connacht;
the king most feared and dreaded on every hand in Ireland;
the king who carried out most plunderings and burnings against Galls and Gaels who opposed him;
the king who was the fiercest and harshest towards his enemies that ever lived;
the king who most blinded, killed and mutilated rebellious and disaffected subjects;
the king who best established peace and tranquillity of all the kings of Ireland;
the king who built most monasteries and houses for religious communities;
the king who most comforted clerks and poor men with food and fire on the floor of his own habitation;
the king whom of all the kings in Ireland God made most perfect in every good quality;
the king on whom God most bestowed fruit and increase and crops;
the king who was most chaste of all the kings of Ireland;
the king who kept himself to one consort and practised continence before God from her death till his own;
the king whose wealth was partaken by laymen and clerics, infirm men, women and helpless folk, as had been prophesied in the writings and the visions of saints and righteous men of old;
the king who suffered most mischances in his reign, but God raised him up from each in turn;
the king who with manly valour and by the strength of his hand preserved his kingship and rule.
And it is in the time of this king that tithes were first levied for God in Ireland. This righteous and upright king, this prudent, pious, just champion, died in the robe of a Grey Monk, after a victory over the world and the devil, in the monastery of Knockmoy, which with the land belonging to it he had himself offered to God and the monks, on the twenty-seventh day of May as regards the solar month and on a Monday as regards the week-day, and was nobly and honourably buried, having been for six and thirty years sole monarch of the province of Connacht.
So says Donnchad Baccach O Maelchonaire in his poem on the Succession of the Kings:
‘The reign of Red-hand was a pleasant reign, after the fall of Cathal Carrach; he ruled for sixteen and twenty prosperous calm years.’
And he was in the seventy-second year of his age, as the poet Nede O Maelchonaire says: ‘Three years and a half-year, I say, was the life of Red-hand in Cruachu till the time that his father died in wide-stretching Ireland.’
He was born at Port Locha Mesca and fostered by Tadc O Con Chennainn in Ui Diarmata, and it was sixty-eight years from the death of Toirrdelbach to the death of Cathal Crobderg, as the chronicle shows.'

The Annals of Connacht