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Saturday, 25 April 2015



25 April 1915: Irish regiments of the British Army took part in the landings at Gallipoli on this day. They were part of an Expeditionary Force sent to seize the straits of the Dardanelles from the Ottoman Empire that if successful would allow free passage to the Allied navies through the straits and onto Constantinople, the capital of Turkey at that time.



However by the time the assaults were launched all surprise had been lost and the Turks were ready to repel any attempt to seize the Gallipoli peninsula. Irish troops of the 29th Division participated in the landings at Helles Beach on the southern tip of Gallipoli.



Troops of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers of the 29th Division took part in the landings at Gallipoli. Embarking from the steamer the River Clyde [above] hundreds of Irishmen were lost in the attempt to get ashore in the face of devastating fire from the Turkish defenders.

The British 29th Division had orders to land at the southern tip of the Dardanelles peninsula, at Cape Helles. The landing place named V Beach in the plan of operations was where the Irish were to come ashore. It proved to be an extremely unsuitable landing place. It was covered by Turkish positions in the village of Sedd-el-Bahr and more importantly by the fort of the same name. There were defensive positions with machine gun emplacements and snipers could decimate troops landing from the sea. The British plan of attack was first a naval bombardment of the Turkish positions around Sedd-el-Bahr, followed by a landing of troops. The naval bombardment failed to destroy the Turkish defences before the troops landed.

The night before the attack on the 25th of April, none of the men could sleep on board the Clyde through fear and apprehension. Cocoa was issued all round. At 0500 hours, the navy began their bombardment of the Turkish positions around the village of Sedd-el-Bahr. Before the Dublins and Munsters approached the beaches, their Brigade Commander addressed his men saying, ‘Fusiliers, our brigade has the honour of the first to land.’

At 06.25, the naval bombardment stopped and the skipper of the Clyde, Commander Unwin, ran her aground on the beach just under the ancient Fort at Sedd-el-Bahr. The section of the beach assigned to the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers was called 'V' Beach.


The SS River Clyde was a 4,000 ton converted collier. On the bows were fitted eleven machine guns. Sally ports had been cut in the hull to allow the men to embark via gangways. The ship held 2,000 men; the 1st Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers plus two companies of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Hampshire Regiment (from the 88th Brigade) and one company of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

The tows containing amongst others the Dubliners had gone in at 6 am. All appeared lifeless following the bombardment. As the boats were about to land, the Ottoman defenders opened up, laying down a withering fire. The guns in the fort and castle of Sedd el Bahr enfiladed the beach, slaughtering the men in the boats. As they came down the gangways they continued to be mown down. A few made it ashore and sought shelter under a sand bank at the edge of the beach where they remained, pinned down. Out of the 700 men who went in, only 300 survived, many of whom were wounded.

The River Clyde followed closely behind the tows. To connect the collier to the shore, a steam hopper, the Argyll, was to beach ahead of it, providing a bridge. However, the Argyll ended up broadside to the beach, out of touch with the River Clyde. The captain of the River Clyde, Commander Edward Unwin, led men outside to manhandle three lighters (transport boats) into place and so a bridge was formed. Two companies of Munsters emerged from the sally ports and tried to reach the shore but were cut to pieces, suffering 70% casualties. Around 9 am another company made an attempt which also failed.

A third attempt to get ashore from the River Clyde by a company of Hampshires who were likewise killed. The leader of the main force, Brigadier General Napier made an attempt to lead his force ashore and was also killed. Finally, at 10.21 am, General Hamilton, who had been watching the landing from the HMS Queen Elizabeth instructed Hunter-Weston to land the main force at W Beach. The 1,000 men remaining aboard the River Clyde waited until nightfall before making another attempt to land.

Tim Buckley, a Munster Fusilier from Macroom in Co. Cork, described the utter panic the men suffered in those few moments waiting to get down the gangway onto the cover of the barge pontoons. He wrote,

When my turn came I was wiser than my comrades. The moment I stood on the gangway, I jumped over the rope and on to the pontoon. Two more did the same, and I was already flat on the bridge. Those two chaps were at each side of me, but not for long, as the shrapnel was bursting all around. I was talking to the chap on my left when I saw a lump of lead enter his temple. I turned to the chap on my right, his name was Fitzgerald from Cork, but soon he was over the border. The one piece of shrapnel had done the job for two of them.



Some 115,000 men from the then United Kingdom of Britain & Ireland and from the Commonwealth countries Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC)were killed or wounded in the Gallipoli campaign. Many thousands of Irish born and the sons of those who emigrated also served in the ANZAC forces who fought on the beaches that day and in the rest of the campaign.While it is difficult to pinpoint exact numbers it would appear about 4,000 of those who died were men who were originally from Ireland, with perhaps another 10 or 12,000 wounded.



The campaign was to sputter on until January 1915 when the Allies withdrew under cover of darkness leaving the field to the Turks.



 


Friday, 24 April 2015


24 April 1066 A hairy star, strange, enormous, was seen in the air on Tuesday after Little Easter, at the eight of the kalends of May [24 Apr] with the twenty sixth of the moon thereon. Such was its size and brightness that men said it was a moon, and to the end of four days it remained thus - CS 1066 + AT+ AFM 1066 + AC 1065.

What was this strange and apparently supernatural object that flew across the sky over Ireland in April 1066 AD? To people at that time such apparitions in the Heavens struck doubt and fear into their hearts and they were seen as a portent of evil doings to come. The Irish Monks duly noted its passing and no doubt prayed that whatever it portended it would pass over this Country without harm.


In fact what they witnessed was a comet - Halley's Comet. It is is the best-known of the short-period comets, and is visible from Earth every 75 to 76 years. Halley is the only short-period comet that is clearly visible to the naked eye from Earth, and thus the only naked-eye comet that might appear twice in a human lifetime. Other naked-eye comets may be brighter and more spectacular, but will appear only once in thousands of years.


This celestial phenomena did indeed harbour a portent of doom, but it was not in Ireland that its misfortune struck but in England. For it was in 1066 that the King Harold of the Saxons was overthrown and killed at the Battle of Hastings during the invasion of England by William the Conqueror of Normandy - who then took the Kingdom of England for himself.


The Comet was last seen over Ireland in 1986 - but don't worry its not due to return until 2061 AD!!!


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Thursday, 23 April 2015


23 April 1014: The Battle of Clontarf /Cath Cluain Tarbh, (The Pasture of the Bulls) was fought on this day – Good Friday. The victors were the forces of King Brian Boru of Munster leading a force primarily of the men of Munster and south Connacht along with a small contingent of Limerick and perhaps Waterford Vikings. His erstwhile ally Mael Sechnaill of Meath held back on the day of the Battle. Thus Brian’s men alone faced the Vikings of Dublin and the Isles and their allies the Leinstermen under King Maelmorda. The result was a great Victory for King Brian but as the day ended he was killed himself while praying in his camp. Clontarf was the greatest and bloodiest battle of the Viking age in Ireland.



The location of the actual battle site has been open to dispute, some of it convoluted in argument, but there is no conclusive proof that it was not at the location of the place we know today as Clontarf, now a suburb of Dublin City. The indications are that both armies were divided into ‘Battles’ that were led by the most prominent Leaders of their respective contingents.



Those the side of the Vikings were Brodar the Manxman, Earl Sigurd from the Orkneys, King Sitric of Dublin and the forces of King Maelmorda of Leinster. It’s possible that around 5,500 men were available to fight against Brian’s Army on the day.


King Brian brought a formidable Army to Dublin to do Battle. He had his own core group made up of the Dal Cais from his Home Territory, the contingents of the men of Munster who owed him allegiance. From south Connacht there were the soldiers of two minor kingdoms related through family ties. He had too the services of perhaps some Vikings drawn from Limerick and Waterford. However around 7,000 warriors would be probably the maximum that Brian had available to bring to Dublin. There was also the Army of the King of Meath, Mael Sechnaill II, who would have at a maximum around 2,500 men to line out alongside Brian Boru.



The battle began at daybreak with challenges and shouts from both sides no doubt. Famous warriors would have been to the fore, eager to meet men of their own calibre in single combat. To the mass of combatants these epic struggles were just a prelude to the main Battles charging at each other and trying their best to emulate their own heroes. As the day wore on the Irish slowly gained the upper hand. The fighting was heavy on what appears to have been a sunny but somewhat windy Spring day. As the numbers of warriors dwindled on each side the fight started to concentrate around the standards and banners of the more important men.

 

With sunset approaching Victory was finally in the grasp of the Irish. King Brian had been left with just a few men to guard him in his Camp, no doubt men unfit for open combat and a few boys. The excitement of such a great Victory must have had this little Band on edge and they were keen to have a go themselves to finish off any stragglers that they could catch. News of all this was of course reaching Brian so he must have had the grim satisfaction of knowing the day was his. However he received a shattering blow in the closing stages of the battle for his aides had to inform him that Murchad’s Banner could no longer be seen and Brian knew that meant in all probability his beloved son and heir Murchad had fallen.

With Victory within sight the Irish pushed the Foreigners onto the seashore, their boats too far out to get to as the tide reached its high water mark. Many were drowned in desperate attempts to reach sanctuary onboard. The Manxman Brodar however was not amongst these forlorn fugitives. His Battle had been situated on the right flank of the Viking line and in the confusion of the final rout he and a few companions headed inland to avoid being trapped against the shore. As fate would have it his flight led him to Tomar’s Wood. Seeing a tent of some worth situated there he decided to find out to which worthy soul it might belong. Inside he saw just an old man with only a boy to protect him. He did not know who it was but one of his men had once served with the Vikings of Limerick and assured him it was actually King Brian who was inside. Brodar did not hesitate but set about the occupants with his weapon. He slew the King and fled the tent, exultant that his name would now live forever in memory of his bloody deed. Soon however word spread that a Viking had killed Brian and a search was organised to track him down. The pursuers surrounded the wood and in a circle of warriors moved towards the centre of the enclosure to find the killer. Brodar was eventually cornered and ritually disembowelled in a gruesome and bloody execution.

So ended the Battle of Clontarf and Brian’s career. Tactically the battle was a great Irish Victory that smashed the invading force and Strategically it did mark the end of the threat of further Viking interference from overseas. However the cost of Victory had been high. King Brain was dead as was his heir Murchad and in turn his son Turlough. Many of the lesser kings of Munster had also fallen, including Brian’s son in law Cian. On the opposing side Earl Sigurd was dead and Brodar who met such a terrible end. King Maelmorda of Leinster was also killed on the field of battle, probably by Conaig, the nephew of Brian, who died of his wounds in turn. King Sitric of Dublin, if he was ever on the battlefield, returned to the city in time to view the final stages of the Munstermens Victory.

 

Brian was the most successful King to control Ireland prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion. He had shown that a King could indeed bring the whole island under personal sway. The battle of Clontarf unfortunately undid much of Brian’s work, not just in the fact of his death but also in the loss of his favourite son and heir, Murchad and in turn his son Turlough. Thus on one day three generations of Brian’s family had fallen. Brian was an old man and his death was not far off anyway. Within a few years his son Murchad, had he lived, would have had to face the challenge of imposing his will on the recently united island. He might just have pulled it off if Brian had lived long enough to secure commitments from the other kingdoms to recognise Murchad as his rightful successor to the Kingdom of Ireland.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015


21 April 1509: The death of King Henry VII of England on this day. King Henry also held the title ‘Lord of Ireland’. This Country proved something of thorn in his side though. His archenemies in the House of York used here as a base to plot his overthrow. In 1487 the pretender Lambert Simnel (a boy) was crowned as ‘Edward VI’ in Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin. This movement had been greatly assisted by Margaret, duchess dowager of Burgundy, and sister of the late Edward IV, who could not endure to see the House of York supplanted by that of the Tudors. A fair sized expedition from Ireland was put together. It was defeated at the Battle of Stoke in England amidst much slaughter of the hired German Mercenaries and the Irish soldiers who formed the military backbone of the Force. The young Simnel was captured and pardoned. He was set to work in the Royal kitchens.



A second pretender, Perkin Warbeck had first appeared in Ireland in 1491 and had somehow been persuaded there to personate Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two princes murdered in the Tower, pretending that he had escaped, though his brother had been killed. After many wanderings he returned to Ireland again in 1497 and from here landed in Cornwall with a small body of men. After a futile campaign he turned himself in. Imprisoned in the Tower he was eventually executed.



Henry relied a lot on the Anglo Irish magnates to hold or control Ireland for the Crown and none was more powerful than Gearoid Mór Fitzgerald, the 8th Earl of Kildare. The Earl however was an ardent supporter of the House of York. Too powerful to be ignored and too dangerous to be trusted he was in and out of favour with King Henry over the years. Sometimes he represented the Crown of England and at others he was imprisoned on charges of Treason. But he was never powerful enough to openly break with England and set himself up as a Monarch in his own right.



So while King Henry always had to factor in Irish affairs relative to his security upon the Throne of England he was a shrewd and ruthless enough Operator to act in time and with decision to ensure that Ireland never skipped beyond his grasp.

Monday, 20 April 2015


20 April 1912: The death of Bram Stoker, author of the horror novel Dracula on this day in London England. Abraham "Bram" Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) was an Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned.


Stoker was born on 8 November 1847 at 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf , Dublin. His parents were Abraham Stoker (1799–1876), from Dublin, and Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley (1818–1901), Stoker was the third of seven children. Abraham and Charlotte were members of the Church of Ireland and Bram was babtised in the local COI church.

Stoker was bedridden with an unknown illness until he started school at the age of seven, when he made a complete recovery. Of this time, Stoker wrote, "I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years." He was educated in a private school run by the Rev. William Woods.

After his recovery, he grew up without further major health issues, even excelling as an athlete (he was named University Athlete) at Trinity College Dublin, which he attended from 1864 to 1870. He graduated with honours as a BA in Mathematics. He was auditor of the College Historical Society ('the Hist') and president of the University Philisophical Society, where his first paper was on "Sensationalism in Fiction and Society".

While manager for Irving and secretary and director of London's Lyceum Theatre, he began writing novels, beginning with The Snakes Pass in 1890 and Dracula in 1897. During this period, Stoker was part of the literary staff of the The Daily Telegraph in London, and wrote other fiction, including the horror novels The Lady in the Shroud (1909) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911). In 1906, after Irving's death, he published his life of Irving, which proved successful.

Before writing Dracula, Stoker met Ármin Vámbéry who was a Hungarian writer and traveler. Dracula likely emerged from Vámbéry's dark stories of the Carpathian mountains.Stoker then spent several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires . Dracula is written as a collection of realistic, but completely fictional, diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship's logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which added a level of detailed realism to his story, a skill he developed as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, Dracula was considered a "straightforward horror novel" based on imaginary creations of supernatural life. "It gave form to a universal fantasy . . . and became a part of popular culture."

After suffering a number of strokes, Stoker died on 20 April 1912 in London. He was cremated , and his ashes placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium. After Irving Noel Stoker's death in 1961, his ashes were added to that urn. The original plan had been to keep his parents' ashes together, but after Florence Stoker's death, her ashes were scattered at the Gardens of Rest. To visit his remains at Golders Green, visitors must be escorted to the room the urn is housed in, for fear of vandalism.

Sunday, 19 April 2015


19 April 1741: In a letter to Dr. Thomas Prior, Dublin, the Bishop of Cloyne, Dr. George Berkeley, wrote of the Famine which was then raging:




The distresses of the sick and poor are endless. The havoc of mankind in the counties of Cork, Limerick and some adjacent places hath been incredible. The nation, probably, will not recover this loss in a century. The other day I heard one from the county of Limerick say that whole villages were entirely dispeopled.


The Great Famine of 1741 had its origins in the ‘Great Frost’ of January 1740 when an intense and bitter cold that emanated from the Artic and not experienced in living memory swept across Western Europe. So cold was it that birds dropped from the sky and seed was destroyed in the ground. Trade came to a halt as ports froze up and travel became almost impossible. In the Springtime the expected rains did not come, and though the Frost dissipated, the temperatures remained low and the northerly winds very strong. By the Summer of 1740, the Frost had decimated the potatoes and the Drought had wrought havoc with the grain harvest and the herds of cattle and sheep had suffered huge losses.

In the Autumn a meagre harvest commenced and prices in the towns started to fall. Cattle began to recover, but in the dairying districts, cows had been so weak after the Frost that at least a third of them had failed to “take bull”. Then blizzards swept along the east coast in late October and more snow fell several times in November. A massive downpour of rain fell on 9 December causing widespread flooding. A day after the floods, the temperature plummeted, snow fell, and rivers and other bodies of water froze. Warm temperatures followed the cold snap, which lasted about ten days. Great chunks of ice careened down the River Liffey and through the heart of Dublin, overturning light vessels and causing larger vessels to break anchor. The price of foodstuffs rocketed and people began to starve.

The Spring of 1741 went down in popular memory as the Black Spring of ’41 as the impact of two very hard Winters and the destruction of so much livestock and grain supplies began to be felt. This was especially so amongst the rural and urban poor of whom there were very many in Ireland at that time. Diseases swept the Country: Dysentery; Smallpox and Typhus took the lives of many thousands.

Sir Richard Cox wrote from Cork in April that year:


Mortality is now no longer heeded; the instances are so frequent. And burying the dead, which used to be one of the most religious acts among the Irish, is now become a burthen…In short, by all I can learn, the dreadfullest civil war, or most raging plague never destroyed so many as this season. The distempers and famine increase so that it is no vain fear that there will not be hands to save the harvest.
Eventually in the Summer of 1741 the Crises abated and while the situation was still very hard the plagues and starvation eased off. The next Harvest while not abundant was sufficient to ensure that enough food would be available to avert a similar situation the following year.

So ended what was the worst set of recorded climatogical disasters to hit Ireland since at least the 14th Century. Nobody knows how many people died as a result of this Great Famine of 1741 and the hardships that preceded its apogee. Out of an overall estimated population at the time of around 2.4 million it seems probable that between 300,000 and 450,000 of the people died as a result – a mortality rate that stands comparison with if it did not actually exceed the more infamous events of the 1840s.

‘The Year of Slaughter’ (Bliadhain an Air) was one of the most tragic events in post-medieval Irish history

Saturday, 18 April 2015


18 April 1939: Ishbel Maria Gordon, Lady Aberdeen (1857-1939) died on this day. Her husband Lord Aberdeen held the Viceroyalty of Ireland in 1886 and again from 1906 to 1915.


Born Ishbel (Gaelic for Isabel) Maria Marjoribanks, she was the third daughter of the 1st Baron Tweedmouth and Isabella Weir-Hogg (daughter of Sir James Weir Hogg). On 7 November 1877 she married the Liberal politician the 7th Earl of Aberdeen (later the 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair), in St. George's Church, St. George Street, Hanover Square, London.


Both were fervent Home Rulers, and they were aware of the imbalance between urban poverty and the new rural prosperity. Lady Aberdeen founded the Women's National Health Association which established playgrounds in the Dublin slums and a depot to supply milk to the city's sick children. The Association, also opened sanatoriums and organised exhibitions, which travelled round Ireland as part of an intensive campaign against tuberculosis.


The Aberdeens were keen to see the revitalisation of Dublin's inner city and they twice brought a Town Planning Exhibition to Dublin and organised a civic exhibition attended by all municipal and local authorities. Although well intentioned, the new town plan was never implemented. Lady Aberdeen, later wrote:


'If we could have persuaded some of the Cabinet Ministers to come across to see things for themselves, the result might have been different ... To turn from rural to the urban districts of Ireland would have surely convinced [them] that the housing conditions of the cities and towns of Ireland remained a blot and a menace, culminating in Dublin ... '


A keen feminist, she did not endear herself to the social establishment by her efforts to promote women's rights, democratic attitudes, and religious and ethnic tolerance. She caused a social scandal while in Canada when she joined her servants to take high tea. The Aberdeens were given a huge farewell on their departure from Ireland in 1915.


Lady Aberdeen was president of the International Council of Women for thirty-six years (1893–1936) and the National Council of Women of Canada for six years (1893–1899). When her husband was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, she took up the fight against tuberculosis, starting the Woman's National Health Association.





'The Earl and Countess of Aberdeen had a greater impact on Dublin society than any Vice Regal couple since the Clarendons - but for very different reasons. They inspired some affection and a great deal of ridicule in the nine years that they spent in Vice-Regal Lodge. There was something faintly ridiculous about their appearance, described by Leon O'Broin as:

"he bearded and small and polite, she disproportionately large, matronly and masterful."

Lady Aberdeen had a genius for getting things a little wrong, for meddling in matters that had nothing whatsoever to do with her and for an apparent inability to recognise rebuff....



However all recognised that she had a heart of Gold and a string dislike of Injustice in this World. If she had faults they were far outweighed by her qualities of organising and basically cajoling the powers that be to improve the lot of the ordinary people.



However while very well meaning the good Lady was not the most tactful of people in all situations:

Dining in Dublin Castle, at the time of Gladstone's first Home Rule Bill, [?] she remarked to Lord Chief Justice Morris:

"I suppose everyone but yourself is a Home Ruler here tonight."

"Not at all, Your Excellency", he replied frostily. "Barring yourself and the waiters there's not a Home Ruler in the room."


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