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Saturday, 21 October 2017

21 October 1803: Thomas Russell, United Irishman, ‘the man from God knows where’, was hanged outside Downpatrick Jail, Co Down on this day. He had been captured in Dublin as he tried to organise a rescue of Robert Emmet. A former British Officer he resigned his Commission in the wake of the French Revolution. Russell was a leading figure in the revolutionary movement in Ireland for over a decade and had spent a number of years in prison for his beliefs.

He was a great friend of Wolfe Tone who he had first met in the visitors gallery in Ireland's House of Commons in the year 1790. He was a founding member of the Society of United Irishmen that aimed to secure Civil & Political Liberties for the Irish People. 

In 1795 Russell, Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and Samuel Neilson led a band of United Irishmen to the top of Cave Hill overlooking the town of Belfast where they swore an oath:

"never to desist in our effort until we had subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted her independence"

In 1796 he was arrested and held without Trial until 1802 when England and France signed the brief Peace of Amiens. He was released on condition he went into Exile. He made his way to Paris where he met Emmet and he agreed to try and raise the North. He returned from exile in France specifically to help stir the North into Revolt in conjunction with Emmet’s Rising in Dublin, but he found that the spirit of ’98 was no longer there.

After Emmet's abortive Rising in Dublin he went on the run but after weeks in hiding he was caught and sent back to the North to be put on trial. He was sentenced to death for his part in the attempt to overthrow the Ascendency and was hanged at Downpatrick alongside other conspirators who had joined him in the enterprise.

His brave death was the subject of a famous ballad by Florence Wilson that ends with the death of Russell on the gallows:

For the man that they hanged at Downpatrick Jail

Was the Man from God-knows-where!











Friday, 20 October 2017


20 October 1892 - General Eoin O’Duffy was born on this day near Castleblaney Co Monaghan. He was the 2nd Commissioner of the Garda Síochána. O’Duffy first came to local prominence in the G.A.A. and afterwards as a senior figure in the IRA during the War of Independence, taking part in the capture of Ballytrain RIC Barracks in 1920. He was elected a TD and after the Truce was sent to Belfast to organise the local defenses there against attacks by Loyalists. He supported the Treaty and was appointed a General in the Free State Army. He directed operations in the Limerick area with some success.


After the Civil War ended he was appointed Commissioner of the Garda Síochána and by all accounts did an excellent job of turning out a first rate force on a shoestring budget. However when De Valera came to power he lost favour, partially over his record in the Civil War and partly due to his obstreperous nature – especially when dealing with politicians!


He was sacked and became embroiled in party politics as a Leader the ‘Army Comrades Association’ aka ‘the Blueshirts’ and then merged with Fine Gael. His antics as a political leader lowered his esteem in the eyes of many and eventually his Blueshirt movement fizzled out and he parted company with F.G. He led a small expeditionary force to Spain to fight alongside the Fascists there but after a few minor skirmishes the group returned home and disbanded. O’Duffy died in 1944, a broken man living in lonely isolation, though for his past services De Valera granted him a State Funeral.



Thursday, 19 October 2017


19 October 1745: Jonathan Swift died in Dublin on this day. He was 77 years old. He was a brilliant satirist, an essayist, a political pamphleteer (first for Whigs then for the Tories), and a poet. Ordained a Cleric he went on to become the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. He is remembered for works such as Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier's Letters, The Battle of the Books, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, and A Tale of a Tub. While living in London in 1711 he wrote The Conduct of the Allies an attack upon the conduct of the War with France and Spain.

The success of this pamphlet has scarcely a parallel in history. It seems to have for a time almost reversed the current of public opinion, and to have enabled the Ministers to conclude the Peace of Utrecht.
http://www.libraryireland.com/biography/DeanJonathanSwift.php

He held a Doctor of Divinity degree from the Established Church of Ireland and it was in his later years that he was appointed Dean Of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. He was though never really happy in that role and devoted most of his time and energy to literary and political activities. He was a constant thorn in the side of the Dublin Administration and an advocate of Ireland controlling her own destiny - though within the Protestant framework.

He is still one of the best known literary figures of the 18th Century throughout the English speaking World. His novel Gulliver's Travels is one of the most widely known works of fiction in the English language.

His last years were sad ones as his friends died off and his intellectual capacity deserted him. Definite symptoms of madness appeared in 1738. In 1741 guardians were appointed to take care of his affairs and watch lest that in his outbursts of violence he should do himself harm. In 1742 he suffered great pain from the inflammation of his left eye, which swelled to the size of an egg; five attendants had to restrain him from tearing out his eye. He went a whole year without uttering a word.

After being laid out in public view for the people of Dublin to pay their last respects, he was buried in his own cathedral by Esther Johnson's [Stella] side, in accordance with his wishes. The bulk of his fortune (twelve thousand pounds) was left to found a hospital for the mentally ill, originally known as St Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles, which opened in 1757, and which still exists today as a psychiatric hospital.

“When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
Abolishing Christianity and other Essays

Picture: Jonathan Swift, by Rupert Barber, circa 1745 [above]



Wednesday, 18 October 2017


18 October circa 1720: Peg Woffington, the most beautiful and talented actress of her Age, was born in Dublin on this date. She was born into poor circumstances in the Dame street area of the city centre. Her father was a bricklayer but died when she was still a child leaving her mother and her siblings to fend for themselves. At an early age she displayed a gift for the stage and in between helping her mother sell watercress on the streets of Dublin she developed her career in the City's theatres.

At the age of 10 she had made her stage debut in a Juvenile production of The Beggars Opera. She made her name in Ireland as Ophelia in a 1737 production of Hamlet and came to London in 1740. There she was an immediate success. One of her most celebrated roles was as Sir Harry Wilder, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. She caused quite a stir in this part by wearing breeches.

Woffington enjoyed success in the role of Sylvia in The Recruiting Officer. She performed at Drury Lane for several years and later returned to Dublin, appearing in a variety of plays. Her most well-received performances were in comic roles, such as elegant women of fashion like Lady Betty Modish and Lady Townley, and breeches roles. But she was impeded in the performance of tragedy by a harsh tone in her voice that she did her best to overcome.

She lived openly with David Garrick, the foremost actor of the day, and her other love affairs (including liaisons with Edward Bligh, 2nd Earl of Darnley and MP Charles Hanbury Williams) were numerous and notorious. For whatever reason, Woffington left Garrick in about 1744 and moved to Teddington, into a house called Teddington Place.

She pursued a successful stage career in London and also briefly in Paris. When she returned to Dublin she was a sensation as people flocked in droves to see her perform at the famous Smock Alley Theatre. Again though her amorous affairs cost her dear and she departed to once again act upon the London Stage.

But tragedy struck short her career when, at London’s Covent Garden in 1757, and playing the part of Rosalind in As You Like It she took ill on stage and could not continue. Her last words as an actress were:

If I were a woman, I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased . . .

A spectator described what then happened:

Her voice broke, she faltered, endeavoured to go on but could not proceed – then in a voice of tremor cried ‘Oh, God! Oh, God!’ [she] tottered to the stage door speechless, where she was caught. The audience of course applauded until she was out of sight and then sank into awful looks of astonishment . . . to see one of the most handsome women of the age, a favourite principal actress . . . struck so suddenly by the hand of death.
Tate Wilkinson, Memoirs 1790

A broken women she lingered on for a number of years but never made a full recovery. A generous benefactor she died in her house at Teddington, London on 28 March 1760.



Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Image result for william smith o'brien

17 October 1803 William Smith O'Brien the Nationalist politician and Young Irelander, was born in Dromoland, Co. Clare on this day. O'Brien was educated in England and was a Conservative when elected to Parliament from Ennis in 1829. However, his politics changed once there and by 1844 he supported Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Movement. He soon became a member of the Young Irelanders. In 1848 he was part of a Delegation that went to Paris to congratulate the birth of the Second Republic, they returned with a new flag for Ireland - Green, White and Orange.

That year the British suspended habeas corpus and began arresting all the Young Ireland leaders. Smith eluded escape for a time and led a brief, abortive rising in Tipperary. He was arrested and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered but the sentence was reduced to penal servitude for life in Tasmania.

After serving five years there, he was given partial pardon in 1854 and then a full pardon two years later. As he prepared to leave Australia in '54 he was given a series of dinners and testimonials and presented with gifts by the Irish population of the area. O'Brien lived in Brussels until his final pardon came through and then returned to Ireland but did not participate in Irish politics again. On June 16, 1864, he died in Bangor, Wales. He is buried in Rathronan churchyard in Co. Limerick.

There is a statue of him in Dublin's O'Connell Street [above]

Monday, 16 October 2017

Image result for oscar wilde grave

16 October 1854: Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin on this day. His father Dr. William Wilde was a renowned medical statistician and he was knighted for his work. He also had an international reputation as an antiquarian and archaeologist and he was recognised as an expert on Irish pre-history. His mother Jane Wilde was a figure in her own right. She became closely associated with the Young Irelanders, Thomas Davis, William Smith O'Brien and Charles Gavan Duffy and she wrote revolutionary poetry for 'The Nation' newspaper under the pseudonym ‘Speranza’. She subsequently became a leading society hostess in Dublin.

The Wildes' house at 21 Westland Row attracted some of the leading figures in art, literature, science and medicine - including John Hogan, Samuel Ferguson and William Rowan Hamilton. It was here that Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was brought into this world in which he would prove to be such a delightful yet such a tragic figure. He became fluent in French and German early in life.

Until he was nine he was educated at home by a French Governess and he was sent to the Portora Royal School at Enniskillen to complete his secondary education. While there he excelled in the Classics, taking top prize in his last two years, and also earning a second prize in drawing. In 1871, Oscar was awarded the Royal School Scholarship to attend Trinity College in Dublin. Again, he did particularly well in his classics courses, placing first in his examinations in 1872 and earning the highest honour the college could bestow on an undergraduate, a Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, Oscar crowned his successes at Trinity with two final achievements. He won the college's Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship scholarship to Magdalen College in Oxford. After finishing his scholastic career in Oxford he moved to London where his literary career took off.

There is a colourful edifice of Oscar [left] in Merrion Square Dublin directly across the road from No 1 Merrion Sq. where he spent most of his childhood years. It attracts many visitors each day. Though perhaps the most famous and popular one to his memory is his mausoleum in the graveyard of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery [ right] in Paris where he is buried. Which is as far as I could judge on the day I visited it some years ago by far the most popular attraction in that most famous of cemeteries.

A man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her.
Oscar Wilde


Sunday, 15 October 2017


15 October 1945: The death of Eoin MacNeill occurred in Dublin on this day. Born in County Antrim he became a scholar of the Irish language, a prominent nationalist, a revolutionary and a politician.. He was a co-founder of the Gaelic League, founded to preserve the Irish language and culture. In 1909 he was appointed foundation Professor of Early Irish History in UCD and was elected to the first Senate of the new NUI where, along with Douglas Hyde, he campaigned to make Irish a compulsory subject for entry to the university.

While primarily a scholar and cultural activist, in an article entitled ‘The North began’ in An Claidheamh Soluis [Sword of Light] on 1 November 1913, McNeill advocated the formation of a national volunteer force on the lines of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The organisation was established in Dublin on 25 November with the intent to back the push for Home Rule by force of arms if necessary.

He was Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers at the time of the Easter Rising but was kept out of it and indeed tried to stop it as he foresaw a bloody failure if it went ahead. On the eve of the planned  Rising ( 22 April 1916) he issued his infamous countermand order to try and stop the Rising going ahead:

"Volunteers completely deceived. All orders for tomorrow, Sunday, are completely cancelled...

As a result the Revolt went off at half cock and only in Dublin did enough Volunteers turn out to be able to make a go of it to take on the British Army in battle. But for all his attempts to stop the Rising he was interned in Frognoch Camp in Wales with the other prisoners taken in the aftermath and remained under British suspicion on release.

He supported the Treaty in 1921 and held the Cabinet position of Minister of Education in the first Free State Government. He represented the State on the Anglo Irish Boundary Commission in 1925 but resigned when the findings were leaked to a British newspaper. He lost his seat in the 1927 General Election. In that same year he was the first man to come across Kevin O’Higgins as he lay fatally injured after being shot near his home on Booterstown Avenue in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

He retired from politics completely and became Chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission. He published a number of books on Irish history incl. Phases of Irish History (1919) and Celtic Ireland (1921) His work on early Irish History was ground breaking esp. his study of Kingship and succession rights in Ireland before the Anglo Norman Invasion in 1169 AD. Indeed he was one of the first Irish Historians to make a serious attempt to divide fact from myth in the study of the ancient sources of Irish History. His works are still of value today as one of the foundation stones of modern historical study in this Country.