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Sunday, 28 August 2016

28 August 1814: Sheridan Le Fanu was born in Dublin on this day. His family name has French Huguenot roots. He was the author of many seminal works of Gothic Horror novels and short stories that influenced other writers and film directors down into modern times.

A great-nephew of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Le Fanu was the son of a Protestant churchman. He studied law at Trinity, but neglected the bar in favour of journalism and writing. Having made extensive use of his father’s library in his youth, Le Fanu went on to read Classics at Trinity College Dublin, before studying Law at King’s Inn in London. However the family fell on hard times and eventually the Library had to be sold to pay off debts.

From 1844 to 1858, he was married to Susanna Bennett, and they eventually moved into the Bennett family home in Merrion Square, Dublin. Susanna was prone to mental disorders that eventually killed her and that must have influenced Le Fanu's depiction of extreme neuroses. They had four children together. He wrote at the time of her death, as quoted by Kathryn West in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "The greatest misfortune of my life has overtaken me. My darling wife is gone… . She was the light of my life."

He was among the first practitioners of the psychological ghost story, in which the haunting might be the result of supernatural intrusion into the everyday world but could also arise from the broken psyche of a protagonist.

He tried his hand at a number of genres but it was as a writer of Horror stories that he had the greatest success. He published his first ghost story, The Ghost and the Bonesetter in the Dublin University Magazine in 1838. Originally set in Ireland his publications met with only limited recognition. When his editor suggested that he switch the locations to England he finally got the recognition he desired.

The novel Uncle Silas was his masterpiece and though ostensibly set in Derbyshire Le Fanu actually wrote it with Ireland in mind. The year before his death he published In a Glass Darkly which is a collection of five short stories first published in 1872. The second and third are revised versions of previously published stories, and the fourth and fifth are long enough to be called novellas.

The title is taken from Corithinans 13- a deliberate misquotation of the passage which describes humanity as perceiving the world "through a glass darkly". Some are set in Dublin and some abroad. The most famous one though is the ground breaking novella Carmilla which featured what was in effect a lesbian vampire sucking the blood of her innocent female victim Laura, this too was set abroad in eastern Europe.

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever". ( "Carmilla" , Chapter 4)

Le Fanu died in his native Dublin on 7 February 1873, at the age of 58. Today there is a road and a park in Ballyfermot near his childhood home in the village of Chapelizod in south-west Dublin, named after him. He is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin [above].

Saturday, 27 August 2016

27 August 1979: Lord Mountbatten was assassinated  by the IRA on this day. Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten Admiral of the Fleet Louis Francis , 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, KG, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO was the most senior member of the British Establishment ever to be killed by the IRA in their campaign against British rule in Ireland.

 He had served with distinction in the Royal Navy from the time of the First World War in 1916 to the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945. He was sunk at sea as captain of  HMS Kelly in 1941. He was then made Chief of Combined Operations where he had some success and some failures, notably the disastrous raid on the port of Calais in 1942. He ended that War as  Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Theatre where he oversaw the British campaign to retake Burma from the Japanese Army and the surrender of their troops in Malaya when the War ended.

Probably his most controversial role was in 1947 when he became the last Viceroy of India charged with handing over the Administration of India’s many parts to local rulers and politicians. He has been criticised for too hasty a withdrawal and the terrifying levels of violence that erupted between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus that resulted when India was partitioned. Nonetheless he got Britain out of a situation in double quick time that had the potential to turn into a Quagmire for the Imperial Power.

His Life was something of an anti climax after that but he remained a well known figure and while at times controversial with a tendency to meddle in the backwaters of British politics he remained a respected figure with the general public in the UK.  Though some of the more lurid tales of his antics in the 'Swinging Sixties’ England should be taken with a grain of salt.

He was blown up while sailing in his yacht at Mullaghmore,‭ ‬County Sligo.‭ ‬He was accompanied by members of his family and a local boy.‭ ‬Three of them were killed and others seriously injured.‭ ‬That same afternoon at Warrenpoint,‭ ‬County Down,‭ ‬the IRA killed‭ ‬18‭ ‬British soldiers,‭ ‬most of them members of the elite Parachute Regiment,‭ ‬in a double bomb attack.‭ ‬An innocent bystander on the Republic’s side of the border was also killed in retaliatory fire by the Paras.‭

This was the greatest loss of life suffered by the British during the Conflict and caused shock waves throughout the British Establishment and with the general British Public.‭ ‬The news of these events immediately spread around the World and made the North an International News story.‭ ‬Mountbatten,‭ ‬a great-grandson of Queen Victoria and uncle to Prince Charles was a very senior member of the British Royal Family.‭ ‬They felt his death at the hands of the IRA very keenly.

Soon after a grisly‭ ‬Graffiti appeared on Belfast walls.‭ ‬It read:‭

13‭ ‬gone but not forgotten‭ ‬-‭ ‬we got‭ ‬18‭ ‬and Mountbatten

This referred to the role of the Parachute Regiment in the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972. Strangely enough the deaths of the Paras at Warrenpoint was a footnote to the press coverage that was given to the death of Mountbatten at the hands of the IRA.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

25 August 1986: Hurricane Charley swept across Ireland causing devastation in its wake on this night.

In Ireland the wind blows mainly from the west and it usually brings mild but somewhat wet weather across the island. This weather pattern along with the Gulf Stream ensures that the Country for its latitude enjoys a temperate climate that belies its position on the map of the globe. Sometimes though things take a different turn and the tail ends of powerful Hurricanes that emanate from the Caribbean make their way across the Atlantic and wreak devastation here. Such a one was the infamous ‘Hurricane Charley’ that hit Ireland 30 years ago on the night of 25 August 1986.

The hurricane had first been spotted off the South Carolina coast of the USA on the 15 August. It then made its way up along the east coast causing a fair degree of damage. By the 20th it was south of Nova Scotia moving east out into the Atlantic and losing strength rapidly. At that stage it was downgraded to a Tropical Storm. But while still out in the Atlantic it deepened again and split in two. The more powerful half then rapidly made its way towards Ireland. It reached the south west coast on the evening of Sunday 24 August and spread country wide on the following day with light to heavy rain and strong winds.

However it was only when it reached the east coast that its full power and fury was unleashed. It was in Little Bray County Dublin that it caused the most damage with the river Dargle bursting its banks and causing the evacuation of over 1,000 people to safety to higher ground. Elsewhere too it caused severe disruption with the river Dodder area in Ballsbridge in Dublin also hit hard. In the Phoenix Park hundreds of trees were destroyed and for sure it was not the only place in Ireland that night that suffered arboreal devastation. I think though for those who remember it the most memorable feature was the huge and terrifying winds combined with the tremendous amounts of rain that fell. My own house actually had water flowing into the bedroom!  It truly was a Storm that anyone who lived through it would never forget.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

24‭ ‬August‭ ‬1103:‭ ‬Magnus‭ ‘‬Bare Legs‭’‬,‭ ‬King of Norway,‭ ‬was killed by the Irish in a battle on this day.‭

King Magnus reigned as King of Norway from‭ ‬1093‭ ‬to his untimely death in‭ ‬1103,‭ ‬described as ambitious,‭ ‬his military campaigns were sought in Sweden,‭ ‬Wales,‭ ‬Scotland,‭ ‬Isle of Man and along the eastern coastline of Ireland.‭ ‬He was described as being very tall with bright yellow hair and bright blue eyes.‭ ‬His grandfather was Harald Hardrata,‭ ‬the Viking warrior king who died at the battle of Stamford Bridge,‭ ‬fighting the English in‭ ‬1066,‭ ‬and his father was Olaf the Peaceful.
Having formed an alliance in‭ ‬1102‭ ‬with Muirchertach O'Brien,‭ ‬King of Ireland‭ (‬1086‭ ‬-‭ ‬1119‭)‬,‭ ‬the arrangement being formalised by the marriage of Siguard the‭ ‬12‭ ‬year old son of Magnus to O'Briens‭' ‬5‭ ‬year old daughter,‭ ‬Biadmaynia.‭ ‬The deal was for Magnus to supply man power to O'Brien to assist him in his on going local wars,‭ ‬and in return Magnus was to receive cattle,‭ ‬to provide much needed provisions for his homeward to Norway.

Having sailed his long boats in from Strangford Lough,‭ ‬up the river Quoile,‭ ‬and beaching them on Plague Island to the present day Down Cathedral along the Ballyduggan Road,‭ ‬Magnus impatiently waited for the cattle to arrive on the agreed day St.‭ ‬Bartholomew's Day,‭ ‬23rd August‭ ‬1103.‭ ‬Evening came and no cattle had arrived,‭ ‬against the advice of his commander Eyvind Elbow he decided next morning to leave the safety of his ship and seek out the missing cattle,‭ ‬believing that O'Brien had broken his promise.

Marching along the side of the tidal marshes he came to a high hill,‭ ‬possible to site where Dundrum Castle now stands,‭ ‬looking west-wards he saw a great dust cloud,‭ ‬the cattle were on their way and soon he and his men would homeward bound.‭ ‬Perhaps in a joyous mood and letting their guard slip,‭ ‬suddenly‭ '‬the trees came alive,‭' ‬they had been ambushed,‭ ‬by the‭ '‬men of Ulster.‭' ‬In the ensuring battle that raged across the mud flats of the Quoile Estuary,‭ ‬now in total confusion,‭ ‬the Vikings,‭ ‬led by Magnus were slaughtered.‭ ‬

Some of the Vikings made it back to their boats,‭ ‬leaving King Magnus and a few of his loyal guard to fight to the death.‭ ‬The Norse King receiving a javelin thrust through his leg and then struck in the neck with an axe,‭ ‬he died.‭ ‬However his famous sword‭ '‬Legbiter,‭' ‬was retrieved and brought home to Norway,‭ ‬but the remains of its Loyal Master,‭ ‬and those of his loyal guard lie in a common grave on the marshes of Down.‭ ‬King Magnus Barefoot,‭ ‬nicknamed‭ '‬Barelegs,‭' ‬said,‭ "‬That Kings are made for honour not for long life,‭" - and ‬he was right in his own case ‬for he was not thirty years of age when he died.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

23 August 1170: Richard De Clare - aka Richard fitz Gilbert - aka Strongbow, the Earl of Pembroke and Strigul, landed near Waterford on this day. Perhaps more than any man he saw to it that the Anglo Norman Invasion of Ireland gained a momentum that the Gaelic kings could not subsequently undo.

From an Earldom of some substance in Wales he found him self out of favour with the Angevin King Henry II who ruled over England & much of France. However the King of Leinster Diarmait Mac Murchada had been kicked out of Ireland by the High King Rory O’Conner/Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair and had appealed to Henry to help him. Henry could not leave France due to his commitments and issued a Royal appeal for his subjects to help the Irish king in any way they could. Richard De Clare saw his chance and offered to help Diarmait regain his kingdom and set about raising an expedition to send to Ireland. In return Strongbow for this service would gain the hand of Diarmait’s daughter Aoife and then succeed to the kingdom of Leinster when Diarmait died.

In August 1170, he landed at Waterford, captured the city, and his wedding to Aoife [above] was celebrated almost immediately in Reginald’s Tower - which still stands in the city. Strongbow together with the forces of Diarmait Mac Murchada, then set out to take the city of Dublin/Dubhlinn  from the Vikings and having done so, embarked on expansionist raids into Meath. Besieged in turn by the Ard Rí [High King] Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair he defeated him in battle and broke the siege. He thus secured the city for the Anglo Normans. In May 1171, Diarmait Mac Murchada died at Ferns, and Strongbow’s control of Leinster was secured.

From 1172 onwards, Strongbow was titled "earl of Strigoil," which, however, brought him no additional lands. When Henry II came to Ireland to settle its affairs in his favour he removed control of Dublin, Waterford, and Wexford from Strongbow, retaining them for his own use. After military service in France Strongbow returned to Ireland and campaigned once more against the Irish kings. He was appointed Henry’s principal agent in Ireland, and, in that capacity, he issued charters on behalf of the king relating to the city of Dublin to which Henry had granted a Royal Charter.

He died unexpectedly in April 1176 from an injury to his foot and was buried in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. The tomb there that is traditionally associated with him is of later date though it probably does contain his remains. His funeral was presided over by Lorcan Ua tuathail (Laurence O’Toole), the Archbishop of Dublin. He left as his heir a three-year-old son, Gilbert, and a daughter, Isabella but his wife Aoife wielded power in her own name for a number of years thereafter. The current Monarch of England, Queen Elizabeth II, counts Strongbow amongst her ancestors.

"His complexion was somewhat ruddy and his skin freckled; he had grey eyes, feminine features, a weak voice, and short neck. For the rest, he was tall in stature, and a man of great generosity and of courteous manner. What he failed of accomplishing by force, he succeeded in by gentle words. In time of peace he was more disposed to be led by others than to command. Out of the camp he had more the air of any ordinary man-at-arms than of a general-in-chief; but in action the mere soldier was forgotten in the commander. With the advice of those about him, he was ready to dare anything; but he never ordered any attack relying on his own judgment, or rashly presuming on his personal courage. The post he occupied in battle was a sure rallying point for his troops. His equanimity and firmness in all the vicissitudes of war were remarkable, being neither driven to despair in adversity, nor puffed up by success."

Giraldus Cambrensus

* Painting - excerpt from The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Daniel Maclise.
National Gallery of Ireland

Monday, 22 August 2016

22 August 1922: General Michael Collins was shot dead on this day. He was killed in an ambush at Béal na mBláth (Mouth of the Flowers) near Macroom in Co. Cork by a party of the local IRA.

Michael Collins had been the main driving force within the IRA that had helped to fight the War of Independence against the British Crown Forces in 1919-1921. It was a ‘War of the Shadows’ in which Collins wore no uniform but stayed in Mufti. But he had been one of the signatories of a Treaty with the British in December 1921 that had split the IRA into pro and anti Treaty camps. By the Summer of 1922 he thus found himself leading a new war against many of his old comrades in arms, dressed as the General in Chief of the new National Army of the emerging Irish Free State.

He was in his native Cork to inspect the local military forces. He travelled out to White’s Hotel (now Munster Arms) in Bandon on 22 August 1922. On the road to Bandon, at the village of Béal na mBláth Collins’ column stopped to ask directions. However the man whom they asked, Dinny Long, was also a member of the local Anti-Treaty IRA. An ambush was then prepared for the convoy when it made its return journey back to Cork city. They knew Collins would return by the same route as the two other roads from Bandon to Cork had been rendered impassable by Republicans.

The ambush party, allegedly commanded by Liam Deasy, had mostly dispersed by 8:00 p.m. as they had given up any hope of an ambush so late in the day. So when Collins and his men returned through Béal na mBlath there was just a rear-guard left on the scene to open fire on Collins’ convoy. The ambushers had laid a mine on the scene, however they had disconnected it and were in the process of removing it by the time the Collins convoy came into view.

Collins was killed in the subsequent gun battle, which lasted approximately 20 minutes, from 8:00 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. He was the only fatality in the action. He had ordered his convoy to stop and return fire, instead of choosing the safer option of driving on in his touring car or transferring to the safety of the accompanying armoured car, as his companion, Emmet Dalton, had wished. It is said that when the first shots were fired at the convoy, Emmet Dalton had ordered the driver to "drive like hell" out of the ambush. Collins himself countermanded the order and said "Stop! We'll fight them". He was killed while exchanging rifle fire with the ambushers. Under the cover of the armoured car, Collins’ body was loaded into the touring car and driven back to Cork. Collins was 31 years old.

There is no consensus as to who fired the fatal shot. The most recent authoritative account suggests that the shot was fired by Denis (”Sonny”) O’Neill, an Anti-Treaty IRA fighter and a former British Army marksman who died in 1950. He later emigrated to the USA. This is supported by eyewitness accounts of the participants in the ambush. The general consensus at that time was it was a ricochet that took him out but that has been challenged in recent years.

Collins’ men brought his body back to Cork where it was then shipped to Dublin for a State funeral. His body lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners filed past his coffin to pay their respects. His funeral mass took place at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral where there was a large military and civilian presence. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery Dublin.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

21‭ ‬August‭ ‬1879:‭ ‬The Apparition of Knock on this day.‭ ‬A number of witnesses of various ages reported that they had seen the Virgin Mary,‭ ‬St Joseph and St John the Evangelist appear on the wall of Knock Church.‭ ‬As a result Knock became a major centre of Pilgrimage.

On a wet Thursday evening,‭ ‬21st August‭ ‬1879,‭ ‬at about‭ ‬8‭ ‬o'clock,‭ ‬a heavenly vision appeared at the south gable of the Church of St.‭ ‬John the Baptist in Knock,‭ ‬Co.‭ ‬Mayo.‭ ‬Fifteen people‭ ‬-‭ ‬men,‭ ‬women and children‭ ‬-‭ ‬ranging in age from six years to seventy-five,‭ ‬watched the Apparition in pouring rain for two hours,‭ ‬reciting the rosary.‭ ‬Though they themselves were soaked,‭ ‬no rain fell in the direction of the church gable,‭ ‬where the ground remained perfectly dry.

Our Lady wore a large white cloak,‭ ‬fastened at the neck.‭ ‬Her hands and eyes were raised towards heaven,‭ ‬in a posture of prayer.‭ ‬On her head was a brilliant crown and where the crown fitted the brow,‭ ‬was a beautiful rose.‭ ‬On her right was St Joseph,‭ ‬head bowed and turned slightly towards her as if paying her his respects.‭ ‬He wore white robes.‭ ‬On our Lady's left was St John the Evangelist,‭ ‬dressed as a bishop,‭ ‬with a book in his left hand and right hand raised as if preaching.‭ ‬His robes were also white.‭ ‬Beside the figures and a little to the right in the centre of the gable was a large plain altar.‭ ‬On the altar stood a lamb,‭ ‬facing the West and behind the lamb a large cross stood upright.‭ ‬Angels hovered around the lamb for the duration of the Apparition.

Most Rev.‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬John MacHale,‭ ‬Archbishop of Tuam,‭ ‬only six weeks after the Apparition,‭ ‬set up a Commission of Enquiry.‭ ‬Fifteen witnesses were examined and the Commission reported that the testimony of all taken as a whole,‭ ‬were trustworthy and satisfactory.

There was a‭ ‬2nd Commission of enquiry in‭ ‬1936‭ ‬when,‭ ‬Mary Byrne,‭ ‬one of the last surviving witnesses,‭ ‬was interviewed.‭ 

 The commissioners interviewed her in her bedroom,‭ ‬as she was too ill to leave.‭ ‬She gave her final testimony and concluded with the words: ‭

'I am clear about everything I have said and I make this statement knowing I am going before my God‭'‬ ‭

‬She died six weeks later.