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Friday, 5 February 2016



5‭ ‬February‭ ‬1820:‭ ‬The death of William Drennan,‭ ‬United Irishman,‭ ‬on this day.‭ ‬He was born in Belfast in‭ ‬1754‭ ‬and educated locally and at Edinburgh University where he graduated as a Medical Doctor in‭ ‬1778.‭ ‬He returned home and practised in Belfast,‭ ‬Newry and later moved to Dublin in the fateful year of‭ ‬1789.‭ ‬He became interested in Politics and Poetry.‭ ‬His family background was Presbyterian but he personally was a non conformist.‭ ‬But he was proud to be the son of a Presbyterian Minister all the same:

I am the son of an honest man‭; ‬a minister of that gospel which breathes peace and goodwill among men‭; ‬a Protestant Dissenting minister,‭ ‬in the town of Belfast‭; ‬who[se‭] ‬spirit I am accustomed to look up,‭ ‬in every trying situation,‭ ‬as my mediator and intercessor with Heaven.

Drennan came to National attention when in‭ ‬1784‭ ‬and‭ ‬1785‭ ‬his‭ ‬Letters of Orellana,‭ ‬an Irish Helot were published.‭ ‬These were the earliest expressions of his support for radical constitutional reform,‭ ‬Catholic Emancipation and civil rights.

However as political events both at home and abroad hotted up in the early‭ ‬1790‭’‬s he dabbled deeper into the burning issues of the day.‭ ‬Along with Theobald Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell he was instrumental in the foundation of the United Irishmen,‭ ‬at the time an open body with strictly legal aims and methods.‭ ‬It is generally considered that Drennan was the guiding hand in the initial philosophical basis of the new body.‭ ‬He had proposed even before it was established that any such organisation should be:

A benevolent conspiracy—a plot for the people—no Whig Club—no party title—the Brotherhood its name—the rights of man and the greatest happiness of the greatest number its end—its general end,‭ ‬real independence to Ireland and republicanism its particular purpose—its business,‭ ‬every means to accomplish these ends as speedily as the prejudices and bigotry of the land we live in would permit.

In‭ ‬1795‭ ‬he wrote his poem‭ ‘‬Erin‭’ ‬which is credited with the first use of the term‭ ‘‬the Emerald Isle‭’ ‬to describe Ireland:

Nor one feeling of vengeance presume to defile‭
‬The cause,‭ ‬or the men,‭ ‬of the Emerald Isle.‭

However Drennan was not of a sanguinary turn of mind and he recoiled from the prospect of Revolution to bring about the overthrow of the British Regime.‭ ‬Notwithstanding this withdrawal in‭  ‬the year‭ ‬1794‭ ‬he was charged with Sedition and narrowly escaped conviction.‭ ‬At first he wished to address the Court and make a highly charged political statement but his lawyer talked him out of it.‭ ‬If he had done so it was generally considered he would have convinced his accusers of his guilt in their eyes.‭

But his days of danger were now over and as his active political life receded he used his pen to attack Tyranny.‭ ‬His poem‭ ‬The Wake of William Orr in‭ ‬1797‭ ‬stirred passions that were to foment further opposition towards Orr’s executioners and the Government that paid them.‭ ‬However he kept well clear of the terrible events of‭ ‬1798.‭

In‭ ‬1800‭ ‬he married an English Lady,‭ ‬Sarah Swanwick,‭ ‬and spent some years in the north of England moving in the Literary and Social circles there.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1807‭ ‬he gave up Medicine and returned to Belfast.‭ ‬He founded and edited the radical‭ ‬Belfast Monthly Magazine and was a leading supporter of the Belfast Academical Institution,‭ ‬a doomed attempt to bring to Belfast both secondary and higher level education,‭ ‬open to pupils from both sides of the religious divide.

He died on‭ ‬5‭ ‬February‭ ‬1820‭ ‬and was buried in Clifton Street burial-ground in Belfast.‭ ‬His coffin was borne to the grave by three Catholics and three Protestants.

Thursday, 4 February 2016


4 February 1974: The M62 Coach bombing on this day: Eleven people - including eight British soldiers and two young children - were killed, and 12 seriously injured, when the coach they were travelling in was blown up by an IRA bomb in England.

The private coach was carrying more than 50 people and making its way from Manchester, along the M62, towards a British army base in Catterick, North Yorkshire, when an explosive device in the rear of the vehicle detonated. The explosion happened just after midnight on the eastbound carriageway between Chain Bar, near Bradford and Drightlington, south of Leeds. It could be heard over an area of several miles and scattered bodies for 250 yards along the road.


The coach was carrying soldiers and their families who had been on a weekend break; some of the servicemen were travelling to RAF Leeming, near Darlington. A family of four - Cpl Clifford Haughton, his wife Linda, who were both 23, and their two sons, Lee, five, and Robert, three - were among the dead.


An Englishwoman Judith Ward was convicted of this attack and spent 18 years in prison as a result. At the time of her trial Ward's father, Thomas, had said earlier he did not believe his daughter was capable of such "brutal and callous acts". Her brother, Tommy, said none of the family thought Judith had ever been in the IRA. "We don't think she was so heavily involved. There has been a lot of romancing," he said.

That was a point echoed in court by Ward's solicitor, Andrew Rankin QC, who highlighted many improbabilities in her confessions. They included having been married to an IRA man and having borne a child by another.

Her conviction was always suspect but it took 18 years before it was overturned in 1992 and she was released from captivity. It was one of a series of convictions in the British Courts in the 1970s that were seen by many as 'miscarriages of justice' and that further marred Anglo Irish relations at that time.



Wednesday, 3 February 2016


3‭ ‬February‭ ‬1919:‭ ‬Eamon De Valera escaped with two other prisoners from Lincoln Jail in England on this day.‭ ‬They did this with the aid of a copy of the master key and the assistance of Michael Collins on the outside directing operations.‭ ‬De Valera escaped from the jail along with Sean McGarry and Sean Milroy.‭ ‬A skeleton key had been fashioned  by Dev which he had secured from the Prison Chaplain who had carelessly left down his set of keys so that it was possible to make an imprint onto a lump of wax made from old alter candles.‭ ‬After many trials and errors that produced copies but not any that would fit the prison locks a fellow Republican prisoner Peter De Loughry (who was an expert locksmith) asked that a blank key and a file be smuggled in and he would fashion a key inside the prison from Dev’s lumpen imprint. All he needed was the instruments he had asked for which were sent into the jail in the time honoured way - concealed in a cake‭!

On the day appointed the three prisoners put their plan of escape into action and made their way through various locked internal doors until they reached the outer one.‭ ‬Here it had been arranged that Michael Collins would use his copy to open the door from the street outside.‭ ‬But disaster struck as Collins broke his in the lock and the end stuck in the keyhole.‭ ‬He hoarsely whispered into the men behind the door what had happened.‭ ‬Beside him stood Harry Boland aghast at the turn of events.‭ ‬The situation was now very desperate as it could only be a matter of time before the alarm was raised and a point of no return had already been reached.‭ ‬But Dev displayed his customary coolness and pushed his own key into the hole and by good grace pushed out Collins broken nub and turned the key to Freedom.‭ ‬A quick embrace and a sigh of relief was all there was time for as the men made their way across the fields and into a waiting Taxi that got them away and back to Ireland.‭

This escape was a great Coup for the Irish Republican Movement and as a result the men were able to return to Ireland incognito and escape capture by the British. It enabled De Valera to replace Cathal Brugha as President of Dáil Éireann and to organise his journey onwards to the USA where he as President  was to drum up a huge level of support for the ‘Cause’ back home.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016


2 February 1815: Daniel O'Connell killed John D'Esterre in a duel at Bishopscourt, near Naas Co Kildare. The encounter came about after D’Esterre [a provision merchant and a member of Dublin Corporation] believed he had been insulted by O’Connell.

The cause of the duel was a political speech made by O’Connell to the Catholic Board on 22nd January, 1815 in which he described the ascendancy-managed Dublin Corporation as beggarly and refusing to apologise for his criticism of Dublin Corporation's neglect of Catholics, . D’Esterre, at the time nearing bankruptcy took this as a personal insult and sent O’Connell a letter demanding a withdrawal of the statement. When this letter went unanswered, he sent a second letter which O’Connell responded to, asking D’Esterre if he wanted to challenge him, why hadn’t he yet done so. D’Esterre set out to provoke O’Connell into a challenge, and at one stage ventured out onto the streets of Dublin looking for him, horsewhip in hand only to be forced into seeking refuge in a sympathetic home, such was the crowd that began to follow him around.


D’Esterre was a man whose luck seemed to have run out. He was facing a disastrous bankruptcy, his marriage was on the rocks if not already over. His wife was pregnant with his second child. He may also have been a victim of circumstances. While it was he who took exception to O’Connell’s remark of “beggarly” on January 24th in relation to Dublin Corporation (in retaliation for its earlier anti-Catholic resolution) and sent his challenge to a man who could not refuse as his personal courage was being publicly questioned of late years.

A duel was thus arranged to settle the matter. The appointed time on the day set was at 3.30 p.m. O’Connell arrived at three and seemed to be most calm and collected, but fell on his backside as he crossed a ditch onto the “pitch”. Undeterred he, and more so his seconds, prepared professionally. D’Esterre arrived at 4pm. It took 40 minutes or so to decide the means, etc. i.e., a case of pistols each, ten paces apart, to fire according to his judgement at the drop of a handkerchief Their last exchange of words meant there was going to be no back-down.

D’Esterre then very honourably stated that he had no animosity towards Catholics whatsoever. At the signal he moved and fired first but missed very badly, his shot falling short. It’s possible this was deliberate as he was an ex Officer in the Royal Marines and a crack shot by all accounts. He may have expected O’Connell to reciprocate in kind. But it was not to be and almost instantly O’Connell (who seems to have been no mean shot himself) fired and hit his target. D’Esterre instantly collapsed shot through the lower spine. Still alive he was carried away clinging to life. In two days he was dead having bled to death.

O’Connell returned in a triumphal cavalcade back to Dublin where his deed earned him respect as a man not be trifled with in Public Life. But O’Connell soon had regrets and he set up a pension for his dead opponent’s daughter and later went to great efforts to conduct legal business for the widow of D’Esterre.

Monday, 1 February 2016


1‭ ‬February‭ ‬523/25:‭ ‬The death of Saint Brigid/‭ ‬Naomh Bhríde‭ ‬aka‭ ‬‘Mary of the Gael‭’‬ and the‭ ‘‬Fiery Arrow‭’ ‬on this day.‭ ‬Or as the Irish Annals are fond of stating‭ ‘‬according to some‭’‬.‭

1‭ ‬February‭ ‬525‭ ‬AD:‭ ‬Saint Brighit,‭ ‬virgin,‭ ‬Abbess of Cill Dara,‭ ‬died.‭ ‬It was to her Cill Dara was first granted,‭ ‬and by her it was founded.‭ ‬Brighit was she who never turned her mind or attention from the Lord for the space of one hour,‭ ‬but was constantly meditating and thinking of him in her heart and mind,‭ ‬as is evident in her own Life,‭ ‬and in the Life of St.‭ ‬Brenainn,‭ ‬Bishop of Cluain Fearta.‭ ‬She spent her time diligently serving the Lord,‭ ‬performing wonders and miracles,‭ ‬healing every disease and every malady,‭ ‬as her Life relates,‭ ‬until she resigned her spirit to heaven,‭ ‬the first day of the month of February‭; ‬and her body was interred at Dun,‭ ‬in the same tomb with Patrick,‭ ‬with honour and veneration.

Annals of the Four Masters

Though according to another account the key dates in her Life were as follows:

Birth of St.‭ ‬Brigid,‭ ‬on a Wednesday,‭ ‬the‭ ‬8th of the February moon‭; ‬on a
Wednesday,‭ ‬the‭ ‬18th,‭ ‬she received the veil,‭ ‬with eight virgins‭; ‬on a
Wednesday,‭ ‬the‭ ‬28th,‭ ‬she rested.

Chronicon Scotorum‭ ‬439‭ ‬AD

Whatever the true story of Brigid’s Life we are capable of putting the outlines of her story.‭ ‬She was born to a mother called‭ ‬Brocca,‭ ‬a Christian from Britain who was not married to but subserviant to Dubhthach,‭ ‬a Gaelic Cheiftan and the father of‭ ‬Brigid.‭ ‬Her place of birth was at Faughart in what is now north Co Louth.‭ ‬Whether Brocca was merely an attractive slave girl or a trophy mistress taken on a raid is an open question but its possible that Brigid did not know her father weel while a child and was more or less raised by her Mother.‭ ‬Her name Brigid was taken from that of a Celtic Goddess and this considered Diety was apparently worshipped in her Father’s Household.‭ ‬This female diety was was the goddess of fire,‭ ‬whose manifestations were song,‭ ‬craftsmanship,‭ ‬and poetry,‭ ‬which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge.

As she grew to womanhood she showed signs of piety and generosity to those less fortunate than herself.‭ ‬While the date is not quite certain she was perhaps took the veil in around‭ ‬468‭ ‬AD and was received into Holy Orders by Saint Mel.‭ ‬If this be true she might have already have been a devotee of Brigid and as the daughter of a powerful man who was won over to Christianity she would have been a important convert to the Church.‭

She is believed to have founded her first convent in Clara,‭ ‬County Offaly,‭ ‬other ones followed after her fame grew.‭ ‬But it was to be in Kildare that her major foundation would emerge.‭ ‬Her father seems to have had his base around here and have used his local influence to secure her a good site,‭ ‬perhaps on the locus of an earlier Shrine to Goddess herself.‭ ‬Around‭ ‬470‭ ‬she founded Kildare Abbey,‭ ‬a double monastery,‭ ‬for nuns and monks,‭ ‬on the plains of‭ ‬Cill-Dara,‭ "‬the church of the oak‭"‬,‭ ‬her cell being made under a large oak tree.‭

As Abbess of this sacred place she wielded considerable power.‭ ‬She became famous for her great spiritual powers over men and women and the animals that she encountered.‭ ‬She was also reputed to have powerful gifts of divination and the ability to impose herself on the powers of Nature.‭ ‬Perhaps in a throwback to her earlier devotion she maintained a Sacred Flame at her abbey of Kildare that was never allowed to go out.‭

We are not quite sure of the exact year of Brigit's settlement here‭; ‬but it probably occurred about‭ ‬485,‭ ‬when she was thirty years of age.‭ ‬Hard by the church she also built a dwelling for herself and her community.‭ ‬We are told in the Irish Life of St.‭ ‬Brigit that this first house was built of wood like the houses of the people in general‭; ‬and the little church under the oak was probably of wood also,‭ ‬like most churches of the time.‭ ‬As the number of applicants for admission continued to increase,‭ ‬both church and dwelling had to be enlarged from time to time‭; ‬and the wood was replaced by stone and mortar.‭ ‬Such was the respect in which the good abbess was held,‭ ‬that visitors came from all parts of the country to see her and ask her advice and blessing:‭ ‬and many of them settled down in the place,‭ ‬so that a town gradually grew up near the convent,‭ ‬which was the beginning of the town of Kildare.

From‭ ‘‬The Wonders of Ireland‭’ ‬by P.‭ ‬W.‭ ‬Joyce,‭ ‬1911

But eventually St Brigid went the way of all flesh and on her death her mortal remains were buried beside the High Alter of her beloved Church in Kildare.‭ ‬Years later when the Viking Raids moved inwards her remains were dug up and moved to Downpatrick and eventually interred along with those of Saints Patrick and Columba‭ (‬Colmcille‭)‬.‭ ‬Alas we now know not their exact place of burial but it is believed they may be buried underneath or near Downpatrick Cathedral.

In Down,‭ ‬three saints one grave do fill,‭
‬Patrick,‭ ‬Brigid and Columcille
‭ 
After her death the‭ ‬1st February became known in Ireland as Féile Brígíd and it replaced the old Celtic Festival of Imbolc that celebrated the beginnings of Springtime.‭ ‬For nearly‭ ‬1,500‭ ‬years the eve of her day was marked throughout the Country but especially in Leinster with the St Brigid’s Cross [above],‭ ‬a reworking of the more traditional one and possibly based on an even more ancient design.

Numerous‭ ‘‬Lives‭’ ‬were written about her of which we know the following:

The first of them is contained in a hymn in very ancient Irish,‭ ‬written by St.‭ ‬Broegan Claen,‭ ‬abbot of Rosturk,‭ ‬in Ossory,‭ ‬on‭ “‬The Titles and Miracles of the Saint.‭”

The second‭ ‬Life‭ ‬is by Cogitosus.‭ ‬It is in Latin prose.‭ ‬Most probably he was a monk of the monastery of Kildare that was under the rule of St.‭ ‬Brigid in ancient times,‭ ‬for he describes,‭ ‬in great detail,‭ ‬the architecture,‭ ‬ornaments,‭ ‬and arrangements of the church,‭ ‬as if lie had it before his eyes every day.

The third‭ ‬Life‭ ‬is by St.‭ ‬Ultan,‭ ‬of Ardbraccan,‭ ‬in Meath,‭ ‬the same who induced St.‭ ‬Breogan to write the metrical‭ ‬Life‭ ‬already mentioned.

The‭ ‬4th‭ ‬Life‭ ‬is by Anmchad,‭ ‬Latinized Animosus:‭ ‬it is in Latin metre.‭ ‬Who this Anmchad was‭ — ‬whether he was Bishop of Kildare and died in‭ ‬980,‭ ‬or another‭ — ‬we have not sufficient grounds for saying with anything like certainty.‭ ‬The work seems to be that of one well acquainted with Kildare and its surroundings,‭ ‬and is more detailed than the others already mentioned.
The‭ ‬5th‭ ‬Life‭ ‬is the work of Laurence of Durham,‭ ‬a Benedictine monk,‭ ‬who lived about the year‭ ‬1100.

Lastly,‭ ‬there is the‭ ‬Life‭ ‬by St.‭ ‬Caelan,‭ ‬a monk of Iniscealtra,‭ ‬in the Shannon,‭ ‬near Scariff.‭ ‬It is in Latin hexameters.‭ ‬It was discovered by an Irish Benedictine in the library of the mother-house of the Order,‭ ‬at Monte Cassino.‭ ‬The author lived in the first half of the eighth century.

Saint Brigid of KildareBy the Rev.‭ ‬Denis Murphy S.J.




Sunday, 31 January 2016


31 January 1953: The Loss of the Princess Victoria. 126 people were drowned when the car ferry of that name sank while making it’s way from Stranraer to Larne. In one of the worst gales in living memory in these islands the ship went down when heavy seas caused the stern car deck doors to buckle and break open. Water then flooded into the ship causing her to capsize. Among the passengers who perished were Stormont’s Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Major J M Sinclair, and Sir Walter Smiles, the Ulster Unionist MP for North Down.


Captained by the 55 year old James Ferguson, the vessel left Stranraer's railway loading pier at 07:45 AM with 44 tons of cargo, 128 passengers and 51 crew. Captain Ferguson had served as master on various ferries on the same route for 17 years. A gale warning was in force but he made the decision to put to sea.
There were 44 survivors, notably none of the women and children on board were rescued but neither were any the ship's officers either incl Captain. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a lifeboat containing at least some of the women and children being smashed against the side of the Princess Victoria by the huge waves. The disaster shocked many people because, although it took place in extreme weather conditions, it involved a routine journey, on a relatively short crossing (20 miles) in what were believed to be safe waters.


The ship had sent out distress signals in morse code but due to the listing of the vessel continaully gave wrong readings as to its actual location. The winds were terrific and visibility very poor in great storm that caused havoc across north west Europe that day. As a result ships sent to assist in the rescue failed to spot her as she sank and perhaps lives that could have been saved were thus lost. No aircraft was available to help locate her either.

The Court of Enquiry into the sinking, held in March 1953 at Crumlin Road Courthouse in Belfast found that the Princess Victoria was lost due to a combination of factors. In a report of 30,000 pages the enquiry found that: firstly, the stern doors were not sufficiently robust. Secondly, arrangements for clearing water from the car deck were inadequate. The report concluded "If the Princess Victoria had been as staunch as those who manned her, then all would have been well and the disaster averted."



In summary it found that the loss of the M V 'Princess Victoria' was caused or contributed to by the default of the owners and the manager in that they were negligent before the disaster:

a) In failing to appreciate that the vessel was unfit to encounter the full range of foreseeable weather conditions on the Larne and Stranraer route by reason of the inabilit6y of the stern doors to withstand heavy seas.

b) In not taking appropriate steps to provide adequate freeing arrangements on the car deck or else to make the stern doors sufficiently strong and adequate to prevent heavy seas from flooding that deck.



 


Saturday, 30 January 2016


30‭ ‬January‭ ‬1972:‭ ‬Bloody Sunday‭ – ‬British soldiers shot‭ ‬26‭ ‬people taking part in a Civil Rights March in Derry City.‭ ‬13‭ ‬were killed that day and another man died of his wounds.‭ ‬Widespread condemnation followed throughout Ireland and abroad.‭ ‬The British Army claimed that its soldiers had fired at identifiable gunmen and bombers.‭ ‬The participants and survivors of the March and many independent witnesses refuted this.‭

The shootings took place as a major Civil Rights March was coming to an end.‭ ‬Sporadic rioting had broken out involving some hundreds of youths and members of the British Army.‭ ‬These developments were not unexpected and not seen as out of the ordinary at the time.‭ ‬Then for some reason never satisfactorily explained members of the‭ ‬1st Battalion,‭ ‬the Parachute Regiment‭ ‬who were deployed in the City that day opened indiscriminate fire on rioters and innocent bystanders alike,‭ ‬shooting many people and arresting many more.‭ ‬At the time panic and fear were quickly replaced by anger and grief.‭ ‬These gruesome events were a watershed for many Irish People and undermined any conception that the British were neutral in the North of Ireland.

The men shot dead that day were:

Patrick‭ ('‬Paddy‭') ‬Doherty‭ (‬31‭)
Gerald Donaghy‭ (‬17‭)
John‭ ('‬Jackie‭') ‬Duddy‭ (‬17‭)
Hugh Gilmour‭ (‬17‭)
Michael Kelly‭ (‬17‭)
Michael McDaid‭ (‬20‭)
Kevin McElhinney‭ (‬17‭)
Bernard‭ ('‬Barney‭') ‬McGuigan‭ (‬41‭)
Gerald McKinney‭ (‬35‭)
William‭ ('‬Willie‭') ‬McKinney‭ (‬26‭)
William Nash‭ (‬19‭)
James‭ ('‬Jim‭') ‬Wray‭ (‬22‭)
John Young‭ (‬17‭)

John Johnston‭ (‬59‭) – ‬died‭ ‬16‭ ‬June‭ ‬1972.