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Friday, 19 October 2018


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]


Thursday, 18 October 2018


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.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

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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]

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

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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 [above 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 [ below] 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

Monday, 15 October 2018


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.







Sunday, 14 October 2018


14 October 1318 : The Battle of Faughart, also known as the Battle of Dundalk, was fought on this day. It was between an Anglo-Irish force led by John of Birmingham and Edmund Butler, and a Scots-Irish army commanded by Edward Bruce, claimant to the Crown of Ireland and brother of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland. Edward was killed in the battle. The defeat and death of Edward de Bruce at the battle ended the attempt to revive an independent Kingdom of Ireland. It also ended the attempt of King Robert of Scotland to open up a second front against the English in the Anglo-Scottish Wars.

Edward had invaded Ireland with an Army of 6,000 men in May 1315 and initially swept all before him. But his arrival here coincided with the start of a Great Famine that swept Europe that was caused by devastating climatic change. That and the cruelties his followers inflicted upon the guilty and innocent alike won him few converts outside of Ulster. Like Hannibal of old he could win battles and sweep the land, but he could not take the city of Dublin – the Capital of Ireland.

By 1318 his position was desperate as he saw his ambition to be King of Ireland in his own right slip away. He decided on a desperate gamble - to give battle before reinforcements could arrive from Scotland and thus lessen his own glory. Thus the two armies met at Faughart, on rising ground just north of Dundalk. Bruce had placed the few Gaelic forces that stayed with him at the rear. He divided his army into three divisions. This disposition proved disastrous, as the divisions proved to be easy targets for deBirmingham’s forces who simply destroyed them as they met and engaged with them. They were too far away from each other to provide any support to each other.

The English 'Chronicle of Lanercost' recorded:

The Scots were in three columns at such a distance from each other that the first was done with before the second came up, and then the second before the third, with which Edward was marching could render any aid. Thus the third column was routed just as the two preceding ones had been. Edward fell at the same time and was beheaded after death; his body being divided into four quarters, which were sent to the four chief quarters of Ireland. 

At the beginning of the battle, Edward Bruce refused to wear the sur-coat bearing his coat of arms. This was worn by his man-servant Gib Harper, who fought beside his master. Both master and servant were killed by an English soldier called John Maupas, but not before Maupas himself had sustained a fatal sword thrust. All three were found together after the battle in which many Scottish nobles who had followed Bruce since the beginning of the campaign, were also killed.

After Edward's death his body was quartered and his limbs sent to various places in Ireland, with his head being delivered to Edward II, the King of England. Tradition holds that his torso was then buried in nearby graveyard.

His defeat and destruction at Faughart was as unexpected as it was sudden but the termination of this terrible war was greeted with relief as it brought to an end a bleak and dark chapter in Ireland’s History.

Edward Bruce, the destroyer of all Erinn in general,
both Foreigners and Gaeidhel, was slain by the Foreigners of Erinn, and …
no better deed for the men of all Erinn was performed
since the beginning of the world, since the Fomorian race was expelled from Erinn, than this deed
for theft and famine, and destruction of men occurred throughout Erinn during his time
For the space of three years and a half
and people used to eat one another, without doubt throughout Erinn.
Annals of Loch Cé 1318 AD



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14 October 1817: John Philpot Curran died on this day. He was one of the great Legal orators of his Age and a defender in the Courts of members of the United Irishmen. He was born in County Cork in 1750 and after receiving a local education was sent to Trinity College. He was intended for the Church of Ireland, and studied divinity, but never wrote more than two sermons. He switched to Law and moved to London to continue his studies at at the Middle Temple.

He suffered from a bad stammer that hampered his ability to speak publicly which he overcame by reciting the works of Shakespeare in front of a mirror until he mastered his impediment. During his second year in London he married his cousin, Miss Sarah Creagh. Her fortune and some money supplied by his family supported them until he was called to the Irish Bar in 1775. After a shaky start he soon built up a decent practise but could never free himself completely from Debt. His most famous early appearance in the Courts was  in Co Cork where he brought a case on behalf of a Catholic Priest Fr. Father Neale who had been horsewhipped by a local landlord Protestant Lord Doneraile. Against the odds Curran won the case and the priest was awarded 30 guineas! He afterwards fought a duel with a Captain St. Leger over this affair but both survived unscathed and indeed Curran was a notable duellist surviving a number of encounters.

In 1783 he entered the Parliament in Dublin  as member for Kilbeggan; three years afterwards he was returned for Rathcormack, which he represented until 1797. But he seems to have left little mark there and his great oratorical powers were confined to the Courts and his wit and intelligence in private conversations. He was an advocate of Catholic Emancipation [namely the right of Catholics to be elected to Parliament] and defended a number of the United Irishmen in the Courts. Amongst his most famous cases being Hamilton Ronan, Napper Tandy, the Sheares Brothers, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Wolfe Tone in 1798. He was not a member of any revolutionary organisations himself did not seek or desire the violent overthrow of the Established Order in Ireland at that time. 

It was in 1803 that Curran’s most infamous entanglement in Irish affairs took place when circumstances placed him at the centre of events that involved politics, his legal career and his family. It was not a happy mixture for him. The attempted revolt of Robert Emmet that summer had ended in a bloody Fiasco and in the tumult Lord Kilwarden ( a friend to Curran) had been dragged from his carriage in the streets of Dublin and hacked to pieces. It could have fallen to Curran to defend Robert Emmet of the charges brought against him. However to complicate matters further Curran’s beautiful daughter Sarah was in affair of sorts with Robert. They were secretly engaged but to how deep a degree it went after that we do not know. Correspondence was discovered between them and seen by her father. Thereafter he would have nothing to do with defending Emmet from the charges brought against him and he immediately disowned his daughter forever.

Devastated by the turn of events in Ireland he nevertheless accepted the position of Master of the Rolls for Ireland in 1806 and this brought in a lucrative salary and pension. Whether you could say he was ‘bought’ at this stage is an open question but in fairness to him he never sought Revolution but Reform. 

His life became even more unhappy. His wife of many years left him and he was depressed also by the state Ireland was in after the Act of Union, without a Parliament of its own and under England’s Rule. The affairs of Ireland and the World weighed heavily upon him in his latter years:

"Everything I see disgusts and depresses me: I look back at the streaming of blood for so many years, and everything everywhere relapsed into its former degradation — France rechained, Spain again saddled for the priests, and Ireland, like a bastinadoed elephant, kneeling to receive the paltry rider."

After his resignation of this office in 1814 he resided much at his mansion in Brompton, London where he enjoyed the society of Erskine, Horne Tooke, Sheridan, the Prince Regent, Thomas Moore, and William Godwin. http://www.libraryireland.com/biography/JohnPhilpotCurran.php

In the summer of 1817 he was attacked by paralysis at the table of his friend Thomas Moore, in London. After his return home, another attack supervened, and he succumbed in London, 14th October 1817, aged 67. He was initially buried in Paddington Cemetery. His dying wish was to be interred in Ireland. In 1834 his remains arrived in Dublin on a very wet and stormy night and were brought to Glasnevin cemetery by torch light where they were reburied in an impressive sarcophagus that stands intact to this day.