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Wednesday, 1 July 2015


1 July 1916: The Battle of the Somme began on this day. After an immense bombardment lasting a week the British Army launched its Summer Offensive at precisely 7.30 am that morning. General Rawlinson commanded the British 4th Army, which contained 15 Divisions earmarked for the Offensive.



Rawlinson’s tactical plan was to see the infantry advance across no man’s land at a walking pace, carrying a full load of equipment (66 lbs. per man), to take possession of the German trenches from a demoralised and shaken foe. However during the bombardments most of the German troops took refuge in deep bunkers. Once the artillery had stopped firing on the front line trenches and the attack was imminent these men rushed to the surface and manned their posts. It was the failure of the British to anticipate the speed of the Germans reaction to the lifting of the barrage that led to their defeat on the 1 July. The casualties suffered by the attacking forces numbered almost 60,000 men incl about 20,000 dead. Many of these men were from Ireland.



The men of the 36th Ulster Division carried out the most famous attack of the day. They took the German stronghold of the Schwaben Redoubt by storm and overwhelmed the defenders. However due to the almost universal failure of the other attacking battalions on their flanks to take their objectives the Ulstermen were left dangerously exposed. They were out in a salient that the Germans were able to enfilade with devastating results. Despite a grim determination to hold their positions the 36th was forced back and the order was given to withdraw to their start lines. Given that they had suffered thousands of casualties that day this was a bitter pill to swallow - but a legend was born that day that still resonates down to our own times.



The other great attack that day that had strong Irish connections was the series of assaults carried out by the 34th Division. This included the 103rd Tyneside Irish Brigade from Northumberland, in the main consisting of the descendants of Irish immigrants in the 19th Century to the coalfields there. However the connections with Ireland were still extant and these men were proud of their ancestry. That day they met the full force of the German machine-guns as they went over the top and were slaughtered in great numbers. For them there was no success to match the sacrifice made and thousands lay dead and wounded upon the field of battle for no great purpose.



There were also Irish battalions engaged this day within other Divisions and some 14 battalions with definite Irish identities took part in the day’s battle. In addition thousands more served in an individual capacity in various units like those raised in Liverpool, Manchester and London as well as in units with no particular connections to Ireland like the 1st South Staffordshire’s. Thus on 1st July 1916 many men from Ireland met their end in one of the bloodiest days in Military History. The survivors too never forgot that terrible day when so many from this island fought and suffered on the bloody fields of Picardy.



By the time the battle petered out in the November rains some 420,000 British & Commonwealth, 205,000 French and 465,000 German soldiers were killed, wounded or missing- over One Million men had fallen.

Monday, 29 June 2015

 
29 June 1915: The death of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Fenian, in New York on this day. He was born at Roscarbery County Cork in 1831 to a family of tenant farmers. As a young man he kept a shop in Skibereen but became increasingly involved in revolutionary politics. He joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood on its foundation and was soon arrested by the British. In 1865, he was charged with plotting a Fenian rising, put on trial for high treason and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to his previous convictions. He spent five years in English jails in very harsh conditions. In 1869 he was elected an MP but his victory was annulled as he was considered a ‘Felon’. In 1870 he was released on condition that he went into Exile and he sailed for New York with a group of fellow exiles that were dubbed the ‘Cuba Five’ after the boat they left in.



Once in New York he helped to organise clandestine operations against British rule and was the main instigator of the ‘Dynamite Campaign’ – a series of bombings in England designed to force Britain to relinquish her hold on Ireland. However he was allowed to return home in 1894 and in 1904 on brief visits. In later years he suffered from ill health and was confined to a hospital on Staten Island. He died there in 1915 and his remains were returned home for burial. His graveside was the occasion of Padraig Pearse’s famous oration on the power of the Fenian dead. On his immediate hearing of his death Pearse recorded the following:




O'Donovan Rossa was not the greatest man of the Fenian generation, but he was its most typical man. He was the man that to the masses of his countrymen then and since stood most starkly and plainly for the Fenian idea…



No man, no government, could either break or bend him. Literally he was incapable of compromise. He could not even parley with compromisers. Nay, he could not act, even for the furtherance of objects held in common, with those who did not hold and avow all his objects…



Enough to know that the valiant soldier of Ireland is dead; that the unconquered spirit is free.


 

Thursday, 25 June 2015



25 June 1990: Ireland beat Rumania 5-4 in a penalty shoot out Genoa, Italy to reach the quarter finals of the World Cup for the first time ever on this day. Thousands of Irish fans [above] travelled to Italy to watch the Irish Team progress through the competition as back home the Irish Nation held its breath as the final minutes of the game were played out live on TV. The match had ended in a scoreless draw and the outcome was to be decided in a penalty shoot out. It went to 4-4 each as Ireland’s goalie Packie Bonner did sterling work in taking the saves. Then David O’Leary stepped forward to take the final kick and delivered the killer blow. We were through! The whole country erupted with jubliation and anyone who was old enough at the time to witness it can still recall to this day where they were when the saw it happen in what is still probably Ireland’s greatest shared sporting moment.



In Dublin Castle, then Taoiseach Charles Haughey had suspended a press conference marking the end of Ireland’s presidency of the European Union, saying, "There’s something we should be watching on TV that might be a little bit interesting, for the Irish amongst us, at any rate."



The team was led by the legendry English soccer player Jack Charlton who was a no nonesense Yorkshireman with a shrewd eye for players who could meet the grade. The euphoria of getting to the World Cup was palpaple acrosd the Nation as a feeling of National pride swept the Country. In the event we then went down to hosts Italy in Rome by one goal. But nonethelss the team arrived back home to heroes welcome.




In its' first World Cup finals the Republic of Ireland had bowed out at the quarterfinals stage losing by a single goal to the hosts, Italy, at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. It had been a very strange campaign in that Ireland had not won any of their matches, had only scored two goals, and had played in some really poor matches in terms of quality of play. Notwithstanding this the Irish had over-achieved which was fully appreciated by the Irish supporters. The green army stayed on in the Olympic Stadium long after the final whistle to laud Jack Charlton and his gallant squad.
- See more at: http://www.soccer-ireland.com/world-cup-1990/#sthash.Fsud0Ivi.dpuf

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


24 June 1798: The Battle of Castlecomer on this day. The picturesque County Kilkenny town of Castlecomer was burnt to the ground as the Army of the United Irishmen from Wexford clashed with the British Crown Forces in the streets of the town. Major General Charles Asgil of the British Army had about 1,400 men in total to oppose the 5,000 or so under Father John Murphy. In the wake of the defeat at Vinegar Hill on 21 June it was decided by the Insurgents to leave County Wexford and advance on Castlecomer where it was hoped the militant colliers there would join them. In the event quite a few did but were of limited fighting value. Asgil himself had advanced from Kilkenny City with about 1,000 men to relieve the troops defending Castlecomer. He sent ahead some 100 men to augment the 300 or so already there. Walter Butler, a local Bigwig and the future 18th Earl of Ormonde commanded the garrison within the town.



The Insurgents advanced upon the town in two columns, one under Father Murphy himself and the other under Miles Byrne. They eventually joined forces within the town and drew up plans to assault by storm Castlecomer House that still held out. But the appearance of Asgil’s relief force on the heights outside the town meant that the Wexfordmen had to turn their attention to that quarter. The British General opened up with artillery to cover the retreat of the trapped garrison. Asgil held his ground long enough for his trapped soldiers & supporters in the town to get out and then he marched away.




Early in the morning of the 24th the rebel troops diminished by desertion to about 8,000 descended from the heights and advancing towards Castlecomer defeated a body of about two hundred and fifty men at a place called Coolbawn a mile and a half from that town which they entered with the slaughter of about fifty Loyalists. The town was set on fire – and of this conflagration each party accuses the other. The General arriving at length with his army, fired with his artillery on the streets and houses not knowing that many Loyalists were still in the place who were making a desperate defence to prevent their families and friends from falling into the enemies hands. This firing however determined the rebels to retire from the town about four O’Clock in the afternoon, which furnished an opportunity to Protestants there assembled to retreat with the general to Kilkenny, but they were obliged to leave their good s a prey to the enemy who took full possession of the place as soon as the Royal Army retreated.


Musgrave’s History of the Rebellion in Ireland, in the Year 1798


 
 
The forces Loyal to the Crown had a lucky escape as the Loyalists within and the troops without would have been overwhelmed had the relative numbers been known in the Insurgent camp. But an early morning fog and the smoke of the buildings alight within the town along with the firing of the guns masked the weakness of the Loyalist position. In the event Murphy decided that it was no use proceeding into areas where the prospects of revolt were so poor and after a brief foray into County Laois it was decided to return to Wexford and fight it out there.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015


23 June 1985: The destruction of Air India flight 182 on this day. The plane was flying from Toronto, Canada to Delhi, India via London, England. It was some 120 miles off the south west coast of Ireland at an altitude of 31,000 feet when at 8.13am the plane disappeared off the radar screen of Air Traffic Control at Shannon airport. It had exploded - killing all on board - 329 lives were lost, including 268 Canadian citizens, 27 Britons, and 24 Indians. 80 were children. The majority of the victims were Canadian citizens of Indian ancestry. The bombing of Air India 182 occurred at the same time as the Narita airport bombing. Investigators believe that the two plots were linked, and that the group responsible was aiming for a double bombing. However, the bomb at Narita exploded before it could be loaded onto the plane.



Canadian law enforcement determined that the main suspects in the bombing were members of the Sikh group Babbar Khalsa. The attack is thought to have been a retaliation against India for the operation carried out by the Indian Army Operation Blue Star to flush out several hundred Sikh Militants who were within the premises of the Golden Temple and the surrounding structures ordered by the Prime Minister Indira Ghandi. Though a handful of members were arrested and tried, Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Canadian national, remains the only person legally convicted of involvement in the bombing. Singh pleaded guilty in 2003 to manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for building the bombs that exploded aboard Flight 182 and at Narita.

The subsequent investigation and prosecution lasted almost twenty years and was the most expensive trial in Canadian history, costing nearly130 million Canadian dollars.

131 bodies were recovered from the sea. It was one of the biggest operations in the history of the State to recover the bodies which was undertaken by the Irish Navy.

The L.É. AISLING navy ship, under the command of Lieutenant Commander James Robinson, was one of the first vessels on scene. The RAF and the Royal Navy also helped to recover the bodies and debris from the site which extended over a large area of the sea.

Every year, a remembrance ceremony is held in Cork at the memorial garden and sundial in Ahakista in County Cork [above]

Monday, 22 June 2015


22 June 1866: The Archbishop of Dublin, Paul Cullen was created a Cardinal on this day. He was the first Irishman to hold such a high position within the Church. He was given the titular Roman church of San Pietro Montorio – a Church with Irish associations. He was born in Co Kildare in 1803. Paul Cullen himself was named after an uncle executed by crown forces in May 1798. Cullen's father was also involved with the United Irishmen, was arrested, and narrowly avoided court-martial and a probable death sentence. He was released in 1801. His family were prosperous Tenant Farmers.



Educated locally, incl time spent in a Quaker School he spent many years in Rome studying. He took his Doctorate in Theology in 1828, and defended it in the presence of the Pope. He was ordained there in 1829. He was later the Rector of the Irish College in the Holy City and was also appointed Rector of the College of the Propaganda of the Faith/Congregatio de Propaganda Fide – a most senior appointment. Due to his position as head of the Irish College he was the conduit for correspondence between the Irish Bishops and the Holy See for many years and became intimate with all aspects of the Church at home in Ireland.



When the revolutionary events of 1848 swept through Rome Cullen offered sanctuary to a number of clerics and cardinals wanted by the republican regime. He secured the protection of the United States Consul over his palace in Rome, which then flew the flag of the USA. The sight of that emblem precluded the Revolutionaries from setting foot inside. This act of some cunning earned Cullen the eternal gratitude of Pope Pius IX. His status in the eyes of this long lived and very conservative Pope was further enhanced in 1859 when he helped to organise an Irish Brigade that was sent to Italy to fight alongside the Papal troops in defending the Papal Estates from Garibaldi.



He was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in 1849 and returned home the following year. He convened the Synod of Thurles (1850), the first national synod held with due public solemnity in Ireland since the beginning of the Reformation period. The main purpose of the synod was to restore the authority of ecclesiastical order in Ireland, and this was in the fullest measure attained. The synod none the less marked the introduction of distinctly Roman devotional forms across the island. Cullen considered the synod's decrees to be his greatest achievement and worked hard to secure their implementation.



A noted conservative in politics he was opposed to the Young Irelanders and also the Fenians. He wanted the Irish Catholic Church to stay aloof from politics unless there were specific Catholic issues involved. His lifelong ambition was to see established a Catholic University in Ireland. While one was established in 1854 under John Henry Newman it never really got off the ground and limped on for years in a sort of educational limbo. He also wanted the Protestant Church of Ireland to be disestablished. While only partially successful in the 1st the COI was disestablished in 1869 – much to Cullen’s satisfaction.



He attended the Vatican Council in 1870 where he was a staunch defender of Papal Infallibility. His definition the Pope’s Authority on Theological matters of infallibility was the one that was adopted with just minor modifications. He was Rome’s Representative to Ireland and ensured that the Church here was run under disciplined and regimented lines. The squabbles and localism of earlier times were suppressed and the Catholics of Ireland were ‘Romanised’ in a way that was not there before Cullen took over.



Sunday, 21 June 2015



21 June 1854: Midshipman Charles Davis Lucas, by an act of outstanding bravery on board HMS Hecla on this day was awarded the first Victoria Cross. Midshipman Lucas was a native of County Monaghan, Ireland. He won the medal during a British Naval Expedition to the Baltic during the ‘Crimean War’. The fleet under Admiral Napier commenced a bombardment of the island fortress of Bomarsund. Three ships were sent forward to undertake the task, led by Captain Hall.



‘At the height of the bombardment, a live shell from an enemy battery landed on Hecla's upper-deck, with its fuse still hissing. All hands were ordered to fling themselves flat on the deck, but Lucas, with what Hall called in a letter to Napier next day 'great coolness and presence of mind', ran forward, picked up the shell and tossed it overboard. It exploded with a tremendous roar before it hit the water. Some minor damage was done to the ship's side and two men were slightly hurt but, thanks to Lucas, nobody was killed or seriously wounded. He was immediately promoted to Acting Lieutenant for his bravery, and the Admiralty later confirmed the promotion on Napier's strongest recommendation.’ 

 
 'The VC at Sea' by John Winton. 



The 6-gun steam paddle sloop Hecla was under the direct command of Capitan Hall himself who reported to the Admiral that:




With regard to Mr. Lucas, I have the pleasure to report a remarkable instance of coolness and presence of mind in action, he having taken up, and thrown overboard, a live shell thrown on board the 'Hecla' by the enemy, while the fuse was burning.


Queen Victoria invested Charles Lucas with his Victoria Cross on the 26th June 1857 in Hyde Park, London. Lucas eventually reached the rank of Rear Admiral in the Navy. He died on the 7th August 1914, aged 80, at his home in Great Culverden, Kent, and was buried in St. Lawrence's Churchyard, Mereworth.