Sunday, 15 December 2019

Image result for Major General Fitzroy Hart

15‭ December 1899: The Battle of Colenso was fought on this day. The 5th Irish Brigade of the British Army under Major General Fitzroy Hart [above] was engaged in action against the Boers and suffered heavy casualties.

The battle was fought on the Tugela River in Northern Natal,‭ ‬South Africa.‭ The British were under Sir Redvers Buller with 16,000 soldiers and the Boers were led by General Botha with about 3,000 of his doughty men drawn from the Boer farming communities and the ‘Burghers’ from the towns - most of them first class riflemen. 

To the west of Colenso the river described a loop to the North West before continuing straight.‭ A half mile west of the loop lay Bridle Drift, a river ford. Buller directed the Irish Brigade under Major General Hart to cross the drift and drive the Boers force the passage of the Tugela. General Hart was ordered to advance the‭ ‬5th Brigade and gain the ‘drift’ or ford on the river Tugela.

Early that morning the force began to move forward but General Hart insisted that his Brigade fight shoulder to shoulder as if on parade in Aldershot. He had the following battalions with which to secure his objective, three of which were Irish: 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers; 1st Inniskilling Fusiliers; 1st Connaught Rangers and one English the 1st Border Regiment. The General deployed his Brigade in lines of advance thus:
2nd‭ Bn. Dublin Fusiliers, as Covering Battalion to the Front.
1st‭ ‬ Connaught Rangers, First line.
1st‭ ‬Border Regt, Second line.
1st‭ R. Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Hart had but a local Native Guide and a civilian interpreter to show him the way and it soon became clear that the Guide was as lost as he was.‭ In addition the artillery while in support was too far away for direct instructions and Hart was basically on his own feeling his way forward. No other Brigade came to his support and the 500 cavalry he had with him had to take the rear until a passage of the river was secured. His machine guns became separated from the rest of the Brigade and thus the Infantry advanced alone.‭ ‬His men spread out into one long line each battalion one behind the other. This was not what the General intended to happen as it extended his front to such an extent that it became impossible to maintain control.

Even though supported at a distance‭ by two field batteries (64th and 73rd Batteries, R.F.A.) they soon ran into a storm of fire directed from across the Tugela.‬ This was made worse as where they intended to cross was a loop in the river and the Boers enfiladed them from three sides. 

Our burghers as well as our artillery allowed the enemy to advance unmolested to a range of about‭ 1,500 yards with their guns, and having allowed the infantry to approach to approximately 500 yards, they suddenly unleashed a heavy fire. The enemy had orders to cross the river at this point, and although they stormed repeatedly, the fire of our burghers and artillery was so well directed and had such good effect that only a captain, two lieutenants and a few men were able to reach the river bank. Here the enemy suffered a tremendous loss in dead and wounded.
General Botha’s Official Report

General Hart described what happened to his men at this moment as follows:
The‭ ‬infantry had‭ advanced only a little way, when a tremendous rifle fire was poured into us from our front, and a considerable rifle fire from our left front. There was no smoke and not a sign of the enemy himself, or even a horse, but the streaks of dust as the Boer bullets showered in, grazing the ground, plainly showed where they were, by a process of interpolation. The infantry lay down flat. Fire was new to them…
I‭ could see officers here and there urging on the advance;‬ and all this was so far successful that a slow advance was made. Here and there men with better nerves pushed on. There was no panic, and once when I said to a lot of men who were deaf to my commands to advance—  " If‭ I give you a lead, if your General gives you a lead—will you come on? "
 They‭ answered quite cheerily with their brogues " We will, sir," and up they jumped and forward they went. Time and experience are necessary to make men go well under fire.
LETTERS‭ OF MAJ.-GEN. HART-SYNNOT

Of those men that did reach the Tugela‭ many fell headlong into the river for along the bottom barbed wires had been stretched. Worse still, it was found that instead of being two feet deep, as was expected, it was eight feet; for the Boers had erected a dyke across the river a little lower down, and had dammed the water back.

Hart was criticised afterwards for preventing any effort to take cover or move the attack out of the loop towards the correct crossing point at Bridle Drift,‭ keeping his dwindling brigade in the loop for the rest of the day. He accordingly achieved nothing except heavy losses and a damaging blow to his men’s morale. Eventually orders reached him to retire and with some effort this was done under cover of the guns. The Brigade played no further part in the battle. Casualties as reported by Hart amounted to some 25 officers and 528 men, total 553, killed, wounded and missing.

An experienced Officer his conduct this day was such to indicate that bravery and a rigid adherence to orders in the face of well armed and dug in riflemen was not enough and could only lead to disaster.‭ However he was in some respects a victim of circumstance as he had followed his orders to the letter and had acted honourably given the situation he found himself in.

Elsewhere the battle was also a bloody fiasco for the British as the Boers poured a deadly fire into the advancing ranks and eventually Buller called a Retreat,‭ which was as ineptly handled. The British Army lost 1,167 men killed, wounded and captured while the Boers lost but a few score men. Over half the casualties were incurred by the Irish Brigade!

The British High Command had become used to fighting native armies that were poorly armed and unused to being under fire.‭ The Boers however were Europeans well used to handling guns and the application of marksmanship. That plus their adept use of cover allowed them to dominate the battlefield and put a stop to all attempts by the British to storm their positions. 

Buller was soon relieved of his position and replaced by Anglo-Irish General Lord Roberts whose only son,‭ Lieutenant Freddie Roberts VC, had been killed in the battle trying to rescue the guns – an action in which General Buller himself had put it to him to partake in!






Saturday, 14 December 2019

Irish UK election 1918.png14 December 1918: The ‘Khaki Election’ on this day. 

There was a General Election held throughout Britain and Ireland to elect a new Parliament to sit in Westminster London. It was the first held since 1910 as the advent of the First World War in 1914 meant none was held while the War lasted. It was the first general election to include on a single day all eligible voters of Great Britain & Ireland, although the result was not released until 28 December so that the ballots cast by soldiers serving overseas could be included in the tallies - hence the term ‘Khaki Election’.

It was also the first general election to be held after enactment of the Representation of the People Act 1918. It was thus the first election in which many women over the age of 30, and all men over the age of 21 could vote. Previously, all women and many men of the lower social classes had been excluded from voting at all. It was thus the most ‘popular’ General Election ever held till that time. In the event Lloyd George was returned as Prime Minister but his Party - the Liberals - was hopelessly split and he relied on the Conservatives to help him form what was in effect a Coalition Government.
In Ireland though a different battle was fought as the Sinn Fein Party campaigned on the promise of not taking any seats won in the London Parliament but to abstain instead and stay at home in Ireland. 

The spirit and confidence of the old Nationalist Party of John Redmond had been shattered by the 1916 Rising and its support for Britain’s War effort - in which many 10s of thousands of Irishmen had gone to their deaths.

The Party of Sinn Fein however under Arthur Griffith went from being basically a micro group on the edge of Irish politics in 1914 into being centre stage by the end of 1918. They were expected to do well and they expected to do well - the big question was just how well would they do?

In the event they  won  a Landslide returning 73 members. Of those elected 47 of them were  imprisoned by the British at the time. Of the 105 Irish seats in the election, the results were: Sinn Féin – 73+; Irish Unionist – 22; Irish Parliamentary – 6*;Labour Unionist – 3;Independent Unionist – 1. In total there were 103 Irish constituencies, two electing two MPs and the rest electing one. It should be noted that some of those elected stood in more than one constituency.
+ One woman was elected - Countess Markievicz thus becoming the 1st woman so returned
* T.P. O’Conner was returned for a Liverpool constituency brining their number to 7.

In all Ireland out of 1,526,910 votes cast the Unionist candidates received 315,394 votes - clearly the vast majority of voters wanted Ireland to have her own Parliament based in Ireland.
The Freemans Journal commented that:  the meaning of the Irish vote is as clear as it is emphatic. More than two thirds of the electors throughout national Ireland have endorsed the Sinn Fein programme. The Times of London admitted the ‘overwhelming nature of the victory of Sinn Fein’ & observed that: ‘the general election in Ireland was treated by all parties as a plebiscite and admittedly Sinn Fein swept the Country.

 It was a watershed in Irish political history that was immediately obvious to all observers that things could never be the same again.


Thursday, 12 December 2019


11/12 December 1956: ‘The Border Campaign’ or 'Operation Harvest' began on this day. The IRA under its Chief of Staff Sean Cronin carried out a series of attacks on Crown Forces personnel and installations in the Border areas of the Six Counties. A BBC relay transmitter was bombed in Derry, a courthouse was burned in Magherafelt, as was a B-Specials post near Newry and a half built Army barracks at Enniskillen was blown up. A raid on Gough barracks in Armagh was beaten off after a brief exchange of fire. 

That day the IRA issued the following statement:
Spearheaded by Ireland’s freedom fighters, our people have carried the fight to the enemy…Out of this national liberation struggle a new Ireland will emerge, upright and free. In that new Ireland, we shall build a country fit for all our people to live in. That then is our aim: an independent, united, democratic Irish Republic. For this we shall fight until the invader is driven from our soil and victory is ours.

The campaign after an initial surge of activity was to be marked by a number of intermittent attacks on the British in the North that continued until 1962. But without a certain level of popular support on both sides of the Border it was obvious that further resistance was futile and the IRA called off their campaign and dumped arms. It was deliberately kept to the Border areas as it was felt to attempt actions in Belfast etc would only inflame sectarian tensions.

The IRA's Border Campaign was an ambitious plan to wage a guerrilla war in the North. In hindsight, it was an abject failure. But to many in the Republican Movement any action was better than no action.

'Operation Harvest, the codename for the IRA's border campaign of the 1950s, was an ambitious plan to wage a guerrilla war in the North. The IRA used tactics adopted by flying columns that had been successful during the War of Independence in a bid to make Northern Ireland ungovernable and force a British withdrawal. In hindsight, it was an abject failure. They received little or no support from the nationalist population in the North. Most volunteers were from the South with little knowledge of the North. Governments north and south of the border introduced internment and the campaign was almost stillborn.'
Soldiers of Folly: The IRA Border Campaign 1956-1962






Wednesday, 11 December 2019


11 December 1920: The burning of Cork on this day. After an IRA attack on a lorry load of RIC Auxiliaries at Dillons Cross in which one of them was killed members of the Crown Forces went on a rampage in Cork City Centre. Buildings were set alight and many were gutted by fire. Two men who were members of the Cork IRA, Con and Jer Delaney were shot dead in their own home. British forces deliberately set fire to several blocks of buildings along the east and south sides of Saint Patrick’s Street during the hours of darkness and the following morning. The City Hall and the Carnegie Library were also completely destroyed by fire. The loss of the stock of the library and of the records in Cork City Hall was a huge blow to future historians.

Florrie O'Donoghue described the scene in Cork on the morning of the 12th:
Many familiar landmarks were gone forever – where whole buildings had collapsed here and there a solitary wall leaned at some crazy angle from its foundation. The streets ran with sooty water, the footpaths were strewn with broken glass and debris, ruins smoked and smouldered and over everything was the all- pervasive smell of burning.

The Chief Secretary for Ireland, Sir Hamar Greenwood, immediately denied that Crown forces were responsible for the conflagration:" I protest most vigorously," he said,  " against the suggestion, without any evidence, that these fires were started by the forces of the Crown."
Who burnt Cork City? - An Investigation on the Spot With Full Proofs [Dublin 1921]

However subsequent local inquiries carried out by reputable bodies established that members of the Crown Forces were indeed culpable for the widespread destruction.

Afterwards, some Auxiliaries took to wearing piece of half-burnt cork in their hats.But their black humour could not disguise the fact that these actions further undermined their already weakening authority and showed the World that Britain could not control her own Forces on the streets of a City that it claimed was part of their Empire.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019


10 December 1710:  The battle of Villaviciosa in Spain on this day in which the Irish Brigades in the service of France and Spain played a distinguished part in the Victory. The war of the Spanish Succession was between the two contenders for the Spanish Throne: Philip [Felipe] V backed by France and Charles of Austria backed by Austria, England and Holland. During this see saw war the fortunes of both sides waxed and waned. The battle took place about 70 miles north east of Madrid as Charles of Austria retreated towards Catalonia. Philip’s army hotly pursued him under the direct command of Marshal Vendome of France. 

Three Irish regiments fought with the Spanish army in this battle, commanded by respectively Col. Don Demetrio MacAuliffe, Col. Don John de Comerford and Col. Don Reynaldo Mac Donnell. They were collectively known as the Brigade of Castlelar. The Marshal’s army also included a force of Dragoons under the dashing cavalry commander General Count Daniel O’Mahony who was assisted by General Henry Crofton. To this ‘Arme Blance’ was attached a Lord Killmaloc’s Regiment of Dragoons. All of the Irish troops were to play a full part in the battle that materially affected the outcome of the War in Spain.

The engagement was fought on a bleak day in the midst of a Spanish Winter. The main action began in the early afternoon and after many hours of hard fighting it looked like that Charles had won. Marshal Vendome had even ordered the Retreat when his cavalry under the Marquis de Val-de-Canas and Count O’Mahony won the day by charging into the enemy’s rear and forced them to retreat. Only the onset of the darkness of a December night stopped them from destroying their opponents in detail. Though O’Mahony did manage to hamstring 700 mules that severely hampered the enemy from carrying away much of their material from the battlefield. 

Combined with the defeat and capture the previous day by Vendome of 5,000 English soldiers at the town of Brihuega the losses inflicted upon the enemy were such to render them unable to maintain the field and Charles had no option but to continue his sorry retreat to Barcelona and safety. His bid though for the Throne of Spain was effectively over.

Their brave and daring actions raised the status of the Irish troops and their leaders immeasurably during the Campaign of 1710. Though Lord Killmaloc was mortally wounded in the final battle the Count O’Mahony was awarded for his services.

The Comte de Mahoni acquired a great deal of glory on the battle-day of Villaviciosa, at the head of the dragoons. The King was so satisfied with him, that he conferred upon him a Commandership of the Order of St. Jacques (ie Jago) producing a rent of 15,000 Livres. …
History of the Irish Brigades in the Service of France
by John Cornelius O’Callaghan.
Painting: by Jean Alaux (1840) - Marshal Vendome presenting the captured colours to King Philip V


Monday, 9 December 2019


9 December 1973: The Sunningdale Agreement was signed at Sunningdale in Berkshire, England on this day. Agreement was reached between the Irish Government & the SDLP representing the nationalists and the British Government and the Ulster Unionist Party representing the Unionists - with the Alliance Party taking more of a middle ground. It was agreed that a Power sharing Executive would be set up at Stormont. It was to include representatives from all the participant political parties that were elected to serve in the new parliament. 

However Article 7 of the Agreement stated that a 'Council of Ireland' would be set up that would enhance cross border co-operation. Its opening lines read:
The Conference agreed that a Council of Ireland would be set up. It would he confined to representatives of the two parts of Ireland, with appropriate safeguards for the British Government's financial and other interests. It would comprise a Council of Ministers with executive and harmonising functions and a consultative role, and a Consultative Assembly with advisory and review functions. The Council of Ministers would act by unanimity, and would comprise a core of seven members of the Irish Government and an equal number of members of the Northern Ireland Executive...

This was to prove its downfall. While there was initially a measured welcome for this settlement in many quarters it was greeted with deep suspicion especially by the more hardline loyalist elements within the North. Also the IRA - who were engaged in a full scale campaign against the Crown Forces - were not interested as they saw it as irrelevant and if anything an impediment to a United Ireland. The ill-fated Executive only lasted a few months before the Loyalist Ulster Workers Council brought it down in May 1974.


Sunday, 8 December 2019


8 December, 1856, Father Matthew, Apostle of Temperance, died at Cobh in County Cork after suffering a stroke on this day. He was born at Thomastown Castle, Co Tipperary in 1790. He was ordained a priest 1814 and spent 24 years in the Diocese of Cork before he began his great Crusade against Drink.

His striking personal appearance is thus described: "A finely-formed, middle-sized person, of exquisite symmetry; the head of admirable contour, and from which a finished model of the antique could be cast; the countenance intelligent, animated, and benevolent; its complexion rather sallow, inclining to paleness; eyes of dark lustre, beaming with internal peace, and rich in concentrated sensibility, rather than speaking or kindling with a super-abundant fire; the line of his mouth harmonizing so completely with his nose and chin, is of peculiar grace; the brow open, pale, broad, and polished, bears upon it the impress not merely of dignified thought, but of nobility itself."
www.libraryireland.com

In 1838 came the crisis of his life and after battling with his own Demons he founded the Cork Total Abstinence Society on 10 April 1838 in his own schoolhouse. He presided, delivered a modest address, and took the pledge himself. Then with the historic words, "Here goes in the Name of God", he entered his signature in a large book lying on the table. From then on night after night, Father Mathew addressed crowded assemblies. In three months he had enrolled 25,000 in Cork alone; in five months the number had increased to 130,000. 

The movement now assumed a new phase. Father Mathew decided to go forth and preach his crusade throughout the land. In the following years he gave the Pledge to multitudes throughout Ireland and in Scotland and England too. When the Famine struck he devoted his efforts to the relief of the poor and hungry in Cork and used his influence in England and America to obtain food and money. In the early part of 1849, in response to earnest invitations, he set sail for America. He visited New York, Boston, Washington and many other cities, and secured more than 500,000 disciples. After a stay of two and a half years he returned home in 1851. By then it was estimated he had secured the Pledge from some seven million people. He is buried at St. Joseph's Cemetery, Cork city which he had himself established.