Tuesday, 11 August 2020

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11 August 1861: Catherine Hayes ‘the Swan of Erin’ died on this day. She was probably the most internationally famous Irishwoman of her day. Her fame rested not on her notoriety but on her talents as a First Class singer – notably as an Operatic Soprano - in which role she toured the World.

She was born in Limerick circa 1818. Her parents were of humble origins and the father abandoned the family when Catherine was still a child. But from an early age she displayed great talent as a singer. Her accomplishments were brought to the attention of the Church of Ireland Bishop Knox of Limerick and he arranged that funds were raised to send her to Dublin to study under Antonio Sapio. Her first appearance took place on 3 May 1839 at Sapio's annual concert in the Rotunda, Dublin. Early next year she sang in her native city, and then frequently in Dublin, and soon raised her terms to ten guineas a concert.

Going to Paris in October 1842, studied under Manuel Garcia, who after a tuition of a year and a half advised her to proceed to Italy. At Milan she became the pupil of Felice Ronconi, and through the intervention of Madame Grassini was engaged for the Italian Opera House, Marseilles, where on 10 May 1846 she made her first appearance on the stage as Elvira in I Puritaui,' and was enthusiastically applauded. After her return to Milan she continued her studies under Ronconi, until Morelli, the director of La Scala at Milan. 

She was described as a soprano of the sweetest quality, and of good compass, ascending with ease to D in alt. The upper notes were limpid, and like a well-tuned silver bell up to A. Her lower tones were the most beautiful ever heard in a real soprano, and her trill was remarkably good. She was a touching actress in all her standard parts. She was tall, with a fine figure, and graceful in her movements.

After a tour of the Italian cities, she returned to England in 1849, when Delafield engaged her for the season at a salary of 1,300l. On Tuesday, 10 April, she made her début at Covent Garden in 'Linda di Chamouni,' and was received with much warmth. At the close of the season she sang before Queen Victoria & 500 guests at Buckingham Palace where she daringly sang her signature tune the ‘rebel song’ Kathleen Mavourneen/ Caitlín mo mhúirnín for the Royal audience. On 5 Nov. 1849 she appeared at a concert given by the Dublin Philharmonic Society, and afterwards at the Theatre Royal, Dublin.

At this stage the World outside of Europe beckoned and in September 1851, she left London for New York first singing there on the 23rd of that month. During 1853 she was in California, where fabulous sums were paid for the choice of seats, one ticket selling for 1,150 dollars. She then departed for South America, and after visiting the principal cities embarked for Australia. She gave concerts in the Sandwich Islands, and arrived at Sydney in January 1854. After singing in that city, Melbourne, and Adelaide, she went to India and Batavia; revisited Australia, and returned to England in August 1856, after an absence of five years.

Whether such an attractive and talented woman received the favours of her many male admirers in the course of her career we do not know but on 8 Oct. 1857, at St. George's, Hanover Square, she married a William Avery Bushnell. However the Union was to be short and tragic. He soon fell into ill-health, and died at Biarritz, France, on 2 July 1858, aged thirty five years. Catherine continued to perform but she had bouts of ill health in the past and such a demanding schedule from an early age must have taken their toll. The end came for her in the house of a friend, Henry Lee, at Roccles, Upper Sydenham, London, on 11 August 1861. She was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery on 17 August where her tomb can still be seen. She was just forty three years old.

Monday, 10 August 2020

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10‭ August 1316: The Second Battle of Athenry/ Ath na righ took place on this day. The English Colonists defeated the Irish in a very bloody battle.

This was one of the most decisive battles of the Bruce Wars‭ (1315-1318). The numbers involved are unknown, and can only be estimated. But while it is doubtful that they were any higher than seven thousand (and even this figure should be treated with caution) the list of participants on the Irish side alone indicates that an overall figure of at least three to four thousand were involved on the side of the Gaels. The English claimed  that they took some 1100 heads from the Irish on that day.

Feidlilimidh O'Conchobhair the King of Connacht led a coalition of the Gaels to stop the return of William Burke,‭ the Anglo-Irish Lord of Connacht. He had come back from Scotland to try and regain his lost lands in the western province. He gathered together a large and well equipped army from the colonists of Connacht and Meath. Richard de Bermingham led the English of Meath. O'Conchobhair also put together a formidable army drawn from North Munster, south Connacht & the kingdoms of Breifne and Meath. But whatever happened on the day of battle (and the record is very sketchy) the Irish met with Catastrophe. Feidlilimidh O'Conchobhair and Tadhg O'Cellaigh, King of Uí-Maine were among those that fell along with numerous other kings and chieftains of the Gaels.

Many of the men of Erin all,‭ around the great plain 

Many sons of kings,‭ whom I name not, were slain in the great defeat

Sorrowful to my heart is the conflict of the host of Midhe and Mumha [Meath and Munster]

Annals of Loch Cé

Another account states:

The Gael charged all day with desperate courage,‭ ‬but they were driven back by a line of steel, and mown down by the deadly English archers.  Their standard was captured.  Sixty chieftains were slain, including Felim and Tadhg O'Kelly from whom, the Gael expected more than from any man of his time."

‘So was quenched the greatest hope for a century of restoring a Gaelic kingdom.‭ The defeat and death of Felim at once restored De Burgo’s Lordship…the O’Connor ‘kingdom of Connacht’ was henceforth but an empty name.’

A History of Medieval Ireland‭ by Edmund Curtis

Sunday, 9 August 2020

 InternmentMany internees were held in an internment camp built on a disused RAF base at Long Kesh near Lisburn, Co. Antrim. (An Phoblacht)Operation Demetrius (or internment, as... - Irish Republican ...

9‭ August 1971: The launch of Operation Demetrius on this day-  Internment without Trial was introduced by the British in the North of Ireland. In early morning raids the British army and the RUC lifted hundreds of men throughout the North in what was a ham fisted operation. Their aim was to catch as many members of the IRA in their homes as they could in one huge swoop.

‭But the introduction of internment was a logical next move in the escalating War between Irish Republicans and the British. The IRA were already of the opinion that their enemies would once again use this tactic as they had many times in the past & thus most of the key leadership figures had already gone ‘on the run’ by the time the round ups began. In the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s republican suspects had been imprisoned without trial by the British Government, but this time the exercise was to blow back in their faces.

What the British did not predict was the high level of resistance they encountered in Nationalist areas as men young and old were dragged away by the Crown Forces in full view of their terrified families.‭ There was widespread anger and within hours rioting had broken out in many areas. It quickly became obvious that the exercise was a huge fiasco and one with deadly consequences. 

Relying on outdated lists containing‭ ‬450 names provided by the RUC Special Branch, the British Army swept into nationalist areas and arrested 342 men. Within 48 hours 116 of those arrested were released. The remainder were detained at Crumlin Road Prison and the prison ship 'The Maidstone' in Belfast Harbour. Hundreds were injured in the rioting that followed and‭ 12 people were shot dead that day – 2 British Soldiers, 7 Nationalists and 3 Loyalists.

The British Government had focused the entire strength of their Armed Forces on one community in the North and it was obvious to all as to whose side they were backing‭ – ‬a strategy even they had some qualms about but went along with to placate the Stormont Government of Brian Faulkner.

What they did not include was a single Loyalist.‭ ‬Although the UVF had begun the killing and bombing, this organisation was left untouched, as were other violent Loyalist satellite organisations such as Tara, the Shankill Defenders Association and the Ulster Protestant Volunteers. It is known that Faulkner was urged by the British to include a few 'Protestants' in the trawl but he refused.

The IRA Tim Pat Coogan

Saturday, 8 August 2020

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 8‭ August 1649: Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh, one of the last of the great scribes of Ireland, completed his catalogue of the Kings of Ireland, from Parthalón to Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, entitled Réim Ríoghraidhe Éireann on this day. This was for inclusion within his masterpiece the Leabhar na nGenealach, or the Book of Genealogies. The work is a compilation of Irish genealogical lore relating to the principal pre Gaelic, Gaelic, Viking and Anglo-Norman families of Ireland and covering the period from pre-Christian times to the mid-17th century collected from a variety of sources. The fact that many of these sources no longer exist adds considerably to the value of Mac Fhirbhisigh's work.

The opening sentence of Leabhar na nGenealach, quoted in 'The Celebrated Antiquary Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh', goes some way towards describing the contents. It reads

the branches of kinship and branches of genealogy of every invasion which took possession of Ireland from this time up to Adam (except the Fomhóraigh, the Vikings and English, whom we treat of only since they came to our country), together with the history of the saints and the list of the kings of Ireland and finally, an index in which are collected, in alphabetical order, the surnames and famous places mentioned in this book…

This great work stands comparison with‭ ‬The Annals of the Four Masters and is all the more remarkable for being the work of just one man. Preserved over the centuries it was not printed in full until Mayoman Nollaig Ó Muraíle published his comprehensive edition in five volumes (by De Burca books) in 2004. This is one of Ireland’s greatest Literary/Historical Treasures.

Nollaig Ó Muraíle sums up his career as follows:

"... an astonishingly large proportion of the manuscripts we still possess passed through the hands of this one scholar, and it may well be that by that very fact that they have actually survived – thanks to their being passed on (eventually) from Mac Fhirbhisigh to the likes of Edward Lhuyd. Without the great diligence, then, of Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbisigh, as copyist, compiler and translator, and also as collector and transmitter of manuscripts, some quite significant remnants of the civilization that was Gaelic Ireland would have gone into almost certain oblivion. That is his legacy to succeeding generations, and one which merits our undying gratitude."

It might be worth noting that his name is pronounced  “DOOaltach MacIrvishy”. Which was anglicised, incredibly, as “Dudley Forbes”!!!

Friday, 7 August 2020

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7 August 1943: The death in Dublin of famous portrait artist Sarah Purser on this day.

She was born in Kingstown/ Dun Laoghaire on 22 March 1848. She was the daughter of Benjamin Purser and Ann Mallet. The family moved to  Dungarvan County Waterford, a seaside market town nestled beneath the Comeragh mountains soon after her birth and lived firstly in Strand side South, Abbeyside, which is now the home of the Parish Priest. Later they moved to a house called 'The Hermitage' in Abbeyside. Sarah lived here for about 25 years. Her father was involved in brewing and flour milling while in Dungarvan. At the age of 13 Sarah was sent to school in Switzerland for two years. She left Dungarvan in the summer of 1873 to make her living as a painter and settled in Dublin. There she trained in the Metropolitan School of Art and later went to the Academie Julian in Paris and also to Italy. She became a highly successful portrait painter and an important figure in the Irish art world at the turn of the century.

She worked mostly as a portraitist eg [above] 'Girl with red hair'. She was also associated with the stained glass movement, founding a stained glass workshop, An Túr Gloine, in 1903. Some of her stained glass work was commissioned from as far as New York, including a window at Christ Church, Pelham, dedicated to the memory of Katharine Temple Emmet and Richard Stockton Emmet, grandson of the Irish patriot, Thomas Addis Emmet. Through her talent and energy, and owing to her friendship with the Gore-Booths, she was very successful in obtaining commissions, famously commenting "I went through the British aristocracy like the measles."

"some of her finest and most sensitive work was not strictly portraiture, for example, An Irish Idyll in the Ulster Museum, and Le Petit Déjeuner (in the National Gallery of Ireland)."

Bruce Arnold

Among her sitters were W.B. Yeats, Jack B Yeats, Maud Gonne, Roger Casement, James MacNeill, Sir Samuel Ferguson, the Bishops of Kells, Clogher and Limerick, John Kells Ingram, Sir Henry & Lady Gore Booth and Douglas Hyde. 

When she founded An Tur Gloine, she was instrumental in drawing the attention of the art world to the works of John Yeats and Nathaniel Hone. She exhibited widely in Dublin and London. At the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Irish Fine Art Society in Dublin. At the Royal Academy, Grosvenor Gallery, Fine Art Society and New Gallery in London and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. In 1886 she founded the Dublin Art Club and in 1890 the RHA elected her an Honoury Member.

Sarah Purser became wealthy through astute investments, particularly in Guinness. She was very active in the art world scene in Dublin and was known as an entertaining host - to those that pleased her. She was involved in the setting up of the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, persuading the Irish government to provide Charlemont House to house the gallery.

In 1923 she became the first female member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. She persuaded W.T. Cosgrave to give Charlemont House in Dublin as a modern Art Gallery and also to house the Hugh Lane collection. Until her death she had lived for years in Mespil House, a Georgian mansion with beautiful plaster ceilings on Mespil Road, on the banks of the Grand Canal. It was demolished after she died and developed into apartments. She is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

* Her Portrait by John Butler Yeats, c. 1880–1885, in the other one the sitter is not named.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

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5 August 1847: Daniel O’Connell’s body was interred in Glasnevin cemetery on this day. The ‘Liberator’ had died in Genoa, Italy on 15 May. His last bequest was : “My body to Ireland – my heart to Rome – my soul to heaven”. Thus his body was conveyed back to Ireland for burial.

The Funeral service was held in the Metropolitan Church, Marlborough Street, Dublin, on the 4th August. The following day his cortege made its way through the City on the way to Glasnevin Cemetery. The centre of Dublin came to a standstill as tens of thousands of mourners lined the route as his hearse made its way along Westmoreland Street  and up Sackville St (now O’Connell St) on its way to his resting place in the Graveyard he had help to found. The enormous triumphal car that O’Connell rode in when he was freed from prison in May 1844 led the procession. His Funeral was the largest ever recorded up to that time in Ireland.

In 1869 his remains were re interred in the crypt of the O’Connell Round Tower in Glasnevin Cemetery [above] in a magnificent casket in the base of the structure. There the Liberator lies today.

Monday, 3 August 2020

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3‭ August 1916: Roger Casement was hanged at Pentonville Prison London on this day. He 
‭was tried by the British for Treason as he had endeavoured to enlist German help to free Ireland at a time when Britain and Germany were at War. 

He was born in Dublin in‭ 1864. His father was an Officer in the British Army. From 1895 onwards he worked for the British Foreign Office in a Consular capacity. He was sent to the Congo where he reported on the widespread abuses there against the Natives by the Belgian Colonialists. These reports earned Casement a CMG (Order of St Michael and St George) in 1905. He was then sent to Brazil and was commissioned to undertake an investigation on the reported abuse of workers in the rubber industry in the Putumayo basin in Peru. He once again found many instances of abuse and exploitation by the Rubber Barons there and was rewarded a Knighthood in 1911 for his services to Humanity.

But by‭ 1912 Casement had become disillusioned with European Colonialism of which he found himself a reluctant part though albeit in a pacific role. At Home he had become a member of the Gaelic League and a strong Nationalist. He viewed with abhorrence the events in the North (his father was from Antrim) and was totally against Partition.

 In August 1914 he was in the USA raising funds for the Irish Volunteers when the Great War broke out. He soon made contact with Clan na Gael and John Devoy put him in contact with German Diplomats in New York. He made his way to Germany to raise military and financial support for a Rising in Ireland but met with little success. In particular his attempt to raise an Irish Brigade from amongst the Irishmen held as Prisoners of War was meagre. By this time the British Intelligence Service had latched onto his activities and set about undermining him.

When in early‭ 1916 Casement learnt of the high likelihood of a Rising in Ireland he requested to be sent home to be there. However by the time he sailed in a German Submarine he was of the opinion that it should not go ahead if the Germans could not offer considerable military assistance – and of that there was no real prospect given their huge commitments at that time. He felt that the German High Command were sending him to his Death otherwise. In the event Casement’s small party was put ashore at Banna Strand, Co Kerry in the early hours of Good Friday 21 April 1916. They were soon spotted by the locals who took them for German spies and they were arrested by the RIC. Casement was dispatched hastily to London and imprisoned to await his Fate.

His Trail for Treason was conducted at the Old Bailey.‭ ‬Despite the best efforts of his Legal Team the evidence against him was pretty clear cut and on the facts he could hardly expect to escape the Death Sentence. A campaign was underway to enlist support for an amelioration of the execution of any judgement past by the Court. Casement was a widely respected figure for his humanitarian work and it could possibly be argued that while he had erred in Judgement his past services to Humanity should be taken into account.

But during the Trial the British produced the infamous‭ ‘Black Diaries’ that they claimed were written in Casement’s own hand and showed him to be a Homosexual with a marked predilection for young boys he picked up while engaged in his work abroad. These Revelations proved a Sensation and as intended destroyed Casement’s Character and Reputation in the circles where his cause was most likely to find support. He vehemently denied all the accusations against him.

He was found Guilty of Treason and sentenced to death.‭ ‬He was 51 years old and had been received into the Catholic Faith in the hours before he made his way to the Scaffold. He received the Last Sacraments and died as he said with the body of his God as his last meal.

His body was buried in quicklime in the grounds of the Prison.‭ ‬There it remained until 1965 when the Labour Government of Harold Wilson agreed to hand it over the Republic of Ireland on condition he was not buried in the North (Casements' wish). He was given a full State Funeral and interred in Glasnevin Cemetery Dublin. President Eamon de Valera himself gave the graveside oration.