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Saturday, 25 March 2017

25‭ ‬March‭ ‬1738:‭ ‬The death of the Harpist Turlough O'Carolan/‭ ‬Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin‭ ‬on this day.‭ ‬He was the most famous Irish musician and player of his day who plied his trade throughout Ireland.‭ ‬He was born in‭ ‬1670‭ ‬at Nobber,‭ ‬Co Meath and from an early age trained to become a player of the harp.‭ ‬However at the age of‭ ‬18‭ ‬he caught the smallpox and was left Blind.‭ ‬Nevertheless he continued his love of the instrument and mastered his disability.‭ ‬Due to the generosity of a patron,‭ ‬Mrs.‭ ‬MacDermott,‭ ‬he was able to equip himself for the road with a harp,‭ ‬a horse,‭ ‬a guide,‭ ‬and the money to launch a career as an itinerant harper,‭ ‬playing for patrons throughout the Irish countryside.

Various sources say that he was cheerful and gregarious,‭ ‬enjoyed ludicrous stories,‭ ‬practical jokes and he was an excellent backgammon player.‭ ‬As with many harpers of the time,‭ ‬he also drank a great deal,‭ ‬and he had a temper to be avoided.‭ ‬He developed his natural musical talent and talent and turned his hand to composition,‭ ‬penning over‭ ‬220‭ ‬works of Irish music many of which are still recorded and played today.‭ ‬In his travels around the Country he stayed at the Houses of various Patrons,‭ ‬both native and planter and his influences were drawn not just from Ireland but also further afield.

He eventually married a woman called Mary Maguire,‭ ‬they lived on a farm near Mohill,‭ ‬Co.‭ ‬Leitrim and had seven children.‭ ‬Mary died in‭ ‬1733‭ ‬and just five years later,‭ ‬feeling ill,‭ ‬Carolan returned to the home of his original Patron Mrs.‭ ‬MacDermott Roe.‭ ‬After several days,‭ ‬he called for a drink and repeated these lines to his first patron:‭

Mary Fitzgerald,‭ ‬dear heart,‭
‬Love of my breast and my friend,‭
‬Alas that I am parting from you,‭
‬O lady who succoured me at every stage.‭

‬His final composition was to the butler,‭ ‬Flinn,‭ ‬who brought him his last drink.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬in a final fitting salute,‭ ‬his wake lasted four days.

When he died his passing was recalled a famous man of letters of the time:

Saturday,‭ ‬the‭ ‬25th day of March‭ ‬1738.‭ ‬Turlough O'Carolan,‭ ‬the wise master and chief musician of the whole of Ireland,‭ ‬died today and was buried in the O'Duignan's church of Kilronan,‭ ‬in the sixty-eighth year of his age.‭ ‬May his soul find mercy,‭ ‬for he was a moral and religious man.

Charles O'Conor



Friday, 24 March 2017


24‭ ‬March‭ ‬1968:‭ ‬The Aer Lingus plane,‭ ‬St Phelim,‭ ‬plunged into the Irish Sea off the Tuskar Rock on this day.‭ ‬Just after noon on a fine spring day‭ ‬the aircraft‭ ‬inexplicably plunged into the Irish Sea off the County Wexford coast from a height of‭ ‬17,000‭ ‬ft,‭ ‬killing all‭ ‬61‭ ‬passengers and crew on board.‭ ‬Flight‭ ‬712‭ ‬had taken off from Cork airport about‭ ‬30‭ ‬minutes beforehand and was due to land at Heathrow,‭ ‬London.‭ ‬The plane was a‭ ‬propeller driven‭ ‬Vickers Viscount‭ ‬803‭ ‬with no known structural defects that could explain the sudden loss of this aircraft.‭ ‬Of the‭ ‬61‭ ‬people on board but only‭ ‬14‭ ‬bodies were ever recovered.

Its penultimate,‭ ‬garbled message indicated another aircraft was in the area.‭ ‬In its last message,‭ ‬eight seconds later,‭ ‬co-pilot Paul Heffernan,‭ ‬aged‭ ‬22,‭ ‬said:‭ "‬12,000‭ ‬ft descending,‭ ‬spinning rapidly.‭"

Witnesses say Captain Barney O'Beirne,‭ ‬aged‭ ‬35,‭ ‬managed to level the four-engine plane about‭ ‬1,000‭ ‬ft above the water,‭ ‬and flew on for about‭ ‬15‭ ‬minutes before it crashed close to Tuskar Rock.‭ ‬There was no black box recorder on the aircraft,‭ ‬which had undergone a major inspection three weeks earlier.

The Guardian‭ ‬11‭ ‬January‭ ‬1999

Speculation over the years has centred around the possibility that the plane was shot down by a rogue British test missile fired from an RAF base in Wales.‭ ‬However no set of established facts has ever been able to show what actually caused the plane to crash with such a devastating loss of life.‭ ‬The‭ ‬St Phelim Disaster is the worst ever recorded in the history of Irish Aviation.


Thursday, 23 March 2017


23 March‭ ‬1535:‭ ‬Sir William Skeffington captured Maynooth Castle [model above]* on this day.‭ ‬Skeffington had been sent over from England by Henry VIII to impose Royal rule upon the Irish and Anglo-Irish Lords.‭ ‬He was faced with a military revolt by‭ ‬Lord Thomas Fitzgerald.‭ ‬This young man feared for his father,‭ ‬the great Garrett Oge Fitzgerald,‭ ‬who was held captive in the Tower of London.‭ ‬Lord Thomas or‭ ‘‬Silken Thomas‭’ ‬was a rash and impetuous youth who badly misjudged his own power and abilities.‭ ‬But the power of his family’s name and the desire of the Catholics of Ireland to pre-empt the imposition of the English Reformation upon Ireland led to a flush of initial success that rapidly petered out at the end of‭ ‬1534.

‭ ‬Sir William Skeffington remained inactive during the whole winter.‭ ‬But in March‭ ‬1535‭ ‬he laid siege to the castle of Maynooth,‭ ‬the strongest of Fitzgerald's fortresses,‭ ‬which was defended by‭ ‬100‭ ‬men.‭ ‬After a siege of nine days,‭ ‬during which the castle was battered by artillery,‭ ‬then for the first time used in Ireland,‭ ‬he took it by storm,‭ ‬except the great keep‭; ‬and the garrison who defended this,‭ ‬now reduced to thirty-seven men,‭ ‬seeing the case hopeless,‭ ‬surrendered,‭ ‬doubtless expecting mercy.

‬A Concise History of Ireland by P.‭ ‬W.‭ ‬Joyce

The siege began on the‭ ‬14‭ ‬March and lasted nine days.‭ ‬Eventually the outer defenses were stormed under a hail of artillery,‭ ‬marking the first time a castle in Ireland was taken through the use of such a weapon.‭ ‬Only the great keep remained untaken and the survivors struck terms that their lives would be spared if they would but come out and lay down their weapons.

Skeffington wrote to King Henry:

Their lives were preserved by appointment,‭ ‬until they should be presented to me,‭ ‬your deputy,‭ ‬and then to be ordered,‭ ‬as I and your council thought good.‭ ‬We thought it expedient to put them to execution as an example to others‭ (‬Carew Papers‭)‬.‭ ‬Local tradition holds that they were hanged from the central arch of the castle.

The Neighbourhood of Dublin
By Weston St.‭ ‬John Joyce

However the Lord Deputy’s ruthlessness backfired on his successors,‭ ‬as his actions only made future defenders more wary of such capitulations and‭ ‘‬the Pardon of Maynooth‭’ ‬became a byword for treachery amongst the Irish.‭

* https://neverfeltbetter.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/irelands-wars-the-siege-of-maynooth/

Wednesday, 22 March 2017


22 March 1979: The IRA assassinated the British Ambassador to Holland on this day. In one of the most audacious attacks launched outside of these islands the Provisional IRA targeted Sir Richard Sykes and shot dead him dead. They also gunned down his butler Karel Straub in the mistaken belief he was the Ambassadors bodyguard. Two gunmen opened fire on Sir Richard and his Dutch footman as they left his residence at The Hague to make the short car journey to the British Embassy.

The Ambassador was a noted security expert and at the time there was much initial speculation in the Netherlands and in Britain that other groups under suspicion at the time (including Palestinians and Iraqis) could have targeted him. He was appointed to the job in June 1977 after a two year posting as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office deputy under-secretary in London. He was an acknowledged expert on security affairs and had been a diplomat in Cuba, Peking and Washington. Ironically he was responsible for an internal report on the safety of British diplomats following the Assassination by the IRA in 1976 of the British ambassador to Dublin, Sir Christopher Ewart-Biggs.

Sir Richard, a much-decorated war hero from a strong military background, was assigned to the posting in Holland - sensitive because of Dutch groups sympathetic to the IRA and consequent arms smuggling activities.

There have been recent warnings from the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mr Mason, that the IRA might launch reprisals because of recent successes by the security forces in Belfast. His latest warning came a fortnight ago when 43 bombs were found in a shed adjoining Belfast's docks.

The biggest coup by British and Netherlands security officials was the interception of a two-ton shipment of second-hand Czech arms at Schipol Airport, bearing false labels and bound for Dublin. It is an open secret that the British Embassy in The Hague has a special monitoring role over the underground operations of IRA sympathisers in Holland. The Provisional IRA is said to have "safe houses" in the countryside where its leaders can lie low.


The Guardian 23 March 1979


Tuesday, 21 March 2017


21 March 1656 AD. The death of James Ussher, the protestant Archbishop of Armagh on this day. James Ussher was one of the most influential people in these islands in the early and middle years of the 17th century. He was born in Dublin in 1581 to an Old English family. Although his father was a Protestant and his mother a Catholic he was raised in the new religion. His family were well connected with his uncle Henry being Archbishop of Armagh from 1595. James was a scholarly child and entered Trinity College at the age of 13. He followed a career into the church of his father.
He received his Bachelor of Arts degree by 1598, and was a fellow and MA by 1600 In May 1602, he was ordained in the Trinity College Chapel as a deacon by his uncle Henry Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. Ussher went on to become Chancellor of St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin in 1605. He became Professor of Theological Controversies at Trinity College and a Bachelor of Divinity in 1607, Doctor of Divinity in 1612, and then Vice Chancellor in 1615 and vice-provost in 1616. In 1613, he married Phoebe, daughter of a previous Vice Provost, Luke Challoner, and published his first work. In 1615, he was closely involved with the drawing up of the first Confession of Faith of the Church of Ireland. This document carved out a separate and distinct identity for the Protestant Church in Ireland.

Ussher was a convinced Calvinist and viewed with dismay the possibility that people he regarded as anti-Christian papists might achieve any sort of power. He called a secret meeting of the Irish bishops in his house in November 1626, the result being the "Judgement of the Arch-Bishops and Bishops of Ireland". This begins:

The religion of the papists is superstitious and idolatrous; their faith and doctrine erroneous and heretical; their church in respect of both, apostatical; to give them therefore a toleration, or to consent that they may freely exercise their religion, and profess their faith and doctrine, is a grievous sin.

The Judgement was not published until it was read out at the end of a series of sermons against the Graces given at Dublin in April 1627.

In 1631, he produced a new edition of a work first published in 1622, his "Discourse on the Religion Anciently Professed by the Irish", a ground-breaking study of the early Irish Church which sought to demonstrate how it differed from Rome and was, instead, much closer to the later Protestant church. This was to prove highly influential, establishing the idea that the Church of Ireland was the true successor of the early Celtic church — a belief that persists in some Protestant circles to the present day.

In 1640 he had left Ireland for good and though he continued to live an active life in England during the years of the Civil Wars he remained loyal to King Charles as long as he could. He witnessed the execution of the King on 30 January 1649 but reputedly fainted before the axe fell!

Today though Ussher is best remembered for his claim that the World was created in the year 4004 BC. He came to this conclusion by a close study of Biblical Texts and other Ancient writings. At the time this was considered to be ground breaking work that put Ussher at the top end of Biblical scholars.

He published his initial findings under the title Annales Veteris Testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti, una cum rerum Asiaticarum et Aegyptiacarum chronico, a temporis historici principio usque ad Maccabaicorum initia producto. ("Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world, the chronicle of Asiatic and Egyptian matters together produced from the beginning of historical time up to the beginnings of Maccabes").

He opened his work with the famous lines:

“In the beginning, God created heaven and earth, which beginning of time, according to this chronology, occurred at the beginning of the night which preceded the 23rd of October in the year 710 of the Julian period.” In the right margin of the page, Ussher computes the date in “Christian” time as 4004 B.C.

At the time this was considered to be ground breaking work that put Ussher at the top end of Biblical scholars.

In 1654 with his sight failing and finding it hard to write, he went to stay with an old friend, the Countess of Peterborough, in her house in Reigate in Surrey. Two years later on 19 March the Archbishop was taken with a fierce pain in his side at supper and retired to bed. It became clear that he had little time left and after praying with the countess’s chaplain and saying a regretful farewell to the countess herself. On 21 March he died at about one o’clock in the afternoon the next day. His last words were reported as ‘O Lord forgive me, especially my sins of omission.’

The body was embalmed and the plan was to bury him in Reigate, but Cromwell insisted on a state funeral and Ussher was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. The fact that Cromwell was content to allow an Anglican bishop to be buried in Westminster is a clear indication of the respect in which Ussher was held, even by those who were theologically opposed to him. And indeed, after his death Ussher's reputation as a saintly scholar ensured that his posthumous endorsement was sought by a wide range of writers and ecclesiastical leaders, from the seventeenth century nonconformists to the nineteenth century Oxford movement.

Ussher was also a great collector of books and manuscripts and whose contribution to Irish learning has been often overlooked. He was true bibliophile - the older the better. His Library contained over 10,000 volumes. After his death his relative Henry Jones (a former officer in Cromwell’s army and later vice-chancellor of Trinity College) in 1661 donated the whole of his collection to Trinity College - where it is still one of the cornerstones of the Old Library.

Archbishop Ussher is described as well made, and moderately tall, of an erect carriage, with brown hair and a ruddy complexion; his features expressed gravity and benevolence, and his appearance commanded respect and reverence. He was of a vigorous constitution and of simple and temperate habits, which enabled him to bear a life of incessant study; his manners were courteous and affable, his temper sweet and peaceable. He was an impressive preacher, "not with enticing words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and with power." He was of a deeply religious cast of mind — his intolerance being a fault common to all men in that age.

http://www.libraryireland.com/biography/ArchbishopJamesUssher.php

Monday, 20 March 2017


20 March 1964. Brendan Behan, playwright and author died on this day. He was born in Dublin on 9 February 1923. His father was a house painter who had been imprisoned as a republican towards the end of the Civil War, and from an early age Behan was steeped in Irish history and patriotic ballads; however, there was also a strong literary and cultural atmosphere in his home.

At fourteen Behan was apprenticed to his father's trade. He was already a member of Fianna Éireann, the youth organisation of the Irish Republican Army, and a contributor to The United Irishman. When the IRA launched a bombing campaign in England in 1939, Behan was trained in explosives, but was arrested the day he landed in Liverpool. In February 1940 he was sentenced to three years' Borstal detention. He spent two years in a Borstal in Suffolk, making good use of its excellent library.

In 1942, back in Dublin, Behan fired at a detective during an IRA parade and was sentenced to fourteen years' penal servitude. Again he broadened his education, becoming a fluent Irish speaker. During his first months in Mountjoy prison, Sean O Faolain published Behan's description of his Borstal experiences in The Bell.


Behan was released in 1946 as part of a general amnesty and returned to painting. He would serve other prison terms, either for republican activity or as a result of his drinking, but none of such length. For some years Behan concentrated on writing verse in Irish. He lived in Paris for a time before returning in 1950 to Dublin, where he cultivated his reputation as one of the more rambunctious figures in the city's literary circles.


In 1954 Behan's play The Quare Fellow was well received in the tiny Pike Theatre. However, it was the 1956 production at Joan Littlewood's Theatre Royal in Stratford, East London, that brought Behan a wider reputation - significantly assisted by a drunken interview on BBC television. Thereafter, Behan was never free from media attention, and he in turn was usually ready to play the drunken Irishman.


The 'quare fellow', never seen on stage, is a condemned man in prison. His imminent execution touches the lives of the other prisoners, the warders and the hangman, and the play is in part a protest against capital punishment. More important, though, its blend of tragedy and comedy underlines the survival of the prisoners' humanity in their inhumane environment. How much the broader London version owed to Joan Littlewood is a matter of debate. Comparing him with another alcoholic writer, Dylan Thomas, a friend said that 'Dylan wrote Under Milkwood and Brendan wrote under 'Littlewood'.


Behan's second play, An Giall (1958), was commissioned by Gael Linn, the Irish-language organisation. Behan translated the play into English and it was Joan Littlewood's production of The Hostage (1958) which led to success in London and New York. As before Behan's tragi-comedy deals with a closed world, in this case a Dublin brothel where the IRA imprison an English soldier, but Littlewood diluted the naturalism of the Irish version with interludes of music-hall singing and dancing.


Behan's autobiographical Borstal Boy also appeared in 1958, and its early chapters on prison life are among his best work. By then, however, he was a victim of his own celebrity, and alcoholism and diabetes were taking their toll. His English publishers suggested that, instead of the writing he now found difficult, he dictate to a tape recorder. The first outcome was Brendan Behan's Island (1962), a readable collection of anecdotes and opinions in which it was apparent that Behan had moved away from the republican extremism of his youth.


Tape-recording also produced Brendan Behan's New York (1964) and Confessions of an Irish Rebel (1965), a disappointing sequel to Borstal Boy. A collection of newspaper columns from the l950s, published as Hold Your Hour and Have Another (1963), merely underlined the inferiority of his later work.


When Behan died in Dublin on 20 March 1964, an IRA guard of honour escorted his coffin. One newspaper described it as the biggest funeral since those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


From the Appletree Press title: Famous Irish Lives.

Sunday, 19 March 2017


19‭ ‬March‭ ‬1921:‭ ‬Battle at Crossbarry,‭ ‬Co Cork on this day.‭ ‬The Flying Column of the West Cork Brigade under Commandant Tom Barry successfully engaged and defeated a number of different British units that were advancing on his position at the crossroads near Crossbarry,‭ ‬12‭ ‬miles south west of Cork City.‭ ‬During the days preceding the encounter both sides had engaged in a deadly game of intelligence and counter intelligence gathering information as they desperately tried to outwit each other.‭ ‬The IRA were keen to ambush a British column but their intention‭ & ‬general location had been given away.‭ ‬General Strickland,‭ ‬head of the British forces in Cork,‭ ‬decided to organize a‭ ‘‬sweep‭’ ‬that would flush out Barry’s men and kill or capture them.‭ ‬In return Irish scouts and agents brought news to Barry as to what was afoot.‭

With just‭ ‬104‭ ‬Officers and men,‭ ‬armed with only rifles and‭ ‬40‭ ‬rounds per man he knew that to retreat would mean his column would be cut to pieces in a running battle.‭ ‬He decided to hold his ground and fight it out‭ – ‬he calculated that when the enemy was broken and no longer in a position to pursue would be the moment to withdraw on his own terms.

In the very early hours of the day Barry’s scouts reported considerable enemy activity from a number of different points of the compass as they converged on his position.‭ ‬His plan was that all the men were to stay under cover until the British were amongst them and could be surprised at close quarters.‭ ‬All sections were to stay put even if under pressure and only to move from their positions under express orders.‭ ‬To encourage his men in battle he had made arrangements that on the commencement of firing the Column’s Piper would strike up martial airs on his bagpipes to quicken their spirit.‭ ‬As luck would have it the British advance was not well co coordinated and this gave Barry the chance to defeat them in sequence of arrival.‭ ‬All went well until the first convoy of lorries weaved its way along the road and was almost ready to be attacked when‭ (‬despite strict orders‭) ‬a Volunteer inadvertently revealed himself to the enemy who immediately started to deploy for action.‭

‬The order was then given to open up and the British soldiers were either cut down or fled the scene.‭ ‬But there was no time to savour the moment as another three columns came upon them from different directions and were also shot down or bolted.‭ ‬Eventually all the converging forces were engaged and defeated in detail until not one organised enemy unit remained in the field.

About two hours had elapsed since the opening of the fight‭; ‬we were in possession of the countryside‭; ‬no British were visible and our task was completed.‭ ‬The whole Column was drawn up in line of sections and told they had done well.

Guerrilla Days in Ireland
By Tom Barry‭

Barry then gave the order to move out leaving behind a scene of dead and wounded British soldiers strewn about the ambush site as their lorries blazed away in the background.‭ ‬His men carried away much military booty‭ – ‬plenty of bandoliers of ammunition,‭ ‬rifles and a much prized Lewis machine gun.

While the enemy had lost numerous casualties the Flying Column had not escaped without loss either.‭ ‬Three Volunteers were killed in action and another three were seriously wounded.‭ ‬Those who died for Ireland that day were Peter Monahan,‭ ‬Jeremiah O’Leary and Con Daly.‭ ‬Earlier the British had shot dead a wounded volunteer,‭ ‬Charlie Hurley,‭ ‬when they discovered him in a nearby farmhouse.‭ ‬But he did not die in vain for the shots that killed him helped alert his comrades to the close presence of the enemy.

Crossbarry was a great morale booster for the IRA and helped to further weaken the grip of British rule not just in Cork but also further afield.‭ ‬For it showed that even in an open fight and against overwhelming odds that the British could be defeated when brave and well-led Volunteers with excellent Leadership were given the chance.