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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.



 

Saturday, 20 June 2015



20 June 1763: Theobald Wolfe Tone was born on this day. He was born in the City of Dublin at 44 Stafford St – a house situated opposite the old St Mary’s Church of Ireland just off Mary St on the north side of the Liffey. His parents were Peter and Margaret Tone. His father was from near Clane in Co Kildare and his mother originally from Drogheda, Co Louth. Theobald was their first born. In all they had 16 children of whom 5 survived till adulthood. His parents were of the Established Church and came from respectable backgrounds but were not very well off. His father held a position as an Inspector of Globes with the Paving Board of Dublin Corporation that generated a salary of some £50 per annum. Wolfe Tone considered them to be pretty much like other people.



Until he reached adulthood Wolfe Tone led a fairly regular existence. He was a good scholar but inclined to be a somewhat indifferent student. As a young man he hankered after becoming a soldier and pleaded with his father to release him from his studies to enter Trinity College. His appetite was whetted by skipping off from class and observing the drill and parades carried out in the Phoenix Park by the regiments based in Dublin. He wanted to apply for a career in the British Army, then at war with the American Revolutionaries. His father refused and Wolfe Tone duly entered the College and studied for a Law Degree.



After an unhappy love affair in the summer of 1785 Wolfe Tone first set eyes on Matilda (Martha) Witherington. She was very pretty and some 15 years old. She lived on Grafton St with her father, a draper by trade. They quickly fell in love and eloped. At first they lived near her family but after a family quarrel he removed himself to Bodenstown with his bride and resided there for a while. After study in London he returned home and was called to the Bar in early 1789. He had returned to Dublin, reconciled himself to his wife’s family and joined the Leinster Circuit. While competent he was soon bored and the more exciting public arena of Politics now drew his attention. And never was politics more exciting.



However it was only in the wake of the Revolution in France that he began to slowly but surely realise that the Ascendancy here would never accept serious Reform but at the point of a sword and in the wake of a Revolution from within Ireland itself. It took a couple of years for the import of the upheavals in France to sink in here in Ireland. He wrote that:




The French revolution became the test of every man’s political creed and the nation was fairly divided into two great parties, the aristocrats and the democrats…it is needless to say that I was a democrat from the very commencement.




Thursday, 18 June 2015






18 June 1815: The Battle of Waterloo on this day. This great battle was fought out some 10 kilometres south of the Belgic city of Brussels, along the Ridge of Mont St Jean and on the fields to the south of it. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by the combined armies of the Duke of Wellington [above] of the British & Allied Armies and Marshal Blucher leading the forces of Prussia. It was a battle in which men of many nations participated. Men from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the United Provinces (Holland + Belgium), Hanover, Wurttemberg, Prussia and other minor German states fought the forces of France to decide the fate of Europe.




Many soldiers in the British Army were recruited in Ireland though surprisingly few regiments with ‘Irish’ in their title played a part on the day. At least three infantry or cavalry brigades within the Anglo-Allied army of 1815 were led by Anglo Irish generals. Commanding the 9th British Infantry Brigade was Major General Sir Denis Pack, a native of County Kilkenny, Major General Sir William Ponsonby (KIA) led the 2nd British Cavalry Brigade. Major General Sir John Ormsby Vandeleur the 4th British Cavalry Brigade, a light cavalry formation. There were also some five battalion commanders with Irish connections who served in the Waterloo campaign. There were amongst the lower ranks high proportion of men who were either from Ireland or of Irish origin in the ranks.



While the British Army had 10 infantry regiments and 4 cavalry ones with ‘Irish’ in their description only three actually saw service in this campaign: 1st Battalion, 27th (Inniskilling) Foot; 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons and the 18th (King's Irish) Hussars. They all saw heavy action in actual battle, the 27th in particular taking huge casualties while in Square in the front line.



The British Army who fought that day fielded about 28,000 men drawn from England & Wales, Scotland and Ireland. At that time the Irish (Catholic, Protestant & Dissenter) comprised some 38% of the population of these islands. That ratio was well reflected in the ranks of the military force present at Waterloo with the Irish having a strong presence pretty well across the board in all arms Cavalry, Infantry and Artillery. Most of these were poor men, labourers and weavers who found in the Army a relatively secure measure of employment and shelter.



By all accounts the Irish were good fighters but rightly or wrongly were seen as undisciplined off the battlefield. Many were from Catholic households but the Protestant population were represented as best we can judge in numbers that matched their proportion of the Country’s population too. The rank and file were seen as the ‘scum of the earth’ by Wellington and probably by most of the Officer Class too. In some respects he was right as many were there because they were outcasts and misfits from civil society or rough men who sought a fighting career. But they could fight and fight well - and that's what they were there to do.



When the battle ended that evening some 7,500 men of the British Army laid dead, dying or severely wounded on the battlefield - some 28% of the force engaged. On a per capita basis that would be around 3,000 or so men from Ireland who fell that day - a heavy enough toll. On the other hand the population of the island was some Six Million souls in 1815 so while a severe loss to those that had family in the Military it would not have been seen as a National cause for grief. Indeed many might well have wished for a French Victory that day - Daniel O’Connell being one of them.



There are a number of roads and landmarks in Ireland still that commemorate the battle that day. The most imposing being the Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park in Dublin that commemorates the Duke of Wellington’s Victories. The halfpenny footbridge over the Liffey in the City Centre is officially ‘Wellington’ bridge and in the suburbs south of the city are the Wellington and Waterloo roads. In Trim Co Meath where his family hailed from there is also a monument to honour him.



But while still a Hero in Britain his legacy in most of Ireland is less sure given his vehement opposition to Catholic emancipation and his eventual sour acceptance of its political necessity. If Waterloo is remembered at all here its for it marking the end of Napoleon Bonaparte’s career rather than any part that Ireland played in his Downfall.



Wednesday, 17 June 2015


17 June 1800: The Birth of the future of the 3rd Earl of Rosse on this day. He was born at York in northern England. He went to Oxford and graduated in 1822 with a 1st Class Degree in Mathematics. He inherited an Earldom and a large Estate in County Offaly in 1841 upon the death of his father.



He was the most prominent astronomer of his time and built the world’s largest and most powerful telescope [above] of the age on his estates at Birr Castle, County Offaly. He first represented the Kings County at Westminister as Lord Oxmanstown but was indifferent to deep political considerations. In politics he was a moderate conservative but of an independent mind on some leading questions.



After retiring from the world of politics he applied himself to the pursuit of astronomical science. Starting almost from scratch he assembled a series of large telescopes that he perfected through trial and error till eventually he produced his magnificent 72 inch optical reflector – the ‘Leviathan of Parsonstown’. With this he discovered or developed many unknown or little understood heavenly objects including the remains of the burnt out star Supernova SN 1054. He observed that nebula at Birr Castle in the 1840s, and referred to the object as the ‘Crab Nebula’ because a drawing he made of it that looked like a crab, which is still the name it is most commonly known as to this day.

One of Rosse's telescope admirers was Thomas Langlois Lefroy, a fellow Irish MP, who said:

The planet Jupiter, which through an ordinary glass is no larger than a good star, is seen twice as large as the moon appears to the naked eye/.../But the genius displayed in all the contrivances for wielding this mighty monster even surpasses the design and execution of it. The telescope weighs sixteen tons, and yet Lord Rosse raised it single-handed off its resting place, and two men with ease raised it to any height.
 
In 1849 he was elected President of the Royal Society. He was elected a member of the Imperial Academy at St Petersburg, and created a knight of the Legion of Honour by Napoleon III. He also received the Knighthood of St Patrick from Queen Victoria. Though born in England to an Anglo-Irish family he was strongly attached to this country by the ties of family, property and sympathy



 

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Tuesday, 16 June 2015


16 June 1487: The Battle of Stoke occurred on this day. In May 1487, the 10 year old Lambert Simnel, an impostor posing as Edward Earl of Warwick, was crowned Edward VI of England in Christ Church Dublin by a group of disaffected Yorkists. They were led by the Earl of Lincoln, Viscount Lovell and Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare. An invasion of England from Dublin was then planned. Margaret Duchess of Burgundy, Edward IV's sister, had supplied money and some 2,000 German mercenaries under the command of Martin Swartz. The rest of the army consisted of about 4,000 Irish under Sir Thomas Fitzgerald and perhaps 2,000 English retainers.

After landing in northern England they made their way inland to raise support for the Yorkist Cause. King Henry VII of England and his Army of some 10 to 15,000 men met them at Stoke on the Trent where Battle was joined. Henry made the mistake of allowing his Army to come on piecemeal on the Yorkist troops and nearly suffered defeat when they were caught off guard. The Earl of Oxford led the Van with about 6,000 soldiers but he held out until reinforcements arrived and turned the tide in King Henry’s favour.

The result was a victory for the King and the complete rout of his opponents in which thousands perished. It is suggested that as few as 100 were killed in the royal army whereas as many as 4000 rebels died, most presumably in the rout. Amongst the killed were the Earl of Lincoln and the German mercenary commander Schwarz, together with various other persons of note. Lord Lovell may have escaped from the field but was presumed drowned attempting to cross the Trent. Of these the Irish and English were hanged, but the foreign mercenaries were simply dismissed.

The Earl of Kildare was later pardoned for his indiscretions. The youthful imposter Lambert Simnelwas captured, brought before Henry and pardoned on account of his age and the undoubted fact that his tender years rendered him incapable of understanding the import of the enterprise he was being used in. He was put to work in the Royal Kitchens and in later life became the Keeper of the King’s Falcons. Thus ended the last Battle of the Wars of the Roses.

Monday, 15 June 2015



15 June 1919: The British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic on this day. They flew a modified Vickers Vimy bomber plane from St. John’s Newfoundland and to Clifden, Co Galway thus winning the Daily Mail prize of £10,000. They were feted as heroes and were Knighted a few days later by King George V.



The lucrative prize had been up for grabs since 1913 when the Daily Mail first proposed the idea. Their offer ran as follows:




"the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland and land at any point in Great Britain or Ireland" in 72 continuous hours".


 
Both men had served as Aviators in the Great War and both had been shot down and captured, Alcock by the Turks and Brown by the Germans. During his captivity Alcock determined that if he survived the War he would go for it. As Fortune had it both men were at a loose end after their release and return home. Alcock approached Vickers with the idea of backing the attempt and teamed up with Brown as his co pilot for the crossing.


Several teams had entered the competition and when Alcock and Brown arrived in St Johns Newfoundland the Handley Page aircraft team were in the final stages of testing their machine for the flight but their leader, Admiral Mark Kerr, was determined not to take off until the plane was in perfect condition. The Vickers team quickly assembled their plane and at around 1:45 p.m. on 14 June, whilst the Handley Page team were conducting yet another test, the Vickers plane took off from Lester's Field.


The flight nearly ended in disaster several times owing to engine trouble, fog, snow and ice. It was only saved by Brown's continual climbing out on the wings to remove ice from the engine air intakes and by Alcock's excellent piloting despite extremely poor visibility at times and even snow filling the open cockpit. The aircraft was badly damaged upon arrival due to the attempt to land in what appeared from the air to be a suitable green field but which turned out to be the bog on Derrygimlagh Moor, but neither of the airmen was hurt.



Alcock was tragically killed some months later in December 1919 while flying to the Paris Air Show. Brown lived on until 1948.


Sunday, 14 June 2015


 
14 June 1884: Count John McCormack was born on this day. He is considered the greatest singer Ireland has ever produced. He was the fourth of eleven children born to Hannah and Andrew McCormack, and one of the five to survive childhood. Though his own parents hailed from Scotland his paternal Grandfather was originally from County Sligo. He was educated locally by the Marists in Athlone where his singing abilities were first recognised.



I was nine and a slip of a lad and shy. It was in the Marist brothers' school on a feast day, when Dr. Woodlock, Bishop of Clonmacnoise, was the guest of honor. I'll not forget the sensation at hearing the words, which Brother Hugh whispered in my ear. ‘We want you to sing, John, for Bishop Woodlock’. With that the good man lifted me upon a table, and left me looking at the gathering…


I think they must have liked it. They seemed to. I had no extensive repertoire, but what I knew I knew. And the singing spirit must have been there. Like the man born to be hanged, I possibly was intended to sing

Afterwards he won a Scholarship to study at the Diocesan College in Summerhill County Sligo. He completed his studies there in 1902. After considering trying his hand at various lines of work he was offered a position with the Palestrina Choir in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral. Vincent O’Brien, the choir master & organist there, saw the great potential in him and recommended for the position of Tenor with the Choir.



He was organist of the Marlborough Street Cathedral, in Dublin; a splendid musician, a fine man, and a staunch friend. He had vision and appeared, intuitively, to feel that all I needed was study and opportunity to achieve a goal worthy of serious aspiration.


It was the beginning of a hugely successful career that saw him perform around the World to International acclaim. He is best remembered at home though for his magnificent performance of César Franck's Panis Angelicus to the hundreds of thousands who thronged Dublin's Phoenix Park for the 1932 Eucharistic Congress. Pope Pius XI made him a Count of the Church in 1928. He died in Dublin in 1945 and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery.


Saturday, 13 June 2015


13 June 1865: William Butler Yeats  was born in Dublin on this day. He was of an Anglo-Irish background and one of the foremost playwrights and poets of the English language in the 20th century. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. Yeats was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and, along with Lady Gregory and others, founded the Abbey Theatre where he served as its chief during its early years. His plays usually treat Irish legends; they also reflect his fascination with mysticism and spiritualism. The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart's Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King's Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907) are among the best known. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prix for Literature. He was the first Irishman so honoured for what was described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation."



Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stairs and other Poems (1929). His father was a lawyer and a well-known portrait painter. Yeats was educated in London and in Dublin, but he spent his summers in the west of Ireland in the family's summer house at Connaught. The young Yeats was very much part of the fin de siècle in London; at the same time he was active in societies that attempted an Irish literary revival. His first volume of verse appeared in 1887, but in his earlier period his dramatic production outweighed his poetry both in bulk and in import. Together with Lady Gregory he founded the Irish Theatre, which was to become the Abbey Theatre, and served as its chief playwright until the movement was joined by John Synge.

After 1910, Yeats's dramatic art took a sharp turn toward a highly poetical, static, and esoteric style. His later plays were written for small audiences; they experiment with masks, dance, and music, and were profoundly influenced by the Japanese Noh plays. Although a convinced patriot, Yeats deplored the hatred and the bigotry of the Nationalist movement, and his poetry is full of moving protests against it. He was appointed to the Irish Senate in 1922. Yeats is one of the few writers whose greatest works were written after the award of the Nobel Prize. Whereas he received the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on his lyric achievement. His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), made him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. His recurrent themes are the contrast of art and life, masks, cyclical theories of life (the symbol of the winding stairs), and the ideal of beauty and ceremony contrasting with the hubbub of modern life.

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

He died in the south of France in 1939 just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. After the War the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Sean McBride, whose mother Maud Gonne McBride was a companion and soul mate of Yeats, arranged for his body to be returned home to Ireland by the Irish Navy. The vessel Macha was dispatched to Nice and Yeats remains were brought back to the west of Ireland for burial in Co Sligo.

His epitaph is taken from the last lines of Under Ben Bulben, one of his final poems:


Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

 
11 June 1534: The Revolt of Silken Thomas on this day. Lord Thomas Fitzgerald or ‘Silken Thomas’ as he was more popularly known, was a young man of just 21 years of age when he rode through the streets of Dublin with a large band of followers, and entered the Chapter House of St. Mary's Abbey where the King's Council were awaiting him.




Whereupon with his brilliant retinue of seven score horsemen he rode through the streets to St. Mary's Abbey; and entering the chamber where the council sat, he openly renounced his allegiance, and proceeded to deliver up the sword and robes of state.


From A Concise History of Ireland by P. W. Joyce



 

His father was none other than Garret Óg, the Earl of Kildare, the most powerful man in Ireland. In his father’s absence in England to answer charges against his name Lord Thomas had been appointed the King’s Deputy in his place. But false rumours that Henry VIII had executed Garret Óg reached his ears. He concluded, without waiting to check the veracity of this information, that his father was indeed dead. He felt that no time could be lost in staking out his claim to lead the Catholics of Ireland in opposing Henry and his now openly Protestant Court. He that day renounced his stewardship of being the King’s Deputy in Ireland and declared himself no longer bound to King Henry VIII by word or deed.



 

Henry VIII treated his defiance of Royal Power as an act of open revolt and confined Garret Óg to the Tower of London, where Garret died two months later. After a bloody Revolt that lasted into 1535 Silken Thomas gave himself up when his forces were defeated and conveyed to London for Trial. He too was placed in the Tower and held in wretched conditions. He wrote home from that place of cold captivity a letter full of pathos:




I never had any money since I came into prison, but a noble, nor I have had neither hosen, doublet, nor shoes, nor shirt but one; nor any other garment but a single frieze gown, for a velvet furred with budge [i.e. instead of a velvet furred with lambskin fur], and so I have gone wolward [shirtless] and barefoot and barelegged divers times (when it hath not been very warm); and so I should have done still, but that poor prisoners of their gentleness hath sometimes given me old hosen and shoes and shirts.


P. W. Joyce



The unfortunate Silken Thomas, born into a life of wealth and privilege, eventually was sent to the gallows. He was hanged alongside five of his captured uncles at Tyburn, London in February 1537. His epic Revolt marked the start of the of a series of Wars by the Irish against the growing power of a centralised Monarchy committed to enforcing English Royal Rule and the Protestant Religion in this Country.



Wednesday, 10 June 2015


10 June 1688: James Francis Edward Stuart, aka ‘King James III of England and VII of Scotland’ was born on this day. He was born at St James Palace, London. He was the only legitimate son of James II by his wife Mary of Modena. His birth triggered a Constitutional Crises in these islands as he was baptised a Catholic and stood to inherit his fathers’ Realms in due course. Later that year occurred the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the deposition and flight of James II to France. It was rumoured that the actual infant died at birth and a substitute was surreptitiously brought into the birth chamber inside a Warming Pan. While this is almost certainly a piece of propaganda spread by the enemies of his father such rumours undermined his status in England in particular when he reached maturity. His birth thus triggered a series of actions that led to the ‘War of the Two Kings’ that was fought upon the soil of Ireland between 1689 and 1691.

 

On the death of James II in 1701 he proclaimed himself King James III. He was recognised by the followers of the Stuart Cause as the legitimate successor to his father’s Kingdoms. He was also acknowledged as such by a number of Continental Powers incl France & Spain. He also had many secret adherents within England, Scotland and Ireland. As a young man he saw action in the War of the Spanish Succession and twice attempted to establish himself upon the Throne. In 1708 he was thwarted in a landing upon the coast of Scotland. His best chance came upon the death of Queen Anne in 1714 when the Crown was vacant and before George of Hanover (a Protestant) could arrive to take it. But delay proved fatal and James’s Scottish supporters only raised the banner of revolt in late 1715. Their attempt, though initially well backed proved a Fiasco. By the time James landed in December support was ebbing away and after a few weeks he was forced to depart for the Continent. He never saw the island of his birth again.

 

Eventually he settled in Rome under the protection of the Papacy where he took up residence at the Palazzo Muti and held a Jacobite Court there with funds provided by the Vatican, the Spanish Monarchy and his supporters. He thereafter lived a long but frustrating life. He married Princess Maria Klementyna Sobieska of Poland in 1719 and had two sons by her. She however died in 1733 and he never remarried. He lived long enough to see his son ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ fail in his attempt to overthrow the Hanoverian Dynasty in 1745/46. He was known in his years of Exile as the ‘Old Pretender’ to his enemies or ‘The King over the Water’ to his friends and admirers in these islands. He died in Rome on 1 January [O.S.] 1766 and is buried in St Peters in Rome.





In following such a record of broken hopes and unrelieved failure, the initial sense of disappointment yields gradually to a more temperate compassion. There is an indefinable pathos in the spectacle of this tragedy- king, parading his solemn travesty of sovereignty before an unromantic and imperturbable audience. When it is remembered that he lived to see no less than five sovereigns on the English throne, all of whom he had been taught to regard as usurpers, it may help towards understanding how deeply the iron must have entered into his soul.


Macaulay


 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015


9 June 597 AD: The Death of Saint Columba (aka 'Colmcille' - Dove of the Church) on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland.

Columba was the son of Fedlimid and Eithne of the Cenél Conaill. He was probably born in Gartan, near Lough Gartan, in what is now County Donegal.

The earliest surviving evidence – that from his Vita/Life by Adomnán, written about a century after his death – tells us simply that:

‘the holy Columba was born of noble parents having as his father Fedelmid, Fergus’s son, and his mother, Eithne by name, whose father may be called in Latin "son of a ship''

When sufficiently advanced in letters he entered the monastery of Moville under St. Finnian, then at Clonard, governed at that time by Finnian. Another preceptor of Columba was St. Mobhi, whose monastery was at Glasnevin near Dubhlinn [Dublin]. The pestilence that devastated Ireland in 544 AD caused the dispersion of Mobhi's disciples and Columba returned to the North. However his following years were marked by the foundation of several important monasteries at Kells in the north midlands and at Derry in the North. After political troubles at home for which he was found at fault Columba left Ireland and passed over to the island of Iona in 563 AD. Conall, king of Dál Riata gave him the island to use as his base and there he founded his famous Monastery.

The people of Scottish Dál Riata shared a language, culture and political life with the Dál Riata of Ireland, and with Ireland as a whole. It is virtually certain that they also shared the Christian faith. Colum Cille came, therefore, to a Scottish Dál Riata which had already accepted Christianity. We can assume that he came to a landscape already dotted with churches, where priests and even an occasional bishop already ministered to their people.

What Colum Cille brought to Scottish Dál Riata was not Christianity, therefore, but a monastic community of brothers who would live and work and pray together. It is in this light above all that Adomnán seeks to portray him: as the father of monks, founding, teaching and guiding a community. He also portrays him as a man of power – not the secular power of kings and warlords, which Colum Cille had abandoned in Ireland, but the power of the ascetic, the contemplative. He exercises the divine power that is given to those who have rejected wordly power.
Colmcille: Life in Scotland - St Columba Trail


After spending some years among the Scots of Dál Riata, who were related to the Gaels of north east Ulster, Columba began the great work of his life, the conversion of the Northern Picts. After this the remaining years of Columba's life were mainly spent in preaching the Christian Faith to the inhabitants of the glens and wooded areas of northern Scotland. Of course 'Scotland' as such did not exist then as a separate country and indeed the word Scotland comes from the Roman word for the Gaels of Ireland - Scotii.

Saint Columba was famous for his prophecies and on Iona he lived the life of an ascetic while also engaged in the business of the Church in Scotland.

Adomnán portrays Colum Cille as actively engaged with the kings of Dál Riata in western Scotland– not only obtaining land from them and blessing particular candidates for kingship, but even inaugurating Áedán mac Gabráin as king in the monastery of Iona.

He also kept in contact with Ireland too and he returned home on occasion even though he was formally exiled.Adomnán says he went back to Ireland when he founded the monastery of Dair Mag (Durrow) between 585 and 597. He also got involved in the politics of the North once again . He returned to Ireland for a conference of kings at which were present Áed mac Ainmirech, king of the northern Uí Néill and eventually king of Tara, and Áedán mac Gabráin, king of Dál Riata. Legend has it that having been told never to put his feet on the soil of Ireland again and agreeing to that he returned wearing shoes of sods of turf in order to keep his promise! Adomnán describes Colmcille as using two separate buildings during his daily life - a writing hut and a hut where he slept and ‘where at night instead of straw he had bare rock and stone for a pillow’.

He is also credited with the initiation of a continuous record of Irish History as set down in the Annals- the Iona Chronicle - whose successor scribes recorded the History of Ireland on a year by year basis down to the 17th Century.

His 'Life' - Vita Columbae was written by his distant successor the 9th Abbot of Iona, Saint Adomnán.Columba is said never to have spent an hour without study, prayer, or similar occupations. He is the greatest Saint to have come out of Ireland.

Monday, 8 June 2015


7 June 1925: The death of Matt Talbot on this day. He was a reformed alcoholic who turned from a life consumed by Drink to one of physical hardship and mortification devoted to religious worship. Matt was born into a large family in Dublin City in 1856. When he was just 12 years old he started to drink and became addicted. He tried numerous times to give it up but met with only temporary success. When he was 28 years old he took the Pledge and kept it until his death 41 years later. A Priest advised him to follow the ways of the early Monks & Holy Men of Ireland in avoiding the Temptations of the Flesh. He henceforth lived a Life of rigorous Work and Prayer.

 

He fasted constantly. His breakfast consisted of cocoa prepared the previous evening by his sister, which he often drank cold. With this he ate some dry bread. For his midday meal he had cocoa to which he would add a pinch of tea, and again drank cold. With this he took a slice of bread. His sister would bring him a small evening meal. If she brought fish he would insist that she take it home with her and would make do with bread soaked in the fish juice.

On Sundays he remained in the church for every Mass. Only on returning to his room at about 2 p.m. would he break his fast for the first time since 6.30 p.m. the previous day. The remainder of the day was spent in prayer, reading the Scriptures and the lives of the saints. He gave all his money to neighbours in need and to the missions.


Matt Talbot mortified himself rigorously. He slept on a plank bed with a piece of timber for a pillow. This left his face numb in later years. He slept in chains, which he wore for 14 years before his death, round his leg and on his body.
Reality (July/August 1999), a Redemptorist Publication

 
He collapsed and died on his way to Mass on Trinity Sunday, 7 June 1925 at Granby Row in Dublin’s Inner City. A plaque now marks the spot where he fell. His remains today are located at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Sean McDermott Street. On his coffin is inscribed the following words:


'The Servant of God, Matthew Talbot.'

Thursday, 4 June 2015


4 June 1820 - Henry Grattan, the moving force behind the Irish Parliament at College Green before it was dissolved by the Act of Union, died on this day in London.

Grattan was born at Fishamble Street, Dublin, in 1746, and baptised in the nearby church of St. John the Evangelist. A member of the Anglo-Irish elite of Protestant background, Grattan was the son of James Grattan MP, of Belcamp Park, County Dublin and Mary youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Marlay, Attorney-General of Ireland, Chief Baron of the Exchequer and finally Lord Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench (Ireland). He thus came from a very privileged and aristocratic background.

Grattan was a distinguished student at Trinity College, Dublin where he began a lifelong study of classical literature, and was especially interested in the great orators of antiquity.

He entered the Parliament of Ireland in 1775, sponsored by Lord Charlemont. He quickly established a reputation as a brilliant speaker and one who was determined to press the Crown for Legislative Independence for Ireland. With Britain bogged down in the trying to suppress the American Revolutionaries he saw his chance to make his case. In this he was able to rely on the Anglo-Irish Volunteers who organised a Volunteer Army to 'Guard' the Country as more British troops were sent out of Ireland to fight in America. As a result of such agitation in 1782 the restrictions on Ireland having to submit legislation to the English Privy Council for prior approval or rejection was removed. It was to be Grattan's greatest Triumph.

For his efforts in securing Legislative Independence he was awarded £50,000 by the House of Commons in Dublin  'in testimony of the gratitude of this nation for his eminent and unequalled services to this kingdom'. The money allowed him to by a house in Tinnehinch, co. Wicklow, and an estate at Moyanna in Queen's county (County Laois) .

However the subsequent operation of 'Grattan's Parliament' was limited by its restrictive nature, its members being confined to those of the Established Church, and thus the exclusion of Catholics and Presbyterians from its benches. Crucially it had no independent Executive, all Ministers being in the gift of the Crown.

Grattan, in the aftermath of the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792, was able to achieve one more success by helping to bring in legislation that gave a limited franchise to Catholics in a 'Catholic Relief Act'. The expectation was that the logical conclusion to such a move was that Catholic Emancipation (the right of Catholics to sit in Parliament) must come about sooner rather than later.

In this Grattan and his supporters were to be disappointed, especially in 1795 in the quick recall of the new Lord Lieutenant Fitzwilliam. He had privately asked Grattan to propose a Bill for Catholic emancipation, promising the support of Pitt the British Prime Minister. But finally it appeared that the he had either misunderstood or exceeded his instructions; and on 19 February 1795, Fitzwilliam was recalled as the forces of Reaction undermined him.

While Grattan kept a cool head in the aftermath of this setback his ability to influence the political scene was severely undermined as the forces of Revolution and Reaction took centre stage. He retired from politics in 1797 and though his name was implicated in the Rising of 1798 it would appear these accusations were unfounded.

With the prospect of a Union between Britain and Ireland looming in the aftermath of the crushing of the Rising he returned to Parliament to fight for its continued existence. When he was defeated in that effort he again stepped down but was returned for Dublin City in 1805 and took his seat in Westminster.

Here his oratorical skills were recognised and admired as one of the great parliamentarians of the age but as one amongst hundreds his influence was negligible and he was left in the Limelight. He continued to press for Catholic Emancipation but with conditions attached re the appointment of Catholic Bishops being within the approval of the British Government. As the years wore on he made less and less appearances in the House of Commons and reluctantly accepted that the Union was now a political reality.

In 1820 he left Ireland for London to attend the House once again but fell ill while there. He died at Portman Square, Baker Street, London on the 4th of June. He had wanted to be buried back home but such was the respect he had in the British Parliament that it was decided to bury him amongst the great and the good in Westminster Abbey.

As the only Irish politician to have a phase of parliamentary history named after him -'Grattan's Parliament' - Henry Grattan is unique in Irish history.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

2 June 1567: The death of Shane O’Neill on this day. The MacDonnells of Antrim murdered him after he sought refuge amongst them following his defeat at the Battle of Farsetmore. Séan the Proud/An Díomais Ó Néill was born in circa 1530. He was the son of Conn Bacach O'Neill, who was created the 1st Earl of Tyrone by the English. Conn decided that to placate the Tudors he would make his eldest but illegitimate son Matthew his legal heir under the English Law. This was unacceptable to Shane who slew his brother and other members of his family. This was to ensure that on his father’s death he would be declared ‘The O’Neill’ and thus the legitimate ruler of his ancestors lands in the North according to traditions of the Gael.

Notwithstanding this the English tried to rope him in anyway as the most powerful man in Ulster. But Shane was determined to keep his distance and be his own man as much as he could. After engaging in conflict with the Earl of Sussex and managing to evade his enemy’s traps he was granted safe passage to London. In 1562, accompanied by the Irish Earls of Ormonde and Kildare, he had an audience at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I. Her courtiers were agog at Shane’s Bodyguard of Gallowglass warriors and his own apparel. The Queen however did not want an expensive War against this colourful Gaelic Chieftain and cut a deal with him. In return for recognising her position as Queen she would recognise him as the O’Neill and both sides agreed to a more pacific relationship in future.

On return Shane quickly suppressed any dissent within his own lands and then waged War against the O’Donnell’s of Donegal and the MacDonnell’s of Antrim. He raided into Fermanagh and used his new found legitimacy to shove his weight around. But these attacks proved disconcerting to the English who did not want Shane, or any other Gaelic Leader, to gain sway over the other Chieftain’s and prove a thorn in their side. Divide et impera was the name of the game as far as the English were concerned - and Shane was not playing it their way. Elizabeth at last authorized Sussex to take the field against Shane, but two separate expeditions failed to accomplish anything except some depredations in O'Neill's country. In 1565 O’Neill defeated the MacDonnell’s at the Battle of Glenshesk and took Sorley Boy MacDonnell prisoner. He also held as his captive one Calvagh O’Donnell, who he allegedly kept in cage while he took his wife for his mistress! O’Neill also armed the common people to fight his wars and hired bands of Scottish mercenaries to augment his forces. By this stage he was the most powerful man in the North and for the moment the English had to recognise like it or not.

By 1566 they had had enough though and an expedition was dispatched to Derry to establish a fort there. Meanwhile Lord Deputy Sidney marched from Dublin with a small but well armed force, which traversed the O’Neills heartland in Tyrone, pillaging and burning and turning the lesser Chieftains against him. The following year Shane decided to strike back and re establish his sway over the O’Donnell’s of Donegal.

But in May 1567 he suffered a shock defeat at Farsetmore at the hands of these O’Donnell’s. He had to flee the field of battle with just a small band of followers. While still feared he had no true allies and in desperation he threw himself upon the mercy of the MacDonnells of Antrim of all people. It is not certain whether his death was a deliberate act of assassination or the result of a fracas but his demise was greeted with relief in Dublin. The balance of probability is that English agents bribed Alexander Og MacDonnell, his reluctant host, to kill him. The English demanded his head as proof of his death. On receipt it was dispatched to the City where it was displayed upon the walls of Dublin Castle. Thus ended the violent and bloody career of one of the most formidable and colourful characters that 16th Century Ireland produced.
 

 
 

Monday, 1 June 2015


1 June 1866: The start of the Fenian Invasion of Canada & the Battle of Ridgeway on this day.

The invading force of more than 1,300 Irishmen 'The Fenians' was determined to attack the British Empire on its own soil to divert British military resources from Ireland and cause the Empire International embarrassment. They met no resistance when they crossed the Niagara River on June 1 but by the time they reached Ridgeway a Canadian force was deployed in front of them with orders to engage and defeat them.

At Ridgeway the Canadians initially stood their ground by as the day wore on they broke ranks and became visibly disorganised. The Irish commander, Colonel O'Neill spotted their discomfort and quickly ordered a bayonet charge that completely routed the inexperienced Canadians. The Fenians took and briefly held the town of Ridgeway. Then, expecting to be overwhelmed by British reinforcements, they quickly turned back to Fort Erie where they fought a second battle - Battle of Fort Erie - against a small but determined detachment of Canadians holding the town.

The Canadian loss was 7 killed on the field, 2 died of wounds in the immediate days following the battle, and 4 died of wounds or disease later and 37 were wounded, some severely enough to require amputation of their limbs. O'Neill said he had four or five men killed, but Canadians claimed to have found six Fenian bodies on the field

A U.S. gunboat prevented reinforcements of 10,000 waiting to cross and join the invasion and the invading force of Fenians retreated back to Buffalo.

Thus ended a bizarre and unsuccessful attempt by the US based Fenians (many of them Irish veterans of the US Civil War) to attack Britain through Canada. While tactically well conducted there was no chance of success once the US authorities blocked supplies and reinforcements reaching Colonel O'Neill's men on the Canadian side of the border. This episode was a fiasco and a waste of badly needed money and resources where they could have had no lasting effect. O'Neill withdrew on 3 June to United States territory where he and his men were arrested.