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Sunday, 24 June 2018


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 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.


Saturday, 23 June 2018


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]







Thursday, 21 June 2018

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21 June 1798: The Battle of Vinegar Hill/Cath Chnoc Fhíodh na gCaor was fought on this day. The engagement was fought near the town of Enniscorthy in County Wexford. While not the last battle of the Rising of that year it was the most decisive - for after that date there was no real hope that the Insurrection could succeed without Foreign Intervention.

After the outbreak of the Rising in May under the United Irishmen forces were organised to try and break out of County Wexford and spread the Revolt. These attempts though were repulsed and eventually the Insurgents main force fell back on Vinegar Hill for a final stand.

Here perhaps 20,000 men women and children had gathered in a huge makeshift camp to escape the depredations of the Military. They were in a blood lust against those who they considered to be ‘rebels’. Massacres and atrocities had been committed by people on both sides but the general consensus is that the Yeomanry and Militia were the worst and the hapless peasants of the Countryside the chief victims.*

A number of columns of the British Army under General Lake advanced upon Enniscorthy from various points on the compass. His intention was to completely surround the town and hill and force a capitulation. Lake divided his force into four columns to accomplish this; three columns, under Generals Dundas, Duff and Needham were to assault Vinegar Hill, while the fourth column, under General Johnson, was to storm Enniscorthy and its bridge.

The battle began at dawn with an artillery bombardment by the British. This had a devastating impact on the masses of people gathered on the hill and it can only be expected that many took any opportunity they had to flee to safety. As the day wore on the net tightened and despite two charges by the pikemen it was hopeless against such a well armed force. Eventually those that could made a break for it as General Needham was unable to close in on his assigned position in time and a gap was open to which to escape. Through it flowed a mixture of fighters and peasants who had the incentive to get out while the going was good.

But many others were either too tired, shocked or plain terrified to risk it and remained to await their fate. It was not to be a good one. When the hill fell many were put to the sword or shot out of hand. Recent archaeological scanning of the site indicates large pits on the north side of the hill that are believed to be mass graves of those who were captured on that day. Though the graves have not yet been excavated perhaps the remains of 1,000 to 2,000 unfortunates are believed to be buried under the soil of Vinegar Hill.

* I am very much afraid that any man in a brown coat who is found within several miles of the field of action, is butchered without discrimination.
Marquis Cornwallis to the Duke of Portland 28 June 1798.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018


20 June 1763: Theobald Wolfe Tone was born on this day. His birth took place 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.




20 June 1210: King John of England landed at Crook, near Waterford on this day.

Johannes, grandson of the Empress [Matilda], king of the Saxons, came to Erinn, with a great fleet, in this year
After arriving he commanded a great hosting of the men of Erinn to Ulidia, to apprehend Hugo de Laci,
or to expel him from Erinn, and to capture Carraic-Fergusa.
Hugo left Erinn, and the persons who were defending the
Carraic abandoned it, and came to the king; and the
king put men of his own company into it.
Annals of Loch Cé 1210 AD

Sailing from south Wales he was to remain in Ireland throughout the rest of the summer.
His mission in Ireland was not so much to subdue the Irish Kings who still held power over large swathes of the Country, but instead to bring to heel the more powerful of the Anglo-Norman Lords who defied him. King John was a most unpopular Monarch in England and faced constant trouble with his Lords and Barons who resented his attempts to rule them. A ruthless and devious man he - probably with good reason-  trusted very few of his councillors who advised him.

The main objects of his attention were the De Lacy family, specifically Walter Earl of Meath and Hugh the Earl of Ulster. He believed they could act as a power base for malcontents back in England. Indeed they had backed the struggle of the once powerful Marcher Lord William de Braose against the King. It was to crush this family and punish the De Lacy's for their lack of loyalty that drove him to take a well armed military force to Ireland.

De Braose fled to England when he heard of the King's movements. There he endeavoured to make peace with his master, but failing to do so, he carefully avoided putting himself in his power, and took refuge in France.

John had been to Ireland before in 1185 when his father King Henry II had given him the title 'Lord of Ireland', but John had turned his journey into a Fiasco but upsetting the Irish kings with his youthful folly and the Gaels resented his attitude to them.

After arriving in Waterford he came to Dublin where he was well received and after leaving the capital he advanced into Meath from which Walter de Lacy then fled. King John then met up with King Cathal Crobhderg O'Conner of Connacht near Ardbraccan, Co Meath. King Cathal recognised him as his Lord in return for being re-assured as the recognised & rightful King of Connacht. The two kings then proceeded northwards where they besieged the powerful fortress of Carrigfergus in Ulster which was taken, though Hugh made good his escape.

While in the North he also parlayed with King Aedh O'Neil of Tir Eoghan (Tyrone), whom he wished to secure homage and take hostages from. Keeping his distance, O'Neill made a pretence of wanting to help with the siege and being prepared to offer some kind of agreement to subordinate himself to the English King, but he pleaded for time to consult his advisors. He donated a supply of cattle to feed John's troops. He was though really loath to submit and have to give over important hostages, incl. his own son, to such a volatile character as King John. The negotiations fizzled out and O'Neill backed off and went home.

Cathal Crovderg was in a weaker position as his kingdom was riven by rivalries which he had to return home to sort out. He had made a promise to hand over his eldest son, Aed O'Conner, to King John. He would then have him conveyed to England as a security against King Cathal remaining in submission. However Cathal's wife would have none of it and the Irish king had to return to King John empty handed. When they next met at Rathwire in County Westmeath, as arranged, but without his son, the King of England was anything but pleased and seems to have forcibly apprehended four of Cathal's sub-kings and royal officers, whom he brought back to England.

Soon after King John left Ireland, arriving back at Fishguard in Wales on 26 August. His Expedition here was overall a success for him. He had smashed the power of the De Lacy's, secured the city of Limerick, reformed the government of Dublin and the eastern counties and brought even as powerful figure as William Marshal of Leinster, the greatest Knight of the age, to heel.

But his attempts to bring the Kings of Connacht and Tir Eoghan under his thumb both failed, and while not the primary objective of his expedition John's ham fisted attempts only alienated these Irish Kings who rightly did not trust this ruthless man.

A final and horrible chapter to this attempt to punish his opponents was the fate of Maud De Braose and her infant son William de Braose. Captured in Scotland they were conveyed in chains to King John who had them imprisoned in Windsor Castle. They were locked up together but only given food and no water on the first day of their incarceration. Thereafter nothing. When the jailors yanked open the door to their cell 11 days later all that was left was their emaciated corpses.

John died in 1216, probably from dysentery, as he desperately tried to hold his Kingdom together from Revolt. His expedition here was the last by a serving King of England for 184 years until  Richard II, another unloved Monarch, arrived here in the year 1394.

Effigy of King John [above] from his tomb in Worcester Cathedral


Monday, 18 June 2018

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18 June 1815: The Battle of Waterloo took place 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 and east 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. The Duke of Wellington was born in Dublin and spent much his early life in Ireland, his family hailing from Co Meath. At least three infantry or cavalry brigades 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 (Union) Cavalry Brigade, so-called because it included an English, a Scottish and an Irish regiment . Major General Sir John Ormsby Vandeleur led 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. However it was in the lower ranks of the British Army that the highest number of men who were either from Ireland or of Irish origin served.

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 the actual battle, the 27th in particular taking huge casualties whilst 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. 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 at home 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 river Liffey in Dublin 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.

Next to the illustrious Duke the Irishman who is most worthy of mention was Sergeant James Graham of 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards from Clones Co Monaghan. He helped in closing the gates of the Hougoumont Farmhouse which was a vital strategic point on the battlefield, positioned out in front of the right of the allied line. It was attacked throughout the day by thousands of French infantrymen, but held out to the end. The Duke nominated him as 'the bravest of the Brave' and mentioned in him in his Supplementary Dispatches on the Battle:

He assisted Lieutenant-colonel Macdonnell* in closing the gates, which had been left open for the purpose of communication, and which the enemy were in the act of forcing. His brother, a corporal in the regiment, was lying wounded in a barn, which was on fire, and Graham removed him so as to be secure from the fire, and then returned to his duty.
* Coldstream Guards and the senior British Officer at Hougoumont.


Sunday, 17 June 2018

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17‭ ‬June 1959: Éamon de Valera was elected President of Ireland on this day. The contest for the highest Office in the Republic was between him and General Sean Mc Eoin from the Fine Gael Party, who had previously ran for the Office in 1945 and had been defeated. He like Dev had been active in the War of Independence but they had taken opposite sides in the Civil War of 1922 -23. The number of people eligible to vote was 1,678,450, of which 979,628 chose to exercise their Franchise. This represented a turnout of 58.4 %. Of the total numbers of votes cast 538,003 voted in favour of De Valera and 417,536 voted for Mc Eoin. 

‘De Valera won a majority of the vote in every constituency bar the northern Dublin city constituencies, Longford-Westmeath, which Mac Eoin had represented for over ten years, and Cork West, a strong Fine Gael area. As in the previous election, Mac Eoin's best results were in the Longford and surrounding areas, with strong results also where de Valera didn't win majorities in Dublin. De Valera's vote was strongest in Clare, Galway and Donegal - his share reaching 69% in parts of the latter two counties.'
http://irishpoliticalmaps.blogspot.ie/2011/10/irish-presidential-election-1959.html

On the same day was also held a Referendum to abolish Proportional Representation‭ ‬- but here the tide of public opinion swung against Dev and it went down to defeat. 

The following summary of the principal proposals in the Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill,‭ ‬1958, was circulated for the information of voters:

At present,‭ members of Dáil Éireann are elected on a system of proportional representation for constituencies returning at least three members, each voter having a single transferable vote.
It is proposed in the Bill to abolish the system of proportional representation and to adopt,‭ instead, a system of single-member constituencies, ‬each voter having a single non- transferable vote. It is also proposed in the Bill to set up a Commission for the determination and revision of the constituencies, instead of having this done by the Oireachtas, as at present.

The total number of votes recorded in favour of the proposal contained in the Bill was‭ ‬453,322 and the total number of votes recorded against the proposal was 486,989. The people did not, therefore, approve the proposal.

Eamon De Valera thus became the third President of Ireland.‭ ‬He was again elected in 1966 and retired from the post and active politics in 1973. He died in 1975.



Friday, 15 June 2018


15 June 1919: The British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown made the first non-stop heavier than air flight across the Atlantic on this day. They flew a modified Vickers Vimy bomber plane from St. John’s Newfoundland to Clifden, Co Galway thus winning the Daily Mail prize of £10,000. 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, near Clifden Co Galway,  but neither of the airmen was hurt.

The news of the adventure spread like wildfire and the two men were received as heroes in London. For their accomplishment, they were presented with Lord Northcliffe's Daily Mail prize of £10,000 by Winston Churchill, who was then Britain's Secretary of State. A few days later, both men were knighted at Buckingham Palace by King George V, for recognition of their pioneering achievement.
Alcock was tragically killed some months later in December 1919 while flying to the Paris Air Show. Brown lived on until 1948.



Thursday, 14 June 2018


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 honour. 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.‬ Ballynahinch/
It was the beginning of a hugely successful career that saw him perform around the World to International acclaim.‭ He was hugely popular in the USA in the 1920s and his fame fore shadowed that of singers like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley in the fame he achieved at that time. ‬

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 Dublin.

Sculpture by Elizabeth Kane in Iveagh Gardens, Dublin 2.


Wednesday, 13 June 2018


13‭ ‬June 1798: The Battle of Ballynahinch/Baile na hInse, (town of the isle) was fought on this day. This battle occurred in County Down between the insurgents of the United Irishman under General Henry Munro, who was actually a linen merchant from Lisburn and the forces of Crown under General Nugent. The town had been seized some days previously by local insurgents but on the day before the battle a well-armed force of some 2,000 military under Nugent entered it and set about upending the place. That evening there was a great deal of skirmishing and much of Ballynahinch was ransacked as the soldiers and Yeomanry engaged in drinking and revelry. The insurgents had established themselves on the hills to the south and east of the town and had in all about 5,000 men under arms. However most were armed only with pikes and any attempt to meet the Crown Forces in open battle was bound to be a massacre. The superior firepower along with the discipline and cohesion of the soldiers was bound to tell against the insurgents if the British Army was to march out the next morning in line of battle. 

Munro’s officers urged him to launch a night attack upon the town and catch the enemy off guard,‭ as they were audibly not in a coherent state that night anyway to resist a determined assault. But he hesitated to do so as he did not have confidence in his men that they could carry off with any degree of certainty such a risky manoeuvre as a night attack. So the hours of darkness slipped away and with it a substantial number of the men who had gathered under the flag of the United Irishmen. Many of them in turn lacked confidence in Munro’s judgement and his obvious lack of experience. They felt that defeat was all but inevitable if the Crown Forces gained the initiative. It was readily apparent that when Nugent marched his men out the next day that the odds would be stacked against them. Even though the United Irishmen had the numbers the Crown Forces would be able to use their Combined Arms tactics of Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery to devastating effect upon them.

An eyewitness reported:
A mixed and motley multitude met the eye.‭ ‬They wore no uniforms,‭ ‬yet they presented a tolerably decent appearance, being dressed no doubt in their Sunday clothes, some better and some worse. The only thing in which they all concurred was the wearing of the green, almost every individual having a knot of ribbon of that colour, sometimes intermixed with yellow in his hat.
In their arms there was as great a diversity as in their dress.‭ ‬By far the majority of them had pikes, which were truly formidable instruments in close fight, but of no use in distant warfare ... others wore swords, generally of the least efficient kind, and some had merely pitchforks
.

At daylight Munro finally decided to attack and launched his men against the enemy inside the town.‭ ‬Bloody hand to hand fighting ensued and the fortunes of war ebbed and flowed amongst the burning buildings of the place. At one stage it looked like Victory lay within the grasp of the United Irishmen as the Crown Forces fell back. But they eventually rallied and counterattacked and broke the back of the pikemens brave charges upon their positions.  

In the meantime Nugent had directed other columns to come round in the rear of the hillside camps of his opponents and turn their positions.‭ ‬A detachment from the garrison in Downpatrick had arrived under Colonel Stapelton and circled the town to attack Montalto, a commanding eminence skirted by a thick wood. This was where Munro had established his HQ some days prior to the battle.
These developments unnerved his men and caught between the obvious superiority now being gained by the military within the town and the imminent closing off of any viable avenue of escape.‭ ‬This led to the collapse of their morale and a precipitate retreat away from Ballynahinch by the survivors of the battle.‭ ‬Munro attempted to rally his men on Ednavady Hill outside the town but all he could muster by that stage was a motley force of about 150‭ ‬combatants. With the Crown Forces closing in for the kill they decided to make a break for it and scatter,‭ ‬every man for himself. Munro sought refuge nearby and evaded capture for a few days.

‭ ‬But he was taken through betrayal,‭ ‬brought back to Lisburn and tried and executed within a very short period of time. He was hanged almost within view of his own front door and his head was placed upon display in the Market Square. The town of Ballynahinch itself lay in ruins with almost half the houses within it burned during the engagement and its aftermath. 

This battle to all intents and purposes ended organised resistance in County Down.‭ ‬In the following days and weeks the military spread out across the Countryside, inflicting many atrocities upon those they suspected of being active participants or silent supporters of the Rising.

Painting: Battle of Ballynahinch by Thomas Robinson




Tuesday, 12 June 2018


12 June 1954: The IRA Raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh on this day. In an audacious raid the Irish Republican Army seized control of a British Army barracks in Armagh and took 19 British soldiers captive while a party looted the Arsenal of its weaponry. This was the biggest raid carried out on the British Army since the War of Independence in 1921.

The barracks had been well staked out in advance with one of the IRA men joining the British Army some months before in order to be placed on duty there. With the information he garnered IRA GHQ were able to build up a comprehensive picture of the mode of operations of life at the base.

The operation was launched on 12 June 1954, from a farm just outside Dundalk. A large red cattle truck had been commandeered at the last moment and 19 IRA men, about half of the Dublin Brigade, climbed in and were informed as to what their target was. It was almost 3 o'clock on a busy Saturday afternoon when the cattle truck and a car drove into Armagh.

After overpowering the single unarmed guard on the gate the raiders then quickly fanned out and located the Arsenal. They had with them a huge bunch of keys (200!)* but finding the right key to the door proved something of a problem. Eventually the right key was found and in the men went to catch the astounded soldiers within completely off guard.

In less than 20 minutes the place was cleared out. The lorry carrying 340 rifles, 50 sten guns, 12 bren guns, and a number of small arms drove out of the barrack gates and back across the Border. The rearguard in a car followed after locking every gate and door for which they could find keys. At 3.25pm the first alarm in the barracks was given but it was not until 5 o'clock that the general alarm was given and by that time the big red truck was long gone....

This operation was a huge morale boost for the IRA after years in the doldrums and considerably raised their profile both at home and abroad. Conversely it was a huge embarrassment for the British Government and especially the British Army who had failed to secure a place of military operations under their charge from capture by enemy forces.

The barracks was closed in April 1960 as the British Army in the North re organised into Brigade Depots as opposed to Regimental ones. It had been the depot for the Royal Irish Fusiliers, Gough Barracks being allocated to that regiment in the 1880s and had been the regimental depot for more than half a century.
* the keys were later auctioned in America to raise funds for the IRA.






Monday, 11 June 2018


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 [above] * 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.
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 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.‬

* The entrance to the Meeting House is on Meeting House Lane off Marys Abbey in Dublin City Centre. It is all that remains of the great Medieval Monastery that stood on that site for centuries.

Sunday, 10 June 2018


10‭ ‬June 1688: James Francis Edward Stuart, aka ‘King James III of England and VII of Scotland’ was born on this day. He entered this World 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’ /‘The Old Chevalier’ to his enemies and ‘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, 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


Saturday, 9 June 2018


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.
Above: Saint Columba. Stained glass window in Iona Abbey





Friday, 8 June 2018


8 June 1739: John Scott, Earl of Clonmell aka ‘Copper Faced Jack’ was born on this day. Scott was one of the most ambitious and successful men of 18th Century Ireland - and one of the most notorious. His family were of middle income but in early life he befriended one Hugh Carleton and his father helped to finance Scott’s studies at Trinity College Dublin in 1756 and subsequently in Law at the Middle Temple. Admitted to King's Inn in 1765, he was entitled to practice as a Barrister.
In 1769 he was himself elected M.P. for the borough of Mullingar. His ability and determination to rise attracted the attention of the lord chancellor, Lord Lifford, and, at his suggestion, Lord Townshend threw out to him the bait of office. The bait was swallowed with the cynical remark, ‘My lord, you have spoiled a good patriot.’

In December 1774 he became solicitor-general, and in November 1777 he was appointed  attorney-general and a privy councillor.  But his personal feelings did not influence his political opinions, and to his colleague in London he wrote: 

‘Send us two men, or one man of ability and spirit; send him with the promise of extension of commerce in his mouth as he enters the harbour, unconnected with this contemptible tail of English opposition, meaning well to the king, to his servants, and to the country, and he will rule us with ease; but if you procrastinate and send us a timid and popular trickster, this kingdom will cost you more than America; it will cost you your existence and ours’ 

He refused to be badgered into any premature expression of opinion as to the right of England to bind Ireland by acts of parliament, but astounded the house on 4 May 1782 by announcing ‘in the most unqualified, unlimited, and explicit manner … as a lawyer, a faithful servant to the crown, a well-wisher to both countries, and an honest Irishman,’ that Great Britain possessed no such right, and that if the parliament of that kingdom was determined to be the lords of Ireland, ‘he for his part was determined not to be their villain in contributing to it’
Scott, John (1739-1798)
by Robert Dunlop
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Scott,_John_(1739-1798)_(DNB00)

He was dismissed but on the fall of Portland’s government he was soon restored and was more careful to not offend those above him in a Country and an Age when Patronage was everything to advancement. Being very much a careerist his noted stance on a principal was something ‘out of character’ for a man noted to crave the finer things in Life like power, money and social status.
 He was promoted on 10 May 1784 to be Chief Justice of the King's Bench and at the same time raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Earlsfort of Lisson Earl.  The King's Bench was the principal court of criminal jurisdiction and civil jurisdiction, and its Chief Justice was the most senior judge in Ireland after the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. 

Probably his most notorious act though was his hounding the editor of the Dublin Evening Post, one John Magee who was being sued by an associate of Scott’s called Francis Higgins aka The Sham Squire. The chief justice, influenced by personal and political motives, caused a capias ad respondendum marked £4,000 to issue against Magee. It was a tyrannical act, but in the state of the law perfectly legal, and would, as Scott intended it should, have utterly ruined Magee had not the matter been brought before parliament by George Ponsonby. The discussion greatly damaged his judicial character.
(Dunlop)

In 1789, he was created 1st Viscount Clonmell, of Clonmel, Co. Tipperary and in 1793 he was created 1st Earl of Clonmell. By the 1790s he had an annual income of £20,000 - a Fortune in those days in Ireland. 

John Scott was a very able man but one who made a lot of enemies due to his arrogant and somewhat dictatorial manner. He was a man who took little care of his personal appearance and drank and ate to excess.  Though he does not appear to have been a womaniser. In his diary he made frequent resolutions to mend the manner of his ways but does not seem to have followed them through to any effect. He did not suffer fools gladly however and even thought little of his childhood friend Hugh Carleton. His nickname ‘Copper Face Jack’ came from his very ruddy appearance, especially when he had Drink taken - which was often. 

While he had reached the pinnacle of success in chosen career of Law it does not seem have brought him much happiness. In 1797, in the last conversation he would have with his wife's cousin, Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, he exclaimed:

 'My dear Val, I have been a fortunate man in life. I am a Chief Justice and an Earl; but, believe me, I would rather be beginning the world as a young (chimney) sweep.'
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Scott,_1st_Earl_of_Clonmell

Although his tendency was to make his position subservient to government and his own advancement, he ‘never indulged in attacks on his country,’ and never sought ‘to raise himself by depressing her.’ His reluctance to support the arbitrary measures that marked the course of Earl Camden's administration caused him to lose favour at the castle, and as time went on his opinion was less consulted and considered.  He wrote, in his diary on 13 Feb. 1798, ‘‘I think my best game is to play the invalid and be silent; the government hate me, and are driving things to extremities; the country is disaffected and savage, the parliament corrupt and despised.’
(Dunlop)

He died on the day the Rising broke out 23 May 1798. His subsequent reputation suffered even more damage when his personal diary was published some years later. While not written for public consumption it nevertheless put a further blot on his name as within its pages he vilified even those whom he was considered close to both personally and in Law.

The Legal historian Elrington Ball wrote:

"an extraordinarily able man and an equally ambitious one. As he has revealed to us in his diary he had from the first no misgiving as to the object of his life being personal success, and although he wore out his mind and body in reaching his goal he made it against desperate odds."
Ball, The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 London 1926 

He was married twice and left a son and a daughter by his second marriage. He lived at Clonmel House 17 Harcourt Street Dublin. Today that street houses one of Dublin’s most popular and notorious [?] nightclubs ‘Copper Faced Jacks’.!!! 
Portrait above: John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell by Gilbert Stuart







Thursday, 7 June 2018


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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 Publication‬aite on
this day. 

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. 

On 6 November 1931, Archbishop Byrne of Dublin opened a sworn inquiry into the alleged claims to holiness of the former dock worker. The Apostolic Process, the official sworn inquiry at the Vatican, began in 1947.

On 3 October 1975 Pope Paul VI declared him to be Venerable Matt Talbot, which is a step on the road to his canonisation, a process which needs evidence of a physical miracle in order to be successful. His story soon became known to the large Irish émigré communities. Countless addiction clinics, youth hostels, statues and more have been named after him throughout the world from Nebraska to Warsaw to Sydney. One of Dublin's main bridges is also named after him. Pope John Paul II, as a young man, wrote a paper on him.

Talbot's remains were removed from Glasnevin Cemetery to Our Lady of Lourdes church on Seán McDermott Street, Dublin, in 1972. The tomb has a glass panel through which the coffin may be seen. On his coffin is inscribed the following words:

'The Servant of God, Matthew Talbot.' There is a small plaque in Granby Lane at the site of Matt Talbot's death.
 http://irelandinhistory.blogspot.ie/