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Saturday, 31 March 2018


31 March 1966: The Insurgent Flag that flew over the General Post Office in Dublin in 1916 was handed back by the British Government of Harold Wilson on this day. It was made by Mary Shannon at the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army in Liberty Hall and brought from there to the GPO where it was proudly hoisted above. It was inscribed with the words ‘Irish Republic’ in gold lettering on a Green background.

When the building fell to the British it was taken by British Officers who displayed it upside down at the foot of the Parnell Monument in Upper O’Connell Street, Dublin. This was the traditional way to display flags taken from enemy forces. Eventually it passed into the hands of the British museum authorities. On the 50th Anniversary of the Rising in a gesture of conciliation the British Government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson decided to return the first flag of the Irish Republic to the Irish Government of the day under An Taoiseach Sean Lemass - himself a veteran of the Rising. It is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin [above]. The flag was put together by Mrs Mary Shannon, a shirtmaker in the nationalist cooperative at Liberty Hall.

In a short letter written by the then Taoiseach, Mr Sean Lemass, to the British prime minister, Mr Harold Wilson, in 1966, the "gratitude and deep appreciation of the Irish Government and people" were expressed for the return to Ireland of the flag which flew over the GPO during Easter Week in 1916.

Mr Lemass, noting the support for its return from the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, Mr Arthur Bottomley, and the members of the museum board, welcomed the British initiative, coming as it did shortly before the Rising's 50th anniversary.

He wrote from Government Buildings: "The return of the flag, can be welcomed as yet another step towards the building of goodwill and the most friendly relations between our two countries."
He thanked Mr Wilson for the "speed and the generosity with which your government responded favourably to our representations" for the return of the flag.
IRISH TIMES Jan 2, 1997


Friday, 30 March 2018


30‭ March 1979: The British M.P. Airey Neave was assassinated in the car park of the House of Commons, London on this day. Tipped to be Margaret Thatcher’s Secretary of State in the North if she won the upcoming General Election, his death at the hands of the INLA was a severe personal blow to her, which she felt for many years after. A noted hardliner with links to Britain’s’ Secret Service he was an ex British Officer who had made it known he intended to rule the North with an Iron Hand if he was appointed as Secretary of State.

He had served with distinction in the Second World War‭ in the British Army (DSO; MC) He was the first officer to make "the home run" from Colditz, and the intelligence from this experience brought about his appointment to M19, where he was code named "Saturday". His book Saturday at MI9 was a bestseller. When the War ended, he became assistant secretary of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, and had the task of serving indictments on the Nazi war leaders who had survived Hitler. Another book, Nuremberg, dealt with the part he played there. He entered Parliamentary politics in 1953. 

Neave was driving his car up the ramp leading out of the Commons car park at around‭ 3 pm when the mercury tilt switch attached to his vehicle blew up underneath him. Emergency services were on the scene in minutes. The 63-year-old Conservative MP was taken to Westminster Hospital where he died from his injuries. 

Mrs Thatcher was gutted by the news at the loss of her close friend and political ally.‭ ‬She proclaimed that:

He was one of freedom's warriors.‭ ‬Courageous, staunch, true. He lived for his beliefs and now he has died for them.

The British General Election of that year had just been called the day before and Mr Neave was a close adviser to Mrs Thatcher,‭ ‬he had led her campaign to become the Conservative Party leader in 1975 and headed her private office.

That August the INLA issued a statement regarding their attack in The Starry Plough:

In March, retired terrorist and supporter of capital punishment, Airey Neave, got a taste of his own medicine when an INLA unit pulled off the operation of the decade and blew him to bits inside the 'impregnable' Palace of Westminster. The nauseous Margaret Thatcher snivelled on television that he was an 'incalculable loss'—and so he was—to the British ruling class.



Thursday, 29 March 2018

Image result for james stephen fenian

29‭ ‬March‭ ‬1901:‭ ‬The death of James Stephens,‭ ‬founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood,‭ ‬on this day.‭ ‬He was born in‭ ‬1825‭ ‬at Blackmill Street,‭ ‬Kilkenny,‭ ‬the son of John Stephens,‭ ‬an auctioneer’s clerk.‭ ‬He supported the Young Ireland movement and the Irish Confederation,‭ ‬and he served as‭ ‬aide-de-camp to William Smith O’Brien in the‭ ‬1848‭ ‬Rising at Ballingarry,‭ ‬Co.‭ ‬Tipperary in which he was wounded.‭ ‬In the wake of this abortive affair he escaped to Paris.‭ ‬In the French Capital he met the Young Irelanders,‭ ‬John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny.‭ ‬He was deeply influenced by the French radicals and the underground figures that he encountered.‭ ‬He earned his living by teaching English.‭

In‭ 1856 he returned to Ireland disguised as a beggar. His purpose was to establish a new secret revolutionary society that would achieve Irish independence from British rule by the use of military force. He travelled the Country incognito establishing networks and organising cells. On St Patrick’s Day 1858 he founded in Dublin the ‘Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood’, which became known later as the ‘Irish Republican Brotherhood’ (aka IRB). It was secret and oath-bound Society. Stephens structured it on military principles with himself as the ‘Head Centre’.

In‭ 1858 ‬Stephens went to America to raise funds for the IRB. When he returned to Ireland in 1859 the British knew well who he was and what he was doing, and so he returned to America. He seized nominal headship of the sister movement in the USA, ‘the Fenians’ in early 1859. From 1861 to 1866 Stephens’s influence was at its height. The IRB flourished in Ireland, Britain and the USA.
He had returned to Ireland in 1861 and renewed his activities, building up a numerous but very lightly armed Revolutionary structure. Gaining the support of Irish soldiers in the British army and importing arms shipments were meant to overcome the lack of weaponry. However in 1865 Stephens suddenly suspended a planned Rising after calling all the leaders together in Dublin and after  interviewing them one by one he succeeded in getting them all to agree that the time was not ripe to overthrow British rule.

But by now the British were alert to what was afoot and the scale of the preparations‭ – ‬they decided to strike and break up the IRB. During the same year they raided IRB headquarters in Dublin, situated at the newspaper office of the Irish People where many of the IRB worked as journalists and used as a base. Most of the leaders were arrested and were convicted of ‘treason and felony’ and sentenced to penal servitude. Stephens, having avoided immediate arrest, was picked up with Charles J. Kickham for conspiracy and was imprisoned in Richmond Gaol, Dublin. However, in a brilliant but relatively straightforward rescue he was sprung from captivity by Breslin and John Devoy and spirited out of the Country to Freedom.

But his star was waning,‭ ‬more especially so as he attempted once again to convince supporters in the USA (where he was in exile) that a Rising was out of the question in 1866 too. Col Kelly replaced him as Head Centre. The American Fenians denounced him as a ‘rogue, impostor, and traitor’. Stephens went to France where he worked as a journalist and an English teacher. He spent the years thereafter in France, Belgium and the USA. In 1890 Charles Stewart-Parnell worked his influence to allow the British to permit his return home. A public subscription was raised by friends in Ireland to facilitate this. Thus Stephens returned home to Ireland in 1891. He spent the remainder of his life in seclusion in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, avoiding anymore political intrigue.


Wednesday, 28 March 2018


28‭ March 1957: The death of the Artist Jack B. Yeats on this day. He was born in London in 1871 the son of John Butler Yeats. His younger brother was W. B. Yeats. His early years were spent chiefly in County Sligo and later in London where he studied at the Westminster School of Art. He initially settled in Devon with his wife and his first one-man exhibition was at the Clifford Gallery, Haymarket, London in 1897, showing chiefly Devon paintings. He moved to the USA in 1905 and had several one-man shows at the Clausen Gallery, New York in this period.

He returned to Ireland in‭ 1910, living first at Greystones, then in Dublin. He had earned a living from sketch work for various publications as well as Exhibitions of his paintings. He took up Oils in 1913 and while schooled in traditionalist painting he was drawn to more abstract and impressionist works that soon became his forte. He applied his love of this kind of work to scenes of life in the West of Ireland, travellers and social events both rural and urban. From early youth he was fascinated by the Circus and worked that into his paintings too. A solitary figure he took no pupils and allowed no one watch him work, so his method remains a mystery. In later life he used colour to the full and cut down on distinctive outlines in his works that gave them a blurred but visually strong impact on the viewer.

While he was a successful artist in his own day,‭ ‬not just with the brush but also as an illustrator, playwright and novelist. Prior to his death in 1957, he began to be recognized as one of the foremost Irish painters and illustrators in the 20th century. But  it is only in the last 25 years that his genius has been accorded the status of a Great Artist and he is now acknowledged as a figure of the considerable importance on the International stage in 20th Century Modern Art.

Amongst his most well known works are:‭ Bachelor’s Walk; In Memory; The Funeral of Harry Boland ; Communicating with Prisoners; The Singing Clown and the Face in the Shadow.
Towards the end he described his Life as follows:

I have travelled all my life without a ticket,‭ and therefore I was never to be seen when Inspectors came round because then I was under the seats. It was rather dusty but I used to get the Sun on the floor sometimes.

He was‭ 85 years old when he died and still active until a few days beforehand. His funeral was held at St Stephens Church, Upper Mount Street and afterwards to the burial plot at Mount Jerome Cemetery. There were no bunches of flowers, only a single one on the coffin.

Portrait by James Sinton Sleator (1943)



Monday, 26 March 2018


26‭ ‬March‭ ‬1931:‭ ‬The death occurred of Timothy Healy,‭ ‬ex Governor General of the Irish Free State on this day.‭ ‬Healy had been active in Irish politics for over‭ ‬40‭ ‬years when he was appointed to this controversial position.‭ ‬Born in Bantry,‭ ‬Co Cork he moved at an early age to Waterford and was a Nationalist MP for various constituencies from‭ ‬1880‭ ‬until‭ ‬1918.‭ ‬He started his political career in England,‭ ‬pressing for Irish Home Rule.‭ ‬Parnell admired Healy's intelligence and energy after Healy had established himself as part of Parnell's broader political circle.‭ ‬He became Parnell's secretary,‭ ‬but was denied contact to Parnell's small inner circle of political colleagues.‭ ‬He famously fell out with Parnell following the exposure of his affair with Kitty O’Shea.‭ ‬Parnell felt that Healy had politically stabbed him in the back and indeed there were many who thought the same.‭

In the years following the Split he drifted in and out of Irish Politics but was considered something of a loose cannon and never really regained his place at the centre of Irish political life and remained on the fringes.‭ ‬He spent many years building up his legal practise to compensate for this.‭ ‬When the Great War broke out he supported the Allied War aims and had a son at Gallipoli.‭ ‬But the events of Easter‭ ‬1916‭ ‬shook him and he slowly drifted towards supporting the idea of full Independence if it could be achieved without bloodshed.‭ ‬He acted for Thomas Ashe at his trail and represented Republican prisoners held by the British but confined his activities within the legal sphere.‭ ‬He resigned his seat in Cork North east in advance of the‭ ‬1918‭ ‬General Election to allow SF a clear run and did not seek re election elsewhere.

However he came to prominence once again when in October‭ ‬1922‭ ‬when he was proposed as the Governor General of the Irish Free State.‭ ‬Healy accepted the post after some consideration.‭ ‬His name was suggested to the British by the head of the newly emerging State W.T.‭ ‬Cosgrave.‭ ‬Healy thus took up occupancy of the old Vice-regal Lodge as the official representative of King George V and his Government to the Irish Free State.‭ ‬There is no doubt that he enjoyed the role tremendously and did his best to make the role a viable part of public life in the State.‭ ‬Technically he had the power to dissolve the Free State Parliament and call elections but this scenario never arose during his tenure.‭ ‬He acted as a liaison between the British Government and the Free State and gave advice whether wanted or not as to how matters should proceed between the two.‭ ‬Cosgrave had a difficult time with him and had to remind the Governor of the limits of his powers until Healy got the message.‭ ‬Though to be fair his notions as to what exactly his role should be was an open question.‭ ‬Basically his misconceptions were due more to feeling his way than to any deliberate intent to supersede his authority.‭ ‬Overall he was adept enough to steer his way through any difficulties that arose and avoided outright political controversy‭ – ‬an unusual state of affairs for him‭!

However in the latter part of his time in Office his influence was diminished as his role was redefined to one of the King’s Representative only and not that of the British Government per se.‭ ‬Though he appeared to think that being Governor General was his for life this was not the view of the Free State Executive and James McNeill took up this role on his retirement in January‭ ‬1928.‭ ‬His wife had died the year before and he retired to the family home at Chapelizod,‭ ‬Co.‭ ‬Dublin.‭ ‬He the published his extensive two volume memoirs called‭ ‬Letters and Leaders of my Day.

He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.


Sunday, 25 March 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles O'Conor




Saturday, 24 March 2018


24‭ March 1968: The Aer Lingus plane, St Phelim, plunged into the Irish Sea off the Tuskar Rock on this day. Just after noon on a fine spring day the aircraft inexplicably plunged into the Irish Sea off the County Wexford coast from a height of 17,000 ft, killing all 61 passengers and crew on board.

‭Flight 712 had taken off from Cork airport about 30 minutes beforehand and was due to land at Heathrow, London. The plane was a propeller driven Vickers Viscount 803 with no known structural defects that could explain the sudden loss of this aircraft. Of the 61 people on board but only 14 bodies were ever recovered.


Its penultimate,‭ ‬garbled message indicated another aircraft was in the area. In its last message, eight seconds later, co-pilot Paul Heffernan, aged 22, said: "12,000 ft descending, spinning rapidly.":‭
Witnesses say Captain Barney O'Beirne,‭ aged 35, managed to level the four-engine plane about 1,000 ft above the water, and flew on for about 15 minutes before it crashed close to Tuskar Rock. There was no black box recorder on the aircraft, which had undergone a major inspection three weeks earlier.‬
The Guardian‭ 11 January 1999

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



Friday, 23 March 2018


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

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

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

Skeffington wrote to King Henry:

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

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

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


Thursday, 22 March 2018


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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian 23 March 1979

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Image result for Kaiserschlacht

21 March 1918: The 16th ‘Irish’ & 36th ‘Ulster’ Divisions were attacked in the ‘Kaisers Battle’/Kaiserschlacht that began on this day. The German Spring offensive, known as 'Operation Michael’, was launched along a 50-mile front at dawn. A massive preliminary bombardment preceded the onslaught of groups of infantry led by specially trained ‘Storm Troops’. The Germans had gathered together 6,473 artillery guns and 3,532 mortars. During the bombardment they fired over one million shells, filled with a mix of munitions that included a variety of different types of poisoned gas.

Holding part of the Front Line day were men of the 16th Irish Division who were part of the Anglo-Irish General Sir Hubert Gough’s Fifth Army. The 16th Division was still designated Irish but the proportion of troops from Ireland had been greatly reduced owing to casualties and fresh volunteers being assigned on a less stringent national basis than heretofore. At the time of the Offensive there were nine battalions distributed amongst three Brigades.

The Ulster Division, despite all else, had managed to retain a strong regional identity but this battle was to test it to the limits. It too had nine battalions distributed amongst three Brigades.

At 4.30 am that morning the 49th Inf. Brigade of the 16th Division reported that intense hostile bombardment had been opened on the main battle positions & support lines, Mainly gas shell on forward lines and Brig. H.Q. All wires were cut and communications by visual & pigeon impossible owing to the dense mist. No S.O.S. signals were given. The German attacks were sustained throughout the day and into the night as fortified outposts were cut off and forced to surrender. The German Storm troops were able to infiltrate through the Irish lines and advance deep into the rear as the remnants of the Division were forced back. Within days the cohesion of the 16th Irish had been shattered and it never saw action again as a unit. Its constituent battalions were either broken up or assigned to other Divisions for the duration of the War.

The Ulster Division was not quite so overwhelmed but its relatively cohesive state meant it was used to conduct a fighting retreat that left it 5,000 men short by the end of the month. It was only put back in the line near end of the War to support the final advance of the Allies.

At first the Hun had all in his favour, as for the first five days you could not see 50 yards ahead owing to the mist, and we always found on retiring that the enemy had gone four or five miles past us…on the second day of the offensive we held the Haig Line, although the Germans were five miles past us. We stopped one night in a village but next morning the Hun was on top of us, so it was a case of fighting again. It was very sad to see the women and children flying for their lives and leaving everything behind.
The Irish on the Somme
By Steven Moore

However the German assault was finally halted at Villers-Bretonneux, near Amiens, on April 4/5. Though a 40-mile salient had been created in the British lines, Ludendorff's armies failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough.

But this did not save the Wexford born General Gough, whose military reputation was ruined by his inability to hold the line and then being forced into Retreat. He was dismissed and his Army never saw action again and was broken up.

For the soldiers from Ireland on the Western Front 21 March 1918 and the days following were some of the bloodiest battles of the War and indeed in Irish History as they attempted to hold the line against the most intense attacks ever witnessed in modern warfare up to that point.



21 March 1656 AD. The death of James Ussher, the protestant Archbishop of Armagh on this day. James Ussher was one of the most influential people in these islands in the early and middle years of the 17th century. He was born in Dublin in 1581 to an Old English family.

Although his father was a Protestant and his mother a Catholic he was raised in the new religion. His family were well connected with his uncle Henry being Archbishop of Armagh from 1595. James was a scholarly child and entered Trinity College at the age of 13. He followed a career into the church of his father.

He received his Bachelor of Arts degree by 1598, and was a fellow and MA by 1600 In May 1602, he was ordained in the Trinity College Chapel as a deacon by his uncle Henry Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. Ussher went on to become Chancellor of St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin in 1605. He became Professor of Theological Controversies at Trinity College and a Bachelor of Divinity in 1607, Doctor of Divinity in 1612, and then Vice Chancellor in 1615 and vice-provost in 1616. In 1613, he married Phoebe, daughter of a previous Vice Provost, Luke Challoner, and published his first work. In 1615, he was closely involved with the drawing up of the first Confession of Faith of the Church of Ireland. This document carved out a separate and distinct identity for the Protestant Church in Ireland.

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

The religion of the papists is superstitious and idolatrous; their faith and doctrine erroneous and heretical; their church in respect of both, apostatical; to give them therefore a toleration, or to consent that they may freely exercise their religion, and profess their faith and doctrine, is a grievous sin.
The Judgement was not published until it was read out at the end of a series of sermons against the Graces given at Dublin in April 1627.

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 March 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Monday, 19 March 2018


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

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

In the very early hours of the day Barry’s scouts reported considerable enemy activity from a number of different points of the compass as they converged on his position.‭ ‬His plan was that all the men were to stay under cover until the British were amongst them and could be surprised at close quarters. All sections were to stay put even if under pressure and only to move from their positions under express orders. To encourage his men in battle he had made arrangements that on the commencement of firing the Column’s Piper would strike up martial airs on his bagpipes to quicken their spirit. As luck would have it the British advance was not well co coordinated and this gave Barry the chance to defeat them in sequence of arrival. All went well until the first convoy of lorries weaved its way along the road and was almost ready to be attacked when (despite strict orders) a Volunteer inadvertently revealed himself to the enemy who immediately started to deploy for action.The order was then given to open up and the British soldiers were either cut down or fled the scene.‭ But there was no time to savour the moment as another three columns came upon them from different directions and were also shot down or bolted. Eventually all the converging forces were engaged and defeated in detail until not one organised enemy unit remained in the field.

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

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

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

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



Sunday, 18 March 2018

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18 March 1792: Lady Arabella Denny died in Dublin on this day. She is best remembered today as the Founder of the Magdalene Asylums in this Country. Arabella Fitzmaurice was born in County Kerry in 1707 to the family of Thomas Fitzmaurice, subsequently the 1st Earl of Kerry. He was notorious for his hot temper – a ‘tyrant’ according to his grandson - but he had showed courage and talent as a soldier. Her mother was Anne Petty, daughter of Sir William Petty, who was the only person who could calm her spouse.

From an early age Arabella showed compassion to those less fortunate than herself in this life. She set up a makeshift Dispensary on her father’s estate to care for his tenants medical needs. In 1727 she married Colonel Arthur Denny, M.P. for Kerry. They had no children and in 1742 the Colonel died of Apoplexy. She had to leave their Castle  & move up to Dublin City. By 1748 she was  living in Blackrock County Dublin where she resided at Peafield Cliff House (now Lios na Uisce/Lisnaskea House).

Due to her interest in charitable affairs she became involved in the Dublin Foundling Hospital which took in orphans and unwanted babies. She donated from her own funds a Clock that chimed every twenty minutes to help regulate feeding times for the suckling infants.

However Lady Arabella was struck by the terrible plight of unmarried pregnant girls on the city’s streets. Their fate was not a good one. She decided to found an Institution in Dublin that could take in these unfortunates and provide a safe environment for them to recover after birth and reform themselves. The first Magdalene Asylum was founded at Whitechapel in London England in 1758. We don’t know if Lady Arabella had been to the one in London or whether its mode of operation was recommended to her but in 1767 she founded the first one in this Country on Leeson Street Dublin for fallen women or penitent prostitutes, who were provided with accommodation, clothing, food and religious instruction. Lady Arabella was a member of the Church of Ireland and her idea was that Protestant girls and women in trouble could through Redemption become part of civil society once again regardless of their previous misdeeds. 

However Lady Denny while well off knew that such an enterprise cost money  and just as important in Georgian Dublin the sanction of the Protestant Ascendency. She roped in as many members of High Society to help fund her project as she could and she got no less a personage than Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III to act as patron. For good measure she also later established a chapel adjacent to the asylum and managed to rope in George Viscount Townsend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to attend the first divine service to be held there. As a result of such patronage many fashionable ladies were happy to attend  and donate their purses to alleviate the plight of others.

In 1778 Lady Arabella had reached her 71st year and decided to resign as the head of the Committee that ran the Asylum. She retired to her beautiful home in Blackrock where she lived out her days in the company of her niece Catherine Fitzmaurice. She became poorly but her mind was still active. What exercised her mind the most though was a morbid fear of being buried alive! She gave instructions that on her demise she was to be left on her deathbed for 72 hours before she was lowered into her grave. When she passed from this World her wishes were duly carried out.





Saturday, 17 March 2018


17 March 493 AD Saint Patrick/Naomh Pádraig Feast Day.  Or as the Annals might say ‘according to some.’ For while Patrick is certainly the most famous saint associated with Ireland he remains something of a man of mystery to us – his persona and character definitive in some respects while his origins and obit remain a matter of some speculation to those who have written on him.

Patrick (Patricius) was born in Britain, as the collapse of Roman rule on that island began. He was from a settlement called Bannaventa, probably a locale near or beside the sea along the western coast. His father Calpurnius was a well to do landowner and a minor figure in the local administration called a ‘Decurion’. The father of Calpurnius was called Potitus, who had held the same administrative position in his own day. Calpurnius and Potitus were also Deacons of the Church. Thus Patrick would have been brought up in a household where Christianity was part and parcel of his life, however he was not very religious himself. When he was about sixteen Patrick was captured by Irish raiders and brought to Ireland as a Slave. Where exactly he spent his captivity is not known but the hills of Antrim and the coast of Mayo are the most probable locations. He worked as a Shepard while in captivity.

In despair he turned to Jesus Christ to sustain him and heard his Voice speak to him. Eventually after about seven years he escaped and returned home. Patrick also followed his father and grandfather into the Church and became an administrator of ecclesiastical affairs. He may have spent time in France or indeed in Rome as he worked his way up the clerical ladder. He seems to have done well. The years drifted by but Patrick never forgot his time here and longed to return to preach the Word. In a dream he heard the Irish call to him and determined to go back.

By then the Papacy had taken an interest in the full conversion of the Gaels of Hibernia. Following the demise of Palladius, the first Bishop to the Irish, it was decided to send Patrick (presumably after some gentle lobbying on his part) to Ireland to continue the Mission. Later writers attribute his selection to the influence St Germain of Auxerre under whose patronage he studied for many years. He may indeed have already gained some missionary experience amongst the Morini of Gaul.

Though the evidence is loose it would seem that Patrick’s arrival ‘shook up’ a rather low-key effort to convert the Irish. While Palladius was dead by then or had perhaps fled there were more than likely a few centres of Christianity along the east coast. The names of such early missionaries as Auxilius, Secundinus and Iserninus are associated with sites that perhaps predate the Patrician Mission.

So when Patrick arrived a small Christian presence was already established here. He seems to have made a point of trying to win over the powerful kings and chieftains of Ireland to at least tolerate his proselytising. He had quite a success in getting many of the younger sons and daughters of these men to follow him. Legend has it that he lit the Paschal Fire at Easter on the Hill of Slane in defiance of the King Laoghaire of Tara – the most sacred site in Ireland. The King and his Druids were astounded by his temerity. St Patrick then proceeded to Tara where he challenged the Druids in magical displays and overthrew them. Now whatever the veracity or otherwise of these stories it would seem probable that Patrick did indeed follow a traditional Christian approach to missionary work in trying to win over or at least neutralise the Royal families of any area they entered. This was to allow a Mission to proceed without hindrance and such an approach served the Church well over many centuries. Nevertheless Patrick did face many trails and tribulations in his years on the roads of Ireland. Twelve times he tells us that he was held in captivity and once in actual chains. He seems to have made a point of moving from place to place, baptising as many converts as he could and founding churches. He was greatly in favour of monasticism and a believer in celibacy.

He did three great things in his Mission: he ensured that Christianity went from a minor to the major religion of the Irish; he converted and ordained thousands of people and priests and spread the Word across the island to the furthest kingdoms of the western seaboard; and he ensured that Ireland, in its own particular way, through the medium of the Latin language, came within the fold of the wider Christian World.

Many places around Ireland are associated with his name incl St Patrick’s (Cathedral) in Dublin, Croagh Patrick in Mayo (on which he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights) and Saul and Downpatrick in Co Down. He never seemed to have founded a great monastery but in later centuries Armagh became closely associated with his name and its claim to fame is probably though by no means definitely based on good grounds. In recognition of its claim it is still holds the Primacy of the Irish Church.

Yet for all his great work the written contemporary record is meagre and all in his own hand. His 'Confessio' and the 'Epistola ad Coroticum' are the only extant documents we have by him. The first is a detailed confession and denial of unspecific charges against Patrick that he felt compelled to refute. It is written in plain but unsophisticated Latin and throws some light on how Patrick viewed himself spiritually and psychologically. The ‘Letter to Coroticus’ is a condemnation addressed to a British king excommunicating a group of his armed retainers for killing and kidnapping recently converted Christians. All else we have was written after the Saint passed from this World and while much of it is probably well founded there is no way to confirm or cross check the veracity of the material. Scholars are cautious to attribute ‘facts’ to Patrick’s Life that cannot be verified and with good reason – but while a critical approach is wise there is a line between Criticism and Cynicism that it can be useful to avoid as well.

Traditionally the Saint ended his days at Saul (Sabhall), Co Down. St. Tassach is said to have administered the last sacraments to him. His remains were then wrapped in a shroud woven by St. Brigid's own hands. The bishops and clergy and faithful people from all parts crowded around his remains to pay due honour to the Father of their Faith. Some of the ancient Lives record that for several days the light of heaven shone around his bier. His remains were interred at the chieftain’s Dun or Fort two miles from Saul, where in after times arose the Cathedral of Down where his reputed burial site can still be seen. But of Patrick nothing remains for his bones are long since gone from where he was laid to rest.

Friday, 16 March 2018

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16 March 1988: The Milltown Cemetery attack in Belfast on this day. Dramatic and bloody scenes were witnessed by mourners in Milltown Cemetery as the thousands of attenders at the laying to rest of IRA volunteers came under attack by a lone gunman - Michael Stone.

On the 6th of that month the SAS had ambushed an IRA Active Service Unit on the British Colony of Gibraltar and shot them dead. They were unarmed and given no chance to surrender. They were Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann. When their bodies were released they were flown back to Dublin where thousands of people turned out in the pouring rain to pay their respects. A large funeral cortege accompanied the hearses as they began their journey north back to Belfast.

The attacks in Gibraltar drew worldwide publicity to what was happening in the North of Ireland and by the time the funerals were held journalists and cameramen were there in force to cover the proceedings. Usually what happened at Republican funerals was that the Crown Forces would swamp the event and harass and intimidate the mourners. However given that this would be a huge event with many thousands in attendance the British decided to draw back and observe from a distance. Word must have leaked though as the night before Stone was able to take his pick from a UDA arms dump in order to carry through on his plan to try and take out the senior Republicans likely to be present at the graveside - namely Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

On the day of the funerals Stone made his way incognito into Milltown Cemetery and mingled with the crowd. He claims to have acted alone but some witnesses recall him in the company of other strangers before hand. Eventually he struck by lobbing a number of fragmentation grenades into the mourners before bolting.

But his attempt to flee was quickly spotted and he was chased by numerous men and youths determined to catch him. He turned and fired and brought down a number of them - some fatally. He eventually made it onto a nearby motorway but had run out of ammunition by that stage. He claims a car was to meet him there but there was none. He was caught, beaten and knocked unconscious. He was almost certainly a dead man but an RUC mobile patrol rescued him and he was carried away. Convicted and sentenced he was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement 1998 but again tried to attack his targets at Stormont some years later and was returned to jail.

Three people were killed while pursuing Stone: two Catholic civilians Thomas McErlean (20) and John Murray (26), and an IRA volunteer, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh (30). During the attack about 60 people were wounded by bullets, grenade shrapnel and fragments of marble and stone from gravestones. Among those wounded was a pregnant mother of four, a 72-year-old grandmother and a ten-year-old boy.

While the North  was used to atrocities this one was filmed live by the World’s media and became Front page news. Anyone who witnessed it either there or on television is ever likely to forget it.