Saturday, 16 February 2019

16‭ ‬February 1932: A General Election held in the Irish Free State on this day. The president of the Executive Council, W.T. Cosgrave, [above top] called the election early as he wished to have it out of the way in time for the Commonwealth Conference of that year. There was growing unrest in the country and he felt that a fresh mandate was needed. He fought the campaign on a programme of bringing political stability to the State and that a change of Government would see people sympathetic to republicanism and communism in power.

Eamon De Valera [above below] on the other hand promised to free IRA prisoners,‭ abolish the Oath to the King of England and to reduce the powers of the Governor General. He also indicated that more equitable social policies would be introduced at a time when the Great Depression was in full swing. 

The general election took place in 30 parliamentary constituencies throughout the Irish Free State for 153 seats in the lower house of parliament, Dáil Éireann. In the event there was a change of Government and Eamon de Valera won the contest.‭ Fianna Fáil received 566,498 votes and won 72 seats as opposed to Cosgrave’s Cumann na nGaedhael, which got 449,506 votes and secured 57 seats. The Labour Party returned with just 7 seats on a vote from 98,286 of the electorate. While De Valera was still five seats short of an overall majority, he struck an informal deal with the Labour Party to back him up. On that basis he was able to govern the Free State with a fair deal of parliamentary political stability over the next few years.

This change of government marked a watershed in the history of the State as De Valera went on to abolish the Oath to the King of England [that all T.D.s who entered Dáil Éireann had to take], release prisoners and to give the polity a much more Republican flavour including a new Constitution some years later.‭ He remained in power through an unbroken series of election victories until 1948.

15 February 1853:‭ The loss of the paddle steamship, the Queen Victoria on this day. She went down on the rocks off the Bailey Lighthouse on Howth head on this day. Over 80 lives were lost as she struck this outcrop of the peninsula in a blinding snowstorm.

This precipitous portion of the coast was the scene of a lamentable shipping disaster in‭ 1853. The steamship Queen Victoria, on a voyage from Liverpool to Dublin, with about 100 passengers and cargo, struck on the southern side of the Casana rock during a dense snowstorm, between 2 and 3 o'clock on the morning of the 15th February. Eight of the passengers managed to scramble overboard on to the rocks, from which they made their way up the cliffs to the Bailey Lighthouse. The captain, without further delay, ordered the vessel to be backed, so as to float her clear of the rocks, but she proved to be more seriously injured than was imagined, and began to fill rapidly when she got into deep water. Drifting helplessly towards the Bailey, she struck the rocky base of the Lighthouse promontory, and sank in fifteen minutes afterwards, with her bowsprit touching the shore. The Roscommon steamer fortunately happened to pass while the ill-fated vessel was sinking, and, attracted by the signals of distress, Promptly put out all her boats and rescued between 40 and 50 of the passengers. About 60, however, were drowned, including the captain.

After a protracted inquest extending over several days,‭ the jury found that the disaster was due to the culpable negligence of the captain and the first mate, in failing to slacken speed during a snowstorm which obscured all lights, they well knowing at the time that they were approaching land. The mate was subsequently put on trial for manslaughter.
It was believed by many that if the captain had not,‭ in the first instance, backed off the rocks into deep water, all on board could have been saved.
From‭ : The Neighbourhood of Dublin by Weston St. John Joyce.

A subsequent Board of Trade inquiry blamed the ship's captain and first officer, as well as the lighthouse crew. A fog bell was supposed to have been installed in the lighthouse in 1846, seven years earlier, but was delayed due to costs of other construction projects. The bell was finally installed in April 1853, as a result of the Queen Victoria shipwreck and the subsequent inquiry.At least one attempt to raise the ship was made afterwards, which failed, and the ship was salvaged where she lay. The wreck is still in place.

Members of the Marlin Sun Aqua Club, Dublin discovered the wreck in 1983. They reported their discovery to the authorities, and were in part responsible for having the first Underwater Preservation Order placed on a shipwreck in Irish waters. They also carried out the first underwater survey on such a wreck. The wreck was the first to be protected by The National Monuments Act (Historic Wreck), when the order was granted in 1984, thanks to representations made by Kevin Crothers, IUART, and the Maritime Institute of Ireland

Thursday, 14 February 2019

13/14 February 1981:48 young people died in a fire at the Stardust Night Club, Dublin on this day. The origin, source and cause of the fire still remain a mystery but what is not in doubt is that the huge loss of life was caused by inadequate safety measures. The building was not purpose built as a place of entertainment. It was in fact a converted jam factory that obviously was not designed to hold within its walls so many people for such a purpose. Even more astonishing is that many of the fire exits were chained shut, ostensibly to avoid people entering the premises without paying. The victims were all young people enjoying a night out and the fire spread so rapidly that panic ensued as the lights went out and acrid thick smoke quickly engulfed the premises.

Hundreds fled for their lives as the building went up in minutes. The failure of the lighting in the club led to widespread panic causing mass trampling as many of the patrons instinctively ran for the main entrance. Many people mistook the entrance to the men's toilets for the main entrance doors but the windows there had metal plates fixed on the inside and iron bars on the outside. Firemen attempted in vain to pull off the metal bars using a chain attached to a fire engine. Firemen rescued between 25-30 of those trapped in the front toilets.

Dublin’s Emergency Disaster Plan was implemented and the bodies of the dead and dying and those burned, some horribly, were ferried to all the City’s major hospitals. The City Morgue could not cope with so many being brought in at once and the Army had to set up tents to hold the bodies of those who died until they could be identified by their loved ones. Scenes of heart rending grief were witness in the days that followed as these identifications were carried out and the funerals took place. Thelma Frazer could only be identified by the jewellery she wore to the Stardust disco. [above]In at least five instances a formal identification was not possible as some bodies were burned beyond recognition. Recent advances in DNA though mean that at last this can now be resolved.

As it so happened the Fianna Fáil Party were holding their Ard Fheis that same weekend 
but once news broke of the terrible loss of life the Taoiseach Charlie Haughey cancelled the proceedings as a mark of respect. The import of such a terrible event as this was not lost upon him as the Stardust was within his own Constituency and he knew the families of many of the victims. He attended many of the funerals himself and indeed was seen in tears on at least one occasion as the internments took place. 

To this day no certain cause as to how the fire started has been established - whether it was arson or accident.

The names of those who died are:
Michael Barrett, Raheny, Dublin 5.
Richard Bennett, Coolock, Dublin 5
Carol Bissett, Ringsend, Dublin 4.
James Buckley, Donnycarney, Dublin 5.
Paula Byrne, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Caroline Carey, Coolock, Dublin 5.
John Colgan, Swords, Co. Dublin.
Jacqueline Croker, Killmore West, Dublin 5.
Liam Dunne, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Michael Farrell, Coolock, Dublin 5.
David Flood, Beaumount, Dublin 5.
Thelma Frazer, Sandymount, Dublin 4.
Michael French, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Josephine Glenn, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Michael Griffiths, Killmore, Dublin 5.
Robert Hillock, Twinbrook, Belfast.
Brian Hobbs, Whitehall, Dublin 9.
Eugene Hogan, Artane, Dublin 5.
Murtagh Kavanagh, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Martina Keegan, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Mary Keegan, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Robert Kelly, Raheny, Dublin 5.
Mary Kennedy, Killbarrack, Dublin 5.
Mary Kenny, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Margaret Kiernan, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Sandra Lawless, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Francis Lawlor, Finglas, Dublin 11.
Maureen Lawlor, Finglas, Dublin 11.
Paula Lewis, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Eamon Loughman, Beaumont, Dublin 9.
George McDermott Raheny, Dublin 5.
Marcella McDermott, Raheny, Dublin 5.
William McDermott, Raheny, Dublin 5.
Julie McDonnell, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Teresa McDonnell, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Gerard McGrath, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Caroline McHugh, Artane, Dublin 5.
Donna Mahon, Raheny, Dublin 5.
Helena Mangan, Coolock,
James Millar, Twinbrook, Belfast.
Susan Morgan, Derry.
David Morton, Artane, Dublin 5.
Kathleen Muldoon Kells, Co. Meath.
George O'Conner, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Brendan O'Meara Coolock, Dublin 5.
John Stout, Coolock, Dublin 5.
Margaret Thornton, Dublin 8.
Paul Wade, Artane, Dublin 5.
and not forgetting the 215 injured...

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

13 February 1820: Leonard McNally, playwright, barrister, United Irishman and an Informer died on this day. He was born in Dublin in 1752, and became a barrister in England before returning home to practise at the Irish Bar. He was one of the original members of the Society of United Irishmen and came to and defended many of its members in the Courts. He turned informer in 1794 following the arrest of the French agent the Rev Jackson.  The general opinion is that his nerve snapped under threats during interrogation but the exact circumstances that led to his decision to become a tout remain unclear.

His play Robin Hood (1784) was playing in Dublin on the night in 1798 when Lord Edward Fitzgerald was captured on foot of information he had provided. During the Rising of 1798 and in 1803 he found himself in the bizarre situation of taking money both from revolutionary defendants before the Courts and from Dublin Castle for providing them with information that would compromise his clients. While some had their doubts, and indeed one ‘doubter’ sent him a snake in a parcel from America as a token of gratitude, his dark secret remained hidden until his death in 1820. Ironically he was given a Patriots funeral. It was only when his family demanded that his pension of £300  per annum be continued that his secret life as a traitor was exposed. 

He died at 22 Harcourt-street Dublin, 13th February 1820, aged 68. Then only did his treachery appear. His heir claimed a continuance of a secret service pension of £300 a year, which his father had enjoyed since 1798. The Lord-Lieutenant demanded a detailed statement of the circumstances under which the agreement had been made; it was furnished after some hesitation, and the startling fact became generally known, not only that he had been in regular receipt of the pension claimed, but that during the state trials of 1798 and 1803, while he was receiving fees from the prisoners to defend them, he also accepted large sums from Government to betray the secrets of their defence. The Cornwallis Correspondence, Madden's Lives of the United Irishmen, and communications from Mr. FitzPatrick in Notes and Queries, 2nd Series, put all this beyond doubt.
A Compendium of Irish Biography: Richard Webb Dublin 1878

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

2 February 1976: The Hunger Striker Frank Stagg died after 61 days on hunger strike in Wakefield Prison, Yorkshire, on this day. He had been on hunger strike in protest at the British government's refusal to transfer him to a prison in Ireland. He had been arrested in Coventry in 1973 and had been given a sentence of 10 years for criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. He initially went on Hunger Strike in 1974 along with others to gain repatriation to Ireland. In this strike his comrade Michael Gaughan died and Stagg felt a degree of moral responsibility for convincing him to embark upon it. 

While other hunger strikers were sent back the British refused to move Stagg and he was incarcerated in Long Lartin Prison. Here he was subjected to prolonged periods of Solitary Confinement for and again went on hunger strike. Eventually the Prison Governor relented and Stagg called off his strike. In 1975 he was transferred to Wakefield Prison where he again refused to do prison work. Just before Christmas that year he and others again embarked on a Hunger strike. Their demand were: An end to Solitary Confinement; No Prison Work and Repatriation to Ireland. He died on 12 February 1976. 

When his body was returned to Ireland his coffin was seized by the Government and buried under concrete so that it could not be interred in the Republican Plot in Ballina, Co Mayo. However in November 1976, a group of republicans tunnelled under the concrete to recover the coffin under cover of darkness and reburied it in the Republican plot.

Monday, 11 February 2019

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11‭ February 1867: The abortive Fenian Raid on Chester Castle on this day. An audacious plan had been put together by the Fenian Leadership to seize the arsenal at Chester Castle in England.  The plotters would then bring the considerable stock of weapons and ammunition held there to Ireland where they would be distributed to the volunteers in order to overthrow British rule. So much for the plan - but the night before it was to be out into operation the whole scheme was betrayed to the local police by an informer from within the Movement. It had been betrayed by John Carr, alias Corydon who was a paid informer. The cache of rifles had been removed to the castle and the garrison quickly reinforced by another 70 regular soldiers from Manchester. 

Despite efforts to turn their men back,‭ ‬an estimated 1,300 Fenians reached Chester, in small parties from Manchester, Preston, Halifax, Leeds and elsewhere. Mostly, they discarded what few weapons they had and melted away. The next day, with nothing now happening, a further 500 household troops arrived by train from London in time for a tumultuous reception and breakfast at Chester hotels.

The man who was the mastermind of the projected operation was John McCafferty,‭ ‬US Citizen and an ex Irish American soldier who had served in the Confederate Army in the American Civil War. Once he realised that his cover had been blown he effected a quick escape with the intention of making it back to Dublin. His accomplice was John Flood and as a result of the hunt now on for them they decided to return to Ireland by collier and not a passage steamer which were all being watched. The ship they returned home on was called the New Draper.

However,‭ ‬when the New Draper arrived at Dublin on the 23rd February 1867, the harbour was being watched. The two Fenians were to be put ashore from the vessel in an oyster boat, but were spotted by policemen, and their vessel was pursued in a chase across the river Liffey involving a ferry, a canal boat and a collier and the men were arrested. Ultimately they were tried for ‘High Treason’ and McCafferty was sentenced to life imprisonment,  but he was released under Amnesty in 1871. He returned to the US where he kept up the Fenian Campaign against Britain. He went back to Ireland in the 1870’s and became involved in Mayo bye election of 1874. After a further period of revolutionary activity when he became involved with the Invincibles he went back to America and disappeared.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

10‭ February 1173: The death of Muiredhach Ua Cobhthaigh [O’Coffey], the Bishop of Cenel-Eoghan on this day. He was a respected ecclesiastical figure in the North of Ireland and the focus of his influence was in the land of Tír Eoghan [Tyrone].

 While little is known about him during his time on Earth his eulogy in the Annals makes for interesting reading as to what was expected of an Irish Bishop in the 12th Century. Purity, wisdom and innocence were all prized virtues that Muiredhach practised. He ordained Priests and Deacons. He renovated and consecrated Churches and cemeteries and also built Churches and Monasteries throughout his Diocese. He was a man of great Charity and bestowed food and clothing amongst the wretched and unfortunate of his flock. As his end approached he did penance and made his way on his last pilgrimage to the monastery of Colm Cille at Derry and ‘sent forth his spirit unto heaven’ at this sacred place.

The night of his death coincided with a great astronomical event over the skies of Ireland when what was perhaps a large comet or meteor swept by the Earth at a very close distance overhead:
Now, a great marvel was wrought on the night he died,—the night was illuminated from Nocturne to the call of the cock and the whole world [was] a-blaze and a large mass of fire arose over the place and went south-east and every one arose, it seemed to them it was the day. And it was like that by the sea on the east.
Annals of Ulster 1173 A.D.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

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9 February 1815: Ellen Hutchins, Ireland’s first Lady botanist, died on this day. Miss Hutchins was a self effacing girl who kept herself to herself and steered a lonely path through this world. For solace in her life she turned to the study of the Natural World in the shores and creeks of her native Bantry in south west Ireland. Her pioneering work helped lay the foundations of the study of this Country’s Natural Flora and Fauna.

Ellen was born in 1785 at Ballylickey House, Bantry, Co. Cork, one of the six surviving children of Thomas and Elinor Huchins. Her father was a wealthy protestant tenant of a catholic landowner, Lord Kenmare. But her father died when she was very young and eventually she was packed off the Dublin to stay with a Dr William Stokes and his family at Harcourt Street, Dublin. Dr Stokes was Professor of Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons from 1800 and he had a keen interest in botany, founding the Botanic Gardens at Trinity in 1806.  It was through Dr Stokes that Ellen met the next of her mentors, James Townsend Mackay, the first curator of Trinity’s Botanic Garden.

‘Ellen’s particular branch was in cryptogamic botany, the study of non-flowering plants (the term ‘cryptogam’ does indeed come from the same root as ‘cryptic’). These algae, mosses, liverworts and seaweeds to which Ellen devoted her keenest attentions, were vastly understudied compared to the more easily observed flowering plants. In addition, Ellen was collecting specimens in the Bantry Bay environs, an area containing an interesting dispersal of rare flora. The combination of very good eyesight and great artistic talent meant that she could render the fine detail of species in exquisite detail.’ [as above]
‘Her field work was done in the Bantry environs in her early twenties. Between 1809 and 1811, she identified and listed (in Latin) around 1100 plants around Bantry Bay. Her distant cousin and friend Thomas Taylor most likely got her on to collecting shells and she began studying molluscs.’
Source: Charlotte Salter-Townshend @

But alas Ellen’s life was not a happy one. She had been forced to return to the family home in Bantry to look after her aging mother and her brother who was an invalid. Her outings in search of specimens was her only break from a life of drudgery and toil. To make matters worse her elder brother kicked them out of the family home and they had to move away. Ellen herself was sick herself by this stage.  She was consumptive and taking mercury for a liver complaint – the effects of which had reduced the young woman to ‘a mere skeleton’. 

Eventually her situation overwhelmed her and it would appear she did away with herself. She was buried in an unmarked site outside the south wall of Garryvurcha Church, Bantry. Her invalid brother Thomas passed away a few months later.

William Henry Harvey, who was greatly influenced by the work of Ellen Hutchins. Years after her death, wrote in 1847 of her lasting effect on Irish botany in his work Phycologiae Brittanica:
‘[Her] name is held in grateful remembrance by botanists in all parts of the world. To her the botany of Ireland is under many obligations, particularly the cryptogamic branch, in which field until her time little explored. She was particularly fortunate in detecting new and beautiful objects, several of which remain the rarest species to the present day.’

Friday, 8 February 2019

8‭ ‬February 1847: Daniel O’Connell’s last speech in the British House of Commons on this day. In his final speech in the House, he predicted that unless more aid was forthcoming from the British Government for Ireland ‘one quarter of her population will perish’. His warning to his fellow MPs came as the full force of the Famine was raging in his final speech in the House,‭ ‬he predicted that unless more aid was forthcoming from the British Government for Ireland‭ ‘‬one quarter of her population will perish‭’‬.‭ ‬His warning to his fellow MPs came as the full force of the Famine was raging in Ireland.‭ ‬The terrible outcome of the successive failures of the Potato Crop threatened to overwhelm the relief efforts at home to alleviate the worst excesses of hunger and disease that were sweeping across most of the Country at that time.

His valedictory address in the House was almost inaudible and those assembled to hear what would clearly be his last speech before them strained to catch his softly spoken words.‭ Observers reflected that he was but a dim shadow of his former self. ‬He that on so many previous occasions had roused the House to heights and depths of emotions now struggled to exert himself so that his message of appeal could be heard and acted upon. He told the members that he had come to plead for the last time for Ireland. He made an accurate but terrible prophecy and that was:

Ireland is in your hands...‭ your power. If you do not save her she can't save herself... I predict... that one quarter of the population will perish unless you come to her relief.

He stated that if they did not come to help her he solemnly called on them to recollect that he predicted that such a calamity would come to pass.

But O’Connell knew that while he was paid a respectful deference due to reputation and status as a powerful orator and due to his visibly declining health,‭ ‬that the members of the House of Commons had but a limited interest in Irish affairs and that his heartfelt and sincere appeal fell on deaf ears. He remarked some weeks after this noble but doomed appearance that:‭

How different it would all be if Ireland had her own Parliament.

‭ ‬Daniel O’Connell died in Genoa on the‭ ‬15 May on his way to Rome. His heart was sent on to the Holy City [and later disappeared!] and his body returned to Ireland where it was interred in Glasnevin Cemetery, which himself had helped to found. ‭

Thursday, 7 February 2019

7 February 1988: Nora Herlihy, one of the founders of the modern Irish Credit Union system, died on this day.
Nora Herlihy was born on 27 February 1910 in Ballydesmond, on the Cork-Kerry Border. She attended school in Newcastle West at the Sisters of Mercy Secondary School and trained to become a teacher at Carysfort College, graduating in 1931. She began teaching in Ferrybank and in 1936 was hired by the Irish Sisters of Charity school in Dublin. She was a national school teacher, educating in Dublin during the 1950s. As a teacher she observed the effects of poverty, unemployment and money-lending on her students and their families.

Herlihy was a student of the Liberal Arts Extramural Course at University College Dublin. There she met social economics student Tomas O'Hogain who invited her to a December 1953 meeting with Seamus MacEoin about the co-operative model. In March 1954 she and O'Hogain founded the Dublin Central Co-operative Society with the goal of reducing unemployment and emigration through the formation of worker co-operatives. The United States' Credit Union National Association (CUNA) asked Herlihy to form a subcommittee to examine how the credit union model could be put to use in Ireland. With Sean Forde and O'Hogain she formed the Credit Union Extension Service.

 In 1957, Minister for Industry and Commerce Seán Lemass appointed Herlihy to a legislative advisory committee on non-agricultural co-operatives. The first two Irish credit unions were formed under Herlihy's influence in 1958 and she promoted credit unions throughout Ireland. She was instrumental in the formation of the Civil Service Credit Union and the Irish League of Credit Unions, which was founded in 1960 and run from the living room of her Dublin house.
She served as unpaid secretary for the organisation, teaching full-time and funding the movement's development with her earnings. In 1963 the board of the Credit Union League of Ireland recognized her as having made the greatest individual contribution to the Irish credit union movement. Her efforts aided the passage of the 1966 Credit Union Act and she stood beside President Éamon de Valera as he signed the act into law.

Nora Herlihy died on 7 February 1988, 28 years after the creation of the Irish League of Credit Unions.

7‭ ‬February‭ ‬1072‭ ‬AD:‭ ‬Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó,‭ ‬king of Laigin [Leinster],‭ ‬died on this day.‭ ‬He was one of the most colourful and dynamic Irish kings of the‭ ‬11th Century and an ambitious ruler of his own province that wished to rule over all of Ireland.‭ ‬While he never achieved that lofty aim it was not for want of trying.‭ ‬He was of the‭ ‬Uí Cheinnselaigh family,‭ ‬who had their base around the monastical centre of Ferns‭  ‬in Co Wexford.‭ ‬His family had long been excluded from the kingship of Laigin and he was the first member of this ancient sept to hold the position in centuries.‭ ‬By the time Diarmait acceded to the kingship in‭ ‬1042 his familial domains included sway over the Viking towns of Wexford and Waterford and with it access to Trade and Fleets that enhanced his power and wealth.
However his breakthrough into the world of being a serious player in provincial politics and international affairs came in‭ 1052 when he captured the city of Dublin and declared himself its king – a feat not even Brian Boru had accomplished. The acquisition of one of the main trading entrepots of north western Europe meant that King Diarmait had direct control over a powerful fleet of warships and merchantmen.

These vessels plied their way up and down the Irish Sea and interlinked into a vast trading network that stretched to Spain and North Africa to the south and across to the great rivers of Russia to the East.‭ ‬With this kind of naval power at his disposal he was not averse to using it and after installing his son Murchad as King of Dublin he had his offspring invade the Norse held Isle of Man  in 1061 and put it under his rule.

Diarmait also became involved in the internal politics of Wales and Saxon England.‭ ‬He supported many of the Welsh Princes in their efforts to gain dominance in that Country.‭ ‬He most notably supported the attempts of Cynan ab Iago of Gwynedd to restore himself to power in north Wales, possibly in return for some kind of payoff in trade or suzerainty. In the winter of 1051/52 he had no less a visitor than Harold Godwinesson, the future King Harold of England, who sought refuge here against his enemies at home. After that King’s defeat and death at the battle Hastings in 1066 his sons fled here to escape the Norman invaders and King Diarmait provided them with a fleet of sixty six ships to raid the coast of England to try to regain that Country for the Saxons. While they did not prevail the fact that the king of Leinster was where these hapless sons of the late Saxon king turned for help is indicative of his power and prestige at this time.‭ 

The King of Leinster was also active in engaging with his royal rivals within Ireland too.‭ ‬He allied with the Ulaid of the North and raided into Connacht and Meath.‭ ‬However it was in Munster he had his greatest success amongst the Gaels.‭ ‬He backed Turlough O’Brien as puppet king of that province,‭ ‬forcing the previous incumbent King Donnach to depart on a pilgrimage to Rome where he died. In 1067 he led a huge expedition into Connacht consisting of the men of Laigin, the Munstermen under Turlough O’Brien and a contingent from the kingdon of Breffni. A great battle was fought in which fell Aed O’Connor, the most powerful king of the western province. With this Victory there was no doubt that Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó was the most powerful king in Ireland and in effect an  Ard Rí na hÉireann - the High King of Ireland.

But while Fortune had favoured Diarmait for most of his life in‭ 1070 tragedy struck when his beloved son Murchad died in battle against the men of Meath while on a raid. In 1072 it was Diarmait’s turn to go the way of all flesh when he too fell in battle against the warriors of the middle kingdom of Míde [Meath] in the battle of Odba. His slayer was King Conchobor ua Mael Sechnaill, of the traditional kings of Míde. Ironically his killer was himself treacherously slain the following year by his own nephew in an internal power struggle.

The Annals of the Four Masters recorded Diarmait’s death as follows:
"‬Diarmaid,‭ ‬son of Mael-na-mbo,‭ ‬King of Leinster, of the foreigners of Ath-cliath, and of Leath-Mogha-Nuadhat, was slain and beheaded in the battle of Odhbha, on Tuesday, the seventh of the Ides of February, the battle having been gained over him by Conchobhar O'Maeleachlainn, King of Meath. There were also slain many hundreds of the foreigners and Leinstermen, along with Diarmaid, in that battle. In it was killed Gillaphadraig O'Fearghaile, lord of the Fortuatha, &c.

It was Diarmait’s career and his relative success that coined the phrase‭ rí Érenn co fressabra that is ‘king of Ireland with Opposition’ ‬and indeed that is a fair summary of where he stood when he fell beneath the weapons of his enemies.

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6 February 1918 - Women in Britain and Ireland gained the right to vote in General Elections for the first time on this day. The Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed into Law by the British Parliament. It gave women over the age of 30 the right to vote and all men over the age of 21. The law said that women over the age of 30 who occupied a house (or were married to someone who did) could now vote. 

This meant 8.5 million women now had their say over who was in Parliament - about 2 in every 5 women in the UK. It also said that all men over the age of 21 could vote - regardless of whether or not they owned property - and men in the armed forces could vote from the age of 19. The number of men who could now vote went from 8 million to 21 million. This was a legislative Revolution as it meant that any future Parliament would have a very different profile than the current or previous ones.

The campaign to extend the Franchise to women had been a long and arduous one over many years with women protesting and been sent to prison and even dying to achieve electoral equality with menfolk at the polls. The Suffragettes were led by Emmeline Pankhurst who from 1905 led a militant campaign to change the law. In Ireland too women campaigned holding meetings, smashing windows and generally making a nuisance of themselves to draw attention to their cause. But the various groups here found no sympathy from either John Redmond the Nationalist Leader or Sir Edward Carson the Irish Unionist Leader.

Nevertheless when the ‘Khaki Election’ of December 1918 came round the only woman to win a seat as a Member of Parliament was  the Irish Revolutionary Countess Markievicz who amongst other things was a vocal supporter of the Suffragette Movement. However as an Irish Republican she refused to take her seat in the Westminster Parliament and pledged her allegiance to Dáil Éireann in Dublin instead. Britain had to wait until 1919 for its for its first female MP - one Lady Astor - who was born and raised in the USA.

Curious to note that while women in the United Kingdom had to wait until 1928 for the franchise to be fully extended to all women over the age of 21 in the Irish Free State this discrimination between the sexes was abolished in 1922 putting the Irish State well ahead of the British one in a woman’s Right to Vote.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

5‭ ‬February 1820: The death of William Drennan, United Irishman, on this day. He was born in Belfast in 1754 and educated locally and at Edinburgh University where he graduated as a Medical Doctor in 1778. He returned home and practised in Belfast, Newry and later moved to Dublin in the fateful year of 1789. He became interested in Politics and Poetry. His family background was Presbyterian but he personally was a non conformist. But he was proud to be the son of a Presbyterian Minister all the same:

I am the son of an honest man‭; ‬a minister of that gospel which breathes peace and goodwill among men‭; a Protestant Dissenting minister, in the town of Belfast; who[se] spirit I am accustomed to look up, in every trying situation, as my mediator and intercessor with Heaven.

Drennan came to National attention when in‭ ‬1784 and 1785 his Letters of Orellana, an Irish Helot were published. These were the earliest expressions of his support for radical constitutional reform, Catholic Emancipation and civil rights.

However as political events both at home and abroad hotted up in the early‭ ‬1790’s he dabbled deeper into the burning issues of the day. Along with Theobald Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell he was instrumental in the foundation of the United Irishmen, at the time an open body with strictly legal aims and methods. It is generally considered that Drennan was the guiding hand in the initial philosophical basis of the new body. He had proposed even before it was established that any such organisation should be:

A benevolent conspiracy—a plot for the people—no Whig Club—no party title—the Brotherhood its name—the rights of man and the greatest happiness of the greatest number its end—its general end,‭ ‬real independence to Ireland and republicanism its particular purpose—its business, every means to accomplish these ends as speedily as the prejudices and bigotry of the land we live in would permit.

In‭ ‬1795‭ ‬he wrote his poem ‘Erin’ which is credited with the first use of the term ‘the Emerald Isle’ to describe Ireland:

Nor one feeling of vengeance presume to defile‭ 
The cause,‭ or the men, of the Emerald Isle. 

However Drennan was not of a sanguinary turn of mind and he recoiled from the prospect of Revolution to bring about the overthrow of the British Regime.‭ ‬Notwithstanding this withdrawal in  the year 1794 he was charged with Sedition and narrowly escaped conviction. At first he wished to address the Court and make a highly charged political statement but his lawyer talked him out of it. If he had done so it was generally considered he would have convinced his accusers of his guilt in their eyes. 

But his days of danger were now over and as his active political life receded he used his pen to attack Tyranny.‭ ‬His poem‭ ‬The Wake of William Orr in 1797‭ ‬stirred passions that were to foment further opposition towards Orr’s executioners and the Government that paid them. However he kept well clear of the terrible events of 1798.‭ 

In‭ ‬1800 he married an English Lady, Sarah Swanwick, and spent some years in the north of England moving in the Literary and Social circles there. In 1807 he gave up Medicine and returned to Belfast. He founded and edited the radical Belfast Monthly Magazine and was a leading supporter of the Belfast Academical Institution, a doomed attempt to bring to Belfast both secondary and higher level education, open to pupils from both sides of the religious divide.

He died on‭ ‬5 February‭ ‬1820‭ ‬and was buried in Clifton Street burial-ground in Belfast.‭ ‬His coffin was borne to the grave by three Catholics and three Protestants.‭

Monday, 4 February 2019

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4 February 1868:  Countess Constance Markievicz was born on this day. Society Girl, Artist, Revolutionary, Feminist and Socialist there is no doubt that she was a woman who lived Life to the full and gave it her all for Ireland and her People. Her parents were the Artic explorer Sir Henry Gore Booth and Lady Georgina, Lady Gore-Booth. Her father owned a large Estate at Lissadell House in Co Sligo.

In the 1890s she studied Art in London and Paris where she met her future husband, the Polish Nobleman ‘Count Markievicz’ - and there after she was known as Countess Markievicz! She gave birth to their daughter, Maeve, at Lissadell in November 1901.The family moved to Dublin in 1903 and the Countess moved in the Literary and Art circles of the city, notably in the circle of the famous portrait artist Sarah Purcell. There she met many people who were involved in the politics of the day and from this her interest in Ireland’s future deepened. In 1908, she became actively involved in nationalist politics in Ireland and joined Sinn Fein which was the most advanced Nationalist Party of its day. In 1913 Markievicz's husband moved back to Ukraine, and never returned to live in Ireland. However, they did correspond and he was by her side when she died.

When the 1916 Rising broke out she played an active part in it and was rumoured to have shot dead a DMP policeman while trying to storm Dublin Castle. She was part of the Stephens Green garrison that later withdrew to the Royal College of Surgeons on the Green. When the Rising was over she was taken prisoner, held in solitary confinement and sentenced to Death. Much to her disappointment the sentenced was commuted to Life Imprisonment. However she was released in 1917 after having served her time in an English Prison.

In the British General Election of December 1918 she was elected for a Dublin Constituency taking 66% of the vote but refused to take her seat in a London Parliament. When the 1st Dáil met in January the Countess was back in an English Prison and when the roll call was taken her absence was noted by the words - fé ghlas ag Gallaibh -"imprisoned by the foreign enemy". She was made the Minister for Labour and held that position until January 1922. She also sat in the Cabinet of the Irish Republic from April 1919 till August 1919 - thus making her the First Woman Cabinet Minister in Irish History.

She left the government in January 1922 along with Eamon De Valera and others in opposition to the Treaty. She fought actively for the Republican cause in the Irish Civil War helping to defend Moran's Hotel in Dublin. After the War she toured the United States. However, her staunch republican views led her to being sent to jail again. In prison, she and 92 other female prisoners went on hunger strike. Within a month, she was released. She joined the new Fianna Fáil on its foundation in 1926, chairing the inaugural meeting of the new party in La Scala Theatre. In the June 1927 Election she was re-elected to the Dáil as a candidate for the new party, which was pledged to return but died only five weeks later, before she could take up her seat.

Constance Markievicz died at the age of 59 on 15 July 1927, of complications related to appendicitis. She had given away the last of her wealth, and died in a public ward "among the poor where she wanted to be". One of the doctors attending her was her revolutionary colleague Kathleen Lynn. Also at her bedside were Casimir and her step-son Stanislas Markievicz, Eamon de Valera & others came by to pay their last respects. Refused a state funeral by the Free State government, she was buried Glasnevin Cemetery  Dublin, and Eamon de Valera gave the funeral oration. Sean O’Casey said of her: One thing she had in abundance—physical courage; with that she was clothed as with a garment.

4 February 1974: The M62 Coach bombing on this day: Eleven people - including eight British soldiers and two young children - were killed, and 12 seriously injured, when the coach they were travelling in was blown up by an IRA bomb in England. 

The private coach was carrying more than 50 people and making its way from Manchester, along the M62, towards a British army base in Catterick, North Yorkshire, when an explosive device in the rear of the vehicle detonated. The explosion happened just after midnight on the eastbound carriageway between Chain Bar, near Bradford and Drightlington, south of Leeds. It could be heard over an area of several miles and scattered bodies for 250 yards along the road. 

The coach was carrying soldiers and their families who had been on a weekend break; some of the servicemen were travelling to RAF Leeming, near Darlington. A family of four - Cpl Clifford Haughton, his wife Linda, who were both 23, and their two sons, Lee, five, and Robert, three - were among the dead. 

An Englishwoman Judith Ward was convicted of this attack and spent 18 years in prison as a result. At the time of her trial Ward's father, Thomas, had said earlier he did not believe his daughter was capable of such "brutal and callous acts". Her brother, Tommy, said none of the family thought Judith had ever been in the IRA. "We don't think she was so heavily involved. There has been a lot of romancing," he said. 

That was a point echoed in court by Ward's solicitor, Andrew Rankin QC, who highlighted many improbabilities in her confessions. They included having been married to an IRA man and having borne a child by another. Her conviction was always suspect but it took 18 years before it was overturned in 1992 and she was released from captivity. It was one of a series of convictions in the British Courts in the 1970s that were seen by many as 'miscarriages of justice' and that further marred Anglo Irish relations at that time.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

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3 February 1917: Sinn Féin won its first parliamentary election on this day. It was dubbed “The Election of the Snows” due to the inclement weather prevalent at the time. Its candidate Count George Noble Plunkett took the seat by defeating the candidate of the Irish Parliamentary Party. He was the father of Joseph Mary Plunkett who had been shot by the British for being one of the Leaders of the Easter Rising in1916.

It was a contest between three candidates: Thomas Devine who sought to retain the seat for the Irish Parliamentary Party; Count George Noble Plunkett and the local newspaper owner and editor Jasper Tully of the Roscommon Herald who ran as an independent. All three candidates have professed themselves to be confident of success. Count Plunkett was elected with 3,022 votes to Devine’s 1,708 and Tully’s 687.

Amid scenes of jubilation Count Plunkett  announced that Sinn Féin’s policy regarding Westminster was one of abstentionism and said:
My place henceforth will be beside you in your own country, for it is in Ireland, that the battle of Irish liberty will be fought. I recognise no parliament in existence, as having a right over the people of Ireland, just as I deny the right of England to an inch of the soil of Ireland. I do not think I will go further than the old house in College Green to represent you. I am sent by Ireland to represent you in Ireland; to stand by you and to win Ireland’s freedom upon her own soil.

His election sent a clear message that the days of popular support for the old Irish Parliamentary Party were effectively over and a new political movement was abroad - one that would not send its representatives to London but seek to establish an Irish Parliament in Dublin - free from British Rule.