Thursday, 9 July 2020

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9‭ July 1911: King George V and Queen Mary visited the Catholic Seminary of Maynooth on this day. The British king was on a brief tour of Ireland to mark his accession to the throne. He spent four days in and around Dublin on a royal visit to the city. The King and the royal party, led by the 8th Royal Hussars on horseback, had travelled from the harbour in Kingstown/ Dún Laoghaire to Dublin Castle, as thousands lined the streets to view his procession. Here the King and Queen based themselves in a very secure location and circulated from there to the various locations in a meticulously  planned series of events designed to enhance Royal Power in the wake of George V’s Coronation.

It was decided that a visit to the educational centre of Catholic Ireland would help to balance any attempt of the Orange Order to make his stay here the preserve of any one side.‭ The King was accompanied by his formidable wife Queen Mary of Teck [Germany] who was bedecked in a stunning white dress with a matching hat of feathers. Cardinal Michael Logue, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland and Dr Daniel Mannix the President of the College, greeted the Royal couple on arrival. Other senior members of the Catholic Hierarchy were also in attendance. The visit was the highlight of the King’s stay in Ireland. 

However King George’s visit by no means met with everyone’s approval.‭ Even someone as socially conservative as William Martin Murphy turned down the offer of a Knighthood from the King. Dublin Corporation would not issue an address welcoming him to the City of Dublin. James Connolly warned people to stay away and issued a stern rebuttal of the majesty of kings and this one in particular:

 Murder,‭ treachery, adultery, incest, theft, perjury – every crime known to man has been committed by some one or other of the race of monarchs from whom King George is proud to trace his descent. '‬His blood has crept through scoundrels since the flood.'

Ours be the task to enlighten the ignorant among our class,‭ to dissipate and destroy the political and social superstitions of the enslaved masses and to hasten the coming day when, in the words of Joseph Brenan, the fearless patriot of '48, all the world will maintain:

‭'The Right Divine of Labour
To be first of earthly things‭;
That the Thinker and the Worker
Are Manhood's only Kings.‭'‬ 

King George though seems to have enjoyed his stay.‭ ‬On 12 July from Dublin Castle he issued a 'Letter of Thanks' for the reception he and his children had received. It ended with the following passage:

Looking forward,‭ as we do, to coming amongst our Irish people again, and at no distant date, and repeating in other parts of the Country the delightful experience of the last few days, we can now only say that our best wishes will ever be for the increased prosperity of your ancient capital, and for the contentment and happiness of our Irish People.

King George though was to be somewhat disappointed - as he never again set foot in the Fair City. It was to be 100 years before another British Monarch did so.





Wednesday, 8 July 2020

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8 July 1981: The death of Joe McDonnell on Hunger Strike on this day. He died after 61 days without food. He was the fifth Republican prisoner to die that year in the ongoing campaign to gain Special Status for political prisoners.

Joe McDonnell was born in Belfast in 1950. He married his wife Goretti in 1970 and they had two children together. When the conflict erupted in the North Joe took sides and ended up in the IRA. He had joined the Republican Movement soon after the introduction of internment without trial in August 1971. He was himself interned on the prison ship Maidstone in 1972 and in Long Kesh from 1973 to 1974. He was captured in 1976 when the car he was in was stopped by the RUC and he and three other men (one of whom was Bobby Sands) were given long terms of imprisonment. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

McDonnell and many of the other Republican prisoners did not accept that they were criminals for fighting against the British Crown - something Irishmen had been doing for centuries. But in 1976 the British Government had abolished Special Category Status for political prisoners. From then on it could only be a matter of time till things escalated. By the Summer of 1981 a Hunger Strike was under way and a number of prisoners had died and others were in danger of dying.

Following the success of Bobby Sands being elected for Fermanagh South Tyrone prior to his death on 5 May it was decided by the Anti H Block campaign to contest the General Election in the 26 Counties that fell on 11 June that year. McDonnell was selected to contest the Constituency of Sligo-Leitrim. Veteran local republican John Joe McGirl was his election agent and Joe’s wife Goretti was conspicuous in her presence to help get him elected there. On the day of the election he received 5,639 1st preference votes - narrowingly missing being elected by a small margin.

When Joe McDonnell died on 8 July 1981 tensions were at razor point in the North. From Wednesday evening through to the Friday morning, Joe’s body had lain in state in the family home. During this time, thousands of people filed past the coffin to pay their respects to the fallen Volunteer.

When his funeral was held in Belfast some days later thousands of people followed the cortege on it way to Milltown Cemetery. Along the way the mourners were under close observation by the British Military. When they spotted an IRA Guard of Honour returning to a house after firing the final shots they swooped. Simultaneously, the British Army and RUC opened up on the cortege with a hail of plastic bullets amidst scenes of pandemonium and panic. The head of the funeral cortege had moved on a few minutes before the attack and was making its way towards Milltown. Six IRA Volunteers took the coffin on their shoulders for the last leg of the journey to the Republican Plot.

Today next to Bobby Sands he is the best known of the Hungers Strikers of 1981. He is the subject of a famous Republican Ballad written by Brian Warfield of The Wolfe Tones. It begins:

Oh my name is Joe McDonnell 
From Belfast town I came 
That city I will never see again...


Tuesday, 7 July 2020


7‭ July 1816: The great Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan died on this day. He died in the City of London in impoverished circumstances. 

Sent to be educated at Harrow by his father he completed his education before he eloped and married Elizabeth Linley and with her modest fortune behind him he established himself in London and began his career as a playwright.‭ In the same year, 1772, Richard Sheridan, at the age of 21, eloped with and subsequently married Elizabeth Ann Linley and set up house in London on a lavish scale with little money and no immediate prospects of any—other than his wife's dowry. The young couple entered the fashionable world and apparently held up their end in entertaining.

He enjoyed some success with his first major play‭ The Rivals that was performed at Covent Garden in 1775. However his most famous play is The School for Scandal which was first performed at Drury Lane in May 1777. It still ranks as one of the greatest comedies of manners of the English stage. Having quickly made his name and fortune, in 1776 Sheridan bought David Garrick's share in the Drury Lane patent, and in 1778 the remaining share. His later plays were all produced there. 

However his later literary career was more of a business venture rather than as an original playwright and Sheridan switched a lot of his attention to English Parliamentary politics where he supported the Whigs.‭ ‬He entered parliament for Stafford in 1780, as the friend and ally of Charles James Fox. He opposed the American War and was instrumental in the impeachment of Warren Hastings. An excellent public speaker his voice and eloquence commanded attention whenever he rose in the House. Initially a supporter of non intervention against France as the Revolution took hold he was more sanguinary in approach as Napoleon rose to dominance. 

He was as it happens one of the few MPs at Westminster to oppose the Act of Union.‭ ‬When the Whigs came into power in 1806 Sheridan was appointed treasurer of the Royal Navy, and became a member of the Privy Council. Throughout his parliamentary career Sheridan was one of the close companions of the Prince of Wales (the later King George IV). He tried though to distance himself from the suggestion that he was the Prince’s advisor or even a mouthpiece for him. He did however defend the controversial Royal member in parliament in some dubious matters of payment of debts.

In‭ 1809 his beloved Drury Lane Theatre burned down. Legend has it that on being encountered drinking a glass of wine in the street while watching the fire, Sheridan was famously reported to have said:

A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.

His last years were marred by personal and financial troubles as he lost his parliamentary seat,‭ fell out with the Prince and was pursued by numerous debtors. In December 1815 he became ill, and was largely confined to bed. His last few weeks were spent in almost total destitution as his funds ran out. He died on the 7th of July 1816, and was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey. His funeral was attended by dukes, earls, lords, viscounts, the Lord Mayor of London, and other notables.




Monday, 6 July 2020


6 July 1958 Sir John Lymbrick Esmonde, 14th Baronet died on this day. Born on 5 February 1893 he was an Irish nationalist politician who unusually served as both Member of Parliament (MP) in the Parliament of the United Kingdom in London and later as a Teachta Dála (TD) in Dáil Eireann in Dublin.

Sir John was the son of Dr John Joseph Esmonde MP (1862–1915), of Drominagh, Borrisokane, County Tipperary. On the death of his father in 1915, he was elected in his place (opposed by two nationalist contenders) as Irish Parliamentary Party MP for North Tipperary while serving in World War I with the Leinster Regiment, then as Captain The Royal Dublin Fusiliers with the Intelligence Corps; he was an engineer.

He was one of five Irish MPs who served with Irish regiments in World War I, the others Stephen Gwynn, William Redmond and D. D. Sheehan as well as former MP Tom Kettle. John Lymbrick Esmonde served with the forces that put down the Easter Rising. He withdrew without defending his seat in the 1918 general election. He inherited the Esmonde Baronetcy when the senior male line died out in 1943.

He subsequently served as a Fine Gael Teachta Dála (TD) for Wexford, where he won a seat at the 1937 general election. He was re-elected in 1938 and 1943, but lost his Dáil seat in the 1944 election. He became a barrister at the King's Inns, Dublin, called to the inner Bar as Senior Counsel in 1942, Bencher 1948. He was re-elected TD for Wexford in the 1948 general election serving until the 1951 general election, when he retired from politics. In 1948 he was suggested as possible Taoiseach by Seán MacBride, on the grounds that he had no link to either side in the Civil War.

His younger brother Lt. Geoffrey Esmonde (1897–1916) aged 19 was killed in action in World War I serving with the 4th Tyneside Irish Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. His second younger brother was Sir Anthony Esmonde, 15th Baronet (1899–1981). His half-brother Eugene Esmonde was awarded a VC posthumously for in February 1942 leading the air attack on the German battleships Scharnhorst & Gneisenau as they made a dash through the English Channel.






5‭ July 1828: Daniel O’Connell won the Parliamentary seat of County Clare in a bye –election. His Victory marked a triumph for his organisation the Catholic Association. O’Connell became the first Catholic to be returned for a Constituency since the 1690’s. This campaign was the culmination of a series of electoral contests conducted by the Association and threw down the gauntlet to the British Government to either remove the Laws barring Catholics from the Parliament in London or possibly face a Revolution in Ireland. 

O’Connell had decided some months before to put his name forward at the first available opportunity.‭ Instead of using surrogate candidates of Protestant background who were sympathetic to Catholic Emancipation he wanted to have himself elected in a direct challenge to the Penal Laws against Catholics. The current MP for Clare, William Vesey-Fitzgerald, had to stand for re-election because he had been appointed as President of the Board of Trade, which carried a salary.

Some days previously O’Connell had addressed the electors of Clare:

The oath at present required by law is‭—‘That the sacrifice of the Mass and the Invocation of the blessed Virgin Mary and other Saints, as now practiced in the Church of Rome, arc impious and idolatrous’. Of course I never will stain my soul with such an oath; I leave that to my honourable opponent, Mr Vesey-Fitzgerald. He has often taken that horrible oath…

If you return me to Parliament,‭ ‬I pledge myself to vote for every measure which can strengthen the right of every human being to unrestricted and unqualified freedom of conscience.

To vote for every measure favourable to radical reform in the representative system,‭ so that the House of Commons may truly, as our Catholic ancestors intended it should do, represent all the people.

To vote for every measure of retrenchment and reduction of the national expenditure,‭ so as to relieve the people from the burthen of taxation.

Ironically‭ Vesey-Fitzgerald claimed he was a moderate who supported a relaxation of the Penal Laws. In the event O’Connell won handsomely by 2,057 votes to 982. This triggered a serious political crisis because as an elected representative of the People he was barred from taking his seat- solely on account of his Religion.  

The defeated candidate was none too happy with the result,‭ ‬writing to the Lord Lieutenant the Marquis Anglesey that very night: 

The priests have triumphed,‭ and through them and their brethren, the Catholic parliament will dictate the representatives of every county in the south of Ireland…

The poll closed tonight.‭ ‬It was hopeless from the first day…What a convulsion for any man to throw the county into, to satisfy his own vanity and to obtain what he cannot use… 

The following year Catholic Emancipation was reluctantly passed through both Houses of the British Parliament and this Constitutional climb down opened the door for other Catholic politicians to follow in O’Connell’s footsteps.‭ For his efforts in leading the campaign to emancipate his fellow co-religionists from the odious Anti Catholic Penal Laws Daniel O’Connell was subsequently known as ‘The Liberator’.

Saturday, 4 July 2020


4 July 1776: The American Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA this day.



IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...


The document set out the rights that should be enjoyed by all citizens of the New Republic. It is one of the most important political documents that modern history has produced. There was a strong Irish input into its drafting and wording that reflected the experience of life under Monarchical and Aristocratic rule back in 18th century America and Ireland. Nine men who were either born in Ireland or whose parents or grandparents were from Ireland signed that day.

Thomas McKean (March 19, 1734 – June 24, 1817) was the son of William McKean from County Antrim. He would become an American lawyer and politician, serving as President of Delaware, Chief Justice and then Governor of Pennsylvania.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton in Maryland (September 19, 1737 – November 14, 1832). Though born in America his parents were Irish and he was the only Catholic signatory and also the longest-lived signatory of the Declaration of Independence, dying at age 95.

James Smith was born in Ireland in c.1719 and was forced with his family to emigrate to the American colonies as a boy due to abuse by landlords. The name "Smith" in Ireland is oftentimes a translation of MacGabhann, which is an older Irish name meaning "son of Goibhniu," who was the Celtic deity of metallurgy.

George Taylor was born in Antrim, Ireland in 1716 and emigrated to America in 1736 at the age of 20. Taylor operated a furnace and was an iron manufacturer in Pennsylvania. He was a member of the Committee of Correspondence, 1774-1776, and of the Continental Congress, 1776-1777.

Matthew Thornton was born in Ireland in 1714 and went out to America as a four-year-old child. He would practice medicine and become active in pre-revolutionary agitation before being elected to become a member of the Continental Congress in 1776. He was a Colonel of New Hampshire Militia, 1775-1783.

Edward Rutledge (November 23, 1749 – January 23, 1800) was the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence. His father Dr. John Rutledge left Co.Tyrone, Ireland in 1735, and would raise a son to be 39th Governor of South Carolina.

Thomas Lynch Jr. (August 5, 1749 – 1779) stood in for his father Thomas Lynch Sr. who was unable to represent South Carolina due to illness. His grandfather was Jonas Lynch of the Galway who were exiled following the defeats at Aughrim and the Boyne. At the close of 1776 he and his wife sailed for the West Indies. The ship disappeared and there is no record of his life after.

George Read was born in Maryland in 1733. He was the son of John Read and Mary Howell Read. John Read was a wealthy resident of Dublin who emigrated to Maryland. When George Read was an infant the family moved to Delaware.

John Dunlap was born in Strabane, County Tyrone. In 1757, when he was ten years old, he went to work as an apprentice to his uncle, William Dunlap, a printer and bookseller in Philadelphia.

During the American Revolutionary War, Dunlap became an officer in the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, and saw action with George Washington at the battles of Trenton and Princeton.

On July 2, the Second Continental Congress voted to declare independence, and on July 4 they agreed to the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. That evening John Hancock ordered Dunlap to print broadsides. Dunlap printed 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence. The first newspaper outside America to publish the first text was the Belfast News Letter in its edition of August 23-27, 1776.



Friday, 3 July 2020





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3 July 1746: The birth of Henry Grattan on this day. Grattan was one of the great orators of the Irish Parliament in the 18th Century who fought long and hard to secure Ireland’s legislative independence from Great Britain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a superb orator – nervous, high-flown, romantic. With generous enthusiasm he demanded that Ireland should be granted its rightful status, that of an independent nation, though he always insisted that Ireland would remain linked to Great Britain by a common crown and by sharing a common political tradition
R. B. McDowell, ‘The Protestant Nation’ (1775–1800) in The Course of Irish History


Francis Wheatley (1780) shows Grattan (standing on right in red jacket) addressing the House.