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Thursday, 15 November 2018

15 November 1985: The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed by the Irish and British Government at Hillsborough, Co. Down on this day. The Agreement was the most important development in Anglo-Irish relations since the 1920s. Both Governments confirmed that there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its citizens. But it also saw recognition by the British that the Irish State had a legitimate interest in the affairs of the North and would be consulted on a regular basis as to what policies would be followed in relation to its governance.

So the Irish Government, through the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and Maryfield Secretariat, was provided with a consultative role in the administration of the Six Counties for the first time. It was this consultative role, accompanied by the continuing conditional nature of the British claim to the North, that caused strong opposition to the Agreement from the unionist population of Ulster. Republicans also opposed the Agreement as falling short of their demands for immediate British withdrawal and a united Ireland. 

While the Irish Leader An Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald was chuffed to pull off what in his eyes was a diplomatic coup his co signatory Mrs Thatcher the British Prime Minister was not so sure. She saw the Agreement more as a security issue to get the Irish government to crack down on the IRA rather than as a means towards a full political settlement. She also rightly foresaw that Unionist opposition to the Agreement would be strong and ferocious. 

In retrospect the Agreement had mixed success. There was increased co operation in security issues between the police forces in both jurisdictions and the rise of Sinn Fein was temporarily stalled. But it was to be another 13 long years before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 laid the foundations for the current political settlement - something that most would consider to be still a ‘work in progress’...

"I had come to the conclusion that I must now give priority to heading off the growth of support for the IRA in Northern Ireland by seeking a new understanding with the British Government, even at the expense of my cherished, but for the time being at least clearly unachievable, objective of seeking a solution through negotiations with the Unionists."
Garret FitzGerald in his autobiography All in a Life (FitzGerald, 1991).

''I started from the need for greater security, which was imperative. If this meant making limited political concession to the South, much as I disliked this kind of bargaining, I had to contemplate it."
Margaret Thatcher in her autobiography The Downing Street Years (Thatcher, 1993).

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

14 November 1180 AD: The death occurred of St Laurence O’Toole / Lorcan Ua Tuathail at Eu in Normandy on this day. He is the patron Saint of Dublin. He was born in Kildare in about the year 1128 and was educated at the Monastery of Glendalough where he became a prominent member of the religious community there. Being the brother in law of the King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, further enhanced his status. 

In 1161 he obtained the key ecclesiastical appointment of Archbishop of Dublin and in the following year was consecrated as such in a great ceremony at Christ Church in the city by Gilla Isu the Primate of Armagh. O’Toole’s elevation was a novelty in that he was the first Gaelic leader of the Church in Dublin and that he owed his position to the See of Armagh and not that of Canterbury in England. The Archbishop was a man of great piety and charity and he founded a number of religious houses including the one of All Hallows where Trinity College now stands. Once a year he retreated to Glendalough where he entered a cave for 40 days to fast and pray. 

However when Henry II crossed into Ireland and set up Court in Dublin he was a deft enough operator to ensure that he stayed in the Kings’ good standing. He acted as a go between in the delicate negotiations with Rory O’Connor the King of Ireland and Henry in his role as King of England. Indeed he was one of the signatories of the Treaty of Windsor in 1175 which recognised Henry as ‘Lord of Ireland’ but not as its King.

In April 1178 he entertained the papal legate, Cardinal Vivian, who presided at the Synod of Dublin. He also attended the great Third Lateran Council in March 1179. Pope Alexander III had summoned it with the particular object of putting an end to the schism within the Church and the quarrel between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Papacy. About three hundred fathers assembled from the provinces of Europe and some from the Latin east, and a single legate from the Greek church. Laurence O’Toole returned home with the title of Papal Legate, which was a mark of the influence he had gained in Rome. 

But his further term in office was to be a short one as in the following year he left Dublin to track down the peripatetic Henry in his wanderings across his patchwork quilt Empire of polities. His mission was to bring urgent matters in Ireland for his consideration. After three weeks of detention at Abingdon Abbey, England he followed Henry II to Normandy. Taken ill at the Augustinian Abbey of Eu, he was tended by Abbot Osbert and the canons of St. Victor in his confinement and it was there that he breathed his last. His tomb is in the crypt, under the Collegial Church at Eu. Many people still go there to pray. Laurence was canonized in 1225.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Image result for Knocknanuss

13 November 1647: The Battle of Knocknanuss/ Cnoc na nos: "the hill of the fawns"  in Co Cork was fought on this day. The opposing armies were those of the Irish Protestant, Murrough O’Brien (the later Lord Inchiquin), who was commited to support the English Parliament and those of the English Catholic, Viscount Theobald Taafe, leading a Confederate Army loyal to the Supreme Council of Kilkenny.

Viscount Taafe was given the task by the Council of raiding into the lands under the control of Inchiquin’s troops. This was in retaliation for the attacks launched by the Parliamentary forces on Cashel and Callan in the previous months and the numerous atrocities they had carried out. The Catholic commander was able to assemble a force of about 6,000 infantry and some 1,200 cavalry.

Amongst this force was a contingent of Scottish ‘Redshanks’ mercenaries under the legendry warrior leader Alasdair MacColla (Alistair McDonnell). However Viscount Taafe owed his appointment to political intrigue rather than any natural military abilities. It appears his heart was not really in the enterprise anyway and his conduct of the campaign reflected poorly on him.

His initial dispositions on the day of the battle were good in that he held the high ground but he fatally deployed his army in two separate wings divided by a hill that essentially cut one off from the other. Despite having a slight numerical advantage he did not utilise his force in a co ordinated manner but allowed each local commander to decide his own course of action. Alasdair MacColla’s men were the first into battle as they charged down upon the enemys’ flank opposite their own, broke their lines and routed them. Thinking the battle won they then fell to plundering Inchiquin’s Baggage Train and took no further meaningful part in the affair.

Murrough O’Brien however kept his cool throughout all of this. Sensing the moment was ripe he launched his own troopers uphill at the charge upon the Confederates left flank and put their cavalry to flight. The Munster infantrymen situated towards the centre of the line gave one ragged volley and then promptly fell back. The whole Confederate line then began to buckle and retreat developed into Rout. The Parliamentary Cavalry pursued their opponents for miles putting many to the sword as they did so. Meanwhile Alasdair MacColla and what remained of his men were surrounded and captured before being put to death on the spot. The defeat at Knocknanuss was a mortal blow for the Confederacy in the Province of Munster and was a defeat from which they never recovered.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Liber Niger Page-page-0

12 November 1216: Magna Charta Hiberniae was issued on this day. It was a follow up to the original Magna Carta from the previous year that King John of England was forced to issue at the behest of his Barons in order to placate them from Revolt.

Henry, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, etc., to all his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, sheriffs, reeves, ministers, etc., and to all his faithful people, greeting.
Know that to the honour of God, the exaltation of Holy Church, and the amendment of our kingdom, by advice of Gualo, cardinal priest of St. Martin's, Legate of the Apostolic See, Peter, bishop of Winchester [and ten other bishops], William the Marshall, earl of Pembroke [and other earls and nobles], Hubert de Burgh, our justiciar, and others.
Firstly, we have granted to God, and by his present charter confirmed for us and our heirs for ever, that the Irish Church shall be free, and have all her rights entire and her liberties inviolable.
We have also granted to all free men of our kingdom, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties underwritten, to have and to hold to them and their heirs of us and our heirs. 

This Charter was issued in Bristol, England by the Justicar of Ireland William Marshall, who was the most powerful man in both countries at that time. Its purpose was to extend to Ireland the rights and privileges that were to be enjoyed by men of similar standing in both jurisdictions. It was basically the importation into Ireland of the reformation of the Feudal System that Magna Carta initiated. In it the Rights of Nobles, Churchmen and the Freemen of the Lordship were to be guaranteed and protected. 

However from an Irish perspective what was not said was as important as what was said. The key point is that ‘Freemen’ were in effect those men of Anglo-Norman birth or descent. The Gaelic Irish were not included. But their exclusion was not absolute. The rights of Freemen could be granted if the claimant was suitably loyal or rich or powerful enough to influence the Courts to grant such a privilege to them and their families. Also in effect the practise of the Laws of England was not always so rigid that an Irishman would have no Rights before one, but unlike ‘Freemen’ it was not a given that he would be given a fair hearing - or one at all.

There is though a body of opinion that believes that Magna Carta owed a lot to the Brehon Laws of Ireland for its concepts that laws are separate from the will of a king. In ancient Irish Law the king was not the originator or arbiter of laws but merely a player in their enforcement with the advice of his Brehons - those men learned in the laws of Ireland. Many of the Barons of King John (eg William Marshall) had lands in Ireland and were familiar with its concepts.

As it happens King John was dead by this time having died of dysentery the previous month while on campaign against his Barons as he tried unsuccessfully to crush them once more. With his death William Marshall became the most powerful of the Barons as King John’s son Henry (Henry III) was but a boy. He must have taken the opportunity to ensure that the ‘Great Charter’ was extended to this Country as by passing this into Law here he would be greatly extending his power to rule the Lordship of Ireland as befitted him and his fellow Barons.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

11 November 1918: The Armistice on the Western Front on this day. At precisely 11 O’Clock in the morning the First World War came to an end on the Western Front in France and Belgium and the guns fell silent. This was as a result of the activation of the Armistice between Germany and the Allied Powers agreed just days beforehand & only finally signed off at Compiègne in France that very morning.

For Nationalist  Ireland the end of the War was greeted with relief rather than jubilation. To many Irish People the War was not their War and even many of those who had joined up had by the time it ended mixed emotions about it all. However it was a different feeling amongst the Unionist population who celebrated with justo what they viewed as an overwhelming Victory over an Evil Empire.

 “The feelings that had been pent up for some years were suddenly let loose and the whole city seemed to go mad with joy,” The Irish Times reported of how Dublin greeted the news.
It went on to note the profusion of Union Jack flags around the city. By the afternoon, huge crowds had gathered from Sackville Street (O’Connell Street) to St Stephen’s Green. A group of students commandeered a hearse and put an effigy of the kaiser in the back wrapped in a “Sinn Féin flag”

Irish Times 24 April 2018

In his monthly state of the nation submission to the Dublin Castle authorities, the Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary remarked at the close of November 1918 that ‘news of the armistice’ had brought ‘a sense of relief to every class of the community but it evokes no universal enthusiasm’.

Capt Noel Drury of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers remembered:

 “It’s like when one heard of the death of a friend – a sort of forlorn feeling. I went along and read the order to the men, but they just stared at me and showed no enthusiasm at all. They all had the look of hounds whipped off just as they were about to kill.”
Irish Times 24 April 2018

That morning of the Armistice Eamon De Valera sat in his prison cell in Lincoln Jail England and pondered the significance of the day that was in it. He wrote to his wife Sinéad back in Ireland:

I have just heard the sirens and bells which announce that the armistice with Germany has been signed. It will bring relief to many an anxious heart... The thoughts that occur to me here today would fill volumes—we have leisure for thought calm sober thought—thoughts on the vanities of men and of Empires—vanities which the lessons of this war will not dispel. A hundred years ago ‘twas Napoleon this time ‘twas Germany—whose turn will it be next? …

For the sake of the women of the world at any rate I am glad it is over. They it is who have suffered most. Their imaginings have been far worse than the worst horrors the men have had to endure. Those of the victorious nations will forget for a time their nightmare in the joy of victory but alas for those in the nations that have been vanquished.

Many tens of thousands of Irishmen had been killed and wounded in the fighting - perhaps as many as 30,000 dead from this island with many more maimed for life or left psychologically scarred. For those who served in front line units the casualty rate was horrendous, for instance the 2nd Leinsters [a Regular Battalion] lost 88 officers and 1,085 men killed and many times that number wounded in the course of the War.

On the Western Front nearly all those Irishmen who had marched off the War were either dead, wounded, captured or no longer serving in front line units. For instance the 16th ‘Irish’ Division had just one Irish battalion left in its composition. When the end came it was greeted with mute acceptance rather than wild joy.

Of course the War had come to Ireland too in the form of Easter Rising in 1916 and left hundreds dead on the streets of the City and much of the City Centre in ruins. After that any motive that Nationalist Ireland had to support the War was very much diminished. At sea there had been the tremendous loss of life on the Lusitania off Kinsale in 1915 and just weeks before the Wars’ end the Mail Boat Leinster was sunk with heavy loss of life off Kingstown [Dun Laoghaire]. Many smaller boats also met their end plying the Trade routes between Ireland and destinations overseas.

We will never know exactly how many men from Ireland served in the Great War but at a conservative estimate it would be circa 250,000 if numbers who joined the Commonwealth Armies and the US Military are included. Even on the last day of fighting Irishmen serving with the American Expeditionary Force were killed in action. The last man to die that day serving with an Irish Regiment was one George Ellison who died at the town of Mons in Belgium serving with the 5th Royal Irish Lancers - though he was a Yorkshireman!  He was also the last British soldier to be killed in action during the First World War. Mons had just fallen to the Canadian Corps and it was there that the British Army had fought its first battle of the war back in 1914.

So as the War ended the Unionists, esp. in the north east of Ireland, had at least good cause for feeling their men's sacrifice had not been in vain. It had been a bloody and costly effort nonetheless. It was clear to everybody that the end of the War meant that new opportunities and new dangers awaited as the troops returned and post war elections beckoned that would prove a watershed in Irish Politics.

But to many of the Nationalists at least their sacrifice was problematical. The set of circumstances that had led John Redmond to advocate Nationalist Ireland’s participation in the War four years beforehand had changed utterly. The men from Nationalist backgrounds who had been publicly cheered to the Fronts in 1914 and 1915 could expect only a muted response when they now came home.

There could be no doubt that Ireland on 11 November 1918 was a politically very different place than just over four years earlier on 4 August 1914 when War was declared on Germany. To this day the Great War resonates through European & Irish History as the catalyst for so much that followed from its terrible and costly path...

Saturday, 10 November 2018

10 November 1798: The Court Martial of Theobold Wolfe Tone commenced on this day. A court was assembled consisting of General Loftus, who performed the functions of President, Colonels Vandeleur, Daly, and Wolfe, Major Armstrong, and a Captain Curran; Mr Paterson performed the functions of a Judge Advocate. 

At an early hour, the neighbourhood of the barracks was crowded with eager and anxious spectators. As soon as the doors were thrown open, they rushed in and filled every corner of the hall. Wolfe Tone was brought in and appeared before the crowd dressed in the in the uniform of a Chef de Brigade of the Army of the French Republic [above]. This created quite a stir and Tone was allowed to address the Court as to his motivations for the actions he had undertaken. On balance he did pretty well in getting his case heard at all. His noble and open admission of his role of been found in arms against the soldiers of the King of England in his native country of Ireland was admired by some but removed any small chance that he might escape execution. He concluded his defence (if it may be called that) with the words:

As to the connection between this country and Great Britain, I repeat it, all that has been imputed to me, words, writings, and actions, I here deliberately avow. I have spoken and acted with reflection, and on principle, and am ready to meet the consequences. Whatever be the sentence of this Court, I am prepared for it. Its members will surely discharge their duty; I shall care not to be wanting to mine.

Tone’s last request was that he would be shot by shot by a platoon of grenadiers in the uniform of a Chef de Brigade in the French Army. This plea along with his statement to the Court was conveyed to Lord Cornwallis for consideration but quickly rejected. Wolfe Tone was then sentenced by the members of the Court Martial to die the death of a traitor within 48 hours on the 12 of November 1798.

Friday, 9 November 2018

9 November 1920: The British Prime Minister David Lloyd George gave his infamous speech at the Guildhall Banquet in London on this day. His remarks were taken as a public acceptance that the Crown Forces were using ‘Terror’ as a weapon of war against the IRA. In fact they were using it as a means of intimidation against the Nationalist population, especially in areas where armed resistance to British rule was most active. In his address to the distinguished members he stated that:

We have murder by the throat, we had to reorganise the police. When the Government was ready we struck the terrorists and now the terrorists are complaining of terror.

However the Prime Minister’s words came to haunt him as it became increasingly apparent his taunts were hollow when in the following weeks as the IRA struck even further blows against British agents and paramilitary units.

The following year 'The Welsh Wizard' was sitting at the table in No 10 Downing Street in London negotiating face to face with those very same Irish 'Terrorists'!