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Thursday, 17 January 2019

17 January 1861: Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld died on this day. But to the World in which she lived she was universally known as ‘Lola Montez’ - dancer and courtesan and companion of the rich and famous in India, Europe, America and Australia.

Her life began as the daughter of a British Officer in Ireland circa 1820. She claimed to be from County Limerick but her birth cert says she was born in County Sligo in 1821. She was baptized at St Peter's Church in Liverpool on 16 February 1823, while her family was enroute to her father's post in India. Shortly after their arrival in India, Edward Gilbert died of cholera.

 Her mother married again and it was decided that Eliza would be sent to boarding school in England. She attended a series of educational establishments in England for young ladies but while intelligent it was noticed that Miss Eliza was a very wilful young woman with a mind of her own. On one occasion, she stuck flowers into the wig of an elderly man during a church service; on another, she ran through the streets naked...or so Legend has it. 

In 1837, 16-year-old Eliza eloped with Lieutenant Thomas James, and they married. The couple separated five years later. In Calcutta and she became a professional dancer under a stage name. This is where her career as a Sex Symbol really took off and made her name. She returned to London to continue her stage career and had affairs with numerous men of wealth and talent. She appears to have spent some months in Spain to master the arts of that Country’s  dancing technique. On return she passed herself off as ‘Lola Montez -Spanish Dancer’. After performing in various European capitals, she settled in Paris, where she was accepted in the rather Bohemian literary society of the time, being acquainted with Alexandre Dumas with whom she was rumoured to have had a dalliance. She is said to have also had an affair with the famous pianist/composer Franz Liszt.

Her really big break came in 1846 when King Ludwig of Bavaria - who had an eye for the Ladies-  fell for her. Today I saw Lola Montez dance. I am bewitched. In this Spanish woman [SIC] alone have I found love and life! (Ludwig's letters). The rumour was, at the time they met, Ludwig had asked her in public if her bosom was real, to which her response was to tear off enough of her garments to prove that it was.

Her arrogant and temperamental ways made her unpopular with the locals but the King was madly in love with her and made her Countess of Landsfeld on his next birthday, 25 August 1847. Along with her title, he granted her a large annuity. But in early 1848 a series of Revolutions began to sweep across Europe and Ludwig was overthrown. Lola was nearly lynched but she kept her demeanour  before the mob and sailed through them with her head held high. Her aplomb probably saved her life and she made it out of Bavaria alive but penniless.

She returned to London via Switzerland and then another marriage to a wealthy British Army officer George Heald. The Healds resided for a time in France and Spain, but within two years, the tempestuous relationship was in tatters, and George reportedly drowned. She then set off to seek her Fortune in the USA.

From 1851 to 1853, she performed as a dancer and actress in the eastern United States, one of her offerings being a play called Lola Montez in Bavaria. In May 1853, she arrived at San Francisco. Her performances there created a sensation. She married Patrick Hull, a local newspaperman, in July but her marriage soon failed; a doctor named as co-respondent in the divorce suit brought against her was shortly after murdered.

Next came Australia which took by Storm - basically by upping her act into even more erotic gyrations on the stage.
‘In September 1855 she performed her erotic Spider Dance at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne, raising her skirts so high that the audience could see she wore no underclothing at all. Next day, The Argus thundered that her performance was 'utterly subversive to all ideas of public morality'. Respectable families ceased to attend the theatre, which began to show heavy losses.'
Michael Cannon, Melbourne After the Gold Rush

But her life on the road and in various beds began to catch up with her. She began to noticeably age and decided to try her luck once again in America. She went back there in 1856 but her best days were behind her. However  in the late 1850's she returned on a triumphant tour to Ireland with a lecture at Dublin's Rotundo Rooms (now the Ambassador). The announcement of her Dublin lecture created a degree of interest unparalleled. The platform was regularly thronged by admirers giving Madame Montez barely space to stand.
She then returned back to New York where she spent her time helping fallen women and regretting her own fall from grace:
How many years of my life had been sacrificed to Satan and my own love of sin! I dare not think of the past. I have only lived for my passions. What would I not give to have my terrible experience given as an awful warning to such natures as my own!

In November 1859, the Philadelphia Express reported that Lola Montez was:
"living very quietly up town, and doesn't have much to do with the world's people. Some of her old friends, the Bohemians, now and then drop in to have a little chat with her, and though she talks beautifully of her present feelings and way of life, she generally, by way of parenthesis, takes out her little tobacco pouch and makes a cigarette or two for self and friend, and then falls back upon old times with decided gusto and effect. But she doesn't tell anybody what she's going to do."

By then she was showing the effects of possibly syphilis and her body began to waste away. She died at the age of 39 on 17 January 1861. She is buried in Green Wood Cemetery in New York City where her tombstone states: Mrs. Eliza Gilbert / Died 17 January 1861.

Her name has featured in many novels and biographies and Lola Montez has two lakes (an upper and lower) named after her in the Tahoe National Forest USA. There is also a mountain named in her honour, Mount Lola. At 9,148 feet, it is the highest point in Nevada County, California.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

16‭ January 1939: The Irish Republican Army, led by Sean Russell, declared War on Britain on this day. Russell had already sent a formal letter of intent to the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain stating that:

I have the honour to inform you that the government of the Irish Republic,‭ having as its first duty towards the people the establishment and maintenance of peace and order, herewith demand the withdrawal of all British armed forces stationed in Ireland.

The IRA man had given the British Leader‭ ‬96 hours to reply before the DOW would take effect.
Copies were also dispatched to Adolf Hitler,‭ Benito Mussolini and Lord Brookborough in the North. Soon afterwards IRA bombs started to go off in England and eventually about 200 devices exploded causing limited material damage, many injuries and a few deaths. The worst such incident occurred in the City of Coventry in August 1939 when seven innocent people were killed and nearly a 100 injured in a no warning attack. 

The Bombing Campaign though eventually petered out.‭ The IRA never really had  sufficient numbers of Volunteers nor enough trained personnel to conduct a sustained campaign in Britain to other than annoy the British. Nothing they could realistically achieve would have made them change their minds over their presence in Ireland. 

Ironically when Britain declared War on Germany in September‭ 1939 the Ultimatum presented by Neville Chamberlain to the German Chancellor bore more than a few passing echoes to the one Sean Russell had sent to the very same British Prime Minister at the beginning of that fateful year. At least Russell had given Britain 96 hours grace to end their Occupation but Chamberlain had in effect given Hitler less than 48 hours in which to end his one!

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Image result for eleanor hull

15 January 1860: The birth of Eleanor Hull, historian and translator on this day. She was born in England to a family from Co Down. The biography of her early life is somewhat sketchy but at some stage she or her family must have moved to Dublin where she attended what was then one of the most prestigious girls schools in the Country - Alexandra College. It was perhaps there that her interest in ancient Irish manuscripts & the Gaelic Language  took hold?

We know that at the inaugural general meeting of the Irish Texts Society on 26 April 1898 which was held at the rooms of the ILS in London. Douglas Hyde was unanimously elected president, and Frederick York Powell chairman of the executive council. 

Norma Borthwick and Eleanor Hull were appointed honorary secretaries and R.A.S. Macalister became honorary treasurer.
The other members of the executive council included Goddard Orpen, Alfred Nutt, Thomas Flannery, J.G. O’Keeffe, Daniel Mescal, G.A. Greene and M. O’Sullivan. Eight vice-presidents were elected and the consultative council included many of the most distinguished scholars in the field of Celtic studies.

She certainly was a prolific writer on early Irish History and Legends:
Her published works include:
The Cuchulain Saga in Irish Literature (1898)
Pagan Ireland (Dublin, 1904 & 1923)
Early Christian Ireland
A Text Book of Irish Literature (2 volumes) (1906)
The Poem-Book of the Gael (London, 1912)
The Northmen in Britain (New York, 1913)
Folklore of the British Isles (1929)
A History of Ireland and her People (2 volumes) (1926)

The last of these being probably the one that has stood the test of time. Indeed it is a work (thanks to the wonders of the Internet) that I regularly consult for articles on this site:
She died in Wimbledon  England on 13 January 1935, two days shy of her 75th birthday.

Monday, 14 January 2019

14‭ ‬January‭ ‬1965:‭ ‬For the first time since the partition of Ireland the two current leaders of the respective parliaments on this island,‭ ‬Sean Lemass and Terence O’Neill,‭ ‬met in person. The meeting was held over cups of tea at Stormont, site of the Northern Parliament. O’Neill had approached Lemass through T. K. Whitaker, Secretary of the Department of Finance, and invited the Taoiseach to travel North. 

On the face of it this was a most unlikely encounter.‭ ‬Sean Lemass was a veteran of the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. A long time member of Fianna Fail he held Ministerial Office for many years until he came to power as Taoiseach in 1959 on Eamon De Valera’s election as President of Ireland. 

Terence O’Neill,‭ despite his Irish name, was a true son of the British Empire. He had been educated at Eton and served with the Irish Guards in World War Two. He was later elected an MP and served as a Minister of Government in the North. A dyed in the wool Aristocrat he had taken over the top job as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland when Lord Brookborough retired in 1963. 

Both men were however anxious to bring about a thaw in North‭ –South relations and thus it was agreed that they meet to break the ice on this day. However not everyone was happy with this development and a certain Reverend Ian Paisley organised a group of followers to protest at this perceived outrage. Upon the Taoiseach’s motorcade arrival at Stormont they threw snowballs at his car. The following month the Reverend gentleman denounced O’Neill as a ‘Traitor’, but such an outburst did not stop the leader of the Unionist Party from paying a complimentary return call on Sean Lemass in Dublin later in the year that was meant to further cement the relationship. 

However events precluded a further development of such contacts.‭ ‬Lemass retired the following year and Jack Lynch, who had little interest in the idea, replaced him.  O’Neill then thought better of pursuing such contacts, which he knew clearly upset such a wide body of the Unionist opinion. He was well aware that Paisley was all too ready to make use of any further such episodes to undermine him at a time when the political situation in the North was becoming increasingly fragile.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

13‭ ‬January‭ ‬1800:‭ ‬Daniel O’Connell made his first public speech at the Royal Exchange, Dublin opposing the idea of a Parliamentary Union of Britain and Ireland.

O’Connell was concerned on two grounds,‭ ‬one professional and the other political.‭ He knew, as did others, that the end of parliamentary sittings in the Capital of Ireland and the removal of the MPs to Westminster would rob Dublin of much of its vigour and political and monetary rewards. As an up and coming member of the Legal profession he well foresaw the pecuniary consequences of such a transfer of power and patronage out of the Country. 

On the other hand Daniel O’Connell was as Irish as they come and as proud of the land of his birth and her People as the next man.‭ ‬He rightly suspected that the British Ministers would attempt to pay even less attention to Ireland once the Union had taken place and a thorn in their side removed.‭ 

‘On‭ 13th January, 1800, he attended a meeting in the Royal Exchange convened by a number of influential Roman Catholics for the purpose of protesting against the insinuation that the Union was favourably regarded by them. Being induced to speak, he opened his mind freely on the subject. It was the first time he had addressed a public gathering; but the diffidence with which he began soon wore off before the approving cheers of his audience. Were the alternative offered him, he exclaimed, of union or the re-enactment of the penal code in all its rigour, he would without hesitation prefer the latter as the lesser and more sufferable evil, trusting to the justice of his brethren, the Protestants of Ireland, who had already liberated him rather than lay his country at the feet of foreigners. To this opinion he continued faithful through life. It is the key-note of his whole political creed — union amongst Irishmen of every religious and political persuasion for national objects an Irishman first and then only a Roman Catholic.’

It is a curious thing enough,‭ he afterwards re-marked to O'Neil Daunt, that all the principles of ‬my subsequent political life are contained in my very first speech.
‘‬Daniel O Connell’
 By Robert Dunlop.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

12‭ ‬January 1729: Edmund Burke, one of the foremost political thinkers of 18th century, was born in Dublin on this day. He was also Anglo-Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after relocating to England, served for many years in the British House of Commons as a member of the Whig party.

Burke was born in Dublin to a prosperous,‭ ‬professional solicitor father‭ (‬Richard‭; ‬d. 1761) who was a member of the Church of Ireland.  His mother Mary (c. 1702–1770), whose maiden name was Nagle, belonged to the Catholic Church and came from an impoverished but genteel Cork family. Burke was raised in his father's faith and would remain throughout his life a practising Anglican, unlike his sister Juliana who was brought up as and remained a Roman Catholic. His political enemies would later repeatedly accuse him of harbouring secret Catholic sympathies at a time when membership of the Catholic church would have disqualified him from public office. Once an MP, Burke was required to take the oath of allegiance and abjuration, the oath of supremacy, and declare against transubstantiation. Although never denying his Irishness, Burke often described himself as "an Englishman".

He spent the bulk of his life in England and became active on Politics,‭ ‬opposing Britain’s policy on the Revolt of the American Colonies and at the end of life British policy towards Ireland. He never totally adopted any political philosophy however but overall he could be said to represent a conservative liberalism that eschewed extremes. His most famous work was Reflections on the Revolution in France which was a best seller, and in it warned against the dangers of excess in political affairs especially as events unfolded in France in the wake of the start of the French Revolution. He basically wanted the role of the State to play but a limited role in the personal affairs of men and allow as much individual freedom of though and action that was commensurate with the Social Order.

‘‬That the State ought to confine itself to what regards the State, or the creatures of the State, namely, the exterior establishment of its religion; its magistracy‭; ‬its revenue‭; ‬its military force by sea and land‭; the corporations that owe their existence to its fiat; in a word, to every thing that is truly and properly public, to the public peace, to the public safety, to the public order, to the public prosperity.’
"All government,‭ indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter."
'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.'
 Edmund Burke

While hard to sum up such an active career over many decades a pithy summary of what he stood for might well be:
His soul revolted against tyranny,‭ ‬whether it appeared in the aspect of a domineering Monarch and a corrupt Court and Parliamentary system, or whether, mouthing the watch-words of a non-existent liberty, it towered up against him in the dictation of a brutal mob and wicked sect. Winston Churchill

Burke died in Beaconsfield,‭ ‬Buckinghamshire,‭ on ‬9 July‭ ‬1797, five days before the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille which marked the official start of the Revolution he so long predicted and fought against. He was buried in Beaconsfield alongside his son and brother. His wife survived him by nearly fifteen years.

Friday, 11 January 2019

11‭ January 1970: The foundation of ‘Provisional’ Sinn Fein on this day. The political organisation was activated after a formal split arose within Sinn Fein as to what was the best approach to take in regards to opposition to British Rule in the North and towards the 26 County Government. The more left wing members of the leadership like Cathal Goulding and Sean Garland wanted to operate a broad based ‘National Liberation Front’ that would include both Sinn Fein and the likes of the Communist party within its ranks. They also wanted to recognise the parliaments in Leinster House, Westminster and Stormont as legitimate. Political Action within the current political framework was their chosen method of approach.

However to the more traditionally minded SF members these policies were anathema.‭  ‬They wanted to pursue a policy of active opposition to British rule in the North that would include support for armed struggle to bring about a British withdrawal from Ireland.‭ ‬They did not want any recognition of the Partitionist States here. In an acrimonious Ard Feis that took place in Dublin at the Intercontinental Hotel a split emerged into the open that had long being brewing. 

Despite the best efforts of MacStiofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, who eventually led the subsequent walkout, the changes were finally approved by the party membership but not, however, by the two thirds majority required for an alteration of the party’s constitution. In the wake of these decisions they organised a walkout by a minority of like minded delegates who reconvened a meeting at Kevin Barry Hall on Dublin’s Parnell Street and duly set up a ‘caretaker’ Sinn Féin Executive to liase with the previously elected Army Council.

Some days later the new group made its intent clear in a freshly issued pamphlet:‭
We pledge our allegiance to the‭ ‬32‭ ‬county Irish Republic proclaimed at Easter‭ ‬1916, overthrown by force of arms in 1922 and suppressed to this day by the existing British imposed Six County and Twenty-Six County partition states’ 
Thus were born the‭ ‘‬Provos’!: