Sunday, 9 May 2021


9 May 1916: Thomas Kent/ Tomás Ceannt was executed in Cork Detention Barracks on this day: Born in 1865, Kent was arrested at his home in Castlelyons, Co. Cork following a raid by the Royal Irish Constabulary during which his brother Richard was fatally wounded. It had been his intention to travel to Dublin to participate in the Rising, but when the mobilisation order for the Irish Volunteers was cancelled on Easter Sunday he assumed that the Rising had been postponed, leading him to stay at home.  In 1966 the railway station in Cork was renamed Ceannt Station in his honour.
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When the Kent residence was raided they were met with resistance from Thomas and his brothers Richard, David and William. A gunfight lasted for four hours, in which an RIC officer, Head Constable William Rowe, was killed and David Kent was seriously wounded. Eventually the Kents were forced to surrender, although Richard made a last minute dash for freedom and was fatally wounded. 

Along with Roger Casement he was the only other person to be executed outside of Dublin for their part in the Easter Rising.

In September 2015 he was given a State funeral  after his remains were identified via DNA genetic testing thanks to samples supplied by Kent family descendants still living in the Castlelyons and Fermoy areas of north Cork. Following the requiem mass, Thomas Kent, who was 50 when he was executed, was buried in his family's crypt alongside the remains of his brothers William, Richard and David.

Saturday, 8 May 2021


8 May 1916: Con Colbert, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston & Éamon Ceannt were all executed by firing squad on this day for their part in the Easter Rising. They were executed in the Stonebreakers Yard of Kilmainham Jail Dublin.

Con Colbert: Born in 1888, Colbert was a native of Limerick. Prior to the Easter Rising he had been an active member of the republican movement, joining both Fianna Éireann and the Irish Volunteers. A dedicated pioneer, Colbert was known not to drink or smoke. As the captain of F Company of the Fourth Battalion, Colbert was in command at the Marrowbone Lane distillery when it was surrendered on Sunday, 30 April 1916. 

Michael Mallin: A silk weaver by trade, Mallin was born in Dublin in 1874. Along with Countess Markievicz, he commanded a small contingent of the Irish Citizen Army, of which he was Chief of Staff, taking possession of St. Stephen’s Green and the Royal College of Surgeons.

Seán Heuston: Born in 1891, he was responsible for the organisation of Fianna Éireann in Limerick. Along with Con Colbert, Heuston was involved in the education of the schoolboys at Scoil Éanna, organising drill and musketry exercises. A section of the First Battalion of the Volunteers, under the leadership of Heuston, occupied the Mendicity Institute on south of the Liffey, holding out there for two days. Heuston Railway station in Dublin is named after him.

Éamonn Ceannt: Born in Galway in 1881, prior to the Rising Ceannt was an employee of the Dublin Corporation. He was a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers, partaking in the successful Howth gun-running operation of 1914. His involvement in republican activities was complemented by his interest in Irish culture, specifically Irish language and history, although he was also an accomplished uileann piper.As the commander of the Fourth Battalion of Irish Volunteers during the Rising, he took possession of the South Dublin Union, precursor to the modern-day St. James’s Hospital. He was executed on 8 May 1916.


8 May 1567: The Battle of Farsetmore was fought near Letterkenny in County Donegal on this day. The battle was fought between the rival armies of Shane O’Neill of Tir Eoghan (Tyrone) and Aodh O'Donnell of Tir Connell (Donegal). Each side probably had about 2,000 men apiece. The battle began when O'Neill's cavalry crossed the ford at Fearsad-Suilighe at low tide.

Aodh O'Donnell, gathered with his band of loyal followers around the little hill fort of Ard-an-ghaire, dispatched his son, also called Aodh, to hold them as long as he could. The father was expecting reinforcements that very day and if he could just hold back O'Neill's army until he could assemble a force to near match the invaders he would be in with a chance. With his son locked in combat with the van of O'Neill's force he took the opportunity to fall back behind the shelter of a bog across which O'Neill's men could not advance but at a disadvantage.

After a vicious fight in which a number of leading men on both sides fell, young Aodh could hold his position no longer and pulled back to join his father behind the bog. But by then relief was at hand as three war bands of Gallowglass mercenaries drawn from the McSweenys came up to support Aodh O'Donnell in his hour of need.O'Donnell saw his opportunity and without further ado launched his whole force upon O'Neill's men, who were possibly still forming up into a line of battle.

Fierce and desperate were the grim and terrible looks that each cast at the other from their starlike eyes; they raised the battle cry aloud, and their united shouting, when rushing together, was sufficient to strike with dismay and turn to flight the feeble and the unwarlike. They proceeded and continued to strike, mangle, slaughter, and cut down one another for a long time, so that men were soon laid low, heroes wounded, youths slain, and robust heroes mangled in the slaughter.

Annals of the Four Masters - 1567

How long this brutal melee lasted we do not know but eventually O'Neill's army was forced back onto the riverline and there it buckled and disintegrated into fragments. Then O'Neills men fled for their lives. However the sandy tidal ford they had crossed that morning in the expectation of Victory was now filled with the waters of the swiftly advancing tide. There was no way out but to try their luck in the treacherous waters, encumbered as they were by their weaponry and armour. Hundreds were cut down or drowned as they sought the safety of the other bank.

As light faded Aodh O'Donnell had won a great victory over the men of Tir Eoghan with perhaps as many as 1300 of his enemies either drowned or dead on the field of battle.*

Shane O'Neill was turned within the course of a single day from being the most powerful Chieftain in the North into a desperate fugitive fleeing for his life. He had lost some of those dearest to him in this catastrophe: two of his grandsons, plus MacDonald, the leader of his Gallowglasses, and Dubhaltach, his foster brother and 'the person most faithful and dear to him in existence'

As fortune would have it Shane had recruited some of the O'Gallagers of Tir Connell onto his side and with their local knowledge he was able to evade his pursuers by turning upstream to Scarrifhollis and then ride for home.When he got back he found his support base collapsing around him and turned in desperation to the Mac Donald's of Cantire in Scotland under Alexander to support him. The Mac Donald's were old enemies so it was a strange place to seek Allies but they came anyway to see if they could cut a deal. They met up at Cushendun in Antrim. Whatever happened when they initially met things soon turned sour and a fight broke out. Shane was cut down and put to the sword. His body was flung in a pit and his head dispatched to Dublin for display on the Castle Walls. So ended the colourful and dramatic career of Shane O'Neill, a man who was a thorn in the side of the English for many years and was both respected and feared by all, Irish or Foreign, whom he clashed with.

Queen Elizabeth I of England stated:

'that we give thanks to Almighty God by whom we hold and rule all that we enjoy, for his goodness and favour shown in the punishment and extinguishing of such a rebellion so long continued'

Sidney State Papers 1565-70


* A report to the English  Lord Deputy Sidney in Dublin stated that 613 men were counted dead on the battlefield. Many others must have drowned in the waters and been swept away

An artist’s impression of an O’Donnell gallowglass dispatching an O’Neill kern in the waters of the Swilly, with Glebe Hill in the background, 8 May 1567. (Seán Ó Brógáin)

Friday, 7 May 2021


7 May 1915: The liner RMS Lusitania (New York to Liverpool) was torpedoed off the Old head of Kinsale by the German submarine U20 on this day. She sank within 18 minutes. (Two explosions rocked the ship. The first was clearly caused by a torpedo from U-20. The cause of the second explosion has never been definitively determined and remains the source of much controversy.) Of those on board, 761 were rescued, while 1,198 perished, including 115 US Citizens.

On the 7th September 1907 under the command of Captain James B. Watt, the RMS Lusitania sailed on her maiden voyage to New York. She carried over 3,000 passengers and crew. Her passengers were delighted with the new ship. The standards of accommodation and services were well documented. Most third class passengers enjoyed the voyage. Dinning on her was like eating in the best restaurants or hotel anywhere.

In August 1914 World War One broke out. The day of anticipation finally arrived when the British Navy needed the ship for wartime service. The Lusitania had to be refitted for the purpose. Her four funnels were fully painted black to conceal her identity from enemy ships.

On May 1, 1915, the ship departed New York City bound for Liverpool. Unknown to her passengers but probably no secret to the Germans, almost all her hidden cargo consisted of munitions and contraband destined for the British war effort. As the fastest ship afloat, the luxurious liner felt secure in the belief she could easily outdistance any submarine. Nonetheless, the menace of submarine attack reduced her passenger list to only half her capacity.

Following the loss of the Titanic, the Lusitania was fitted with 48 boats (22 wooden and 26 collapsible). Every boat was fitted with 2 chains to anchor them to the deck. This would prove disastrous when the ship sank because the chains would have to be released before the boats could be swung clear of the ship. When the Lusitania was sinking many of the chains were not released and thus preventing the boats from being launched successfully. Many boats went down with the ship.

On Friday 7th May 1915 she had reached the War Zone. The usual precautions of blackening out the portholes and doubling the watch were obeyed.The lookouts were tentatively at their posts. At about 1.30 p.m. Leslie Morton saw the torpedo heading towards the Starboard side travelling at about 22 knots. He gave the alarm stating "Torpedo coming in the Starboard side". The Bridge was slow in reacting to his warnings.Another lookout, Thomas Quinn also said that the torpedo and sounded the alarm. It was too late. The torpedo struck the ship and detonated before Turner could do anything. Power was suddenly lost. The watertight doors could not be closed. Radio distress signals had to be sent using battery power.

At 2.10 p.m. after lunch the passengers were eagerly waiting for their desserts when they heard:

"the sound of an arrow entering the canvas and straw of a target magnified a thousand times" or and "a pearl of thunder" and "the slamming of a door".

A second explosion came within seconds. Suddenly the ship took a 15º list to Starboard, which began to sharpen to 16º then 17º etc until the list reached 25º - a point at which the ship could not survive. The list had become so severe that the Officers could not swing the lifeboats clear of the ship.Panic had set in amongst the passengers. Some jumped into the water trying to flee for their lives. Captain Turner jumped into the water when the Bridge was flooding. He swam for three hours before finding a lifeboat to climb into. Within 18 minutes the ship had rolled over and sunk with 1,195 passengers left aboard. Only 289 bodies were recovered. 764 people survived.

The survivors were landed at Cobh (Queenstown) in Co Cork. It was here too that the bodies were brought ashore or washed up in the days after the sinking. The corpses, men, women and children, were placed in coffins and lined up along the Cunard Line’s dock. A huge funeral procession made its way through the streets of Cobh to the cemetery. Many of the dead were buried in mass graves, marked by two crudely hewn stones. Others victims, likely the more affluent, were buried in individual graves with headstones noting their death on the Lusitania.

.The loss of the Lusitania was to reverberate on the World stage as the USA was shocked and stunned by the actions of the German Navy in sinking what was to all appearances a civilian Liner engaged in peaceful commerce. It pushed US public opinion firmly in the direction of the Allies and helped to bring the USA into the War against Germany in April 1917.


Thursday, 6 May 2021


6 May 1882: The Assassination of Cavendish & Burke aka The ‘Phoenix Park Murders’ on this day. The Under Secretary for Ireland Thomas Henry Burke, and the newly arrived Chief Secretary Lord Frederick Cavendish, were both stabbed to death in the Phoenix Park by members of a secret organisation known as ‘The Invincibles’. Five of the assassins were later executed in Kilmainham Jail and a number of others were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. This event rocked Anglo-Irish relations to the core and was the most shocking and audacious attack on members of the British Political Establishment in Ireland during the course of the 19th Century.

The Phoenix Park tragedy, as it may well be called, occurred on the evening of Saturday, May 6, 1882. Its victims were Mr. Thomas H. Burke, the under-secretary, and Lord Frederick Cavendish, the new chief-secretary. Undersecretary Burke, on that evening, was walking from the Castle to his lodge or official residence in the Phoenix Park, when he accidentally met Lord Cavendish, who accompanied him in the direction he was going.

When near the Phoenix Monument, they were surrounded by five or six men, armed with knives, who attacked them instantly. Surprised and unarmed the secretaries made scarcely any resistance, and were stabbed and hurled to the ground where they expired in a few minutes.

Cavendish – who was married to Lucy Cavendish the niece of British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, and had worked as Gladstone's personal secretary had only arrived in Ireland the day he was assassinated! He was not the main target but Burke. He had just met by chance with him as they walked towards the vice regal Lodge and was a man of whom it could be truly said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The hunt for the perpetrators was led by Superintendent John Mallon, a Catholic who came from Armagh. He suspected a number of former Fenian activists. A large number of suspects were arrested and kept in prison by claiming they were connected with other crimes. By playing off one suspect against another Mallon got several of them to reveal what they knew.

The 'Invincibles' leader James Carey, along with Michael Kavanagh and Joe Hanlon agreed to testify against the others. Joe Brady, Michael Fagan, Thomas Caffrey, Dan Curley and Tim Kelly were convicted of the murder and were hanged by William Marwood in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin between 14 May and 4 June 1883. Others were sentenced to serve long prison terms.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021


5 May 1916: Major John MacBride was executed on this day. Originally from Mayo he traveled to America in 1896 to further the aims of the I. R. B., thereafter travelling to South Africa where he raised the Irish Transvaal Brigade during the Second Boer War where he saw action against the British Army. MacBride married the Irish nationalist Maude Gonne in 1903 but it was not a success. They had one son the late Sean McBride Human Rights campaigner and winner of the Nobel & Lenin Peace prizes.

The Major was not a member of the Irish Volunteers, but being in Dublin for his brother Anthony's  wedding and upon learning of the beginning of the Rising he offered his services to Thomas MacDonagh. He was at Jacob’s biscuit factory when that post was surrendered on Sunday, 30 April 1916. He freely admitted his part in the Rising and that he fought in Mufti. At his execution he asked not to have his hands tied behind his back, but this was refused. When they did cover his eyes he made a similar request, remarking to the priest: “You know, father, I have often looked down their guns before.” 

*** *** ***

5 May 1981: Bobby Sands MP for Fermanagh and south Tyrone died in captivity after 66 days on Hunger Strike. His death sparked widespread rioting.

He was born in 1954 in Rathcoole, a predominantly loyalist district of north Belfast. Initially uninvolved he was forced out of his job and in June 1972, the family were intimidated out of their home in Doonbeg Drive, Rathcoole and moved into the newly built Twinbrook estate on the fringe of nationalist West Belfast. He joined the IRA and became a full time volunteer. 

In October 1972, he was arrested. Four handguns were found in a house he was staying in and he was charged with possession. He spent the next three years in Long Kesh where he had political prisoner status. Released in 1976 Bobby returned to his family in Twinbrook. He became involved again in the Armed Struggle and was caught in a car with three other men in which was found a handgun. He was held on remand for eleven months until his trial in September 1977. As at his previous trial he refused to recognise the court. 

When he was moved to the H-Blocks he went ‘On the Blanket’ and became a spokesman for the prisoners. When the first Hunger Strike was broken in December 1980 and the terms the prisoners believed were promised to them never happened he became determined to lead the next one - even onto death. This was to  ensure the prisoners 5 Demands were secured. He was now O/C in the Blocks and felt compelled to show leadership to the other men in the same predicament as himself.

He began his fast on 1 March 1981. He kept a secret Diary that lasted the first 17 days but then became too weak to continue. On 30 March, he was nominated as candidate for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election caused by the sudden death of Frank Maguire, an independent MP who supported the prisoners' cause. To the surprise of many he won the seat with over 30,000 votes and caused a watershed in Irish Politics. However his situation was precarious as Mrs Thatcher was not for turning and Bobby Sands knew he was probably going to die before she would give in.

The end came in the early hours of 5 May when he succumbed to the effects of his fast on the 66th day of his ordeal.

I am a political prisoner. I am a political prisoner because I am a casualty of a perennial war that is being fought between the oppressed Irish people and an alien, oppressive, unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw from our land.  

Prison Diary Bobby Sands


5 May 1821: The death of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte on the island of St. Helena on this day. He died surrounded by a small coterie of staff and servants who had gathered together to be with him in his final moments.. They had followed him to this lonely outcrop in the windswept South Atlantic to help him endure his Exile from his adoptive country of France.

Napoleon was born in Corsica in 1769 but had ruled over France and then directly or indirectly over much of western Europe from 1799 until his Downfall in 1814. A legend in his own lifetime & widely regarded as a military genius & one of the finest commanders in history, his wars and campaigns have been studied at military schools worldwide. He fought more than 70 battles, losing only eight, mostly at the end. But as he fought the invading armies of the Allies that year the city of Paris capitulated behind his back and he was forced to abdicate the throne he had placed himself upon. Exiled to the tiny island of Elba off the NW coast of Italy he could not adjust to his lilliputian domain.

The following year he resolved to try his luck once again upon the soil of France. After his brilliant initial success of regaining his throne and raising a fresh army he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. He once again had to relinquish power and this time gave himself up to the mercy of the English on 15 July of that year . After consultation with their Allies they decided to remove General Bonaparte from Europe completely and dispatch him to St Helena from whence escape was virtually impossible. He arrived there on the HMS Northumberland on 15 October 1815 stepping ashore two days later. He was never to leave the island again as long as he lived.

His stay there was not a happy one. Only a very few of those he had favoured chose to undertake  an arduous journey to such a remote and bleak location. Some went home of their own volition, some died there and others were sent packing by the Governor Sir Hudson Lowe* - who Napoleon loathed as his jailer. Napoleon took an instant dislike to him and after their 5th meeting he refused to see or speak to the new Governor ever again! Lowe was a stickler for the rules and lived in a constant state of anxiety that Bonaparte would somehow contrive to escape the island and his own career thus ruined in turn. However Napoleon made no serious effort to make a bid for freedom.
* born in Co Galway

After a couple of months he was sent up to the top of the island to his new home ‘Longwood House’ which was a windy, damp & a dilapidated rat infested set of buildings. His spirits were poor in such an isolated spot and his health declined after just a couple of years on the island. After he had finished dictating his memoirs he suffered more and more from ennui - boredom. He entertained a bit at first but the food was mediocre and decent wine in short supply. He had a good companion in his initial years with his personal physician the Irishman  Dr. Barry O’Meara of the Royal Navy with whom  he freely conversed, but  he was sent home by Hudson Lowe in 1818 for being too familiar with Bonaparte.
It is said that he had an affair with Albine  Countess de Montholon, the pretty wife of General Montholon & that he  fathered a child by her. But she left the island in 1819 with her children and Longwood was bereft of any familial company for him to brighten his days and nights. The only other official family left in his entourage were Grand-Marshal Bertrand’s three children with his wife Fanny Bertrand - Dillon, whose own father served in the Bourbon Army as a member of the Irish Brigade and was guillotined in the Revolution. They however lived apart from Longwood at Fanny’s insistence and Napoleon resented this. He fell out with her over keeping her distance from him. It appears though there was a reconciliation of sorts towards the end.

He became obese and moody and in the latter stages of his captivity quite ill so much so that lethargy became easy for him to justify. His last year was particularly onerous, as he sought sanctuary in his darkened bedroom only seeing until very near the end Count Montholon, Grand-Marshal Bertrand and his valets Louis Étienne Saint-Denis & Louis-Joseph Marchand & Doctor Francesco Antommarchi.
He had terrible pains in his side on a regular basis and his lower extremities became very cold from lack of circulation as he became increasingly bedridden. He found it very difficult to keep down food & eventually relied on sugared water mixed with wine or cordial for sustenance in his last days. He made his current Doctor Francesco Antommarchi [for whom he had little respect] to swear to cut him open after death and carry out an autopsy as to what was the cause of this terrible malady, for the Emperor believed it was the same that had killed his own father & might kill his son the King of Rome. On the day following his death he was cut open & examined by the Doctor who found an ulcerous wound in the stomach area and concluded that the Emperor had thus died of a cancerous growth. 

In this the Doctors from the British Garrison who were also in attendance at the autopsy concurred with Antommarchi in his observations.

Upon opening the lower part of the body where the liver lay they found that the stomach had adhered to the left side of the liver in consequence of the stomach being very much diseased. The medical gentlemen immediately and unanimously expressed their conviction ‘that the diseased state of the stomach was the sole cause of his death’. The stomach was taken out and exhibited to me. Two thirds of it appeared in a horrible state covered in cancerous substances and at a short distance from the pylorus there was a hole sufficient to admit a little finer through it. Sir Thomas Reade 6 May 1821 

The other theory is that he died by Arsenic poisoning administered by Montholon, possibly to revenge himself on Napoleon for having a rather blatant affair with his wife before his eyes or possibly under instructions from the Bourbon Dynasty in Paris to kill off their greatest enemy. Most commentators now discount this and put the clear presence of the arsenic found in his hair samples back in the 1960s as attributable to more mundane factors like contamination from the wallpaper in his bedroom or hair oil containing the substance rather than proof of foul play. However it remains an open question as to whether there was a plot to dispose of him in such a manner. Napoleon himself believed that he was being slowly done away with.

In January 1821, there was a noticeable decline. On 17 March he took to his bed and rarely left it again. So the last days came as it became clear to all, and none more so than Napoleon himself that the end was near. He reconciled with the Catholic Church & after making his last confession, he received the Last Rights from Father Ange Vignali on his deathbed. By the evening of the 4th May it was obvious that his death was imminent, with delirium setting in early the following morning.

The hiccups that had appeared at intervals became much more frequent, and delirium set in; the Emperor pronounced a lot of inarticulate words that were translated ‘France,… my son,… The army…’ One can conclude with absolute certainty that his last preoccupation, his last thoughts were for France, his son, and the army. These were the last words we were to hear. 

At 4 am calm followed this agitation. the french personnel in the emperors service ...came in at 8 o'clock....Our eyes were fixed on that august head leaving only to look into Dr Antommarchi’s eyes to see if there remained any hope. it was in vain merciless death was amongst us.

At 5.50 in the evening...Dr Antommarchi’s anxiety intensified; the hand that had led victory, and the pulse of which he was counting, became ice cold.  Dr Arnott eyes on his watch, counted the intervals from one sigh to the next, 15 seconds, then 30, then a minute went by. We stood still in anticipation, but in vain. 
The Emperor was no more!
The eyes suddenly opened; Dr Antommarchi who was near the Emperors’ head following the last pulse of his neck closed them immediately.
Louis-Joseph Marchand 

The eyes roll up under the upper lids, the pulse vanishes. It is eleven minutes before six. Napoleon is is no more.
Dr Antommarchi

Dr Arnott the English Doctor in attendance hastily dispatched a quick note to Sir Hudson Lowe:

5.49 - he has this moment expired

Thus ended the Life of the greatest General of the Age, perhaps ever.