Wednesday, 31 August 2022


31 August 1994: The IRA announced a complete cessation of military activities on this day as their long awaited ‘Ceasefire’ came into effect. The efforts to bring the Provisional IRA to this point had been years in the making but had faced many obstacles along the way, both within and without the Republican Movement.

The IRA announced: "Recognising the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic process and underlying our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of the IRA have decided that as of midnight, August 31, there will be a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly....

The genesis for moving away from violence and towards a purely peaceful strategy began at the time of the 1981 Hunger Strikes when a number of republican representatives were elected both North and South of the Border - most notably Bobby Sands who was on hunger strike in the Long Kesh prison camp at the time.

In the aftermath of those events Sinn Fein decided to contest elections across Ireland and while initially any success they had was in the North they had made a start and there was no going back.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, as the acknowledged leaders of the Republican Movement, were the two individuals most closely associated with developing a strategy that would see a metamorphosis of Sinn Fein into a purely political Party and an end to its support for the IRAs campaign. However they realised that at the end of the day only the IRA could call it.

Initially there was scepticism and hostility in many quarters but a number of factors, some positive and some negative helped push things along the way.

On the positive side was the election of Bill Clinton as President of the USA from 1991, a man with an Irish background and a real interest in helping to bring Peace about. Here in Ireland the appointment of Albert Reynolds as Taoiseach in 1992 brought to power a man of calibre who carried no baggage on the issue and was prepared to take risks to get the end result. In Britain John Major became Prime Minister in 1990 and if not as committed as others to the process he was of a practical turn of mind who was prepared to cut a deal at the end of the day.

On the negative side many people, not least in Nationalist areas of the North of Ireland were sick and tired of years of violence with no end in sight. The yearning for Peace was high and in addition the Loyalist paramilitaries had been re armed and re organised and were launching effective counter strikes of their own. The British Army were still on the streets. Though the IRA were well armed and motivated it was clear the Armed Struggle had reached Deadlock.

The Hume Adams initiative was an internal attempt by Adams and John Hume, the leader of the SDLP, then the biggest nationalist party in the North, to develop a framework for Peace but was stymied by its utter rejection by Unionists and the British Government. The Unionist community did not trust what was happening and were wary of any initiatives that emanated from Dublin or indeed from any parties on the Nationalist side. Major in turn was reliant on Unionist votes to keep him in power and would not risk pushing them too far. Albert Reynolds had other ideas and had Hume and Adams sidelined as he went for cutting a deal with the British Prime Minister that would put them in the driving seat and steering the process down a road that all could follow.

Thus came about in December 1993 the 'Downing Street Declaration' when Reynolds and Major issued a joint statement which laid out the guidelines on which a settlement could be built.

It argued for self-determination on the basis of consensus for all the people of Ireland. It argued that any agreement had to be based on the right of people on both parts of the island to "exercise the right of self determination on the basis of consent freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland if that is their wish." Not everyone was happy with this but at least there was now something to build upon.

Another significant breakthrough came at the end of January 1994 when Gerry Adams was given a 48 hour visa to visit the USA in order to be able to convince Republican supporters to support his efforts to stop the violence. The visa was granted on the personal authority of Bill Clinton, despite the opposition of his own State Department, FBI, CIA and speaker of the House, Tom Foley.

That same month the broadcasting ban under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act was lifted in the Republic of Ireland. This allowed Sinn Féin access to the Irish media and marked the end of official political censorship in the South.

At Easter 1994 the IRA announced a three day ceasefire and across Ireland there was a growing expectation that a permanent one would follow. Behind the scenes the Irish government had given written assurances that in the event of an IRA cessation, it would end its marginalisation of the Sinn Féin electorate and that there would be an early public meeting between Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, John Hume and Gerry Adams.

Despite some twists and turns and secret negotiations the momentum held. Not even shocking acts of violence like the Shankill road bombing in October 1993 in which eleven innocent people were killed by an IRA bomb and the revenge murders by the UVF at Greysteel were enough to derail the process. When it came though many were relieved that what had seemed almost impossible had at last come about. It was a seminal moment in Modern Irish History.


31 August 1767: Henry Joy McCracken, United Irishman, was born on this day. His ancestors on both sides had come from the Continent to escape religious persecution. His father was a wealthy businessman and when he was twenty-two he was entrusted with the management of a cotton factory. In 1791 he co-operated with Thomas Russell in the formation of the first society of United Irishmen in Belfast and when the society in 1795 assumed its secret and military organization, he became one of the most trusted members of the council in the north. 

In 1796 he was arrested and imprisoned in the notorious Kilmainham Jail in Dublin along with his brother William. After his release he returned to Belfast and renewed the plans to bring about a Revolution in Ireland. He was appointed head of the United Irishmen of Antrim. In June of 1798 he raised the insurgents there to take arms and attack the Crown Forces. He and his followers briefly seized Antrim town but were defeated and dispersed. 

McCracken went to hiding in the vicinity but was betrayed and was taken prisoner. His trial and conviction by court-martial followed. The British offered to spare his life on condition of his giving information concerning other leaders. His aged father encouraged him to spurn the proposition. On 17 July 1798 he was executed by hanging at the Cornmarket in Belfast on the evening of the conclusion of his Trial.

His sister Mary Ann McCracken [above in old age] accompanied him almost to the last, and wrote:

At five p.m. he was ordered to the place of execution…. I took his arm, and we walked together to the place of execution, where I was told it was the general's orders I should leave him, which I peremptorily refused. Harry begged I would go. Clasping my hands round him (I did not weep till then) I said I could bear anything but leaving him. Three times he kissed me, and entreated I would go... I suffered myself to be led away... I was told afterwards that poor Harry stood where I left him at the place of execution, and watched me until I was out of sight; that he then attempted to speak to the people, but that the noise of the trampling of the horses was so great that it was impossible he should be heard; that he then resigned himself to his fate.

The United Irishmen, their Lives and Times, Robert R. Madden


31‭ August 651 AD: The death of St Aiden/Naomh Áedán of Lindisfarne on this day. Today the name of Saint Aiden is little remembered outside of being a popular name for Irish boys. But in his day and the years following his death his name was held in some reverence - none more so than amongst the English of Northhumbria - that is the part of England that lies to the north of the river Humber.

Aidan was in the king's township, not far from the city of which we have spoken above, at the time when death caused him to quit the body, after he had been bishop sixteen370 years; for having a church and a chamber in that place, he was wont often to go and stay there, and to make excursions from it to preach in the country round about, which he likewise did at other of the king's townships, having nothing of his own besides his church and a few fields about it. When he was sick they set up a tent for him against the wall at the west end of the church, and so it happened that he breathed his last, leaning against a buttress that was on the outside of the church to strengthen the wall. He died in the seventeenth year of his episcopate, on the 31st of August. His body was thence presently translated to the isle of Lindisfarne, and buried in the cemetery of the brethren. Some time after, when a larger church was built there and dedicated in honour of the blessed prince of the Apostles, his bones were translated thither, and laid on the right side of the altar, with the respect due to so great a prelate.

Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England

Once the people of Roman Britain had been mainly Christian, but in the years following the withdrawal of the last of the Empire’s Legions in the early 5th century the island lay open to Invasion. Soon barbarians flooded in from the north west coast of Europe, none more so than the Angles, Saxons and Jutes - commonly called today the ‘Anglo Saxons’. At the time though what later became the Kingdom of England was divided into warring States each with its own king and separate and conflicting interests.

In 563AD Saint Columba had crossed the sea between Ireland and Scotland and set up a Mission on the tiny island of Iona. From here he sent out missionaries to convert the people of Scotland to the Faith. Given the great success that was achieved there inevitably attention turned  to those who lived in the English kingdoms as to how they would be converted. Missionaries from Canterbury in southern England had already had some success in Northumbria. The big breakthrough came 633 AD when King Oswald became the ruler of Bernicia in northern Northhumbria. Oswald had been in exile on Iona and was much impressed with the piety and determination of the monks there to spread the Faith amongst the pagans of England.

‘He gave Aiden a commanding outcrop on the North Sea coast called ‘Lindisfarne’ aka ‘Holy Island’. Initially, Aidan concentrated his missionary work to Oswald’s kingdom, with Oswald himself often acting as Aidan’s interpreter. Later Aidan founded churches and monasteries, freeing slave boys and training them to serve in the Church. He encouraged the laity to follow monastic practices such as fasting and meditation on the Gospels and lived himself in poverty. With Oswald’s death in 642 AD, Aidan became friends with Oswin, the king of the southern Northumbrian kingdom of Deira.

However, St Bede thought very highly of Aidan, perhaps more than of any other saint, and wrote of him: “He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was given to him by kings or rich men of the world. He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity. Wherever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works.”

Bede admired St Aiden but not uncritically:

[he was] a man of outstanding gentleness, holiness and moderation. he had a zeal in God, but not according to knowledge, in that he kept Easter in accordance with the customs of his own nation. 

Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England 

It is clear that Áedán's reputation for genuine sanctity made a profound impact on his contemporaries. As attested by Bede, he personally had a lasting influence on the church in Northumbria, and elsewhere in England through the Irish and English clergy trained or appointed by him and his immediate successors.

Dictionary of Irish National Biography

He is known as the Apostle of Northumbria and is recognised as a saint by the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and others.

Tuesday, 30 August 2022


30 August 1855: The Death of Feargus Edward O'Connor , Chartist Leader on this day. He was the son of Roger O'Connor, a United Irishman, and was born in 1796 in County Cork. When Feargus O'Connor was twenty-four he inherited an estate there. Although a Protestant, O'Connor was a reforming landlord and denounced the religious Tithes & the power of the Established Church. Daniel O’Connell soon spotted his potential and secured a candidacy for him in the General Election of 1832 in which he was returned as an MP for County Cork. But O’Connor rashly decided to try and unseat the Great Dan as Leader of the Irish MPs in the House of Commons and the two fell out.

O’Connor thereafter focused his attentions on Radical English Politics, moving to Manchester where he published the highly successful Northern Star newspaper. He became a leading light in the Chartist Movement, dedicated to Universal Suffrage and Annual parliaments. Here again though his maverick personality and impatience with pacific political activity led him into trouble with him advocating the threat of violence to achieve political Reform. O'Connor responded to criticism by forming a new Chartist organisation, the East London Democratic Association.

He was found guilty of sedition in 1839 and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment. O'Connor continued to edit the Northern Star newspaper from his prison cell and upset the other Chartist leaders when he told his readers that from "September 1835 to February 1839 I led you single-handed and alone."

In 1845 O'Connor launched his Chartist Land Plan. His objective was to raise money to buy a large estate that would be divided into plots of three and four acres. Subscribers would then draw lots and the winners would obtain a cottage and some land. O'Connor promised that his Land Scheme would "change the whole face of society in twelve months" and would "make a paradise of England in less than five years".

But the scheme backfired and the estate went bankrupt before too long. Some of the tenants ended up being evicted and the whole disastrous enterprise badly damaged O’Connor’s credibility with the English Working Class. The stress and effort involved took its toll on O’Connor’s mental health. In 1847, O'Connor was elected MP for Nottingham, becoming the first and only Chartist MP.

His finest moment should have been the Great Demonstration he organised to assemble in Kennington Park [near where the Oval Cricket Club now is situated] in London on 10 April 1848 that was to march on the Houses of Parliament. 200,000 people were expected to attend and this projected assembly put the wind up the British Establishment. The Duke of Wellington was put in charge of the Military and tens of thousands of citizens were made temporary 'policemen' to control the situation.

In the event it proved a damp squib as only about 25,000 people turned up in a heavy downpour to hear O’Connor make outlandish claims that proved to be untrue- namely that over five million people had signed his Petition on workers rights when it was really about two million. Even then on examination it was discovered that many were clearly forgeries including those of the Queen and the Iron Duke, who appeared to have endorsed the petition no fewer than seventeen times! It was all over by 2 O'clock that afternoon and the Establishment could breath again.

After 1848 Chartism went into sharp decline. From 1851, O'Connor's behaviour became increasingly irrational, possibly as a result of syphilis. In 1852 he was declared insane and sent to an asylum in Chiswick. He died on 30 August 1855.

A charismatic and talented actor on the stage of politics O’Connor at his best was a man to be watched. He claimed Royal descent from the last King of Ireland - Rory O’Connor of Connacht. He always supported the Repeal of the Union even though it must have cost him support amongst the English People. He was though dogged by personal problems and sometimes allowed his temperament to get the better of him. But whatever his faults he helped to raise the English Working Class up out of their misery enough to know that together and organised they could challenge the Establishment to at least listen to their demands to be treated fairly and with Justice.

Monday, 29 August 2022


29 August 1975: Éamon de Valera died on this day. His active political career spanned the years 1913-1973 from when he first joined the Irish Volunteers until his retirement as President of Ireland. Born in New York City in 1882 he was brought back to Ireland two years later and raised by his wider family in Co Limerick

He was one of the leading commandants of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 and was sentenced to death by the British but this was commuted to Life Imprisonment as being born in the USA he was eligible to claim US citizenship

In 1917 he was elected as MP for East Clare but did not take his seat and in 1918 he was again imprisoned by the British but escaped from Lincoln Jail in England 1919. He returned home where he was elected by Dáil Éireann as Príomh Aire (President). He then made his way to America where he campaigned hard to gain support for the Irish Republic especially amongst the huge Irish American community there

Returning home in 1920 he and the British began tentative negotiations which led to the Truce of July 1921. But he broke with many of his colleagues in December that year when the Treaty was signed. The Civil War of 1922-1923 saw him side lined and after another period of imprisonment by the Irish Free State he in 1926 founded his own Party Fianna Fáil which he led until 1959

In 1927 he led the Party into the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann and took the Oath to the British King George V - but under protest that he felt not bound by it! A dodgy tactic but it worked and he carried most of the Republican Movement with him to back this approach.

After the General Election of  January 1932  he was elected by the Dáil as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State and governed it until 1948 - being returned as Leader in every election. In the early 1930s he faced down General Eoin O’Duffy and his fascistic Blueshirt Movement and contained the threat from the IRA who wanted to re start the War with Britain over their continued Occupation of the North.

He refused to pay the Annuities due to the UK and this triggered the Economic war with England which brought great hardship to many farmers & others. While he was right in Principle the cost was high. He got rid of the Oath to the British Monarch in 1936 & brought before the People a New Constitution - Bunreacht na hÉireann - which was passed in a Referendum and came into operation in 1937. It is still the Constitution to this day - though somewhat amended now. In 1938 he got the British to hand back the Treaty Ports they still held and made a final settlement to the Economic War with a once off payment to them which finished the matter.

In 1939 the Second World War began and this State declared itself Neutral - the British were disgusted but had to accept it. However Dev played it well and ensured that co operation with England while low key was real nonetheless. He allowed anyone who wanted to go to cross the water to join up or work there if they wanted to. At War’s end in 1945 he offered condolences to the USA on the death of President Roosevelt but also to Germany on the death of Adolf Hitler - a gaffe in most people’s eyes.

He lost the General Election of 1948 and was out of power until 1951 when he was returned once again. However he was to lose it once more in 1954 and by this stage he was well into his 70s. The State could not provide enough jobs for its young people and Emigration was astronomical + widespread poverty in many parts of the Country. No Party seemed to have the solution. When he was returned to power in 1957 he came under pressure to look for new ways to change things and in 1958 it was decided to open up Ireland to Foreign Investment and Trade to which Dev gave his Imprimatur. This led to rapid economic expansion that continued until 1974.

But Dev was old and tired by now and his eyesight was failing. He resigned as Taoiseach in 1959 and was then elected President of Ireland  in June of that year by popular vote. Probably the highlight of his term in Office was the visit of President John F Kennedy in 1963 and the celebrations in 1966 of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. In that year he also was re elected President defeating the Fine Gael candidate Tom O’Higgins by a narrow margin. His last years were much more low key as age caught up with him. By that stage he was seen by many younger people as an archaic figure out of touch with Modern Ireland.

Always a divisive figure and a controversial one he led his followers through many crises - though many would consider some at least self inflicted ones! There was no doubting his fine mind and his ability to think a few steps ahead of his opponents on most occasions. His abiding legacy must be though the Constitution of 1937 and keeping the Irish State out of the Second World War + initiating the change that started our rise in living standards from 1958.

At his retirement in 1973 at the age of 90, he was the oldest head of state in the world. His wife of many years Sinéad de Valera died some months before he did and he was buried alongside her in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin after a State Funeral.

Sunday, 28 August 2022


28 August 1814: Sheridan Le Fanu was born in Dublin on this day. His family name has French Huguenot roots. He was the author of many seminal works of Gothic Horror novels and short stories that influenced other writers and film directors down into modern times.

A great-nephew of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Le Fanu was the son of a Protestant churchman. He studied law at Trinity, but neglected the bar in favour of journalism and writing. Having made extensive use of his father’s library in his youth, Le Fanu went on to read Classics at Trinity College Dublin, before studying Law at King’s Inn in London. However the family fell on hard times and eventually the Library had to be sold to pay off debts.

From 1844 to 1858, he was married to Susanna Bennett, and they eventually moved into the Bennett family home in Merrion Square, Dublin. Susanna was prone to mental disorders that eventually killed her and that must have influenced Le Fanu's depiction of extreme neuroses. They had four children together. He wrote at the time of her death, as quoted by Kathryn West in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "The greatest misfortune of my life has overtaken me. My darling wife is gone… . She was the light of my life."

He was among the first practitioners of the psychological ghost story, in which the haunting might be the result of supernatural intrusion into the everyday world but could also arise from the broken psyche of a protagonist.

He tried his hand at a number of genres but it was as a writer of Horror stories that he had the greatest success. He published his first ghost story, The Ghost and the Bonesetter in the Dublin University Magazine in 1838. Originally set in Ireland his publications met with only limited recognition. When his editor suggested that he switch the locations to England he finally got the recognition he desired.

The novel Uncle Silas was his masterpiece and though ostensibly set in Derbyshire Le Fanu actually wrote it with Ireland in mind. The year before his death he published In a Glass Darkly which is a collection of five short stories first published in 1872. The second and third are revised versions of previously published stories, and the fourth and fifth are long enough to be called novellas.

The title is taken from Corithinans 13- a deliberate misquotation of the passage which describes humanity as perceiving the world "through a glass darkly". Some are set in Dublin and some abroad. The most famous one though is the ground breaking novella Carmilla which featured what was in effect a lesbian vampire sucking the blood of her innocent female victim Laura, this too was set abroad in eastern Europe.

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever". 

( "Carmilla" , Chapter 4)

Le Fanu died in his native Dublin on 7 February 1873, at the age of 58. Today there is a road and a park in Ballyfermot near his childhood home in the village of Chapelizod in south-west Dublin, named after him. He is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin [above].

Saturday, 27 August 2022


27 August 1798: The Battle of Castlebar on this day. General Humbert of the French Revolutionary Army defeated the forces of the British Army under General Lake. Five days previously Humbert had landed in Killala Bay with a small force that the Directory in Paris had dispatched to help the Irish overthrow British rule in Ireland. While other expeditions had been launched his was the only one to make it ashore. He had with him some 1,000 men & 3 cannons but large supplies of armaments to equip many more. 

After advancing and taking the town of Ballina he turned south to take Castlebar. It was here that General Lake, who had ruthlessly crushed the Wexford Rising some months earlier decided to make a stand. He had a formidable force at his disposal comprising of around 2/3,000 men and about 10 cannon. He had his men deploy in the direction he expected the Franco- Irish army to advance from. It seems that word leaked out about this and Irish sympathisers informed the French general of the British dispositions. He was advised to take a route around the western edge of Lough Con and approach his objective from an unexpected angle thus hoping to catch his enemy off guard.

 In this he was successful and when he was sighted on the outskirts of the town the British had to hastily re-deploy their forces to block him from taking them in the flank. They managed to achieve this but they had been rattled and that played right into Humbert's hands.

Humbert decided to launch a head on attack as time was the essence to stop the defenders regaining their composure and he gave the order for his men to take the position by storm. While the British force was bigger [perhaps 2,500] it was mostly militiamen and fencibles while the French had some 800 regular soldiers along with about 1,000 Irish volunteers.

...then at 7 am in the morning of 27 august, Humbert found himself faced with formidable opposition: a front line manned by the Kilkenny Militia, commanded by the marquis of Ormond, and the Royal Irish Artillery with four curricle guns; a second line of Fraser Fencibles from the highlands with two cannon, and a corps of Galway yeoman; a third line consisting of four companies of Longford militia commanded by Lord Granard; and, in reserve, squadrons of carabineers and Lord Roden’s Foxhunters.

A History of Ireland in 250 episodes 

Jonathan Bardon

 In the event the shock of the melee by the men of Le Armée Révolutionnaire Française broke the British lines and they fled through the streets of the town.  Locals soon dubbed their defeat ‘the races of Castlebar’ and were elated that such a humiliating defeat had been inflicted on such a ruthless officer as General Lake was known to be. To add further to his misery his personal baggage was captured and looted as he fled the battlefield. 

Although achieving a stunning victory, the losses of the French and Irish were high, losing about 150 men, mostly to the cannonade at the start of the battle and most of them experienced French Regulars. The British suffered over 350 casualties of which about 80 were killed, the rest either wounded or captured, including perhaps 150 who joined the republicans. However Humbert’s luck was not to hold and some days later he was cornered by General Cornwallis with a overwhelming force and he had to surrender.