Saturday, 30 June 2012

29 June 1915: The death of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Fenian, on this day. He was born at Roscarbery County Cork in 1831 to a family of tenant farmers. As a young man he kept a shop in Skibereen but became increasingly involved in revolutionary politics. He joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood on its foundation and was soon arrested by the British.  In 1865, he was charged with plotting a Fenian rising, put on trial for high treason and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to his previous convictions. He spent five years in English jails in very harsh conditions. In 1869 he was elected an MP but his victory was annulled as he was considered a ‘Felon’. In 1870 he was released on condition that he went into Exile and he sailed for New York with a group of fellow exiles that were dubbed the ‘Cuba Five’ after the boat they left in.

Once in New York he helped to organise clandestine operations against British rule and was the main instigator of the ‘Dynamite Campaign’ – a series of bombings in England designed to force Britain to relinquish her hold on Ireland. However he was allowed to return home in 1894 and in 1904 on brief visits. In later years he suffered from ill health and was confined to a hospital on Staten Island. He died there in 1915 and his remains were returned home for burial. His graveside was the occasion of Padraig Pearse’s famous oration on the power of the Fenian dead. On his immediate hearing of his death Pearse recorded the following:

O'Donovan Rossa was not the greatest man of the Fenian generation, but he was its most typical man. He was the man that to the masses of his countrymen then and since stood most starkly and plainly for the Fenian idea…

No man, no government, could either break or bend him. Literally he was incapable of compromise. He could not even parley with compromisers. Nay, he could not act, even for the furtherance of objects held in common, with those who did not hold and avow all his objects…

Enough to know that the valiant soldier of Ireland is dead; that the unconquered spirit is free.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

28 June 1691: At the 2nd Siege of Athlone Sgt. Custume led a small band of Volunteers that successfully tore down the attempted ‘planking’ by the Williamites of the partially destroyed bridge across the Shannon.

The siege had begun on the 19th when the Dutch General Ginkel of King William's of Orange Army had led a force of 21,000 men to the eastern side of Athlone and attacked the bastion there. The defenders were under the overall command of the French General St Ruth of King Louis XIV Army but whose troops had sworn loyalty to the Catholic King James III. St Ruth kept his main force back from the town to avoid encirclement and put a garrision of 1,500 men into to hold as long as possible.

By the 28th of June the Williamites had taken the eastern bastion and were advancing across the bridge of Athlone replacing the broken structure with lines of planks. As their men advanced the cannon and mortars of the Williamites kept up a terrific fire upon the defenders to stop them interfering with the progress of their operations.

It was Sunday, the 28th of June--the Irish saw with consternation that barely a few planks more laid on would complete the bridge. Their own few cannon were now nearly all buried in the ruined masonry, and the enemy beyond had battery on battery trained on the narrow spot--it was death to show in the line of the all but finished causeway.

Out stepped from the ranks of Maxwell's regiment, a sergeant of dragoons, Custume by name. "Are there ten men here who will die with me for Ireland?" A hundred eager voices shouted "Ay." "Then," said he, "we will save Athlone; the bridge must go down."

Grasping axes and crowbars, the devoted band rushed from behind the breastwork, and dashed forward upon the newly-laid beams. A peal of artillery, a fusillade of musketry, from the other side, and the space was swept with grapeshot and bullets. When the smoke cleared away, the bodies of the brave Custume and his ten heroes lay on the bridge, riddled with balls. They had torn away some of the beams, but every man of the eleven had perished.

Out from the ranks of the same regiment dashed as many more volunteers. "There are eleven men more who will die for Ireland." Again cross the bridge rushed the heroes. Again the spot is swept by a murderous fusillade. The smoke lifts from the scene; nine of the second band lie dead upon the bridge--two survive, but the work is done. The last beam is gone; Athlone once more is saved.

By A. M. Sullivan

Alas the brave stand of Sergeant Custume and his comrades was in vain for Lt General Ginkel, who commanded the besiegers was determined to take the town no matter what the cost. On the evening of the 30th he launched his troops 20 abreast under a German officer in the Danish service Major General Tettau into the ford at Athlone and through the waters of the Shannon. By sheer weight of numbers he got his men across while a terrific bombardment was opened up on the Irish positions. At the same time the Scottish General Mackay renewed the assault upon the bridge. Irish resistance crumbled as they were overwhelmed by superior numbers in men and material. So Athlone fell to the Williamite Army.

The Irish Army barracks in Athlone is named after the brave hero of 1691.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

27 June 1846: Charles Stewart Parnell was born into a Protestant aristocratic and land-owning family at Avondale, Co. Wicklow on this day. His parents were John Henry Parnell and Delia Tudor Stewart (the daughter of an American naval hero, Commodore Charles Stewart). His parents split up when he was about six years old and so he was sent to school in England at an early age that included a stint at an academy for young ladies at Yeovil in Somerset. But here he contracted typhoid fever and was brought home for private tuition. He later went to a school in Kirk Langley, Derbyshire, from which he was expelled; and then to the Great Ealing School.

 It is generally accepted that his childhood was not a happy one and that his stays amongst them did not enhance his feelings for the English. His own grandfather had fought in the US Navy in the War of 1812 and won a medal for fighting the British. When his father died in 1859 the young Parnell inherited the Avondale estate. The family lived in a succession of homes in the Dublin area during the 1860s. Parnell also attended Rev. Whishaw’s Academy in Chipping Norton. He went on to Magdalene College, Cambridge, but did not graduate.

It was only when he was 27 years old, and after having toured the United States that he decided to seek a career in politics. In 1874 he became High Sheriff of his home county of Wicklow in which he was also officer in the Wicklow Militia. He was noted as an improving landowner who played an important part in opening the south Wicklow area to industrialisation. He was first elected to represent the County of Meath at the Parliament of Westminster in the year 1875.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

26 June 1932: The Eucharistic Congress culminated on this day when over 300,00 people attended the Pontifical High Mass in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. The Times of London reported that while plans had been made for an attendance of 240,000 it was estimated that more 300,000 were actually in the Park when Mass began at midday.

The Chief Celebrant was the Papal Legate Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri, personally selected by Pope  Pius XI himself. The Holy Father had charged him to:

Go to Ireland in my name and say to the good people assembled there that the Holy Father loves Ireland and sends to Ireland and its inhabitants and visitors not the usual Apostolic blessing but a very special all embracing one.

The arrival of the Cardinal and the holding of the 19th Eucharistic Congress in Dublin was seen as a great honour for the Catholics of Ireland. The week long event saw huge displays of religious devotion with crowds of tens of thousands in attendance at various events. The high point of the Eucharistic Congress came on the final Sunday of the week’s festivities in the form of a massive open air mass in the Phoenix Park. An ornate High Altar flanked with choirs and bands from all over the Catholic world was the main focus of attention. The Cardinal was accompanied by the highest ranks of the Irish Catholic Hierarchy in his fulfilment of his celebration of the Mass. In addition thousands of the Clergy were there to witness and partake in the biggest religious gathering the Country had ever seen.

“It is 12.30. The Bishops are assembling, their purple shining through the green of the trees. They march in hundreds, slowly, pensively, the Bishops of the world, in white and black and red, in cream and gold and brown. They file through the three thousand priests like a coloured thread being drawn through white silk. Then up the crimson carpet, turning right and left to the colonnades of the altar, and there they sit and seen from afar through the white pillars, each group looking like Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper.”


The Government of Mr Eamon De Valera and the leading members of the Opposition were in attendance as well as numerous dignitaries from home and abroad. The huge multitude heard Mass broadcast over an extensive PA system, the largest in the world at that time. The event was listened to across the Nation and internationally through the medium of Radio Athlone. Count John McCormack gave a brilliant rendition of the Panis Angelicus (Bread of the Angels) to the multitude that grew praise from many quarters.

The audition was marvellous, whether it was of the full tones of the Cardinal Legate as he spoke the Mass, the tuneful antiphon of the choir, the sharp clamour of the trumpets as they paid homage at the elevation of the Host, or the beautiful voice of John Mc Cormack that came clear and bell like, borne without a tremor over the whole silent space, midway through the Service. It was at that moment of the Elevation of the Host, the supreme point in Catholic ritual, that one fully realised the common mind that swallowed up all individuality in the immense throng. Flung together in their hundreds of thousands, like the sands on the seashore, these people were merely parts of a great organism which was performing a great act of faith, with no more ego in them than the sands themselves.


Prior to the closing ceremony a special blessing by Pope Pius XI broadcasting directly from the Vatican was relayed to the huge congregation. This marked the culmination of a series of events held over the previous four days, which saw scenes of unprecedented devotion by the Catholics of Ireland.

The Eucharistic Congress entered Catholic folk memory and remained the greatest public gathering in Ireland until the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, which also took place in the Phoenix Park.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

25 June 1731: The Dublin Society was founded on this day. The society was originally founded by members of the Dublin Philosophical Society as the 'Dublin Society for improving Husbandry, Manufactures and other Useful Arts'. On 8 July 1731 - a couple of weeks after initial foundation - the designation 'and Sciences' was added to the end of its name.

The aim of the Society's founders was to improve Ireland's economic condition by promoting the development of Agriculture, Arts, Science and Industry. Initially confined to publishing pamphlets on new discoveries and best practise, the Society as a publishing house developed and broadened its remit to include scientific journals and books.

It grew out of the 18th century desire for agricultural and industrial improvement. Membership reached 300 by the 1740s, with a royal charter being received in 1750. The society offered grants (‘premiums’) for land reclamation, livestock breeding, fisheries, and textiles.

The ‘Royal’ title was added in 1820 and today the RDS has its HQ at Simmonscourt in Ballsbridge, Dublin where it host hundreds of events throughout the year incl the Horse Show.

Several gentlemen having agreed to meet in the Philosophical Rooms in Trinity College Dublin in order to promote Improvements of all kinds, and Dr. Stephens being desired, took the Chair. 

It was proposed and unanimously agreed unto, to form a Society, by the name of the Dublin Society, for improving Husbandry, Manufactures, and other useful arts. 

It was proposed and resolved, that all the present, and all such who should become members of the Society, shall subscribe their names to a Paper, containing their agreement to form a Society for the purposes aforesaid. 

Ordered that a Committee of all the members present do meet next Thursday., in the Philosophical Rooms in Trinity College Dublin to consider of a Plan or Rules for the Government of the Society, any three thereof to be a Quorum, and that notice be sent to the members in Town, the day before the time for meeting. The Society adjourned to this day fortnight.

Present: Judge Ward. Dr. Stephens. 

Sir Th. Molyneux. Dr. Magnaten. 

Th. Upton, Esq. Dr. [John] Madden. 

John Pratt, Esq. Dr. Lehunte. 

Rich. Warburton, Esq. Mr. Walton. 

Rev. Dr. Whitecomb. Mr. Prior. 

Arthur Dobs, Esq. W. Maple. 


24 June 1798: The Battle of Castlecomer on this day. The picturesque County Kilkenny town of Castlecomer was burnt to the ground as the Army of the United Irishmen from Wexford clashed with the Crown Forces in the streets of the town. Major General Charles Asgil of the British Army had about 1,400 men in total to oppose the 5,000 or so under Father John Murphy. In the wake of the defeat at Vinegar Hill on 21 June it was decided by the Insurgents to leave County Wexford and advance on Castlecomer where it was hoped the militant colliers there would join them. In the event quite a few did but were of limited fighting value. Asgil himself had advanced from Kilkenny City with about 1,000 men to relieve the troops defending Castlecomer. He sent ahead some 100 men to augment the 300 or so already there. Walter Butler, a local Bigwig and the future 18th Earl of Ormonde commanded the garrison within the town.

The Insurgents advanced upon the town in two columns, one under Father Murphy himself and the other under Miles Byrne. They eventually joined forces within the town and drew up plans to assault by storm Castlecomer House that still held out. But the appearance of Asgil’s relief force on the heights outside the town meant that the Wexfordmen had to turn their attention to that quarter. The British General opened up with artillery to cover the retreat of the trapped garrison. Asgil held his ground long enough for his trapped soldiers & supporters in the town to get out and then he marched away.

Early in the morning of the 24th the rebel troops diminished by desertion to about 8,000 descended from the heights and advancing towards Castlecomer defeated a body of about two hundred and fifty men at a place called Coolbawn a mile and a half from that town which they entered with the slaughter of about fifty Loyalists. The town was set on fire – and of this conflagration each party accuses the other. The General arriving at length with his army, fired with his artillery on the streets and houses not knowing that many Loyalists were still in the place who were making a desperate defence to prevent their families and friends from falling into the enemies hands. This firing however determined the rebels to retire from the town about four O’Clock in the afternoon, which furnished an opportunity to Protestants there assembled to retreat with the general to Kilkenny, but they were obliged to leave their good s a prey to the enemy who took full possession of the place as soon as the Royal Army retreated. 

Musgrave’s History of the Rebellion in Ireland, in the Year 1798

The forces Loyal to the Crown had a lucky escape as the Loyalists within and the troops without would have been overwhelmed had the relative numbers been known in the Insurgent camp. But an early morning fog and the smoke of the buildings alight within the town along with the firing of the guns masked the weakness of the Loyalist position. In the event Murphy decided that it was no use proceeding into areas where the prospects of revolt were so poor and after a brief foray into County Laois it was decided to return to Wexford and fight it out there.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

22 June 1921: In Belfast King George V opened the first session of the Northern Ireland Parliament thus formally dividing Ireland into two political entities.

The genesis of the division lay in the Ulster Unionists opposition to the establishment of a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland. Their campaign against it dated back to 1886 when the British Prime Minister Gladstone had first brought a Bill before the British Parliament for its introduction. The bill was defeated and while it passed the House of Commons in 1893 it fell in the Lords.

However in 1909 the House of Lords had blocked the introduction of the Budget brought in by the Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George. The British Government then brought in legislation to limit the power of the House of Lords to block a Bill passed by the Lower House to two parliamentary sessions and no more. This momentous change meant that sooner or later a new Home Rule Bill was bound to be passed and implemented.

In 1912 the Ulster Unionists organised themselves in para-military formations under an organisation known as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Armed with weapons from Germany and Austria-Hungary they defied the British Government attempts to introduce Home Rule for all of Ireland. The outbreak of the Great War stymied a looming Civil War situation and while Home Rule was passed in September 1914 it was suspended for the duration of the War.

With the ending of the Great War the issue of where Ulster stood in relation to the rest of Ireland once again came to the fore. By that stage the Ulster Unionist Council had accepted the concept of Home Rule if the six northern counties of Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone were at least temperorally excluded from its terms.

With the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1919 and the decline of British power throughout much of the Country the likelihood of a deal being struck between Unionists and Nationalists became more remote.
On this basis the British Government decided to proceed with a plan to put before its Parliament a Bill to partition Ireland into two polities – Northern Ireland & Southern Ireland.

Consequently after the General Election of May 1921 in which unionist candidates won most of the seats in the Six Counties the formation of a northern State centred on Belfast was proceeded with.

It was on this basis that King George V was dispatched to the North to officiate at the opening of Northern Parliament on 22 June 1921 in Belfast’s City Hall

Addressing the members of the Senate and House of Commons from his throne he said:

"For all those who love Ireland, as I do with all my heart, this is a profoundly moving occasion in Irish history. My memories of the Irish people date back to the time when I spent many happy days in Ireland as midshipman. My affection for the Irish people has been deepened by the successive visits since that time, and I have watched with constant sympathy the course of their affairs.

"I could not have allowed myself to give Ireland by deputy alone my earnest prayers and good wishes in the new era which opens with this ceremony, and I have therefore come in person, as the Head of the Empire, to inaugurate this Parliament on Irish soil.

"I inaugurate it with deep-felt hope, and I feel assured that you will do your utmost to make it an instrument of happiness and good government for all parts of the community which you represent.

"This is a great and critical occasion in the history of the Six Counties, but not for the Six Counties alone for every thing which interest them touches Ireland, and everything which touches Ireland finds an echo in the remotest part of the Empire....

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

21 June 1854: Midshipman Charles Davis Lucas, by an act of outstanding bravery on board HMS Hecla on this day was awarded the first Victoria Cross. Lucas was born on 19 February 1834 in Druminargal House, Poyntzpass, Co Armagh, son of David and Elizabeth (Hill) Lucas.He enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1847 and took part in the Burmese War of 1852-1853. He won the VC during a British Naval Expedition to the Baltic during the ‘Crimean War’. The fleet under Admiral Napier commenced a bombardment of the island fortress of Bomarsund. Three ships were sent forward to undertake the task, led by Captain Hall on HMS Hecla.

‘At the height of the bombardment, a live shell from an enemy battery landed on Hecla's upper-deck, with its fuse still hissing. All hands were ordered to fling themselves flat on the deck, but Lucas, with what Hall called in a letter to Napier next day 'great coolness and presence of mind', ran forward, picked up the shell and tossed it overboard. It exploded with a tremendous roar before it hit the water. Some minor damage was done to the ship's side and two men were slightly hurt but, thanks to Lucas, nobody was killed or seriously wounded. He was immediately promoted to Acting Lieutenant for his bravery, and the Admiralty later confirmed the promotion on Napier's strongest recommendation.’ 

 'The VC at Sea' by John Winton. 

The 6-gun steam paddle sloop Hecla  was under the direct command of Capitan Hall. He reported to the Admiral that:

With regard to Mr. Lucas, I have the pleasure to report a remarkable instance of coolness and presence of mind in action, he having taken up, and thrown overboard, a live shell thrown on board the 'Hecla' by the enemy, while the fuse was burning.

Queen Victoria invested Charles Lucas with his Victoria Cross on the 26th June 1857 in Hyde Park, London. Lucas eventually reached the rank of Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy. He died on the 7th August 1914, aged 80, at his home in Great Culverden, Kent, and was buried in St. Lawrence's Churchyard, Mereworth.

His medal, the 1st VC, was on display at the National Museum, Dublin overlooking the river Liffey in recent years but is usually kept at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. They are not the original medals, which were left on a train and never recovered. Replacement copies were made, though the reverse of the Victoria Cross copy is uninscribed.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

20 June 1210: King John of England landed at Crook, near Waterford on this day.

Johannes, grandson of the Empress [Matilda], king of the Saxons, came to Erinn, with a great fleet, in this year 
After arriving he commanded a great hosting of the men of Erinn to Ulidia, to apprehend Hugo de Laci, 
or to expel him from Erinn, and to capture Carraic-Fergusa.

Hugo left Erinn, and the persons who were defending the
Carraic abandoned it, and came to the king; and the
king put men of his own company into it.
Annals of Loch Cé 1210 AD

Sailing from south Wales, King John landed at Crook, near Waterford, on 20 June 1210. He was to remain in Ireland throughout the rest of the summer.

His mission in Ireland was not to subdue the Irish Kings who still held power over large swathes of the Country, but instead to bring to heel the more powerful of the Anglo-Norman Lords who defied him. King John was a most unpopular Monarch in England and faced constant trouble with his Lords and Barons who resented his attempts to rule them. A ruthless and devious man he probably rightly trusted very few of his councillors who advised him.

The main objects of his attention were the De Lacy family, specifically Walter Earl of Meath and Hugh the Earl of Ulster. He believed they could act as a power base for malcontents back in England. Indeed they had backed the struggle of the once powerful Marcher Lord William de Braose against the King. It was to crush this family and punish the De Lacy's for their lack of loyalty that drove him to take a well armed military force to Ireland.

De Braose fled to England when he heard of the King's movements. There he endeavoured to make peace with his master, but failing to do so, he carefully avoided putting himself in his power, and took refuge in France.

John had been to Ireland before in 1185 when his father King Henry II had given him the title 'Lord of Ireland', but John had turned his journey into a Fiasco but upsetting the Irish kings with his youthful folly and the Gaels resented his attitude to them.

After arriving in Waterford he came to Dublin where he was well received and after leaving the capital he advanced into Meath from which Walter de Lacy then fled. King John then met up with King Cathal Crobhderg O'Conner of Connacht near Ardbraccan, Co Meath. King Cathal recognised him as his Lord in return for being re-assured as the recognised & rightful King of Connacht. The two kings then proceeded northwards where they besieged the powerful fortress of Carrigfergus which was taken, though Hugh made good his escape.

While in the North he also parlayed with King Aedh O'Neil of  Tir Eoghan (Tyrone), whom he wished to secure homage and take hostages from. Keeping his distance, O'Neill made a pretence of wanting to help with the siege and being prepared to offer some kind of agreement to subordinate himself to the English King, but he pleaded for time to consult his advisors. He donated a supply of cattle to feed John's troops. He was though really loath to submit and give over important hostages, incl. his own son, to such a volatile character as King John. The negotiations fizzled out and O'Neill backed off and went home.

Cathal Crovderg was in a weaker position as his kingdom was riven by rivalries which he had to return home to sort out. He had made a promise to hand over his eldest son, Aed O'Conner, to King John. He would then have him conveyed to England as a security against King Cathal remaining in submission. However Cathal's wife would have none of it and the Irish king had to return to King John empty handed. When they next met at Rathwire in County Westmeath, as arranged, but without his son, the King of England was anything but pleased and seems to have forcibly apprehended four of Cathal's sub-kings and royal officers, whom he brought back to England.

Soon after King John left Ireland,  arriving back at Fishguard in Wales on 26 August. His Expedition here was overall a success. He had smashed the power of the De Lacy's, secured the city of Limerick, reformed the government of Dublin and the eastern counties and brought even as powerful figure as William Marshal of Leinster, the greatest Knight of the age, to heel.

But his attempts to bring the Kings of Connacht and Tir Eoghan under his thumb both failed, and while not the primary objective of his expedition John's ham fisted attempts only alienated these Irish Kings who rightly did not trust this ruthless man.

A final and horrible chapter to this attempt to punish his opponents was the fate of Maud De Braose and her infant son William de Braose. Captured in Scotland they were conveyed in chains to King John who had them imprisoned in Windsor Castle. They were locked up together but only given food and no water on the first day of their incarceration. Thereafter nothing. When the jailors yanked open the door to their cell 11 days later all that was left was their emaciated corpses.

John died in 1216, probably from dysentery, and his expedition here was the last by a serving King of England for 184 years until King Richard II, another unloved Monarch, arrived in the year 1394.

Monday, 18 June 2012

18 June 1812: The USA declared War on Britain and Ireland:

An Act Declaring War Between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Dependencies Thereof and the United States of America and Their Territories.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That war be and the same is hereby declared to exist between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the dependencies thereof, and the United States of America and their territories; and that the President of the United States is hereby authorized to use the whole land and naval force of the United States to carry the same into effect, and to issue to private armed vessels of the United States commissions or letters of marque and general reprisal, in such form as he shall think proper, and under the seal of the United States, against the vessels, goods, and effects of the government of the said United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the subjects thereof

APPROVED, June 18, 1812

The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by Britain's ongoing war with France, the impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion, outrage over insults to national honour after humiliations on the high seas and possible American desire to annex Canada.

The War of 1812 formally began on June 18, 1812, when President James Madison signed the this act into law.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

17 June 1800: The Birth of the future of the 3rd Earl of Rosse on this day. He was born at York in northern England. He went to Oxford and graduated in 1822 with a 1st Class Degree in Mathematics. He inherited an Earldom and a large Estate in County Offaly in 1841 upon the death of his father.

He was the most prominent astronomer of his time and built the world’s largest and most powerful telescope of the age on his estates at Birr Castle, County Offaly. He first represented  the Kings County at Westminister as Lord Oxmanstown but was indifferent to deep political considerations. In politics he was a moderate conservative but of an independent mind on some leading questions.

After retiring from the world of politics he applied himself to the pursuit of astronomical science. Starting almost from scratch he assembled a series of large telescopes that he perfected through trial and error till eventually he produced his magnificent 72 inch optical reflector telescope– the ‘Leviathan of Parsonstown’.

With this he discovered or developed  many unknown or little understood heavenly objects including the remains of the burnt out star Supernova SN 1054. He observed that nebula at Birr Castle in the 1840s, and referred to the object as the ‘Crab Nebula’ because a drawing he made of it that looked like a crab, which is still the name it is most commonly known as to this day.

One of Rosse's telescope admirers was Thomas Langlois Lefroy, a fellow Irish MP, who said:

 The planet Jupiter, which through an ordinary glass is no larger than a good star, is seen twice as large as the moon appears to the naked eye/.../But the genius displayed in all the contrivances for wielding this mighty monster even surpasses the design and execution of it. The telescope weighs sixteen tons, and yet Lord Rosse raised it single-handed off its resting place, and two men with ease raised it to any height.

In 1849 he was elected President of the Royal Society. He was elected a member of the Imperial Acadamy at St Petersburg, and created a knight of the Legion of Honour by Napoleon III. He also received the Knighthood of St Patrick from Queen Victoria. Though born in England to an Anglo-Irish family he was strongly attached to this country by the ties of family, property and sympathy.

In addition to his astronomical interests, Rosse served as an Member of Parliament (MP) for King's County from 1821 to 1834, an Irish representative peer after 1845, president of the Royal Society (1848–1854), and chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin (1862–1867).

Saturday, 16 June 2012

16 June 1929: 'Bloomsday' was first celebrated on this day.

In one of the earliest Bloomsday celebrations, Sylvia Beach, publisher of Ulysses organised a Ulysses lunch with her partner Adrienne Monnier in France in June 1929. The first Bloomsday celebrated in Ireland was in 1954, the fiftieth anniversary of the first Bloomsday. The eccentric writers Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien visited locations such as the Martello Tower at Sandycove, Davy Byrne’s pub, and 7 Eccles Street where the fictional Leopold Bloom lived with his wife Molly. They spent part of their tour reading extracts from Ulysses and drinking a great deal as they went along!

"It wasn't until 1954, its 50th anniversary, that John Ryan, restaurant owner and publisher of the literary periodical Envoy, and his literary friends, novelist Brian O'Nolan and poets Patrick Kavanagh and Anthony Cronin, resurrected Bloomsday in Ireland. There are photos at the National Library in Dublin…of their pilgrimage in two horse-cabs to various locations in Ulysses and several pubs."
Fritzi Horstman

Bloomsday celebrates the day on which the narrative of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses takes place, 16 June 1904, the day on which it is believed that Joyce first went out with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. The day is named after Leopold Bloom, the central character in Ulysses. The novel follows the life and thoughts of Leopold Bloom and a host of other characters – real and fictional – from 8 am on 16 June through to the early hours of the following morning. 

An Extract:
As he set foot on O'Connell bridge a puffball of smoke plumed up from the parapet. Brewery barge with export stout. England. Sea air sours it, I heard. Be interesting some day get a pass through Hancock to see the brewery. Regular world in itself. Vats of porter, wonderful. Rats get in too. Drink themselves bloated as big as a collie floating. Dead drunk on the porter. Drink till they puke again like christians. Imagine drinking that! Rats: vats. Well of course if we knew all the things.
Episode 8 – ‘Lestrygonians’

Friday, 15 June 2012

15 June 1919: The British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic on this day. They flew a modified Vickers Vimy bomber plane from St. John’s Newfoundland and to Clifden, Co Galway thus winning the Daily Mail prize of £10,000. They were feted as heroes and were Knighted a few days later by King George V.

The flight nearly ended in disaster several times owing to engine trouble, fog, snow and ice. It was only saved by Brown's continual climbing out on the wings to remove ice from the engine air intakes and by Alcock's excellent piloting despite extremely poor visibility at times and even snow filling the open cockpit. The aircraft was badly damaged upon arrival due to the attempt to land in what appeared from the air to be a suitable green field but which turned out to be the bog on Derrygimlagh Moor, but neither of the airmen was hurt.

Legend has it that the birds of Ireland did not sing for a week afterwards!

Both men had served as Aviators in the Great War and both had been shot down and captured. Alcock was tragically killed some months later in December 1919 while flying to the Paris Air Show. Brown lived on until 1948.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

14 June 1884: Count John McCormack was born on this day. He is considered the greatest Tenor that Ireland has ever produced. He was the fourth of eleven children born to Hannah and Andrew McCormack, and one of the five to survive childhood. Though his own parents hailed from Scotland his paternal Grandfather was originally from County Sligo. He was educated locally by the Marists in Athlone where his singing abilities were first recognised.

 I was nine and a slip of a lad and shy. It was in the Marist brothers' school on a feast day, when Dr. Woodlock, Bishop of Clonmacnoise, was the guest of honor. I'll not forget the sensation at hearing the words, which Brother Hugh whispered in my ear. ‘We want you to sing, John, for Bishop Woodlock’. With that the good man lifted me upon a table, and left me looking at the gathering…

I think they must have liked it. They seemed to. I had no extensive repertoire, but what I knew I knew. And the singing spirit must have been there. Like the man born to be hanged, I possibly was intended to sing

Afterwards he won a Scholarship to study at the Diocesan College in Summerhill County Sligo. He completed his studies there in 1902. After considering trying his hand at various lines of work he was offered a position with the Palestrina Choir in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral. Vincent O’Brien, the choir master & organist there, saw the great potential in him and recommended for the position of Tenor with the Choir.

He was organist of the Marlborough Street Cathedral, in Dublin; a splendid musician, a fine man, and a staunch friend. He had vision and appeared, intuitively, to feel that all I needed was study and opportunity to achieve a goal worthy of serious aspiration.

It was the beginning of a hugely successful career that saw him perform around the World to International acclaim. He is best remembered at home though for his magnificent performance of César Franck's Panis Angelicus to the hundreds of thousands who thronged Dublin's Phoenix Park for the 1932 Eucharistic Congress. Pope Pius XI made him a Count of the Church in 1928. He died in Dublin in 1945 and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

13 June 1798: The Battle of Ballynahinch on this day. This battle occurred in County Down between the insurgents of the United Irishman under General Henry Munro, (who was actually a linen merchant from Lisburn) and the forces of British Crown under General Nugent. The town had been seized some days previously by local insurgents but on the day before the battle a well-armed force of some 2,000 military under Nugent entered it and set about upending the place. That evening there was a great deal of skirmishing and much of Ballynahinch was ransacked as the soldiers and Yeomanry engaged in drinking and revelry. The insurgents had established themselves on the hills to the south and east of the town and had in all about 5,000 men under arms. However most were armed only with pikes and any attempt to meet the Crown Forces in open battle was bound to be a massacre. The superior firepower along with the discipline and cohesion of the soldiers was bound to tell against the insurgents if the British Army was to march out the next morning in line of battle.

Munro’s officers urged him to launch a night attack upon the town and catch the enemy off guard, as they were audibly not in a coherent state that night anyway to resist a determined assault. But he hesitated to do so as he did not have confidence in his men that they could carry off with any degree of certainty such a risky manoeuvre as a night attack. So the the hours of darkness slipped away and with it a substantial number of the men who had gathered under the flag of the United Irishmen. Many of them in turn lacked confidence in Munro’s judgement and his obvious lack of experience. They felt that defeat was all but inevitable if the Crown Forces gained the initiative. It was readily apparent that when Nugent marched out his men out the next day that the odds would be stacked against them. Even though the United Irishmen had the numbers the Crown Forces cohesion and discipline and would be able to use their Combined Arms tactics of Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery to devastating effect upon them.

An eyewitness reported:

A mixed and motley multitude met the eye. They wore no uniforms, yet they presented a tolerably decent appearance, being dressed no doubt in their Sunday clothes, some better and some worse. The only thing in which they all concurred was the wearing of the green, almost every individual having a knot of ribbon of that colour, sometimes intermixed with yellow in his hat.

In their arms there was as great a diversity as in their dress. By far the majority of them had pikes, which were truly formidable instruments in close fight, but of no use in distant warfare ... others wore swords, generally of the least efficient kind, and some had merely pitchforks.
James Thompson

At daylight Munro finally decided to attack and launched his men against the enemy inside the town. Bloody hand to hand fighting ensued and the fortunes of war ebbed and flowed amongst the burning buildings of the town. At one stage it looked like Victory lay within the grasp of the United Irishmen as the Crown Forces fell back. But they eventually rallied and counterattacked and broke the back of the pikemens brave charges upon their positions.

In the meantime Nugent had directed other columns to come round in the rear of the hillside camps of his opponents and turn their positions. A detachment from the garrison in Downpatrick had arrived under Colonel Stapelton and circled the town to attack Montalto, a commanding eminence skirted by a thick wood. This was where Munro had established his HQ some days prior to the battle.

These developments unnerved his men and caught between the obvious superiority now being gained by the military within the town and the imminent closing off of any viable avenue of escape. This led to the collapse of their morale and a precipitate retreat away from Ballynahinch by the survivors of the battle. Munro attempted to rally his men on Ednavady Hill outside the town but all he could muster by that stage was a motley force of about 150 combatants. With the Crown Forces closing in for the kill they decided to make a break for it and scatter, every man for himself. Munro sought refuge nearby and evaded capture for a few days. But he was taken through betrayal, brought back to Lisburn and tried and executed within a very short period of time. He was hanged almost within view of his own front door and his head was placed upon display in the Market Square. The town of Ballynahinch itself lay in ruins with almost half the houses within it burned out or destroyed in the fighting, with looting and pillaging that took place over the course of the battle and its aftermath.

This battle to all intents and purposes ended organised resistance in County Down. In the following days and weeks the military spread out across the Countryside, inflicting many atrocities upon those they suspected of being active participants or silent supporters of the Rising.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

12 June 1954: The IRA Raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh

In an audacious raid the Irish Republican Army seized control of a British Army barracks in Armagh and took 19 British soldiers captive while a party looted the Arsenal of its weaponry. This was the biggest raid carried out on the British Army since the War of Independence in 1921.

The barracks had been well staked out in advance with one of the IRA men joining the British Army some months before in order to be placed on duty there. With the information he garnered IRA GHQ were able to build up a comprehensive picture of the mode of operations of life at the base.

The operation was launched on 12 June 1954, from a farm just outside Dundalk. A large red cattle truck had been commandeered at the last moment and 19 IRA men, about half of the Dublin Brigade, climbed in and were informed as to what their target was. It was almost 3 o'clock on a busy Saturday afternoon when the cattle truck and a car drove into Armagh.

After overpowering the single unarmed guard on the gate the raiders then quickly fanned out and located the Arsenal. They had with them a huge bunch of keys (200!)* but finding the right key to the door proved something of a problem. Eventually the right key was found and in the men went to catch the astounded soldiers within completely off guard.

In less than 20 minutes the place was cleared out. The lorry carrying 340 rifles, 50 sten guns, 12 bren guns, and a number of small arms drove out of the barrack gates and back across the Border. The rearguard in a car followed after locking every gate and door for which they could find keys. At 3.25pm the first alarm in the barracks was given but it was not until 5 o'clock that the general alarm was given and by that time the big red truck was long gone....

This operation was a huge morale boost for the IRA after years in the doldrums and considerably raised their profile both at home and abroad. Conversely it was a huge embarrassment for the British Government and especially the British Army who had failed to secure a place of military operations under their charge from capture by enemy forces.

* the keys were later auctioned in America to raise funds for the IRA.

Monday, 11 June 2012

11 June 1534: The Revolt of Silken Thomas on this day. Lord Thomas Fitzgerald or ‘Silken Thomas’ as he was more popularly known, was a young man of just 21 years of age when he rode through the streets of Dublin with a large band of followers, and entered the Chapter House of St. Mary's Abbey where the King's Council were awaiting him.

Whereupon with his brilliant retinue of seven score horsemen he rode through the streets to St. Mary's Abbey; and entering the chamber where the council sat, he openly renounced his allegiance, and proceeded to deliver up the sword and robes of state.
From A Concise History of Ireland by P. W. Joyce

His father was none other than Garret Óg, the Earl of Kildare, the most powerful man in Ireland. In his father’s absence in England to answer charges against his name Lord Thomas had been appointed the King’s Deputy in his place. But false rumours that Henry VIII had executed Garret Óg reached his ears. He concluded, without waiting to check the veracity of this information, that his father was indeed dead. He felt that no time could be lost in staking out his claim to lead the Catholics of Ireland in opposing Henry and his now openly Protestant Court. He that day renounced his stewardship of being the King’s Deputy in Ireland and declared himself no longer bound to King Henry VIII by word or deed.

Henry VIII treated his defiance of Royal Power as an act of open revolt and confined Garret Óg to the Tower of London, where Garret died two months later. After a bloody Revolt that lasted into 1535 Silken Thomas gave himself up when his forces were defeated and conveyed to London for Trial. He too was placed in the Tower and held in wretched conditions. He wrote home from that place of cold captivity a letter full of pathos:

I never had any money since I came into prison, but a noble, nor I have had neither hosen, doublet, nor shoes, nor shirt but one; nor any other garment but a single frieze gown, for a velvet furred with budge [i.e. instead of a velvet furred with lambskin fur], and so I have gone wolward [shirtless] and barefoot and barelegged divers times (when it hath not been very warm); and so I should have done still, but that poor prisoners of their gentleness hath sometimes given me old hosen and shoes and shirts.
P. W. Joyce

The unfortunate Silken Thomas, born into a life of wealth and privilege, eventually was sent to the gallows. He was hanged  at Tyburn,* London alongside five of his captured uncle: James,Oliver, Richard, John and Walter on 3 February 1537. His epic Revolt marked the start of the of a series of Wars by the Irish against the growing power of a centralised Monarchy committed to enforcing English Royal Rule and the Protestant Religion in this Country.

* near Marble Arch

Sunday, 10 June 2012

10 June 1688: James Francis Edward Stuart, aka ‘King James III of England and VII of Scotland’ was born on this day. He was born at St James Palace, London. He was the only legitimate son of James II by his wife Mary of Modena.

From his birth James bore the titles of "Prince of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Lord of the Isles, and Great Steward of Scotland". At his birth he was also named "Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester", although he seems not to have been formally so created. He was baptised according to the rites of the Catholic Church in the Chapel Royal, St. James' Palace, October 15, 1688; his godparents were the Queen Dowager (Catherine of Braganza, widow of King Charles II) and Pope Innocent XI (for whom the papal nuncio Ferdinando d'Adda stood as proxy).

His birth triggered a Constitutional Crises in these islands as he was baptised a Catholic and stood to inherit his fathers’ Realms in due course. Later that year occurred the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the deposition and flight of James II to France. It was rumoured that the actual infant died at birth and a substitute was surreptitiously brought into the birth chamber inside a Warming Pan. While this is almost certainly a piece of propaganda spread by the enemies of his father, such rumours undermined his status in England in particular when he reached maturity. His birth thus triggered a series of actions that led to the ‘War of the Two Kings’ that was fought upon the soil of Ireland between 1689 and 1691.

On the death of James II in 1701 he proclaimed himself King James III. He was recognised by the followers of the Stuart Cause as the legitimate successor to his father’s Kingdoms. He was also acknowledged as such by a number of Continental Powers incl France & Spain. He also had many secret adherents within England, Scotland and Ireland. As a young man he saw action in the War of the Spanish Succession and twice attempted to establish himself upon the Throne. In 1708 he was thwarted in a landing upon the coast of Scotland. His best chance came upon the death of Queen Anne in 1714 when the Crown was vacant and before George of Hanover (a Protestant) could arrive to take it. But delay proved fatal and James’s Scottish supporters only raised the banner of revolt in late 1715. Their attempt, though initially well backed proved a Fiasco. By the time James landed in December support was ebbing away and after a few weeks he was forced to depart for the Continent. He never saw the island of his birth again. 

Eventually he settled in Rome under the protection of the Papacy where he took up residence at the Palazzo Muti and held a Jacobite Court there with funds provided by the Vatican, the Spanish Monarchy and his supporters. He thereafter lived a long but frustrating life. He married Princess Maria Klementyna Sobieska of Poland in 1719 and had two sons by her. She however died in 1733 and he never remarried. He lived long enough to see his son ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ fail in his attempt to overthrow the Hanoverian Dynasty in 1745/46. He was known in his years of Exile as the ‘Old Pretender’ to his enemies or ‘The King over the Water’ to his friends and admirers in these islands. He died in Rome on 1 January [O.S.] 1766 and is buried in St Peters. 

In following such a record of broken hopes and unrelieved failure, the initial sense of disappointment 
yields gradually to a more temperate compassion. There is an indefinable pathos in the spectacle of this tragedy- king, parading his solemn travesty of sovereignty before an unromantic and imperturbable audience. When it is remembered that he lived to see no less than five sovereigns on the English throne, all of whom he had been taught to regard as usurpers, it may help towards understanding how deeply the iron must have entered into his soul. 


Saturday, 9 June 2012

9 June 597 AD: The Death of Saint Columba (aka 'Colmcille' - Dove of the Church) on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland.

Columba was the son of Fedlimid and Eithne of the Cenél Conaill. He was probably born in Gartan, near Lough Gartan, in what is now County Donegal.

The earliest surviving evidence – that from his Vita/Life by Adomnán, written about a century after his death – tells us simply that:

‘the holy Columba was born of noble parents having as his father Fedelmid, Fergus’s son, and his mother, Eithne by name, whose father may be called in Latin "son of a ship''

When sufficiently advanced in letters he entered the monastery of Moville under St. Finnian, then at Clonard, governed at that time by Finnian. Another preceptor of Columba was St. Mobhi, whose monastery was at Glasnevin near Dubhlinn[Dublin]. The pestilence that devastated Ireland in 544 AD caused the dispersion of Mobhi's disciples and Columba returned to the North. However his following years were marked by the foundation of several important monasteries at Kells in the north midlands and at Derry in the North.

After political troubles at home for which he was found at fault Columba left Ireland and passed over to the island of Iona in 563 AD. Conall, king of Dál Riata gave him the island to use as his base and there he founded his famous Monastry.

The people of Scottish Dál Riata shared a language, culture and political life with the Dál Riata of Ireland, and with Ireland as a whole. It is virtually certain that they also shared the Christian faith. Colum Cille came, therefore, to a Scottish Dál Riata which had already accepted Christianity. We can assume that he came to a landscape already dotted with churches, where priests and even an occasional bishop already ministered to their people.

What Colum Cille brought to Scottish Dál Riata was not Christianity, therefore, but a monastic community of brothers who would live and work and pray together. It is in this light above all that Adomnán seeks to portray him: as the father of monks, founding, teaching and guiding a community. He also portrays him as a man of power – not the secular power of kings and warlords, which Colum Cille had abandoned in Ireland, but the power of the ascetic, the contemplative. He exercises the divine power that is given to those who have rejected wordly power.

After spending some years among the Scots of Dál Riata, who were related to the Gaels of north east Ulster, Columba began the great work of his life, the conversion of the Northern Picts.  After this the remaining years of Columba's life were mainly spent in preaching the Christian Faith to the inhabitants of the glens and wooded areas of northern Scotland. Of course 'Scotland' as such did not exist then as a separate country and indeed the word Scotland comes from the Roman word for the Gaels of Ireland - Scotii.

Saint Columba was famous for his prophecies and on Iona he lived the life of an ascetic while also engaged in the business of the Church in Scotland.

Adomnán portrays Colum Cille as actively engaged with the kings of Dál Riata in western Scotland– not only obtaining land from them and blessing particular candidates for kingship, but even inaugurating Áedán mac Gabráin as king in the monastery of Iona.

 He also kept in contact with Ireland too and he returned home on occasion even though he was formally exiled.

Adomnán says he went back to Ireland when he founded the monastery of Dair Mag (Durrow) between 585 and 597. He also got involved in the politics of the North once again . He returned to Ireland for a conference of kings at which were present Áed mac Ainmirech, king of the northern Uí Néill and eventually king of Tara, and Áedán mac Gabráin, king of Dál Riata. Legend has it that having been told never to put his feet on the soil of Ireland again and agreeing to that  he returned wearing shoes of sods of turf in order to keep his promise!

Adomnán describes Colmcille as using two separate buildings during his daily life - a writing hut and a hut where he slept and ‘where at night instead of straw he had bare rock and stone for a pillow’.

He is also credited with the initiation of a continuous record of Irish History as set down in the Annals - the Iona Chronicle - whose successor scribes recorded the History of Ireland on a year by year basis down to the 17th Century.

His 'Life' - Vita Columbae was written by his distant successor the 9th Abbot of Iona, Saint Adomnán.

Columba is said never to have spent an hour without study, prayer, or similar occupations. He is the greatest Saint to have come out of Ireland.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

7 June 1925: The death of the Venerable Matt Talbot on this day.

Matt Talbot was on his way to Mass on Sunday, 7 June 1925, when he collapsed and died of heart failure on Granby Lane in Dublin. Nobody at the scene was able to identify him. His body was taken to Jervis Street Hospital, where he was undressed, revealing the extent of his austerities. A heavy chain had been wound around his waist, with more chains around an arm and a leg, and cords around the other arm and leg.

He was a reformed alcoholic who turned from a life consumed by Drink to one of physical hardship and mortification devoted to religious worship. Matt was born into a large family in Dublin City in 1856. When he was just 12 years old he started to drink and became addicted. He tried numerous times to give it up but met with only temporary success. When he was 28 years old he took the Pledge and kept it until his death 41 years later. A Priest advised him to follow the ways of the early Monks & Holy Men of Ireland in avoiding the Temptations of the Flesh. He henceforth lived a Life of rigorous Work and Prayer.

He fasted constantly. His breakfast consisted of cocoa prepared the previous evening by his sister, which he often drank cold. With this he ate some dry bread. For his midday meal he had cocoa to which he would add a pinch of tea, and again drank cold. With this he took a slice of bread. His sister would bring him a small evening meal. If she brought fish he would insist that she take it home with her and would make do with bread soaked in the fish juice.

On Sundays he remained in the church for every Mass. Only on returning to his room at about 2 p.m. would he break his fast for the first time since 6.30 p.m. the previous day. The remainder of the day was spent in prayer, reading the Scriptures and the lives of the saints. He gave all his money to neighbours in need and to the missions.

 Matt Talbot mortified himself rigorously. He slept on a plank bed with a piece of timber for a pillow. This left his face numb in later years. He slept in chains, which he wore for 14 years before his death, round his leg and on his body.
Reality (July/August 1999), a Redemptorist Publication

On 6 November 1931, Archbishop Byrne of Dublin opened a sworn inquiry into the alleged claims to holiness of the former dock worker. The Apostolic Process, the official sworn inquiry at the Vatican, began in 1947.

 On 3 October 1975 Pope Paul VI declared him to be Venerable Matt Talbot, which is a step on the road to his canonisation, a process which needs evidence of a physical miracle in order to be successful.

His story soon became known to the large Irish émigré communities. Countless addiction clinics, youth hostels, statues and more have been named after him throughout the world from Nebraska to Warsaw to Sydney. One of Dublin's main bridges is also named after him. Pope John Paul II, as a young man, wrote a paper on him.

Talbot's remains were removed from Glasnevin Cemetery to Our Lady of Lourdes church on Seán McDermott Street, Dublin, in 1972. The tomb has a glass panel through which the coffin may be seen.

On his coffin is inscribed the following words:
'The Servant of God, Matthew Talbot.'

There is a small plaque in Granby Lane at the site of Matt Talbot's death.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

6 June 1333: The death by murder of William Burke 'the Brown Earl' of Ulster and the Lord of Connacht near Belfast while on his way to Carrickfergus.

The young Earl was only 21 years old. Far from being a callow youth he was already a very able and ruthless man. In November 1332, at Greencastle, near the mouth of Lough Foyle, he had his cousin Sir Walter Liath de Burgh starved to death. In revenge, Sir Walter's sister, Gylle de Burgh, wife of Sir Richard de Mandeville, planned his assassination.

William had feared that his cousin Walter would be a threat to him after his defeat of the O'Connor's in 1330. Clearly a man of some ambition his foul murder of his relation was a bit too much even for that ruthless age.

William Burke, Earl of Ulster, was killed by the English of Ulster. The Englishmen who committed this deed were put to death, in divers ways, by the people of the King of England; some were hanged, others killed, and others torn asunder, in revenge of his death.
Annals of the Four Masters

With his death the whole Anglo-Norman rule in the North began to unravel as the DeBurgo 'clan' fought amongst themselves over the division of the dead Earl's vast holdings. With the collapse of their power the first phase of the Conquest began in 1169 came to an end. From then on until the Reformation the Colony was to be basically on the defensive rather than on the attack against the Gaels of Ireland.

No such blow had yet befallen the Anglo-Irish Colony. The whole De Burgo Lordship, which had reduced the proudest of the Irish to vassalage and had been the shield and rampart of the English interest in the north and the west, fell at one stroke. Released from a yoke which they alone could never have broken, the O'Neills and the O'Donnells were able to subject eastern and southern Ulster on the one hand, and DeBurgo's lordship of Sligo on the other. Within fifty years practically the whole province went back to the Irish order.
A History of Medieval Ireland
Edmund Curtis

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

5 June 1646: The Battle of Benburb. General Owen Roe O’Neill met and defeated a superior enemy force at Benburb on this day.  He had deliberately chosen a defensive position on which to meet the British Army under Major-General Robert Monroe. The British men had marched many miles in the days preceding the battle, fighting a series of tiring skirmishes against the Irish on the way. On the day of the battle itself his men had marched some 15 miles before they came up upon the Irish positions. O'Neill's men on the other hand were well rested and some were in concealed positions so the British did not know they were up against O'Neill's Main Force until the battle was joined.

O'Neill and Monroe were both experienced commanders, O'Neill had fought in the Spanish Army in the Low Countries and had conducted a brilliant defense of the town of Arras in 1640 for weeks against overwhelming odds before been forced to surrender. Monroe was a veteran of the 30 Years War in Flanders and Germany.

O'Neill was determined to bring his opponent to battle on his own terms by taking up a position that would convince the enemy to attack at a disadvantage. Described 'as a man of few words, cautious and phlegmatic in his operations' 'this great adept in concealing his feelings' as the Papal envoy Rinuccini called him. O'Neill kept his plan to himself but its possible he sent a 'deserter' across the lines to point Monroe in the right direction for the battle to be sprung.

The British army had crossed the river Blackwater after advancing from Armagh was advancing from the south west upon the Irish with the river on their right flank. The battle took place just over three miles south-east of Charlemont Fort in what is now County Tyrone.

The Scottish commander had over 6,000 men, made up of six Scottish and four English regiments of foot and around 600 horse. Monro's infantry was two-thirds musketeers and one-third pikemen. Monroe also had six light cannon with him.

 O’Neill’s Army consisted of about 5,000 foot, half of whom were pikemen and half musketeers, and 500 horse, many of whom were lancers. He drew up his men with four brigades in the first line and three in the second. The Irish had no artillery available at all.

Before the clash of arms, Father Boetius Mac Egan, Chaplain General of the Army, gave general absolution to the O'Neill's men.

O'Neill delayed the advance of Monroe's Army with lines of skirmishers, falling back step by step. The battle proper  then did not begin until late in the day. When the British, confident of victory, finally attacked the Irish lines they were beaten off. Once this attack had been checked O’Neill gave the order to advance with his famous exhortation to his men:

Let your manhood be seen by the push of your pike 

- your word is 'Sancta Maria'

- and so in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost 


- and give not fire till you are within pike-length.

With that the Irish lines went forward to break the enemy's lines. By this stage the sun and wind were behind the Irish lines giving them a distinct tactical advantage.

After about an hours' heavy fighting late in the evening the British lines began to buckle. Eventually most Monroe's troops broke and ran. Monro was lucky to escape with his life and he lost probably half of his men in this rout, some 3,000 or so. Only Sir James Montgomery's Regiment getting away in good order. Much of his baggage and all of his artillery was taken. Irish casualties were in the low hundreds and they were left masters of the field as the sun went down. It was the greatest Irish Victory of the War of the Confederation.

Monday, 4 June 2012

4 June 1820 - Henry Grattan, the moving force behind the Irish Parliament at College Green before it was dissolved by the Act of Union, died on this day in London.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 June 2012

3 June 618 AD: The death of St Kevin/Naomh Caoimhghin at Glendaloch ( Gleann Da Locha - The Valley of the two Lakes) on this day.

Caoimhghin means of fair birth and it would seem that St Kevin was born into a dominant family whose People controlled what is now north Wicklow in the 6th century.

He was baptized by Cronan, and educated by St Petroc during that saint's sojourn in Ireland. He lived in solitude at Disert-Coemgen for seven years, sleeping on a dolmen (now known as "Saint Kevin's Bed") perched on a perilous precipice, that an angel had led him to, and later established a church for his own community at Glendalough. This monastery was to become the parent of several others. Eventually, Glendalough, with its seven churches, became one of the chief pilgrimage destinations in Ireland.

St. Kevin is said to have first lived in Kilnamanagh (church of the monks) in what is modern-day Tallaght, Dublin 24, but moved on to Glendalough in order to avoid the company of his followers, a group of monks who founded a monastery on the site. Locals say that it was his monastery that was demolished by developers in the 1970s when building the housing estate that is there today. St. Kevin’s well is all that remains today as the plot was unsuitable for building. It is now surrounded by a garden kept by locals in the saint’s honour. St. Kevin is today the patron saint of the Kilnamanagh parish.

Kevin or Coemghen is said to have been baptised by a St. Crónán and educated by St Petroc during that saint's sojourn in Ireland. He studied for the priesthood in Cell na Manach (Killnamanagh - church of the monks) in what is modern-day Tallaght, Dublin 24.

Locals say that it was his monastery that was demolished by developers in the 1970s when building the housing estate that is there today. St. Kevin’s well is all that remains today as the plot was unsuitable for building. It is now surrounded by a garden kept by locals in the saint’s honour. St. Kevin is today the patron saint of the Kilnamanagh parish.

After Bishop Lugidus ordained Kevin a priest he left Killnamanagh and set out to find his own hermitage. On arrival in Glendalough Kevin chose the area of the upper lake and settled on the south side of the foot of that lake in St. Kevin's Bed, an artificial cave about thirty feet above the level of the lake which was originally a Bronze Age tomb. Kevin lived the life of a hermit there with an extraordinary closeness to nature, his companions were the animals and birds all around him. He lived as a hermit for seven years wearing only animal skins, sleeping on stones and eating very sparingly.

Disciples were soon attracted to Kevin and establishment of a further settlement enclosed by a wall, called Kevin's Cell and Reefert Church, situated nearer the lakeshore. All this building and expansion would have bothered Kevin who never really wanted to leave his hermit's life and seemed to have sought solitude and the life of a hermit whenever possible. By 540 Saint Kevin's fame as a teacher and holy man had spread far and wide. Many people came to seek his help and guidance.In time Glendalough grew into a renowned seminary of saints and scholars.

In 544 Kevin went to the Hill of Uisneach in Co.Westmeath to establish a league of brotherly friendship with other holy abbots. Until his death around 618 Kevin presided over his monastery in Glendalough, living his life by fasting, praying and teaching.

St Kevin was very fond of animals and birds. One in particular is associated with him - the Blackbird. Legend has it that:

The holy Kevin, while avoiding the society of his fellow men during the season of Lent, as his custom was, devoted his time to reading and prayers, in the desert, occupying a small hut which did nothing but keep out the sun and rain, giving himself up to contemplation only.

And while he was lifting up his hand to heaven through the window, as he used to do, a blackbird by chance alighted on it, and treating it as a nest, laid an egg there. And the Saint showed such compassion towards it, out of his patient and loving heart, that he neither closed his hand nor withdrew it, but indefatigably held it out and adapted it for the purpose until the young one was fully hatched.

And, in order to perpetuate the memory of this wonderful act, all the figures of St. Kevin, throughout Ireland, have a blackbird sitting on his open hand. 
Text source:
—. The Church and Kindness to Animals.
London: Burns & Oates, 1906. 75-76.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

2 June 1567: The death of Shane O’Neill on this day. The MacDonnells of Antrim murdered him after he sought refuge amongst them following his defeat at the Battle of Farsetmore. Séan the Proud/An Díomais Ó Néill was born in circa 1530. He was the son of Conn Bacach O'Neill, who was created the 1st Earl of Tyrone by the English. Conn decided that to placate the Tudors he would make his eldest but illegitimate son Matthew his legal heir under the English Law. This was unacceptable to Shane who slew his brother and other members of his family. This was to ensure that on his father’s death he would be declared ‘The O’Neill’ and thus the legitimate ruler of his ancestors lands in the North according to traditions of the Gael.

Notwithstanding this the English tried to rope him in anyway as he was the most powerful man in Ulster. But Shane was determined to keep his distance and be his own man as much as he could. After engaging in conflict with the Earl of Sussex and managing to evade his enemy’s traps he was granted safe passage to London. In 1562, accompanied by the Irish Earls of Ormonde and Kildare, he had an audience at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I. Her courtiers were agog at Shane’s Bodyguard of Gallowglass warriors and his own apparel. The Queen however did not want an expensive War against this colourful Gaelic Chieftain and cut a deal with him. In return for recognising her position as Queen she would recognise him as the O’Neill and both sides agreed to a more pacific relationship in future.

On return Shane quickly suppressed any dissent within his own lands and then waged War against the O’Donnell’s of Donegal and the MacDonnell’s of Antrim. He raided into Fermanagh and used his new found legitimacy to shove his weight around. But these attacks proved disconcerting to the English who did not want Shane, or any other Gaelic Leader, to gain sway over the other Chieftain’s and prove a thorn in their side. Divide et impera was the name of the game as far as the English were concerned & Shane was not playing it their way.

 Elizabeth at last authorized Sussex to take the field against Shane, but two separate expeditions failed to accomplish anything except some depredations in O'Neill's country. In 1565 O’Neill defeated the MacDonnell’s at the Battle of Glenshesk and took Sorley Boy MacDonnell prisoner. He also held as his captive one Calvagh O’Donnell, who he allegedly kept in cage while he took his wife for his mistress and played with her in front of him! O’Neill also armed the common people to fight his wars and hired bands of Scottish mercenaries to augment his forces. By this stage he was the most powerful man in the North and that fact the English had to recognise like it or not.

By 1566 they had had enough of this and an expedition was dispatched to Derry to establish a fort there. Meanwhile Lord Deputy Sidney marched from Dublin with a small but well armed force, which traversed the O’Neills heartland in Tyrone, pillaging and burning and turning the lesser Chieftains against him. The following year Shane decided to strike back and re establish his sway over the O’Donnell’s of Donegal.

However in May 1567 he suffered a shock defeat at the Battle of Farsetmore at the hands of the O’Donnell’s. He had to flee the field of battle with just a small band of followers. While feared he had no true allies and in defeat he found he had many enemies. In desperation he threw himself upon the mercy of the MacDonnells of Antrim. It is not certain whether his death was a deliberate act of assassination or the result of a fight but his demise was greeted with relief at Dublin Castle. The balance of probability is that English agents bribed Alexander Og MacDonnell, his reluctant host, to kill him. The English demanded his head as proof of his death.  On receipt it was dispatched to the City where it was displayed upon the walls of Dublin Castle. Thus ended the violent and bloody career of one of the most formidable and colourful characters that 16th Century Ireland produced.

Friday, 1 June 2012

1 June 1866: The start of the Fenian Invasion of Canada & the Battle of Ridgeway.

The invading force of more than 1,300 Irishmen 'The Fenians' was determined to attack the British Empire on its own soil to divert British military resources from Ireland and cause the Empire International embarrassment. They met no resistance when they crossed the Niagara River on June 1 but by the time they reached Ridgeway a Canadian force was deployed in front of them with orders to engage and defeat them.

At Ridgeway the Canadians initially stood their ground by as the day wore on they broke ranks and became visibly disorganised. The Irish commander, Colonel O'Neill spotted their discomfort and quickly ordered a bayonet charge that completely routed the inexperienced Canadians. The Fenians took and briefly held the town of Ridgeway. Then, expecting to be overwhelmed by British reinforcements, they quickly turned back to Fort Erie where they fought a second battle - Battle of Fort Erie - against a small but determined detachment of Canadians holding the town.

The Canadian loss was 7 killed on the field, 2 died of wounds in the immediate days following the battle, and 4 died of wounds or disease later and 37 were wounded, some severely enough to require amputation of their limbs. O'Neill said he had four or five men killed, but Canadians claimed to have found six Fenian bodies on the field

A U.S. gunboat prevented reinforcements of 10,000 waiting to cross and join the invasion and the invading force of Fenians retreated back to Buffalo.

Thus ended a bizarre and unsuccessful attempt by the US based Fenians (many of them Irish veterans of the US Civil War) to attack Britain through Canada. While tactically well conducted there was no chance of success once the US authorities blocked supplies and reinforcements reaching Colonel O'Neill's men on the Canadian side of the border. This episode was a fiasco and a waste of badly needed money and resources where they could have had no lasting effect. O'Neill withdrew on 3 June to United States territory where he and his men were arrested.