Wednesday, 31 July 2013

31 July 1975 - The Miami Showband Massacre

On the morning of Thursday 31 July 1975 people all across Ireland turned on their radios and heard the astonishing and terrible news that members of the most popular Showband here had been shot down in cold blood at Buskill County Down.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) carried out a gun and bomb attack on the members of the Miami Showband. Three members of the band were killed and one seriously injured during the attack. Two members of the UVF gang were also killed when a bomb they were handling exploded prematurely.

The Miami Showband had been playing at 'The Castle Ballroom' in Banbridge, Count Down. Five members of the band left in their minibus and travelled south on the main dual-carriageway. The minibus was stopped by what appeared to be a Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) checkpoint at Buskhill, near Newry. However the checkpoint was bogus and was being operated by approximately 10 members of the UVF - at least four of whom were also members of the UDR.

The members of the band were ordered out of the van and told to line up by the side of the road. Two UVF men then planted a bomb into the van. The bomb exploded prematurely killing the two UVF members. At this point the other UVF members opened fire on the band musicians.

Francis (Fran) O'Toole (29), the lead singer with band and famous for his good looks, was shot 22 times in the face while he lay on his back on the ground. Two other band members Anthony Geraghty (23), who was shot four times in the back, and Brian McCoy (33), shot nine times, both died at the scene. Another member of the group (Stephen Travers) was shot with a 'dum-dum' bullet and seriously injured but survived. The two UVF men who died were Harris Boyle (22) and Wesley Somerville (34); both were also members of the UDR.

There was speculation after the event that the UVF had tried to hide the bomb on the minibus with the intention of the bomb exploding after the members of the van had resumed their journey. It would then have been claimed that the members of the band were transporting explosives on behalf of the IRA. In 1976 two members of the UDR were sentenced to prison for their part in the attack. They received life sentences but were later released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

A monument dedicated to the dead Miami Showband members was unveiled at a ceremony at Parnell Square North, Dublin, on 10 December 2007. Survivors Stephen Travers and Des McAlea were both present at the unveiling. The monument, made of limestone, bronze and granite, by County Donegal sculptor Redmond Herrity, is at the site of the old National Ballroom, where the band often played

Monday, 29 July 2013

29 July 1883: James Carey, the man who informed on the Phoenix Park assassins (The Invincibles), was shot dead on this day.

29 July 1883: James Carey, the man who informed on the Phoenix Park assassins (The Invincibles), was shot dead on this day. He was killed by Patrick O'Donnell (executed 17 November) on board the Melrose Castle, which was making its way from Cape Town to Durban with the turncoat on board. On the evidence of James Carey five of the "Invincible" prisoners were convicted and received the capital sentence. Their names were Joseph Brady, Daniel Curley, Michael Fagan, Thomas Caffrey and Timothy Kelly. Their executions took place in Dublin, in the months of May and June 1883.

But Carey was a hunted man as his old revolutionary companions sought out his whereabouts. It became known that the British had sent him to South Africa with his family to start a new life in a remote location. But his attempt to escape the rightful vengeance of the remnants of those Invincibles still at large proved a futile exercise.

Nemesis was on his track in the person of Patrick O'Donnell, a fellow-passenger on board the Melrose. An acquaintance sprang up between the two men; and O'Donnell, from the descriptions he had heard of Carey's personal appearance, was not slow in recognizing in his compangon de voyage, the notorious informer; and his sensibilities were shocked by the discovery that he had given the hand of friendship to such a wretch. 

An altercation between these men on Sunday, July 29, 1883, resulted (according to O'Donnell's statement) in Carey drawing his revolver on O'Donnell, whereupon O'Donnell--as he claims in self-defense--fired his own revolver twice at Carey, with fatal effect. O'Donnell was immediately placed under arrest, and on the arrival of the Melrose at Port Elizabeth, was taken before a magistrate, who recommitted him for trial in England, as the shooting had taken place on the high seas.

 The doom of O'Donnell, tried before an English judge and jury, was a foregone conclusion, and though he had the advantage of the most able counsel that money could procure, and there was no lack of funds for his defense--the Irish World alone having raised upward of fifty-five thousand dollars for this purpose--his conviction was secured.

By A. M. Sullivan

Sunday, 28 July 2013

28 July 1270: The Battle of Athankip (Cath Ath in Chip)

28 July 1270: The Battle of Athankip (Cath Ath in Chip) near Carrick on Shannon. Aedh O'Conchobhair, King of Connaught, defeated the army of the Anglo –Norman Colony of the deputy-Justicar Richard of Exeter and Walter De Burgo on this day.

King Aedh of Connacht was an able and dynamic leader with a ruthless streak. He fought hard to retain what was left of the ever shrinking lump of territory that was left to the kings of Connacht by the inroads of the English and that his familial ancestors had once held sway over so much of.

His enemies were many but at this time he was at war with Walter de Burgo of the Anglo-Norman De Burgo family. Walter was both the Lord of Connacht and the Earl of Ulster - a very powerful man indeed in the Ireland of that time.

King Aedh knew that when the English began erecting a castle at Roscommon in 1269 that the Crown of England was putting pressure upon him by taking back lands lost in previous times. He expected war notwithstanding agreements entered into earlier with the Crown of England.

In 1270 the Justicar Robert d'Ufford* organised an expeditionary force that united all his forces with those of Walter de Burgo so that they had 'all the foreigners of Erin with them'. However d'Ufford quitted  Ireland ahead of the expedition and returned home and his place was taken by his deputy Richard of Exeter. Eventually in the summer of 1270 the forces were assembled at Roscommon and set off to march upon King Aedh and his men.
* The chief representitive of England in Ireland at that time

The Anglo-Norman Army went north by way of Elphin to the banks of the Shannon so that they were  between Carrick and Jamestown, situated on what today is the riverine border between the counties of Roscommon and Leitrim.
There they decided upon upon a fatal course of action - they divided their forces in two so that the river Shannon would be between them. Walter was sent across the river with his men in order to camp beside Aedh's Army and to open negotiations with the King of Connacht so as to bring about his submission.

As part of the deal to agree to talk King Aedh entered into Walter's camp (a sign of submission in the Gaelic world!) but in return Walter had to hand over his own brother William to Aedh's camp 'while Aedh should be in the Earl's house arraigning the peace'.

Whatever exactly happened then we do not know but Aedh withdrew from the negotiations pretty fast. Meanwhile in his own camp two of the hostages who accompanied William were done to death and William himself was seized as a captive instead of being allowed to return to the care of his brother.
Walter was now on the wrong side of the river and with his brother's life in the balance and King Aedh obviously not prepared to agree to whatever terms were offered to him he decided to beat a retreat back to the other side of the Shannon and try and reunite his force with that of Richard of Exeter.

King Aedh on the other hand knew that in the aftermath of negotiations breaking down and the death of hostages that allowing Walter to cross the Shannon unmolested and re unite with Richard could only spell his own doom.

He decided to harry Walter's retreat and take out as many of his men as he could.

And O'Conchobhair was during these two 
nights marching round them, as a furious, raging, tearing 
lion goes about his enemies when killing them, so that 
he permitted them neither to eat, sleep, nor be at rest. 
Annals of Loch Cé
Eventually Walter's depleted and harried army made it to the banks of the Shannon at the ford of Ath An Chip where they proceeded to cross over to the other side. However they were caught here by Turlough O'Brien and his men. Turlough was if not the son then a close relative of King Brian of Thomond who had also turned against the English. Turlough might well have been on the western side of the Shannon already and waiting for Walter's army to turn up. 

The Earl Walter turned to fight and with some courage sought out Turlough and engaged him in single combat and slew him. But this delay proved fatal for his army as the men of Connacht came upon his rearguard and turned a retreat into a rout. The English lost nine of the chief men (Knights) dead upon the battlefield and many hundreds of others as well. Over 100 apparelled and saddled horses were left behind by them. Aedh in the flush of Victory had Walter's own brother William put to death as a further insult to the man who had caused him so much trouble in his own life and that of his father King Felim too in his day.

The defeat of Ath-in-chip was inflicted by Aedh, son of Feidhlimidh Ua Conchobair and by the Connachtmen on the Earl, namely, on Walter de Burgh and on the Foreigners of Ireland besides, wherein was committed slaughter innumerable on the Foreigners. And William de Burgh junior was taken prisoner there and he was killed afterwards in the same captivity. And not greater than it was any defeat, or battle-rout that the Gaidhil ever gave to the Foreigners in Ireland previously. 
For there was killed Richard of the Wood, kinsman of the Earl, as well as John Butler and many other knights and Foreigners and Gaidhil innumerable. And there were abandoned one hundred horses with their breastplates and with their saddles.
Annals of Ulster

Now when the Galls had gone to Ath in Chip in the morning, Toirrdelbach O Briain fell upon them there. The Earl himself turned upon him and slew him on the spot, single-handed.

At this moment the men of Connacht fell upon them. Their rearguard was dislodged and their van broken and nine of their noblest knights were killed on that moor, including Richard of the Wood and Seon Butler, and they left a hundred horses on the field, with their saddles and poitrels. Uilliam Oc was then killed in his captivity, after O Briain had been slain by the Earl, and none knew how many besides.
Annals of Connacht

It's possible that King Aedh was helped to gain this victory by the presence of a contingent of the famous Gallowglass (Gallóglaigh) warriors from Scotland which he had received as a dowry on his marraige in 1259 to the daughter of Dougall Mac Sorley of the western isles of Scotland.

Aedh O'Conchobhair went to Doire-Choluim-Chille 
to espouse the daughter of Dubhgall 
Mac Somhairle; and he brought home eight score young 
men with her, together with Ailin Mac Somhairle.
Annals of Loch Cé 1259

In the aftermath of the battle King Aedh raided far and wide across Connacht taking and destroying castles and driving his enemies before him. In the following years he raided further and took Roscommon itself in 1272. Athlone also fell to him and he broke the bridge across the Shannon.

Walter de Burgo died exactly a year to the day after the battle was fought in his castle at Galway- a broken man no doubt.

The end came for King Aedh on 3 May 1274.

Aed son of Fedlimid son of Cathal Crobderg O Conchobair, king of Connacht for nine years, died on the third day of May this year, a Thursday and the feast of the Invention [finding] of the Holy Cross; a king who wasted and desolated Connacht in fighting the Galls and Gaels who opposed him; a king who inflicted great defeats on the Galls and pulled down their palaces and castles; a king who took the hostages of the Ui Briuin and the Cenel Conaill; the destroyer and healer of Ireland was he; the king most dreaded and triumphant of all the kings of Ireland in his day, as the poet says: ‘For nine years did this Aed Engach defend the Family of Tara—no feeble forrayer was he—against Gall and Gael.’
Annals of Connacht

The Battle of Ath in Chip was his greatest military triumph.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

27 July 1261: The Battle of Callan/Cath Callan

27 July 1261: The Battle of Callan/Cath Callan was fought on this day. It came about as a result of an attempt by the Anglo-Norman Fitzgeralds (supported by the Barrys) to wrest control of territory from the Gaelic McCarthy’s of Kerry. But the expedition met with disaster and was sorely defeated by the Irish. The head of the McCarthy’s, Finghin MacCarthaigh, selected a battleground suited to the fighting tactics of his men. They were mostly lightly armed but mobile troops who when used correctly could be very effective against the better armoured but slower moving soldiers and Knights of the English Colony.

 The battle site is located a few miles from Kenmare County Kerry, near where the Roughty and Slaheny Rivers converge and close by the castle of Ardtully. Callan is near Kilgarvan in the barony of Glanarought, Co. Kerry.

The leading men of these invaders were the Fitzgerald’s of Munster, led by John fitz Thomas and his son, Maurice fitz John. Another of the Norman leaders was 'the son of Richard’ probably Walter de Burgo, Lord of Connacht and later Earl of Ulster. The Colonists were also supported by a few would be hopefuls from amongst the Irish themselves led by one Domhnall Ruadh -  a claimant to the McCarthy Lands.

In the event when battle was joined John Fitzthomas FitzGerald and his son Maurice were killed together with fifteen knights and more than 300 men. The survivors fled and Finghin MacCarthaigh was able to sweep all before him. But he overextended his reach and was in turn defeated and killed only a short while later.
1261.4 A great war was waged, and numerous injuries were committed, by Finghin, son of Domhnall Mac Carthaigh, and his brothers, against Foreigners in this year.

1261.5 A great hosting by the Clann-Gerald into Des-Mumha, to attack Mac Carthaigh; and Mac Carthaigh attacked them, and defeated them, and Fitz-Thomas (John proprium nomen), and his son, and fifteen knights and eight noble barons along with them, were slain there, besides several young men, and soldiers innumerable. And the Barrach Mór was also killed there. Finghin Mac Carthaigh was subsequently slain by the Foreigners, and the sovereignty of Des-Mumha was assumed after him by his brother, i.e. the Aithchleirech Mac Carthaigh.
Ironically after many vicissitudes of Fortune it was Domhnall Ruadh, - the would be claimant who fought alongside the men of the English Colony on the day - who was the one who emerged as the chief beneficiary of these wars. 
After the deaths of Finghin Reanna Ró and Cormac na Mangartan, he seems to have assumed and held the kingship of Desmond until his death in 1302--he reigned 40 years, according to A.I.--though not without opposition.
The Battle of Callan By Diarmuid Ó Murchadha
Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 1961.

As a result of the deaths of John fitz Thomas and his son, Maurice fitz John,the power of the Geraldines was curtailed and the MacCarthys ruled on in their own lands for another 300 years. The Battle of Callan was thus one of the most decisive clashes of arms in the History of Ireland. 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

23 July 1803: Robert Emmet’s Rising took place on this day

23 July 1803: Robert Emmet’s Rising took place on this day. Unfortunately the whole affair was a fiasco due to a series of unforeseen circumstances. Emmet quickly lost control of the situation and he called it off to avoid a massacre of his followers. Due to an accidental explosion of an arms depot in Patrick St Dublin the week before the date for the Rising was brought forth to 23 July. Emmet felt that Dublin Castle was on to him and he dared not wait any longer before striking for Ireland’s Freedom.

On the day of the Rising Robert Emmet stood in Thomas Street Dublin and issued a Proclamation of Independence:

You are now called on to shew to the world that you are competent to take your place among nations, that you have a right to claim their recognizance of you, as an independent country, by the only satisfactory proof you can furnish of your capability of maintaining your independence, your wresting it from England with your own hands.....

But on the day nothing went right. Not nearly enough men turned up and Emmet could not bring any order upon enough of those that did. The only blow struck was when Lord Kilwarden haplessly drove into the assembled crowd of insurgents and was hacked to death for his part in suppressing the 1798 Rising. This attack troubled Emmet greatly as he gave no orders for it. To him it was clear that at least a faction of those assembled would turn violent of their own accord and bring a bloody mayhem to the streets of the City rather than the ordered seizure of military points of importance around the Capital. Reluctantly that very night he called the enterprise off by the launching of a single rocket into the sky above Dublin. He immediately made for the Wicklow Mountains but returned to Rathfarnham some days later and went into hiding.

Notwithstanding the overall failure there had been some heavy fighting by armed insurgents against the British garrison in the Coome and scores of men died there, forcing the British back before the word was given to disperse. Around the City there were numerous smaller clashes and roads blocked. Amazingly Dublin Castle was caught completely on the hop and had no counter plan ready on the night. It was only the next day that they began to move and by that stage the insurgents had gone their separate ways. It was close run thing and the British had a lucky escape from having a full-blooded Insurrection on their hands.

Robert Emmet was arrested in Dublin on 25 August of the same year. He was put on trail and sentenced to death.  At his trial he made a brilliant speech from the dock that inspired Revolutionaries both at home and abroad for years to come. He was executed the following day, 20 September 1803, at Thomas St. A huge crowd of onlookers and well wishers gathered to witness his final moments. The whereabouts of his last resting place remains unknown.

Monday, 22 July 2013

22 July 1691: The Battle of Aughrim (Irish: Cath Eachroma)

22 July [N.S.] [12 July O.S.] 1691: The Battle of Aughrim (Irish: Cath Eachroma) was fought on this day. It was the final battle of the Williamite War in Ireland. It was fought between the Armies of James II and of William III - neither of whom was in Ireland at the time.

The commander of the Jacobite Army was the French general the Marquis St Ruth and that of the Williamite Army the Dutch General Godert de Ginkell. The Catholic Army had perhaps something just short of 20,000 men in its ranks, the Protestant one perhaps a little above that figure. But for all intents and purposes they were about equal in fighting manpower. Ginkel did however have the advanatge in gunnery with some 24 guns to St Ruth's 10 pieces.

The Jacobite Army was falling back from the banks of the Shannon after the fall of Athlone and was trying to cover any advance upon either Galway or Limerick by the Protestant Army. St Ruth was embarrassed by the loss of Athlone and was determined to give battle if possible once a secure position was reached. Near the village of Aughrim in Co Galway he surveyed the elongated hill of Kilcommadan  and decide to draw up his army there to await the enemy.

The feature stretched roughly two miles in a north west-south east direction and peaked at about 400 feet - thus giving theoretically a fine view of the approach of Ginkel and of his dispositions when he came up. The hill was lined with small stone walls and hedgerows which marked the boundaries of farmers' fields, but which could also be improved and then used as earthworks for the Jacobite infantry to shelter behind. In front was a boggy morass into which any troops would have to wade through to reach the other side. The left of the position was bounded by a bog near Aughrim Castle, through which there was only one causeway, overlooked by Aughrim village and the ruined castle. To the south was the narrow pass of Urrachree.

When dawn broke that morning a fine mist hung over both armies as  Ginkels army crossed the river Suck and advanced towards the hill of Kilcommadan. Thus it was not until later in the afternoon that Ginkel, after holding a Council of  War, gave the order for his troops to attack the opposing army.

Fighting commenced at extreme southern end of the line as the Williamites attempted to turn the Irish right flank. Their attempts were checked and Ginkel realised that another plan would have to be tried. He sent his foot regiments into the morass with orders to storm Kilcommadan Hill.  Here the Irish gave ground falling back through the hedgerows and low stone walls as their opponents advanced almost to the foot of the hill. Then a devastating counter attack was launched and the original attackers were pushed back onto the own lines.

Further north where the morass was of a narrower width the Williamites also tried to get across. Here too they were thrown back and the Irish were able almost to reach the the battery of artillery on the other side before they called off their pursuit.

Ginkel was now in two minds to continue but his Council urged him to try again. The Scottish General Mackay in particular wanted to continue the fight and had spotted what he perceived to be a weakness in the disposition of the forces drawn up opposite him to the south of Aughrim Castle.

Marquis St Ruth had so far fought a competent defensive battle and was constantly on the move exhorting his troops and directing reinforcements as and where needed. However his focus was almost entirely upon the centre and right of his line. To counter the actions of the enemy there he had drawn off forces from his northern flank and a vulnerable breach was left open to exploitation should the enemy take their chances.

His position started to unravel when Ginkel switched his attacks onto the extreme left wing of the Irish position at Aughrim castle and the narrow causeway there. It was just wide enough for two men on horseback abreast to enter. The Williamite Cavalry made a dash across and met with only scattered fire from the garrison in the castle, which legend has it were issued with English balls for French muskets!

A bit further to the south General Mackay sent some English Foot regiments across the open ground to his front where the boggy ground was narrowest. His hunch that the open ground on the other side (a cornfield) was no longer guarded proved correct and he sent across more units to back up the ones already across.

This was the critical moment of the battle. The only hope in saving the Jacobite Army from defeat was with the Irish cavalry. The men on the spot were Luttrells troopers. But Henry Luttrell was a bought man - in the pay of King William himself.* He ordered his men to withdraw as the Williamite cavalry debouched from the narrow pass at Aughrim Castle.

The other major body was with Patrick Sarsfield to the rear of the Army but too far back to be of immediate assistance. He had been given specific orders by St Ruth not to stir from his position until called upon to do so - the order never came!

So the hinge of fate fell upon St Ruth himself to save the day. He rode up towards where the breakthroughs were underway with his own French cavalry regiment. Riding down upon the enemy his distinctive white horse was spotted by the Williamite gunners who opened up upon the horsemen. A cannon shot took off his head. His stunned companions took a few moments to realise what had happened before they took themselves off and away from the battle:

Then, drawing his sword, and giving the word to advance for a charge, he exclaimed to his officers: "They are beaten, gentlemen; let us drive them back to the gates of Dublin." With a cheer, rising above the roar of the artillery—which, from the other side, was playing furiously on this decisive Irish advance—the squadron made reply; when, suddenly, louder still, at its close, there arose a cry—a shriek—from some one near the general. All eyes were turned upon the spot, and for an instant many failed to discern the cause for such a startling utterance. There sat the glittering uniformed figure upon his charger. It needed, with some, a second glance to detect the horrible catastrophe that had befallen. There sat the body of St. Ruth indeed, but it was his lifeless corpse—a headless trunk. A cannon shot from the Williamite batteries had struck the head from his body, as if the Tyburn ax and block had done their fearful work. St. Ruth, the vain, the brave, was no more!
By A. M. Sullivan

With the Jacobite army rudderless the whole position began to unravel and as night fell Victory rested with General Ginkel and his men.

Thousands of soldiers on Kilcommadan Hill were surrounded and left to their fate that night. When morning came those not already captured laid down their arms and were herded together in one great mass - where they were slaughtered. 

Patrick Sarsfield gathered what remained of the shattered remanents and led them away from the battlefield. Darkness, heavy rain and exhaustion hampered the Williamites from pursuing their defeated foes with any great vigour.

The Jacobite Army suffered some 7,000 men killed, wounded or made prisoner. Ginkel only admitted to some 1,500 men lost but it is likely this is an underestimate given that he was attacking a well defended position.

Aughrim was the last battle of the War, and the last big battle fought in Ireland (over 40,000 combatents). Galway surrendered soon afterwards and Limerick in October 1691. A new phase in the History of Ireland began.

* He paid for his treachery some years later with a bullet in his back when he was cut down on a Dublin street.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

21 July 1972 - 'Bloody Friday' in Belfast

21 July 1972: Bloody Friday. In a devastating series of attacks the Provisional IRA planted 22 bombs across the city of Belfast killing 9 people and injuring over 130 - most of them innocent civilians.

The IRA said it had sent adequate warnings for all of the bombs and accused the British forces of wilfully ignoring some of them for propaganda purposes. Others, however, say that they had been overwhelmed by the amount of bombs and bomb warnings and could not respond in time to clear all areas of civilians.

The first one went off around 2.10pm on that sunny afternoon at Smithfield Bus Station and the last was recorded at 3.30pm on the Grosvenor Road.

The one at the Oxford Street Bus Depot at 2.48pm caused six fatalities. Two British Army soldiers, Stephen Cooper (19) and Philip Price (27), were close to the car bomb at the moment of detonation and died instantly. Three Protestant civilians who worked for Ulsterbus were killed: William Crothers (15), Thomas Killops (39) and Jackie Gibson (45). One other Protestant Ulsterbus employee, who was a member of the Ulster Defence Association, was also killed in the blast: William Irvine (18). Close to 40 people were injured.

At 3.15pm a car bomb, estimated at 50 pounds of explosive, exploded without warning outside a row of single storey shops near the top of Cavehill Road, north Belfast. The shops were in a religiously-mixed residential area. Two women and a man died in this blast. Margaret O'Hare (37), a Catholic mother of seven children, died in her car. Her 11-year-old daughter was with her in her car and was badly injured. Catholic Brigid Murray (65) and Protestant teenager Stephen Parker (14) were also killed.

The attacks were a disaster for the IRA as there was widespread revulsion throughout Britain and Ireland at these attacks on what were seen as civilian targets. The aftermath of this was to lay the groundwork for 'Operation Motorman' in which the British Army was able to occupy Free Derry at the end of the month.

Years later and RUC man at the time recalled:
The first thing that caught my eye was a torso of a human being lying in the middle of the street. It was recognisable as a torso because the clothes had been blown off and you could actually see parts of the human anatomy. One of the victims was a soldier I knew personally. He'd had his arms and legs blown off and some of his body had been blown through the railings. One of the most horrendous memories for me was seeing a head stuck to the wall. A couple of days later, we found vertebrae and a rib cage on the roof of a nearby building. The reason we found it was because the seagulls were diving onto it. I've tried to put it at the back of my mind for twenty-five years.
 Brendan Hughes, Officer Commanding of the IRA's Belfast Brigade, viewed the attack as a disaster.

"I was the operational commander of the 'Bloody Friday' operation. I remember when the bombs started to go off, I was in Leeson Street, and I thought, 'There's too much here'. I sort of knew that there were going to be casualties, either [because] the Brits could not handle so many bombs or they would allow some to go off because it suited them to have casualties. I feel a bit guilty about it because, as I say, there was no intention to kill anyone that day. I have a fair deal of regret that 'Bloody Friday' took place ... a great deal of regret ... If I could do it over again I wouldn't do it.
In 2002 the IRA issued a statement on the actions carried out that day by their Volunteers:
21 July marks the 30th anniversary of an IRA operation in Belfast in 1972 which resulted in nine people being killed and many more injured. While it was not our intention to injure or kill non-combatants, the reality is that on this and on a number of other occasions, that was the consequence of our actions. It is therefore appropriate on the anniversary of this tragic event, that we address all of the deaths and injuries of non-combatants caused by us. We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families. ..

Monday, 8 July 2013

8 July 1971:Two unarmed civilians were shot dead in Derry by the British Army.

8 July 1971: Two unarmed civilians were shot dead by the British army in riots in Derry. Welder and former boxer Seamus Cusack (28) and 19-year-old George Desmond Beattie of Donegal Street, Bogside were both shot in controversial circumstances that further alienated the Nationalist community.

At about 1.00 a.m. on the morning of 8th July 1971, in the Bogside area of Derry City, Seamus Cusack, a local man aged twenty-eight, was shot in the upper part of the leg by a soldier of the Crown Forces. He died about forty minutes later in Letterkenny Hospital in the Republic of Ireland. His death gave rise to further disturbances in the city, and in the course of these, George Desmond Beattie, a youth of nineteen, was also shot by a soldier and died instantly, at about 3.15 on the afternoon of 8th July.

Immediately after the shootings, two totally conflicting accounts of the circumstances of these deaths began to emerge. The British Army maintained that both men had been armed, Cusack with a rifle and Beattie with a nail bomb. This assertion was repeated on 12th July in the House of Commons by Lord Balniel, Minister of State for Defence. Local people on the other hand insisted that the two men were unarmed.

Repeated demands were made for an official inquiry. Opposition MPs at Stormont, in a statement on 11th July, said:

'Our demand for an inquiry is a decisive test of the sincerity and determination of the British Government. If it is not granted, then as publicly elected representatives we will accept the logic of our position. which is that there is no role we can usefully play within the present system.’ 

When their demand was not met, these MPs announced their withdrawal from Stormont and the setting up of an alternative assembly.

The shooting dead of two young local men in such controversial circumstances led to further alienation of the local Nationalist population from the British State. But within weeks Internment had been introduced in the North and these killings were just a precursor of an even more violent response to come from the Crown Forces over the following months.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

7 July 1816: The great Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan died on this day. He died in the City of London in impoverished circumstances.

7 July 1816: The great Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan died on this day. He died in the City of London in impoverished circumstances.

Sent to be educated at Harrow by his father he completed his education before he eloped and married Elizabeth Linley and with her modest fortune behind him he established himself in London and began his career as a playwright. He enjoyed some success with his first major play The Rivals that was performed at Covent Garden in 1775. However his most famous play is The School for Scandal which was first performed at Drury Lane in May 1777. It still ranks as one of the greatest comedies of manners of the English stage. Having quickly made his name and fortune, in 1776 Sheridan bought David Garrick's share in the Drury Lane patent, and in 1778 the remaining share. His later plays were all produced there.

However his later literary career was more of a business venture rather than as an original playwright and Sheridan switched a lot of his attention to English Parliamentary politics where he supported the Whigs. He entered parliament for Stafford in 1780, as the friend and ally of Charles James Fox. He opposed the American War and was instrumental in the impeachment of Warren Hastings. An excellent public speaker his voice and eloquence commanded attention whenever he rose in the House. Initially a supporter of non intervention against France but as the Revolution took hold he became more sanguinary in his approach especially as Napoleon rose to dominance.

He was however one of the few MPs at Westminster to oppose the Act of Union. When the Whigs came into power in 1806 Sheridan was appointed treasurer of the Royal Navy, and became a member of the Privy Council. Throughout his parliamentary career Sheridan was one of the close companions of the Prince of Wales (the later King George IV). He tried though to distance himself from the suggestion that he was the Prince’s advisor or even a mouthpiece for him. He did however defend the controversial Royal member in parliament in some dubious matters of the payment or otherwise of debts.

In 1809 his beloved Drury Lane Theatre burned down. Legend has it that on being encountered drinking a glass of wine in the street while watching the fire, Sheridan was famously reported to have said:

 A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.

His last years were marred by personal and financial troubles as he lost his parliamentary seat, fell out with the Prince and was pursued by numerous debtors. In December 1815 he became ill, and was largely confined to bed. His last few weeks were spent in almost total destitution as his funds ran out. He died on the 7th of July 1816, and was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey. His funeral was attended by Dukes, Earls, Lords, Viscounts, the Lord Mayor of London, and other notables.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

6 July 1907: The Irish Crown Jewels, then valued at over £30,000 were discovered to be missing from the safe in which they were kept in Dublin Castle on this day.

6 July 1907: The Irish Crown Jewels, then valued at over £30,000 were discovered to be missing from the safe in which they were kept in Dublin Castle on this day. The theft is one one of the most bizarre and puzzling robberies in Ireland's History.

They were kept in the Bedford Tower that linked the Lower Castle Yard to the Upper Castle Yard of the Castle.

On the morning of this day a cleaning lady in Dublin Castle noticed that the door to the safe room in which these jewels were kept lay open. However the keys were still in place. She locked the door again and left the keys for the Messenger who had immediate responsibility for the security of the room. However the man responsible for their safe keeping was Sir Arthur Vicars the head of the Office of Arms and the Ulster King of Arms.

The jewels consisted of the insignia of the Grand Master of the Order of St Patrick (the Lord Lieutenant) and the collars and badges of the Knights of St Patrick. The insignia of the Grand Master comprised a star and a badge. The jewels forming the star consisted of Brazilian diamonds with eight star-points with a central shamrock made of emeralds and a cross of rubies in the centre on a background of blue enamel. The badge also had emerald shamrocks and a ruby cross surrounded by blue enamel and rose diamonds and within Brazilian diamonds. The jewels been the property of Queen Charlotte, then of King George IV and finally of King William IV. This king thought that they would form fine ceremonial decorations for the Order of St Patrick and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to wear on ceremonial occasions and so he presented them to the Order in 1830. In 1907, these jewels were valued at £33,000.

On the same day that the cleaning lady made her discovery a parcel arrived at the Castle containing a gold and enamelled collar of the Order of St Patrick which had been worn by the recently deceased Lord de Ros. When this was taken to the safe room it was discovered the safe was unlocked and the boxes containing the regalia of the Grand Master and of the Knights of the Order of St Patrick were found to be empty!

The theft had been orderly and tidy and had evidently taken some time. A piece of silk ribbon attached to the Star had been carefully detached and replaced in the box, an operation which would have taken about ten minutes. It transpired during investigations that while staff and members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police had keys to the front door, the only keys – two in number – to the safe were held by Vicars.

Both the Lord Lieutenant (Lord Aberdeen) and Vicars had convinced themselves that the theft had been an elaborate practical joke. Vicars waited for the regalia to be returned to him by parcel-post. It never arrived.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police were called into investigate this audacious theft of royal jewels that belonged to Head of the British Empire King Edward VII. Despite much investigation they could make no progress in the case and an appeal was made to Scotland Yard to help crack it.

Over the next few months suspicion crystalised around two people -  the Dublin Herald Francis R. Shackleton (brother of Polar Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton) and Sir Arthur Vicars himself.

On  23 October Vicars was informed that his services as Ulster King of Arms were no longer required. The same message was relayed to the Athlone Pursuivant (Francis Bennett-Goldney), the Cork Herald (Pierce Gun Mahony) and the Dublin Herald (Francis R. Shackleton). 

On 6 January 1908, the Crown Jewels Commission (Ireland) was established. The terms of the Commission were to investigate the theft of the regalia of the Order of St Patrick and to enquire as to whether Vicars had exercised sufficient care of them. Vicars would have nothing to do with the enquiry as he felt he would not secure a fair hearing. He had already told Scotland Yard that he believed Shakleton was the real culprit. He was known to have financial difficulties and to be a somewhat degenerate character. However his suspicions were not accepted and a third part was suspected by the police but the Yard's Report is now missing.

The printed published report of the Commission of Inquiry stated that Vicars had been found not to have exercised proper care as the custodian of the Regalia of the Order of St Patrick. On 30 January 1908, Vicars received a letter stating that his role as Ulster King of Arms was at an end and that a successor would be appointed. 

Vicars was now socially ostracised and without a means of income. He sold off many of his possessions and relied on the kindness of his half brother to financially sustain him. He turned to genealogical research to make ends meet. Francis Shackleton faded from the pages of this story but Sir Arthur was once again to make headlines though in a very tragic way.

In 1917, aged 53, Vicars married Miss Gertrude Wright. In May 1920, Vicars was attacked in his home, Kilmorna House, near Listowel, county Kerry. Vicars showed great courage and the intruders left. On 14 April 1921, the house was again attacked, this time during daylight. One of the attackers stated that their only intent was to burn the house and that no lives would be lost. Shortly after 10.00 a.m. the house was set alight, and Vicars was murdered as he left the house. The house and its contents were completely destroyed. The Irish Republican Army issued a statement that the murder had not been carried out under its orders.
In his last Will and Testament Sir Arthur clearly pointed the finger of blame upon Shackleton as the Thief in the Castle. The full contents of that accusation only came to public attention in 1976.

With regard to my personal effects – I give and bequeath all my Genealogical and heraldic MSS. other than family pedigrees to the British Museum. It is not my wish that any should go to the Office of Arms Ireland. The rest of my books on Heraldry Genealogy Archaeology & history I bequeath to my dear wife to do as she likes with – perhaps she may desire to give any of interest to my family or the British Museum or the National Library of Ireland...

I might have had more to dispose of had it not been for the outrageous way in which I was treated by the Irish Govt. over the loss of the Irish Crown Jewels in 1907 backed up by the late King Edward VII whom I had always loyally & faithfully served - when I was made a scapegoat to save other departments responsible and when they shielded the real culprit & thief Francis R. Shackleton (brother of the Explorer who didn’t reach the South Pole). 

My whole life & work was ruined by this cruel misfortune & by the wicked and blackguardly acts of the Irish Government. I had sunk my whole fortune in my profession & was left without any means but for the magnanimous conduct of my dear brother George Gun Mahony. I am unconscious of having done anyone wrong & my very misfortune arose from my being unsuspicious & trusting to a one time friend & official of my former office. I had hoped to leave a legacy to my dear little dog “Ronnie” had he not been taken from me this year – well we shall meet in the next world.

To this day the real story of who stole the 'Irish Crown Jewels', for what reason and what became of them remains a complete mystery.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

4 July 1836: The Dublin Police Act of 1836 established the Dublin Metropolitan Police on this day.

4 July 1836:  The Dublin Police Act of 1836 established the Dublin Metropolitan Police on this day. It was set up to regularise the policing of Ireland’s Capital City and was based on a template of Sir Robert Peel’s London Metropolitan Police. The Constables were under the direct command of a Chief Commissioner and the remit of the force was almost exclusively within the urban areas of the metropolis. The DMP mainly consisted within its ranks of countrymen of good physic and of a basic education. The hours were long and conditions frugal but it proved a magnet in a Country with so many heading for the boat. Each member was a full time policeman and based in the City. The force was  unarmed except for a small detective force and the carrying of arms at ceremonial occasions or on specific guard duty.

Though it was latter to gain some notoriety in the Lock Out of 1913 and in the political turbulence that occurred between 1916-1921 it was generally considered to be a disciplined force and retained the confidence most of the city’s inhabitants till the end. Even though established in 1836 it did not become operational until January 1838 and remained in existence until it was amalgamated with the Garda Síochána in 1925.

Their status as an Imperial police force did not endear them to some of their fellow citizens but the DMP do not seem to have received the same opprobrium as their colleagues in the Royal Irish Constabulary. Unlike the RIC they did not, as a rule, carry firearms. Apart from ceremonial duties and the protection of specific individuals weapons were only carried by the ‘ G ’ Division, which investigated serious crime in the city. The ordinary constables were only allowed to carry truncheons. The vast majority of crimes and misdemeanours brought before the city courts were for petty thefts, drunkenness, prostitution, infringements of the highway codes, breaches of the public health etc. Serious violent crime was a rarity. While Dublin had a higher overall crime rate than most of the other cities in Britain or Ireland it was a relatively peaceful city for those living outside the overcrowded slums.

While never a greatly popular force with Dubliners the DMP had nevertheless proved to be a magnet to men (mostly countrymen) in search of secure employment in the city with a guaranteed pension at the end of their service. The pay was not great and the hours were long, at some 56 hours a week, but in a country where emigration was the only course open to so many the chance of a regular job in Dublin was attraction enough. The men were of above average build and height, many of them touching nearly six feet in their socks. Among the generally undersized citizenry of Dublin they certainly stood out as men not to be trifled with!

Between 1836 and 1925 some 12,500 men served in the DMP and in its final years the Force had around 1,100 constables available for duty in any 24 hour period.

When the Irish Free State came into existence in 1921/1922 it was decided by the new government to amalgamate the old DMP with the new police force - the Garda Síochána. Kevin O'Higgins the Minister of Justice appointed Major General WRE Murphy to oversee its final years and in April 1925 the DMP ceased its patrols on the streets of Dublin.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

3 July 1779: The Irish Brigade in the service of France helped to capture the Caribbean island of Grenada on this day.

3 July 1779: The Irish Brigade in the service of France helped to capture the Caribbean island of Grenada on this day. They were part of an expeditionary force of some 2,300 men tasked with seizing the island from the British garrison based there. The Brigade had landed on the island the previous day. France and Britain were at War over the status of the United States, with the French backing the attempts of the Americans to secure their Independence from Britain.

Colonel Arthur Dillon led the Irish soldiers and the overall command of the Expedition rested with Admiral Compte d’Estaing.  As it so happened another Irishman, Lord McCartney, was in charge of the British troops on the island. He had only a small force of about 500 men to resist these invaders and decided to withdraw to the heights of the position known as the Morne de l'Hopital and try to hold out there. Though outnumbered his position was strong and with luck he might have repulsed the assault until help arrived. Besides the steep incline, there were several walls on the hillside placed to impede the progress of any attacker. Dillon was sent ahead with a small force to ascertain whether an assault was possible and concluded that it was.

As dusk fell on the 3rd the French launched a daring three-pronged assault with the Irish Brigade on the centre left. As a mark of honour they were accompanied by d’Estaing himself. Despite the obstacles in their way, the French and Irish troops fought their way up the slope and had taken the position by morning, forcing McCartney’s surrender. Several officers of Dillon's regiment were among the 100 casualties sustained by the attackers.

Both the British and the French coveted this strategic Caribbean island and within days a British Relief Expedition arrived off its shores to engage the French Navy. They were beaten off in the Naval Battle of Grenada and the island remained in French hands until 1783 when it was handed back to Britain on the conclusion of hostilities.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

2 July 1863: The Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac fought at Gettysburg on this day.

2 July 1863: The Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac fought at Gettysburg on this day. In one of the most famous incidents of the American Civil War they were blessed and granted general absolution by Father William Corby, the Brigade Chaplain, in front of thousands of their comrades in arms who witnessed this awe inspiring spectacle. 

 Little more than 500 men remained of the original 3,000 veterans of the brigade, but they were to be sent to the rescue of the crumbling Union flank in a vicious maelstrom that would become known to history as The Wheatfield. Father Corby donned his stole and mounted a large rock as the men of the brigade knelt, Catholic and Protestant alike. He offered absolution to the whole brigade, reminding them of their duties and warning them not to waver and to uphold the flag. Their attack bought precious time for the Union defenses but cost them dearly, with over one third of the brigade becoming casualties.

Today on the battlefield a statue stands upon the rock where the Chaplain gave his famous blessing. It reads:
 "Reverend William E. Corby, C.S.C. Congregation of Holy Cross. This memorial depicts Father Corby, a Chaplain of the Irish Brigade, giving general absolution and blessing before the battle at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863. President, University of Notre Dame 1866-72 1877-81."