Saturday, 30 November 2013

30 November 1900: Oscar Wilde, aged 46, Irish wit, writer and homosexual, died in exile in Paris on this day. He was living there under the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth. He had lived in Paris since his release from prison in 1897. Oscar was a native born Dubliner and the son of William Wilde and Jane Francesca Elgee, who were well known characters in their own right. His father was a Medical man and antiquarian and his mother an ardent Nationalist. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie was born on October 16 1854 in the City of Dublin. He attended Portora Royal School at Enniskillen where he first showed promise as a writer. From there he attended Trinity College Dublin where he achieved a First in Classics. In 1874 he was awarded a Demyship scholarship to Magdalen College in Oxford.

While at Magdalen his examiners awarded him the Newdigate prize for his poem, “Ravenna,” and a First Class in both his “Mods” and “Greats”. After graduation, Oscar moved to London to live with his friend Frank Miles, a popular high society portrait painter. In 1881, he published his first collection of poetry. “Poems” received mixed reviews by critics, but it helped to move Oscar's writing career along. At the end of this year he set off on an extended Lecture Tour of the United States ostensibly on the subject of Aesthetics but as the tour unfolded Oscar himself became the real focus of interest. On his return after an absence of some 14 months he embarked on another such like expedition around Britain and Ireland so that by the time of its completion he was what in modern parlance might be described as a ‘celebrity’ figure.

His marriage in 1884 to Constance Lloyd and the birth of children meant that Oscar now had responsibilities. This stimulated his creative mind to create literary works that would maintain himself and his family in some comfort in the London of the late Victorian era. The next six years were to become the most creative period of his life. He published children's stories, The Happy Prince and Other Tales and The House of Pomegranates and his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
However it was his brilliant satirical plays that are his abiding legacy and Oscar’s first play, Lady Windermere's Fan, opened in February 1892. Its financial and critical success prompted him to continue to write for the theatre. His subsequent plays included A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. These plays were all highly acclaimed and firmly established Oscar as a playwright on the London scene.

But while at the height of his fame Oscar became infatuated with a younger man, Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas, and the two became lovers. While not unknown a liaison of this nature was Illegal as the Law then stood and public exposure would ruin a man if convicted. The father of Oscar’s affections, the Marquis of Queensberry, took a dim view of this illicit relationship and publicly revealed the nature of the friendship. Oscar foolishly sued for libel in April 1895, withdrew the case but then was arrested and charged. The Trail was a sensation and scandalised London Society of the time. Oscar was found guilty and convicted of gross indecency. He was sentenced to two years Hard Labour which he served in Reading Gaol.
On release he wrote his last literary work ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ but his career was at an end and he fled to Paris living incognito in a shabby series of hotels. His wife had abandoned him and taken the children to Switzerland and changed their surname to Holland. His spirit was shattered and his health declined. An ear infection set in and an operation to clear it was not a success. Broken and alone he passed away there a sad and lonely figure on this day 1900. He was eventually laid to rest in the City’s famous La Pére Lachaise Cemetery. His tomb is now a ‘must see’ site on any tour of this hallowed ground for those who value the wit, the wisdom and the humour of one of Ireland’s most talented but tragic sons.
No man is rich enough to buy back his past.
Oscar Wilde

Friday, 29 November 2013

29 November 1641: Battle of Julianstown/ Baile Iúiliáin in County Meath was fought on this day. Julianstown is situated on the River Nanny, which flows into the sea at Laytown about 3 km away. It was along this way that an English relief force was dispatched by the Lords Justice Borlase and Parsons to help relieve the town of Drogheda, which was in danger of encirclement by the Irish insurgents of Sir Phelim O’Neill.

He directed a force led by Colonel Rory O'More / Ruairí Óg Ó Mórdha to prevent this column from ever reaching Drogheda and O’More kept close to the main road north from Dublin to enable him to strike at a moment of his own choosing. As luck would have it the weather this day was cold and foggy and the English, even though warned beforehand by Lord Fingal that they were in immediate danger, stumbled into an ambush. O’More waited until the moment was ripe and then the Irish warriors uttered a great shout of their war cries and rushed out of the mists to fall upon the hapless column cutting them to pieces. Some 600 of the enemy were left dead on the road and surrounding fields while the few survivors fled back in the direction they came.

The defeat of the troops sent from Dublin was a powerful factor in influencing the Old English of Meath to throw in their lot with their fellow co religionists to halt any further encroachments upon their Civil and Religious Liberties by the English Protestants.



Thursday, 28 November 2013

28 November 1920: The ambush at Kilmichael on this day. Commandant Tom Barry, of the West Cork No. 3 Brigade Column led the IRA in an ambush on the British Auxiliaries near the village of Kilmichael in Co Cork. It was a pre planned operation which Barry organised with the intention of inflicting maximum casualties on these ex British regulars who had quickly acquired a notorious reputation on their deployment here. The targets were packed into two Crossley tenders, each with nine cadets of the Auxiliary Division of the RIC on board, who were travelling from their base in Macroom towards Dunmanway when they were ambushed about one and a half miles south of the village of Kilmichael.

After the Column had waited since dawn in the biting cold the Auxiliary unit was spotted approaching the ambush position just after 4 pm. Barry arranged for one man in uniform to stand in the road as the enemy column approached and when the lead vehicle slowed a mills grenade was lobbed at it to open the ambush. Then the IRA men opened a ferocious fusillade of rifle fire and swept both vehicles end to end. The first tenders’ occupants were all dealt with and left either dead or dying. However the second one had time to react and its members were able to gain cover and return sustained fire. Some of the Auxiliaries called out ‘We surrender’ but when men rose to take them in they were cut down. Barry had by this time worked his way around to the rear of the pinned down group and let them have it. He shouted orders that there was to be no let up until he gave the word. No prisoners were taken. Amazingly only about half the Column had actually fired upon the British as the fight was over in minutes with many of the men out of the line of fire before Barry called a halt.

With dusk falling he reassembled his party and as some of the men were a bit shook up he decided to jerk them back into a proper frame of mind so as to be able to face the rigours ahead on that night. After giving orders to fire both the tenders he drilled them on the road there and then by the light of the burning vehicles. He then led his victorious column away to safety. 18 of the Auxiliaries lay dead on the roadside and although the IRA lost three men Killed in Action the Auxiliaries power had been broken. Never again would they prowl the country roads of Ireland with impunity. In a fair fight they had been shown not to be supermen but mere mortals who when taken unawares and in close combat were found wanting.

The names of the men who died for Ireland that day were:

 Roll of Honour:

Michael McCarthy

Jim O’Sullivan

Pat Deasy



Tuesday, 26 November 2013

26 November 1972: Dramatic and bloody events occurred in the City of Dublin on this day: A Bombing was carried out on a crowded City Centre cinema. There was also the arrest and imprisonment for contempt of Court of one Kevin O’Kelly, a well known RTE journalist, plus an unsuccessful attempt by the IRA to rescue one of their top men, Seán Mac Stiofáin [above], from the Mater Hospital in the north inner City.

At 1.25 a.m. a bomb exploded in a laneway connecting Burgh Quay to Leinster Market. It was placed beside the rear exit door of the Film Centre cinema, O’Connell Bridge House. A late film was in progress: there were 3 staff and approximately 156 patrons in the cinema at the time of the explosion. No one was killed in the blast, but some 40 people were taken to hospital for treatment. It is believed that agent provocateurs sent over from Britain were responsible for this attack.

The events leading to O’Kelly and Mac Stiofáin’s arrests had begun on Sunday 19 November when RTE Radio broadcast a report based on an interview by Kevin O'Kelly with the IRA Chief of Staff, Seán Mac Stiofáin. The leading Republican figure had been apprehended soon afterwards and brought before the Courts. O'Kelly was found guilty of contempt of Court when, during the conduct of the trial of Mac Stiofáin, he refused to identify the defendant as the subject of that interview.

The IRA Leader had embarked upon a Hunger Strike soon after he was arrested. He was convicted of being  ‘a member of an unlawful organisation’ and as his condition was deteriorating he was sent to the Mater Hospital where he was to be placed under observation. That Sunday afternoon a crowd of about seven thousand people had gathered outside the GPO and marched to the hospital to demand his release.
Later that night a rescue party of eight IRA men, two disguised as Priests and the others as Hospital Doctors tried to free Mac Stiofáin but were themselves captured. Two of the men had guns, and shots were exchanged with Special Branch detectives, resulting in minor injuries to a detective, two civilians and one of the raiders. The Prisoner was then transferred by helicopter to the Curragh General Military Hospital to serve the rest of his six month sentence while his erstwhile rescuers were each sent down for seven years for their audacity when they in turn faced the Courts. 


Monday, 25 November 2013

25 November 1913: The foundation of the Irish Volunteers in the Rotunda, Dublin on this day. The aim of the new organisation was to counter the Ulster Volunteers in providing a similar force for Irish nationalists in the event of an armed confrontation over Home Rule. The first President was Eoin MacNeill but it drew support from a wide spectrum of Irish nationalist opinion.

The idea arose from an article he wrote some weeks previously in An Claidheamh Soluis, an Irish language newpaper. His proposal was called ‘The North began’. In it MacNeill put forward the idea that a Force be established that would counter the formation of the UVF in the North. He intended to ensure that Irish Nationalism was not left unarmed and vulnerable as the political situation developed. It estimated that some 7,000 people went to the Rotunda’s Large Concert hall that night, with some 4,000 inside and another 3,000 outside. The meeting was called with the specific intention of raising a National Volunteer Force to be called ‘The Irish Volunteers’. In the Notices issued around Dublin in advance of the meeting it was stated that:

The purpose of the Irish Volunteers will be to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland.

The new organisation quickly mushroomed and by April 1914 it was estimated to have around 80,000 members and by July that year some 160,000 men had signed up but only a few thousands had any weapons with which to fight. Nevertheless such a formidable body of public opinion could not be easily ignored by the British Government and all the indicators were that a bloody clash  of arms was imminent in the late summer of 1914 between the Nationalist and Unionist armed camps over the thorny issue of Partition.

Only the outbreak of the Great War precluded what otherwise would have been a Civil War here. The Irish Volunteers then split on the question of involvement in the Conflict with most though by no means all following John Redmond’s call for enlistment in the British Army while a core membership remained  under MacNeill’s nominal control.
It was from that core group that the bulk of the men who took part in the Easter Rising of 1916 were drawn











Sunday, 24 November 2013

24 November 1865: The dramatic rescue of James Stephens of the IRB from the Richmond Prison, Dublin on this day. The Fenian Leader was rescued from Richmond Prison in Dublin after only a few weeks captivity. His his escape was organised from within and without the prison itself. Inside the Richmond were John J. Breslin who was a hospital warder and a Daniel Byrne, an ordinary warder. The two men were sworn members of the I.R.B. and willing to help. On the outside the acting leader of the Organisation was Colonel Thomas Kelly and he helped put together a support team from within the Fenians to ensure that once on the outside Stephens remained free.
At great risk Breslin managed to take wax impressions of the two keys he needed, one for Stephens cell, which was held in the Governors office and another for one of the outer doors. On the night of the actual rescue everything went according to plan. Only one other prisoner (a common criminal) was incarcerated on the same wing as Stephens and he wisely kept his mouth shut.

Once outside Stephens was ushered away to a safe house in the Summerhill area of the City where he remained for a number of months. The British put a price of £1,000 on his head but even this amount did not yield any informer willing to betray him. He eventually he made his way to Paris where he lived for many years and after a brief stay in Switzerland he returned home in 1891 and was left undisturbed by the Castle. He died in 1901.

It is curious to note that his escape from incarceration was an event that many Irish People at the time erroneously believed to have been acquiesced in by the British Government of the day. It was certainly an easy triumph for Irish Republicans that hugely embarrassed the occupying power.


Saturday, 23 November 2013

23 November 1867: Execution of the Manchester Martyrs William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien. They were publicly hanged for their alleged role in the rescue of Fenian prisoners in which a Constable Brett was fatally wounded. Although neither Larkin, Allen and O’Brien had fired the fatal shot nor had they had any intention to kill anybody, they were hanged as accessories to the death of the policeman.

The martyrs were hanged in front of the New Bailey prison in Salford, Manchester. Part of the wall was removed so that the public could witness the event. The morning of their execution was a cold and foggy one. Large crowds, marshalled by police and troops had assembled to witness the spectacle. Shortly after 8 O’Clock the men were led out and hanged, the bodies dropping out of sight into the pit below and out of sight of the onlookers.

They were buried in quicklime in Strangeways Prison. Today they rest in a mass grave in Blackley Cemetery, Plot number C.2711. Manchester. Their noble stand in the dock and on the gallows inspired T. D. Sullivan to pen the famous ballad ‘God save Ireland’.

When the news of their execution reached Ireland, solemn funeral pro­cessions were held, and three coffinless hearses proceeded to Glasnevin Cemetery, followed by 60,000 mourners. Allen was a native of Tipperary, O'Brien came from Ballymacoda, Co. Cork, and Larkin from Lusmagh, Co Offaly.

It was widely felt amongst the Irish both at home and abroad that these men were wrongly hanged as it was not their intention to kill and nor had they. The brave and courageous stand they took in the Dock and upon the Gallows inspired Irish People around the World and helped to restore morale in the wake of the abortive Rising of 1867.

Ironically the first prisoner to utter these immortal words was one O'Meagher Condon who had his death sentence commuted to Life Imprisonment while another man Thomas Maguire was released from captivity as the case against him was so poor even the English Media felt he should be set free. 

Numerous monuments were erected to the Martyrs in the wake of their deaths across Ireland incl a symbolic grave to these brave men in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

The famous song, which their sacrifice gave birth to, opens with the lines:

High upon the gallows tree, swung the noble-hearted three,
By the vengeful tyrant, stricken in their bloom.
But they met him face to face with the courage of their race,
And they went with souls undaunted to their doom.

"God save Ireland," said the heroes.
"God save Ireland," said them all.
"Whether on the scaffold high, or the battlefield we die,
No matter when, for Ireland dear we fall!"


Friday, 22 November 2013

22 November 1963: President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullets as his motorcade wound through Dallas, Texas on this day. Kennedy was the youngest man elected President and he was the youngest to die. He was hardly past his first thousand days in office. His great grandparents hailed from Co Wexford and had fled Ireland in the 1840s to Boston, Massachusetts.

His Inaugural Address offered the memorable injunction: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

His untimely and brutal death triggered a wave of shock and grief throughout Ireland that very night as word rapidly spread across the airwaves and by word of mouth that the President had succumbed to his wounds. He had visited this Country only a few months previously and had been met with a huge and ecstatic welcome. His election as President in 1960 was a source of great pride to the Irish People and of some advantage to the Country in its International relations.
It was like we had lost one of our own - and indeed in many respects we had.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

21 November 615 AD: The death of St Columbanus at Bobbio in Italy on this day. Columbanus was the greatest of the Irish Apostles to preach the Faith on the Continent. He founded a string of monasteries that acted as bases from which his disciples spread the Word amongst the new Germanic kingdoms that emerged in the wake of the collapse of Roman power. He was born in Leinster circa 543 AD and after an initial period of study he made his way to the great monastery of Bangor in the North where he became a Priest under the tutelage of St Comgall himself.

After many years there as a leading member of the community he felt the call to go abroad and spread the Gospel amongst the Heathens. With some reluctance he was allowed to depart by his mentor and took twelve followers with him. Proceeding through Scotland and England they made their way to eastern France to the Court of the King of Burgundy. Here Columbanus was well received and given the old castle of Annegray in the isolated Vosges Mountains upon which to found a Monastery. Here the abbot and his monks led the simplest of lives, their food oftentimes consisting of nothing but forest herbs, berries, and the bark of young trees.  So great was the devotion to Columbanus and so great were the numbers who flocked to witness his Piety and Sanctity that soon another site was required to cope with the influx of followers and penitents. Thus a new site was established at Luxeuil just a few miles away and Columbanus ruled his religious domain from there. However his great success evoked jealousy amongst the Frankish bishops and they conspired against him.

Forced to flee he made his way down the Loire to catch a ship home to Ireland but a great storm swept the vessel back into the Bay. Columbanus then decided that he would make his way back across France to the Rhine Valley in order to reach the Suevi and Alamanni, to whom he wished to preach the Gospel. After a couple of years of mixed success in what is now Switzerland his small band of followers reached northern Italy and the Court of King Agilulf at Milan in the year 612 AD. The King although a follower of the heretical Arian viewpoint was favourably disposed to Columbanus and gave him a plot of land on the Bobbio river near Genoa in which to establish himself. Here the Saint passed the last years of his life. It possible that Columbanus had travelled to Rome at some stage in his life to meet Pope Gregory to discuss various matters but he also communicated with his successor Pope Boniface on the Paschal question over when exactly Easter should be celebrated. The Celtic Church still followed the old ways of observance and Columbanus was eager to ensure that he did the right thing. He wrote to the Pontiff that:

 We Irish though dwelling at the far ends of the earth, are all disciples of St. Peter and St. Paul. . . Neither heretic, nor Jew, nor schismatic has ever been among us; but the Catholic Faith. Just as it was first delivered to us by yourselves, the successors of the Apostles, is held by us unchanged . . . we are bound to the Chair of Peter, and although Rome is great and renowned, through that Chair alone is she looked on as great and illustrious among us…

By this stage Columbanus was over 70 years old and his end was approaching. He prepared for death by retiring to his cave on the mountainside overlooking the Trebbia River and when he died his remains were interred in the Abbey Church in Bobbio. His final resting place became a site of pilgrimage and was famed throughout Western Europe as the site where one of the Christianity’s greatest advocates lay buried.



Wednesday, 20 November 2013

20 November 763: The death of King Domhnall mac Murchadha on this day. King Domhnall mac Murchadha was an interesting character. He had retired into a monastery in the year 740 but was active again by 742. He went back into monastic life in 744 but at the same time remained as King of Tara, which he had taken for himself after winning at Seireadh Magh. The most likely explanation is that he became both the Abbot of a great monastery (Clonard?) and King of Tara simultaneously to allow him to exercise control in both civil and religious affairs within his kingdom. It seems to have worked because when he died in 763 he was still the holder of both offices.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


19 November 1807: The Prince of Wales packet ship and the military transport Rochdale sank in a storm in Dublin Bay killing some 385 people on this day. The Prince of Wales ran onto rocks off Blackrock - the Captain and crew took to the only lifeboat, abandoning the troops onboard. The Rochdale suffered a similar fate near Seapoint, just 20 feet from the shore. The ships were part of a military fleet bound for Liverpool that had left Dublin that morning. Snow and sleet showers backed by a heavy wind developed as the ships made their way out of Dublin Bay and as night came on they were blown onto the sandbanks just off shore where the ships capsized and foundered. It is estimated that some 120 were lost from the Prince of Wales and about 265 from the Rochdale.

Amongst those on board these doomed ships were large contingents of Irish recruits commanded by their Officers and drawn in the main from south Cork and south Mayo. Numerous civilians were also amongst the victims and also the crews of said vessels. Most of the bodies washed ashore in the wake of this double tragedy were buried in graves along the south Dublin shore and some of the slabs erected in their memory can still be seen to this day. Three headstones mark the sites of where the victims were buried including the one above situated beside the Tara Towers Hotel.

Sacred to the memory of the soldiers belonging to His Majesty’s 18th regiment of foot and a few belonging to other corps who actuated by desire of more extensive service nobly volunteered from the South Mayo and different regiments of the Irish Militia into the line and who were unfortunately shipwrecked on this coast in the Prince of Wales packet and perished on the night of 19 November 1807 this tribute to their memory was erected on the tomb by order of General the Earl of Harington commander of the forces in Ireland.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

17 November 1890: A divorce court found that Mrs. Katherine O'Shea [above] had committed adultery with Charles Stuart Parnell - custody of her children was awarded to her husband Capitan William O’Shea. Mrs O’Shea however was not to remain Parnell’s wife for long as he died in the following year. Upon his death she lived in relative obscurity and died in England in 1921. She published an account of her life with Parnell in 1914 but her affair with the Irish Leader was frowned upon in polite Society and it was only after she died that her name was somewhat vindicated.
Her affair with Parnell, the Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and one of the most formidable politicians of his age, was a huge scandal that wrecked the Party he led. The blow to his reputation was one from which he never recovered and he died a broken man.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

16 November 1965: The death occurred of William Thomas Cosgrave, 1st President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State on this day. He became Head of the Provisional Government following the deaths of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins in August 1922. Born in Dublin in 1880 and educated by the Christian Brothers he joined Sinn Fein in 1905. He was elected to Dublin City Council in 1909 and joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and was actively involved in the 1916 Easter Rising. He was sentenced to death but this was commuted to Life Imprisonment and he was interned in Frognoch Camp. In 1918 he was elected in a bye-election for Kilkenny and in January 1919 took his seat in Dáil Éireann. He was appointed as Minister for Local Government but had only a political role during the War of Independence. When the Treaty was debated in the Dáil he voted in favour of accepting its terms and sided with those who were prepared to implement its conditions across the Irish Free State. On succeeding to the position of President he was ruthless in crushing armed opposition by the IRA to the Treaty. He implemented a series of official executions and the rounding up of suspected political opponents. In the spring of 1923 the Civil war fizzled out as the effects of repression and the lack of support for violent opposition to the new State became apparent.

Once the War was over Liam Cosgrave was able to focus on building an Irish State that could show the World and Britain in particular that the Irish could govern themselves in an effective manner. He had some success here and he established the Irish Sugar Company and the Electricity Supply Board as well as the Agricultural Credit Corporation. He also exercised a prudent control over State’s Finances that paid dividends in ensuring that the balance of payments deficit was kept within limits.

However it was in the political sphere that Cosgrave had the most to contend with and here he had more mixed results. He formed a new Party in 1923 called Cumann na nGaedhael but in the same year he had limited results in a General Election though he held on to power. He gave up any claim to the North following the Boundary Commission fiasco in 1925 in return for a financial agreement with Britain. He also had to deal with a recurrent low intensity campaign by the IRA and widespread political agitation by Republicans in general. The biggest post Civil War Crises he had to face was the assassination of Kevin O’Higgins in 1927 and that almost led to truly draconian measures being introduced. This was averted by Mr De Valera leading FF into Leinster House in September of that year and taking the Oath under protest. Cosgrave then narrowly avoided being forced to relinquish power to his new Parliamentary rival but survived as a result of the Mr Jinks affair.   

A general election was not necessary until the end of 1932, however, Cosgrave called one early in February of that year. There was growing unrest in the country and a fresh mandate was needed for an important Commonwealth meeting that was due that summer.

In the event Cumann na nGaedhael lost it and Dev took over. Cosgrave then became the Leader of the Opposition. In 1933 three groups, Cumann na nGaedhael, the National Centre Party and the Army Comrades Association came together to form a new political force – Fine Gael. General Eoin O'Duffy became it's first Leader. Cosgrave however was retained as the head of the Party in the Free State Parliament. He was then given overall control of the new Party when Eoin O’Duffy was persuaded to step down as President of Fine Gael due to his eccentric behavior. He then led the Party until 1944 when he retired from politics alltogether and he never held Office again.


Friday, 15 November 2013

15 November 879 AD: The death of St Fintan on the island of Rheinau in the Rhine on this day.
He was born in Leinster and while still a youth Norse pirates carried him off from Ireland to the Orkney Islands as a slave. Pledging that he would make a pilgrimage to Rome, he jumped ship and dived into the sea and swam to Scotland, where he came under the protection of a local Bishop. Two years later he began his pilgrimage to the continent, travelling first to Rome.

Making his way to Germany he spent his last 27 years with a community of Irish hermits in the Black Forest on the island of Rheinau, near Schaffhausen on the Rhine. He drew up a rule whereby the hermits observed the rules and regulations as did the religious communities of Ireland. Committed to leading by example he spent the last 22 of his 27 years in almost total solitude, during which he was subject to many mystical experiences. The words he heard spoken in his native tongue by demons and angels were recorded by a 10th-century biographer and represent some of the earliest specimens of Gaelic that have survived.  In 1446, Saint Fintan's relics were enshrined at Rheinau.

Thursday, 14 November 2013


14 November 1180: The death occurred of St Laurence O’Toole / Lorcan Ua Tuathail at Eu in Normandy on this day. He had been born in Kildare in about the year 1128 and was educated at the Monastery of Glendalough where he became a prominent member of the religious community there. Being the brother in law of the King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, further enhanced his status. In 1161 he obtained the key ecclesiastical appointment of Archbishop of Dublin and in the following year was consecrated as such in a great ceremony at Christ Church in the city by Gilla Isu the Primate of Armagh. O’Toole’s elevation was a novelty in that he was the first Gaelic leader of the Church in Dublin and that he owed his position to the See of Armagh and not that of Canterbury in England. The Archbishop was a man of great piety and charity and he founded a number of religious houses including the one of All Hallows where Trinity College now stands. Once a year he retreated to Glendalough where he entered a cave for 40 days to fast and pray.

However when Henry II crossed into Ireland and set up Court in Dublin he was a deft enough operator to ensure that he stayed in the Kings’ good standing. He acted as a go between in the delicate negotiations with Rory O’Connor the King of Ireland and Henry in his role as King of England. In April 1178, he entertained the papal legate, Cardinal Vivian, who presided at the Synod of Dublin. He also attended the great Third Lateran Council in March 1179. Pope Alexander III had summoned it with the particular object of putting an end to the schism within the Church and the quarrel between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Papacy. Laurence O’Toole returned home with the title of Papal Legate, which was a mark of the influence he had gained in Rome. However his term in office was to be a short one as in the following year he left Dublin to track down the peripatic Henry in his wanderings across his patchwork quilt Angevin Empire. His mission was to bring urgent matters in Ireland for his consideration. After three weeks of detention at Abingdon Abbey, England he followed Henry II to Normandy. Taken ill at the Augustinian Abbey of Eu, he was tended by Abbot Osbert and the canons of St. Victor in his confinement and it was there that he breathed his last.

Monday, 11 November 2013

11 November 1918: At precisely 11 O'clock in the morning the First World War came to an end on the Western Front in France and Belgium. This was as a result of the activation of the Armistice between Germany and the Allied Powers agreed just days beforehand. In Ireland the end of the War was greeted with relief rather than jubilation.

Many tens of thousands of Irishmen had been killed and wounded in the fighting and to the Nationalists at least their sacrifice was problematical. The set of circumstances that had led John Redmond to advocate Nationalist Ireland’s participation in the War four years beforehand had changed utterly. The men from Nationalist backgrounds who had been publicly cheered to the Fronts in 1914 and 1915 could expect only a muted response when they now came home.
The Unionists, esp. in the north east, had more cause for feeling their men's sacrifice had not been in vain but it had been a bloody and costly effort nonetheless. It was clear to everybody that the end of the War meant that new opportunities and new dangers awaited as the troops returned and post war elections beckoned that would prove to be a watershed in Irish Politics.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

10 November 1798: The Court Martial of Theobold Wolfe Tone commenced on this day. A court was assembled consisting of General Loftus, who performed the functions of President, Colonels Vandeleur, Daly, and Wolfe, Major Armstrong, and a Captain Curran; Mr Paterson performed the functions of a Judge Advocate. At an early hour, the neighbourhood of the barracks was crowded with eager and anxious spectators. As soon as the doors were thrown open, they rushed in and filled every corner of the hall. Wolfe Tone was brought in and appeared before the crowd dressed in the in the uniform of a Chef de Brigade of the Army of the French Republic. This created quite a stir and Tone was allowed to address the Court as to his motivations for the actions he had undertaken. On balance he did pretty well in getting his case heard at all. His noble and open admission of his role of been found in arms against the soldiers of the King in his native country was admired by some but removed any small chance that he might escape execution. He concluded his defence (if it may be called that) with the words:

As to the connection between this country and Great Britain, I repeat it, all that has been imputed to me, words, writings, and actions, I here deliberately avow. I have spoken and acted with reflection, and on principle, and am ready to meet the consequences. Whatever be the sentence of this Court, I am prepared for it. Its members will surely discharge their duty; I shall care not to be wanting to mine.

Tone’s last request was that he would be shot by shot by a platoon of grenadiers in the uniform of a Chef de Brigade in the French Army. This plea along with his statement to the Court was conveyed to Lord Cornwallis for consideration but quickly rejected. Wolfe Tone was then sentenced by the members of the Court Martial to die the death of a traitor within 48 hours on the 12 of November 1798.

Friday, 8 November 2013


8 November 1960:  The Niemba Ambush in the Congo on this day. An eleven-man Irish patrol under Lt Kevin Gleeson was ambushed by Baluba tribesmen at a river crossing near the village of Niemba, in the Congo. The patrol was surrounded by up to 100 African warriors who attacked them with primitive weapons and killed all but two of their number. Though well armed with 2 Bren guns, 4 Gustaf sub-machine guns and 4 rifles it seems the men were taken unawares and unable to organise any effective resistance before been overcome. One of the party, the Medical Officer, carried no weapon at all. Nor did they have any wireless equipment to which to signal their plight. Their opponents carried bows and arrows, spears, panga knives and clubs. The action had commenced at approximately 3 p.m. local time. The first search party left Albertville at 10.30 p.m., arrived at Niemba at 3.45 a.m. and was on the scene of the ambush about first light on 9 November. The remains of eight of the victims were found almost immediately but those of Trooper Anthony Browne could not be located. An intensive search for him proved fruitless and he was officially posted "missing - presumed dead". It was not until a year later almost to the date that Trooper Brown's body was found. Trooper Brown had survived the ambush and wandered in the jungle until he came upon some Baluba women who gave him up to a party of Baluba men, who murdered him.

Two of the Platoon survived to tell the story of the ambush. They were Troopers Thomas Kenny and Private Joe Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick recalled that:
The air was suddenly black with a shower of arrows, and the Buluba let out blood-curdling yells that sounded like a war cry and rushed down the road like madmen, jumping in the air and waving their weapons.

The names of the men who were ambushed were:

Lt Kevin Gleeson (Co)
Sgt Hugh Gaynor
Cpl. Liam Duggan
Pte.Matthew Farrell (Unarmed Medic)
Pte Gerard Kileen
Cpl. Peter Kelly, Driver
Tpr Thomas Fellell
 Pte. Michael McGuinn

Murdered on Capture:

Tpr Anthony Browne

Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick
Pte Thomas Kenny

The death of nine Irish soldiers on the Irish Army’s first large scale overseas mission shocked the Nation when word of this terrible massacre reached home. Many recalled the hope and pride that had been felt by the Irish People when the soldiers had departed from Ireland just a few short months beforehand.

 The Memorial Cross (above) was erected by their comrades at the place of the ambush to commemorate their sacrifice in the service of the United Nations.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

7 November 1963: On this day The Beatles arrived in Dublin to play their one and only performance in the City. They played to a packed audience of screaming fans at the Adelphi Cinema in Middle Abbey Street Dublin. The group, consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were a magnet for droves of young girls who followed them wherever they went, and it was no different in Dublin than it was in Liverpool, London or New York. They went on to be one of the most successful and influential groups of the Modern Age.

Outside the Adelphi cinema in Abbey Street, Dublin, there were scenes of mass hysteria as fans waited for the arrival of the Liverpudlian popstars while the police tried to keep order. Fans described the Beatles singing, their hair and their jackets as "fabulous" and "gorgeous".


The date was part of their 1963 Autumn Tour. They flew from London to Dublin Airport, where they were interviewed by Frank Hall for the RTE television show In Town, which was broadcast later that evening. Following the interview they were taken to the Gresham Hotel by Harry Lush, the Adelphi's manager.

At 1pm they arrived at the Adelphi. A number of reporters were also at the venue, and The Beatles gave a number of interviews. Although they checked out the stage and auditorium prior to showtime, there was no soundcheck or rehearsal.

So the Beatles finished their first show and the crowd just shouted for more, more, more. The Beatles just could not get off the stage, they had to stay put. By this time there were 2,304 people looking for encore after encore. Time marched on and the crowd outside gathered for the late show. The crowds met leaving and entering from Abbey Street.

In the evening The Beatles stayed in the Gresham Hotel for fear of being mobbed by the fans outside.

The Adelphi Cinema, which stood at 98-101 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin, closed in November 1995. It was later demolished, and a car park for Arnotts Department Store was built in its place.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

6 November 1649: The death of General Owen Roe O’Neill/Eoghan Rua Ó Néill died at Cloughoughter/ Cloch Uachtar Castle in County Cavan on this day. He was the leader of the last Gaelic Army of the North and one of Ireland’s greatest Generals. He was born circa 1585/90 and was the son of Art Mac Baron O'Neill and the nephew of the Great Aodh O'Neill, the Earl of Tyrone, who led the Catholics during the Nine Years War (1594-1603). He was sent to Spain at an early age and joined the Irish Brigade of the Spanish Army. He was an able and talented soldier and destined to command at a high level. He never forgot his Homeland though and kept in contact with those in Ireland who wished to overthrow the religious and civil persecutions that the Irish Catholic People suffered under. His greatest test came in 1640 when he was in command of the City of Arras (then part of the Spanish Netherlands) that was besieged by an overwhelming French Army. With just 1,500 men he held out against the odds for eight long weeks despite many assaults on the Citadel. Forced eventually to ask for terms he was allowed to march out with the Honours of War.

But the following year the Rising of 1641 erupted and he decided that his place was back in Ireland at the head of Irish soldiers. Accompanied by a cluster of trusted officers he sailed in a tiny fleet to make it back here in July 1642. Shocked by the mayhem and indiscipline he encountered he quickly reformed the men placed under his care into a cohesive and efficient armed force. Despite this he was defeated at the Battle of Clones in 1643 but he learnt his lesson of never again meeting the enemy on anything less than favourable terms. In 1645 the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Rinuccini, arrived with Arms & specie to breath life into the Confederate Armies, of which O’Neill’s force constituted a semi autonomous component. This was to be a turning point in the struggle to gain mastery over the North.

In the early summer of 1646 he achieved his greatest Victory when he took the field against the Anglo-Scots of Ulster under the command of Sir Robert Monro. At the Battle of Benburb on 5 June of that year he defeated and overwhelmed a British Army led by Monro. It was the biggest set-piece battle of the Confederate War and a major setback for the British in Ulster. However split by internal divisions and engaged in futile negotiations with the Duke of Ormond, the Confederates failed to follow up the military advantage of O'Neill's victory. The Catholics were hopelessly divided between those who wished to reach an agreement with King Charles I to allow for a level of toleration for the Catholic religion and those who would settle for nothing less than the removal of all impediments to the open practise of Catholicism.

Such internal pressures eventually led to what was in effect an internal Civil War in which Owen Roe O’Neill was called upon to move south to back the Papal Nuncio in his implacable opposition to the Peace Treaty with the Protestant Viceroy Ormond. In September 1646, O'Neill marched to Kilkenny to support Rinuccini, who then forced the Supreme Council to agree to a Confederate attack on Dublin with the Ulster and Leinster armies. Owen Roe O’Neill’s Ulster Army swept down upon the plains of Meath, burning homesteads and destroying the crops in an effort to hamper the  Royalist War effort. But the two pronged assault on Dublin fizzled out as the City was well protected by strong walls and a determined garrison. The onset of Winter then put a stop to any chance of a prolonged Siege.

During 1647, moderate members of the Supreme Council succeeded in relegating O'Neill to service in Connacht and relied upon Preston to protect Kilkenny with the Leinster army. In 1648 the Confederates again fell out amongst themselves. O'Neill remained loyal to Rinuccini. In June 1648, he declared war on the Supreme Council and marched against Kilkenny. Although he failed to capture the Confederate capital, he spent most of the summer pillaging the surrounding country and manoeuvring against Inchiquin and Confederate forces in Leinster. In January 1649 Archbishop Rinuccini departed from Ireland in despair. O'Neill refused all approaches to join the new Royalist-Confederate coalition because Ormond would not commit himself to promising the restoration of Irish lands in Ulster as O'Neill demanded. 

By then King Charles I had been executed and Oliver Cromwell was ready to lead a well equipped army to Ireland to attempt a Re Conquest. Despite negotiations O’Neill was wary of the shaky coalition of Catholic Confederates and Protestant Royalists led nominally by the Duke of Ormond - a rather shady character. Neither side trusted the other and O’Neill was effectively isolated from events in the rest of the Country. Indeed so weak had become O’Neills position and so starved was he of supplies that he made an arrangement with the Parliamentarians Colonel Monck and later with Sir Charles Coote in order to stop the lands he held been overrun by the Ulster Scots, who now fought under the banner of the newly  declared King Charles II. 

General O’Neill, perhaps unwisely, took up an invitation to dine in Derry with Sir Charles Coote, the Governor of the City. Soon afterwards he became ill, took a fever and died. His followers quickly suspected treachery and perhaps they were were right. If so it was a devious but effective way of the English Parliament to rid itself of one of the most able soldiers this Country has ever produced. He is buried in an island in Lough Oughter in Cavan.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

2 November 1920:  Private James Daley [above] was executed by a British firing squad in India on this day. Daley had been one of the leaders of the so-called ‘India Mutiny’. A member of one of the oldest Irish Regiments in the British Army – the Connaught Rangers – he and his comrades had been angered about reports from home of the conduct of the Crown Forces there during the War of Independence.

The Mutiny in the Regiment had started at Jullundur in the Punjab, India at the end of June that year but then spread to the hill station of Solan. It was here that Daly was based. He played a leading part in the protest but after two of their comrades, Privates Patrick Smythe of Drogheda and Peter Sears of Neale, County Mayo were shot dead the men surrendered. They were all arrested and over 70 men were court-martialled. After handing down heavy sentences 14 men were sentenced to death but all bar one of these were commuted to life imprisonment. James Daley was the only soldier whose capital punishment was carried out.

 In his final letter to his mother he wrote:

It is all for Ireland, I am not afraid to die.

He was executed at Daghshai Prison, Solan and buried in India. In 1970 his remains and those of Privates Smythe and Sears and were returned to Ireland. James Daley was re-interred in his hometown of Tyrellspass, County Westmeath.