Thursday, 27 February 2014

28 February 1921: Six IRA men were executed in Victoria Barracks, Cork on this day. The men were shot by firing squad. They were Sean Allen, Timothy McCarthy, Thomas O’Brien, Daniel O’Callaghan, John Lyons and Patrick O’Mahony. All bar the first (Sean Allen from Tipperary) had been captured at Dripsey, outside Cork City on 28 January. As they laid in wait to ambush a British convoy the men were surrounded and captured by the 1st Manchester Regiment. A local Loyalist Mrs Lindsay had given their position away. The IRA seized her and James Clarke (her Chauffer) as hostages to hold them against the execution of the men. The local British Commander, General Strickland, was informed by letter of the consequences. The letter he received read:

To General Strickland…

We are holding Mrs Mary Lindsay and her Chauffeur, James Clarke as hostages. They have been convicted of spying and are under sentence of death. If the five of our men taken at Dripsey are executed on Monday morning as announced by your office, the two hostages will be shot.

Irish Republican Army

Strickland and General Macready, the British Commander in Ireland, dismissed the idea that the threat was real. They did not believe that the Cork IRA would push it that far. Both men doubted that the IRA would kill a woman in cold blood and decided that the sentences should be carried out.

On the morning of the executions a large crowd gathered outside and prayed for the souls of the dead men who were executed in batches. That night the Cork IRA launched a number of attacks against British forces at different locations throughout the City. Six British soldiers were killed and four were seriously wounded.

Two other men captured at Dripsey were still detained in military custody: Captain James Barrett and Volunteer Denis Murphy. Barrett died in captivity on 22 March 1921. Murphy stood trial in Victoria Barracks on 9 March, he was found guilty and sentenced to death but this sentence was later commuted to one of 25 years' imprisonment.

Following the trial of Volunteer Denis Murphy the Cork IRA executed Mrs. Lindsay and James Clarke.


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

26 February 943: The Vikings of Dublin got a lucky break, when they ambushed the heir apparent to the High King, ‘Muirchertach of the Leather Cloaks/ Muirchertach na Cochall Craicinn’ and slew him on this day.

Muirchertach son of Niall, i.e. Muirchertach of the Leather Cloaks, king of Ailech and the Hector of the western world, was killed by the heathens, i.e. by Blacair son of Gothfrith, king of the foreigner, at Glas Liatháin beside Cluain Chaín, in Fir Rois, on the first feria, fourth of the Kalends of March [26 Feb]
Ard Macha was plundered by the same foreigners on the following day, the third of the Kalends of March…

Muirchertach was the son of Niall Glundubh who had himself been killed fighting the Vikings at Dublin in 919 AD. He had fought and won many battles and in one report is mentioned as leading a naval expedition against the Norsemen of the Hebrides. However he suffered an embarrassing episode in 939 when in a surprise raid his enemies’ ships raided his fortress of Aileach (outside Derry) and carried him off. He was forced to ransom his own release to regain his freedom. Muirchertach, under the ancient rule of the kingship of Tara alternating between the northern and southern O’Neills, was due to replace King Donnachadh on the latter’s demise. Sometimes though ambition got the better of him and he clashed with his senior colleague and at other times co-operated with him. Muirchertach married Donnchad's daughter Flann, but relations between the two were not good. Conflict between them is recorded in 927, 929, and 938.

His most remarkable feat came in 941 when he carried out a Circuit of Ireland with a picked force of 1,000 men and secured pledges from all the principal kingdoms and carried away with him hostages as security. The Dalcassians (Brian Boru’s people) alone refused to submit. But Muirchertach eventually handed over all his hostages to Donnachadh as a mark of respect.

But his luck ran out in 943 when he was taken by surprise by the Vikings of Dublin somewhere near Ardee, Co Louth. It looks like Muirchertach was attempting to fend off a raid by them that was heading north towards Armagh when he was taken off guard:

Muirchertach son of Niall, heir designate of Ireland, was killed in Áth Firdia by the foreigners of
Áth Cliath, and Ard Macha was plundered by the heathens.
Chronicon Scotorum






Tuesday, 25 February 2014

25 February 1570: Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth of England on this day. He issued a Papal Bull called Regnans in Excelsis (‘ruling from on high’) that absolved all her subjects from any obligations of allegiance to her. As Elizabeth claimed Ireland as part of her inheritance this Papal decree released by inference the Catholics of Ireland from any sense of obligation to her they may have felt. While the excommunication was of no personal interest to Elizabeth - who had long since abandoned the Catholic Faith - the political ramifications were profound. The Excommunication made her dealings with the Catholic Powers of Europe more problematical and difficult and increased the chances of Spain under Philip II in particular lending his support to revolts within these islands.

In response she increased anti-Catholic persecution and set out to eliminate the presence of the Jesuits from her Realms. The position of the ‘New English’ Protestants in Ireland was made even more precarious as the Catholics here saw that the Pope himself was now openly opposed to her rule. The English Monarch did not have a high opinion of the Irish anyway as she expressed in a Letter to Sir Francis Walsingham in that month of February 1570:
We have heard and knowne it to be true, that certain savage rebells, being men of no valour, had fled out of our realme of Ireland into Spaine, and to cover their lewdness, and procure both reliefe for themselves and for such like as they are in Ireland, they do pretend their departure out of the land for matter of religion, where indeed they be neither of one nor other religion, but given to beastiality, and yet have they writt enough to shewe hypocrisy for their purpose.



Monday, 24 February 2014

24 February 1969: A General Election was held in the North on this day. It was called by their Prime Minister Terence O’Neill [above], who hoped to strengthen his position to deal with the rapidly changing political situation that was developing due to advent of the Civil Rights Movement. The Rev Ian Paisley ran against him in his own constituency of Bannside and secured 6,331 votes to O’Neill’s 7,741 – an ignominious result for O’Neill who was not used to being challenged for a seat he saw as his own. It was an embarrassing victory given his previous unchallenged position.

On the Nationalist side this election saw the rise of John Hume (Independent) in the Foyle Constituency of Derry. He defeated the veteran leader of the Nationalist Party Eddie Mc Ateer by 8,920 votes to 5,267 in a major upset.

The Unionist Party won 36 seats; the Unofficial Unionist Party 3 seats; the Northern Ireland Labour Party 2 seats; the Nationalist Party 2 seats; the Republican Labour Party 2 seats & Independents 2 seats.

For O’Neill it was a Pyrrhic Victory for out of the 39 Unionists returned only 27 were in support of his policies and 12 were against or undecided. Four days later he was re-elected as leader of the Unionist Parliamentary Party and thus was confirmed again as the North's PM. It was obvious though that his days were clearly numbered. He resigned from his position in April 1969 and left active politics altogether in January 1970.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

23 February 1886: Lord Randolph Churchill spoke at a meeting in Belfast in which he uttered the phrase ‘Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right.’

Lord Churchill was anxious to undermine the rapport that had developed between the Liberal Party under William Gladstone and the Irish Parliamentary Party under Charles Stewart Parnell. The Liberals had won the General Election the previous year but had not secured an overall majority. They then relied on Parnell to secure their hold on the House of Commons. The price for such support was Gladstone committing himself to bring forward a Bill for Home Rule for Ireland in the current session of Parliament.

Churchill was fundamentally opposed to Home Rule and planned to use his name in Ulster to give heart to those within the ranks of the Orange Order that were prepared to resist by any means the bringing in of such a measure. He had written to a friend some days previously what his plan was:

I decided some time ago that if the G.O.M.* went for Home Rule, the Orange card would be the one to play. Please God it may turn out to be the ace of trumps and not the two.

* Grand Old Man – Mr Gladstone
The revitalised Orange Order had sponsored meetings for all who were against Home Rule. It arranged the meeting in the Ulster Hall at which the main speaker was to be Lord Randolph Churchill himself. He gave, to a wildly enthusiastic audience, a slogan that was to become their rallying cry in the years ahead:

Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right.

Thus began the close association between the Conservative Party and the Unionists in Ireland that was to such a feature of Anglo-Irish relations for decades to come.




22 February 1832: Glasnevin (Prospect) Cemetery, Dublin opened its gates on this day. The first internment was of Michael Carey, aged four, of Francis Street. This place of burial was established to allow the Catholic population of the City to have a place to bury their dead without impediment. The old Penal Laws had meant that all bodies had to be interred in Protestant graveyards. With the coming of full Catholic Emancipation in 1829 the imperative to establish a graveyard free from religious connotations took hold. When Glasnevin opened it was for the use of every person of regardless of Religion. The establishment of Prospect Cemetery coincided with burial reform and the rise of the 'garden cemetery' movement in Britain and Europe.

It now holds the graves of some 1.2 million people including those of many famous Irishmen and women. Amongst those were laid to rest within its walls are Daniel O'Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Eamon De Valera, James Larkin, Maud Gonne MacBride, Countess Markievicz, Ann Devlin, Brendan Behan, Michael Collins, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and many victims of the Great Famine.

There is now a full Museum on the site [above] that tells the story of the establishment of the institution and the stories of some of the famous and indeed infamous people interred within.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

18 February 1366: The Viceroy, Lionel Duke of Clarence and Earl of Ulster and son of the King of England, summoned a Parliament at Kilkenny on this day. From this emerged the series of infamous ordinances that became known as the ‘Statutes of Kilkenny’ and were designed to put a legal framework on the division of Ireland into two separate peoples: the English and the Irish. It contained thirty-five chapters of note.

For instance if any man took a name after the Irish fashion, used the Irish language, or dress, or mode of riding (without saddle), or adopted any other Irish customs, all his lands and houses were forfeited, and he himself was put into jail till he could find security that he would comply with the law. The Irish living among the English were permitted to remain, but were forbidden to use the Irish language under the same penalty. To use or submit to the Brehon law or to exact coyne and livery was treason.

Lionel's wife died in Dublin in 1363, leaving behind a daughter, Philippa, whose descendants would one day claim the throne for the House of York. A second marriage was arranged for Lionel with Violante, daughter of Visconti, lord of Pavia; the enormous dowry which Galeazzo promised with his daughter being exaggerated by the rumour of the time.

Journeying to fetch his bride, Lionel was received in great state both in France and Italy, and was married to Violante at Milan on 28 May 1368. Some months were then spent in festivities, during which Lionel was taken ill at Alba, where he died. There was strong speculation at the time that he had been poisoned by his father-in-law although this has never been proven.

The Statute of Kilkenny, though not exhibiting quite so hostile a spirit against the Irish as we find sometimes represented, yet carried out consistently the vicious and fatal policy of separation adopted by the government from the beginning. It was intended to apply only to the English, and was framed entirely in their interests. Its chief aim was to withdraw them from all contact with the "Irish enemies"--so the natives are designated all through the act--to separate the two races for evermore.

From A Concise History of Ireland by P. W. Joyce




Monday, 17 February 2014

17 February 1980:The finding of the Derrynaflan hoard in Killeens bog Co. Tipperary in 1980 was one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of modern times.

Derrynaflan is a small island of mineral soil in Killeens bog Co. Tipperary. The site was an important monastery in the eighth and ninth centuries and came under the patronage of the King-Bishops of Cashel. The site is best known for the treasure discovered there in 1980, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of modern times.

The hoard was discovered by Michael Webb and his son Michael Jr. while metal detecting at the National Monument on 17 February 1980. The hoard consisted of a highly decorated ninth century silver chalice, a large eighth century paten and stand an eighth century liturgical strainer and an eighth to ninth century bronze basin. The objects in the hoard date to different periods and did not originally constitute a single communion set. The treasure appears to have been buried in the ninth or tenth centuries to conceal it, probably from Viking raiders. The hoard is on display in the national Museum in Kildare St. Dublin.

The discovery of the hoard lead to years of legal action between the finders and the Irish state that went all the way to the Supreme Court. In the course of the legal action the law of Treasure Trove, which had operated in Ireland since medieval times, was found to be incompatible with Irish law. This resulted in the 1994 National Monuments Act that vested in the state the ownership of all archaeological objects.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

16 February1932: A General Election held in the Irish Free State on this day. The president of the Executive Council, W.T. Cosgrave, called the election early as he wished to have it out of the way in time for the Commonwealth Conference of that year. There was growing unrest in the country and he felt that a fresh mandate was needed. He fought the campaign on a programme of bringing political stability to the State and that a change of Government would see people sympathetic to republicanism and communism in power.

Eamon De Valera on the other hand promised to free IRA prisoners, abolish the Oath to the King of England and to reduce the powers of the Governor General. He also indicated that more equitable social policies would be introduced at a time when the Great Depression was in full swing.

In the event there was a change of Government and Eamon de Valera won the contest. Fianna Fáil received 566,498 votes and won 72 seats as opposed to Cosgrave’s Cumann na nGaedhael, which got 449,506 votes and secured 57 seats. The Labour Party returned with just 7 seats on a vote from 98,286 of the electorate. While De Valera was still five seats short of an overall majority, he struck an informal deal with the Labour Party to back him up. On that basis he was able to govern the Free State with a fair deal of parliamentary political stability over the next few years.

This change of government marked a watershed in the history of the State as De Valera went on to abolish the Oath to the King of England and to give the polity a much more Republican flavour including a new Constitution some years later. He remained in Power through a string of Election victories until 1948.



Saturday, 15 February 2014

15 February 1782: The first meeting of the Dungannon Convention on this day. Some 250 Irish Volunteer delegates assembled in the parish church there. Basically the volunteers represented the Protestant Patriots in arms – they wanted freedom from England’s politicians but also to remain under King George III to whom they swore loyalty. On the rights of the Catholics to full civil liberties they were more circumspect but such a course of action over time was not anathema to most of those assembled there.

That morning the delegates, representing 143 Volunteer companies, marched two by two down the streets of Dungannon, lined by the local light infantry company, to the parish church. William Irvine, Colonel of the Lowtherstown Company in Fermanagh, took the chair. Between noon and eight that evening propositions were solemnly debated and voted on. The motions passed included those that asserted Ireland’s right to legislative independence, limited money bills, and an independent judiciary.

They concluded with a Letter of support for the MPs in the Parliament in Dublin who were pressing hard under the leadership of Henry Grattan to secure from London a substantial amendment of Poyning’s Law and the abolition of the Declaratory Act of 1719 that were blocks on the exercise of power by Ireland’s elected representatives. The letter ran as follows:

'My Lords and Gentlemen,
We thank you for your noble and spirited, though hitherto ineffectual efforts, in defence of the great constitutional and commercial rights of your country…The almost unanimous voice of the people is with you; and in a free country, the voice of the People must prevail. We know our duty to our Sovereign, and are loyal. We know our duty to ourselves, and are resolved to be Free. We seek for our Rights, and no more than our Rights; and, in so just a pursuit, we should doubt the Being of a Providence, if we doubted of success.'



Friday, 14 February 2014

13/14 February 1981: 48 young people, with an average age of 19, died in a fire at the Stardust Ballroom in Artane, Dublin on this day. The origin, source and cause of the fire still remain a mystery but what is not in doubt is that the huge loss of life was caused by inadequate safety measures. The building was not purpose built as a place of entertainment. It was in fact a converted jam factory that obviously was not designed to hold within its walls so many people for such a purpose. Even more astonishing is that many of the fire exits were chained shut, ostensibly to avoid people entering the premises without paying. The victims were all young people enjoying a night out and the fire spread so rapidly that panic ensued as an acrid thick smoke quickly engulfed the premises. Hundreds fled for their lives as the building went up in minutes.

Dublin’s Emergency Disaster Plan was implemented and the bodies of the dead and dying and those burned, some horribly, were ferried to all the City’s major hospitals. The City Morgue could not cope with so many being brought in at once and the Army had to set up tents to hold the bodies of those who died until they could be identified by their loved ones. Scenes of heart rending grief were witness in the days that followed as these identifications were carried out and the funerals took place. In at least five instances a formal identification was not possible as some bodies were burned beyond recognition. Recent advances in DNA though mean that at last this can now be resolved.

As it so happened the Fianna Fáil Party were holding their Ard Fheis that same weekend but once news broke of the terrible loss of life the Taoiseach Charlie Haughey cancelled the proceedings as a mark of respect. The import of such a terrible event as this was not lost upon him as the Stardust was within his own Constituency and he knew the families of many of the victims. He attended many of the funerals himself and indeed was seen in tears on at least one occasion as the internments took place.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

13 February 1820: Leonard McNally, playwright, barrister, United Irishman [above] and an Informer died on this day. He was born in Dublin in 1752, and became a barrister in England before returning home to practise at the Irish Bar. He was one of the original members of the Society of United Irishmen and came to and defended many of its members in the Courts. He turned informer in 1794 following the arrest of the French agent the Rev Jackson. The general opinion is that his nerve snapped under threats during interrogation but the exact circumstances that led to his decision to become a tout remain unclear.

His play Robin Hood (1784) was playing in Dublin on the night in 1798 when Lord Edward Fitzgerald was captured on foot of information he had provided. . During 1798 and in 1803 he found himself in the bizarre situation of taking money both from revolutionary defendants before the Courts and from Dublin Castle for providing them with information that would compromise his clients.

Some of his associates had their doubts, and indeed one ‘doubter’ sent him a snake in a parcel from America as a token of gratitude! However his dark secret remained hidden until his death in 1820. Ironically he was given a Patriots funeral. It was only when his family demanded from the British government that his pension of £300 per annum should be continued that his secret life as a traitor was exposed.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

12 February 1989: Patrick Finucane a prominent Civil Rights solicitor was killed at his home in Belfast by loyalist paramilitaries on this day. His murder was one of the most controversial deaths of the Conflict in the North of Ireland (1968-1998). He came to prominence due to successfully challenging the British Government over several important human rights cases in the 1980s.He was shot fourteen times as he sat eating a meal at his home with his three children and his wife, who was also wounded during the attack. In September 2004, a UDA informer, Ken Barret pleaded guilty to his murder.

Two public investigations concluded that elements of the British security forces colluded in Finucane's murder and there have been high-profile calls for a public inquiry. However, in October 2011, it was announced that a planned public inquiry would be replaced by a less wide-ranging review. This review released a report in December 2012 acknowledging that the case entailed "a wilful and abject failure by successive Governments" however, Finucane's family called the De Silva report a sham.

Many in the Nationalist Community believed at the time that he had been set up for assassination by elements within both the British Government and Crown Forces - a conviction that lasts to this day.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

11 February 1867: The abortive Fenian Raid on Chester Castle on this day. An audacious plan had been put together by the Fenian Leadership to seize the arsenal at Chester Castle in England. The plotters would then bring the considerable stock of weapons and ammunition held there to Ireland where they would be distributed to the volunteers in order to overthrow British rule. So much for the plan - but the night before it was to be out into operation the whole scheme was betrayed to the local police by an informer from within the Movement. It had been betrayed by John Carr, alias Corydon who was a paid informer. The cache of rifles had been removed to the castle and the garrison quickly reinforced by another 70 regular soldiers from Manchester.

Despite efforts to turn their men back, an estimated 1,300 Fenians reached Chester, in small parties from Manchester, Preston, Halifax, Leeds and elsewhere. Mostly, they discarded what few weapons they had and melted away. The next day, with nothing now happening, a further 500 household troops arrived by train from London in time for a tumultuous reception and breakfast at Chester hotels.

The man who was the mastermind of the projected operation was John McCafferty, US Citizen and an ex Irish American soldier who had served in the Confederate Army in the American Civil War. Once he realised that his cover had been blown he effected a quick escape with the intention of making it back to Dublin. His accomplice was John Flood and as a result of the hunt now on for them they decided to return to Ireland by collier and not a passage steamer which were all being watched. The ship they returned home on was called the New Draper.

However, when the New Draper arrived at Dublin on the 23rd February 1867, the harbour was being watched. The two Fenians were to be put ashore from the vessel in an oyster boat, but were spotted by policemen, and their vessel was pursued in a chase across the river Liffey involving a ferry, a canal boat and a collier and the men were arrested. Ultimately they were tried for ‘High Treason’ and McCafferty was sentenced to life imprisonment, but he was released under Amnesty in 1871. He returned to the US where he kept up the Fenian Campaign against Britain. He went back to Ireland in the 1870’s and became involved in Mayo bye election of 1874. After a further period of revolutionary activity when he became involved with the Invincibles he went back to America and disappeared.

Monday, 10 February 2014

10 February 1173: The death of Muiredhach Ua Cobhthaigh [O’Coffey], the Bishop of Cenel-Eoghan on this day. He was a respected ecclesiastical figure in the North of Ireland and the focus of his influence was in the land of Tír Eoghan [Tyrone].

While little is known about him during his time on Earth his eulogy in the Annals makes for interesting reading as to what was expected of an Irish Bishop in the 12th Century. Purity, wisdom and innocence were all prized virtues that Muiredhach practised. He ordained Priests and Deacons. He renovated and consecrated Churches and cemeteries and also built Churches and Monasteries throughout his Diocese. He was a man of great Charity and bestowed food and clothing amongst the wretched and unfortunate of his flock. As his end approached he did penance and made his way on his last pilgrimage to the monastery of Colm Cille at Derry and ‘sent forth his spirit unto heaven’ at this sacred place.

The night of his death coincided with a great astronomical event over the skies of Ireland as a spectacular display of the Northern Lights - the Aurora Borealis - illuminated the night sky:
Now, a great marvel was wrought on the night he died,—the night was illuminated from Nocturne to the call of the cock and the whole world [was] a-blaze and a large mass of fire arose over the place and went south-east and every one arose, it seemed to them it was the day. And it was like that by the sea on the east.
Annals of Ulster 1173




Sunday, 9 February 2014

9 February 1903: The death occurred of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, journalist and Patriot, on this day. He was born in Monaghan in 1816. In 1836 he joined the staff of the Dublin newspaper the Morning Register of which he afterwards became sub-editor. In 1839, he was made editor of the newly established The Vindicator, and he went to Belfast where he remained until 1842. That summer he returned to Dublin where along with John Blake Dillon and Thomas Davis he founded a newspaper called The Nation that was to revolutionise nationalist sentiment in Ireland. He was at first a supporter of O’Connell, and when O'Connell was prosecuted in 1844, Duffy was with him in the dock and subsequently his fellow-prisoner in jail. But he became disillusioned with the Liberator and his constitutional approach that eventually led nowhere.

After his death he partook in the abortive Rising of 1848. Despite many attempts by the British Government to convict him under the Treason Felony Act he managed to get himself acquitted at the fifth attempt and remained a thorn in their side. In 1850 he helped to found the Tenant League and two years later helped set up the Independent Irish Party, consisting of some 40 Irish MPs and of which he became the leader. The Party had a limited programme of Tenant and Ecclesiastical reform as practical first steps but internal divisions, the machinations of the British Government and the distrust of the Catholic Hierarchy led to disarray and defections.

By 1856 Duffy had had enough. He decided to emigrate to Australia and took his family with him. Here he again became active in politics. A sum of £5,000 was raised by public subscription in Victoria and New South Wales to provide him with freehold qualification for the House of either State. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Victoria for Villiers and Heytesbury. His first political action was to sponsor a bill to abolish the property qualification for Members; as the only Member who had also been a Member of the House of Commons, he also became an arbiter of parliamentary procedure. He was distrusted by many of the older Protestant settlers but was very popular with the growing Catholic Irish in the State of Victoria. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly for the years 1856-1864, 1867-1874, and 1876-1880. He was Knighted for his services in 1873. He was Premier of the State of Victoria for a year, between 19 June 1871 and 10 June 1872, at the head of a Ministry that combined free traders and protectionists. He was the Speaker for the years 1877-1880 but by this time he had become bored with the monotony of parliamentary affairs.

In 1880 he left Australia for Europe. He was now over 60 and had a guaranteed State pension that allowed him financial independence. He married for the third time and sired four more children. He kept up correspondence with his friends and colleagues in both Ireland and Australia after he settled in the south of France. He wrote extensively and published such works as Young Ireland: A Fragment of Irish History (1880), The League of North and South (1886), Thomas Davis: the Memoirs of a Patriot (1892) and My Life in Two Hemispheres (1898). One of his last political acts was to express support for the Boers in their struggle against the British Empire – a stance that shocked the British community in French Riviera city of Nice where he made his home. After his death his body was returned to Ireland and interred in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

8 February 1847: Daniel O’Connell’s last speech in the House of Commons on this day. In his final speech in the House, he predicted that unless more aid was forthcoming from the British Government for Ireland ‘one quarter of her population will perish’. His warning to his fellow MPs came as the full force of the Famine was raging in Ireland. The terrible outcome of the successive failures of the Potato Crop threatened to overwhelm the relief efforts at home to alleviate the worst excesses of hunger and disease that were sweeping across most the Country at that time.

His valedictory address in the House was almost inaudible and those assembled to hear what would clearly be his last speech before them strained to catch his softly spoken words. Observers reflected that he was but a dim shadow of his former self. He that on so many previous occasions had roused the House to heights and depths of emotions now struggled to exert himself so that his message of appeal could be heard and acted upon. He told the members that he had come to plead for the last time for Ireland. He made an accurate but terrible prophecy and that was:
Ireland is in your hands... your power. If you do not save her she can't save herself... I predict... that one quarter of the population will perish unless you come to her relief.

He stated that if they did not come to help her he solemnly called on them to recollect that he predicted that such a calamity would come to pass.

But O’Connell knew that while he was paid a respectful deference due to reputation and status as a powerful orator and due to his visibly declining health, that the members of the House of Commons had but a limited interest in Irish affairs and that his heartfelt and sincere appeal fell on deaf ears. He remarked some weeks after this noble but doomed appearance that:

How different it would all be if Ireland had her own Parliament.

Daniel O’Connell died in Genoa on the 15 May on his way to Rome. His heart was sent on to the Holy City and his body returned to Ireland where it was interred in Glasnevin Cemetery, which himself had helped to found.




Friday, 7 February 2014

7 February 1072 AD: Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó, king of Leinster, died on this day. He was one of the most colourful and dynamic Irish kings of the 11th Century and an ambitious ruler of his own province that wished to rule over all of Ireland. While he never achieved that lofty aim it was not for want of trying. He was of the Uí Cheinnselaigh, who had their base around the monastical centre of Ferns in Co Wexford. His family had long been excluded from the kingship of the Laigin and he was the first member of this ancient sept to hold the position in centuries. By the time Diarmait acceded to the kingship in 1042 his familial domains included sway over the Viking towns of Wexford and Waterford and with it access to Trade and Fleets that enhanced his power and wealth.

However his breakthrough into the world of being a serious player in provincial politics and international affairs came in 1052 when he captured the city of Dublin and declared himslef king – a feat not even Brian Boru had accomplished. The acquisition of one of the main trading entrepots of north western Europe meant that King Diarmait had direct control over a powerful fleet of warships and merchantmen.

These vessels plyed their way up and down the Irish Sea and interlinked into a vast trading network that stretched to Spain and North Africa to the south and across to the great rivers of Russia to the East. With this kind of naval power at his disposal he was not averse to using it and after installing his son Murchad as King of Dublin he had his offspring invade the Norse held Isle of Man in 1061 and put it under his rule.

Diarmait also became involved in the internal politics of Wales and Saxon England. He supported many of the Welsh Princes in their efforts to gain dominance in that Country. He most notably supported the attempts of Cynan ab Iago of Gwynedd to restore himself to power in north Wales, possibly in return for some kind of payoff in trade or suzerainty. In the winter of 1051/52 he had no less a visitor than Harold Godwinesson, the future King Harold of England, who sought refuge here against his enemies at home. After that King’s defeat and death at Hastings in 1066 his sons fled here and King Diarmait provided them with a fleet of sixty six ships to raid the coast of England and try to regain their Country for the Saxons. While they did not prevail the fact that the king of Leinster was where these hapless sons of the late king turned for help is indicative of his power and prestige at this time.

The King of Leinster was also active in engaging with his royal rivals within Ireland too. He allied with the Ulaid of the North and raided into Connacht and Meath. However it was in Munster he had his greatest success amongst the Gaels. He backed Turlough O’Brien as puppet king of that province, forcing the previous incumbent King Donnach to depart on a pilgrimage to Rome where he died. In 1067 he led a huge expedition into Connacht consisting of the men of Laigin, the Munstermen under Turlough O’Brien and a contingent from the kingdom of Breffni. A great battle was fought in which fell Aed O’Connor, the most powerful king of the western province. With this Victory there was no doubt that Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó was the most powerful king in Ireland and in effect an Ard Rí na hÉireann.

But while Fortune had favoured Diarmait for most of his life in 1070 tragedy struck when his beloved son Murchad died in battle against the men of Meath while on a raid. In 1072 it was Diarmait’s turn to go the way of all flesh when he too fell in battle against the warriors of the middle kingdom in the battle of Odba. His slayer was Conchobor ua Mael Sechnaill, of the traditional kings of Mide. Ironically his killer was himself treacherously slain the following year by his own nephew in an internal power struggle.

The Annals of the Four Masters [above] records Diarmait’s death as follows:

"Diarmaid, son of Mael-na-mbo, King of Leinster, of the foreigners of Ath-cliath, and of Leath-Mogha-Nuadhat, was slain and beheaded in the battle of Odhbha, on Tuesday, the seventh of the Ides of February, the battle having been gained over him by Conchobhar O'Maeleachlainn, King of Meath. There were also slain many hundreds of the foreigners and Leinstermen, along with Diarmaid, in that battle. In it was killed Gillaphadraig O'Fearghaile, lord of the Fortuatha, &c.''

It was Diarmait’s career and his relative success that coined the phrase rí Érenn co fressabra that is ‘king of Ireland with Opposition’ and indeed that is a fair summary of where he stood when he fell beneath the weapons of his enemies.






Wednesday, 5 February 2014

5 February 1820: The death of William Drennan, United Irishman, on this day. He was born in Belfast in 1754 and educated locally and at Edinburgh University where he graduated as a Medical Doctor in 1778. He returned home and practised in Belfast, Newry and later moved to Dublin in the fateful year of 1789. He became interested in Politics and Poetry. His family background was Presbyterian but he personally was a non conformist. But he was proud to be the son of a Presbyterian Minister all the same:

I am the son of an honest man; a minister of that gospel which breathes peace and goodwill among men; a Protestant Dissenting minister, in the town of Belfast; who[se] spirit I am accustomed to look up, in every trying situation, as my mediator and intercessor with Heaven.
Drennan came to National attention when in 1784 and 1785 his Letters of Orellana, an Irish Helot were published. These were the earliest expressions of his support for radical constitutional reform, Catholic Emancipation and civil rights.

However as political events both at home and abroad hotted up in the early 1790’s he dabbled deeper into the burning issues of the day. Along with Theobald Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell he was instrumental in the foundation of the United Irishmen, at the time an open body with strictly legal aims and methods. It is generally considered that Drennan was the guiding hand in the initial philosophical basis of the new body. He had proposed even before it was established that any such organisation should be:

A benevolent conspiracy—a plot for the people—no Whig Club—no party title—the Brotherhood its name—the rights of man and the greatest happiness of the greatest number its end—its general end, real independence to Ireland and republicanism its particular purpose—its business, every means to accomplish these ends as speedily as the prejudices and bigotry of the land we live in would permit.
In 1795 he wrote his poem ‘Erin’ which is credited with the first use of the term ‘the Emerald Isle’ to describe Ireland:
Nor one feeling of vengeance presume to defile
The cause, or the men, of the Emerald Isle.

However Drennan was not of a sanguinary turn of mind and he recoiled from the prospect of Revolution to bring about the overthrow of the British Regime. Notwithstanding this withdrawal in the year 1794 he was charged with Sedition and narrowly escaped conviction. At first he wished to address the Court and make a highly charged political statement but his lawyer talked him out of it. If he had done so it was generally considered he would have convinced his accusers of his guilt in their eyes.

But his days of danger were now over and as his active political life receded he used his pen to attack Tyranny. His poem The Wake of William Orr in 1797 stirred passions that were to foment further opposition towards Orr’s executioners and the Government that paid them. However he kept well clear of the terrible events of 1798.
In 1800 he married an English Lady, Sarah Swanwick, and spent some years in the north of England moving in the Literary and Social circles there. In 1807 he gave up Medicine and returned to Belfast. He founded and edited the radical Belfast Monthly Magazine and was a leading supporter of the Belfast Academical Institution, a doomed attempt to bring to Belfast both secondary and higher level education, open to pupils from both sides of the religious divide

He died on 5 February 1820 and was buried in Clifton Street burial-ground in Belfast. His coffin was borne to the grave by three Catholics and three Protestants.




Monday, 3 February 2014

3 February 1919: Eamon De Valera [above] escaped with two other prisoners from Lincoln Jail in England on this day. They did this with the aid of a master key and the assistance of Michael Collins on the outside directing operations. De Valera escaped from the jail along with Sean McGarry and Sean Milroy. A skeleton key had been fashioned from a copy that Dev had secured from the Prison Chaplain who had carelessly left down his set so that it was possible to make an imprint onto a lump of wax made from old alter candles. After many trials and errors a set of keys was fashioned, which were sent into the jail in the time honoured way concealed in a cake!

On the day appointed the three prisoners put their plan of escape into action and made their way through various locked internal doors until they reached the outer one. Here it had been arranged that Michael Collins would use his copy to open the door from the street outside.

But disaster struck as Collins broke his in the lock and the end stuck in the keyhole. He hoarsely whispered into the men behind the door what had happened. Beside him stood Harry Boland aghast at the turn of events. The situation was now very desperate as it could only be a matter of time before the alarm was raised and a point of no return had already been reached. But Dev displayed his customary coolness and pushed his own key into the hole and by good grave pushed out Collins broken nub and turned the key to Freedom. A quick embrace and a sigh of relief was all there was time for as the men made their way across the fields and into a waiting Taxi that got them away and back to Ireland.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

2 February 1853: The Queen Victoria sank in a snowstorm off the Howth peninsula to the north of Dublin city - at least 55 men , women and children were lost.

This precipitous portion of the coast was the scene of a lamentable shipping disaster in 1853. The steamship Queen Victoria, on a voyage from Liverpool to Dublin, with about 100 passengers and cargo, struck on the southern side of the Casana rock during a dense snowstorm, between 2 and 3 o'clock on the morning of the 15th February. Eight of the passengers managed to scramble overboard on to the rocks, from which they made their way up the cliffs to the Bailey Lighthouse. The captain, without further delay, ordered the vessel to be backed, so as to float her clear of the rocks, but she proved to be more seriously injured than was imagined, and began to fill rapidly when she got into deep water. Drifting helplessly towards the Bailey, she struck the rocky base of the Lighthouse promontory, and sank in fifteen minutes afterwards, with her bowsprit touching the shore. The Roscommon steamer fortunately happened to pass while the ill-fated vessel was sinking, and, attracted by the signals of distress, Promptly put out all her boats and rescued between 40 and 50 of the passengers. About 60, however, were drowned, including the captain.

After a protracted inquest extending over several days, the jury found that the disaster was due to the culpable negligence of the captain and the first mate, in failing to slacken speed during a snowstorm which obscured all lights, they well knowing at the time that they were approaching land. The mate was subsequently put on trial for manslaughter.

It was believed by many that if the captain had not, in the first instance, backed off the rocks into deep water, all on board could have been saved.

Neighbourhood of Dublin.