Sunday, 30 March 2014

30 March 1979: The British M.P. Airey Neave was assassinated in the car park of the House of Commons, London on this day. Tipped to be Margaret Thatcher’s Secretary of State in the North if she won the upcoming General Election, his death at the hands of the INLA was a severe personal blow to her, which she felt for many years after. A noted hardliner with links to Britain’s’ Secret Service he was an ex British Officer (DSO & MC) who had made it known he intended to rule the North with an Iron Hand if he was appointed as Secretary of State.

He had served with distinction in the Second World War (DSO; MC) He was the first officer to make "the home run" from Colditz, and the intelligence from this experience brought about his appointment to M19, where he was code named "Saturday". His book Saturday at MI9 was a bestseller. When the War ended, he became assistant secretary of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, and had the task of serving indictments on the Nazi war leaders who had survived Hitler. Another book, Nuremberg, dealt with the part he played there. He entered Parliamentary politics in 1953.

Neave was driving his car up the ramp leading out of the Commons car park at around 3 pm when the mercury tilt switch attached to his vehicle blew up underneath him. Emergency services were on the scene in minutes. The 63-year-old Conservative MP was taken to Westminster Hospital where he died from his injuries.

Mrs Thatcher was gutted by the news at the loss of her close friend and political ally. She proclaimed that:

He was one of freedom's warriors. Courageous, staunch, true. He lived for his beliefs and now he has died for them.
The British General Election of that year had just been called the day before and Mr Neave was a close adviser to Mrs Thatcher, he had led her campaign to become the Conservative Party leader in 1975 and headed her private office.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

29 March 1901: The death of James Stephens, founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, on this day. He was born in 1825 at Blackmill Street, Kilkenny, the son of John Stephens, an auctioneer’s clerk. He supported the Young Ireland movement and the Irish Confederation, and he served as aide-de-camp to William Smith O’Brien in the 1848 Rising at Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary in which he was wounded. In the wake of this abortive affair he escaped to Paris. In the French Capital he met the Young Irelanders, John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny. He was deeply influenced by the French radicals and the underground figures that he encountered. He earned his living by teaching English.

In 1856 he returned to Ireland disguised as a beggar. His purpose was to establish a new secret revolutionary society that would achieve Irish independence from British rule by the use of military force. He travelled the Country incognito establishing networks and organising cells. On St Patrick’s Day 1858 he founded in Dublin the ‘Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood’, which became known later as the ‘Irish Republican Brotherhood’ (aka IRB). It was secret and oath-bound Society. Stephens structured it on military principles with himself as the ‘Head Centre’.

In 1858 Stephens went to America to raise funds for the IRB. When he returned to Ireland in 1859 the British knew well who he was and what he was doing, and so he returned to America. He seized nominal headship of the sister movement in the USA, ‘the Fenians’ in early 1859. From 1861 to 1866 Stephens’s influence was at its height. The IRB flourished in Ireland, Britain and the USA. He had returned to Ireland in 1861 and renewed his activities, building up a numerous but very lightly armed Revolutionary structure. Gaining the support of Irish soldiers in the British army and importing arms shipments were meant to overcome the lack of weaponry. However in 1865 Stephens suddenly suspended a planned Rising after calling all the leaders together in Dublin and after interviewing them one by one he succeeded in getting them all to agree that the time was not ripe to overthrow British rule.

But by now the British were alert to what was afoot and the scale of the preparations – they decided to strike and break up the IRB. During the same year they raided IRB headquarters in Dublin, situated at the newspaper office of the Irish People where many of the IRB worked as journalists and used as a base. Most of the leaders were arrested and were convicted of ‘treason and felony’ and sentenced to penal servitude. Stephens, having avoided immediate arrest, was picked up with Charles J. Kickham for conspiracy and was imprisoned in Richmond Gaol, Dublin. However, in a brilliant but relatively straightforward rescue he was sprung from captivity by Breslin and John Devoy and spirited out of the Country to freedom.

But his star was waning, more especially so as he attempted once again to convince supporters in the USA (where he was in exile) that a Rising was out of the question in 1866 too. Col Kelly replaced him as Head Centre. The American Fenians denounced him as a ‘rogue, impostor, and traitor’. Stephens went to France where he worked as a journalist and an English teacher. He spent the years thereafter in France, Belgium and the USA. In 1890 Charles Stewart-Parnell worked his influence to allow the British to permit his return home. A public subscription was raised by friends in Ireland to facilitate this. Thus Stephens returned home to Ireland in 1891. He spent the remainder of his life in seclusion in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, avoiding anymore political intrigue.


Friday, 28 March 2014

28 March 1957: The death of the Artist Jack B. Yeats on this day. He was born in London in 1871 the son of John Butler Yeats. His younger brother was W. B. Yeats. His early years were spent chiefly in County Sligo and later in London where he studied at the Westminster School of Art. He initially settled in Devon with his wife and his first one-man exhibition was at the Clifford Gallery, Haymarket, London in 1897, showing chiefly Devon paintings. He moved to the USA in 1905 and had several one-man shows at the Clausen Gallery, New York in this period.

He returned to Ireland in 1910, living first at Greystones, then in Dublin. He had earned a living from sketch work for various publications as well as Exhibitions of his paintings. He took up Oils in 1913 and while schooled in traditionalist painting he was drawn to more abstract and impressionist works that soon became his forte. He applied his love of this kind of work to scenes of life in the West of Ireland, travellers and social events both rural and urban. From early youth he was fascinated by the Circus and worked that into his paintings too. A solitary figure he took no pupils and allowed no one watch him work, so his method remains a mystery. In later life he used colour to the full and cut down on distinctive outlines in his works that gave them a blurred but visually strong impact on the viewer.

While he was a successful artist in his own day, not just with the brush but also as an illustrator, playright and novelist. Prior to his death in 1957, he began to be recognized as one of the foremost Irish painters and illustrators in the 20th century. But it is only in the last 25 years that his genius has been accorded the status of a Great Artist and he is now acknowledged as a figure of the considerable importance on the International stage in 20th Century Modern Art.

Amongst his most well known works are: Bachelor’s Walk; In Memory; The Funeral of Harry Boland ; Communicating with Prisoners; The Singing Clown and the Face in the Shadow.

Towards the end he described his Life as follows:

I have travelled all my life without a ticket, and therefore I was never to be seen when Inspectors came round because then I was under the seats. It was rather dusty but I used to get the Sun on the floor sometimes.
He was 85 years old when he died and still active until a few days beforehand. His funeral was held at St Stephens Church, Upper Mount Street and afterwards to the burial plot at Mount Jerome Cemetery. There were no flowers, only a single one the coffin.



Wednesday, 26 March 2014

26 March 1931: The death occurred of Timothy Healy, ex Governor General of the Irish Free State on this day.

Healy had been active in Irish politics for over 40 years when he was appointed to this controversial position. Born in Bantry, Co Cork he moved at an early age to Waterford and was a Nationalist MP for various constituencies from 1880 until 1918. He started his political career in England, pressing for Irish Home Rule. Parnell admired Healy's intelligence and energy after Healy had established himself as part of Parnell's broader political circle. He became Parnell's secretary, but was denied contact to Parnell's small inner circle of political colleagues. He famously fell out with Parnell following the exposure of his affair with Kitty O’Shea. Parnell felt that Healy had politically stabbed him in the back and indeed there were many who thought the same.

In the years following the Split he drifted in and out of Irish Politics but was considered something of a loose cannon and never really regained his place at the centre of Irish political life and remained on the fringes. He spent many years building up his legal practise to compensate for this. When the Great War broke out he supported the Allied War aims and had a son at Gallipoli. But the events of Easter 1916 shook him and he slowly drifted towards supporting the idea of full Independence if it could be achieved without bloodshed. He acted for Thomas Ashe at his trail and represented Republican prisoners held by the British but confined his activities within the legal sphere. He resigned his seat in Cork North east in advance of the 1918 General Election to allow SF a clear run and did not seek re election elsewhere.

However he came to prominence once again when in October 1922 when he was proposed as the Governor General of the Irish Free State. Healy accepted the post after some consideration. His name was suggested to the British by the head of the newly emerging State W.T. Cosgrave. Healy thus took up occupancy of the old Viceregal Lodge as the official representative of King George V and his Government to the Irish Free State. There is no doubt that he enjoyed the role tremendously and did his best to make the role a viable part of public life in the State. Technically he had the power to dissolve the Free State Parliament and call elections but this scenario never arose during his tenure. He acted as a liaison between the British Government and the Free State and gave advice whether wanted or not as to how matters should proceed between the two. Cosgrave had a difficult time with him and had to remind the Governor of the limits of his powers until Healy got the message. Though to be fair his notions as to what exactly his role should be was an open question. Basically his misconceptions were due more to feeling his way than to any deliberate intent to supersede his authority. Overall he was adept enough to steer his way through any difficulties that arose and avoided outright political controversy – an unusual state of affairs for him!

However in the latter part of his time in Office his influence was diminished as his role was redefined to one of the King’s Representative only and not that of the British Government per se. Though he appeared to think that being Governor General was his for life this was not the view of the Free State Executive and James McNeill took up this role on his retirement in January 1928. His wife had died the the year before and he retired to the family home at Chapelizod, Co. Dublin. He then published his extensive two volume memoirs called Letters and Leaders of my Day.

He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

25 March 1738: The death of the Harpist Turlough O'Carolan/ Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin on this day. He was the most famous Irish musician and player of his day who plied his trade throughout Ireland. He was born in 1670 at Nobber, Co Meath and from an early age trained to become a player of the harp. However at the age of 18 he caught the smallpox and was left Blind. Nevertheless he continued his love of the instrument and mastered his disability. Due to the generosity of a patron, Mrs. MacDermott, he was able to equip himself for the road with a harp, a horse, a guide, and the money to launch a career as an itinerant harper, playing for patrons throughout the Irish countryside.

Various sources say that he was cheerful and gregarious, enjoyed ludicrous stories, practical jokes and he was an excellent backgammon player. As with many harpers of the time, he also drank a great deal, and he had a temper to be avoided. He developed his natural musical talent and talent and turned his hand to composition, penning over 220 works of Irish music many of which are still recorded and played today. In his travels around the Country he stayed at the Houses of various Patrons, both native and planter and his influences were drawn not just from Ireland but also further afield.

He eventually married a woman called Mary Maguire, they lived on a farm near Mohill, Co. Leitrim and had seven children. Mary died in 1733 and just five years later, feeling ill, Carolan returned to the home of his original Patron Mrs. Mac Dermott Roe. After several days, he called for a drink and repeated these lines to his first patron:

Mary Fitzgerald, dear heart,
Love of my breast and my friend,
Alas that I am parting from you,
O lady who succoured me at every stage

His final composition was to the butler, Flinn, who brought him his last drink. And, in a final fitting salute, his wake lasted four days.

When he died his passing was recalled a famous man of letters of the time:

Saturday, the 25th day of March 1738. Turlough O'Carolan, the wise master and chief musician of the whole of Ireland, died today and was buried in the O'Duignan's church of Kilronan, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. May his soul find mercy, for he was a moral and religious man.

Charles O'Conor

Monday, 24 March 2014

24 March 1968: The Aer Lingus plane, St Phelim, plunged into the Irish Sea off the Tuskar Rock on this day. Just after noon on a fine spring day the aircraft inexplicably plunged into the Irish Sea off the County Wexford coast from a height of 17,000 ft, killing all 61 passengers and crew on board. Flight 712 had taken off from Cork airport about 30 minutes beforehand and was due to land at Heathrow, London. The plane was a propeller driven Vickers Viscount 803 with no known structural defects that could explain the sudden loss of this aircraft. Of the 61 people on board only 14 bodies were ever recovered.

Its penultimate, garbled message indicated another aircraft was in the area. In its last message, eight seconds later, co-pilot Paul Heffernan, aged 22, said: "12,000 ft descending, spinning rapidly."

Witnesses say Captain Barney O'Beirne, aged 35, managed to level the four-engine plane about 1,000 ft above the water, and flew on for about 15 minutes before it crashed close to Tuskar Rock. There was no black box recorder on the aircraft, which had undergone a major inspection three weeks earlier.
The Guardian 11 January 1999

Speculation over the years has centred around the possibility that the plane was shot down by a rogue British test missile fired from an RAF base in Wales. However no set of established facts has ever been able to show what actually caused the plane to crash with such a devastating loss of life. The St Phelim Disaster is the worst ever recorded in the history of Irish Aviation


Sunday, 23 March 2014

23 March 1535: Sir William Skeffington captured Maynooth Castle on this day. Skeffington had been sent over from England by Henry VIII to impose Royal rule upon the Irish and Anglo-Irish Lords. He was faced with a military revolt by Lord Thomas Fitzgerald. This young man feared for his father, the great Garrett Oge Fitzgerald, who was held captive in the Tower of London. Lord Thomas or ‘Silken Thomas’ was a rash and impetuous youth who badly misjudged his own power and abilities. But the power of his family’s name and the desire of the Catholics of Ireland to pre-empt the imposition of the English Reformation upon Ireland led to a flush of initial success that rapidly petered out at the end of 1534.

Sir William Skeffington remained inactive during the whole winter. But in March 1535 he laid siege to the castle of Maynooth, the strongest of Fitzgerald's fortresses, which was defended by 100 men. After a siege of nine days, during which the castle was battered by artillery, then for the first time used in Ireland, he took it by storm, except the great keep; and the garrison who defended this, now reduced to thirty-seven men, seeing the case hopeless, surrendered, doubtless expecting mercy.

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

The siege began on the 14 March and lasted nine days. Eventually the outer defenses were stormed under a hail of artillery, marking the first time a castle in Ireland was taken through the use of such a weapon. Only the great keep remained untaken and the survivors struck terms that their lives would be spared if they would but come out and lay down their weapons.

Skeffington wrote to King Henry:
Their lives were preserved by appointment, until they should be presented to me, your deputy, and then to be ordered, as I and your council thought good. We thought it expedient to put them to execution as an example to others
(Carew Papers). Local tradition holds that they were hanged from the central arch of the castle.

The Neighbourhood of Dublin

By Weston St. John Joyce

However the Lord Deputy’s ruthlessness backfired on his successors, as his actions only made future defenders more wary of such capitulations and ‘the Pardon of Maynooth’ became a byword for treachery amongst the Irish.






Saturday, 22 March 2014

22 March 1979: Sir Richard Sykes, the British Ambassador to Holland , was assassinated by the IRA on this day. In one of the most audacious attacks launched outside of these islands the Provisional IRA targeted Sykes and shot dead him dead. They also gunned down his butler Karel Straub in the mistaken belief he was the Ambassadors bodyguard. Two gunmen opened fire on Sir Richard and his Dutch footman as they left his residence at The Hague to make the short car journey to the British Embassy.

The Ambassador was a noted security expert and at the time there was much initial speculation in the Netherlands and in Britain that other groups under suspicion at the time (including Palestinians and Iraqis) could have targeted him. He was appointed to the job in June 1977 after a two year posting as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office deputy under-secretary in London.

He was an acknowledged expert on security affairs and had been a diplomat in Cuba, Peking and Washington. Ironically he was responsible for an internal report on the safety of British diplomats following the Assassination by the IRA in 1976 of the British ambassador to Dublin, Sir Christopher Ewart-Biggs.

Friday, 21 March 2014

21 March 1918: The 16th ‘Irish’ & 36th ‘Ulster’ Divisions were attacked in the ‘Kaisers Battle’/Kaiserschlacht that began on this day. The German Spring offensive, known as 'Operation Michael’, was launched along a 50-mile front at dawn. A massive preliminary bombardment preceded the onslaught of groups of infantry led by specially trained ‘Storm Troops’. The Germans had gathered together 6,473 artillery guns and 3,532 mortars. During the bombardment they fired over one million shells, filled with a mix of munitions that included a variety of different types of poisoned gas. Holding part of the Front Line day were men of the 16th Irish Division who were part of the Anglo-Irish General Sir Hubert Gough’s Fifth Army.

The 16th Division was still designated Irish but the proportion of troops from Ireland had been greatly reduced owing to casualties and fresh volunteers being assigned on a less stringent national basis than heretofore. At the time of the Offensive there were nine battalions distributed amongst three Brigades. The Ulster Division, despite all else, had managed to retain a strong regional identity but this battle was to test it to the limits. It too had nine battalions distributed amongst three Brigades.

At 4.30 am that morning the 49th Inf. Brigade of the 16th Division reported that intense hostile bombardment had been opened on the main battle positions & support lines, Mainly gas shell on forward lines and Brig. H.Q. All wires were cut and communications by visual & pigeon impossible owing to the dense mist. No S.O.S. signals were given. The German attacks were sustained throughout the day and into the night as fortified outposts were cut off and forced to surrender. The German Storm troops were able to infiltrate through the Irish lines and advance deep into the rear as the remnants of the Division were forced back. Within days the cohesion of the 16th Irish had been shattered and it never saw action again as a unit. Its constituent battalions were either broken up or assigned to other Divisions for the duration of the War.

The Ulster Division was not quite so overwhelmed but its relatively cohesive state meant it was used to conduct a fighting retreat that left it 5,000 men short by the end of the month. It was only put back in the line near end of the War to support the final advance of the Allies.

At first the Hun had all in his favour, as for the first five days you could not see 50 yards ahead owing to the mist, and we always found on retiring that the enemy had gone four or five miles past us…on the second day of the offensive we held the Haig Line, although the Germans were five miles past us. We stopped one night in a village but next morning the Hun was on top of us, so it was a case of fighting again. It was very sad to see the women and children flying for their lives and leaving everything behind.

The Irish on the Somme

By Steven Moore
However the German assault was finally halted at Villers-Bretonneux, near Amiens, on April 4/5. Though a 40-mile salient had been created in the British lines, Ludendorff's armies failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough.

But this did not save the Wexford born General Gough, whose military reputation was ruined by his inability to hold the line and then being forced into Retreat. He was dismissed and his Army never saw action again and was broken up.

For the soldiers from Ireland 21 March 1918 and the days following were some of the bloodiest battles of the War and indeed in Irish History as they attempted to hold the line against the most intense attacks ever witnessed in modern warfare up to that point.




Thursday, 20 March 2014

20 March 1964. Brendan Behan, playwright and author died on this day. He was born in Dublin on 9 February 1923. His father was a house painter who had been imprisoned as a republican towards the end of the Civil War, and from an early age Behan was steeped in Irish history and patriotic ballads; however, there was also a strong literary and cultural atmosphere in his home.

At fourteen Behan was apprenticed to his father's trade. He was already a member of Fianna Éireann, the youth organisation of the Irish Republican Army, and a contributor to The United Irishman. When the IRA launched a bombing campaign in England in 1939, Behan was trained in explosives, but was arrested the day he landed in Liverpool. In February 1940 he was sentenced to three years' Borstal detention. He spent two years in a Borstal in Suffolk, making good use of its excellent library.

In 1942, back in Dublin, Behan fired at a detective during an IRA parade and was sentenced to fourteen years' penal servitude. Again he broadened his education, becoming a fluent Irish speaker. During his first months in Mountjoy prison, Sean O Faolain published Behan's description of his Borstal experiences in The Bell.

Behan was released in 1946 as part of a general amnesty and returned to painting. He would serve other prison terms, either for republican activity or as a result of his drinking, but none of such length. For some years Behan concentrated on writing verse in Irish. He lived in Paris for a time before returning in 1950 to Dublin, where he cultivated his reputation as one of the more rambunctious figures in the city's literary circles.

In 1954 Behan's play The Quare Fellow was well received in the tiny Pike Theatre. However, it was the 1956 production at Joan Littlewood's Theatre Royal in Stratford, East London, that brought Behan a wider reputation - significantly assisted by a drunken interview on BBC television. Thereafter, Behan was never free from media attention, and he in turn was usually ready to play the drunken Irlshman.

The 'quare fellow', never seen on stage, is a condemned man in prison. His imminent execution touches the lives of the other prisoners, the warders and the hangman, and the play is in part a protest against capital punishment. More important, though, its blend of tragedy and comedy underlines the survival of the prisoners' humanity in their inhumane environment. How much the broader London version owed to Joan Littlewood is a matter of debate. Comparing him with another alcoholic writer, Dylan Thomas, a friend said that 'Dylan wrote Under Milkwood and Brendan wrote under Littlewood'.

Behan's second play, An Giall (1958), was commissioned by Gael Linn, the Irish-language organisation. Behan translated the play into English and it was Joan Littlewood's production of The Hostage (1958) which led to success in London and New York. As before Behan's tragi-comedy deals with a closed world, in this case a Dublin brothel where the IRA imprison an English soldier, but Littlewood diluted the naturalism of the Irish version with interludes of music-hall singing and dancing.

Behan's autobiographical Borstal Boy also appeared in 1958, and its early chapters on prison life are among his best work. By then, however, he was a victim of his own celebrity, and alcoholism and diabetes were taking their toll. His English publishers suggested that, instead of the writing he now found difficult, he dictate to a tape recorder. The first outcome was Brendan Behan's Island (1962), a readable collection of anecdotes and opinions in which it was apparent that Behan had moved away from the republican extremism of his youth.

Tape-recording also produced Brendan Behan's New York (1964) and Confessions of an Irish Rebel (1965), a disappointing sequel to Borstal Boy. A collection of newspaper columns from the l950s, published as Hold Your Hour and Have Another (1963), merely underlined the inferiority of his later work.
When Behan died in Dublin on 20 March 1964, an IRA guard of honour escorted his coffin. One newspaper described it as the biggest funeral since those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

From the Appletree Press title: Famous Irish Lives.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

19 March 1921: Battle at Crossbarry, Co Cork on this day. The Flying Column of the West Cork Brigade under Commandant Tom Barry successfully engaged and defeated a number of different British units that were advancing on his position at the crossroads near Crossbarry, 12 miles south west of Cork City. During the days preceding the encounter both sides had engaged in a deadly game of intelligence and counter intelligence gathering information as they desperately tried to outwit each other. The IRA were keen to ambush a British column but their intention & general location had been given away. General Strickland, head of the British forces in Cork, decided to organize a ‘sweep’ that would flush out Barry’s men and kill or capture them. In return Irish scouts and agents brought news to Barry as to what was afoot.

With just 104 Officers and men, armed with only rifles and 40 rounds per man he knew that to retreat would mean his column would be cut to pieces in a running battle. He decided to hold his ground and fight it out – he calculated that when the enemy was broken and no longer in a position to pursue would be the moment to withdraw on his own terms.

In the very early hours of the day Barry’s scouts reported considerable enemy activity from a number of different points of the compass as they converged on his position. His plan was that all the men were to stay under cover until the British were amongst them and could be surprised at close quarters. All sections were to stay put even if under pressure and only to move from their positions under express orders. To encourage his men in battle he had made arrangements that on the commencement of firing the Column’s Piper would strike up martial airs on his bagpipes to quicken their spirit. As luck would have it the British advance was not well co coordinated and this gave Barry the chance to defeat them in sequence of arrival. All went well until the first convoy of lorries weaved its way along the road and was almost ready to be attacked when (despite strict orders) a Volunteer inadvertently revealed himself to the enemy who immediately started to deploy for action. The order was then given to open up and the British soldiers were either cut down or fled the scene. But there was no time to savour the moment as another three columns came upon them from different directions and were also shot down or bolted. Eventually all the converging forces were engaged and defeated in detail until not one organised enemy unit remained in the field.

About two hours had elapsed since the opening of the fight; we were in possession of the countryside; no British were visible and our task was completed. The whole Column was drawn up in line of sections and told they had done well.

Guerrilla Days in Ireland

By Tom Barry

Barry then gave the order to move out leaving behind a scene of dead and wounded British soldiers strewn about the ambush site as their lorries blazed away in the background. His men carried away much military booty – plenty of bandoliers of ammunition, rifles and a much prized Lewis machine gun.

While the enemy had lost numerous casualties the Flying Column had not escaped without loss either. Three Volunteers were killed in action and another three were seriously wounded. Those who died for Ireland that day were Peter Monahan, Jeremiah O’Leary and Con Daly. Earlier the British had shot dead a wounded volunteer, Charlie Hurley, when they discovered him in a nearby farmhouse. But he did not die in vain for the shots that killed him helped alert his comrades to the close presence of the enemy.

Crossbarry was a great morale booster for the IRA and helped to further weaken the grip of British rule not just in Cork but also further afield. For it showed that even in an open fight and against overwhelming odds that the British could be defeated when brave and well-led Volunteers with excellent Leadership were given the chance.



Monday, 17 March 2014

17 March 493 AD Saint Patrick/Naomh Pádraig died on this day. Or as the Annals might say ‘according to some.’ For while Patrick is certainly the most famous saint associated with Ireland he remains something of a man of mystery to us – his persona and character definitive in some respects while his origins and obit remain a matter of some speculation to those who have written on him.

Patrick (Patricius) was born in Britain, as the collapse of Roman rule on that island began. He was from a settlement called Bannaventa, probably a locale near or beside the sea along the western coast. His father Calpurnius was a well to do landowner and a minor figure in the local administration called a ‘Decurion’. The father of Calpurnius was called Potitus, who had held the same administrative position in his own day. Calpurnius and Potitus were also Deacons of the Church. Thus Patrick would have been brought up in a household where Christianity was part and parcel of his life, however he was not very religious himself. When he was about sixteen Patrick was captured by Irish raiders and brought to Ireland as a Slave. Where exactly he spent his captivity is not known but the hills of Antrim and the coast of Mayo are the most probable locations. He worked as a Shepard while in captivity. In despair he turned to Jesus Christ to sustain him and heard his Voice speak to him. Eventually after about seven years he escaped and returned home. Patrick also followed his father and grandfather into the Church and became an administrator of ecclesiastical affairs. He may have spent time in France or indeed in Rome as he worked his way up the clerical ladder. He seems to have done well. The years drifted by but Patrick never forgot his time here and longed to return to preach the Word. In a dream he heard the Irish call to him and determined to go back.

By then the Papacy had taken an interest in the full conversion of the Gaels of Hibernia. Following the demise of Palladius, the first Bishop to the Irish, it was decided to send Patrick (presumably after some gentle lobbying on his part) to Ireland to continue the Mission. Later writers attribute his selection to the influence St Germain of Auxerre under whose patronage he studied for many years. He may indeed have already gained some missionary experience amongst the Morini of Gaul.

Though the evidence is loose it would seem that Patrick’s arrival ‘shook up’ a rather low-key effort to convert the Irish. While Palladius was dead by then or had perhaps fled there were more than likely a few centres of Christianity along the east coast. The names of such early missionaries as Auxilius, Secundinus and Iserninus are associated with sites that perhaps predate the Patrician Mission.

So when Patrick arrived a small Christian presence was already established here. He seems to have made a point of trying to win over the powerful kings and chieftains of Ireland to at least tolerate his proselytising. He had quite a success in getting many of the younger sons and daughters of these men to follow him. Legend has it that he lit the Paschal Fire at Easter on the Hill of Slane in defiance of the King Laoghaire of Tara – the most sacred site in Ireland. The King and his Druids were astounded by his temerity. St Patrick then proceeded to Tara where he challenged the Druids in magical displays and overthrew them. Now whatever the veracity or otherwise of these stories it would seem probable that Patrick did indeed follow a traditional Christian approach to missionary work in trying to win over or at least neutralise the Royal families of any area they entered. This was to allow a Mission to proceed without hindrance and such an approach served the Church well over many centuries. Nevertheless Patrick did face many trails and tribulations in his years on the roads of Ireland. Twelve times he tells us that he was held in captivity and once in actual chains. He seems to have made a point of moving from place to place, baptising as many converts as he could and founding churches. He was greatly in favour of monasticism and a believer in celibacy. 

He did three great things in his Mission: he ensured that Christianity went from a minor to the major religion of the Irish; he converted and ordained thousands of people and priests and spread the Word across the island to the furthest kingdoms of the western seaboard; and he ensured that Ireland, in its own particular way, through the medium of the Latin language, came within the fold of the wider Christian World.

Many places around Ireland are associated with his name incl St Patrick’s (Cathedral) in Dublin, Croagh Patrick in Mayo (on which he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights) and Saul and Downpatrick in Co Down. He never seemed to have founded a great monastery but in later centuries Armagh became closely associated with his name and its claim to fame is probably though by no means definitely based on good grounds. In recognition of its claim it is still holds the Primacy of the Irish Church.

Yet for all his great work the written contemporary record is meagre and all in his own hand. His 'Confessio' and the 'Epistola ad Coroticum' are the only extant documents we have by him. The first is a detailed confession and denial of unspecific charges against Patrick that he felt compelled to refute. It is written in plain but unsophisticated Latin and throws some light on how Patrick viewed himself spiritually and psychologically. The ‘Letter to Coroticus’ is a condemnation addressed to a British king excommunicating a group of his armed retainers for killing and kidnapping recently converted Christians. All else we have was written after the Saint passed from this World and while much of it is probably well founded there is no way to confirm or cross check the veracity of the material. Scholars are cautious to attribute ‘facts’ to Patrick’s Life that cannot be verified and with good reason – but while a critical approach is wise there is a line between Criticism and Cynicism that it can be useful to avoid as well. 

Traditionally the Saint ended his days at Saul (Sabhall), Co Down. St. Tassach is said to have administered the last sacraments to him. His remains were then wrapped in a shroud woven by St. Brigid's own hands. The bishops and clergy and faithful people from all parts crowded around his remains to pay due honour to the Father of their Faith. Some of the ancient Lives record that for several days the light of heaven shone around his bier. His remains were interred at the chieftain’s Dun or Fort two miles from Saul, where in after times arose the Cathedral of Down where his reputed burial site can still be seen. But of Patrick nothing remains for his bones are long since gone from where he was laid to rest.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

15 March 1999: The assassination of Solicitor Rosemary Nelson by a loyalist bomb in Lurgan, Co Armagh on this day. She was seen as a hate figure by local loyalists including members of the RUC.

She had received many death threats prior to her murder and knew her life was in danger. Nevertheless she persevered with her efforts to defend those accused by the British State of committing crimes against it.

Some members of the RUC did publicly abuse and assault her in 1997, and make abusive/threatening remarks about her to her clients, which became publicly known. Combined with intelligence leaks these had the effect of legitimising her as a target. There were omissions by the RUC and NIO which rendered her more at risk and more vulnerable.

Her death was one of the most prominent experienced by a member of the legal profession in the North during the Conflict there - even though it happened in the year after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Friday, 14 March 2014

14 March 1921: Six members of the IRA were executed in Dublin on this day. The men were hanged in Mountjoy Jail.

Paddy Moran and Thomas Whelan were hanged for actions they were said to have been involved in on Bloody Sunday in November 1920.

Paddy Moran had previously fought in Jacobs Garrison in Easter Week 1916, under Thomas Mac Donagh. He had also been imprisoned in England. He was rounded up after Bloody Sunday in November 1920 and charged with involvement in shooting a British Officer dead. He strongly denied this but was sentenced to death by a British Court Martial.

Thomas Whelan was arrested in November 1920 and brought to Kilmainham Jail. He was then transferred to Mountjoy to await sentence. He was charged with the shooting of another British Officer on Bloody Sunday. He too strongly denied the charge. His mother went to Dublin during the trial which lasted several days, and was present outside Mountjoy on the morning of the execution. He sang ‘The Shawl of Galway Grey’ for her the night before he went to the gallows.

The four other men were hung for taking part in an ambush in the Dublin suburb of Drumcondra. Their names were Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan, Frank Flood and Thomas Bryan. As no British soldiers were killed in the ambush it was decided to charge the men with ‘with high treason and levying war against the King’ which obviously was no act of treason in their eyes.

Patrick Doyle was a carpenter, married with four children and an active member of the Dublin Brigade. His brother Seán was fatally wounded at the Custom House 6 weeks later. One of Doyle’s infant twins died 2 days before his own execution.

Bernard Ryan was an apprentice tailor, and the only son of an elderly widow, with whom he lived with in Phibsborough. He was born and bred in Dublin, went to St. Gabriel’s N.S. in Cowper Street. He became a clerk in a city firm, and was the breadwinner for his family. Described as quiet and practical, he was renowned for his love of the Irish language.

Frank Flood was a very close friend of Kevin Barry’s, and was a student in UCD, which he attended under a scholarship. Prior to that he had been a student in O’Connell’s School, Dublin. He asked to be buried as close as possible to Kevin. He was a lieutenant in H Coy, First Battalion. He was the leader of the ambush. His brother Alfred J. Flood became a Deputy Commissioner in the Garda Síochána.

Thomas Bryan was an electrician and married just four months before his arrest. In 1917, he took part in the hunger strike in Mountjoy in which Thomas Ashe died. After that he spent time in Dundalk Prison. He was active in the War for Independence before he was captured.

A fifth prisoner charged, Dermot O’Sullivan, had his sentence commuted to Life Imprisonment, as he was just 17 years old.
March 14 was a day of public mourning in Dublin; all business was suspended until 11 am. Before dawn crowds began to assemble outside Mountjoy Jail; sacred pictures and candles were set up in the streets and around these about twenty thousand people stood, praying and singing hymns. When the bells tolled at six o’clock for two executions, again at seven o’clock and again at eight, the people fell on their knees to pray for the dying; their emotions of grief and anger were overpowering. An impression remained which nothing could efface.   

The Irish Republic

By Dorothy Macardle





Thursday, 13 March 2014

13 March 1846: The Ballinglass Evictions took place on this day. The local landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Gerrard, had the population of this village in Co Galway evicted in order to turn over the land to grazing. Hundreds of men, many with their rent money still in their hands, along with their women and children were left on the side of the road.

‘The village of Ballinglass consisted of 61, solidly built and well-kept houses, with thick plastered walls. None of the inhabitants were in arrears with their rent, and had by industry reclaimed about four hundred acres from a neighbouring bog. On the morning of the eviction a large detachment of the 49th infantry commanded by Captain Brown and numerous police appeared with the sheriff and his men…. the people were officially called on to give up possession, and the houses were then demolished - roofs torn off, walls thrown down. The scene was frightful; women running, wailing with pieces of their property, clinging to door-posts from which they had been forcibly removed; men cursing, children screaming with fright…

That night the people slept in the ruins; next day they were driven out, the foundations of the houses were torn up and razed, and no neighbour was allowed to take them in.’

The Great Hunger

By Cecil Woodham Smith

This outrageous action was widely reported and condemned. However not all were of the opinion that the landlords had overstepped the mark. Lord Brougham, speaking in the House of Lords on 23 March was of the opinion that:         

The tenants must be taught by the strong arm of the law that they had no power to oppose or resist…it was the landlord’s undoubted, indefeasible and most sacred right to deal with his property as he list. ’

However his fellow Lord, and one of the great landowners of Ireland, The Marquess of Londonderry, speaking in the House of Lords on 30 March that year stated that:

I am deeply grieved, but there is no doubt concerning the truth of the evictions at Baltinglass. Seventy six families, comprising 300 individuals had not only been turned out of their houses, but had even – the unfortunate wretches – been mercilessly driven from the ditches to which they had betaken themselves for shelter. 

Nevertheless despite widespread condemnation the evictions were never rescinded.


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

12 March 1689: King James II landed at Kinsale, Co Cork on this day. He brought with him some 6,000 French soldiers, attended by a French fleet of over forty warships and transports. On board were 13,000 seaman manning over 2,200 naval guns. King Louis XIV provided him with a purse of 500,000 crowns.

His presence here was somewhat forced upon him as he was reluctant to start a Civil War but he was prevailed upon by his mentor, King Louis, to lead an Expedition to Ireland to attempt to regain the Crowns of England, Ireland and Scotland.

King James was an experienced soldier (he had fought with the great French Marshal Turenne) and also an experienced Admiral and his valour was not in doubt. But the King had not fought in a land campaign since the Battle of the Dunes in 1658 – ironically enough against an Anglo-French Army. He had fought too against the Dutch at sea. However his last taste of battle had been in 1672 after which King Charles II (his older brother) forbade him to engage in action again.

During the years of the Restoration James Duke of York became increasingly drawn to the Catholic Religion and secretly converted. However such a momentous decision could not remain unknown forever and eventually his conversion became known at Court and within Parliament. The Test Act of 1673 meant he had to relinquish the position of Lord High Admiral and leave England for a while. He bided his time however and when his elder sibling suddenly died in 1685 he was crowned King James II in his place. The new King was accepted but not loved by the English Protestants. His rigid interpretation of Royal prerogatives as he saw them and his promotion of Catholic favourites to positions of power and influence welled up into open discontent within the Protestant Oligarchy.

However the tipping point came in the Summer of 1688 when a male heir (the future ‘Old Pretender’ James III) was born. With a Catholic succession now guaranteed the Protestant nobles appealed to William of Orange for help. He landed with a Dutch Army at Torbay in November and some weeks later James was forced to flee to France to seek the protection his most Christian Majesty Louis XIV. Within weeks a force was assembled to be dispatched to Ireland in order to deflect William IIIs attention away from the Low Countries and to give the exiled King James at least a fighting chance of success. 

And so it happened that the king landed at Kinsale on the twelfth of March, 1688, old style, that is 1689, new style; with whom came count D'Avaux, ambassador from Louis XIV., the most Christian king, general de Rosen, lieutenant-general Pusignan, lieutenant-general Momont, monsieur Boisselau; James Fitzjames, the duke of Berwick; William Herbert, the duke of Powis; Thomas Cartwright, the Protestant bishop of Chester, in England; the earl of Melfort, Henry FitzJames, lord grand prior, and several others, French, English, Irish, and Scots, lords, knights, gentlemen, officers, and chaplains. The king arrived that night at the city of Cork; from thence he took his journey straight to Dublin, the capital of the kingdom.

A light to the blind

When he landed at Kinsale that day King James’ chances of success looked reasonable. He had a well-trained and well-armed force with him and the promise of substantial aid in his endeavour from the Catholics of Ireland. If he could drive the Protestant armies out of Ireland then he could look forward to at least regaining one of the Kingdoms of his Realm that he considered his own by right of Succession.



Tuesday, 11 March 2014

11 March 1857: Thomas J. Clark, founding member of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, was born on this day. He was born on the Isle of Wight where his soldier father was stationed at the time. He joined the IRB in 1883 but was soon arrested in London for bombing activities and sentenced to Life imprisonment. The conditions he was held in were very harsh and his time in captivity was recalled in Clarke’s Glimpses of an Irish Felon’s Prison Life (1922). In 1896, he was one of five remaining Fenian prisoners in British jails and a series of public meetings in Ireland called for their release. He then spent some years in America after marrying Kathleen Daly and after a happy period there they returned home to Ireland in 1907.

Clarke opened a tobacconists shop adjacent to O’Connell Street and from here he helped to organize resistance to British rule. With the Home Rule Crises of 1912-14 volunteers were organised North and South on both sides and armaments flowed into the Country. Through all of this Clarke kept a low profile but behind the scenes he was active in organising for a Rising. Clarke was also the main link with John Devoy, Joseph McGarrity and other supporters in the United States. As a member of the IRB Supreme Council, in late 1915 Clarke was co-opted onto its Military Council. The real work now began with a view to using the cover of the Great War to strike a blow at Britain while her interest lay elsewhere.

At Easter 1916 when the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was drawn up Clarke was given the honour of being the first signatory to place his name on the document. This was due to the recognition by his partners in the enterprise for the years of suffering and dedication he had given to the Cause. Though he opposed the ending of the Rising he accepted the result and was prepared for what was to come. He was tried before a British Military Court and found guilty. He was executed by firing squad in Kilmainham Jail on 3 May 1916.

He was buried at the Arbour Hill Cemetery (at the rear of the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks) in Dublin and the plot in which 14 of the executed Leaders were buried is now a National Monument.

Monday, 10 March 2014

10 March 1653: Sir Phelim O'Neill was hanged, drawn and quartered at Dublin on this day. Sir Phelim was a wanted man from the day back in October 1641 when he led the Irish of Ulster out in revolt against the English Parliament. He was a most unlikely ‘Rebel’ for his family had sided with the English during the Nine Years War (1594-1603) and again during O’Doherty’s Rebellion in 1608 in which his own father was killed in the service of King James I.

O’Neill in turn had openly adapted to the new dispensation, studied Law in London and on return had settled down to the life of a powerful if spendthrift landlord in Tyrone. But by the early 1640’s the situation both in Britain and Ireland was rapidly spinning out of control as King Charles personal rule fell apart and the Puritans rose in power. O’Neill amongst others recognised that these people sought to further colonise Ireland and suppress the Catholic Religion. On the night of 22 October 1641 he opened the Revolt by seizing Charlemont Fort in Tyrone. Two days later, O'Neill issued a proclamation declaring that he and his associates had taken up arms only for the defence and liberty of themselves and the native Irish; the insurgency was not intended to harm either King Charles or any of his subjects in Ireland. In a brilliant move he had forged a commission early in November 1641, purporting to bear the King’s Seal and which authorised the Irish to rise in defence of their liberties against the Westminster Parliament.

Sir Phelim had mixed success in the years that followed, never quite getting the better of his enemies, and never quite securing command of the Irish of Ulster. His initial success was marred by an outbreak of vicious massacres and ‘ethnic cleansings’ of Protestant settlers that was greatly exaggerated but widely believed in Scotland and England. While O’Neill stood aloof he was blamed nonetheless by the Puritans and they were determined to execute him if he was ever taken alive. He commanded a Regiment at the great Irish Victory of Benburb in 1646 but had to flee the field at Scariffhollis in 1650. He tried to defend Charlemont Fort against the English Parliamentary army in August 1650 but was forced to flee and go into hiding as the Cromwellians tightened their grip on Ireland. They put a price of £300 on his head and in February 1653 his hiding place on an island in Lough Roughan in County Tyrone was betrayed and he was captured. Brought to Dublin he was imprisoned to await Trial but he must have known he was doomed to the gallows.

He was tried by the Cromwellian ‘High Court’ sitting in Dublin which was specifically charged with executing as many of the ringleaders of the 1641 Rising as they could. The trial was held at the Court of Chancery in Dublin. Here the Judges sat, and were directed what questions they should allow by a Committee, who placed themselves in an adjoining room, called the Chancery Chamber. A communication was kept up between this Committee and the Judges by means of a messenger, who went constantly between them, relating to the Committee all proceedings that passed in the Court, and bringing their instructions to the Judges on every occasion, speaking to them through a square hole in the wall. His examiners were most anxious to know whether his Great Seal from the King was genuine or a forgery. O’Neill would not pleasure them with an answer even though they insinuated that his life could be spared if he answered in the affirmative. After a trial of just five days Sir Phelim O'Neill was found guilty and sentenced to be hung drawn and quartered.

While not a commanding figure, fate had placed Sir Phelim in a pivotal position in the Autumn of 1641 where his actions triggered a series of events that were to have profound effects across the Three Kingdoms of these islands that still resonate down to the present day.


Saturday, 8 March 2014

8 March 1966: Dissident Irish Republicans blew up Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin on this day. The 121 foot high column to England’s greatest Naval Hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, was erected in 1808 to commemorate his victories at sea and his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. A subscription was raised from amongst the Loyal citizens of Dublin to fund the design and construction of the column and also the 13 foot high statue of Nelson that was placed on top of this imposing edifice.

A number of attempts over the years, some legal and others not so legal, were initiated to have it removed. Some were based on aesthetic and others on commercial grounds - that it was a block on traffic etc. But after 1922 a more political angle emerged as it was seen as an embarrassment that such an open symbol of British Imperial history dominated the main thoroughfare of Ireland’s Capital city. Notwithstanding this the open platform perched high above O’Connell Street remained a popular visit for both tourists and natives alike. It was also a well-known meeting place and landmark and the phrase ‘I’ll meet you at the Pillar’ was one that fell from many a Dubliners lips for generations. Many of the city's’ Trams and later the Buses had the simple words ‘The Pillar’ on their frontage as the name of their destination with no further explanation necessary to the passengers.

However with the approach of the Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966 a small group of non-aligned republicans decided to remove the object by way of explosion. A plan, ‘Operation Humpty Dumpty’ was initiated to place within the pillar a device of such force that the structure would collapse. It was decided to plant a time bomb on the stairs set to go off in the early hours of a weekday so as to avoid civilian casualties. No warning was to be issued and the perpetrators took a huge risk in this endeavour but Dublin was a far quiter city back then than it is now and this played in their favour.

At around 2 AM on the morning of 8th March a huge explosion rocked the City and awakened the more alert of the citizens situated near the city centre. The bomb destroyed the upper half of the pillar, throwing the statue of Nelson onto the street and causing large chunks of masonry to litter the surrounding area. By sheer good Fortune no one was killed or injured.

So long had the Admiral cast his eye over the City that at first many people did not believe the news on being told. But disbelief soon turned into undisguised amusement that this political eyesore was gone at last and in such bizarre circumstances. More mirth was had some days later when the Irish Army was ordered to remove the remains of the column by detonation. While this was accomplished the resultant official bombing destroyed many of the shop front windows in O’Connell St – none of which were subject to damage in the initial explosion!

Within days the event was commemorated in a ballad called ‘Up went Nelson in O’Connell Street’ by a group from Belfast called ‘The Go Lucky Four’ that reached Number 1 in the Irish Charts and stayed there for eight weeks. While Lord Nelson’s head from the statue survived damaged but intact it suffered further indignities as it was stolen from storage in a Student Prank and used to raise funds. It appeared in a TV add and on stage with the Dubliners. After many years on view in the Civic Museum it is now on display in the Dublin City Library (Gilbert Library) in Pearse Street.

In September 2000 Liam Sutcliffe, a resident of Dublin, claimed during a radio interview that he was one of the people responsible for the attack on the monument. On being questioned by the Gardaí he refused to substantiate his claim and the matter was let drop. No one was ever charged or convicted for this attack in what was probably the most popular bombing ever to occur in Ireland.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

5/6 March 1867: The Fenian Rising happened on this day. Long planned it turned into a complete fiasco. Thousands of volunteers turned up at various locations in Dublin, Cork, Tipperary, Limerick, and to a lesser extent in Clare, Waterford and Louth. However most were armed with pikes if at all. Very few firearms were available. There was no coherent plan of operations. Attempts were made to take a number of police barracks and engage the Constabulary in action but all ended in failure. An informer, Corydon, betrayed the plans and to add to the insurgents woes a great snow storm made absolutely impossible not only all communications but all movements of men. The Constabulary knew something was afoot but decided to allow events to take their course and then take action. In the Dublin area it is possible that as many as two thousand men assembled with perhaps twice that number in county Cork and a few hundred elsewhere. One of the greatest Irish movements of the century ended apparently in complete failure

While the British Government was caught off guard the Rising was over before they could react. Hundreds of men were rounded up and imprisoned. Some were sentenced to Death all these were commuted and no one was actually executed for their part in this affair. However long terms of imprisonment were handed down and many of the prisoners were subjected to very harsh conditions while in captivity. On top of this the Rising showed that Irish Republicanism was still a potent force and had by no means been crushed by the British.

This event did have important repercussions however as it led to a reorganisation of much of the underground activities of the IRB and the formation in America of Clan na Gael that was determined to prosecute a campaign against British rule notwithstanding recent setbacks. The failure of the 1867 Rising did not mark and end but a new beginning for those who were determined to end British rule over Ireland.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

4 March 1778: Robert Emmet was born in Dublin on this day. He was the youngest son of Dr Robert Emmet and Elizabeth (Mason). His father was a well to do Physician in the City with a house on St Stephens Green and another one down the Country. His elder brother Thomas Addis Emmet was a personal friend of Wolfe Tone who visited the family home on many occasions. He entered Trinity College in 1793 and joined the College Historical Society, a debating society. He became secretary to the United Irish Society in the college, but had to abandon his studies in April 1798 when he and a number of students were expelled for their Republican sympathies. In 1799 he travelled to France to escape arrest and to secure support for another Rising in Ireland.

He returned home in late 1802 after the Peace of Amiens and began to lay plans to seize Dublin from the British. Unfortunately his plans were laid open by a premature explosion of his arsenal in July of the following year. He then banked all his hopes on an immediate eruption on 23 July but his venture quickly fell apart and he want into hiding. A few weeks later he was captured, tried for ‘Treason’ and gave the speech of his Life before the Court that quickly became a sensation and secured his reputation as a Patriot.

My country was my idol. To it I sacrificed every selfish, every endearing sentiment, and for it I now offer up myself … I acted as an Irishman, determined on delivering my country from the yoke of a foreign and unrelenting tyranny and the more galling yoke of a domestic faction, which is its joint partner and perpetrator in the patricide…

He was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. This was duly carried out on 20 September before a large crowd in Thomas Street Dublin. The whereabouts of his body today remains a mystery.




Monday, 3 March 2014

3 March 1577: The town of Naas, Co Kildare was torched by Rory Og O’More and Cormac MacCormac O’Connor on this day. These two Gaelic Chieftains with a select force of 140 men and boys ran through Naas like the ‘haggs and furies of hell, with flakes of fire fastened on poles’, and burned between 700 & 800 of the thatched houses belonging to the local townsfolk - who were still recovering from celebrating St David’s Day [1 March]. The English Lord Deputy Sydney was furious that Irish ‘rebels’ from the bogs of Laois were able to make such a surprise attack upon one of the chief towns of the Pale, cause such destruction in such a short space of time and then get clean away. He wrote that:

They had not one horseman, nor one shot with theim; they ran through the town, beinge open, like haggs and furies of hell, with flakes of fier fastened on pooles ends, and so fiered the low thatched howsies; and being a great windie night, one howse took fiere of another in a moment; they tarried not half an houre in the town, neither stoode they upon killinge or spoylinge of any.

There was above fyve hundred mennes boddies in the towne manlyke enough in appearance, but neither manfull, nor wakeful as it seamed; for they confesse they were all aslepe in their bedde, after they had filled themselves and surfeyted upon their patrone day; which day is celebrated, for the most part, of the people of this country birthe, with gluttonye and idollatrye as farre as they dare.

But Sydney was a cold and ruthless man. An insult to his authority like this could not be passed over. He was determined to bring in Rory O’More dead or alive. All that year and well into the next he harried his elusive opponent. He killed any of O’More’s soldiers he could engage in battle and also members of the O’More family - including Rory’s wife Margaret (O’Byrne). Finally in June 1578 O’More was killed in a skirmish, his head cut off and brought to the Lord Deputy who had it stuck on a pole on the walls of Dublin Castle.

Rury Oge, the son of Rury Caech, son of Connell O'More, fell by the hand of Brian Oge, son of Brian Mac Gillapatrick. This Rury was the head of the plunderers and insurgents of the men of Ireland in his time; and for a long time after his death no one was desirous to discharge one shot against the soldiers of the Crown.

Annals of the Four Masters

Sunday, 2 March 2014

2 March 1914: John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, agreed to temporarily forego the introduction of Home Rule in the Ulster counties on this day. He was forced to adopt this decision in order to placate the growing opposition in the northeast to the imminent introduction of Home Rule for Ireland. Up until this point he had vehemently opposed such a measure. But he now felt that to press for a full implementation throughout Ireland would risk a Civil War and a complete break with the Unionists that would become permanent. He wrote to the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith:

We are ready to give our acquiescence to the solution of the standing out for three years by option of the counties of Ulster as the price of peace.

However Redmond’s decision was to prove a fatal one. For his obvious weakness on this issue further encouraged the Ulster Unionists to hold out for a permanent division. Redmond’s vacillation also disillusioned many on the Nationalist side that compromise was likely to bring about a positive result for Ireland.


Saturday, 1 March 2014

1 March 560 AD: St. Senan of died on this day. Bishop and confessor. He was born at Magh Lacha, near Kilrush, Co. circa 488 AD. His parents were called Erean and Comgella.

St Senan is considered one of the ‘Twelve Apostles of Ireland’ part of an elite group of Holy Scholars who studied under the guidance of St Finnian at his Monastery at Clonard, Co Meath. He commenced his missionary career by founding a church near Enniscorthy, in around 510 and the parish is still known as Templeshannon/Tempeal Senan. He then visited Menevia, Rome and Tours before returning to Ireland.

He founded a number of Monasteries but his most famous was on an island not far from the place of his Birth. This was on Iniscathaigh, today know as Scattery Island in the Estuary of the River Shannon. Here many Holy men and devotees came to visit him but no women – for the Saint made a strict point that no member of the fairer sex could set foot on the island. It is reputed that even his own sister, herself a saintly woman, was allowed to disembark there. To honour her dying wish to be buried near her beloved brother St Senan on her death had her body brought out on a boat near the island. When the tide was low he had her mortal remains buried beneath the tidal mud so that the spirit if not the letter of her last earthly desire was met.

St Senan though was not against womanhood but believed in the rule of celibacy being strictly followed. He was patron to nunneries as well which he visited. It was while returning from one such visit on 1 March 560 AD that he suddenly took ill in a field outside the nuns church. Knowing his end was near, he raised his hands in thanksgiving to God, and telling his companions that his hour had come to depart from them, he bade them on his death to convey his body to Iniscathaigh.