Saturday, 31 January 2015

31 January 1953: The Loss of the Princess Victoria. 126 people were drowned when the car ferry of that name sank while making it’s way from Stranraer to Larne. In one of the worst gales in living memory in these islands the ship went down when heavy seas caused the stern car deck doors to buckle and break open. Water then flooded into the ship causing her to capsize. Among the passengers who perished were Stormont’s Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Major J M Sinclair, and Sir Walter Smiles, the Ulster Unionist MP for North Down.

Captained by the 55 year old James Ferguson, the vessel left Stranraer's railway loading pier at 07:45 AM with 44 tons of cargo, 128 passengers and 51 crew. Captain Ferguson had served as master on various ferries on the same route for 17 years. A gale warning was in force but he made the decision to put to sea.
There were 44 survivors, notably none of the women and children on board were rescued but neither were any the ship's officers either incl Captain. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a lifeboat containing at least some of the women and children being smashed against the side of the Princess Victoria by the huge waves. The disaster shocked many people because, although it took place in extreme weather conditions, it involved a routine journey, on a relatively short crossing (20 miles) in what were believed to be safe waters.

The ship had sent out distress signals in morse code but due to the listing of the vessel continaully gave wrong readings as to its actual location. The winds were terrific and visibility very poor in great storm that caused havoc across north west Europe that day. As a result ships sent to assist in the rescue failed to spot her as she sank and perhaps lives that could have been saved were thus lost. No aircraft was available to help locate her either.

The Court of Enquiry into the sinking, held in March 1953 at Crumlin Road Courthouse in Belfast found that the Princess Victoria was lost due to a combination of factors. In a report of 30,000 pages the enquiry found that: firstly, the stern doors were not sufficiently robust. Secondly, arrangements for clearing water from the car deck were inadequate. The report concluded "If the Princess Victoria had been as staunch as those who manned her, then all would have been well and the disaster averted."

In summary it found that the loss of the M V 'Princess Victoria' was caused or contributed to by the default of the owners and the manager in that they were negligent before the disaster:

a) In failing to appreciate that the vessel was unfit to encounter the full range of foreseeable weather conditions on the Larne and Stranraer route by reason of the inabilit6y of the stern doors to withstand heavy seas.

b) In not taking appropriate steps to provide adequate freeing arrangements on the car deck or else to make the stern doors sufficiently strong and adequate to prevent heavy seas from flooding that deck.


Monday, 26 January 2015

26 January 1316: The Battle of Ardscull on this day. Edward Bruce, the Scottish claimant to the Crown of Ireland, defeated an Anglo-Irish army led by Edmund Butler the Justicar of Ireland*, John Fitzthomas Baron of Offaly, Arnold Power, Seneschal of Kilkenny and Maurice Fitz Thomas (afterwards 1st Earl of Desmond). The battle site, near the great Motte of Ardscull (Hill of Shouts) is about three miles east of Athy, Co Kildare. Bruce had been making his way south out of Ulster, raiding and burning as he went but his men were tired and hungry by the time he reached this place. A terrible famine was sweeping across the land and provisions were in short supply. To put a stop to the depredations of the Scots, the Anglo-Irish assembled a large but ramshackle force to meet them in the field. In the event the day was won by Bruce who had an easy victory over the Sassenach, as he led his battle hardened veterans against what was primarily a scratch force of country yokels with a leavening of English and Anglo Irish fighting men.

After the Battle, the Scottish dead were buried in the graveyard attached to the Dominican Priory in Athy, which occupied the area on the east bank of the River Barrow. Among those buried were two Scottish chiefs, Lord Fergus Andressan and Lord Walter de Morrey. The English lost two men worthy of note, Hamon le Gras and William of Prendergast. No doubt many of the lesser fry on both sides fell on this day as well.

This was the third defeat that the forces loyal to King Edward II of England had suffered since Edward Bruce had landed in Ireland the previous May. The English charged with defending the Colony were mortified to be defeated once again and John of Hotham, who had been commissioned by King Edward to make arrangements for the expulsion of the Scots, sent a report to him that excused the loss of the battle with the words:

‘but by bad luck the enemy kept the field, losing however some of their good people, while the kings forces lost only one, thanks to God’.

Clearly being the bearer of bad tidings was an enterprise fraught with danger for one’s career then as now!

However it was a Victory that was of limited use to the Scotsman as conditions rapidly became so bad that he had no choice but to turn round and march back to Ulster and the relative security of being in a Province where the Gaels of the North could offer him succour and his back would be towards Scotland and the promise of further help. Thus this battle decided nothing other than that if the English of Ireland wished to defeat the Scots here and stop the Country slipping completely out of their control they needed better equipped and supplied forces than were currently available during this campaign.

* the man apppinted to rule Ireland in the name of Edward II the King of England

Sunday, 25 January 2015

25 January 1356: Maurice FitzThomas Fitzgerald, the 1st Earl of Desmond, died in Dublin Castle on this day. He was the first in a long line of the holders of this powerful name that ruled over much of south and southwest Ireland during the late Middle Ages. The name Desmond derived from the Gaelic name Deasmhumhain, which means south Munster. An ambitious Anglo-Irish Freebooter at a time when Ireland was divided between the Gaels and the English he led a mixed force of English and Irish soldiers and into which Force he accepted any man willing to fight on his side. These bands were known as ‘MacThomas’s Rout’ and terrorised the towns and the countryside wherever they made their appearance.

He was later accused by other Colonialists that he:

‘had filled his heart with such pride and ambition that he thought to obtain the whole of Ireland for his own and to crown himself a false king’

There is at least a fair level of plausibility that he wished to rule if not all of Ireland then at least a fair chunk of it by carving the Country up between the most powerful magnates, both Gaelic and of English stock, and to pretty well ignore the King of England’s writ if that could be done.

In the turbulent 1320’s Maurice FitzThomas made war upon his enemies across Munster and especially with the powerful De Poer family based at Kilkenny. To placate him and also hopefully to reign in his depredations he was created by the Crown the 1st Earl of Desmond in August 1329. However the new Earl was determined to remain his own master and he resented the overbearing interference of Crown Officials sent over from England. His ambition though exceeding his ability to do so for in 1331 he was forced to submit to the Justicar and remained a prisoner of the Crown for almost two years. In 1341 he was the primary hand in the letters of complaint issued by the ‘Kilkenny Parliament’ that were sent to King Edward III. Yet despite his proto Anglo-Irish Patriotism his continued ability to alienate the Colonial townsfolk of the various urban settlements such as Clonmel and Tipperary led to further complaints against him.

His most dangerous moments came in 1345 when the new Justicar, Ralf Ufford, a man as ruthless as Maurice FitzThomas himself, launched an expedition from Dublin down to Limerick and Kerry to bring the obstreperous Earl to heel. Gathering an Army of over 2,000 men, both Foreign and Gaelic, the Justicar quickly took the Earl’s Castles of Askeaton in Limerick and Castleisland in Kerry. The Earl had to flee and go into hiding to avoid capture. But a stroke of Fortune paved the way for his recovery when Ufford died the following year. The Earl then made his way to England on issue of a summons to plead his case in person before King Edward III. Eventually after an enforced stay of some five or so he was allowed to return home and restored to his lands.

Despite further tribulations in July 1355 he achieved a full acceptance by the Crown when he was made the Justicar of Ireland, that is the King of England’s right hand man here. It was the pinnacle of his vicious and bloody career and no doubt of immense satisfaction to himself to have reached such high office and to be at last in the King’s favour. On the other hand the appointment of such a man to that position must have filled his most ardent enemies, chiefly the townsfolk of the English Colony and the Magnates of the other great Lordships with foreboding and not a little anger that such an individual would be trusted to rule in the King’s name.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

24 January 1957: Sir Alfred Chester Beatty became the first Honourary Irish Citizen for his distinguished service to the Nation.

Born in New York in 1875 Chester Beatty made his Fortune as a Mining Engineer. He set up a highly successful mining consultancy firm in that city in 1908. By pioneering a new method of extracting copper from low-grade ore he made a Fortune in international mining operations.

However tragedy struck in 1911 when his wife died and he then moved London where he began anew. He remarried in 1913 and visited Egypt on the eve of the Great War where his already considerable interest in Oriental artefacts was whetted when they bought ancient Koranic scripts in the bazaars of Cairo. The dry climate there suited Beatty and he wintered in Egypt on many occasions.

In 1917 he went further East and developed a deeper interest Chinese and Japanese paintings. In the inter war years he became one of the World’s greatest collectors of non western fine arts and was renowned for his great collections of Objects de Art that he amassed. During the Second World War he materially helped the Allied cause by ensuring that vital supplies of raw materials were shipped to the relevant destinations where they could be used in the War Effort. For these services he was Knighted by the British.

In 1950 he decided to move to Ireland and it was here he decided to set a museum for his collection of priceless artefacts. In 1953 he purchased a large house on Shrewsbury Road in Dublin and it was here that the collection stayed for many years. He was made an honourary Citizen in 1957 and when he died in 1968 was accorded a State Funeral. His great collection is today housed in the grounds of Dublin Castle where it is permanently open to the Public.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

22 January 1901: The death of Queen Victoria on this day. She died at her Royal home at Osborne on the Isle of White, England. Her playboy son, Edward The Prince of Wales, Earl of Dublin etc, succeeded her as King Edward VII.

Her relation with Ireland was always problematical. She became known as the ‘The Famine Queen’ after the disastrous events of 1845-1849 and during which she appeared so detached from the terrible sufferings of so many of her ‘Subjects’. She donated the miserly sum of just £2,000 towards Relief out of her ample personal Fortune. Queen Victoria visited Ireland three times in the early part of her reign: firstly in 1849 during the Great Famine; again in 1853 when she attended the Exhibition of Art and Art Industry at Leinster Lawn, Dublin, and the third time in 1861 when the royal family stayed at Killarney. After that it was to be another 39 years before she returned again!

Her last visit in April 1900 was a three week affair and generally considered a success. On each of these visits she was greeted with great enthusiasm by large crowds of well wishers as well as idle curiosity seekers. However it would seem there was a direct correlation between those who welcomed her presence and those who held political and social power in this Country at the time. The Ascendancy, the Gentry, the Protestant Churches and the followers of those denominations were the most enthusiastic. Amongst the Catholics of Ireland her reception was more lukewarm but not actively hostile either, at least at a personal level. The ‘Castle Catholics’ and certain sections of the Hierarchy were eager to ingratiate themselves but most kept their distance or were there for appearances only.

While she had affection for the Irish People as individuals she never seemed able to comprehend Ireland’s desire to manage her own affairs. Though reasonably tolerant in religious matters she was a reactionary in politics, viewing for instance the members of the Irish Parliamentary Party as ‘low disreputable men, who were elected by order of Parnell.’ As regards the Repeal of the Union she opposed it on the grounds that to countenance it would be repugnant to her Coronation Oath.

Her death was greeted in Ireland with regret by some but indifference by most. The Victorian Era was not one in which Ireland’s lot had improved but if anything declined while there was no doubt that the converse had happened in her Other Island.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

21 January 1919: The Declaration of Irish Independence on this day. The first meeting of Dáil Éireann was held in Dublin to bring together all the T.D.s still at liberty to attend. Assembling in the Round Room of the Mansion House, those members elected the previous month in the General Election and not held prisoners by the British or on the run unanimously voted in favour of the Independence of Ireland.

Of the 73 Sinn Féin MPs elected only 27 TDs present, 36 were “Fé ghlas an Gallaibh” [prisoner of the foreigner] including Eamon De Valera and Arthur Griffith.  

The Declaration was as follows:

Whereas the Irish people is by right a free people: And Whereas for seven hundred years the Irish people has never ceased to repudiate and has repeatedly protested in arms against foreign usurpation: And Whereas English rule in this country is, and always has been, based upon force and fraud and maintained by military occupation against the declared will of the people: And Whereas the Irish Republic was proclaimed in Dublin on Easter Monday, 1916, by the Irish Republican Army acting on behalf of the Irish people: And Whereas the Irish people is resolved to secure and maintain its complete independence in order to promote the common weal, to re-establish justice, to provide for future defence, to insure peace at home and goodwill with all nations and to constitute a national polity based upon the people's will with equal right and equal opportunity for every citizen:

And Whereas at the threshold of a new era in history the Irish electorate has in the General Election of December, 1918, seized the first occasion to declare by an overwhelming majority its firm allegiance to the Irish Republic: Now, therefore, we, the elected Representatives of the ancient Irish people in National Parliament assembled, do, in the name of the Irish nation, ratify the establishment of the Irish Republic and pledge curselves and our people to make this declaration effective by every means at our command: We ordain that the elected Representatives of the Irish people alone have power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which that people will give its allegiance: We solemnly declare foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate, and we demand the evacuation of our country by the English Garrison.

We claim for our national independence the recognition and support of every free nation in the world, and we proclaim that independence to be a condition precedent to international peace hereafter: In the name of the Irish people we humbly commit our destiny to Almighty God who gave our fathers the courage and determination to persevere through long centuries of a ruthless tyranny, and strong in the justice of the cause which they have handed down to us, we ask His divine blessing on this the last stage of the struggle we have pledged ourselves to carry through to Freedom.
A Ministry pro tempore [Temporary Cabinet] was then selected to run the Country for the time being and attempt to bring effect to the Independence of Ireland so proclaimed:

Cathal Brugha was the First President, Professor Eoin MacNeill was Minister of Finance, Michael Collins of Home Affairs, George Noble Count Plunkett of Foreign Affairs and Richard Mulcahy in charge of National Defence.


21 January 1919: The Start of the War for Independence on this day. Dan Breen and Sean Treacy of the IRA carried out an ambush on an RIC escort at Soloheadbeag, Co. Tipperary. They were members of the South Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Volunteers (IRA). The cart the RIC were escorting was carrying gelignite for a quarry in the Soloheadbeag area (about four miles from Tipperary Town and about one mile from Limerick Junction).  In the ambush, the two RIC men, guarding the consignment, Constables James McDonnell and Patrick O'Connell, were shot dead.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

20 January 1923: In one of the darkest days in the Irish Civil War a total of 11 Republican Prisoners were officially executed after being taken in arms. Under legislation introduced by the Free State Government some months previously any men so taken were liable to be executed on the orders of a Military Court. The men were shot in various locations around the new State:

The men executed in Athlone were Martin Bourke (Caherlistrane, Co. Galway); Thomas Hughes (Athlone); Stephen Joyce (Derrymore, Caherlistrane, Co. Galway); Herbert Collins and Michael Walsh (from Derrymore, Caherlistrane, Co. Galway).    

The men executed in Tralee were Michael Brosnan (Ballyfadora, Co. Kerry); James Daly (Killarney); James Hanlon or Hannon (Ardfert, Co. Kerry) and John Clifford. 

The men executed in Limerick were Patrick Hennessy (Clooney, Ennis, Co. Clare) and Cornelius McMahon (Ennis, Co. Clare)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

18 January 1978: Britain was found Guilty by the European Court of Human Rights of the inhuman and degrading treatment of internees on this day under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This decision was reached after a submission to the Court by the Irish Government of the day that Britain had tortured prisoners taken at the time Internment was introduced in August 1971. While many men so taken were roughed up and indeed beaten one particular group was singled out for particularly harsh treatment.

The British had learnt from their contacts behind the Iron Curtain that robust and brutal interrogation methods if applied in a specific and methodological way could prove effective in breaking a prisoner into confessing. It was decided that when Internment was brought in that a select group of Internees would be used as ‘Guinea Pigs’to see if it was possible to gain information otherwise not forthcoming through other ways of interrogation.

The methods used were:


In depth interrogation with the use of hooding, white noise, sleep deprivation, prolonged enforced physical exercise together with a diet of bread and water.

Deceiving detainees into believing that they were to be thrown from highflying helicopters. In reality the blindfolded detainees were thrown from a helicopter that hovered approximately 4 feet above the ground.

Forcing detainees to run an obstacle course over broken glass and rough ground whilst being beaten.

They had been secretly moved from the internment clearing centres to a destination unknown to them and held for seven days. They had hoods on their heads throughout, and had no idea where they were. They were continually beaten throughout the time they were being subjected to this. Many of the men subjected to such an ordeal never fully recovered from their experience. Eventually word got out as to what was afoot and Ted Heath, the British Prime Minister had no alternative but to tell his Intelligence Services to back off as a Public Outcry gathered apace.


Saturday, 17 January 2015

17 January 1972: In a dramatic escape seven internees on the Maidstone ship in Belfast harbour swam to Freedom on this day. The men were Seamus Convery, Tom Gorman, James Bryson, Thomas Toland, Thomas Kane, Peter Rodgers and Martin Taylor. They had planned their escape well in advance and the internees had saved their butter rations for weeks so that the men would be able to smear their bodies in a protective cover before they took to the icy waters of Belfast Lough. They also applied black boot polish to themselves for further protection. Straight after the delayed afternoon roll call they cut a bar on a porthole, slid down the hawser and swam in single file to the docks about 600 yards away. Meanwhile up above their comrades struck up a ‘Skiffle Group’ to cover any sounds they would make hitting the water. Overheard the British searchlights from the ship swept the darkened surface of the Lough but spotted nothing.

Up to this point everything had gone according to plan but on reaching dry land they realised that they had landed adrift of where their would be rescuers should have been waiting for them. Dripping wet and ice cold and dressed only in shorts and socks they eventually managed to gain control of a bus and by a stroke of fortune one of the group had been a bus driver in Belfast some years before. They made off down into Anderstown and into a local pub where immediately they were offered help. Fully clothed and in a car given to them by one of the clientele they then set off to safe house. Within days they were in Dublin [above] and by their audacious and daring action they gave the IRA a major publicity coup that severely embarrassed the British Government.

All over Belfast there were bonfires that night. The people danced in the streets with joy.

"There are so many people to thank, the IRA on the outside, the people in the safe houses, but the people in that bar in the Markets were great. We could not have done it without them.

"It was a collective effort but the success of the escape was down to each individual. That is where the strength of it lay. It is sad to say that Jim and Toadler later died in a feud with the Sticks and Tucker died in a car accident. The remainder stay in touch and we had a bit of a reunion for this, the 30th anniversary.

"They were tough times but boy, it was a remarkable escape, and worth every minute of anxiety and effort."
Peter Rodgers

An Phoblacht 2002

Friday, 16 January 2015

17 January 1860: Douglas Hyde/ Dubhglas de Híde, the future President of Ireland and a co founder of the Gaelic League, was born on this day. He was brought into this World at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon while his mother was on a short visit there. His father, Arthur Hyde, was Church of Ireland Rector of Kilmactranny , County Sligo. On his fathers side they were descended from the Elizabethan planter, Arthur Hyde of Denchworth, Berkshire.

Young Douglas spent his very early years in Co Sligo before being brought up at Frenchpark in Co. Roscommon. Due to a childhood illness he was educated at home and thus had ample opportunity to roam the countryside in the pursuits of shooting and fishing. It was on these outings that an Old Fenian, Johhny Lavin, befriended him. At this time the Irish Language was in noticeable decline but Douglas Hyde learned it directly from the local speakers in the neighbourhood and also through an old copy of the New Testament his father possessed that was written in Gaelic. He also imbibed the old stories of local folklore and history from local people that fired his imagination and developed his strong nationalist beliefs.

His lifelong passion was the preservation of the Gaelic Language and in July 1893 he along with Eoin MacNeill, founded the Gaelic League (Connradh na Gaeilge), and he remained its President until his resignation in 1915. He believed that:
‘Wherever Irish is the vernacular of the people there live enshrined in it memories and imaginations, deeds of daring, … an heroic cycle of legend and poem … which contain the very best and truest thoughts … of kings, sages, bards and shanachies of bygone ages. … if we allow one of the finest and the richest languages in Europe, which, fifty years ago, was spoken by nearly four millions of Irishmen, to die out without a struggle, it will be an everlasting disgrace, and a blighting stigma upon our nationality’.

In 1938 he became the first President of Éire and held that Office until he retired in 1945. He died on 12 July 1949 and was given a State Funeral in Dublin before being buried at Frenchpark Cemetery near his family’s old home in County Roscommon.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

14 January 1965: For the first time since the partition of Ireland the two current leaders of the respective parliaments on this island, Sean Lemass [right] and Terence O’Neill [left], met in person. The meeting was held over cups of tea at Stormont, site of the Northern Parliament, just outside Belfast.

On the face of it this was a most unlikely encounter. Sean Lemass was a veteran of the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. A long time member of Fianna Fail he held Ministerial Office for many years until he came to power in 1959 on Eamon De Valera’s election as President of Ireland.

Terence O’Neill, despite his Irish name, was a true son of the British Empire. He had been educated at Eton and served on active service with the Irish Guards in World War Two. He was later elected an MP and served as a Minister of Government in the North. A dyed in the wool Aristocrat he had taken over the top job when Lord Brookborough retired in 1963.

Both men were however anxious to bring about a thaw in North –South relations and thus it was agreed that they meet to break the ice on this day. However not everyone was happy with this development and a certain Reverend Ian Paisley organised a group of followers to protest at this perceived outrage. Upon the Taoiseach’s motorcade arrival at Stormont they threw snowballs at his car. The following month the Reverend gentleman denounced O’Neill as a ‘Traitor’, but such an outburst did not stop the leader of the Unionist Party from paying a complimentary return call on Sean Lemass in Dublin later in the year that was meant to further cement the relationship.

However events precluded a further development of such contacts. Lemass retired the following year and Jack Lynch, who had little interest in the idea, replaced him. O’Neill then thought better of pursuing such contacts, which he knew clearly upset such a wide body of the Unionist opinion.

He was well aware that Paisley was all to ready to make use of any further such episodes to undermine him at a time when the political situation in the North was becoming increasingly fragile.


Ian Paisley threw snowballs at Lemass’s cortege in protest at this 'Betrayal'!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

13 January 1800: Daniel O’Connell made his first public speech at the Royal Exchange, Dublin opposing the idea of a Parliamentary Union of Britain and Ireland.

O’Connell was concerned on two grounds, one professional and the other political. He knew, as did others, that the end of parliamentary sittings in the Capital of Ireland and the removal of the MPs to Westminster would rob Dublin of much of its vigour and political and monetary rewards. As an up and coming member of the Legal profession he well foresaw the pecuniary consequences of such a transfer of power and patronage out of the Country.

On the other hand Daniel O’Connell was as Irish as they come and as proud of the land of his birth and her People as the next man. He rightly suspected that the British Ministers would pay even less attention to Ireland once the Union had taken place and a thorn in their side removed.

‘On 13th January, 1800, he attended a meeting in the Royal Exchange convened by a number of influential Roman Catholics for the purpose of protesting against the insinuation that the Union was favourably regarded by them. Being induced to speak, he opened his mind freely on the subject. It was the first time he had addressed a public gathering; but the diffidence with which he began soon wore off before the approving cheers of his audience. Were the alternative offered him, he exclaimed, of union or the re-enactment of the penal code in all its rigour, he would without hesitation prefer the latter as the lesser and more sufferable evil, trusting to the justice of his brethren, the Protestants of Ireland, who had already liberated him rather than lay his country at the feet of foreigners. To this opinion he continued faithful through life. It is the key-note of his whole political creed — union amongst Irishmen of every religious and political persuasion for national objects an Irishman first and then only a Roman Catholic.’

It is a curious thing enough, he afterwards re-marked to O'Neil Daunt, that all the principles of my subsequent political life are contained in my very first speech.
‘Daniel O Connell’
By Robert Dunlop




Monday, 12 January 2015

12 January 1729: Edmund Burke, one of the foremost political thinkers of 18th century, was born in Dublin on this day. He was also Anglo-Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after relocating to England, served for many years in the British House of Commons as a member of the Whig party.

Burke was born in Dublin to a prosperous, professional solicitor father (Richard; d. 1761) who was a member of the Church of Ireland. His mother Mary (c. 1702–1770), whose maiden name was Nagle, belonged to the Catholic Church and came from an impoverished but genteel Cork family. Burke was raised in his father's faith and would remain throughout his life a practising Anglican, unlike his sister Juliana who was brought up as and remained a Roman Catholic. His political enemies would later repeatedly accuse him of harbouring secret Catholic sympathies at a time when membership of the Catholic church would have disqualified him from public office. Once an MP, Burke was required to take the oath of allegiance and abjuration, the oath of supremacy, and declare against transubstantiation. Although never denying his Irishness, Burke often described himself as "an Englishman".

He spent the bulk of his life in England and became active in Politics, opposing Britain’s policy on the Revolt of the American Colonies and at the end of his life the British policy towards Ireland. He never totally adopted any political philosophy but overall he could be said to represent a conservative liberalism that eschewed extremes. His most famous work was Reflections on the Revolution in France which was a best seller, and in it he warned against the dangers of excess in political affairs especially as events unfolded in France in the wake of the start of the French Revolution.

He basically wanted the State to play but a limited role in the personal affairs of men and allow as much individual freedom of thought and action that was commensurate with the Social Order.

‘That the State ought to confine itself to what regards the State, or the creatures of the State, namely, the exterior establishment of its religion; its magistracy; its revenue; its military force by sea and land; the corporations that owe their existence to its fiat; in a word, to every thing that is truly and properly public, to the public peace, to the public safety, to the public order, to the public prosperity.’

"All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter."


'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.'

  Edmund Burke

While hard to sum up such an active career over many decades a pithy summary of what he stood for might well be:

His soul revolted against tyranny, whether it appeared in the aspect of a domineering Monarch and a corrupt Court and Parliamentary system, or whether, mouthing the watch-words of a non-existent liberty, it towered up against him in the dictation of a brutal mob and wicked sect.

Winston Churchill

Burke died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, on 9 July 1797, five days before the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille which marked the official start of the Revolution he so long predicted and fought against. He was buried in Beaconsfield alongside his son and brother. His wife survived him by nearly fifteen years.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

11 January 1970: The foundation of ‘Provisional’ Sinn Fein on this day. The political organisation was activated after a formal split arose within Sinn Fein as to what was the best approach to take in regards to opposition to British Rule in the North and towards the 26 County Government. The more left wing members of the leadership like Cathal Goulding and Sean Garland wanted to operate a broad based ‘National Liberation Front’ that would include both Sinn Fein and the likes of the Communist party within its ranks. They also wanted to recognise the parliaments in Leinster House, Westminster and Stormont as legitimate. Political Action within the current political framework was their chosen method of approach.

However to the more traditionally minded SF members these policies were anathema. They wanted to pursue a policy of active opposition to British rule in the North that would include support for armed struggle to bring about a British withdrawal from Ireland. They did not want any recognition of the partitionist States here. In an acrimonious Ard Feis that took place in Dublin at the Intercontinental Hotel a split emerged into the open that had long being brewing. Despite the best efforts of MacStiofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, who eventually led the subsequent walkout, the changes were finally approved by the party membership but not, however, by the two thirds majority required for an alteration of the party’s constitution. In the wake of these decisions they organised a walkout by a minority of like minded delegates who reconvened a meeting at Kevin Barry Hall on Dublin’s Parnell Street and duly set up a ‘caretaker’ Sinn Féin Executive to liase with the previously elected Army Council.

Some days later the new group made its intent clear in a newly issued pamphlet:

We pledge our allegiance to the 32 county Irish Republic proclaimed at Easter 1916, overthrown by force of arms in 1922 and suppressed to this day by the existing British imposed Six County and Twenty-Six County partition states’

Thus were born the ‘Provos’!



Saturday, 10 January 2015

10 January 1970: A major Anti Apartheid march and rally by some 6,000 people took place in Dublin to the Irish Rugby Union’s grounds in Lansdowne Road, Dublin on this day. They were protesting against the tour by the South African Rugby Team and that State’s discrimination against many of its people on racial grounds. While generally peaceful a small section of the crowd arrived there to cause trouble. They attacked members of the Garda Siochana who responded in kind. A mini riot broke out and people were in danger of being crushed as things turned nasty. Eventually order was restored and a potentially tragic situation was averted.

Inside before a large crowd Ireland held the visitors to an 8-8 Draw. This was probably the first mass demonstration in Ireland against Apartheid and marked an upsurge in Irish support for the overthrow of White Rule in South Africa.

Friday, 9 January 2015

9 January 1980: Charlie Haughey made his infamous 'as a community, we are living away beyond our means' speech on this day. At the time the newly appointed Taoiseach was commended for his straight talking and his apparent determination to tackle the worsening Public Finances as the Economy started to go on the slide.

 But it was all an illusion as his Government failed to grasp the nettle and engaged in only token reform of the State’s Finances. In the subsequent Budget, the Minister of Finance, Michael O’Kennedy increased PAYE allowances and widened tax bands, but also increased indirect taxation. Taxes on cigarettes, alcohol and petrol all went up, while duties on cars, television sets and gramophone records were also raised.

It was only in the late 1990’s that it emerged that Charles J. Haughey, was also ‘living beyond his means’ with his extravagant Lifestyle as a Country Squire and a Yachtsman down in Kerry was being financed by figures known and unknown in the Irish Business World. In particular his penchant for expensive Charvet shirts at a time when he told people we had to ‘tighten our belts’ raised much anger but not a little mirth at the mans audacity.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

8 January 1979: The Whiddy Island Disaster. Some 50 men were killed at Wide Island, Bantry Bay, when the oil tanker SS Betelgeuse was blown asunder during fuelling operations on this day. They were killed when the 11-year-old oil tanker owned by the French multinational Total exploded while offloading its cargo at the offshore jetty at the Whiddy Island oil terminal in the early hours of the morning.

‘A series of explosions broke the back of the 120,000 tonnes tanker and quickly spread to the jetty as the sea was engulfed in flames which lit up the night sky and were visible as far away as Dunmanway.

There were fears at one point that the entire terminal, owned at the time by Gulf Oil, would also be caught up in the conflagration but the fire was confined to the tanker and the jetty and the tanks emerged intact. All 42 French crew of the Betelgeuse perished in the tragedy, as did seven local men who were on the jetty at the time, Charlie Brennan, Tim Kingston, Denis O'Leary, Neilly O'Shea, Jimmy O'Sullivan, Liam Shanahan and David Warner.’

Irish Times 8 January 2009

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

7 January 1922: The Treaty was passed by members of Dáil Eireann assembled at Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin on a vote of 64 in favour and 57 against. President De Valera, after the vote was taken, indicated his intention of resigning his position. He said that:

There is one thing I want to say---I want it to go to the country and to the world, and it is this: the Irish people established a Republic. This is simply approval of a certain resolution. The Republic can only be disestablished by the Irish people. Therefore, until such time as the Irish people in regular manner disestablish it, this Republic goes on. Whatever arrangements are made this is the supreme sovereign body in the nation; this is the body to which the nation looks for its supreme Government, and it must remain that---no matter who is the Executive---it must remain that until the Irish people have disestablished it.

Michael Collins [above left], who voted to accept the terms replied that:

I ask your permission to make a statement. I do not regard the passing of this thing as being any kind of triumph over the other side. I will do my best in the future, as I have done in the past, for the nation. What I have to say now is, whether there is something contentious about the Republic---about the Government in being---or not, that we should unite on this: that we will all do our best to preserve the public safety.

Soon after the meeting broke up but it was clear that after this things would never be the same again and an unbridgeable rift had opened between those who supported the Treaty and those who were against it.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

6/7 January 1839: The Night of the Big Wind/ Oiche na Gaoithe Mire. A storm of Hurricane Force swept across Ireland on this night. A Depression of unusual severity it caused much structural damage and considerable fright and distress, especially to those less well off inhabitants of this island whose dwellings were just plain thatched cabins of loose construction. However even more solidly built structures did not escape unscathed and in some ways were even more dangerous to those within as chimneys came crashing down upon at least some of the unfortunates inside. Overall though the numbers of deaths caused by this violent tempest were probably limited to between 300 and 1,000 souls out of a population of some 8,000,000 people. However there is no doubt that for a considerable proportion of the Irish population the events of this visitation remained in the popular imagination as a night never to be forgotten.

The sequence of events had begun the previous evening, Saturday 5th January 1839, when heavy snow fell throughout Ireland. The next morning, Sunday the 6th, it was completely calm and the sky was covered with motionless, dense cloud. As the morning progressed, the temperature rose well above the January average. While children played in the snow outdoors, mothers and fathers were inside their homes preparing for the festivities of Little Christmas - the feast of the Epiphany. It became unnaturally still. So calm that voices floated between farmhouses more than a mile apart. Something strange was happening, but no one knew exactly what.

Then the snow started to melt as the temperature rose to an unnatural degree for that time of year. However as the warm front which covered the country gradually moved eastwards, and rose in the atmosphere, it was replaced by a cold front which brought with it high winds and heavy rain. The rain commenced before noon in the west and spread very slowly eastwards. In Mayo, the late afternoon turned chilly while the east of the country still enjoyed the unseasonably high temperatures experienced in Mayo earlier that day. At dusk, wind speeds increased, conditions got colder and alternate showers of rain and hail began to fall. By nine o'clock at night the wind had reached gale force and continued to increase. By midnight it had reached hurricane force and remained at that level until five o'clock in the morning when it reduced again to gale force. During the hurricane the wind blew variously from the southwest, west and northwest. Gales continued until six o'clock on Monday evening. At nine o'clock on Monday morning air pressure was at 972.6 Millibars and the temperature was then 4.4. Degrees Celsius in Dublin.

In Dublin the Freeman’s Journal afterwards reported that:

The storm with which this city was visited on Sunday night was one of the most violent which has blown from the face of Heaven within the memory of the oldest inhabitants. At an early hour on Sunday evening the wind freshened to a degree that seemed to promise a rough night, and about half-past ten it rose into a high gale, which continued to increase in fury until shortly after midnight, when it blew a most fearful and destructive tempest. Not a soul dare venture into the streets; the lamps were, without almost any exception, extinguished; and amidst the roaring of the hurricane, which threatened to sweep every obstacle before it from the surface of the earth, the pealing of fire-bells -- the sounds of falling chimneys -- windows breaking, and slates and tiles flying through the streets, were fearfully audible; and sometimes the still more dreadful shrieks of the inmates of the tottering houses reached the ear, while the rocking walls and falling roofs threatened them momentarily with destruction.

In the streets, however, it was impossible to tell in what direction the storm was, for it came in sudden gusts, sweeping sometimes up, and sometimes down, the street, and occasionally two contrary blasts meeting and forming a whirlwind, which made the strongest houses tremble and rock to their foundations. At intervals dense clouds obscured the sky, and added to the horror of the scene by the gloomy darkness which they produced; but when they were driven by, the heavens did not appear less ominous, for the Aurora Borealis burned brightly a great portion of the night, mantling the hemisphere with sheets of red, and corresponding well with the lurid gleams which ascended to the zenith from the flames of burning houses that the tempest threatened to fan into a general conflagration.

After four o'clock the storm sensibly diminished, but continued to rage with considerable fury until daybreak, when it sank back into a steady and heavy gale from the S.W. that continued throughout the remainder of the day.
THE FREEMAN'S JOURNAL Dublin: Tuesday, January 8,1839

For decades afterwards the ‘Night of the Big Wind’ was used as a marker in the Irish People’s memories to recall events that happened before or after that date. Indeed as late as 1909 when Old age Pensions were introduced many claimed entitlement based on their ability to remember this most unusual and terrible Storm from the days of their youth.



Monday, 5 January 2015

5 January 1976: The ‘Kingsmills Massacre’ happened on this day. Ten Protestant workmen were shot dead by the IRA in a revenge attack following a series of murders of Catholics in County Armagh by Loyalist Terrorists. Gunmen near Whitecross Co Armagh stopped a local firms minibus at a bogus checkpoint. The sole Catholic passenger was told to run off fast. The gunmen then opened fire on the remaining eleven passengers, all of whom were Protestant workmen from Bessbrook. Ten died and one survived. A group calling itself the ‘Republican Action Force’ claimed responsibility.

The previous night Loyalist gunmen had entered the home of the Reavey family in Whitecross, South Armagh. Two brothers were shot dead while a third was seriously injured. He died later that month. The gunmen searched every room in the house looking for further victims. Less than thirty minutes later a second group of gunmen burst into the O’Dowd household, some 20 miles away, and entered the sitting room where a large group of family members were gathered listening to one brother who was playing the piano. The gunmen opened fire and three members of the O’Dowd family were killed and a number were injured.

The bullet-riddled minibus which had been transporting the 11 Protestant workers who were gunned down as they lined up beside the vehicle is shown above.

Friday, 2 January 2015

2 January 1417: The death of Art Mac Murrough Cavanagh (King of Leinster) on this day.

Art, the son of Art, son of Murtough, son of Maurice, Lord of Leinster, a man who had defended his own province against the English and Irish from his sixteenth to his sixtieth year; a man full of hospitality, knowledge, and chivalry; a man full of prosperity and royalty; the enricher of churches and monasteries, by his alms and offerings, died (after having been forty-two years in the lordship of Leinster) a week after Christmas. Some assert that it was of a poisonous drink which a woman gave to him, and to O'Doran, Chief Brehon of Leinster, at Ros-Mic-Triuin [New Ross], that both died. Donough, his son, assumed his place after him.

A.F.M.: M1417.1

Art McMurrough Cavanagh or Art Mór Mac Murchadha Caomhánach in the original Gaelic, was a formidable character in his day. He was born in the year 1357. From an early age he was distinguished by his great hospitality, intelligence and bravery, and I should imagine his contemporaries recognised a certain level of guile in the young Art that would serve him well in his dealings with rivals both internal and external. About the year 1375--while he was still under age--he was elected successor to his father, according to the annalists, who record his death in 1417, 'after being forty-two years in the government of Leinster.' A traditional Gaelic Leader he married a Lady from the Pale named Elizabeth and so through marriage, inheritance and conquest he dominated large tracts of Wexford, Wicklow, Kildare and Carlow. The Palesmen paid him tribute to keep him sweet and of course in the Gaelic areas he ruled in the old way.

However he did suffer a severe reverse in 1392 when the Earl of Ormond defeated him at Tiscoffin and killed 600 of his best warriors. But Art McMurrough pulled of a great coup when he captured the Colonial town of New Ross. In 1395 he had to contend with a descent on Ireland by the King of England, the hapless Richard II, who brought a huge army with him to overawe the Irish Kings and Chieftains. He could not however bring Art to ‘come into his House’ and submit. Instead he gave a promise of safe passage to the Leinsterman to come up to Dublin and treat with him. Though wary, Art accepted the invitation and was imprisoned and could only get his freedom by promising to agree to Richard’s terms.

Once free though he resumed his independent way of life and soon fell to harrying the invaders once more. In the summer of 1398 he pulled off his greatest victory when he defeated and slew Roger Mortimer, the Earl of March, and the heir to the Throne of England. This political earthquake brought Richard II back to Ireland in the following year, bent on revenge against all who defied him. But once again his campaign here was a fiasco, with not even a series of nominal submissions to flaunt at Court when he returned home. Indeed while he was bogged down here news reached him that Henry of Bolingbroke had landed in England to claim the throne for himself. This he did and when Richard went back he was taken prisoner and then starved to death by the now King Henry IV. Thus Art McMurrough Cavanagh was the catalyst for one of the most momentous events in England’s history.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

1 January 1926: 2RN, predecessor of Radio Eireann [1932], was established. The advent of Radio was to transform the nature of communication in Ireland, eventually bringing even the remotest country homes into instant receivers of news and entertainment from the new station’s broadcasting studios.

Séamus Clandillon [above] was appointed the 2RN first Director of Broadcasting

‘2RN began broadcasting from a studio and office at 36 Little Denmark Street, now the site of the ILAC Centre in Dublin. The transmitter was a 1.5 KW Marconi Q type, broadcasting on 390 meters from a hut in McKee Barracks beside the Phoenix Park.

The station call-sign was originated by the British Post Office, the authority responsible at that time, and the name 2RN was thought to be inspired by the last three syllables of the song title "Come Back To Erin".

With only one studio there was a silent, or not so silent, interlude between the programmes as music stands and other furniture were moved about.

Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and later first President of the Irish Free State, officially opened 2RN.