Monday, 30 March 2015

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 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.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

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.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

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, playwright 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 on the coffin.

Friday, 27 March 2015

27 May 1224: Cathal Crovderg [‘Redhand’] O'Conor, king of Connacht, son of Turlough and brother of Rory O'Conor (the last Ard Rí or 'High King' of Ireland), died at the age of 72. He was the last of the great Irish Kings. His death opened the way for the Norman takeover of Connacht.

King Cathal had to play what might be described in today's terms as a masterly game of 'Realpolitic' in his time as King. He was faced with a range of enemies both internal and external who wished to bring him down. Depending on circumstances he was prepared to 'switch sides' and play one off against another. He built alliances with Thomand (north Munster), with Tir Owen and Fermanah in the North and sometimes with the Anglo-Norman invaders. But he was not averse to throwing himself at the mercy of the Justicar in Dublin when he was forced to flee his own kingdom.

From his base west of the river Shannon he was forced to deal with the Norman invaders. He was a competent leader despite problems, avoiding major conflicts and winning battles. Ua Conchobair attempted to make the best of the new situation with Ireland divided between Norman and Gaelic rulers.

He succeeded as head of the O'Conors on the death of his brother Rory in 1198. But by the time Cathal became king the power and influence of his family was much reduced. Now they ruled just in Connacht and that with difficulty. The early part of his reign was passed in contests with the Anglo-Normans and with his nephew Cathal Carrach, who at one time succeeded in expelling him from his territories. In 1201, however, Cathal Crovderg, with the assistance of the Anglo Norman De Burghs, defeated and slew his nephew in battle near Boyle. On King John's arrival in Ireland in 1210, he paid him homage, and by the surrender of a portion of his territories, secured to himself a tolerably peaceful old age. He died in the abbey of Knockmoy (having assumed the habit of a Grey Friar) in 1224. The principal abode of the heads of the O'Connor family at this period was at Rathcroghan [above], near Tulsk, in the County of Roscommon.

He founded Ballintubber Abbey in 1215, and was succeeded by his son, Aedh mac Cathal Crobdearg Ua Conchobair. His wife, Mor Ní Briain, was a daughter of King Domnall Mór Ua Briain of Thomond, died in 1218.

By the end of his Life he had come to accept the primacy of the King of England as also 'Lord of Ireland' as a political necessity and only wished to have his son recognised by King Henry III of England as his successor.

He wrote to King Henry in 1224 shortly before his death:

'To his dear Lord Henry,by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, from his faithful King of Connacht, greeting, and bond of sincere affection with faithful obedience.'

'We feel sure that you have heard, through the trusty men and counsellors of your father and your own, how that we did not fail to give faithful and devoted service to the Lord John, your father of happy memory ; and since his death, as your trusty servants stationed in Ireland know and have learned, we are not failing to give devoted obedience to you, nor do we wish ever as long as we live to fail you. Wherefore, although we possess a charter for the land of Connacht from the Lord your father given to ourselves and our heirs, and by name to Od [Aedh] our son and heir...'

Taken from A History of Ireland by Eleanor Hull

His eulogy in the Annals of Connacht relates the attributes that a true King was expected to portray to his People:

'A great affliction befell the country then, the loss of Cathal Crobderg son of Toirrdelbach O Conchobair, king of Connacht;

the king most feared and dreaded on every hand in Ireland;

the king who carried out most plunderings and burnings against Galls and Gaels who opposed him;

the king who was the fiercest and harshest towards his enemies that ever lived;

the king who most blinded, killed and mutilated rebellious and disaffected subjects;

the king who best established peace and tranquility of all the kings of Ireland;

the king who built most monasteries and houses for religious communities;

the king who most comforted clerks and poor men with food and fire on the floor of his own habitation;

the king whom of all the kings in Ireland God made most perfect in every good quality;

the king on whom God most bestowed fruit and increase and crops;

the king who was most chaste of all the kings of Ireland;

the king who kept himself to one consort and practised continence before God from her death till his own;

the king whose wealth was partaken by laymen and clerics, infirm men, women and helpless folk, as had been prophesied in the writings and the visions of saints and righteous men of old;

the king who suffered most mischances in his reign, but God raised him up from each in turn;

the king who with manly valour and by the strength of his hand preserved his kingship and rule.

And it is in the time of this king that tithes were first levied for God in Ireland. This righteous and upright king, this prudent, pious, just champion, died in the robe of a Grey Monk, after a victory over the world and the devil, in the monastery of Knockmoy, which with the land belonging to it he had himself offered to God and the monks, on the twenty-seventh day of May as regards the solar month and on a Monday as regards the week-day, and was nobly and honourably buried, having been for six and thirty years sole monarch of the province of Connacht.
So says Donnchad Baccach O Maelchonaire in his poem on the Succession of the Kings:

‘The reign of Red-hand was a pleasant reign, after the fall of Cathal Carrach; he ruled for sixteen and twenty prosperous calm years.’

And he was in the seventy-second year of his age, as the poet Nede O Maelchonaire says: ‘Three years and a half-year, I say, was the life of Red-hand in Cruachu till the time that his father died in wide-stretching Ireland.

He was born at Port Locha Mesca and fostered by Tadc O Con Chennainn in Ui Diarmata, and it was sixty-eight years from the death of Toirrdelbach to the death of Cathal Crobderg, as the chronicle shows.'

The Annals of Connacht

Thursday, 26 March 2015

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 Vice-regal 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 year before and he retired to the family home at Chapelizod, Co. Dublin. He the published his extensive two volume memoirs called Letters and Leaders of my Day.He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

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. MacDermott 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

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

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 [like above] with no known structural defects that could explain the sudden loss of this aircraft. Of the 61 people on board but 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.

Monday, 23 March 2015

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.

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

By the end of the year Skeffington himself was dead, carried off by an Irish Winter.

He died in Dublin on the 31st of December 1535, and was buried in St. Patrick's Cathedral. Amongst the Irish, Sir William was known as "The Gunner," on account of the extent to which he employed artillery in reducing their strongholds.


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.




Sunday, 22 March 2015


22 March 1979: The IRA assassinated the British Ambassador to Holland on this day. In one of the most audacious attacks launched outside of these islands the Provisional IRA targeted Sir Richard 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 tome (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 1977 of the British ambassador to Dublin, Sir Christopher Ewart-Biggs.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

21 March 1656 AD. The death of James Ussher, the protestant Archbishop of Armagh on this day. James Ussher was one of the most influential people in these islands in the early and middle years of the 17th century. He was born in Dublin in 1581 to an Old English family. Although his father was a Protestant and his mother a Catholic he was raised in the new religion. His family were well connected with his uncle Henry being Archbishop of Armagh from 1595. James was a scholarly child and entered Trinity College at the age of 13. He followed a career into the church of his father.

He received his Bachelor of Arts degree by 1598, and was a fellow and MA by 1600 In May 1602, he was ordained in the Trinity College Chapel as a deacon by his uncle Henry Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

Ussher went on to become Chancellor of St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin in 1605. He became Professor of Theological Controversies at Trinity College and a Bachelor of Divinity in 1607, Doctor of Divinity in 1612, and then Vice Chancellor in 1615 and vice-provost in 1616. In 1613, he married Phoebe, daughter of a previous Vice Provost, Luke Challoner, and published his first work. In 1615, he was closely involved with the drawing up of the first Confession of Faith of the Church of Ireland. This document carved out a seperate and distincint identity for the Protestant Church in Ireland.


Ussher was a convinced Calvinist and viewed with dismay the possibility that people he regarded as anti-Christian papists might achieve any sort of power. He called a secret meeting of the Irish bishops in his house in November 1626, the result being the "Judgement of the Arch-Bishops and Bishops of Ireland". This begins:

The religion of the papists is superstitious and idolatrous; their faith and doctrine erroneous and heretical; their church in respect of both, apostatical; to give them therefore a toleration, or to consent that they may freely exercise their religion, and profess their faith and doctrine, is a grievous sin.

The Judgement was not published until it was read out at the end of a series of sermons against the Graces given at Dublin in April 1627.


In 1631, he produced a new edition of a work first published in 1622, his "Discourse on the Religion Anciently Professed by the Irish", a ground-breaking study of the early Irish Church , which sought to demonstrate how it differed from Rome and was, instead, much closer to the later Protestant church. This was to prove highly influential, establishing the idea that the Church of Ireland was the true successor of the early Celtic church — a belief that persists in some Protestant circles to the present day.

In 1640 he had left Ireland for good and though he continued to live an active life in England during the years of the Civil Wars he remained loyal to King Charles as long as he could. He witnessed the execution of the King on 30 January 1649 but reputedtly fainted before the axe fell!


Today though Ussher is best remembered for his claim that the World was created in the year 4004 BC. He came to this conclusion by a close study of Biblical Texts and other Ancient writings. At the time this was considered to be ground breaking work that put Ussher at the top end of Biblical scholars.

 He published his initial findings under the title Annales Veteris Testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti, una cum rerum Asiaticarum et Aegyptiacarum chronico, a temporis historici principio usque ad Maccabaicorum initia producto. ("Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world, the chronicle of Asiatic and Egyptian matters together produced from the beginning of historical time up to the beginnings of Maccabes").

He opened his work with the famous lines:

“In the beginning, God created heaven and earth, which beginning of time, according to this chronology, occurred at the beginning of the night which preceded the 23rd of October in the year 710 of the Julian period.” In the right margin of the page, Ussher computes the date in “Christian” time as 4004 B.C.
At the time this was considered to be ground breaking work that put Ussher at the top end of Biblical scholars.


In 1654 with his sight failing and finding it hard to write, he went to stay with an old friend, the Countess of Peterborough, in her house in Reigate in Surrey. Two years later on 19 March the Archbishop was taken with a fierce pain in his side at supper and retired to bed. It became clear that he had little time left and after praying with the countess’s chaplain and saying a regretful farewell to the countess herself. On 21 March he died at about one o’clock in the afternoon the next day. His last words were reported as ‘O Lord forgive me, especially my sins of omission.’ The body was embalmed and the plan was to bury him in Reigate, but Cromwell insisted on a state funeral and Ussher was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

The fact that Cromwell was content to allow an Anglican bishop to be buried in Westminster is a clear indication of the respect in which Ussher was held, even by those who were theologically opposed to him. And indeed, after his death Ussher's reputation as a saintly scholar ensured that his posthumous endorsement was sought by a wide range of writers and ecclesiastical leaders, from the seventeenth century nonconformists to the nineteenth century Oxford movement.

Ussher was also a great collector of books and manuscriptsand whose contribution to Irish learning has been often overlooked. He was true bibliophile - the older the better. His Library contained over 10,000 volumes. After his death his relative Henry Jones (a former officer in Cromwell’s army and later vice-chancellor of Trinity College) in 1661 donated the whole of his collection to Trinity College where it is still one of the cornerstones of the Old Library.

Archbishop Ussher is described as well made, and moderately tall, of an erect carriage, with brown hair and a ruddy complexion; his features expressed gravity and benevolence, and his appearance commanded respect and reverence. He was of a vigorous constitution and of simple and temperate habits, which enabled him to bear a life of incessant study; his manners were courteous and affable, his temper sweet and peaceable. He was an impressive preacher, "not with enticing words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and with power." He was of a deeply religious cast of mind — his intolerance being a fault common to all men in that age.

Friday, 20 March 2015

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.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

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.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

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.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

15 March 1852: Lady Gregory was born on this day. Isabella Augusta Persse was an Irish dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager. With William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn she co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies. Lady Gregory produced a number of books of retellings of stories taken from Irish Mythology.

On 4 March 1880 she married Sir William Henry Gregory at St Matthias church in Dublin .As the wife of a knight, she became entitled to be called "Lady Gregory". Their home at Coole Park, County Galway served as an important meeting place for leading Revival figures, and her early work as a member of the board of the Abbey was at least as important for the theatre's development as her creative writings. Sir William, who was 35 years her elder, had just retired from his position as Governor of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), having previously served several terms as Member of Parliament for County Galway. He was a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and the house at Coole Park housed a large library and extensive art collection, both of which Lady Gregory was eager to explore. He also had a house in London, where the couple spent a considerable amount of time, holding weekly salons frequented by many leading literary and artistic figures of the day, Their only child, Robert Gregory was born in 1881. He was killed in World War One.

During her time on the board of the Abbey Theatre before and after the War, Coole Park remained her home and she spent her time in Dublin staying in a number of hotels. At the time of the 1911 national census for example, she was staying in a hotel at 16 South Frederick Street. In these, she ate frugally, often on food she brought with her from home. She frequently used her hotel rooms to interview would-be Abbey dramatists and to entertain the company after opening nights of new plays. She spent many of her days working on her translations in the National Library of Ireland. She gained a reputation as being a somewhat conservative figure.

She is best remembered today for her work in reviving the idea of Celtic Literature as expressed in the old tales and sagas and for her collaboration with William Butler Yeats in making the Abbey Theatre in Dublin the focal point of the ‘Celtic Revival’.

She died at home in Coole Park aged 80 from breast cancer and is buried in the New Cemetery in Bohermore, Co Galway. The entire contents of Coole Park were auctioned three months after her death and the house demolished in 1941.

Her plays fell out of favour after her death and are now rarely performed. Many of the diaries and journals she kept for most of her adult life have been published, providing a rich source of information on Irish literary history during the first three decades of the 20th century. Though her book Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland is still in print.

Lady Gregory's motto was taken from Aristotle: "To think like a wise man, but to express oneself like the common people.''

Friday, 13 March 2015

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 Balinglass. 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.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

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 Turenne) and an 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 with valour against the Dutch at sea but his last taste of battle had been in 1672 after which King Charles (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 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 from the Catholics of Ireland in his endeavour. 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.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

11 March 1597: Dublin was rocked by a huge explosion on the docks by the river Liffey on this day. On a dry and breezy Friday afternoon over 400 years ago the city of Dublin was rocked by the greatest and most deadly explosion ever recorded in its history. At least 126 people were killed and many hundreds more injured by this devastating eruption on the Quays.

The source of the explosion was the many barrells of gunpowder that had been unloaded at the Wood Quay on the south side of the River Liffey. Stored in the open they were awaiting transportation to Dublin Castle where they were to be distributed to the English Army in Ireland. A dangerous situation had arisen due to a labour dispute with the carters and porters whose job it was to move them off the docks. Basically they instituted as 'go slow' that week and with such an accumulation of barrells of powder the potential for a devastating outcome was greatly increased.

The barrells had to be landed by a lighter making its way up the Liffey as the shallow draught of the river back then made it difficult for merchant ships to sail up it. The lighter moored itself adjacent to the City Crane mounted on the Crane House. This was situated more or less where Winetavern St meets the Liffey Quays at Wood Quay.

On that fateful day the craneman was one Stephan Sedgarve. Just as the clock over the Bridge Gate struck the hour of one in the afternoon and as Sedgarve was manouvering the very last four barrells on to the Quay the whole thing went up and blew asunder the hapless craneman, the Crane House and some 20 other dwellings in the vicinity of the eruption. At least 126 people were killed and many hundreds more injured - a casualty list that would have been higher except for the hour of day when many of the Port's officials had departed for lunch and by the fact that most of the carters and porters were some distance off as they were reluctant to move the cargo until their dispute was resolved.

An Official Enquiry under the Lord Mayor Michael Chamberlain was set up to establish what exactly had caused the explosion but no satisfactory explanation was ever reached. There were reports of children rolling a barrell of gunpowder either in play or in theft or that a horse's hoof had let a spark amongst the deadly cargo. But with the immediate area a gaping crater in the ground and all that stood near dead or missing nothing could be said for sure:

Richard Toben, mr porter of Dublin, of the age of 55 yeares or thereabouts likewise sworne and duly examined deposeth, that he this depont being at the Crane, the daie and yeare aforesaid helping to put out the powder, and leaving eche barrell at the Crane dore readie to be carried awaie by suche as the Q. officers had apointed, the children of the streete and other persons there standing idle and not hired, fell a rowling of the powder; but who the children or persons were that so rowld them this depont. did not well note or knowe them.

He further deposeth that Thadie Carroll servant to John Allen, clarke of the Storehouse, was there put taking the note of the barrells, and Patrick Carroll the said Thadies brother was loading the same upon carrs, the owner of one of the carrs his name is Derbie Ferrall, and the owner of the other he knowetil not.

'One hundred and forty-four barrels of powder were sent by the Queen to Dublin, to her people, in the month of March. When the powder was landed, it was drawn to Wine-street, and placed on both sides of the street, and a spark of fire got into the powder; but from whence that spark proceeded, whether from the heavens or from the earth beneath, is not known; howbeit, the barrels burst into one blazing flame and rapid conflagration which raised into the air, from their solid foundations and supporting posts, the stone mansions and wooden houses of the street, so that the long beam, the enormous stone, and the man in his corporal shape, were sent whirling into the air over the town by the explosion of this powerful powder; and it is impossible to enumerate, reckon, or describe the number of honourable persons, of tradesmen of every class, of women and maidens, and of the sons of gentlemen, who had come from all parts of Ireland to be educated in the city, that were destroyed. The quantity of gold, silver, or worldly property, that was destroyed, was no cause of lamentation, compared to the number of people who were injured and killed by that explosion. It was not Wine-street alone that was destroyed on this occasion, but the next quarter of the town to it.'
Annals of the Four Masters

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

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 spendtrift 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 Royal 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. This sowed confusion amongst the English and Scots as many were unable to decide if there really was Royal support for this Revolt or not.

Sir Phelim had mixed success in the years that followed, sometimes doing well in the field but 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. His head was then put on a spike on the bridge across the Liffey in Dublin and his quartered body dispatched to various points in Ireland.

While not a charismatic figure, fate had placed Sir Phelim in a pivotal position in the Autumn of 1641 in Ulster. It was his inability or unwillingness to control many of those who rose in revolt under his name that triggered a series of bloody events that were to have profound effects across what was then the Three Kingdoms of these islands that still resonate with us down to the present day.




Monday, 9 March 2015

9 March 1932: Eamon de Valera was elected President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State in Leinster House on this day. It is believed that that he and his fellow deputies in Fianna Fáil entered the House with revolvers in their pockets, such was their distrust of their ex Civil War opponents in Cosgrave’s defeated Government. They had deep suspicions that a coup d’etat would be attempted by disaffected elements in the Free State Army who would not allow a changeover to take place. But in the event everything went smoothly and parliamentary forms were observed to the letter by all sides.

Of the TDs assembled that day 81 deputies voted in favour of his election and 68 against the motion. De Valera was five seats short of an overall majority but William Norton, leader of the Labour Party committed his seven parliamentary colleagues in ensuring that Dev was elected the President. Cumann na nGaedhael under W.T. Cosgrave, the Farmers Party under Michael Heffernan and most of the Independents voted against his election.

After thanking the House de Valera proposed his Cabinet as follows:

The President himself, in charge of the Department of External Affairs;

Deputy Seán T. O'Kelly, Vice-President, in charge of the Department of Local Government and Public Health;

Deputy Patrick J. Ruttledge, in charge of the Department of Lands and Fisheries;

Deputy Seán F. Lemass, in charge of the Department of Industry and Commerce;

Deputy Seán MacEntee, in charge of the Department of Finance;

Deputy James Ryan, in charge of the Department of Agriculture

Deputy Frank Aiken, in charge of the Department of Defence

Deputy Thomas Derrig, in charge of the Department of Education

Deputy James Geoghegan, in charge of the Department of Justice

Senator Joseph Connolly, in charge of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs

To avoid political embarrassment the Governor General James McNeill came in person to Leinster House to officially announce the result. This was to avoid Dev himself having to make the trip out to the Vice Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park – which was still seen as a symbol of the old Imperial Regime by his supporters.

Eamon de Valera was to remain in power for the next 16 years until he was defeated in the 1948 General Election.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

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 citys’ 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.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

7 March 1921: George Clancy the Mayor of Limerick, and his immediate predecessor, Michael O'Callaghan were shot dead in their homes on this day. Known as ‘the Curfew Murders’, as their houses were raided during the hours of curfew, their deaths shocked the whole City and Country and became International News. Mrs Clancy was wounded in a vain attempt to shield her husband from assassination and Mrs O'Callaghan also witnessed the murder of her spouse. Both victims were distinguished members of the Community and had been involved in the struggle for Independence. Clancy was an ex University Professor and a friend of James Joyce. He is believed to have provided the background for a character in Joyce’s Classic ‘Portrait of an artist as a young man.’ O'Callaghan’s grandfather, Eugene O' Callaghan, was Mayor of Limerick in 1843. A third leading Citizen, Joseph O’Donoghue, was taken from his house that night and found shot dead in a field some hours later.

Their assailants were in Mufti, wore goggles and with their coat collars turned up but it quickly became obvious that the gang in question were serving members of the Crown Forces. Mrs O’Callaghan gathered what evidence she could collect and demanded an Inquest but no inquiry other than a military one was ever carried out. Even the ex British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith stated that members of the RIC (Auxiliaries) were the culprits. However the particular individuals who carried these attacks were never formally identified with the crimes. Many years later in the 1950s a deceased British Officer was named as one of the murderers but no conclusive proof was ever established as to his involvement.

Friday, 6 March 2015

6 March 1988: Three IRA Volunteers were shot dead by members of Britain’s SAS regiment in Gibraltar on this day. They were Mairéad Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann. Their deaths had all the hallmarks of politically sanctioned killings by the British State.

Somehow or other MI5 got wind of plans by the IRA to bomb the changing of the guard in Gibraltar that was carried out with some ceremony by members of the British Military. A plan was put in place - Operation Flavius - to intercept this attempt and kill or capture the members of the IRA involved. In the event no attempt was made to capture and all identified members of the team were cut down without warning.

When Savage, McCann and Farrell—known IRA members—travelled to Spain in preparation for the attack, they were tracked at the request of the British government. On the day of the shootings, Savage was seen parking a white Renault in the car park used as the assembly area for the parade; McCann and Farrell were seen crossing the border shortly afterwards.

After a military bomb-disposal officer reported that Savage's car should be treated as a suspected bomb, the police handed over control of the operation to the SAS. As soldiers were moving into position to intercept the trio, Savage split from McCann and Farrell and began running south. Two soldiers pursued Savage while two approached McCann and Farrell; as they did so, the pair were said to make threatening movements, as a result of which the soldiers opened fire, shooting them multiple times. As soldiers caught up with Savage, he was alleged to have turned around to face them while reaching into his jacket; he was also shot multiple times.

All three were subsequently found to be unarmed, and Savage's car was found to contain no explosives; enquiries resulting from keys found on Farrell led authorities to a second car, containing a large quantity of explosives, in a car park in Spain. In all probability their presence in Gibraltar that day was a ‘test run’ and there was no immediate threat to anyone on the Rock that day.

Their deaths created huge controversy as it was hard to mask the fact that they had been killed in cold blood - a charge the British Government denied but without much success. When the bodies of the deceased were returned to Dublin they were met by thousands of well wishers in the pouring rain at Dublin Airport. The Corteges were escorted to the North by large numbers of vehicles and many more turned out to pay homage as the funeral cars made their way to the Border and back to Belfast. Once the Border was crossed their was a different atmosphere as the Crown Forces clamped down on any open expressions of symathy. Further deaths then followed at their funerals that shocked the Nation and indeed abroad in one of the most dramatic and bloody weeks in recent Irish History.