Tuesday, 28 February 2017

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

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

Irish Republican Army

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 26 February 2017

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

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

Muirchertach was the son of Niall Glundubh who had himself been killed fighting the Vikings at Dublin in‭ ‬919‭ ‬AD.‭ ‬He had fought and won many battles and in one report is mentioned as leading a naval expedition against the Norsemen of the Hebrides.‭ ‬However he suffered an embarrassing episode in‭ ‬939‭ ‬when in a surprise raid his enemies‭’ ‬ships raided his fortress of Aileach‭ (‬outside Derry‭) ‬and carried him off.‭ ‬He was forced to ransom his own release to regain his freedom.‭

‬Muirchertach,‭ ‬under the ancient rule of the kingship of Tara alternating between the northern and southern O’Neills,‭ ‬was due to replace King Donnachadh on the latter’s demise.‭ ‬Sometimes though ambition got the better of him and he clashed with his senior colleague and at other times co-operated with him.‭  ‬Muirchertach married Donnchad's daughter Flann,‭ ‬but relations between the two were not good.‭ ‬Conflict between them is recorded in‭ ‬927,‭ ‬929,‭ ‬and‭ ‬938.

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

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

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

Saturday, 25 February 2017

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25‭ ‬February‭ ‬1570:‭ ‬Saint Pope Pius V [above*] excommunicated Queen Elizabeth of England on this day.‭ ‬He issued a Papal Bull called‭ ‬Regnans in Excelsis‭ (‘‬ruling from on high‭’) ‬that absolved all her subjects from any obligations of allegiance to her. It read in part as follows:‭

"We charge and command all Pope St Pius V, Battle of LePanto, nashville dominicans, Dominican sisters of stand singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication...

‬As Elizabeth claimed Ireland as part of her inheritance this Papal decree released by inference the Catholics of Ireland from any sense of obligation to her they may have felt.‭ ‬While the excommunication was of no personal interest to Elizabeth‭ ‬-‭ ‬who had long since abandoned the Catholic Faith‭ ‬-‭ ‬the political ramifications were profound.‭ ‬The Excommunication made her dealings with the Catholic Powers of Europe more problematical and difficult and increased the chances of Spain under Philip II in particular lending his support to revolts within these islands.

In response she increased anti-Catholic persecution and set out to eliminate the presence of the Jesuits from her Realms.‭ ‬The position of the‭ ‘‬New English‭’ ‬Protestants in Ireland was made even more precarious as the Catholics here saw that the Pope himself was now openly opposed to her rule.‭ ‬The English Monarch did not have a high opinion of the Irish anyway as she expressed in a Letter to Sir Francis Walsingham in that month of February‭ ‬1570:

We have heard and knowne it to be true,‭ ‬that certain savage rebells,‭ ‬being men of no valour,‭ ‬had fled out of our realme of Ireland into Spaine,‭ ‬and to cover their lewdness,‭ ‬and procure both reliefe for themselves and for such like as they are in Ireland,‭ ‬they do pretend their departure out of the land for matter of religion,‭ ‬where indeed they be neither of one nor other religion,‭ ‬but given to beastiality,‭ ‬and yet have they writt enough to shewe hypocrisy for their purpose.

While tenuous on off relations between the Vatican and St James Palace continued in the years after Elizabeth’s reign it was not until the French Revolution that regular envoys were exchanged. Full relations were not established until April 1 1982 when Sir Mark Heath presented his credentials to Pope John Paul II and thus became the United Kingdom’s first ever ambassador to the Holy See.

* Statue of Pope Pius V. Photos by Philip Serracino Inglott & Vincent Ruf

Friday, 24 February 2017

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

It was an embarrassing victory given his previous unchallenged position.‭ ‬On the Nationalist side this election saw the rise of John Hume‭ (‬Independent‭) ‬in the Foyle Constituency of Derry.‭ ‬He defeated the veteran leader of the Nationalist Party Eddie Mc Ateer by‭ ‬8,920‭ ‬votes to‭ ‬5,267‭ ‬in a major upset.‭

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

For O’Neill it was a‭ ‬Pyrrhic‭ ‬Victory for out of the‭ ‬39‭ ‬Unionists returned only‭ ‬27‭ ‬were in support of his policies and‭ ‬12‭ ‬were against or undecided.‭ ‬Four days later he was re-elected as leader of the Unionist Parliamentary Party and thus was confirmed again as the Prime Minister.‭ ‬It was obvious though that his days were clearly numbered.

He retired from Stormont politics in January 1970 when he resigned his seat, having become the Father of the House in the previous year. On 23 January 1970 he was created a life peer as Baron O'Neill of the Maine of Ahoghill in the County of Antrim. He died in England in 1990.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

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

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

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

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

‭* ‬Grand Old Man‭ – ‬Mr Gladstone

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

‭ ‬Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right.

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

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

22 February 1973: Elizabeth Bowen author, socialite and spy[?] died on this day. Of Anglo Irish stock she was born at 15 Herbert Place in the city of Dublin on 7 June 1899. Her parents were Henry Charles Cole Bowen and Florence (née Colley) Bowen. In 1907 her father declined into mental illness and she moved with her mother to England where they took up residence at the seaside town of Hythe in Kent. Tragedy was to strike her again though when her mother died in 1912. After that she was brought up by a committee of Aunts and shunted back and forth between them.

It was only as she grew older that she realised the chasm between the closed world of the Anglo-Irish set she belonged to and the bulk of the Catholic population of Ireland:

‘It was not until after the end of those seven winters that I understood that we Protestants were a minority, and that the unquestioned rules of our being came, in fact, from the closeness of a minority world’...
I took the existence of Roman Catholics for granted but met few and was not interested in them. They were simply “the others,” whose world lay alongside ours but never touched.'
Elizabeth Bowen, Bowen’s Court & Seven Winters: Memories of a Dublin Childhood, (London: Virago, 1984;1942)

After some time at art school in London she decided that her talent lay in writing. She mixed with the Bloomsbury Group, which contained some the most talented and outrageous (for the time) people involved in the London Arts scene. Her first book, a collection of short stories entitled Encounters was published in 1923. It was in that year she married one Alan Cameron. He had served in the Great War in which he was badly gassed. The marriage has been described as "a sexless but contented union." The marriage was reportedly never consummated! She reputedly had numerous extra martial affairs with other men though they stayed married until his death in 1952.

The great love of her life was Charles Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat of great charm and intelligence from a privileged Nova Scotia background. They first met in 1941 and continued an On-Off relationship for over 30 years until her death. She really could not live without knowing that he loved her - but to him she was a fascinating creature though not the absolute centre of his life. He later married another woman and that must have hurt Elizabeth - but there was nothing she could really do about it.

But while an author of some note its clear her personal life was an unsettled one. The loss of her parents while still a child must have had a had a huge impact on her psyche that left her reserved and unsure in human relations though with a great deal of silent perception on the frailties of the human condition. Though somewhat cryptic in style her reading of human nature was what made her novels such gems in the way she described her characters and the rarefied world that they moved through.

Strangely in Ireland she is remembered as much for her writing reports from here during the Second World War to the British Ministry of Information in London about the attitudes and feelings of the Great and the Ordinary towards Britain and the War - for which some have labelled her a ‘Spy’. A matter of opinion really.

She tried to spend as much time as possible at her beloved Bowen’s Court in Cork, the family seat she inherited in 1930. But while it was a idyll away from the drudgery of London its upkeep was a huge burden on her finances. Eventually it led her to a nervous breakdown, a string of unpaid debts and the sale and eventual demolition of Bowens Court in 1960. She returned to London and witnessed the ‘Swinging Sixties’ there. A smoker she developed Lung Cancer in 1972. That year she saw out her last Christmas in Ireland staying with friends in Kinsale Co Cork. She died in London on 22 February 1973, aged 73. She is buried with her husband in Farahy Co Cork  churchyard, close to the gates of Bowen's Court, where there is a memorial plaque to her.

Her best-known novels are The Death of the Heart and The Heat of the Day, but her own favourite was The Last September, published when she was still in her 20s; it was, she said, the work of hers “nearest to my heart”.
Her prose is so subtle and allusive that it would be a disservice to quote from her, but read almost any descriptive passage in The Last September and you will understand her greatness.
John Banville Irish Times 7 March 2015

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

21‭ ‬February‭ ‬1922:‭ ‬A new Police Force,‭ ‬the‭ ‘‬Civic Guard‭’ ‬began its first‭ ‬Recruitment campaign on this day.‭ ‬It was intended to replace the Royal Irish Constabulary as the instrument charged with Law enforcement within the prospective Irish Free State that was due to come into full operation by the end of the year.‭

In January‭ ‬1922,‭ ‬the Provisional Government had decided that the Royal Irish Constabulary was to be disbanded‭ "‬as soon as possible‭"‬.‭ ‬They decided to replace the Republican Police with a regular police force under a trained police officer.‭ ‬Michael Collins had reported to the Provisional Government on‭ ‬28‭ ‬January that a police organising committee was being formed,‭ ‬that would include members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police.‭

‬The committee held their first meeting in the Gresham Hotel on Thursday,‭ ‬9‭ ‬February,‭ ‬with General Richard Mulcahy,‭ ‬Michael Collins,‭ ‬and Michael J.‭ ‬Staines among those in attendance.‭ ‬Work was started immediately under Michael Staines T.D. [above]‭ ‬as the acting chairman.‭ ‬A veteran of the Easter Rising he had been active in‭ ‬the administration of the National Arbitration Courts and the Republican Police during the War of Independence.‭

Volunteer Brigade Officers around the Country were requested to dispatch suitable recruits for training to a temporary headquarters at the Royal Dublin Society in Ballsbridge,‭ ‬Dublin.‭ ‬Any candidates who attended for examination were to be at least‭ ‬5‭' ‬9‭"‬,‭ ‬unmarried and between the ages of‭ ‬19‭ ‬and‭ ‬27.‭ ‬They were compelled to sit examinations in reading spelling and arithmetic to gain entry as cadets.‭ ‬The first man to join the Civic Guard was an ex RIC man P.‭ ‬J.‭ ‬Kerrigan.

However the name‭ ‘‬Civic Guard‭’ ‬was not formally decided upon until‭ ‬27‭ ‬February and on the following‭ ‬10‭ ‬March,‭ ‬Michael Joseph Staines was formally appointed as its first Commissioner.‭ ‬In August of the following year the Police Force of the State was renamed the‭ ‬Garda Síochána
‭ (‬Guardians of the Peace‭) ‬and has remained the name of the Force ever since.‭ ‬Michael Staines was then retrospectively recognised as the first Commissioner of the‭ ‬Garda Síochána.‭ ‬His most famous saying was that:

The Garda Síochána will succeed,‭ ‬not by force of arms or numbers,‭
‬but by their moral authority as servants of the people.

Monday, 20 February 2017

20 February 1644: The Execution of Sir Connor Maguire - ‘The Maguire’ of Fermanagh at Tyburn, London on this day. He was hanged, drawn and quartered for ‘High Treason’. Maguire had been one of the leaders of the 1641 Rising in Ireland and was tasked with seizing Dublin Castle from the English. At the last moment the plans were discovered and the plot was aborted. He was quickly captured and eventually confessed to his role in the affair. In June 1642 he and other prisoners were sent over to London and held in the Tower under severe conditions. They were then sent to Newgate Prison and held as ‘close prisoners’ - bread and water diet in close confinement. Moved back to the Tower they were treated somewhat better. The guard loosened Maguire and others managed to escape but while waiting for a ship to the Continent they were recognised and recaptured after just a few weeks of freedom.

'The peerage in Maguire’s case made a difficulty. There were several precedents for trying in England treasons committed in Ireland. That being admitted as good law, it was easy to show that an Irish peer was a commoner in England, and as such Maguire was tried. Many points of law were raised, but the facts were patent, and he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. On the cart at Tyburn Maguire was cruelly harassed about religious matters, but he remained firm. He carried in his hand some curious papers, partly of a devotional character, with directions as to how he should bear himself. He declared that he forgave all his 'enemies and defenders, even those that have a hand in my death,' and that he died a Roman catholic.'
Dictionary of National Biography

On February 20 1644 Lord Maguire to whom the executioner would have shown some favour by leaving him to hang on the gallows until he should be quite dead and meanwhile the executioner was busy kindling the fire with which his entrails were to be burned after his death but so inhuman were the officers that they totally denied Lord Maguire the services of one of our Fathers on the scaffold and they waited not for the executioner but one of them cut the rope with a halberd and let the Lord Maguire drop alive and then called the executioner to open him alive and very ill the executioner did it the said Lord Maguire making resistance with his hand and defending himself with such little strength as he had; and such was the cruelty that for sheer compassion the executioner bore not to look upon him in such torment, and, to have done with him, speedily handled his knife well and cut his throat.
Letter from Father Hugh Burke, bishop of Kilmacduagh
Eyewitness to Irish History
By Peter Berresford Ellis

Sunday, 19 February 2017

19 February 1921: Brigadier-General s Frank Percy Crozier CB, CMG DSO the head of the ‘ Black and Tans’ submitted his resignation on this day. The General was disgusted at the undisciplined antics of many of the ‘cadets’  under his command of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary  (RIC). He had made inquiries that seemed to him to point the finger of blame at men under his nominal control in the murder of Father Griffin in Galway and the projected murder of Bishop Fogarty. He had sent back in disgrace 21 of the more outrageous members of his force to Britain only to discover that General Tudor, the overall head of the RIC, had recalled them for duty in Ireland. This proved a catalyst in Crozier deciding to resign his position. 

Following questions put to Sir Hamar Greenwood, Chief Secretary for Ireland, by the Irish MP Captain Redmond in the House of Commons this news became public and the affair became an open scandal. The notorious reputation of the ‘Black & Tans’ was further enhanced and their bloody reign was now open for all to see.

Born in Bermuda in 1879 Crozier spent a great deal of his youth in Ireland but was educated in England. He had seen active service in the Boer War and later in Northern Nigeria. He served in World War One leading the 9th Royal Irish Rifles, whose rank and file were drawn from Loyalist West Belfast. He led them 'over the top' on 1 July 1916 and displayed great bravery but also ruthlessness against those who wilted in the advance on the German positions. He was a hard man if ever there was one and an Empire Loyalist to boot. He was somewhat eccentric in his opinions and actions and not everyone found him a trustworthy character. But even he found the actions of some of his subordinates unacceptable and of course no fighting force can survive if discipline is not enforced. In this instance he really had no choice but to resign once his Authority over his men was flouted  by those above him in the Chain of Command.

Crozier drifted off into obscurity after this and spent his last years putting his energies and pen to the cause of peace,  denouncing war as a means of settling international disputes in a series of books that sought to portray war with uncompromising brutality. These included ‘A Brass Hat in No Mans Land’ about his time on the Western Front with amongst others the 36th Ulster Division and  ‘Ireland Forever’ on his time in charge of the ‘Black & Tans’. He died in 1937.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

18 February 1366: The Viceroy, Lionel Duke of Clarence summoned a Parliament at Kilkenny on this day. From this emerged in the following year the series of infamous ordinances that became popularly known as the ‘Statutes of Kilkenny’ and were designed to put a legal framework on the division of Ireland into two separate peoples: the English and the Irish. In fact it was one Statute and contained thirty-five articles of note.

It was officially entitled:

A Statute of the Fortieth Year of King Edward III., enacted in a parliament held in Kilkenny, A.D. 1367, before Lionel Duke of Clarence, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland

For instance if any man took a name after the Irish fashion, used the Irish language, or dress, or mode of riding (without saddle), or adopted any other Irish customs, all his lands and houses were forfeited, and he himself was put into jail till he could find security that he would comply with the law. The Irish living among the English were permitted to remain, but were forbidden to use the Irish language under the same penalty. To use or submit to the Brehon law [Gaelic Law] or to exact 'coyne and livery' [extractions and billeting of soldiers on households] was treason. The Irish game of Hurling was also banned - a game which is still played today - esp in Kilkenny!

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

Lionel was the third son of King Edward III [above] and certainly was well placed to have the King’s ear on matters relating to how to rule over Ireland. Nevertheless the Duke of Clarence did not have much success in Ireland and these measures were more the result of desperation than the confident exercise of power by him. They were more an attempt to hold back the tide as the English Colony in Ireland continued to disintegrate and shrink in size and influence.

Bizarrely the noble Duke was not long to survive his sojourn in Ireland, some years later he died suddenly at Alba in the province of Piedmont in northern Italy while enjoying the comforts of his second wife, one Violante Visconti, daughter of the Lord of Pavia. He was probably poisoned by his father in Law in order to block the enormous Dowry he demanded as payment for marrying the man’s daughter!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

15 February‭ ‬1853:‭ ‬The loss of the paddle steamship,‭ ‬the Queen Victoria on this day.‭ ‬She went down on the rocks off the Bailey Lighthouse on Howth head on this day.‭ ‬Over‭ ‬80‭ ‬lives were lost as she struck this outcrop of the peninsula in a blinding snowstorm.
This precipitous portion of the coast was the scene of a lamentable shipping disaster in‭ ‬1853.‭ ‬The steamship‭ ‬Queen Victoria,‭ ‬on a voyage from Liverpool to Dublin,‭ ‬with about‭ ‬100‭ ‬passengers and cargo,‭ ‬struck on the southern side of the Casana rock during a dense snowstorm,‭ ‬between‭ ‬2‭ ‬and‭ ‬3‭ ‬o'clock on the morning of the‭ ‬15th February.‭ ‬Eight of the passengers managed to scramble overboard on to the rocks,‭ ‬from which they made their way up the cliffs to the Bailey Lighthouse.‭ ‬The captain,‭ ‬without further delay,‭ ‬ordered the vessel to be backed,‭ ‬so as to float her clear of the rocks,‭ ‬but she proved to be more seriously injured than was imagined,‭ ‬and began to fill rapidly when she got into deep water.‭ ‬Drifting helplessly towards the Bailey,‭ ‬she struck the rocky base of the Lighthouse promontory,‭ ‬and sank in fifteen minutes afterwards,‭ ‬with her bowsprit touching the shore.‭ ‬The‭ ‬Roscommon‭ ‬steamer fortunately happened to pass while the ill-fated vessel was sinking,‭ ‬and,‭ ‬attracted by the signals of distress,‭ ‬Promptly put out all her boats and rescued between‭ ‬40‭ ‬and‭ ‬50‭ ‬of the passengers.‭ ‬About‭ ‬60,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬were drowned,‭ ‬including the captain.

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

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

From‭ ‬:‭ ‬The Neighbourhood of Dublin by Weston St.‭ ‬John Joyce.

A subsequent Board of Trade inquiry blamed the ship's captain and first officer, as well as the lighthouse crew. A fog bell was supposed to have been installed in the lighthouse in 1846, seven years earlier, but was delayed due to costs of other construction projects. The bell was finally installed in April 1853, as a result of the Queen Victoria shipwreck and the subsequent inquiry.

At least one attempt to raise the ship was made afterwards, which failed, and the ship was salvaged where she lay. The wreck is still in place.

Members of the Marlin Sun Aqua Club, Dublin discovered the wreck in 1983. They reported their discovery to the authorities, and were in part responsible for having the first Underwater Preservation Order placed on a shipwreck in Irish waters. They also carried out the first underwater survey on such a wreck. The wreck was the first to be protected by The National Monuments Act (Historic Wreck), when the order was granted in 1984, thanks to representations made by Kevin Crothers, IUART, and the Maritime Institute of Ireland


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

13/14 February 1981: 48 young people, with an average age of 19, died in a fire at the Stardust Ballroom in Artane, Dublin on this day. The origin, source and cause of the fire still remain a mystery but what is not in doubt is that the huge loss of life was caused by inadequate safety measures. The building was not purpose built as a place of entertainment. It was in fact a converted jam factory that obviously was not designed to hold within its walls so many people for such a purpose. Even more astonishing is that many of the fire exits were chained shut, ostensibly to avoid people entering the premises without paying. The victims were all young people enjoying a night out and the fire spread so rapidly that panic ensued as the lights went out and acrid thick smoke quickly engulfed the premises. Hundreds fled for their lives as the building went up in minutes. The failure of the lighting in the club led to widespread panic causing mass trampling as many of the patrons instinctively ran for the main entrance. Many people mistook the entrance to the men's toilets for the main entrance doors but the windows there had metal plates fixed on the inside and iron bars on the outside. Firemen attempted in vain to pull off the metal bars using a chain attached to a fire engine. Firemen rescued between 25-30 of those trapped in the front toilets.

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

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

To this day no certain cause as to how the fire started has been established - whether it was arson or accident

The names of those who died are:

Michael Barrett, Raheny, Dublin 5.

Richard Bennett, Coolock, Dublin 5

Carol Bissett, Ringsend, Dublin 4.

James Buckley, Donnycarney, Dublin 5.

Paula Byrne, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Caroline Carey, Coolock, Dublin 5.

John Colgan, Swords, Co. Dublin.

Jacqueline Croker, Killmore West, Dublin 5.

Liam Dunne, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Michael Farrell, Coolock, Dublin 5.

David Flood, Beaumount, Dublin 5.

Thelma Frazer, Sandymount, Dublin 4.

Michael French, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Josephine Glenn, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Michael Griffiths, Killmore, Dublin 5.

Robert Hillock, Twinbrook, Belfast.

Brian Hobbs, Whitehall, Dublin 9.

Eugene Hogan, Artane, Dublin 5.

Murtagh Kavanagh, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Martina Keegan, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Mary Keegan, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Robert Kelly, Raheny, Dublin 5.

Mary Kennedy, Killbarrack, Dublin 5.

Mary Kenny, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Margaret Kiernan, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Sandra Lawless, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Francis Lawlor, Finglas, Dublin 11.

Maureen Lawlor, Finglas, Dublin 11.

Paula Lewis, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Eamon Loughman, Beaumont, Dublin 9.

George McDermott Raheny, Dublin 5.

Marcella McDermott, Raheny, Dublin 5.

William McDermott, Raheny, Dublin 5.

Julie McDonnell, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Teresa McDonnell, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Gerard McGrath, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Caroline McHugh, Artane, Dublin 5.

Donna Mahon, Raheny, Dublin 5.

Helena Mangan, Coolock,

James Millar, Twinbrook, Belfast.

Susan Morgan, Derry.

David Morton, Artane, Dublin 5.

Kathleen Muldoon Kells, Co. Meath.

George O'Conner, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Brendan O'Meara Coolock, Dublin 5.

John Stout, Coolock, Dublin 5.

Margaret Thornton, Dublin 8.

Paul Wade, Artane, Dublin 5.

and not forgetting the 215 injured...

Monday, 13 February 2017

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

His play Robin Hood (1784) was playing in Dublin on the night in 1798 when Lord Edward Fitzgerald was captured on foot of information he had provided. During the Rising of 1798 and in 1803 he found himself in the bizarre situation of taking money both from revolutionary defendants before the Courts and from Dublin Castle for providing them with information that would compromise his clients. While some had their doubts, and indeed one ‘doubter’ sent him a snake in a parcel from America as a token of gratitude, his dark secret remained hidden until his death in 1820. Ironically he was given a Patriots funeral. It was only when his family demanded that his pension of £300  per annum be continued that his secret life as a traitor was exposed.

He died at 22 Harcourt-street Dublin, 13th February 1820, aged 68. Then only did his treachery appear. His heir claimed a continuance of a secret service pension of £300 a year, which his father had enjoyed since 1798. The Lord-Lieutenant demanded a detailed statement of the circumstances under which the agreement had been made; it was furnished after some hesitation, and the startling fact became generally known, not only that he had been in regular receipt of the pension claimed, but that during the state trials of 1798 and 1803, while he was receiving fees from the prisoners to defend them, he also accepted large sums from Government to betray the secrets of their defence. The Cornwallis Correspondence, Madden's Lives of the United Irishmen, and communications from Mr. FitzPatrick in Notes and Queries, 2nd Series, put all this beyond doubt.

A Compendium of Irish Biography: Richard Webb Dublin 1878


Sunday, 12 February 2017

12 February 1976: The Hunger Striker Frank Stagg died after 61 days on hunger strike in Wakefield Prison, Yorkshire, on this day. He had been on hunger strike in protest at the British government's refusal to transfer him to a prison in Ireland. He had been arrested in Coventry in 1973 and had been given a sentence of 10 years for criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. He initially went on Hunger Strike in 1974 along with others to gain repatriation to Ireland. In this strike his comrade Michael Gaughan died and Stagg felt a degree of moral responsibility for convincing him to embark upon it.

While other hunger strikers were sent back the British refused to move Stagg and he was incarcerated in Long Lartin Prison. Here he was subjected to prolonged periods of Solitary Confinement for and again went on hunger strike. Eventually the Prison Governor relented and Stagg called off his strike. In 1975 he was transferred to Wakefield Prison where he again refused to do prison work. Just before Christmas that year he and others again embarked on a Hunger strike. Their demand were: An end to Solitary Confinement; No Prison Work and Repatriation to Ireland. He died on 12 February 1976.

When his body was returned to Ireland his coffin was seized by the Government and buried under concrete so that it could not be interred in the Republican Plot in Ballina, Co Mayo. However in November 1976, a group of republicans tunnelled under the concrete to recover the coffin under cover of darkness and reburied it in the Republican plot.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

The night of his death coincided with a great astronomical event over the skies of Ireland when what was perhaps a large comet or meteor swept by the Earth at a very close distance overhead:

Now,‭ ‬a great marvel was wrought on the night he died,‭—‬the night was illuminated from Nocturne to the call of the cock and the whole world‭ [‬was‭] ‬a-blaze and a large mass of fire arose over the place and went south-east and every one arose,‭ ‬it seemed to them it was the day.‭ ‬And it was like that by the sea on the east.

Annals of Ulster‭ ‬1173

Thursday, 9 February 2017

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9 February 1815: Ellen Hutchins, Ireland’s first Lady botanist, died on this day. Miss Hutchins was a self effacing girl who kept herself to herself and steered a lonely path through this world. For solace in her life she turned to the study of the Natural World in the shores and creeks of her native Bantry in south west Ireland.Her pionerring work helped lay the foundations of the study of this Country’s Natural Flora and Fauna.

Ellen was born in 1785 at Ballylickey House, Bantry, Co. Cork, one of the six surviving children of Thomas and Elinor Huchins. Her father was a wealthy protestant tenant of a catholic landowner, Lord Kenmare. But her father died when she was very young and eventually she was packed off the Dublin to stay with a Dr William Stokes and his family at Harcourt Street, Dublin. Dr Stokes was Professor of Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons from 1800 and he had a keen interest in botany, founding the Botanic Gardens at Trinity in 1806.  It was through Dr Stokes that Ellen met the next of her mentors, James Townsend Mackay, the first curator of Trinity’s Botanic Garden.

‘Ellen’s particular branch was in cryptogamic botany, the study of non-flowering plants (the term ‘cryptogam’ does indeed come from the same root as ‘cryptic’). These algae, mosses, liverworts and seaweeds to which Ellen devoted her keenest attentions, were vastly understudied compared to the more easily observed flowering plants. In addition, Ellen was collecting specimens in the Bantry Bay environs, an area containing an interesting dispersal of rare flora. The combination of very good eyesight and great artistic talent meant that she could render the fine detail of species in exquisite detail.’ [as above]

‘Her field work was done in the Bantry environs in her early twenties. Between 1809 and 1811, she identified and listed (in Latin) around 1100 plants around Bantry Bay. Her distant cousin and friend Thomas Taylor most likely got her on to collecting shells and she began studying molluscs.’
Source:Charlotte Salter-Townshend @  http://womensmuseumofireland.ie/articles/ellen-hutchins-1785-1815

But alas Ellen’s life was not a happy one. She had been forced to return to the family home in Bantry to look after her aging mother and her brother who was an invalid. Her outings in search of specimens was her only break from a life of drudgery and toil. To make matters worse her elder brother kicked them out of the family home and they had to move away. Ellen herself was sick herself by this stage.  She was consumptive and taking mercury for a liver complaint – the effects of which had reduced the young woman to ‘a mere skeleton’.

Eventually her situation overwhelmed her and it would appear she did away with herself. She was buried in an unmarked site outside the south wall of Garryvurcha Church, Bantry. Her invalid brother Thomas passed away a few months later.

William Henry Harvey, who was greatly influenced by the work of Ellen Hutchins. Years after her death, wrote in 1847 of her lasting effect on Irish botany in his work Phycologiae Brittanica:
‘[Her] name is held in grateful remembrance by botanists in all parts of the world. To her the botany of Ireland is under many obligations, particularly the cryptogamic branch, in which field until her time little explored. She was particularly fortunate in detecting new and beautiful objects, several of which remain the rarest species to the present day.’


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

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

His valedictory address in the House was almost inaudible and those assembled to hear what would clearly be his last speech before them strained to catch his softly spoken words.‭ ‬Observers reflected that he was but a dim shadow of his former self.‭ ‬He that on so many previous occasions had roused the House to heights and depths of emotions now struggled to exert himself so that his message of appeal could be heard and acted upon.‭ ‬He told the members that he had come to plead for the last time for Ireland.‭ ‬He made an accurate but terrible prophecy and that was:

Ireland is in your hands...‭ ‬your power.‭ ‬If you do not save her she can't save herself...‭ ‬I predict...‭ ‬that one quarter of the population will perish unless you come to her relief.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Annals of the Four Masters recorded Diarmait’s death as follows:

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

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

Sunday, 5 February 2017

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

I am the son of an honest man‭; ‬a minister of that gospel which breathes peace and goodwill among men‭; ‬a Protestant Dissenting minister,‭ ‬in the town of Belfast‭; ‬who[se‭] ‬spirit I am accustomed to look up,‭ ‬in every trying situation,‭ ‬as my mediator and intercessor with Heaven.

Drennan came to National attention when in‭ ‬1784‭ ‬and‭ ‬1785‭ ‬his‭ ‬Letters of Orellana,‭ ‬an Irish Helot were published.‭ ‬These were the earliest expressions of his support for radical constitutional reform,‭ ‬Catholic Emancipation and civil rights.

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

A benevolent conspiracy—a plot for the people—no Whig Club—no party title—the Brotherhood its name—the rights of man and the greatest happiness of the greatest number its end—its general end,‭ ‬real independence to Ireland and republicanism its particular purpose—its business,‭ ‬every means to accomplish these ends as speedily as the prejudices and bigotry of the land we live in would permit.

In‭ ‬1795‭ ‬he wrote his poem‭ ‘‬Erin‭’ ‬which is credited with the first use of the term‭ ‘‬the Emerald Isle‭’ ‬to describe Ireland:

Nor one feeling of vengeance presume to defile‭
‬The cause,‭ ‬or the men,‭ ‬of the Emerald Isle.‭

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

But his days of danger were now over and as his active political life receded he used his pen to attack Tyranny.‭ ‬His poem‭ ‬The Wake of William Orr in‭ ‬1797‭ ‬stirred passions that were to foment further opposition towards Orr’s executioners and the Government that paid them.‭ ‬However he kept well clear of the terrible events of‭ ‬1798.‭

In‭ ‬1800‭ ‬he married an English Lady,‭ ‬Sarah Swanwick,‭ ‬and spent some years in the north of England moving in the Literary and Social circles there.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1807‭ ‬he gave up Medicine and returned to Belfast.‭ ‬He founded and edited the radical‭ ‬Belfast Monthly Magazine and was a leading supporter of the Belfast Academical Institution,‭ ‬a doomed attempt to bring to Belfast both secondary and higher level education,‭ ‬open to pupils from both sides of the religious divide.

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

Saturday, 4 February 2017

4 February 1974: The M62 Coach bombing on this day: Eleven people - including eight British soldiers and two young children - were killed, and 12 seriously injured, when the coach they were travelling in was blown up by an IRA bomb in England.

The private coach was carrying more than 50 people and making its way from Manchester, along the M62, towards a British army base in Catterick, North Yorkshire, when an explosive device in the rear of the vehicle detonated. The explosion happened just after midnight on the eastbound carriageway between Chain Bar, near Bradford and Drightlington, south of Leeds. It could be heard over an area of several miles and scattered bodies for 250 yards along the road.

The coach was carrying soldiers and their families who had been on a weekend break; some of the servicemen were travelling to RAF Leeming, near Darlington. A family of four - Cpl Clifford Haughton, his wife Linda, who were both 23, and their two sons, Lee, five, and Robert, three - were among the dead.

An Englishwoman Judith Ward was convicted of this attack and spent 18 years in prison as a result. At the time of her trial Ward's father, Thomas, had said earlier he did not believe his daughter was capable of such "brutal and callous acts". Her brother, Tommy, said none of the family thought Judith had ever been in the IRA. "We don't think she was so heavily involved. There has been a lot of romancing," he said.

That was a point echoed in court by Ward's solicitor, Andrew Rankin QC, who highlighted many improbabilities in her confessions. They included having been married to an IRA man and having borne a child by another.

Her conviction was always suspect but it took 18 years before it was overturned in 1992 and she was released from captivity. It was one of a series of convictions in the British Courts in the 1970s that were seen by many as 'miscarriages of justice' and that further marred Anglo Irish relations at that time.

Friday, 3 February 2017

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3 February 1917: Sinn Féin won its first parliamentary election on this day. It was dubbed “The Election of the Snows” due to the inclement weather prevalent at the time. Its candidate Count George Noble Plunkett took the seat by defeating the candidate of the Irish Parliamentary Party. He was the father of Joseph Mary Plunkett who had been shot by the British for being one of the Leaders of the Easter Rising in1916.

It was a contest between three candidates: Thomas Devine who sought to retain the seat for the Irish Parliamentary Party; Count George Noble Plunkett and the local newspaper owner and editor Jasper Tully of the Roscommon Herald who ran as an independent. All three candidates have professed themselves to be confident of success. Count Plunkett was elected with 3,022 votes to Devine’s 1,708 and Tully’s 687.

Amid scenes of jubilation Count Plunkett  announced that Sinn Féin’s policy regarding Westminster was one of abstentionism and said:

My place henceforth will be beside you in your own country, for it is in Ireland, that the battle of Irish liberty will be fought. I recognise no parliament in existence, as having a right over the people of Ireland, just as I deny the right of England to an inch of the soil of Ireland. I do not think I will go further than the old house in College Green to represent you. I am sent by Ireland to represent you in Ireland; to stand by you and to win Ireland’s freedom upon her own soil.

His election sent a clear message that the days of popular support for the old Irish Parliamentary Party were effectively over and a new political movement was abroad - one that would not send its representatives to London but seek to establish an Irish Parliament in Dublin - free from British Rule.