Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The painting depicting the tragedy

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

Captained by the 55 year old James Ferguson, the vessel left Stranraer's railway loading pier at 07:45 AM with 44 tons of cargo, 128 passengers and 51 crew. Captain Ferguson had served as master on various ferries on the same route for 17 years. A gale warning was in force but he made the decision to put to sea.

There were 44 survivors, notably none of the women and children on board were rescued but neither were any the ship's officers either incl Captain Ferguson. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a lifeboat containing at least some of the women and children being smashed against the side of the Princess Victoria by the huge waves. The disaster shocked many people because, although it took place in extreme weather conditions, it involved a routine journey, on a relatively short crossing (20 miles) in what were believed to be safe waters.

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

The Court of Enquiry into the sinking, held in March 1953 at Crumlin Road Courthouse in Belfast found that the Princess Victoria was lost due to a combination of factors. In a report of 30,000 pages the enquiry found that: firstly, the stern doors were not sufficiently robust.

Secondly, arrangements for clearing water from the car deck were inadequate. The report concluded "If the Princess Victoria had been as staunch as those who manned her, then all would have been well and the disaster averted."

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

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

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

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

30 January 1972: Bloody Sunday –  British soldiers shot 26 people taking part in a Civil Rights March in Derry City. 13  were killed that day and another man died of his wounds. Widespread condemnation followed throughout Ireland and abroad. The British Army claimed that its soldiers had fired at identifiable gunmen and bombers. The participants and survivors of the March and many independent witnesses refuted this.

The shootings took place as a major Civil Rights March was coming to an end. Sporadic rioting had broken out involving some hundreds of youths and members of the British Army. These developments were not unexpected and not seen as out of the ordinary at the time.  Then for some reason never satisfactorily explained members of the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment  who were deployed in the City that day opened indiscriminate fire on rioters and innocent bystanders alike, shooting many people and arresting many more.  At the time panic and fear were quickly replaced by anger and grief. These gruesome events were a watershed for many Irish People and undermined any conception that the British were neutral in the North of Ireland.

The men shot dead that day were:

Patrick ('Paddy') Doherty ( 31)

Gerald Donaghy (17)

John ('Jackie ') Duddy (17)

Hugh Gilmour (17)

Michael Kelly (17)

Michael McDaid (20)

Kevin McElhinney (17)

Bernard D('Barney') lMcGuigan (41)

Gerald McKinney (35)

William ('Williee') McKinney  (26)

William Nash (19 )

James ('Jim')  Wray (22)

John Young (17)

John Johnston (59 ) – died 16  June 1972.

Monday, 29 January 2018

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29 January circa 598AD: Feast day of Saint Dallán Forgaill. Saint Dallán's given name was Eochaid, his father was Colla, and his mother was Forgall. His nickname, Dallán ("little blind one"), was earned after he lost his sight, reputedly as a result of studying intensively. He was born in Maigen near what is now Ballyconnel Co Cavan circa 530AD.

He is famous for writing poetry in particular Amhra Coluim Cille - a poem in praise of St Columba and considered one of the most important poems we have from the early medieval Gaelic world. The "Amhra Coluim Cille" became a popular text for students in Irish monasteries. He also said to have wrote Rop Tú Mo Baile /Be Thou My Vision; it opens with the lines:

Rop tú mo baile, a Choimdiu cride
Be thou my vision O Lord

This has been set to music in modern times and is a prayer that belongs to a type known as a lorica - a prayer for protection.

Saint Dallán was killed while visiting his colleague Saint Conall Cael at his monastery on Inis keel/Inis Caoil [above] off the coast of Donegal when pirates raided the island. Dallán  was reportedly beheaded.  He was buried on Iniskeel, his friend Conall Cael was later laid to rest in the same grave. Today the island has no inhabitants.

Dallán was recognised as the Chief Ollam of Ireland - the Bard with the most status in the Country really and was also a noted Latin Scholar.

The following works are attributed to Dallán, although some may be later works by other poets who credited Dallán with authorship in order to make their poems more famous.

1. Amra Conall Coel

2. Dubgilla dub-airm n-aisse

3. Fo réir Coluim cén ad-fías

4. Conn cet cathach a righi

5. Rop tú mo baile

Sunday, 28 January 2018

28 January 1939:  The death of William Butler Yeats on this day. He died at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, in the south of France.  He was Ireland’s most distinguished poet and playwright of the 20th Century. Yeats’ works drew heavily on Irish mythology and history. He never fully embraced his Protestant past or the Catholic Religion but he devoted much of his life to study in numerous subjects including theosophy,  mysticism, spiritualism, and the Kabala.

He was born on  13 of June 1865 in Sandymount in County Dublin, Ireland.  His father was John Butler Yeats, a well known portrait painter and his mother was Susan Mary Pollexfen who was the daughter of a wealthy family from County Sligo. In 1884 Yeats enrolled in the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin during which some of his first poems were printed in the Dublin University Review. He afterwards moved to London where his father was based though he was often homesick for Ireland. Though he visited Sligo almost every summer. He spent time in the British Museum of Natural History doing research for such collaborations as  Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry ( 1888), Irish Fairy Tales (1892) , and A Book of Irish Verse (1895).

In 1894 Yeats met Lady Augusta Gregory of Coole Park and he became involved with The Irish Literary Theatre, which became the Abbey Theatre. One of the first plays to be performed there was Yeats’  Cathleen ni Houlihan, with Maud Gonne in the title role. The Abbey Theatre opened in December of 1904  and became the flagship for leading Irish playwrights and actors. Yeats’ On Baile’s Strand was one of its first productions. Of his many dramatic and successful works to follow,  The Countess Cathleen (1892),  The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894) and The King’s Threshold (1904) are among his best known.

As a successful poet and playwright, in 1903 Yeats went on a lecture tour of the United States, and again in 1914, 1920, and 1932. Yeats and his sisters started the Cuala Press in 1904, which would print over seventy titles. At the age of forty-six, Yeats met Georgie (George) Hyde Lees  (1892-1968) and they married on the 20 October, 1917. They had two children Anne (born 1919 ) and Michael who was born in 1921.

In 1916 the Easter Rising occurred in Dublin, and some of Yeats’ s friends participated in it. This prompted his poem Easter  (Sept. 1916). In this year the first volume of Yeats’ autobiography Reveries over Childhood and Youth was published, with the second following in 1922 titled The Trembling of the Veil. In 1917 Yeats bought a Norman tower near Coole Park in Galway for his summer home.  The Wild Swans at Coole was then published in 1919.

In 1922 Yeats received an Honorary degree from Trinity College,  Dublin. He was elected to the Irish Free State Senate in the same year, and he served for six years before resigning due to failing health. In December of  1923  he established his International reputation when he was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature. He continued to work on his essays, poetry and the poetry anthology Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935. . As well as Coole Park he also spent time in his home ‘Riversdale’ at Rathfarnham, Dublin but also spent a number of winters abroad.

When he died in France at the age of 73  he was first buried there, but in 1948, in accordance with his wishes he was re-interred “under bare Ben Bulben’s head” in Drumcliff churchyard,  County Sligo. His epitaph reads:

Cast a cold eye

On life, on death.

Horseman, pass by.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

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27 January 1944: Ada English - Patriot and Psychiatrist – died on this day.
Ada English (1875-1944) grew up in Mullingar, where her father was a pharmacist and town commissioner. She studied medicine at the Catholic University School of Medicine, Cecilia Street (now Temple Bar), and worked at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Richmond Asylum, and Temple Street, before becoming assistant resident medical superintendent at Connaught District Lunatic Asylum in Ballinasloe in 1904. Ada spent four decades working tirelessly at the Ballinasloe hospital, until her retirement in 1942.

Brendan Kelly Irish Times 13 October 2014

These are the bare bones of the Life of Ada English. However her time on this earth was one filled with a pioneering spirit that pushed the boundaries of what was possible in this Country both on how we govern our own affairs and in how we treat our mentally ill.

Adeline English was born in 1875 in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry into a middle class family. Her father was a pharmacist and a member of the Mullingar Town Commissioners while her grandfather, Richard, had been Master of the Old Castle Workhouse in the town. She was educated at the Loreto Convent in Mullingar and graduated from Royal University of Ireland (she attended Queen's College Galway) in 1903, reputedly as one of the first female psychiatrists in Ireland.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors, unlike psychologists, and must evaluate patients to determine whether their symptoms are the result of a physical illness, a combination of physical and mental ailments, or strictly psychiatric.

She seems to have made some impression there as Mary Macken (later Professor) remembered her:
I remember her crisp blond hair, remarkable eyes and fascinating lisp. She struck me as being singularly adult. She was in fact some years my senior and tolerant of everything except incompetence or willingness on our part to put up with it. For she burned to get at her real work of medicine; it was for her as much a vocation as a profession.

Ada English- Patriot and Psychiatrist
Brendan Kelly Dublin 2014

At the time Ada started in her profession the treatment of mental illness in this Country was very different from now. The treatment of those with mental distress was based on incarcerating people in vast institutions with very little in the way of creature comforts or outlets for those unfortunate to be placed in them.

For a short period, she had an appointment at a London hospital before, in 1904, taking the position of assistant RMS at the Lunatic Asylum (now St Bridget's Hospital), in Ballinasloe. When she started working at Ballinasloe in 1904, the asylum housed 1,293 patients, 774 of whom were males and 519 who were females. This number was to rise to close on 2,000! It was here that she developed the practice of the use of Occupational Therapy as a therapeutic to help to relieve the boredom and distress of the inmates. Ballinasloe was the first mental institution in Ireland to use electric convulsive therapy to administer shock therapy to patients – a controversial practice but still in use today on a more limited scale.

Ada English was also a committed Nationalist and Republican. Almost her first act in arriving in Ballinasloe was to have the buttons on the staff tunics removed (minted with Queen Victoria) and replaced with Galway’s coat of arms.

She was out in Easter 1916 with the Volunteers in Athenry and was jailed by the British in 1920 and spent six months in prison for ‘seditious literature’. In 1921 she was returned unopposed to represent the NUI constituency in Dáil Éireann. She opposed the subsequent Treaty with Britain and spoke against it in the Treaty Debates:

I think it is wrong; I have various reasons for objecting to it, but the main one is that, in my opinion, it was wrong against Ireland, and a sin against Ireland. I do not like talking here about oaths… but certainly, while those oaths are in it, oaths in which we are asked to accept the King of England as head of the Irish State, and we are asked to accept the status of British citizens—British subjects—that we cannot accept.

Ada lost her seat at the subsequent election in June 1922 but did not drop her interest in politics. She assisted anti-Treatyites during the Civil War and served in a medical capacity in the Dublin battles of July 1922. She maintained her opposition to the Treaty and refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Irish Free State. Along with other members of the rump 2nd Dáil, she played a part in that during the 1920s which saw itself as the true government of the Irish Republic.

She died in 1944 in Ballinasloe a much respected figure both locally and nationally. She is buried in Creagh Cemetery in Ballinasloe

Friday, 26 January 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 January 2018

25‭ ‬January‭ ‬1356:‭ ‬Maurice FitzThomas Fitzgerald,‭ ‬the‭ ‬1st Earl of Desmond,‭ ‬died in Dublin Castle on this day.‭ ‬He was the first in a long line of the holders of this powerful name that ruled over much of south and southwest Ireland during the late Middle Ages. [above]‭ ‬The name Desmond derived from the Gaelic name‭ ‬Deasmhumhain,‭ ‬which means south Munster.‭ ‬An ambitious Anglo-Irish Freebooter at a time when Ireland was divided between the Gaels and the English he led a mixed force of English and Irish soldiers and into which Force he accepted any man willing to fight on his side.‭

‬These bands were known as‭ ‘‬MacThomas’s Rout‭’ ‬and terrorised the towns and the countryside wherever they made their appearance.

‭ ‬He was later accused by other Colonialists that he:‭
‬‘had filled his heart with such pride and ambition that he thought to obtain the whole of Ireland for his own and to crown himself a false king‭’

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

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

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

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

However his enjoyment of such new found power was to be of short duration for he died in Dublin Castle on‭ ‬25‭ ‬January‭ ‬1356‭ ‬just months after acceding to the position.‭ ‬He was interred in the Church of the Friars-preachers in Tralee and succeeded in the Earldom by his son Maurice,‭ ‬the‭ ‬2nd Earl of Desmond.