Thursday, 31 December 2020


31‭ ‬December 1961: Radio Telefís Éireann [RTE] was launched on this day. It was originally intended that the first Live broadcast would be on Christmas Eve. However Eamon Andrews (of This is Your Life fame) who was at the time the Chairman of the Radio Éireann Authority, gave everybody a break over the Christmas so the initial broadcast (on Channel 7) went ahead on the last night of the year. The station launched at 7 pm and President Eamon de Valera was the first person to address the Nation on RTE  to officially launch the Station. 

He gave a cautious welcome to the arrival of television in Ireland,‭ and expressed the hope that the new media would provide sources of recreation and pleasure, but also information, instruction and knowledge. However, he admitted to being somewhat afraid, as "Never before was there in the hands of men an instrument so powerful to influence the thoughts and actions of the multitude."

He believed that the new medium,‭ ‬like Atomic power had the ability to do incalculable good or irreparable harm and that he felt it was the viewers would ultimately decide what kind of programs they got to see. 

The President was followed by the Primate of All Ireland,‭ ‬Cardinal d'Alton, who also sounded a note of caution regarding how things might develop.  The latter part of the first night was a live concert from the Gresham Hotel in Dublin  and featured the Chairman of the Radio Eireann Authority, Eamonn Andrews, Patrick O'Hagan, the Artane Boys Band and the voice of Micheal O hEithir who was the commentator on the night’s proceedings. 

While a limited numbers of viewers had been able to pick up poor quality TV signals from the BBC and UTV up until then,‭ this event marked the real birth of the Television Age in the Republic and within a few short years nearly every home had a TV set as a central part of their household.‬

However the rapid growth of television viewing in Ireland during the‭ 1960’s helped to transform the nature of society in way’s that did not always meet with everyone’s approval!‬

Photo: Eamon Andrews [1st right] & President Eamon de Valera [2nd right] at the launch of RTE.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020


30‭ ‬December 999 AD: King Brian Boru won a great Victory over the Vikings of Dublin and their allies the Leinstermen at the Battle of Gleann Máma/ Cath Gleann Máma on this day. 

In this engagement he had as an ally‭ Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill, the king of Meath. Not all accounts agree though that they were brothers in arms at this time. Indeed within a few years they were to clash with Brian emerging the victor. Years later they faced the Vikings again at Clontarf but as here the part played in that battle by the Mide king is open to question. Though we have the date and the year for this battle, 30 December 999, its exact location is now lost to us. Some have postulated that it was in glen in the Wicklow Mountains, others that it was fought much nearer to the walls of Dublin. The inherent military probability is that the second opinion is correct. 

Whatever the immediate impact of Glenn Máma it did embed a deep sense of bitterness within the heart of‭ King Maelmorda of the Province of Laigin (Leinster). He ignominiously hid in a tree as his army broke and ran. It was there he was taken by no less a figure than Brian’s son Murchad who hauled the hapless Maelmorda out of the yew tree where he had hidden.

The Battle of Glen Máma resulted in the total defeat of the Vikings and their Leinster Irish allies.‭ The Leinstermen were none too enamoured with their subordinate status to the Kings of Tara and had seen in the Vikings allies worthy of their support if they could just shake off subjection by the O’Neills and now this upstart King Brian of Cashel. On this occasion however their support for the rulers of Dublin paid them no dividends. In the follow up to this Victory Dublin was captured and King Sitric was forced out of his capital.

According to the medieval Irish text Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib (“The War of the Irish with the Foreigners”), the battle was “bloody, furious, red, valiant, heroic, manly; rough, cruel, heartless.”

Brian,‭ king of Caisel, led an army to Glenn Máma and the foreigners of Áth Cliath, accompanied by the Laigin, came to attack him. And they were defeated and a slaughter was inflicted on them, including Aralt son of Amlaíb and Cuilén son of Eitigén and other nobles of the foreigners. This happened on Thursday the third of the Kalends of January [30 December] Brian afterwards entered Áth Cliath, and Áth Cliath was plundered by him.

Annals of Ulster U999.8

A great army was led by Mael Sechnaill son of Domnall and by Brian son of

Cendétigh to Glenn Máma and the foreigners of Áth Cliath came to attack

them,‭ and the foreigners were defeated and slaughter inflicted on them,

including Aralt son of Amlaíb and Culén son of Etigén and the nobles of Áth

Cliath,‭ and Mael Sechnaill and Brian went thereafter to Áth Cliath and were

a week there and carried off its gold and silver and captives,‭ ‬and expelled

the king i.e.‭ ‬Sitric son of Amlaíb.

Chronicon Scotorum

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

 29 December 1937: The new Irish Constitution - Bunreacht na hÉireann - came into effect on this day. The titles "Executive Council" and "President of the Executive Council" (a Legacy of the Treaty of 1921 with Britain) were changed to read "Government" and "Taoiseach" respectively and the separate office of President came into existence.

The Constitution of Ireland became the basic law of the State. It was adopted by plebiscite in 1937. It is the successor of the Constitution of Dáil Éireann (1919) and the Constitution of the Irish Free State (1922). The Constitution states that all legislative, executive and judicial powers of Government derive from the people. It sets out the form of government and defines the powers of the President, the two Houses of the Oireachtas and the Government. It also defines the structure and powers of the courts, sets out the fundamental rights of citizens and contains a number of directive principles of social policy for the general guidance of the Oireachtas. The Constitution may be amended only by way of referendum put to Irish Citizens resident in the State.

The new Constitution had been approved in a Referendum earlier in the year and it marked the culmination of Eamon De Valera’s attempts to undo the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which he had opposed from day one. De Valera became the first Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Douglas Hyde the first President of Ireland or Eire - “name of the State is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland.” - as the Free State now wished to be known. The only residue of the Treaty now left was the link to the Crown through the State’s continued and reluctant membership of the British Commonwealth – but that particular bugbear was to fall (ironically enough) to a leader of Fine Gael to accomplish in 1949.

Monday, 28 December 2020

28 December 1650: In Galway city Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh, one of the last of the great scribes of Ireland, added an index of just under three thousand entries to his masterpiece An Leabhar na nGenealach, or the Book of Genealogies on this day. An index was rare in a Gaelic manuscript and MacFhirbhisigh was probably adapting more modern methods to his enormous work. In its current printed edition it runs to five volumes.

The work is a compilation of Irish genealogical lore relating to the principal Gaelic and Anglo-Norman families of Ireland and covering the period from pre-Christian times to the mid-17th century and collected from a variety of sources. The fact that many of these sources no longer exist adds considerably to the value of Mac Fhirbhisigh's work.

This great work stands comparison with The Annals of the Four Masters and is all the more remarkable for being the work of just one man. Preserved over the centuries it was not printed in full until Mayoman Nollaig Ó Muraíle published his comprehensive edition in five volumes (by De Burca books) in 2004. This is one of Ireland’s greatest Literary/Historical Treasures.


Sunday, 27 December 2020


27 December 1171 AD: Petrus Ua Mórda [ang: Peter O’Moore) the Bishop of Clonfert/Clúain Fearta in what is now Co Galway, was drowned on this day in the River Shannon close by the seat of his Diocese.

He appears to have been a member of a family from Ui Maine, one of the oldest and largest kingdoms located in Connacht, Ireland. Ua Mórda was abbot of Grellach dá Iach, the first of three sites inhabited by the Cistercians and who finally settled at Boyle Abbey. In around 1150 AD, he became Bishop of Clonfert; styled as Bishop of Cluain-fearta-Brenainn or Bishop of Ui Maine.

Petrus (Ua Mordha), bishop of Ui-Maine of Connacht (otherwise, bishop of Cluain-ferta of [St.] Brenann), a devout monk and authoritative man, was drowned in the Sinand (namely, at Port-da-Chaineg), namely, on the 6th of the Kalends of January [Dec. 27].
Annals of Ulster

Saturday, 26 December 2020


26 December 1796: Wolfe Tone wrote in his Journal aboard the French Man of War Indomptable the following entry:

December 26th —Last night, at half after six o'clock, in a heavy gale of wind still from the east, we were surprised by the Admiral's frigate running under our quarter, and hailing the Indomptable with orders to cut our cable and put to sea instantly; the frigate then pursued her course, leaving us all in the utmost astonishment. . . . All our hopes are now reduced to get back in safety to Brest, and I believe we will set sail for that port the instant the weather will permit. . . . Notwithstanding all our blunders, it is the dreadful stormy weather and the easterly winds, which have been blowing furiously and without intermission since we made Bantry Bay, that have ruined us.

Thus the hopes of Theobald Wolfe Tone and the other Irish revolutionaries were dashed to liberate Ireland from England’s rule by enlisting the help of Revolutionary France. Never again was such a major Expedition undertaken by Paris to help the Irish free themselves from Foreign rule.

While Wolfe Tone’s hopes were shattered on this occasion he returned in the wake of the Rising of 1798 but was captured off Donegal. Facing execution he cut his own throat in prison to deprive his captors of the satisfaction of seeing him hanging from a rope.

Friday, 25 December 2020


25 December 1245: The terrible and unusual snow that had been falling in Ireland for the previous few weeks finally ended:

Poisonous snow fell on the night of the festival of Saint Nicholas, [Dec.6]

which took off the heels and toes of those who walked

in it; and this snow did not disappear until Christmas


Annals of Loch Cé

Thursday, 24 December 2020

24 December 1895: The loss of the Dun Laoghaire/Kingstown Lifeboat, Civil Service No. 7 with all hands on this day. 15 men of the RNLI were swept to their deaths when attempting to rescue a boat in difficulties on Christmas Eve. The alarm had been raised earlier that morning. Onlookers on the shoreline had spotted that a Finnish ship of the Russian Mercantile Navy, the Palme, was in distress just outside the harbour entrance. A tremendous Storm was raging at the time and indeed so ferocious were the conditions that this ship had been pushed back up the Irish Sea by the intensity of the winds. The Captain had decided to run for the nearest port and seek shelter. Unfortunately his attempt to gain the harbour was in vain and he had no choice but to try and ride it out at anchor and await less stormy conditions. However his position was a precarious one and the ship was in imminent danger of been swept onto the rocky shoreline nearby.

The alarm was raised and the 15 volunteers of Civil Service No. 7 put out into the terrible seas to endeavour to rescue the crew. Alas within minutes of reaching the stricken vessel their own boat was overturned by a huge wave, and all the men went into the water. The boat, of a modern design, was supposed to right itself but this did not happen. Some of the crew managed to scramble onto the upturned hull but the temperature being so low hypothermia soon seized them. One by one they slid down the side and were swept away to their doom. The sailors on board the Palme, seeing the plight of their would be rescuers attempted to lower their own boat but it was smashed against the hull and they gave up all hope of being rescuers or indeed rescued themselves from their terrible plight.

The second Lifeboat on Station, the Hannah Pickard then put to sea. Pulling hard on the oars her crew attempted to make headway but she too capsized and all the men were thrown into the water. Fortunately for them they were close enough to the shore to swim for it and all were saved.

Other boats in the vicinity tried without success to close with her but the heavy seas drove them back. After that the Palme was left to her fate as no more could done for her. All that night and on Christmas Day and again that night she stood off shore at the end of a tenuous anchor. The Storm finally abated on the morning of St Stephens Day. Eventually a ship was able to approach and lower a boat that made a number of runs to her and first took off the Capitan’s wife and baby. Then the other 17 members of the crew and the Captain himself were brought ashore. Even the ships' cat was rescued. But of the brave sailors lost only their bodies were ever recovered. It was the greatest loss of life ever recorded here in Ireland of the men of the RNLI. 

The men lost were:

Alexander Williams. Aged 35 married with 6 children. The Coxswain.

Henry Williams . Aged 60 (Father of above) veteran silver medal holder. Ex-coxswains who had two other sons,

George Sanders. Aged 30 married no children.

Francis Saunders. Aged 27 (Brother of above) married with 5 children.

Edward Shannon, Aged 28 married with 4 children

Patrick Power. Aged 22. Single.

Edward Crowe, Aged 30 married no children.

John Baker. Aged 33 married with 3 children (wife very delicate).

Henry Underhill. Aged 32 years just married. No children.

John Bartley, Aged 45 married with two children.

William Dunphy Aged 40 married with 6 children.

Thomas Dunphy. Aged 31 (Brother of above) Married 3 children.

Edward Murphy. Aged 30 married 3 children.

Francis McDonald. Whose son was born to his widow early in 1896.

James Ryan Aged 24 not married.


Wednesday, 23 December 2020


23 December 1958: Dorothy Macardle, historian and playwright died on this day. She was born in Dundalk in 1889. Her mother was Minnie Ross Macardle and her father Thomas Callan Macardle, the chairman of Dundalk’s Macardle Moore brewery. The Macardles were a wealthy Catholic family with a foot in both camps as it were. She was educated at Alexandra College and UCD. She worked as a journalist and publicist during the War of Independence and the Civil War, when she supported the anti-Treaty side and served time in Mountjoy and Kilmainham jails for her activities with Cumann na Ban. She wrote the short but very influential booklet Tragedies of Kerry as the Civil War ended dealing with atrocities carried out by Free State Army personnel in that County. This ‘made her name’ in Republican circles and set the tone of her approach to writing on Irish History.

In 1926 she left Sinn Féin and joined Fianna Fáil, and went with Dev that further progress of the Republican cause was best served through constitutional means. However her main claim to fame is her monumental The Irish Republic which sets out in considerable detail the Republican perspective on the events of 1912-1923 ie The Home Rule Crises; The Easter Rising; The War of Independence and the Civil War.

Macardle worked on The Irish Republic during a critical phase in the development of the modern Irish historical profession. It met with much popular acclaim in Ireland, as well as some misgivings, and brought Macardle widespread recognition when it was published in 1937. Its great strength was that Macardle was an active participant in the events she described and she personally knew many of the men and women who took part in the drive to secure the Country’s Independence from the British. On the other hand it is from this perspective only that she describes those episodes in her narrative.

The Irish Press, the newspaper linked with de Valera and Fianna Fáil, actively promoted the book by publishing extracts as well as a glowing review. The Irish Times review offered measured praise, as did the Times Literary Supplement, which brought the book to the attention of British readers. The most hostile responses in Ireland came from the Irish Independent, the newspaper of Fine Gael supporters and the Catholic Bulletin…

…Although stocks of the book were blown to bits when the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on a warehouse in London during World War II, The Irish Republic, like the phoenix, rose from its own ashes and was reprinted several times, most recently in 2005.

Nadia Clare Smith History Ireland May/June 2007

While Dev gave his Imprimatur to her great work she herself was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the cultural direction of the Irish Free State, a stance that gained in strength with the passing of the Irish Constitution in 1937 – which in her eyes and that of many other women was shaped towards seeing little role for females outside of the family Home. 

She changed tack after this and pursued her artistic interests in writing about the occult, and supernatural themes, including ghosts, extra-sensory perception and witchcraft! Her most successful novel, Uneasy Freehold, a haunted-house mystery set in England, was adapted for the screen and released as a film called The Uninvited in 1944 & was quite successful. After the War she made it up with Dev and turned her focus to World Peace & the United Nations. She wrote Children of Europe in 1949 which was an account of the plight of children during and after the war.

She died in 1958 at the age of 69 of cancer in a hospital in Drogheda Co Louth – her home town. Though she was still somewhat disillusioned with the new Irish State (in particular, regarding its treatment of women), she left the royalties from The Irish Republic to her close friend Eamon De Valera who visited her when she lay dying. Her great work still remains the best account from the Republican side ever written.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

22 December 1691: Patrick Sarsfield and some 2,500 Irish soldiers  sailed from the City of Cork for Exile in France on this day in 12 ships. Their departure was part of the military terms agreed in the Treaty of Limerick that was signed in October of that year. Article 1 stated that:

That all persons, without any exceptions, of what quality or condition soever, that are willing to leave the kingdom of Ireland, shall have free liberty to go to any country beyond the seas (England and Scotland excepted) where they think fit, with their families, household-stuff, plate, and jewels.

It was agreed that 50 ships could be used to Transport all those that wished to go abroad. The port of Cork was the decided upon as the place of embarkation and it was to there that General Sarsfield marched his men after departing Limerick with the Honours of War. When they got there was not the ships that were promised to transport many of the women & children who wished to depart with their men and they were left at the dockside. Like so many of the men he brought away to France he was never to see his Homeland again. 

On 29 July 1693 he was severely wounded at the Battle of Landen (or Neerwinden), whilst leading the Irish Brigade against William of Orange. The French Army was commanded by Marshal Luxembourg who drove the British Army from the field of battle. Carried off the battlefield Sarsfield was taken to the town of Huy, about twenty miles away, where he died three days later having at least the satisfaction that his troops had played a part in the Victory over William of Orange. He is buried in St. Martins Church in this city, where a plaque is erected marking the approximate spot of his grave.


Monday, 21 December 2020


21 December 1967: The rediscovery of the sunlight in the passage tomb at Newgrange Co Meath on this day. On this morning in the midst of Winter Professor Michael J. O'Kelly stood alone in the passageway and watched as the first rays of sunshine struck the inside of the walls of the chamber at the time of the winter solstice. Also known as midwinter, it is an astronomical phenomenon marking the days with the shortest periods of daylight and the longest nights of the year. The structure was built by ancient Neolithic [New Stone Age] people some 5,200 years ago (3,200 B.C.) which makes it older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. 

While a dominant feature on the landscape today it was buried for centuries and only identified as an ancient site at the end of the 17th century. However a modern scientific excavation just began in the early 1960s led by a team of archaeologists under Professor O’Kelly. He was easily the best qualified man in Ireland to undertake the task having decades of practical experience and a formidable academic record behind him in surveying, architecture and archaeology. Talking to locals he discovered that there was a persistent tradition that at the time of the Winter Solstice that as dawn broke on that day the light of Sun entered the chamber and struck the back of it onto the three spirals carved into the rock face. 

The Professor was intrigued by this and by December 1967 he could stand it no longer. He set out from his home in Co Cork and made the long journey up to County Meath to check it out for himself. 

Some minutes before sunrise on the 21st of December 1967, Professor O'Kelly stood alone in the darkness of the chamber at Newgrange, wondering what, if anything, would happen. To his amazement, minute by minute, the chamber grew steadily lighter and a beam of sunlight began to enter the passage and to travel inwards, "lighting up everything as it came until the whole chamber – side recesses, floor and roof six metres above the floor – were all clearly illuminated". O'Kelly stood rigid for a while, transfixed by the phenomenon and convinced and fearful in his own imagination that the Dagda, the sun god, who according to the ancient tradition had built the tomb, was about to hurl the roof upon him.

Fortunately the roof remained in place, the sun retreated and he walked from the tomb, the first person to have witnessed the light of the sun penetrate the darkness of the chamber at Newgrange since ancient times.

This re-discovery and the development of the site into a recognisable structure once again brought the magnificence  of the place and that of the other passage tombs Knowth and Dowth at Brú na Bóinne  [Palace or Mansion of the (river) Boyne] to the attention of the World of Archaeology. 

In a normal year Newgrange is one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions with some 150,000 visitors  per annum. This time of year usually draws people from around the World who come to take inspiration from the site. Even if they have little chance of entering the chamber at the golden moment or even of seeing anything at all on a dull morning can still be moved by the majesty of the place - and feel a link to our stone age ancestors and the great skills in engineering and astronomy that they surely possessed.

Sunday, 20 December 2020


20 December 1645: The 2nd ‘Glamorgan Treaty’ was signed in the city of Kilkenny on this day. The agreement was negotiated between the Confederation of Kilkenny and the Earl of Glamorgan. The Earl, as a trusted Englishman of the Catholic Faith, held a Commission from King Charles I [above] to secretly negotiate with the Irish Catholics and secure military backing for the Royal cause in England. He had already in August of this year concluded a secret arrangement with the Confederates by which the Catholics of Ireland were to be exempted from the jurisdiction of the Protestant clergy and were granted possession of all the churches they had seized since the outbreak of the Rising in 1641. In return, the Confederates were to raise an army of 10,000 men to serve the King in England.

 However since then the formidable Cardinal Rinuccini had arrived in the Confederate Capital as the Papal Nuncio. He saw the opportunity of winning further concessions and pressed Glamorgan to agree the terms of a deal negotiated in Rome with an agent of Queen Henrietta Maria (King Charles’ wife). 

Glamorgan agreed to the new terms as he was desperate to complete his mission and return at the head of an Army to England to serve the King. Under the new terms the King was to undertake never to appoint a Protestant lord-lieutenant in Ireland, Catholic bishops were to be allowed to sit in the Dublin Parliament and a Catholic University was to be established. In return, Glamorgan was to be appointed commander of an advance guard of 3,000 Confederate soldiers to sail immediately for the relief of Chester.

As it turned out Glamorgan’s Mission to Ireland was a Fiasco as a copy of the Treaty signed in August fell into enemy hands. When the details of what Glamorgan had conceded reached Oxford [King Charles H.Q.] and London [seat of Parliament] a storm of protest was raised. In the meantime the Earl was arrested in Dublin by the Duke of Ormond and imprisoned in the Castle as a Traitor. The King had no choice but to disown him but secretly instructed that he be released from custody. He promptly fled to the Cardinal in Kilkenny but was never trusted with a secret mission again. A somewhat hapless figure he was ruined by the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and even after the Restoration his family never regained their antebellum status. 

Rather than strengthen the position of King Charles in England the Treaty further weakened it as it appeared to many in both his own ranks and those of the Parliament forces that he would cut any deal with the Catholics to gain their support - something that was anathema to most of Protestant England. King Charles tried to be different things to different people to win their support - the trouble was the recipients of his attentions had difficulty knowing which King Charles they were dealing with - and this was just another classic example.

Portrait: King Charles I by Anthony van Dyck circa 1638

Saturday, 19 December 2020


19 December 1919: The IRA attempted to assassinate the British Lord Lieutenant - Lord French - on this day. The attack was carried out at Ashtown, in County Dublin. The IRA had been trying to assassinate French for about three months. The IRA ambush party consisted of:  Mick McDonnell, Tom Kehoe, Martin Savage, Sean Tracey, Seamus Robinson, Sean Hogan, Paddy Daly (Leader), Vincent Byrne, Tom Kilkoyne, Joe Leonard, and Dan Breen.

John Denton Pinkstone French, Lord of the Realm, 1st Earl of Ypres, Field Marshal of the British Army and the man who had commanded the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium in 1914-1915 was of Anglo Irish stock and a senior member of the British Establishment. His death at the hands of the IRA would have been a major coup for them if it had been successful. 

It was known that he was due to alight from the train station at Ashtown, Co Dublin before proceeding in a two car convoy to the Vice Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park. As he generally travelled in the 2nd car the plan was based around separating the two vehicles through a ruse and then kill the target before the occupants of the other could intervene. It was decided to draw a hay cart some way across the crossroads where Kelly’s Public House* was situated. Once the 1st car had passed by two volunteers would complete the blocking of the road and that would be the signal for the attack. The plan almost came unstuck right at the start as a DMP man appeared on the scene and ordered them to stop. He was knocked unconscious and dragged aside.

There were two cars in Lord French's convoy taking him from the Ashtown railway station to the Vice-Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park.  The ambushers thought he would be in the second car but he was in the first and drove through their blockade. A fierce gun battle then broke out as the ambushers turned their attention on the 2nd car but it quickly became apparent that their intended victim had made good his escape. Two DMP men (D/Sgt Halley and Constable O'Loughlin), the driver of the second car (McEvoy) and one of the attackers (Dan Breen) were wounded.  

With all hell breaking loose Martin Savage and another man took position behind the hay cart and opened up. Further members of the Crown Forces had now arrived on the scene and the volunteers were coming under rifle fire. Armed only with revolvers and pistols and a few grenades Savage decided to lob one of the bombs at their opponents but as he attempted to do so a Sgt. Rumbold shot him down. He died in the arms of Dan Breen.

At the inquest a few days later the Jury recorded that:

We find that Martin Savage died from a bullet fired by a military escort and we beg to tender our sympathy to the relatives of the deceased.

Martin Savage’s remains were returned to his native Ballisodare, Co. Sligo where he was buried with full honours before a large crowd of local people and sympathisers. In 1948, The National Graves Association erected a memorial to Savage close to the site of the ambush at Ashtown Cross. In recent years due to road widening the memorial was removed to its present location. There is an annual commemoration of his death at the site of the ambush.

* Now the Halfway House

Friday, 18 December 2020


18 December 1980: The 1st Hunger Strike in Long Kesh dramatically and suddenly ended on this day. The strike had been called in late October as a means of winning Political Status for the Republican prisoners who had been captured during the conflict. Since 1976 anyone convicted before the North’s special courts had been deemed a ‘criminal’ and been treated accordingly. The prisoners so convicted and held in the jails were not prepared to accept this and many went ‘on the blanket’. By late 1980 the situation had reached such a stage that seven men volunteered to go on Hunger Strike to win a set of demands that would in effect give them the status of political prisoners.

These men were:
Tom McFeeley, Brendan Hughes (until then, the OC for protesting prisoners), Raymond McCartney, Leo Green, John Nixon, Tommy McKearney and Sean McKenna. - Mairead Farrell, Mairead Nugent and Mary Doyle, all prisoners in Armagh, joined the men in the H-Blocks on 1 December 1980.

On the night of the 18th of that month the British put before the men in Long Kesh a set of proposals that they claimed would allow the Strike to be called off without loss of face and give them the substance of what they wanted. One of the prisoners, Sean McKenna, was in a bad way by this stage and close to going blind. After considering the offer the prisoners decided to accept the assurances of the British Government and end their action.

Tremendous pressure now fell on the shoulders of strike leader Brendan Hughes, who had promised his comrade that he would not let him die. With McKenna rapidly approaching death – after 53 days on hunger strike – Hughes made a unilateral decision to end the protest.
F Stuart Ross, author of Smashing H-Block

They issued a Statement that included the following lines:
In ending our hunger strike, we make it clear that failure by the British Government to act in a responsible manner towards ending the conditions which forced us on to a hunger strike will not only lead to inevitable and continual strife within the H-Blocks, but will show quite clearly the intransigence of the British Government.

It should be noted that Brendan Hughes later claimed that he called it off the save the life of Sean McKenna and not as a result of anything the British had put on the table,

Thursday, 17 December 2020


17 December 1803: The famous Wicklow guerrilla leader, Michael Dwyer, surrendered to the British on this day. Since the failure of the Rising in 1798 he had kept up a resistance campaign in the Wicklow Mountains. Despite Dublin Castle putting a price on his head and conducting numerous sweeps of area by the Crown Forces Dwyer and his determined band always managed to evade capture. However the years of hardship in such a barren terrain and the mistreatment of members of his family in retaliation by the British led him to decide to call it a day and he came in of his own accord. 

The surrender of Michael Dwyer was the last event of the insurrection of 1798—1803. But, for several years subsequently, the Habeas Corpus Act continued suspended and an insurrection act was in full force. Never, up to the hour of Napoleon's abdication at Fontainebleau, did the spectre of a French invasion of Ireland cease to haunt the mind of England.
By A. M. Sullivan

While his life was spared he was imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail and subject to harsh treatment there. In 1805 he was transported to Botany Bay with his family but was accused of trying to organise a rebellion in the Colony. He was convicted and sent to Van Diemens Land (Tasmania). He clashed there with the Governor, Captain Bligh of Bounty fame and was sent by him to Norfolk Island where conditions were diabolical. When Bligh was recalled in 1808 he was able to return to Sydney and was  given back his 100 acres on which to settle and farm. He joined the local police in Liverpool NSW but was dismissed & his business ventures collapsed with large debts. He was imprisoned again in the Debtors Prison and dies there from Dysentery on 23 August 1825.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

16 December 1971: General Richard Mulcahy died in Dublin on this day. Richard James Mulcahy was born in Waterford and educated by the Christian Brothers both there, and later in Thurles where his father was postmaster. He joined the post office and was employed initially at Bantry, transferring to the engineering department in Wexford and from there to Dublin. A member of the I. R. B. and the Gaelic League he joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913.

He fought with Thomas Ashe in Ashbourne during Easter 1916, was imprisoned at Frongoch, and released in the general amnesty of 1917. Chief of Staff of the IRA, he was elected MP for the Clontarf Division in 1918 and served as Minister for Defence in the First Dáil until April 1919. He played an important role as the senior staff officer in the War of Independence ensuring that the IRA was organised and conducted its affairs as a disciplined force answerable to its officers.

He supported the Treaty and served as Minister for National Defence in the Provisional Government and succeeded Michael Collins as Commander in Chief of the Free State Army after his death. He gave the graveside oration at Michael Collins funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery. He exercised primary responsibility for the conduct of the Civil War campaign against anti-Treaty forces. He pressed for harsh measures against the Republican forces including the execution of men taken in arms. However his ability to balance calculated harsh measures against atrocities and unofficial reprisals carried out at local level was problematic to say the least. While his determination and ruthlessness shortened the War it also prolonged the many years of bitterness that followed.

He resigned from the Cabinet during the army crisis of 1924 but re-entered the Cabinet as Minister for Local Government in June 1927. After the resignation of W.T. Cosgrave in June 1944 Mulcahy was elected leader of Fine Gael. Because of his Civil War legacy he stood aside to allow John A. Costello to form the First and Second Inter-Party Governments and served as Minister for Education in both (1948–51, 1954–57) and as Minister for the Gaeltacht (July–October 1956). He resigned from the leadership of Fine Gael in 1959 and from active politics in 1961.


Tuesday, 15 December 2020

15‭ December 1899: The Battle of Colenso was fought on this day. The 5th Irish Brigade of the British Army under Major General Fitzroy Hart [above] was engaged in action against the Boers and suffered heavy casualties.

The battle was fought on the Tugela River in Northern Natal,‭ South Africa. The British were under Sir Redvers Buller with 16,000 soldiers and the Boers were led by General Botha with about 3,000 of his doughty men drawn from the Boer farming communities and the ‘Burghers’ from the towns - most of them first class riflemen. Amongst his forces was a small ‘Irish Brigade’ of his own - The Irish Transvaal Brigade - consisting of a few hundred men under Major John McBride [below].*

To the west of Colenso the river described a loop to the North West before continuing straight.‭ A half mile west of the loop lay Bridle Drift, a river ford. Buller directed the Irish Brigade under Major General Hart to cross the drift and drive the Boers force the passage of the Tugela. General Hart was ordered to advance the ‬5th Brigade and gain the ‘drift’ or ford on the river Tugela.

Early that morning the force began to move forward but General Hart insisted that his Brigade fight shoulder to shoulder as if on parade in Aldershot. He had the following battalions with which to secure his objective, three of which were Irish: 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers; 1st Inniskilling Fusiliers; 1st Connaught Rangers and one English the 1st Border Regiment. The General deployed his Brigade in lines of advance thus:

2nd‭ Bn. Dublin Fusiliers, as Covering Battalion to the Front.

1st‭ ‬ Connaught Rangers, First line.

1st‭ ‬Border Regt, Second line.

1st‭ R. Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Hart had but a local Native Guide and a civilian interpreter to show him the way and it soon became clear that the Guide was as lost as he was.‭ In addition the artillery while in support was too far away for direct instructions and Hart was basically on his own feeling his way forward. No other Brigade came to his support and the 500 cavalry he had with him had to take the rear until a passage of the river was secured. His machine guns became separated from the rest of the Brigade and thus the Infantry advanced alone. ‬His men spread out into one long line each battalion one behind the other. This was not what the General intended to happen as it extended his front to such an extent that it became impossible to maintain control.

Even though supported at a distance‭ by two field batteries (64th and 73rd Batteries, R.F.A.) they soon ran into a storm of fire directed from across the Tugela. This was made worse as where they intended to cross was a loop in the river and the Boers enfiladed them from three sides. 

Our burghers as well as our artillery allowed the enemy to advance unmolested to a range of about‭ 1,500 yards with their guns, and having allowed the infantry to approach to approximately 500 yards, they suddenly unleashed a heavy fire. The enemy had orders to cross the river at this point, and although they stormed repeatedly, the fire of our burghers and artillery was so well directed and had such good effect that only a captain, two lieutenants and a few men were able to reach the river bank. Here the enemy suffered a tremendous loss in dead and wounded.

General Botha’s Official Report

General Hart described what happened to his men at this moment as follows:

The‭ infantry had advanced only a little way, when a tremendous rifle fire was poured into us from our front, and a considerable rifle fire from our left front. There was no smoke and not a sign of the enemy himself, or even a horse, but the streaks of dust as the Boer bullets showered in, grazing the ground, plainly showed where they were, by a process of interpolation. The infantry lay down flat. Fire was new to them…

I‭ could see officers here and there urging on the advance;‬ and all this was so far successful that a slow advance was made. Here and there men with better nerves pushed on. There was no panic, and once when I said to a lot of men who were deaf to my commands to advance—  " If I give you a lead, if your General gives you a lead—will you come on? "

 They‭ answered quite cheerily with their brogues " We will, sir," and up they jumped and forward they went. Time and experience are necessary to make men go well under fire.‬


Of those men that did reach the Tugela‭ many fell headlong into the river for along the bottom barbed wires had been stretched. Worse still, it was found that instead of being two feet deep, as was expected, it was eight feet; for the Boers had erected a dyke across the river a little lower down, and had dammed the water back.

Hart was criticised afterwards for preventing any effort to take cover or move the attack out of the loop towards the correct crossing point at Bridle Drift,‭ keeping his dwindling brigade in the loop for the rest of the day. He accordingly achieved nothing except heavy losses and a damaging blow to his men’s morale. Eventually orders reached him to retire and with some effort this was done under cover of the guns. The Brigade played no further part in the battle. Casualties as reported by Hart amounted to some 25 officers and 528 men, total 553, killed, wounded and missing.

An experienced Officer his conduct this day was such to indicate that bravery and a rigid adherence to orders in the face of well armed and dug in riflemen was not enough and could only lead to disaster.‭ However he was in some respects a victim of circumstance as he had followed his orders to the letter and had acted honourably given the situation he found himself in.

Elsewhere the battle was also a bloody fiasco for the British as the Boers poured a deadly fire into the advancing ranks and eventually Buller called a Retreat,‭ which was as ineptly handled. The British Army lost 1,167 men killed, wounded and captured while the Boers lost but a few score men. Over half the casualties were incurred by the Irish Brigade!

The British High Command at this time had become used to fighting native armies that were poorly armed and unused to being under intense fire.‭ The Boers however were Europeans well used to handling guns and the application of marksmanship. That plus their adept use of cover allowed them to dominate the battlefield and put a stop to all attempts by the British to storm their positions. 

* Executed by the British  after the Easter Rising in 1916.


Monday, 14 December 2020


14 December 1918.: The ‘Khaki Election’ on this day. It was called immediately after the Armistice with Germany in November which ended the First World War.

There was a General Election held throughout Britain and Ireland to elect a new Parliament to sit at Westminster London. It was the first held since 1910 as the advent of the First World War in 1914 meant none was held while the War lasted. It was the first general election to include on a single day all eligible voters of Great Britain & Ireland, although the result was not released until 28 December so that the ballots cast by soldiers serving overseas could be included in the tallies - hence the term ‘Khaki Election’.

It was also the first general election to be held after enactment of the Representation of the People Act 1918. It was thus the first election in which many women over the age of 30, and all men over the age of 21 could vote. Previously, all women and many men of the lower social classes had been excluded from voting at all. It was thus the most ‘popular’ General Election ever held till that time. In the event Lloyd George was returned as Prime Minister but his Party - the Liberals - was hopelessly split and he relied on the Conservatives to help him form what was in effect a Coalition Government.

In Ireland though a different battle was fought as the Sinn Fein Party campaigned on the promise of not taking any seats won in the London Parliament but to abstain instead and stay at home in Ireland. The spirit and confidence of the old Nationalist Party of John Redmond had been shattered by the 1916 Rising and its support for Britain’s War effort - in which many 10s of thousands of Irishmen had gone to their deaths. The Party of Sinn Fein however under Arthur Griffith went from being basically a micro group on the edge of Irish politics in 1914 into being centre stage by the end of 1918. They were expected to do well and they expected to do well - the big question was just how well would they do?

In the event they won  a Landslide returning 73 members. Of those elected 47 of them were  imprisoned by the British at the time. Of the 105 Irish seats in the election, the results were: Sinn Féin – 73+; Irish Unionist – 22; Irish Parliamentary – 6*;Labour Unionist – 3;Independent Unionist – 1. In total there were 103 Irish constituencies.

Also: 14 December 1831: The Carrickshock Massacre on this day. A party of the Irish Constabulary was ambushed at Carrickshock [carriag-seabhac/‘the hawks rock'] Co Kilkenny and three of the attackers and fourteen Constables were killed in the affray. It happened at the height of the ‘Tithe War’ as catholic farmers and tenants resisted having to pay a ‘tithe’ or tax to the local clergy of the Church of Ireland.

Sunday, 13 December 2020


13 December 1955: The death of Grace Gifford on this day. She was born in 1888. Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett came from a solid middle class family background in Dublin whose parents were of different religions. Her father was a Catholic and her mother a Protestant. She attended the upper middle class girl’s school Alexandra College and seemed to have had a fairly conventual upbringing. She was the second youngest in a family of 12 children and they lived in the fashionable Dublin suburb of Rathmines.

She took an early interest in Art and attended  the National College of Art and Design and studied under Orpen who used her as one of his models and did a full portrait of her. At around this time, Gifford's talent for caricature was discovered and developed. In 1907 she attended the course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Art, London. However the World was changing fast around her and she was drawn into the movement of ‘The Celtic Revival’ which saw an upsurge of interest in Ireland’s National Identity through the mediums of Language, Culture and Art. After she returned to Ireland she attended Gaelic language lessons at St. Enda's School, or Scoil Éanna & it was here she met Joseph Mary Plunkett, a frail man but a poet with a passion for Ireland’s Right to be a free and independent Nation.

Her growing interest in the Catholic religion led to the deepening of Gifford and Plunkett's relationship as she began to discuss Catholic mystical ideas with him – he was from an arch-Catholic family, his father a Papal count. Plunkett proposed to her in 1915; Grace accepted and took formal instruction in Catholic doctrine. She was received into the Catholic Church in April 1916. They planned to get married at Easter that year. However their plans for matrimony were overturned as Joseph was deeply involved in plans to stage an uprising against British rule and luck would have it the day planned to undertake such an enterprise was Easter Sunday - their wedding day.

The Rising actually began one day later on Easter Monday and Joseph Mary Plunkett was in the thick of it from right from the start. He was too weak to fight himself but he took his stand inside the GPO along with the other leaders and was one of the signatories of the Proclamation. His signature on that document sealed his fate and he was sentenced to be executed by British Court Martial. On hearing the news Grace immediately set in plans to see her lover one last time and marry him. This was arranged through the offices of a Priest and Grace was taken into Kilmainham Jail to see Joseph and take their vows of Marriage to each other. On the 3rd May 1916 that night Grace Gifford entered Kilmainham Gaol. With a priest and two witnesses present she married Joseph. After a too brief encounter she had to leave him but was allowed to return later for just another 10 minutes with her husband. He was executed by firing squad a few hours later. She never married again.

She remained a convinced Republican and actively opposed the Treaty of 1921. For her troubles she was arrested and held in Kilmainham Jail - where her husband had met his end just over five years earlier. Her life after that was one that gave her some status in Republican circles & at one stage she was on the Executive Committee of Sinn Fein but it would seem an existence of genteel but reduced circumstances was her fate as a woman who struggled to make her way in this world as a female cartoonist. Her talent as an artist was her only real asset; her cartoons were published in various newspapers and magazines, including Dublin Opinion, the Irish Tattler, Sketch, and on one occasion in 1934, Punch! She illustrated W. B. Yeats' The Words upon the Window Pane in 1930. 

Her difficulties did not end on her release and she struggled along moving from one rented apartment to another in the City. Things also became slightly better for her when she was awarded a small pension in 1932 when De Valera came into Power and honoured her position as the widow of a Leader of the 1916 Rising. But her husband’s family had wanted nothing to do with her and she eventually sued them as Joseph had left everything to her on his death and she received nothing of his inheritance. She was given £700 in an out of court settlement. 

Life drifted on and by the late 1940s her health began to fail. She was moved to a Nursing Home and she died on this day in 1955. She was  buried with full military honours among the attendees at her funeral was President Seán T. O'Kelly. She was interned close to the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

While a somewhat tragic figure and in some ways forgotten about outside of Republican circles her story and that of her sombre marriage had a new lease of life in the 1980s when the ballad ‘Grace’ was released by Frank and Seán O'Meara which is now a huge favourite at any location where ballads are sung by the Irish.

Oh, Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger
They'll take me out at dawn and I will die
With all my love, I place this wedding ring upon your finger
There won't be time to share our love for we must say goodbye

Saturday, 12 December 2020


11/12 December 1956: ‘The Border Campaign’ or 'Operation Harvest' began on this day. The IRA under its Chief of Staff Sean Cronin carried out a series of attacks on Crown Forces personnel and installations in the Border areas of the Six Counties. A BBC relay transmitter was bombed in Derry, a courthouse was burned in Magherafelt, as was a B-Specials post near Newry and a half built Army barracks at Enniskillen was blown up. A raid on Gough barracks in Armagh was beaten off after a brief exchange of fire. 

That day the IRA issued the following statement:
Spearheaded by Ireland’s freedom fighters, our people have carried the fight to the enemy…Out of this national liberation struggle a new Ireland will emerge, upright and free. In that new Ireland, we shall build a country fit for all our people to live in. That then is our aim: an independent, united, democratic Irish Republic. For this we shall fight until the invader is driven from our soil and victory is ours.

The campaign after an initial surge of activity was to be marked by a number of intermittent attacks on the British in the North that continued until 1962. But without a certain level of popular support on both sides of the Border it was obvious that further resistance was futile and the IRA then called off their campaign and dumped arms. It was deliberately kept to the Border areas as it was felt to attempt actions in Belfast etc would only inflame sectarian tensions in that divided City.

The Border Campaign was an ambitious plan to wage a guerrilla war in the North. In hindsight, it was an abject failure. But to many in the Republican Movement any action was better than no action.

'Operation Harvest, the codename for the IRA's border campaign of the 1950s, was an ambitious plan to wage a guerrilla war in the North. The IRA used tactics adopted by flying columns that had been successful during the War of Independence in a bid to make Northern Ireland ungovernable and force a British withdrawal. In hindsight, it was an abject failure. They received little or no support from the nationalist population in the North. Most volunteers were from the South with little knowledge of the North. Governments north and south of the border introduced internment and the campaign was almost stillborn.'
Soldiers of Folly: The IRA Border Campaign 1956-1962

Friday, 11 December 2020


11 December 1920: The burning of Cork on this day. After an IRA attack on a lorry load of RIC Auxiliaries at Dillons Cross in which one of them was killed members of the Crown Forces went on a rampage in Cork City Centre. Buildings were set alight and many were gutted by fire. Two men who were members of the Cork IRA, Con and Jer Delaney were shot dead in their own home. British forces deliberately set fire to several blocks of buildings along the east and south sides of Saint Patrick’s Street during the hours of darkness and the following morning. The City Hall and the Carnegie Library were also completely destroyed by fire. The loss of the stock of the library and of the records in Cork City Hall was a huge blow to future historians.

Florrie O'Donoghue described the scene in Cork on the morning of the 12th:
Many familiar landmarks were gone forever – where whole buildings had collapsed here and there a solitary wall leaned at some crazy angle from its foundation. The streets ran with sooty water, the footpaths were strewn with broken glass and debris, ruins smoked and smouldered and over everything was the all- pervasive smell of burning.

The Chief Secretary for Ireland, Sir Hamar Greenwood, immediately denied that Crown forces were responsible for the conflagration:" I protest most vigorously," he said,  " against the suggestion, without any evidence, that these fires were started by the forces of the Crown."
Who burnt Cork City? - An Investigation on the Spot With Full Proofs [Dublin 1921]

However subsequent local inquiries carried out by reputable bodies established that members of the Crown Forces were indeed culpable for the widespread destruction.

Afterwards, some Auxiliaries took to wearing piece of half-burnt cork in their hats. But their black humour could not disguise the fact that these actions further undermined their already weakening authority and showed the World that Britain could not control her own Forces on the streets of a City that it claimed was part of their Empire.

Thursday, 10 December 2020


10 December 1710:  The battle of Villaviciosa in Spain on this day in which the Irish Brigades in the service of France and Spain played a distinguished part in the Victory. This was during the War of the Spanish Succession  between the two contenders for the Spanish Throne: Philip [Felipe] V backed by France and Charlesof Austria backed by Austria, England and Holland. During this see saw war the fortunes of both sides waxed and waned but after this campaign the Allies were never able to recover enough ground to regain their position. The battle took place about 70 miles north east of Madrid as Charles of Austria retreated towards Catalonia. Philip’s army hotly pursued him under the direct command of Marshal Vendome of France. 

Three Irish regiments fought with the Spanish army in this battle, commanded by respectively Col. Don Demetrio MacAuliffe, Col. Don John de Comerford and Col. Don Reynaldo Mac Donnell. They were collectively known as the Brigade of Castlelar. The Marshal’s army also included a force of Dragoons under the dashing cavalry commander General Count Daniel O’Mahony who was assisted by General Henry Crofton. To this ‘Arme Blance’ was attached a Lord Killmaloc’s Regiment of Dragoons. All of the Irish troops were to play a full part in the battle that materially affected the outcome of the War in Spain.

The engagement was fought on a bleak day in the midst of a Spanish Winter. The main action began in the early afternoon and after many hours of hard fighting it looked like that Charles had won. Marshal Vendome had even ordered the Retreat when his cavalry under the Marquis de Val-de-Canas and Count O’Mahony won the day by charging into the enemy’s rear and forced them to retreat. Only the onset of the darkness of a December night stopped them from destroying their opponents in detail. Though O’Mahony did manage to hamstring 700 mules that severely hampered the enemy from carrying away much of their material from the battlefield. 

Combined with the defeat and capture the previous day by Vendome of 5,000 English soldiers at the town of Brihuega the losses inflicted upon the enemy were such to render them unable to maintain the field and Charles had no option but to continue his sorry retreat to Barcelona and safety. His bid though for the Throne of Spain was effectively over.

Their brave and daring actions raised the status of the Irish troops and their leaders immeasurably during the Campaign of 1710. Though Lord Killmaloc was mortally wounded in the final battle the Count O’Mahony was awarded for his services.

The Comte de Mahoni acquired a great deal of glory on the battle-day of Villaviciosa, at the head of the dragoons. The King was so satisfied with him, that he conferred upon him a Commandership of the Order of St. Jacques (ie Jago) producing a rent of 15,000 Livres. …
History of the Irish Brigades in the Service of France
by John Cornelius O’Callaghan.

Painting: by Jean Alaux (1840) - Marshal Vendome presenting the captured colours to King Philip V

Wednesday, 9 December 2020


9 December 1973: The Sunningdale Agreement was signed at Sunningdale in Berkshire, England on this day. Agreement was reached between the Irish Government & the SDLP representing the nationalists and the British Government and the Ulster Unionist Party representing the Unionists - with the Alliance Party taking more of a middle ground. It was agreed that a Power sharing Executive would be set up at Stormont. It was to include representatives from all the participant political parties that were elected to serve in the new parliament. 

However Article 7 of the Agreement stated that a 'Council of Ireland' would be set up that would enhance cross border co-operation. Its opening lines read:

The Conference agreed that a Council of Ireland would be set up. It would be confined to representatives of the two parts of Ireland, with appropriate safeguards for the British Government's financial and other interests. It would comprise a Council of Ministers with executive and harmonising functions and a consultative role, and a Consultative Assembly with advisory and review functions. The Council of Ministers would act by unanimity, and would comprise a core of seven members of the Irish Government and an equal number of members of the Northern Ireland Executive...

This was to prove its downfall. While there was initially a measured welcome for this settlement in many quarters it was greeted with deep suspicion especially by the more hard-line loyalist elements within the North. Also the IRA - who were engaged in a full scale campaign against the Crown Forces - were not interested as they saw it as irrelevant and if anything an impediment to a United Ireland. The ill-fated Executive only lasted a few months before the Loyalist Ulster Workers Council brought it down in May 1974.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020


8 December, 1856, Father Matthew, Apostle of Temperance, died at Cobh in County Cork after suffering a stroke on this day. He was born at Thomastown Castle, Co Tipperary in 1790. He was ordained a priest 1814 and spent 24 years in the Diocese of Cork before he began his great Crusade against Drink.

His striking personal appearance is thus described: "A finely-formed, middle-sized person, of exquisite symmetry; the head of admirable contour, and from which a finished model of the antique could be cast; the countenance intelligent, animated, and benevolent; its complexion rather sallow, inclining to paleness; eyes of dark lustre, beaming with internal peace, and rich in concentrated sensibility, rather than speaking or kindling with a super-abundant fire; the line of his mouth harmonizing so completely with his nose and chin, is of peculiar grace; the brow open, pale, broad, and polished, bears upon it the impress not merely of dignified thought, but of nobility itself."

In 1838 came the crisis of his life and after battling with his own Demons he founded the Cork Total Abstinence Society on 10 April 1838 in his own schoolhouse. He presided, delivered a modest address, and took the pledge himself. Then with the historic words, "Here goes in the Name of God", he entered his signature in a large book lying on the table. From then on night after night, Father Mathew addressed crowded assemblies. In three months he had enrolled 25,000 in Cork alone; in five months the number had increased to 130,000. 

The movement now assumed a new phase. Father Mathew decided to go forth and preach his crusade throughout the land. In the following years he gave the Pledge to multitudes throughout Ireland and in Scotland and England too. When the Famine struck he devoted his efforts to the relief of the poor and hungry in Cork and used his influence in England and America to obtain food and money. In the early part of 1849, in response to earnest invitations, he set sail for America. He visited New York, Boston, Washington and many other cities, and secured more than 500,000 disciples. After a stay of two and a half years he returned home in 1851. By then it was estimated he had secured the Pledge from some seven million people. He is buried at St. Joseph's Cemetery, Cork city which he had himself established.

Monday, 7 December 2020

7 December 1688 - The Apprentice Boys of Derry closed the gates against King James' troops on this day. With the advent of King James II to the throne in 1685 religious animosity had grown between the Protestants and Catholics of Ireland. The former resented the growing power of the latter and they in turn suspected their religious opponents of disloyalty to James who was of the Catholic Faith.

Events came to a head when a son was born to the King in June 1688. This meant that if the boy reached maturity he would succeed his father as a Catholic Monarch true to the Old Faith. But on 5 November of that year William of Orange landed in England and set himself in opposition to King James. A War between the Faiths looked inevitable and in Ireland this indeed proved the case.

King James wished to secure his position in this Country as at least here he could rely on the most widespread support from the Catholic population. The Catholic Earl of Antrim was ordered to secure the City of Londonderry for King James. The said Earl, Alexander MacDonnell, advanced to Derry with some 1200 men. He sent an advanced party across the river Foyle to enter and take the main gate and hold it until he brought up the bulk of his force.

Just at this moment thirteen young apprentices, most of whom appear, from their names, to have been of Scottish birth or descent, flew to the guard room, armed themselves, seized the keys of the city, rushed to the Ferry Gate, closed it in the face of the King’s officers, and let down the portcullis.
‘History of England’ by Lord Macaulay.

This was a setback for the Royal cause as it galvanised opposition amongst the Protestant population there to resist and await relief from England should (as was most likely) William succeed in his daring enterprise. As it turned out the city was not taken and despite much suffering held out until relieved the following Summer. It was a turning point in Irish History & indeed of British History as this act of defiance has imbued within the Protestant population of the North ever since a notion that loyalty to the Crown was conditional upon the Monarch being not a Catholic but one of their own Faith.


Sunday, 6 December 2020


6 December 1921: The ‘Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland’ were signed between the British and Irish Delegations in London on this day. 

The Treaty allowed for the setting up of a Provisional Government, which was to oversee the establishment of an Irish Free State (not a Republic!) within one year. The new State was to have jurisdiction over 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland. The other six were to remain part of the United Kingdom, effectively under the control of the unionists. Their State, called ‘Northern Ireland’, had already come into existence in May 1921. A Boundary Commission was to review the exact border between the two states. Nationalists were hopeful that those areas along the northern side of the Border, where the Catholics were in a majority, would be transferred to the Free State. The British were also to retain control of certain ports, the ‘Treaty Ports’ for reasons of strategic defence. 

However, the main stumbling block towards the acceptance of the Treaty was the inclusion of an ‘Oath of Allegiance’ to the British Crown. This obliged all those deputies elected to the Free State Parliament to take an oath of fidelity to King George V and his successors, in recognition of his status as head of the British Commonwealth. The British felt that this was crucial to them accepting the existence of a separate Irish state, which would have the status of a Dominion within the British Empire. These most controversial words read as follows:

I ... do solemnly swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established and that I will be faithful to H. M. King George V, his heirs and successors by law, in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain and her adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations.

There is no doubt that the majority of the people in the South did favour accepting the Treaty. It gave them most of what they wanted, basically peace and a large measure of independence. The Catholic Church, the large farmers, the newspapers and the business community were its strongest supporters. The Labour movement was also largely in favour of acceptance. It was incomprehensible to the many supporters of the Treaty as to why it should be rejected. They argued that to all intents and purposes it allowed most of Ireland to manage her own affairs. 

To quite a significant minority though, especially amongst the ranks of the Irish Republican Army, the Treaty was unacceptable. The Irish had signed the agreement under the threat of the immediate renewal of war by the British, if the Irish delegates turned down its terms. It recognised Partition and worst of all the Oath would mean a rejection of the Irish Republic, which they had fought for and which many of their comrades had died for.

 The very idea of taking an oath to the British King George whose armed forces had so recently brought fear and terror to the Irish people, turned the stomachs of many. There was to be a Governor General who could prorogue the Free State Parliament if he thought it necessary. It was believed by the Treaty’s opponents that any parliament that was bound by these conditions would be very limited in its independence and in effect a vassal state within the British Empire.

However the Treaty did mean that most of Ireland would be part of a State where Irishmen would be in control of public affairs for the first time in centuries. The new State would have its own Army and police forces. The control of taxes, and of customs and excise would be in its hands. It had the right to maintain relations with other countries. For the first time, the majority of the Irish people would have the power to elect an Irish Government, which in effect if not quite in theory only they could remove.

The Articles were signed on behalf of the British by:
And by the Irish: