Wednesday, 31 March 2021

 


31 March 1966: The Insurgent Flag that flew over the General Post Office in Dublin in 1916 was handed back by the British Government of Harold Wilson on this day. It was made by Mary Shannon at the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army in Liberty Hall and brought from there to the GPO where it was proudly hoisted above. It was inscribed with the words ‘Irish Republic’ in gold lettering on a Green background.

When the building fell to the British it was taken by British Officers who displayed it upside down at the foot of the Parnell Monument in Upper O’Connell Street, Dublin. This was the traditional way to display flags taken from enemy forces. Eventually it passed into the hands of the British museum authorities.

 On the 50th Anniversary of the Rising in a gesture of conciliation the British Government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson decided to return the first flag of the Irish Republic to the Irish Government of the day under An Taoiseach Sean Lemass - himself a veteran of the Rising. It is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin [above]. The flag was put together by Mrs Mary Shannon, a shirt maker in the nationalist cooperative at Liberty Hall.

In a short letter written by the then Taoiseach, Mr Sean Lemass, to the British prime minister, Mr Harold Wilson, in 1966, the "gratitude and deep appreciation of the Irish Government and people" were expressed for the return to Ireland of the flag which flew over the GPO during Easter Week in 1916.

Mr Lemass, noting the support for its return from the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, Mr Arthur Bottomley, and the members of the museum board, welcomed the British initiative, coming as it did shortly before the Rising's 50th anniversary.

He wrote from Government Buildings: "The return of the flag, can be welcomed as yet another step towards the building of goodwill and the most friendly relations between our two countries."

He thanked Mr Wilson for the "speed and the generosity with which your government responded favourably to our representations" for the return of the flag.

IRISH TIMES Jan 2, 1997


Tuesday, 30 March 2021

 


30 March  [O.S.] 1603 - The Treaty of Mellifont on this day. Aodh Uí Néill the Earl of Tyrone, submitted to Lord Mountjoy the Lord Deputy of Ireland  thus bringing to an end  almost a decade of constant warfare on the island of Ireland.  

O’Neill had wanted to submit on terms since the previous December but Queen Elizabeth of England was adamant that this ‘viper’ would get nothing for his efforts to subvert her rule in her Realm of Ireland. However certain factors were working in O’Neills favour for him to escape the axeman’s blade if he came in without any terms. The Queen was old and was dying and it was only a matter of time before she went the way of all flesh, but she could not rest easy in her bed with O’Neill still at large in the woods & bogs of Ireland.  

Of more pressing  concern to her and her Ministers was the huge drain on England’s coffers of the continuing War in Ireland & the need of maintaining a very large military force for that time of perhaps circa 20,000 men in the field to suppress any attempt by O’Neill to rouse the Country once again. In effect though her Ministers were deciding what was to be done to bring the War to a close & the Queen’s chief advisor Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury in particular was prepared to bend Royal policy towards a deal.

Also working in O’Neill’s favour was his uncanny ability to move from place to place without being betrayed by any of his People meant that catching him was like chasing a ‘will of the wisp’. Indeed many of local chiefs gave him succour and turned a blind eye to his perambulations as he changed his base almost nightly. The English knew that it would only be by chance rather than design that they could take him alive. But he too was old and tired, his support base had collapsed  and he was a hunted man without a roof to call his own. He knew it was only a matter of time till his enemies cornered him and then it was all over.

Charles Blount Lord Mountjoy got the go ahead from London to settle it by suggesting terms that would see an end of the matter once and for all and bring O’Neill in under the protection of the Crown  - once he was prepared to submit to the Monarch! The agents employed by the Lord Deputy in the negotiations were Sir William Godolphin and Sir Garrett Moore. The latter was a personal friend of O Neill, and found him in early March at his retreat near Lough Neagh. He persuaded him that he should negotiate peace terms, and that he would travel to meet Mountjoy under a safe conduct. Negotiations were then conducted at Mellifont, the site of an old abbey near Drogheda in County Louth. This was Sir Garret's seat, which had been sold to his family following the dissolution of the great Cistercian Abbey there at the time of the Reformation.

On 30 March, Tyrone submitted to the Crown and accepted the terms offered. The pardon and the terms were considered to be very generous at the time especially by those who wanted to see O’Neill executed as a Traitor to the Crown. In return for renouncing the Gaelic title, Uí Néill (in English: The O'Neill), the attainder that had stripped him of the title of Earl of Tyrone was reversed, allowing him a seat in the Irish House of Lords.

He retained his traditional core territory, apart from any Church lands, which were to be held in freehold title under English property law.

The Earl of Tyrone swore to be loyal to the Crown and not to seek further assistance from a foreign power. In return, he received a pardon.

Brehon law was to be replaced in his lands with English law.

The earls were no longer permitted to support the Gaelic bards.

English would be the official language.

Catholic colleges could not be built on his property.

These were much better terms than O’Neill believed he would ever get and he did not have much trouble in readily accepting them. He had to make a rather abject submission but he managed to retain his head on his shoulders & regain title to his core lands.  However there was a sting in the tail - he learnt afterwards when he reached Dublin that the English Queen had died in London six days before he submitted [24 March 1603] and King James VI of Scotland was expected to succeed her as the new King of these islands. If O’Neill had held out he might have done better than he did - but that is problematical as James was no friend of the Catholics of Ireland as subsequent events were to prove.

In the event Mountjoy and O’Neill hit it off at a personal level and made their way to London to meet the new King of England, Scotland and Ireland - James I. While Mountjoy was in Power here things remained calm but on the accession of Lord Chichester to the Lord Deputyship a new dispensation came about and the pressure on O’Neill became unbearable. He could feel his Power slipping away... 

Eventually he was summoned to Dublin for examination but rather than risk what would be almost certain incarceration and more than likely the executioners block if he entered Dublin Castle alone he fled Ireland in September 1607 with about 100 of his closest followers, eventually seeking sanctuary in the City of Rome. He never saw Ireland again and died in the Holy City in the year 1616 AD.


Monday, 29 March 2021


29‭ March 1901: The death of James Stephens, founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, on this day. He was born in 1825 at Blackmill Street, Kilkenny, the son of John Stephens, an auctioneer’s clerk. He supported the Young Ireland movement and the Irish Confederation, and he served as aide-de-camp to William Smith O’Brien in the 1848 Rising at Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary in which he was wounded.

 In the wake of this abortive affair he escaped to Paris. In the French Capital he met the Young Irelanders, John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny. He was deeply influenced by the French radicals and the underground figures that he encountered. He earned his living by teaching English. 

In‭ 1856 he returned to Ireland disguised as a beggar. His purpose was to establish a new secret revolutionary society that would achieve Irish independence from British rule by the use of military force. He travelled the Country incognito establishing networks and organising cells. On St Patrick’s Day 1858 he founded in Dublin the ‘Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood’, which became known later as the ‘Irish Republican Brotherhood’ (aka IRB). It was secret and oath-bound Society. Stephens structured it on military principles with himself as the ‘Head Centre’.

In‭ 1858 Stephens went to America to raise funds for the IRB. When he returned to Ireland in 1859 the British knew well who he was and what he was doing, and so he returned to America. He seized nominal headship of the sister movement in the USA, ‘the Fenians’ in early 1859. From 1861 to 1866 Stephens’s influence was at its height. The IRB flourished in Ireland, Britain and the USA.

He had returned to Ireland in 1861 and renewed his activities, building up a numerous but very lightly armed Revolutionary structure. Gaining the support of Irish soldiers in the British army and importing arms shipments were meant to overcome the lack of weaponry. However in 1865 Stephens suddenly suspended a planned Rising after calling all the leaders together in Dublin and after  interviewing them one by one he succeeded in getting them all to agree that the time was not ripe to overthrow British rule. 

But by now the British were alert to what was afoot and the scale of the preparations against them‭ – ‬they decided to strike and break up the IRB. During the same year they raided IRB headquarters in Dublin, situated at the newspaper office of the Irish People where many of the IRB worked as journalists and used as a base. Most of the leaders were arrested and were convicted of ‘treason and felony’ and sentenced to penal servitude. Stephens, having avoided immediate arrest, was picked up with Charles J. Kickham for conspiracy and was imprisoned in Richmond Gaol, Dublin. However, in a brilliant but relatively straightforward rescue he was sprung from captivity by Breslin and John Devoy and spirited out of the Country to Freedom. 

But his star was waning,‭ ‬more especially so as he attempted once again to convince supporters in the USA (where he was in exile) that a Rising was out of the question in 1866 too. Col Kelly replaced him as Head Centre. The American Fenians denounced him as a ‘rogue, impostor, and traitor’. Stephens went to France where he worked as a journalist and an English teacher. He spent the years thereafter in France, Belgium and the USA. In 1890 Charles Stewart-Parnell worked his influence to allow the British to permit his return home. A public subscription was raised by friends in Ireland to facilitate this. Thus Stephens returned home to Ireland in 1891. He spent the remainder of his life in seclusion in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, avoiding anymore political intrigue.



 

Sunday, 28 March 2021

 


28‭ March 1957: The death of the Artist Jack B. Yeats on this day. He was born in London in 1871 the son of John Butler Yeats. His younger brother was W. B. Yeats. His early years were spent chiefly in County Sligo and later in London where he studied at the Westminster School of Art. He initially settled in Devon with his wife and his first one-man exhibition was at the Clifford Gallery, Haymarket, London in 1897, showing chiefly Devon paintings. He moved to the USA in 1905 and had several one-man shows at the Clausen Gallery, New York in this period.

He returned to Ireland in‭ 1910, living first at Greystones, then in Dublin. He had earned a living from sketch work for various publications as well as Exhibitions of his paintings. He took up Oils in 1913 and while schooled in traditionalist painting he was drawn to more abstract and impressionist works that soon became his forte. He applied his love of this kind of work to scenes of life in the West of Ireland, travellers and social events both rural and urban. From early youth he was fascinated by the Circus and worked that into his paintings too. A solitary figure he took no pupils and allowed no one watch him work, so his method remains a mystery. In later life he used colour to the full and cut down on distinctive outlines in his works that gave them a blurred but visually strong impact on the viewer.

While he was a successful artist in his own day,‭ ‬not just with the brush but also as an illustrator, playwright and novelist. Prior to his death in 1957, he began to be recognized as one of the foremost Irish painters and illustrators in the 20th century. But  it is only in the last 25 years that his genius has been accorded the status of a Great Artist and he is now acknowledged as a figure of the considerable importance on the International stage in 20th Century Modern Art.

Amongst his most well known works are:‭ Bachelor’s Walk; In Memory; The Funeral of Harry Boland ; Communicating with Prisoners; The Singing Clown and the Face in the Shadow.

Towards the end he described his Life as follows:


 

 I have travelled all my life without a ticket,‭ and therefore I was never to be seen when Inspectors came round because then I was under the seats. It was rather dusty but I used to get the Sun on the floor sometimes.


He was‭ 85 years old when he died and still active until a few days beforehand. His funeral was held at St Stephens Church, Upper Mount Street and afterwards to the burial plot at Mount Jerome Cemetery. There were no bunches of flowers, only a single one on the coffin.

Portrait by James Sinton Sleator (1943)



Saturday, 27 March 2021

 


27‭ ‬March 1174 AD: Gilla Mic Liac, the Archbishop of Armagh, died on this day the Wednesday after Easter. He was the first Archbishop of Armagh to be described as a Primaith [Primate] and he was granted - presumably by papal sanction - the right to wear the pallium garment  reserved for the Pope and the archbishops, but the latter may not use it until on petition they have received the permission of the Holy See.

Gilla Mae Liac‭ [Gelasius], son of Ruaidhri, successor of Patrick, archbishop and primate of Ard-Macha and of all Ireland, son of chastity, full of purity of heart and of peace, died piously after choice old age, on the 6th of the Kalends of April [March 27], the Wednesday after Easter, in the 87th year of his age, the 37th of his episcopacy. That noble man was sixteen years full honourably in the abbacy of Columcille in Daire[Derry] before [receiving] the succession of Patrick. [Armagh].

Annals of Ulster

Gelasius [Gilla Meic Liac mac Diarmata] was a reforming Archbishop who had been picked for the job by the great Saint Maol Maodhog [Malachy] himself to help bring the Church into line with the ecclesiastical Reform movement that was taking hold across western Europe. Before he gained the highest position in the Gaelic Church he was the Abbot of Derry for sixteen years. In 1152 he organised the Synods of Kells & Mellifont (County Meath) that reformed the Irish Church on Diocesan lines in common with general European practise for the further Reform of the Church. 

A further synod at Clane co Kildare in 1162 was attended by 26 bishops and instituted  the practise of riaghail agus soibheas ‘good rules and conduct’  that further emphasised the overrule of Armagh as the source and authority of all teaching on matters ecclesiastical throughout Ireland. His death notice in the Martyrology of Gorman was noted with the description - geam amhra ceann banba - a notable gem, Ireland’s Head.

Prevented by old age and infirmity according to Gerald of Wales [Giraldus Cambrenis] from attending the Synod of Cashel in 1172, he subsequently confirmed its statutes in Dublin. Again according to Giraldus, the ‘common people’ thought of Giolla mic Liag [who by then allegedly depended on a white cow for sustenance] as a saint.

A Dictionary of Irish Saints

Padraig O Riain

'Gilla meic Liac's concerns for matters academic and spiritual were almost certainly matched by exigencies relating to the physical settlement at Armagh. While the only explicit reference to him in connection with building projects is the notice in 1145 of his construction of a lime kiln between the ecclesiastical site and Emain Macha, it was certainly the case that on three occasions during his episcopate Armagh was extensively damaged by fire and required reconstruction. This happened in 1137 (the year of his appointment), in 1164, and again two years later when, alone of the churches within the enclosure, the abbey of Saints Paul and Peter survived the conflagration. Armagh had long enjoyed the patronage of the Cenél nÉogain kings, and Gilla meic Liac could apparently count on the support of the high-king Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn. Muirchertach intervened in 1152, when Gilla meic Liac was physically attacked and wounded by supporters of the king of Airgialla, Donnchad Ua Cerbaill (qv), and had the latter deposed for a time.'

Dictionary of Irish Biography 



Friday, 26 March 2021


 26‭ March 1931:  Timothy Healy, ex Governor General of the Irish Free State died on this day. Healy had been active in Irish politics for over 40 years when he was appointed to this controversial position. Born in Bantry, Co Cork he moved at an early age to Waterford and was a Nationalist MP for various constituencies from 1880 until 1918. He started his political career in England, pressing for Irish Home Rule. Parnell admired Healy's intelligence and energy after Healy had established himself as part of Parnell's broader political circle. He became Parnell's secretary, but was denied contact to Parnell's small inner circle of political colleagues. He famously fell out with Parnell following the exposure of his affair with Kitty O’Shea. Parnell felt that Healy had politically stabbed him in the back and indeed there were many who thought the same.

In the years following the Split he drifted in and out of Irish Politics but was considered something of a loose cannon and never really regained his place at the centre of Irish political life and remained on the fringes.‭ He spent many years building up his legal practise to compensate for this. When the Great War broke out he supported the Allied War aims and had a son at Gallipoli. But the events of Easter 1916 shook him and he slowly drifted towards supporting the idea of full Independence if it could be achieved without bloodshed. He acted for Thomas Ashe at his trail and represented Republican prisoners held by the British but confined his activities within the legal sphere. He resigned his seat in Cork North east in advance of the 1918 General Election to allow SF a clear run and did not seek re election elsewhere.

However he came to prominence once again when in October‭ 1922 when he was proposed as the Governor General of the Irish Free State. Healy accepted the post after some consideration. His name was suggested to the British by the head of the newly emerging State W.T. Cosgrave. Healy thus took up occupancy of the old Vice-regal Lodge as the official representative of King George V and his Government to the Irish Free State. There is no doubt that he enjoyed the role tremendously and did his best to make the role a viable part of public life in the State. Technically he had the power to dissolve the Free State Parliament and call elections but this scenario never arose during his tenure. He acted as a liaison between the British Government and the Free State and gave advice whether wanted or not as to how matters should proceed between the two.

Cosgrave had a difficult time with him and had to remind the Governor of the limits of his powers until Healy got the message. Though to be fair his notions as to what exactly his role should be was an open question. Basically his misconceptions were due more to feeling his way than to any deliberate intent to supersede his authority. Overall he was adept enough to steer his way through any difficulties that arose and avoided outright political controversy – an unusual state of affairs for him! 

However in the latter part of his time in Office his influence was diminished as his role was redefined to one of the King’s Representative only and not that of the British Government per se.‭ ‬Though he appeared to think that being Governor General was his for life this was not the view of the Free State Executive and James McNeill took up this role on his retirement in January 1928. His wife had died the year before and he retired to the family home at Chapelizod, Co. Dublin. He the published his extensive two volume memoirs called Letters and Leaders of my Day.

He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.



Thursday, 25 March 2021

 



25‭ ‬March 1738: The death of the Harpist Turlough O'Carolan/ Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin on this day. He was the most famous Irish musician and player of his day who plied his trade throughout Ireland. He was born in 1670 at Nobber, Co Meath and from an early age trained to become a player of the harp. However at the age of 18 he caught the smallpox and was left Blind. Nevertheless he continued his love of the instrument and mastered his disability. Due to the generosity of a patron, Mrs. MacDermott, he was able to equip himself for the road with a harp, a horse, a guide, and the money to launch a career as an itinerant harper, playing for patrons throughout the Irish countryside.

Various sources say that he was cheerful and gregarious,‭ ‬enjoyed ludicrous stories, practical jokes and he was an excellent backgammon player. As with many harpers of the time, he also drank a great deal, and he had a temper to be avoided. He developed his natural musical talent and turned his hand to composition, penning over 220 works of Irish music many of which are still recorded and played today. In his travels around the Country he stayed at the Houses of various Patrons, both native and planter and his influences were drawn not just from Ireland but also further afield.

He eventually married a woman called Mary Maguire,‭ they lived on a farm near Mohill, Co. Leitrim and had seven children. Mary died in 1733 and just five years later, feeling ill, Carolan returned to the home of his original Patron Mrs. MacDermott Roe. After several days, he called for a drink and repeated these lines to his first patron:

Mary Fitzgerald,‭ dear heart, Tusk
Love of my breast and my friend,
Alas that I am parting from you,
O lady who succoured me at every stage.

His final composition was to the butler,‭ ‬Flinn, who brought him his last drink. And, in a final fitting salute, his wake lasted four days.

When he died his passing was recalled a famous man of letters of the time:

Saturday,‭ the 25th day of March 1738. Turlough O'Carolan, the wise master and chief musician of the whole of Ireland, died today and was buried in the O'Duignan's church of Kilronan, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. May his soul find mercy, for he was a moral and religious man.

Charles O'Conor


Wednesday, 24 March 2021

 

24‭ March 1968: The Aer Lingus plane, St Phelim, plunged into the Irish Sea off the Tuskar Rock on this day. Just after noon on a fine spring day the aircraft inexplicably plunged into the Irish Sea off the County Wexford coast from a height of 17,000 ft, killing all 61 passengers and crew on board.

‭Flight 712 had taken off from Cork airport about 30 minutes beforehand and was due to land at Heathrow, London. The plane was a propeller driven Vickers Viscount 803 with no known structural defects that could explain the sudden loss of this aircraft. ‬Of the 57 passengers, 35 were Irish, nine were Swiss, six were from Belgium, five were British, and two were American.  Of the 61 people on board only 14 bodies were ever recovered.

Its penultimate,‭ garbled message indicated another aircraft was in the area. In its last message, eight seconds later, co-pilot Paul Heffernan, aged 22, said: "12,000 ft descending, spinning rapidly.":

Witnesses say Captain Barney O'Beirne,‭ aged 35, managed to level the four-engine plane about 1,000 ft above the water, and flew on for about 15 minutes before it crashed close to Tuskar Rock. There was no black box recorder on the aircraft, which had undergone a major inspection three weeks earlier.
The Guardian‭ 11 January 1999

Speculation over the years has centred around the possibility that the plane was shot down by a rogue British test missile fired from an RAF base in Wales.‭ Still to this day, there are no definite answers as to what happened. The AAIU investigation reported that a structural failure of the port tailplane metal fatigue, corrosion, flutter (vibration in a control surface which may cause control difficulty and lead to a structural failure) or a bird strike may have been the cause.However no set of established facts has ever been able to show what actually caused the plane to crash with such a devastating loss of life.

The St Phelim Disaster is the worst ever recorded in the history of Irish Aviation.



Tuesday, 23 March 2021

 


23 March‭ ‬1535: Sir William Skeffington captured Maynooth Castle  on this day. Skeffington had been sent over from England by Henry VIII to impose Royal rule upon the Irish and Anglo-Irish Lords. He was faced with a military revolt by Lord Thomas Fitzgerald. This young man feared for his father, the great Garrett Oge Fitzgerald, who was held captive in the Tower of London. Lord Thomas or ‘Silken Thomas’ was a rash and impetuous youth who badly misjudged his own power and abilities. But the power of his family’s name and the desire of the Catholics of Ireland to pre-empt the imposition of the English Reformation upon Ireland led to a flush of initial success that rapidly petered out at the end of 1534.

‭Sir William Skeffington remained inactive during the whole winter. But in March 1535 he laid siege to the castle of Maynooth, the strongest of Fitzgerald's fortresses, which was defended by 100 men. After a siege of nine days, during which the castle was battered by artillery, then for the first time used in Ireland, he took it by storm, except the great keep; and the garrison who defended this, now reduced to thirty-seven men, seeing the case hopeless, surrendered, doubtless expecting mercy.

A Concise History of Ireland by P.‭ W. Joyce

The siege began on the‭ 14 March and lasted nine days. Eventually the outer defenses were stormed under a hail of artillery, marking the first time a castle in Ireland was taken through the use of such a weapon. Only the great keep remained untaken and the survivors struck on terms that their lives would be spared if they would but come out and lay down their weapons.

Skeffington wrote to King Henry:

Their lives were preserved by appointment,‭ until they should be presented to me, your deputy, and then to be ordered, as I and your council thought good. We thought it expedient to put them to execution as an example to others (Carew Papers). Local tradition holds that they were hanged from the central arch of the castle.

The Neighbourhood of Dublin By Weston St.‭ ‬John Joyce

However the Lord Deputy’s ruthlessness backfired on his successors,‭ as his actions only made future defenders more wary of such capitulations and ‘the Pardon of Maynooth’ became a byword for treachery amongst the Irish.



Monday, 22 March 2021

 


22 March 1979: The IRA assassinated the British Ambassador to Holland on this day. In one of their most audacious attacks launched outside of these islands the Provisional IRA targeted Sir Richard Sykes and shot dead him dead. They also gunned down his butler Karel Straub in the mistaken belief he was the Ambassadors bodyguard. Two gunmen opened fire on Sir Richard and his Dutch footman as they left his residence at The Hague to make the short car journey to the British Embassy.

The Ambassador was a noted security expert and there was much initial speculation in the Netherlands and in Britain that other groups under suspicion at the time (including Palestinians and Iraqis) could have targeted him. He was appointed to the job in June 1977 after a two year posting as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office deputy under-secretary in London. He had been a diplomat in Cuba, Peking and Washington. Ironically he was responsible for an internal report on the safety of British diplomats following the Assassination by the IRA in 1976 of the British ambassador to Dublin, Sir Christopher Ewart-Biggs.

Sir Richard, a much-decorated war hero from a strong military background, was assigned to the posting in Holland - sensitive because of Dutch groups sympathetic to the IRA and consequent arms smuggling activities.

There have been recent warnings from the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mr Mason, that the IRA might launch reprisals because of recent successes by the security forces in Belfast. His latest warning came a fortnight ago when 43 bombs were found in a shed adjoining Belfast's docks.

The biggest coup by British and Netherlands security officials was the interception of a two-ton shipment of second-hand Czech arms at Schipol Airport, bearing false labels and bound for Dublin. It is an open secret that the British Embassy in The Hague has a special monitoring role over the underground operations of IRA sympathisers in Holland. The Provisional IRA is said to have "safe houses" in the countryside where its leaders can lie low.

The Guardian 23 March 1979



Sunday, 21 March 2021


 21 March 1921: The Headford ambush in Co Kerry on this day. The plan was for an Active Service unit of the IRA to lay an ambush on a passenger train due to arrive at Headford Station with members of the British Military on board. However the train arrived a bit earlier than anticipated at 3pm [not stopping as usual on the way from Kenmare] and the 30 or so ambushers had to scramble up an embankment to take what cover they could and await the train coming to a halt at Headford where the military were to change trains. A party of four took over the Station Masters House to open up as well. On board the train were a British Royal Fusiliers party of 28 men.  As the soldiers alighted onto the station platform the IRA opened up on them and immediately a number were seen to fall.

We were billeted some miles from Headford and when word came we ran all the way to the station.  We were moving some wagons from the line when the train from Kenmare came in.  We had no prepared positions and scrambled in to position as best we could.  I was in a section commanded by Davit McCarthy.  We were on the railway embankment with very little cover, but a good field of fire.  I think most of the military were put out of action early on, but some two or three got down on the tracks under the train and kept up a continuous fire.  No doubt they could have been dislodged but a full train of troops entered the station and we had to withdraw.  I understand that 26 of the 30 British soldiers were knocked out.  Two of Ours, Dan Allman, and Jim Bailey – were killed, and Jim Coffey was wounded.

Denis Prendiville IRA.

As it turned out the British had a machine gun section guarding the carriages but  ‘the  IRA concentrated their fire on the Vickers machine gun on the front carriage manned by a sergeant and four men. The were soon killed or wounded, and the Vickers gun fell silent. Several attempts were made by the British to get to the gun to use it again, but these attempts were prevented by IRA fire from the men on the embankment.’

https://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/headfordjunction/headford-junction.html

The other soldiers on board managed to eventually scramble under the carriages and could not be hit on a direct line of sight, of course their ability to hit back was also severely hampered by their cramped confines and they would surely have been slaughtered in turn except for a stroke of fortune when after some 50 minutes a 2nd train with military onboard reached their beleaguered comrades and freed them from their predicament of facing almost certain death. 

When the dust had settled there were eight British soldiers dead or dying and another 10 or 12 wounded out of the 28 who had boarded the train earlier that day. Two members of the IRA fell mortally wounded in the action and three civilians were also killed in the crossfire.

 Those who died that bloody were:

Dan Allman IRA O/C Kerry No 2 Brigade

Jimmy Baily IRA 

*

Lieutenant Edward Adams Royal Fusiliers [City of London Regiment]

George Brundish [RF]

Edward Albert Chandler [RF]

Arthur George [RF]

Frederick George West [RF]

Francis Edwards Woods [RF]

George Edward Leslie Young [RF]

Charles Rupert Greenwood [RF] DOW 22 March 1921

*

John Breen Civilian
Michael Cagney Civilian
Patrick O’Donoghue Civilian









 

21 March 1918: The 16th ‘Irish’ & 36th ‘Ulster’ Divisions were attacked in the ‘Kaisers Battle’/Kaiserschlacht that began on this day. The German Spring offensive, known as 'Operation Michael’, was launched along a 50-mile front at dawn. A massive preliminary bombardment preceded the onslaught of groups of infantry led by specially trained ‘Storm Troops’. The Germans had gathered together 6,473 artillery guns and 3,532 mortars. During the bombardment they fired over one million shells, filled with a mix of munitions that included a variety of different types of poisoned gas.

Holding part of the Front Line day were men of the 16th Irish Division who were part of the Anglo-Irish General Sir Hubert Gough’s Fifth Army. The 16th Division was still designated Irish but the proportion of troops from Ireland had been greatly reduced owing to casualties and fresh volunteers being assigned on a less stringent national basis than heretofore. At the time of the Offensive there were nine battalions distributed amongst three Brigades. The Ulster Division, despite all else, had managed to retain a strong regional identity but this battle was to test it to the limits. It too had nine battalions distributed amongst three Brigades.

At 4.30 am that morning the 49th Inf. Brigade of the 16th Division reported that intense hostile bombardment had been opened on the main battle positions & support lines, Mainly gas shell on forward lines and Brig. H.Q. All wires were cut and communications by visual & pigeon impossible owing to the dense mist. No S.O.S. signals were given. The German attacks were sustained throughout the day and into the night as fortified outposts were cut off and forced to surrender. The German Storm troops were able to infiltrate through the Irish lines and advance deep into the rear as the remnants of the Division were forced back. Within days the cohesion of the 16th Irish had been shattered and it never saw action again as a unit. Its constituent battalions were either broken up or assigned to other Divisions for the duration of the War.

The Ulster Division was not quite so overwhelmed but its relatively cohesive state meant it was used to conduct a fighting retreat that left it 5,000 men short by the end of the month. It was only put back in the line near end of the War to support the final advance of the Allies.

At first the Hun had all in his favour, as for the first five days you could not see 50 yards ahead owing to the mist, and we always found on retiring that the enemy had gone four or five miles past us…on the second day of the offensive we held the Haig Line, although the Germans were five miles past us. We stopped one night in a village but next morning the Hun was on top of us, so it was a case of fighting again. It was very sad to see the women and children flying for their lives and leaving everything behind.

The Irish on the Somme By Steven Moore

However the German assault was finally halted at Villers-Bretonneux, near Amiens, on April 4/5. Though a 40-mile salient had been created in the British lines, Ludendorff's armies failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough. But this did not save the Wexford born General Gough, whose military reputation was ruined by his inability to hold the line and then being forced into Retreat. He was dismissed and his Army never saw action again and was broken up.

For the soldiers from Ireland on the Western Front 21 March 1918 and the days following were some of the bloodiest battles of the War and indeed in Irish History as they attempted to hold the line against the most intense attacks ever witnessed in modern warfare up to that point. By the end of the spring offensive, the 36th (Ulster) Division had suffered 7,310 and the 16th (Irish) Division 7,149 casualties; they would be destroyed as effective formations and removed from the British order of battle for reconstruction.


 


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

He received his Bachelor of Arts degree by 1598, and was a fellow and MA by 1600 In May 1602, he was ordained in the Trinity College Chapel as a deacon by his uncle Henry Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. Ussher went on to become Chancellor of St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin in 1605. He became Professor of Theological Controversies at Trinity College and a Bachelor of Divinity in 1607, Doctor of Divinity in 1612, and then Vice Chancellor in 1615 and vice-provost in 1616. In 1613, he married Phoebe, daughter of a previous Vice Provost, Luke Challoner, and published his first work. In 1615, he was closely involved with the drawing up of the first Confession of Faith of the Church of Ireland. This document carved out a separate and distinct identity for the Protestant Church in Ireland.

Ussher was a convinced Calvinist and viewed with dismay the possibility that people he regarded as anti-Christian papists might achieve any sort of power. He called a secret meeting of the Irish bishops in his house in November 1626, the result being the "Judgement of the Arch-Bishops and Bishops of Ireland". This begins: The religion of the papists is superstitious and idolatrous; their faith and doctrine erroneous and heretical; their church in respect of both, apostatical; to give them therefore a toleration, or to consent that they may freely exercise their religion, and profess their faith and doctrine, is a grievous sin. The Judgement was not published until it was read out at the end of a series of sermons against the Graces given at Dublin in April 1627. 

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

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

Today though Ussher is best remembered for his claim that the World was created in the year 4004 BC. He came to this conclusion by a close study of Biblical Texts and other Ancient writings. He published a work in the year 1650 called  the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti ("Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world"), which appeared in 1650, and its continuation, Annalium pars posterior, published in 1654. He calculated the date of the Creation to have been nightfall on 22 October 4004 BC. At the time this was considered to be ground breaking work that put Ussher at the top end of Biblical scholars.

In 1656, he went to stay in the Countess of Peterborough's house in Reigate, Surrey. On 19 March, he felt a sharp pain in his side after supper and took to his bed. His symptoms seem to have been those of a severe internal haemorrhage. Two days later he died, aged 75. His last words were reported as: "O Lord, forgive me, especially my sins of omission." His body was embalmed and was to have been buried in Reigate, but at Cromwell's insistence he was given a state funeral on 17 April and was buried in the chapel of St Erasmus in Westminster Abbey.



Saturday, 20 March 2021

 


20 March 1964. Brendan Behan, playwright and author died on this day. He was born in Dublin on 9 February 1923. His father was a house painter who had been imprisoned as a republican towards the end of the Civil War, and from an early age Behan was steeped in Irish history and patriotic ballads; however, there was also a strong literary and cultural atmosphere in his home.

At fourteen Behan was apprenticed to his father's trade. He was already a member of Fianna Éireann, the youth organisation of the Irish Republican Army, and a contributor to The United Irishman. When the IRA launched a bombing campaign in England in 1939, Behan was trained in explosives, but was arrested the day he landed in Liverpool. In February 1940 he was sentenced to three years' Borstal detention. He spent two years in a Borstal in Suffolk, making good use of its excellent library.

In 1942, back in Dublin, Behan fired at a detective during an IRA parade and was sentenced to fourteen years' penal servitude. Again he broadened his education, becoming a fluent Irish speaker. During his first months in Mountjoy prison, Sean O Faolain published Behan's description of his Borstal experiences in The Bell.

Behan was released in 1946 as part of a general amnesty and returned to painting. He would serve other prison terms, either for republican activity or as a result of his drinking, but none of such length. For some years Behan concentrated on writing verse in Irish. He lived in Paris for a time before returning in 1950 to Dublin, where he cultivated his reputation as one of the more rambunctious figures in the city's literary circles.

In 1954 Behan's play The Quare Fellow was well received in the tiny Pike Theatre. However, it was the 1956 production at Joan Littlewood's Theatre Royal in Stratford, East London, that brought Behan a wider reputation - significantly assisted by a drunken interview on BBC television. Thereafter, Behan was never free from media attention, and he in turn was usually ready to play the drunken Irishman.

The 'quare fellow', never seen on stage, is a condemned man in prison. His imminent execution touches the lives of the other prisoners, the warders and the hangman, and the play is in part a protest against capital punishment. More important, though, its blend of tragedy and comedy underlines the survival of the prisoners' humanity in their inhumane environment. How much the broader London version owed to Joan Littlewood is a matter of debate. Comparing him with another alcoholic writer, Dylan Thomas, a friend said that 'Dylan wrote Under Milkwood and Brendan wrote under 'Littlewood'.

Behan's second play, An Giall (1958), was commissioned by Gael Linn, the Irish-language organisation. Behan translated the play into English and it was Joan Littlewood's production of The Hostage (1958) which led to success in London and New York. As before Behan's tragi-comedy deals with a closed world, in this case a Dublin brothel where the IRA imprison an English soldier, but Littlewood diluted the naturalism of the Irish version with interludes of music-hall singing and dancing.

Behan's autobiographical Borstal Boy also appeared in 1958, and its early chapters on prison life are among his best work. By then, however, he was a victim of his own celebrity, and alcoholism and diabetes were taking their toll. His English publishers suggested that, instead of the writing he now found difficult, he dictate to a tape recorder. The first outcome was Brendan Behan's Island (1962), a readable collection of anecdotes and opinions in which it was apparent that Behan had moved away from the republican extremism of his youth.

Tape-recording also produced Brendan Behan's New York (1964) and Confessions of an Irish Rebel (1965), a disappointing sequel to Borstal Boy. A collection of newspaper columns from the l950s, published as Hold Your Hour and Have Another (1963), merely underlined the inferiority of his later work.

When Behan died in Dublin on 20 March 1964, an IRA guard of honour escorted his coffin. One newspaper described it as the biggest funeral since those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


From the Appletree Press title: Famous Irish Lives.



 


20 March 1920: The Murder of the Mayor of Cork Thomas McCurtain on this day. He was a member of Sinn Fein and was thorn in the side of the British system of government in this Country. He was elected a councillor in Cork City in January 1920 and on that basis was chosen by a majority of the other councillors to be the Lord Mayor of the City of Cork.

However McCurtain was also a senior member of the IRA and was actively involved in organising and directing IRA operations against the Crown Forces. He was a life long Republican and had been in charge of the Irish Volunteers in the County of Cork at the time of the Easter 1916 Rising in Dublin. He managed to get quite a number of men to turn out across the County but the news from Dublin was patchy and confusing. Without Official sanction to strike he found himself in a terrible predicament - to hold back while the men in Dublin were fighting against the odds - or to strike and find that Dublin had not risen at all.

In the event it never went ahead in Cork, A tense stand-off developed when British forces surrounded the volunteer hall and continued for a week until a negotiated agreement led to the surrender of the volunteers' arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Butterfield on the understanding that they would be returned at a later date. This did not happen however and Mac Curtain was jailed in England but released 18 months later in a General Amnesty.

By 1918 Mac Curtain was a brigade commander - the highest and most important rank in the IRA. If he helped in organising the targeting of attacks on British Forces he knew that he too would become a target in turn. But it was the nature of his slaying that shocked so many - gunned down in front of his wife and one of his children in his own home. That a Lord Mayor of a city in these islands should be so brutally killed and as it turned out by serving Police Officers of the RIC stunned many of the uncommitted and motivated many others with the desire to strike back.

After the killing they ransacked the house. The shocking murder outraged public opinion and brought near universal condemnation. Cork went into mourning for its murdered first citizen. A massive crowd attended his funeral. At the coroner's inquest into the killing the jury passed a verdict of wilful murder against Lloyd George and certain inspectors of the R.I.C. One of the named inspectors, Oswald Swanzy, was shot dead in Lisburn on 22 August 1920. 

http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie/history/historyofcorkcity/early20thcentury/themurderoflordmayortomasmaccurtain/

Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr's Cemetery, Cork.




Friday, 19 March 2021

 



19‭ March 1921: Battle at Crossbarry, Co Cork on this day. The Flying Column of the West Cork Brigade under Commandant Tom Barry successfully engaged and defeated a number of different British units that were advancing on his position at the crossroads near Crossbarry, some 10 miles south west of Cork City. During the days preceding the encounter both sides had engaged in a deadly game of intelligence and counter intelligence gathering information as they desperately tried to outwit each other. The IRA were keen to ambush a British column but their intention & general location had been given away. General Strickland, head of the British forces in Cork, decided to organize a ‘sweep’ that would flush out Barry’s men and kill or capture them. In return Irish scouts and agents brought news to Barry as to what was afoot.

With just‭ 104 Officers and men, armed with only rifles and 40 rounds per man he knew that to retreat would mean his column would be cut to pieces in a running battle. He decided to hold his ground and fight it out – he calculated that when the enemy was broken and no longer in a position to pursue would be the moment to withdraw on his own terms.

In the very early hours of the day Barry’s scouts reported considerable enemy activity from a number of different points of the compass as they converged on his position.‭ His plan was that all the men were to stay under cover until the British were amongst them and could be surprised at close quarters. All sections were to stay put even if under pressure and only to move from their positions under express orders. To encourage his men in battle he had made arrangements that on the commencement of firing the Column’s Piper would strike up martial airs on his bagpipes to quicken their spirit.

As luck would have it the British advance was not well co coordinated and this gave Barry the chance to defeat them in sequence of arrival. All went well until the first convoy of lorries weaved its way along the road and was almost ready to be attacked when (despite strict orders) a Volunteer inadvertently revealed himself to the enemy who immediately started to deploy for action. The order was then given to open up and the British soldiers were either cut down or fled the scene. But there was no time to savour the moment as another three columns came upon them from different directions and were also shot down or bolted. Eventually all the converging forces were engaged and defeated in detail until not one organised enemy unit remained in the field.

About two hours had elapsed since the opening of the fight‭; we were in possession of the countryside; no British were visible and our task was completed. The whole Column was drawn up in line of sections and told they had done well.

Guerrilla Days in Ireland

By Tom Barry

Barry then gave the order to move out leaving behind a scene of dead and wounded British soldiers* strewn about the ambush site as their lorries blazed away in the background.‭ His men carried away much military booty – plenty of bandoliers of ammunition, rifles and a much prized Lewis machine gun.

While the enemy had lost numerous casualties the Flying Column had not escaped without loss either.‭ Three Volunteers were killed in action and another three were seriously wounded. Those who died for Ireland that day were Peter Monahan, Jeremiah O’Leary and Con Daly. Earlier the British had shot dead a wounded volunteer, the O/C of Cork No 3 Brigade Charlie Hurley, when they discovered him in a nearby farmhouse. But he did not die in vain for the shots that killed him helped alert his comrades to the close presence of the enemy.

Crossbarry was a great morale booster for the IRA and helped to further weaken the grip of British rule not just in Cork but also further afield.‭ For it showed that even in an open fight and against overwhelming odds that the British could be defeated when brave and well-led Volunteers with excellent Leadership were given the chance.

* The British admitted to 10 dead but only 3 wounded which seems too low relative to the numbers KIA.


Thursday, 18 March 2021

 



18 March 1792: Lady Arabella Denny died in Dublin on this day. She is best remembered today as the Founder of the Magdalene Asylums in this Country. Arabella Fitzmaurice was born in County Kerry in 1707 to the family of Thomas Fitzmaurice, subsequently the 1st Earl of Kerry. He was notorious for his hot temper – a ‘tyrant’ according to his grandson - but he had showed courage and talent as a soldier. Her mother was Anne Petty, daughter of Sir William Petty, who was the only person who could calm her spouse.

From an early age Arabella showed compassion to those less fortunate than herself in this life. She set up a makeshift Dispensary on her father’s estate to care for his tenants medical needs. In 1727 she married Colonel Arthur Denny, M.P. for Kerry. They had no children and in 1742 the Colonel died of Apoplexy. She had to leave their Castle  & move up to Dublin City. By 1748 she was  living in Blackrock County Dublin where she resided at Peafield Cliff House (now Lios na Uisce/Lisnaskea House). 

Due to her interest in charitable affairs she became involved in the Dublin Foundling Hospital which took in orphans and unwanted babies. She donated from her own funds a Clock that chimed every twenty minutes to help regulate feeding times for the suckling infants. 

However Lady Arabella was struck by the terrible plight of unmarried pregnant girls on the city’s streets. Their fate was not a good one. She decided to found an Institution in Dublin that could take in these unfortunates and provide a safe environment for them to recover after birth and reform themselves. The first Magdalene Asylum was founded at Whitechapel in London England in 1758.

 We don’t know if Lady Arabella had been to the one in London or whether its mode of operation was recommended to her but in 1767 she founded the first one in this Country on Leeson Street Dublin for fallen women or penitent prostitutes, who were provided with accommodation, clothing, food and religious instruction. Lady Arabella was a member of the Church of Ireland and her idea was that Protestant girls and women in trouble could through Redemption become part of civil society once again regardless of their previous misdeeds.  

However Lady Denny while well off knew that such an enterprise cost money  and just as important in Georgian Dublin the sanction of the Protestant Ascendency. She roped in as many members of High Society to help fund her project as she could and she got no less a personage than Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III to act as patron. For good measure she also later established a chapel adjacent to the asylum and managed to rope in George Viscount Townsend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to attend the first divine service to be held there. As a result of such patronage many fashionable ladies were happy to attend  and donate their purses to alleviate the plight of others.

In 1778 Lady Arabella had reached her 71st year and decided to resign as the head of the Committee that ran the Asylum. She retired to her beautiful home in Blackrock where she lived out her days in the company of her niece Catherine Fitzmaurice. She became poorly but her mind was still active. What exercised her mind the most though was a morbid fear of being buried alive! She gave instructions that on her demise she was to be left on her deathbed for 72 hours before she was lowered into her grave. When she passed from this World her wishes were duly carried out.


Wednesday, 17 March 2021

 


17 March 461 AD Saint Patrick/Naomh Pádraig Feast Day.  Or as the Annals might say ‘according to some.’ For while Patrick is certainly the most famous saint associated with Ireland he remains something of a man of mystery to us – his persona and character definitive in some respects while his origins and obit remain a matter of some speculation to those who have written on him.
Patrick/ Patricius/Pádraig was born in Britain, as the collapse of Roman rule on that island began. He was from a settlement called Bannaventa, probably a locale near or beside the sea along the western coast. His father Calpurnius was a well to do landowner and a minor figure in the local administration called a ‘Decurion’. The father of Calpurnius was called Potitus, who had held the same administrative position in his own day. Calpurnius and Potitus were also Deacons of the Church.
Thus Patrick would have been brought up in a household where Christianity was part and parcel of his life, however he was not very religious himself. When he was about sixteen Patrick was captured by Irish raiders and brought to Ireland as a Slave. Where exactly he spent his captivity is not known but the hills of Antrim and the coast of Mayo are the most probable locations. He worked as a Shepard while in captivity.
In despair he turned to Jesus Christ to sustain him and heard his Voice speak to him. Eventually after about seven years he escaped and returned home. Patrick also followed his father and grandfather into the Church and became an administrator of ecclesiastical affairs. He may have spent time in France or indeed in Rome as he worked his way up the clerical ladder. He seems to have done well. The years drifted by but Patrick never forgot his time here and longed to return to preach the Word. In a dream he heard the Irish call to him and determined to go back.
By then the Papacy had taken an interest in the full conversion of the Gaels of Hibernia. Following the demise of Palladius, the first Bishop to the Irish, it was decided to send Patrick (presumably after some gentle lobbying on his part) to Ireland to continue the Mission. Later writers attribute his selection to the influence St Germain of Auxerre under whose patronage he studied for many years. He may indeed have already gained some missionary experience amongst the Morini of Gaul.
Though the evidence is loose it would seem that Patrick’s arrival ‘shook up’ a rather low-key effort to convert the Irish. While Palladius was dead by then or had perhaps fled there were more than likely a few centres of Christianity along the east coast. The names of such early missionaries as Auxilius, Secundinus and Iserninus are associated with sites that perhaps predate the Patrician Mission.
So when Patrick arrived a small Christian presence was already established here. He seems to have made a point of trying to win over the powerful kings and chieftains of Ireland to at least tolerate his proselytising. He had quite a success in getting many of the younger sons and daughters of these men to follow him. Legend has it that he lit the Paschal Fire at Easter on the Hill of Slane in defiance of the King Laoghaire of Tara – the most sacred site in Ireland. The King and his Druids were astounded by his temerity. St Patrick then proceeded to Tara where he challenged the Druids in magical displays and overthrew them. Now whatever the veracity or otherwise of these stories it would seem probable that Patrick did indeed follow a traditional Christian approach to missionary work in trying to win over or at least neutralise the Royal families of any area they entered. This was to allow a Mission to proceed without hindrance and such an approach served the Church well over many centuries.
Nevertheless Patrick did face many trails and tribulations in his years on the roads of Ireland. Twelve times he tells us that he was held in captivity and once in actual chains. He seems to have made a point of moving from place to place, baptising as many converts as he could and founding churches. He was greatly in favour of monasticism and a believer in celibacy.
He did three great things in his Mission: he ensured that Christianity went from a minor to the major religion of the Irish; he converted and ordained thousands of people and priests and spread the Word across the island to the furthest kingdoms of the western seaboard; and he ensured that Ireland, in its own particular way, through the medium of the Latin language, came within the fold of the wider Christian World.
Many places around Ireland are associated with his name incl St Patrick’s (Cathedral) in Dublin, Croagh Patrick in Mayo (on which he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights) and Saul and Downpatrick in Co Down. He never seemed to have founded a great monastery but in later centuries Armagh became closely associated with his name and its claim to fame is probably though by no means definitely based on good grounds. In recognition of its claim it is still holds the Primacy of the Irish Church.
Yet for all his great work the written contemporary record is meagre and all in his own hand. His 'Confessio' and the 'Epistola ad Coroticum' are the only extant documents we have by him. The first is a detailed confession and denial of unspecific charges against Patrick that he felt compelled to refute. It is written in plain but unsophisticated Latin and throws some light on how Patrick viewed himself spiritually and psychologically. The ‘Letter to Coroticus’ is a condemnation addressed to a British king excommunicating a group of his armed retainers for killing and kidnapping recently converted Christians.
All else we have was written after the Saint passed from this World and while much of it is probably well founded there is no way to confirm or cross check the veracity of the material. Scholars are cautious to attribute ‘facts’ to Patrick’s Life that cannot be verified and with good reason – but while a critical approach is wise there is a line between Criticism and Cynicism that it can be useful to avoid as well.
Traditionally the Saint ended his days at Saul (Sabhall), Co Down. St. Tassach is said to have administered the last sacraments to him. His remains were then wrapped in a shroud woven by St. Brigid's own hands. The bishops and clergy and faithful people from all parts crowded around his remains to pay due honour to the Father of their Faith. Some of the ancient Lives record that for several days the light of heaven shone around his bier. His remains were interred at the chieftain’s Dun or Fort two miles from Saul, where in after times arose the Cathedral of Down where his reputed burial site can still be seen. 


Tuesday, 16 March 2021


16 March 1988: The Milltown Cemetery attack in Belfast on this day. Dramatic and bloody scenes were witnessed by mourners in Milltown Cemetery as the thousands of attenders at the laying to rest of IRA volunteers came under attack by a lone gunman - Michael Stone.

On the 6th of that month the SAS had ambushed an IRA Active Service Unit on the British Colony of Gibraltar and shot them dead. They were unarmed and given no chance to surrender. They were Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann. When their bodies were released they were flown back to Dublin where thousands of people turned out in the pouring rain to pay their respects. A large funeral cortege accompanied the hearses as they began their journey north back to Belfast.

The attacks in Gibraltar drew worldwide publicity to what was happening in the North of Ireland and by the time the funerals were held journalists and cameramen were there in force to cover the proceedings. Usually what happened at Republican funerals was that the Crown Forces would swamp the event and harass and intimidate the mourners. However given that this would be a huge event with many thousands in attendance the British decided to draw back and observe from a distance. Word must have leaked though as the night before Stone was able to take his pick from a UDA arms dump in order to carry through on his plan to try and take out the senior Republicans likely to be present at the graveside - namely Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

On the day of the funerals Stone made his way incognito into Milltown Cemetery and mingled with the crowd. He claims to have acted alone but some witnesses recall him in the company of other strangers before hand. Eventually he struck by lobbing a number of fragmentation grenades into the mourners before bolting.

But his attempt to flee was quickly spotted and he was chased by numerous men and youths determined to catch him. He turned and fired and brought down a number of them - some fatally. He eventually made it onto a nearby motorway but had run out of ammunition by that stage. He claims a car was to meet him there but there was none. He was caught, beaten and knocked unconscious. He was almost certainly a dead man but an RUC mobile patrol rescued him and he was carried away. 

Convicted and sentenced he was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement 1998 but again in 2006 tried to attack his targets at Stormont and was returned to jail. He has [2021] recently been released back into the community.

Three people were killed while pursuing Stone: two Catholic civilians Thomas McErlean (20) and John Murray (26), and an IRA volunteer, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh (30). During the attack about 60 people were wounded by bullets, grenade shrapnel and fragments of marble and stone from gravestones. Among those wounded was a pregnant mother of four, a 72-year-old grandmother and a ten-year-old boy.

While the North  was used to atrocities this one was filmed live by the World’s media and became Front page news. Anyone who witnessed it either there or on television is ever likely to forget it.


 

Monday, 15 March 2021

 

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

On 4 March 1880 she married Sir William Henry Gregory at St Matthias church in Dublin . As the wife of a knight, she became entitled to be called "Lady Gregory". Their home at Coole Park, County Galway served as an important meeting place for leading Revival figures, and her early work as a member of the board of the Abbey was at least as important for the theatre's development as her creative writings. Sir William, who was 35 years her elder, had just retired from his position as Governor of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), having previously served several terms as Member of Parliament for County Galway.

He was a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and the house at Coole Park housed a large library and extensive art collection, both of which Lady Gregory was eager to explore. He also had a house in London, where the couple spent a considerable amount of time, holding weekly salons frequented by many leading literary and artistic figures of the day. However Sir William died in 1892 and she never remarried. Their only child, Robert Gregory was born in 1881. He was killed in World War One.

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

She is best remembered today for her work in reviving the idea of Celtic Literature as expressed in the old tales and sagas and for her collaboration with William Butler Yeats in making the Abbey Theatre in Dublin the focal point of the ‘Celtic Revival’. They were close companions for years and Yeats came to rely on her a lot to get things done.

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

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

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



Sunday, 14 March 2021

 





14‭ ‬March 1921: Six members of the IRA were executed in Dublin on this day. The men were hanged in Mountjoy Jail. Another prisoner charged,‭ Dermot O’Sullivan, had his sentence commuted to Life Imprisonment, as he was just 17 years old ‬but the sentences of death were confirmed on the rest of them by the general officer commanding (GOC) the British Forces in Ireland Sir Nevil Macready.

Paddy Moran and Thomas Whelan were hanged for actions they were said to have been involved in on Bloody Sunday in November‭ 1920.Paddy Moran had previously fought in Jacobs Garrison in Easter Week 1916, under Thomas Mac Donagh. He had also been imprisoned in England. He was rounded up after Bloody Sunday in November 1920 and charged with involvement in shooting a British Officer dead. He strongly denied this but was sentenced to death by a British Court Martial.

Thomas Whelan was arrested in November‭ 1920 and brought to Kilmainham Jail. He was then transferred to Mountjoy to await sentence. He was charged with the shooting of another British Officer on Bloody Sunday. He too strongly denied the charge. His mother went to Dublin during the trial which lasted several days, and was present outside Mountjoy on the morning of the execution. He sang ‘The Shawl of Galway Grey’ for her the night before he went to the gallows. 

The four other men were hung for taking part in an ambush in the Dublin suburb of Drumcondra. Their names were Patrick Doyle,‭ Bernard Ryan, Frank Flood and Thomas Bryan. As no British soldiers were killed in the ambush it was decided to charge the men with ‘with high treason and levying war against the King’ which obviously was no act of treason in their eyes. se

Patrick Doyle‭ was a carpenter, married with four children and an active member of the Dublin Brigade. His brother Seán was fatally wounded at the Custom House 6 weeks later. One of Doyle’s infant twins died 2 days before his own execution.

Bernard Ryan was an apprentice tailor,‭ and the only son of an elderly widow, with whom he lived with in Phibsborough. He was born and bred in Dublin, went to St. Gabriel’s N.S. in Cowper Street. He became a clerk in a city firm, and was the breadwinner for his family. Described as quiet and practical, he was renowned for his love of the Irish language.‬ Bernard “Barney” Ryan who was just 20 when he went to the gallows. In a letter written on the eve of his execution he wrote to a letter to a friend [above]:

“Excuse this uncivilised note, but it is only written to tell you the worst has come. Young Sullivan was reprieved and we’re off on Monday. So if you don’t get any more news from me, all I ask is your prayers so slán leat.”

Frank Flood was a very close friend of Kevin Barry’s,‭ and was a student in UCD, which he attended under a scholarship. Prior to that he had been a student in O’Connell’s School, Dublin. He asked to be buried as close as possible to Kevin. He was a lieutenant in H Coy, First Battalion. He was the leader of the ambush. His brother Alfred J. Flood became a Deputy Commissioner in An Garda Síochána.

Thomas Bryan was an electrician and married just four months before his arrest.‭ In 1917, he took part in the hunger strike in Mountjoy in which Thomas Ashe died. After that he spent time in Dundalk Prison. He was active in the War for Independence before he was captured. 

March‭ 14 ‬was a day of public mourning in Dublin; all business was suspended until 11 am. Before dawn crowds began to assemble outside Mountjoy Jail; sacred pictures and candles were set up in the streets and around these about twenty thousand people stood, praying and singing hymns. When the bells tolled at six o’clock for two executions, again at seven o’clock and again at eight, the people fell on their knees to pray for the dying; their emotions of grief and anger were overpowering. An impression remained which nothing could efface.  

The Irish Republic By Dorothy Macardle

That evening members of the Dublin Brigade IRA intercepted an Auxiliary Raid on a Republican HQ on Great Brunswick St. [now Pearse St] in which two Volunteers Leo Patrick Fitzgerald & Bernard O’Hanlon were shot dead & a member of SF David C. Kelly also died. The Crown Forces admitted to two dead and three civilians were also killed in this bloody affair in the aftermath of the hangings in Mountjoy Jail.