Friday, 30 April 2021
Thursday, 29 April 2021
Wednesday, 28 April 2021
28 April 1916: The Insurrection continued in Dublin on this day.
General Sir John Maxwell arrived by boat from England. He came with orders to crush the Rising by whatever means were necessary. He was previously the GOC Egypt and a veteran of Britain’s Colonial Wars. He had recently suppressed a revolt of the Senussi People in the Western Desert. He issued a Proclamation:
The most vigorous measures will be taken by me to stop the loss of life and damage to property which certain misguided persons are causing in their armed resistance to the law. If necessary I shall not hesitate to destroy any buildings within any area occupied by the rebels and I warn all persons within the area specified below, and now surrounded by HM troops, forthwith to leave such area.
By Friday morning much of the GPO was on fire and sections of the roof were collapsing. It was obvious to the men inside that they would have to evacuate the building sooner or later. One plan being considered was to tunnel through to the adjoining buildings and join up with the Four Courts garrison. However, this was not possible because of the worsening military situation. The British now had most of the streets around the GPO well covered with snipers and machine guns.
At around 8 pm Padraig Pearse decided to evacuate the GPO, which was aflame and under constant bombardment.[above] He decided to try to escape via Henry Street and establish a new headquarters somewhere near there. The narrow streets around Henry Street and Moore Street were filled with smoke from the burning buildings. There was a great deal of confusion. In addition, nobody was quite sure exactly what the exact locations of the British Army were. Several groups of garrison tried to make their way down Henry Street but came under heavy fire. One of the casualties was The O’Rahilly who had come to Liberty Hall on Easter Monday to join the Rising even though he had initially tried to stop it going ahead.
Elizabeth O'Farrell, had been one of only three women (all members of Cumann na mBan) left in the GPO after Pearse had ordered the others to leave that morning. She recalled:
We left in three sections, I being in the last. Commandant Pearse was the last to leave the building. He went round to see that no one was left behind. We immediately preceded him, bullets raining from all quarters as we rushed to Moore Lane.
Eventually Pearse, Connolly, Plunkett, Clarke and MacDermott halted in a house at Moore Street, number 16, where they planned to make their way through back streets to the Four Courts for a last stand. However the British were not much the wiser of their opponents movements and continued to attack the GPO even after it was evacuated.
British troops killed up to a dozen innocent civilians on North King St in heavy fighting. At least some of these were killed in cold blood. But here only a handful of fighters remained and the British effectively controlled the area by nightfall.
In the north of County Dublin a Volunteer column under Thomas Ashe ambushed a convoy of RIC men. A running battle between members of the RIC and the insurgents took place, lasting five hours. The police casualties were heavy: the Meath County and District Inspectors, two sergeants and four constables were killed, and 16 constables wounded. Ashbourne barracks was captured but Volunteers Thomas Rafferty and John Crennigan lost their lives in the engagement.
Tuesday, 27 April 2021
27 April 1953: Maud Gonne McBride died on this day in Dublin City. She was born in England in 1866 and was the eldest daughter of Captain Thomas Gonne of the 17th Lancers and his wife Edith Frith Gonne. Maud’s mother Edith died from tuberculosis when she was 4 years old, and from then on she and her sister Kathleen were mostly reared by governesses. When she was 16 her father was posted to Ireland and the family settled in Kildare.
Following the death of her father, she divided her time between France and Ireland. During this time she met and fell in love with the right wing politician and journalist Lucien Millevoye. She soon became his mistress. They had two children, one of whom died a child. The relationship ended and Maud returned to Ireland. Here she became the centre of attention of WB Yeats but she spurned his proposals of marriage. How intimate they became is a mystery though.
After the Boer war she married Major John McBride (who had fought with the Boers against the British) and with whom she had a son - Sean McBride, who later was to be an IRA Chief of Staff and then a Cabinet Minister in the Irish Government. They soon split and Maud threw herself into working to secure Ireland’s Freedom from British rule. At 6 foot tall, with masses of auburn hair and fiery eyes, she was considered majestically beautiful and would spend her life fighting tirelessly for the cause of Irish Independence.
She fought evictions and helped in organizing committees to feed the poorer children of Dublin. Maud was in France during the Easter Rising of April 1916. Her former husband was one of the leaders, and was executed for his involvement. Maud returned to Ireland in 1917, started to use her husband’s name and insisted on wearing black for many years.
Following her release Maud continued her public life. During the War of Independence she was instrumental in publicizing atrocities carried out by the English forces. She worked for the White Cross supplying financial relief to the families of victims of violence.
She was against the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, but as a loyal supporter of Arthur Griffith, who supported the treaty, she remained uncharacteristically quiet on the subject. Following his death in 1922, her position hardened, particularly as she disliked William Cosgrave’s Free State government.
As Civil War broke out in 1922, she founded the Women’s Prisoners’ Defence league with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Charlotte Despard “for the help, comfort and release of” Republican prisoners. The organization of “mothers” as Maud called them, was banned a year later. The group also introduced the lily as a symbol of the Rising of Easter 1916. The lily is still used today to remember the rebellion and those that died.
In the years that followed the Civil War, Maud continued to support the Republican side and maintained her efforts on behalf of political prisoners. She did not stop her agitation until Eamon De Valera began to release prisoners on his accession to power in 1932.
In 1938 she published her autobiography A Servant of the Queen, a vivid account of her life until her marriage. She outlived all her old friends and comrades and, in her old age, described herself as “a prisoner of old age, waiting for release”. She died on the 27th of April 1953, aged 87, and is buried in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetary in Dublin.'
27 April 1916: The Insurrection continued in Dublin on this day.
The British commenced a bombardment of the GPO from close range. Buildings on the street were soon on fire and many were engulfed by the flames. . While supervising the erection of a barricade in a nearby street, James Connolly was wounded in the ankle and had to be helped back into the GPO. Supplies in the City began to run short and many civilians became desperate for food.
"Thursday, April 27th, after lunch - In the forenoon I was down at Morehampton Road shop. All there was normal but supplies somewhat limited. Afterwards down at Baggot St. (Upper). Many shops were closed and supplies in many were running out. No meat. Got the last Oxtongue and 2 Mutton Kidneys at Butchers, all meat commandeered by military. Carried home, 2 stone Potatoes and meat, everybody out carrying home their own stores."
Alfred Fannin Letters from Dublin, Easter 1916
In North King Street there was intense house to house fighting and armoured cars were used to back up the British assaults. Further up the river the Four Courts, held by Commandant Edward Daly and his men, came under attack from the British artillery. Over at the South Dublin Union Cathal Brugha was wounded in the continued fighting.
At about 10 pm that Thursday evening, an oil depot opposite the GPO exploded sending flames high into the night sky.
This night also was calm and beautiful, but this night was the most sinister and woeful of all those that have passed. The sound of artillery, of rifles, machine guns, grenades, did not cease for a moment. From my window I saw a red flare that crept to the sky, and stole over it and remained there glaring; the smoke reached from the ground to the clouds, and I could see great red sparks go soaring to enormous heights; while always, in the calm air, hour after hour there was the buzzing and rattling and thudding of guns, and, but for the guns, silence.
James Stephens The Insurrection in Dublin
Monday, 26 April 2021
26 April 1916: Field guns from Trinity College and the gunboat Helga on the River Liffey bombarded the Irish Citizen’s Army HQ at Liberty Hall and demolished it. Buildings in O’Connell St were also targeted and destroyed. The upper floor of the GPO was evacuated as the men there came under sustained attack from British snipers and guns.
Wednesday, April 26th, 9.30 a.m. - While we were dressing a terrific bombardment with field guns began - the first we had heard - and gave me cold shivers. The sound seemed to come from the direction of the G.P.O., and we concluded they were bombarding it. It went on for a quarter of an hour - awful! big guns and machine-guns - and then ceased, but we hear they were bombarding Liberty Hall, the headquarters of Larkin and the strikers two years ago, and always a nest of sedition. It is now crammed with Sinn Feiners. The guns were on H.M.S. Helga, that came up the river and smashed it from within about three hundred yards. It made me feel quite sick.
Mary Louisa Hamilton Norway The Sinn Fein Rebellion as I saw it
The Battle of Mount Street Bridge: British soldiers from the Sherwood Foresters regiment came under fire from a handful of Republican positions as they approach the Bridge there as they made their way up Northumberland Rd. Despite repeated attempts they were driven back sustaining over 200 casualties. They were raw troops just off the boat from England.
While the Officers and men showed great bravery they were tactically naïve and constantly launched full frontal attacks that cut down scores of them at a time. The defenders of the Bridge put up an equally heroic resistance against overwhelming odds and managed to hold their positions. Eventually the British troops took Clanwilliam House by storm. Three of the twelve defenders were killed. The Insurgents were men drawn from the garrison at Boland’s Mill under the orders of Commandant Eamon De Valera.
British forces entered O’Connell St. and took up positions to cover the GPO and suppress the garrison within. A concentrated fire was opened on the GHQ of the Rising and the effects began to tell.
I was looking on O' Connell Bridge and Sackville Street, and the house facing me was Kelly's - a red-brick fishing tackle shop, one half of which was on the Quay and the other half in Sackville Street. This house was being bombarded. I counted the report of six different machine guns, which played on it. Rifles innumerable and from every sort of place were potting its windows, and at intervals of about half a minute the shells from a heavy gun lobbed in through its windows or thumped mightily against its walls.For three hours that bombardment continued, and the walls stood in a cloud of red dust and smoke. Rifle and machine gun bullets pattered over every inch of it, and unfailingly the heavy gun pounded its shells through the windows."
James Stephens The Insurrection in Dublin.
Sunday, 25 April 2021
25 April 1916: A statement was issued from the Insurgent HQ in the GPO Dublin on this day.
THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT To The CITIZENS OF DUBLIN
'The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic salutes the Citizens of Dublin on the momentous occasion of the proclamation of a SOVEREIGN INDEPENDENT IRISH STATE, now in course of being established by Irishmen in arms.
The Republican forces hold the lines taken up at twelve noon on Easter Monday, and nowhere, despite fierce and almost continuous attacks of the British troops, have the lines been broken through. The country is rising in answer to Dublin’s call, and the final achievement of Ireland’s freedom is now, with God’s help, only a matter of days. The valour, self-sacrifice and discipline of Irish men and women are about to win for our country a glorious place among the nations.
Ireland’s honour has already been redeemed; it remains to vindicate her wisdom and her self-control. All citizens of Dublin who believe in the right of their country to be free will give their allegiance and their loyal help to the Irish Republic. There is work for everyone: for the men in the fighting line, and for the women in the provision of food and first aid. Every Irishman and Irishwoman worthy of the name will come forward to help their common country in this her supreme hour. Able-bodied citizens can help by building barricades in the streets to oppose the advance of the British troops. The British troops have been firing on our women and on our Red Cross. On the other hand, Irish Regiments in the British Army have refused to act against their fellow-countrymen.
The Provisional Government hopes that its supporters which means the vast bulk of the people of Dublin—will preserve order and self-restraint. Such looting as has already occurred has been done by hangers-on of the British Army. Ireland must keep her new honour unsmirched. We have lived to see an Irish Republic proclaimed. May we live to establish it firmly, and may our children and our children’s children enjoy the happiness and prosperity which freedom will bring.
Signed on behalf of the Provisional Government, P. H. PEARSE, Commander in Chief of the Forces of the Irish Republic, and President of the Provisional Government.'
Meanwhile the British continued their preparations to crush the Rising. Lord French, the Commander of the British Army in Britain organised for an Expeditionary Force to be immediately dispatched to Ireland. Within the Country General Lowe sent reinforcements from the Curragh to Dublin by train. More arrived from Belfast to bolster their positions. The General decided to seal off and isolate the various strong points and await further reinforcements. He established a tightening cordon in the outskirts of the City to stop any further support reaching the Volunteers and to guard against any breakout.
About 100 or so British soldiers seized the Shelbourne Hotel overlooking St Stephens Green and forced the Irish Citizen Army to withdraw under fire to the adjacent College of Surgeons. Commandant Daly who had seized the Linen Hall Barracks in north central Dublin set it alight to stop the British from using it as a base of attack.
25 April 1915: Irish regiments of the British Army took part in the landings at Gallipoli on this day. They were part of an Expeditionary Force sent to seize the straits of the Dardanelles from the Ottoman Empire that if successful would allow free passage to the Allied navies through the straits and onto Constantinople, the capital of Turkey at that time.
However by the time the assaults were launched all surprise had been lost and the Turks were ready to repel any attempt to seize the Gallipoli peninsula. Irish troops of the 29th Division participated in the landings at Helles Beach on the southern tip of Gallipoli.
Troops of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers of the 29th Division took part in the landings at Gallipoli. Embarking from the steamer the SS River Clyde [above] hundreds of Irishmen were lost in the attempt to get ashore in the face of devastating fire from the Turkish defenders.
The British 29th Division had orders to land at the southern tip of the Dardanelles peninsula, at Cape Helles. The landing place named V Beach in the plan of operations was where the Irish were to come ashore. It proved to be an extremely unsuitable landing place. It was covered by Turkish positions in the village of Sedd-el-Bahr and more importantly by the fort of the same name. There were defensive positions with machine gun emplacements and snipers could decimate troops landing from the sea. The British plan of attack was first a naval bombardment of the Turkish positions around Sedd-el-Bahr, followed by a landing of troops. The naval bombardment failed to destroy the Turkish defences before the troops landed.
The night before the attack on the 25th of April, none of the men could sleep on board the Clyde through fear and apprehension. Cocoa was issued all round. At 0500 hours, the navy began their bombardment of the Turkish positions around the village of Sedd-el-Bahr. Before the Dublins and Munsters approached the beaches, their Brigade Commander addressed his men saying, ‘Fusiliers, our brigade has the honour of the first to land.’
At 06.25, the naval bombardment stopped and the skipper of the Clyde, Commander Unwin, ran her aground on the beach just under the ancient Fort at Sedd-el-Bahr. The section of the beach assigned to the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers was called 'V' Beach.
The SS River Clyde was a 4,000 ton converted collier. On the bows were fitted eleven machine guns. Sally ports had been cut in the hull to allow the men to embark via gangways. The ship held 2,000 men; the 1st Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers plus two companies of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Hampshire Regiment (from the 88th Brigade) and one company of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
The tows containing amongst others the Dubliners had gone in at 6 am. All appeared lifeless following the bombardment. As the boats were about to land, the Ottoman defenders opened up, laying down a withering fire. The guns in the fort and castle of Sedd el Bahr enfiladed the beach, slaughtering the men in the boats. As they came down the gangways they continued to be mown down. A few made it ashore and sought shelter under a sand bank at the edge of the beach where they remained, pinned down. Out of the 700 men who went in, only 300 survived, many of whom were wounded.
The River Clyde followed closely behind the tows. To connect the collier to the shore, a steam hopper, the Argyll, was to beach ahead of it, providing a bridge. However, the Argyll ended up broadside to the beach, out of touch with the River Clyde. The captain of the River Clyde, Commander Edward Unwin, led men outside to manhandle three lighters (transport boats) into place and so a bridge was formed. Two companies of Munsters emerged from the sally ports and tried to reach the shore but were cut to pieces, suffering 70% casualties. Around 9 am another company made an attempt which also failed.
A third attempt to get ashore from the River Clyde by a company of Hampshires who were likewise killed. The leader of the main force, Brigadier General Napier made an attempt to lead his force ashore and was also killed. Finally, at 10.21 am, General Hamilton, who had been watching the landing from the HMS Queen Elizabeth instructed Hunter-Weston to land the main force at W Beach. The 1,000 men remaining aboard the River Clyde waited until nightfall before making another attempt to land.
Tim Buckley, a Munster Fusilier from Macroom in Co. Cork, described the utter panic the men suffered in those few moments waiting to get down the gangway onto the cover of the barge pontoons. He wrote:
When my turn came I was wiser than my comrades. The moment I stood on the gangway, I jumped over the rope and on to the pontoon. Two more did the same, and I was already flat on the bridge. Those two chaps were at each side of me, but not for long, as the shrapnel was bursting all around. I was talking to the chap on my left when I saw a lump of lead enter his temple. I turned to the chap on my right, his name was Fitzgerald from Cork, but soon he was over the border. The one piece of shrapnel had done the job for two of them.
Some 115,000 men from the then United Kingdom of Britain & Ireland and from the Commonwealth countries Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC) were killed or wounded in the Gallipoli campaign. Many thousands of Irish born and the sons of those who emigrated also served in the ANZAC forces who fought on the beaches that day and in the rest of the campaign. While it is difficult to pinpoint exact numbers it would appear about 4,000 of those who died were men who were originally from Ireland, with perhaps another 10 or 12,000 wounded.
Saturday, 24 April 2021
24 April 1916: The Easter Rising/ Amach na Cásca began. The Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army seized various locations around the centre of Dublin including:
The GPO; The Four Courts; Boland's Mill, Jacob’s biscuit factory; St. Stephen's Green and strategic buildings such as the South Dublin Union (now St. James' Hospital) as well as important approaches to the city such as Mount Street Bridge. Outbreaks of street fighting in the City commenced as the insurgents engaged members of the Crown Forces and endeavoured to secure their positions.
About noon outside the GPO Padraig Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic:
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom….
signed by Thomas J. Clarke; Sean Mac Diarmada; Thomas MacDonagh P. H. Pearse, Eamon Ceannt; James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett.
Apart from the GPO the other garrisons of the insurgents were distributed as follows:
First battalion: Under Commandant Edward Daly, took possession of the Four Courts.
Second battalion: Commandant Thomas McDonagh – occupied Jacob’s Biscuit factory.
Third battalion: Commandant Eamon de Valera - occupied Boland’s flour mills and the railway line from Westland Row to Lansdowne Road.
Fourth Battalion: Commandant Eamon Ceannt occupied the South Dublin Union.[James Street Hospital].
The Citizen Army commanded by Michael Mallin and Countess Markievizc occupied St. Stephen’s Green.
That day the men in the GPO fired upon patrol of British Lancers making their way down Sackville [O'Connell St] killing some of them and forcing the others to flee. There was also fighting at St Stephens Green, Dublin Castle, and the North Wall. Commandant Daly seized the British Army’s Linen Hall Barracks in north central Dublin which was set alight.
Overall the armed clashes on Easter Monday were little more than skirmishes as the British were dumbfounded by the day’s events. However they quickly rallied and desperate measures were implemented to hurry reinforcements to the City to regain Dublin from the Irish ‘Rebels’. Things would never be the same again.
Friday, 23 April 2021
23 April 1014: The Battle of Clontarf /Cath Cluain Tarbh, (The Pasture of the Bulls) was fought on this day – Good Friday. The victors were the forces of King Brian Boru of Munster leading a force primarily of the men of Munster and south Connacht along with a small contingent of Limerick and perhaps Waterford Vikings. His erstwhile ally Mael Sechnaill of Meath held back on the day of the Battle. Thus Brian’s men alone faced the Vikings of Dublin and the Isles and their allies the Leinstermen under King Maelmorda. The result was a great Victory for King Brian but as the day ended he was killed himself while praying in his camp. Clontarf was the greatest and bloodiest battle of the Viking age in Ireland.
The location of the actual battle site has been open to dispute, some of it convoluted in argument, but there is no conclusive proof that it was not at the location of the place we know today as Clontarf, now a suburb of Dublin City. The indications are that both armies were divided into ‘Battles’ that were led by the most prominent Leaders of their respective contingents.Those the side of the Vikings were Brodar the Manxman, Earl Sigurd from the Orkneys, King Sitric of Dublin and the forces of King Maelmorda of Leinster. It’s possible that around 5,500 men were available to fight against Brian’s Army on the day.
King Brian brought a formidable Army to Dublin to do Battle. He had his own core group made up of the Dal Cais (east Co Clare) from his Home Territory, & the contingents of the men of Munster who owed him allegiance. From south Connacht there were the soldiers of two minor kingdoms related through family ties. He had too the services of perhaps some Vikings drawn from Limerick and Waterford. However around 7,000 warriors would probably be the maximum that Brian had available to bring to Dublin. There was also the Army of the King of Meath, Mael Sechnaill II, who perhaps had around 2,500 men to line out alongside Brian Boru.
The battle began at daybreak with challenges and shouts from both sides no doubt. Famous warriors would have been to the fore, eager to meet men of their own calibre in single combat. To the mass of combatants these epic struggles were just a prelude to the main Battles charging at each other and trying their best to emulate their own heroes. As the day wore on the Irish slowly gained the upper hand. The fighting was heavy on what appears to have been a sunny but somewhat windy Spring day. As the numbers of warriors dwindled on each side the fight started to concentrate around the standards and banners of the more important men.
With sunset approaching Victory was finally in the grasp of the Irish. King Brian had been left with just a few men to guard him in his Camp, no doubt men unfit for open combat and a few boys. The excitement of such a great Victory must have had this little Band on edge and they were keen to have a go themselves to finish off any stragglers that they could catch. News of all this was of course reaching Brian so he must have had the grim satisfaction of knowing the day was his. However he received a shattering blow in the closing stages of the battle for his aides had to inform him that Murchad’s Banner could no longer be seen and Brian knew that meant in all probability his beloved son and heir Murchad had fallen.
With Victory within sight the Irish pushed the Foreigners onto the seashore, their boats too far out to get to as the tide reached its high water mark. Many were drowned in desperate attempts to reach sanctuary onboard. The Manxman Brodar however was not amongst these forlorn fugitives. His Battle had been situated on the right flank of the Viking line and in the confusion of the final rout he and a few companions headed inland to avoid being trapped against the shore.
As fate would have it his flight led him to Tomar’s Wood. Seeing a tent of some worth situated there he decided to find out to which worthy soul it might belong. Inside he saw just an old man with only a boy to protect him. He did not know who it was but one of his men had once served with the Vikings of Limerick and assured him it was actually King Brian who was inside. Brodar did not hesitate but set about the occupants with his weapon. He slew the King and fled the tent, exultant that his name would now live forever in memory of his bloody deed. Soon however word spread that a Viking had killed Brian and a search was organised to track him down. The pursuers surrounded the wood and in a circle of warriors moved towards the centre of the enclosure to find the killer. Brodar was eventually cornered and ritually disemboweled in a gruesome and bloody execution.
So ended the Battle of Clontarf and Brian’s career. Tactically the battle was a great Irish Victory that smashed the invading force and strategically it did mark the end of the threat of further Viking interference from overseas. However the cost of Victory had been high. King Brain was dead as was his heir Murchad and in turn his son Turlough. Many of the lesser kings of Munster had also fallen, including Brian’s son in law Cian. On the opposing side Earl Sigurd was dead and Brodar who met such a terrible end. King Maelmorda of Leinster was also killed on the field of battle, probably by Conaig, the nephew of Brian, who died of his wounds in turn. King Sitric of Dublin, if he was ever on the battlefield, returned to the city in time to view the final stages of the Munstermens Victory.
Brian was the most successful King to control Ireland prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion. He had shown that a King could indeed bring the whole island under personal sway. The battle of Clontarf unfortunately undid much of Brian’s work, not just in the fact of his death but also in the loss of his favourite son and heir, Murchad and in turn his son Turlough. Thus on one day three generations of Brian’s family had fallen. Brian was an old man and his death was not far off anyway. Within a few years his son Murchad, had he lived, would have had to face the challenge of imposing his will on the recently united island. He might just have pulled it off if Brian had lived long enough to secure commitments from the other kingdoms to recognise Murchad as his rightful successor to the Kingdom of Ireland.
* Battle of Clontarf, oil on canvas painting by Hugh Frazer, 1826
Thursday, 22 April 2021
22 April 1874: The death of Biddy Early on this day. She was one of the last of the old style Faith Healers/Witches or Wise Women [bean feasa] that were a source of wonder and fear in Old Ireland who offered ‘cures & curses’ and advise to those who asked for it and could not afford the fee to see a Medical Man.
Much Legend surrounds her activities and while she undoubtedly had curative powers and perhaps even hypnotic ones her chief claim was to possess a small dark glass bottle that she would look into to delve the answers to her clients needs. She was born circa 1798 in the County of Clare. She was the only child of John Thomas Connors and Ellen Early. While still a teenager she was turfed out on the road due to family tragedies and ended up in the Poorhouse. She was a spirited girl though and got out and found herself a husband - a man much older than her [more common then than now] with whom she had her only surviving child - a son. Before her mother died however she had passed on her knowledge of herbal medicine to Biddy. This knowledge would prove to be the basis for Biddy Early’s fame. She was illiterate. With her family and friends she spoke Irish, but she had some knowledge of English language.
As a young girl Biddy was a bit of a loner and is said to have spent time in the presence of an sídhe aka ‘the little people’. Amongst the superstitious peasantry of the time this enhanced her standing and she became a magnet for those who needed her intercession with them over land disputes and those who wished to put a curse on their neighbours. However she did have some pretty good knowledge of traditional herbal remedies to ailments not just of humans but also of farmhouse animals. It is generally agree that she had a powerful and commanding presence and she did not like to be derided for her efforts.
In an Age when barter was an acceptable method of payment she took ‘gifts’ of food and Poitín [locally distilled alcohol] to keep her ticking over. Indeed she had so much at times that her various homes became meeting places for socialising.
Her Fame attracted attention however - not all of it complimentary. It is said that the Catholic Hierarchy disapproved of her methods and that priests denounced her and tried to silence her - but that she silenced them! It must be said though that a lot of Legend has accrued to her name and without hard evidence some aspects and events must be taken with a grain of salt. Her only known brush with the Law came in 1865 when she was accused of witchcraft under the Witchcraft Act 1586 and was brought before a court in Ennis. This would have been unusual even in the 1860s. The few who agreed to testify against her later backed out. She was released for lack of sufficient evidence.
By this stage she was old and failing in health - she was religious and said her Rosary [nothing unusual at that time] and had worked her way through a few more husbands to boot - they all died before her. Her end came on 22 April 1874 and her magic bottle disappeared - some claim she instructed her neighbours to throw it in the local lake - though none have ever found it. Others claim she only had it on loan from an sídhe - who then took it back...
Of course there must have been many ‘Biddy Early’s’ over the centuries going back into pre Christian centuries who could work the magic and through skill and persuasion convince people to accept their cures and improve their lot in this World anyway. But she is the most famous of them all.
Wednesday, 21 April 2021
21 April 1916: The capture of Sir Roger Casement at Banna strand, Tralee Co Kerry on this day. He had been a distinguished member of the British consular service before the War but had become increasingly disillusioned with the British Empire and its role in the World, none more so on how Ireland was treated within it.
On the outbreak of War he made his way to Germany to enlist its help to overthrow British rule in Ireland. But he felt that what help was on offer would not be enough to be successful. He requested a boat to take him back home and had decided within himself to use his powers to try and convince the IRB not to go ahead with a Rising. However if one were to take place he felt it his duty to be in Ireland at that time.After a series of mishaps he and his companions were transported to the Irish coast by the submarine U19 and near to where the SS Aud was attempting to land arms for the Rising to take place. But the U19, failing to find the ‘Aud Norge’, eventually landed Casement & his companions Monteith and Bailey by dinghy on the Irish shore. The dinghy overturned in surf on Banna Strand, near Ardfert Co Kerry. Casement had been ill for some time before the journey and was far too weak to travel or run. He took refuge in ‘McKenna’s Fort’ while Bailey and Monteith tried to make contact with the local IRB. However the local Irish constabulary were alerted & Casement was arrested, as were Monteith and Bailey shortly afterwards .“When I landed in Ireland that morning (about 3 am) swamped and swimming ashore on an unknown strand, I was happy for the first time for over a year. Although I knew that this fate waited on me, I was for one brief spell happy and smiling once more. I cannot tell you what I felt. The sand hills were full of skylarks rising in the dawn, the first I had heard in years—the first sound I heard through the surf was their song as I waded through the breakers and they kept rising all the time up to the old rath at Currshone where I stayed and sent the others on and all round were primroses and wild violets and the singing of the skylarks in the air and I was back in Ireland again.”Roger Casement to his sister, Mrs Nina Newman from Pentonville Gaol 25 July 1916They were taken to Tralee RIC barracks for questioning before being dispatched to Dublin. From here Casement was rushed on to London and imprisoned in Pentonville Prison. He was charged with ‘Treason’. Put on trial his defense team put up a formidable set of arguments against his conviction but the evidence from the British perspective was damning. In addition the notorious ‘Black Diaries’ detailing his alleged Homosexual activities were used to undermine his reputation. He was hanged at Pentonville in August 1916. His remains was returned to Ireland in 1965 and he was given a State Funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Tuesday, 20 April 2021
20 April 1912: The death of Bram Stoker, author of the Gothic horror novel Dracula on this day in London England. Abraham "Bram" Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) was an Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned.
Stoker was born on 8 November 1847 at 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf , Dublin. His parents were Abraham Stoker (1799–1876), from Dublin, and Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley (1818–1901), Stoker was the third of seven children. Abraham and Charlotte were members of the Church of Ireland and Bram was baptised in the local C.O.I. church.
Stoker was bedridden with an unknown illness until he started school at the age of seven, when he made a complete recovery. Of this time, Stoker wrote, "I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years." He was educated in a private school run by the Rev. William Woods.
After his recovery, he grew up without further major health issues, even excelling as an athlete (he was named University Athlete) at Trinity College Dublin, which he attended from 1864 to 1870. He graduated with honours as a BA in Mathematics. He was auditor of the College Historical Society ('the Hist') and president of the University Philosophical Society, where his first paper was on "Sensationalism in Fiction and Society".
While manager for Irving and secretary and director of London's Lyceum Theatre, he began writing novels, beginning with The Snakes Pass in 1890 and Dracula in 1897. During this period, Stoker was part of the literary staff of the The Daily Telegraph in London, and wrote other fiction, including the horror novels The Lady in the Shroud (1909) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911). In 1906, after Irving's death, he published his life of Irving, which proved successful.
Before writing Dracula, Stoker met Ármin Vámbéry who was a Hungarian writer and traveler. Dracula likely emerged from Vámbéry's dark stories of the Carpathian mountains.Stoker then spent several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires . Dracula is written as a collection of realistic, but completely fictional, diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship's logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which added a level of detailed realism to his story, a skill he developed as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, Dracula was considered a "straightforward horror novel" based on imaginary creations of supernatural life. "It gave form to a universal fantasy . . . and became a part of popular culture."
After suffering a number of strokes, Stoker died on 20 April 1912 in London. He was cremated , and his ashes placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium. After Irving Noel Stoker's death in 1961, his ashes were added to that urn. The original plan had been to keep his parents' ashes together, but after Florence Stoker's death, her ashes were scattered at the Gardens of Rest. To visit his remains at Golders Green, visitors must be escorted to the room the urn is housed in, for fear of vandalism.
There is no doubt that his novel Dracula was the major literary and artistic achievement of his life and he would be unknown today without it.
That this scalding tale of eternal love was written by a quiet clerk from Dublin is not its strangest element. That honour belongs to Dracula’s afterlife. Stoker died in 1912, not desperately poor but by no means financially comfortable, having lost his income on Irving’s death in 1905. Some years after Stoker’s passing, a German film company produced the pirated film, Nosferatu. Florence Balcombe, Stoker’s redoubtable widow, sued and won. But the movies fell for the Count, who has refused to stay dead ever since. Filmed dozens of times, selling tens of millions of copies, in hundreds of languages, inspiring scores of imitators, Dracula has become the most successful supernatural novel in history.
Irish Times 26 October 2019
20 April 1946: Johanna Mary "Hanna" Sheehy Skeffington Suffragette, Republican and political activist died on this day. She was born in 1877 in Kanturk Co Cork, the daughter of the future Nationalist MP David Sheehy &. Elizabeth "Bessie" McCoy. From an early age she was imbued with the spirit of political activity to free Ireland from British Rule and to improve the lot of women in Irish Society. Whilst still very young her family moved to Dublin.
When Hanna was a teenager, the Sheehys held an open house on the second Sunday night of each month. They encouraged young people to visit them and their six children. The Sheehys were fond of singing and playing games, and would ask their guests to sing. Hanna was sent to Germany for a short period when she was 18 years old to get treatment for tuberculosis. After graduating from the Royal University of Ireland, she moved to Paris to work as an Au Pair and returned to Ireland in 1902. She sat for examinations at Royal University of Ireland and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1899, and a Master of Arts Degree with first-class honours in 1902. This led to a career as a teacher in Eccles Street and an examiner in the Intermediate Certificate examination.
Hanna married Francis Skeffington on June 3, 1903 at University Chapel in St. Stephen's Green, Dublin. The couple wore their graduation gowns as a substitute for a traditional wedding gown and suit. Both husband and wife took the surname Sheehy Skeffington as a symbol of their honour for one another.
It was this point on that her political activity really took off as her husband was as a committed activist as she was. In 1908 she was a founder member of The Irish Women's Franchise League dedicated to ensuring Votes for Women in Parliamentary elections. On 13 June 1912, she, along with seven other women, were arrested for smashing the glass windows of Dublin Castle. They served a month long sentence in Mountjoy Prison alongside another month after they refused to pay a fine. They were granted the privileges of political prisoners. Sheehy Skeffington was fired in 1913 from her job as a teacher at Rathmines School of Commerce for her continued involvement in feminist militancy.
When the Great War broke out in 1914 she became involved in the anti-recruiting campaign and was prevented by the British government from attending a conference held in The Hague in April 1915 on Women’s Rights. The watershed in her life came during the Easter Rising 1916 when her husband Francis was brutally murdered by a deranged British Officer. She did not find out about his death until two days had passed.
She joined Sinn Fein in the aftermath of the Rising. In December 1916 she went to the US to raise awareness of Ireland’s Cause and she attended some 250 meetings there across America. She was later imprisoned by the British in Holloway Prison London for actively opposing the War. In 1920 she joined a Dublin corporation as a councillor. She resumed work on The Irish Citizen and in 1919 became organising secretary of Sinn Fein.
She opposed the Treaty in 1921 and again toured the USA in 1922 to raise funds to help Republican prisoners. In 1926 she joined Fianna Fáil as an executive, however she only kept this position for one year. She was disillusioned with the new Irish Free State and felt that women had not yet achieved their rightful place in Society especially in the new Irish Constitution of 1937. She stood for election to the Dáil in 1943 but was not returned.
Her daughter in law Andrée Sheehy-Skeffington (wife of her only son Owen Sheehy-Skeffington) recalled Hanna with great affection:
‘She was very helpful, but she could also be quietly critical. When I told her that I and some friends were forming the Irish Housewives Associations she said, “You’re not wedded to the house, you know!”’.
‘She was very fond of animals and also of flowers, particularly the orange lily. People used to raise an eyebrow at this, and she would say, “I will not allow Orangemen to have a monopoly of this beautiful flower!”’.
‘It was startling to see on her mantelpiece a photo of a British officer in uniform. This was Major Sir Francis Vane, who had ordered an enquiry into the murder of her husband. He did all he could to see that justice was done, and it cost him his position in the British Army’.
She died on 20 April 1946 and is buried alongside her husband in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin.
Monday, 19 April 2021
19 April 1741: In a letter to Dr. Thomas Prior, Dublin, the Bishop of Cloyne, Dr. George Berkeley, wrote of the Famine which was then raging:
The distresses of the sick and poor are endless. The havoc of mankind in the counties of Cork, Limerick and some adjacent places hath been incredible. The nation, probably, will not recover this loss in a century. The other day I heard one from the county of Limerick say that whole villages were entirely dispeopled.
The Great Famine of 1741 had its origins in the ‘Great Frost’ of January 1740 when an intense and bitter cold that emanated from the Arctic and not been experienced in living memory swept across Western Europe. So cold was it that birds dropped from the sky and seed was destroyed in the ground. Trade came to a halt as ports froze up and travel became almost impossible. In the Springtime the expected rains did not come, and though the Frost dissipated, the temperatures remained low and the northerly winds very strong. By the Summer of 1740, the Frost had decimated the potatoes and drought had wrought havoc with the grain harvest and the herds of cattle and sheep had suffered huge losses.
In the Autumn a meager harvest commenced and prices in the towns started to fall. Cattle began to recover, but in the dairying districts, cows had been so weak after the Frost that at least a third of them had failed to “take bull”. Then blizzards swept along the east coast in late October and more snow fell several times in November. A massive downpour of rain fell on 9 December causing widespread flooding. A day after the floods, the temperature plummeted, snow fell, and rivers and other bodies of water froze. Warm temperatures followed the cold snap, which lasted about ten days. Great chunks of ice careened down the River Liffey and through the heart of Dublin, overturning light vessels and causing larger vessels to break anchor. The price of foodstuffs rocketed and people began to starve.
The Spring of 1741 went down in popular memory as the Black Spring of ’41 as the impact of two very hard Winters and the destruction of so much livestock and grain supplies began to be felt. This was especially so amongst the rural and urban poor of whom there were very many in Ireland at that time. Diseases swept the Country: Dysentery; Smallpox and Typhus took the lives of many thousands.
Sir Richard Cox wrote from Cork in April that year:
Mortality is now no longer heeded; the instances are so frequent. And burying the dead, which used to be one of the most religious acts among the Irish, is now become a burthen…In short, by all I can learn, the dreadfullest civil war, or most raging plague never destroyed so many as this season. The distempers and famine increase so that it is no vain fear that there will not be hands to save the harvest.
Eventually in the Summer of 1741 the Crises abated and while the situation was still very hard the plagues and starvation eased off. The next Harvest while not abundant was sufficient to ensure that enough food would be available to avert a similar situation the following year.
So ended what was the worst set of recorded climate related disasters to hit Ireland since at least the early 14th Century. Nobody knows how many people died as a result of this Great Famine of 1741 and the hardships that preceded its apogee. Out of an overall estimated population at the time of around three million souls it seems probable that between 300,000 to 450,000 died as a result of disease & starvation – a mortality rate that stands comparison with if it did not actually exceed the more infamous events of the 1840s.
Sunday, 18 April 2021
18 April 1949:The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 came into operation on this day. It separated the 26 County State [The Irish Free State] from the British Commonwealth and made her an Independent Republic in her own right. This momentous decision was taken some months earlier by the Coalition Government of An Taoiseach John A Costello. During his presence at a Conference in Ottawa, Canada he was miffed at his reception where he felt he had been deliberately embarrassed by the host the Governor General of Canada -Earl Alexander - himself of Ulster descent and one of Britain’s foremost Military Commanders of WWII.
However the move had been under consideration for years [indeed the Government Parties had campaigned on this issue at the previous general election] and it became more plausible following the Declarations of the newly independent India, Pakistan and Ceylon as Republics in 1947. While they chose to remain within the Commonwealth the broad consensus at home was to get out. De Valera had stripped the ties between the State and the British Crown down to the bare minimum back in 1936 but he was reluctant to press any further ahead than that. In a way only a non FF led Government could have been sure to have carried the People with them across the board to see it through - after all De Valera could hardly object!
In Dublin, tricolours flew from buildings – private and public – while papal flags adorned houses in the suburbs. The GPO was decked out in a green, white and orange plastic material.
“As the time for the firing approached, a solid mass of people jammed the thoroughfare from O’Connell Bridge to the GPO Every possible vantage point was made use of,” reads the report.
From the city, blazing tar barrels could be seen on the Dublin hills. At 11.45pm, O’Connell Street “became a blaze of light from searchlight batteries ringing the city.” A few minutes after midnight the salute from the guns began, with 10-second intervals between the rounds.
...later in the morning, following a military parade, the president Sean T O’Kelly addressed the media at the GPO. “We now stand alone, as a nation on our own,” he said, adding: “We are making a big noise in the world, and we will make a bigger noise still. We can be of great assistance if we can only get rid of partition, the one and last worry we have.”
Irish Times 18 April 2019
Thus it came about that on the strike of midnight on 17/18 April 1949 the State was legally a Republic at last - though minus the Six Counties of the North which robbed it in some eyes of full legitimacy. However the status of the State as an Independent Republic has now survived for over 70 years even if greatly modified in its powers and remit through membership of the European Union since 1973.
18 April 1939: Ishbel Maria Gordon, Lady Aberdeen (1857-1939) died in Scotland on this day. Her husband Lord Aberdeen held the Viceroyalty of Ireland in 1886 and again from 1906 to 1915.
Born Ishbel (Gaelic for Isabel) Maria Marjoribanks, she was the third daughter of the 1st Baron Tweedmouth and Isabella Weir-Hogg (daughter of Sir James Weir Hogg). On 7 November 1877 she married the Liberal politician the 7th Earl of Aberdeen (later the 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair), in St. George's Church, St. George Street, Hanover Square, London.
Both were fervent Home Rulers, and they were aware of the imbalance between urban poverty and the new rural prosperity. Lady Aberdeen founded the Women's National Health Association which established playgrounds in the Dublin slums and a depot to supply milk to the city's sick children. The Association, also opened sanatoriums and organised exhibitions, which travelled round Ireland as part of an intensive campaign against tuberculosis.
The Aberdeens were keen to see the revitalisation of Dublin's inner city and they twice brought a Town Planning Exhibition to Dublin and organised a civic exhibition attended by all municipal and local authorities. Although well intentioned, the new town plan was never implemented. Lady Aberdeen, later wrote:
'If we could have persuaded some of the Cabinet Ministers to come across to see things for themselves, the result might have been different ... To turn from rural to the urban districts of Ireland would have surely convinced [them] that the housing conditions of the cities and towns of Ireland remained a blot and a menace, culminating in Dublin ... '
A keen feminist, she did not endear herself to the social establishment by her efforts to promote women's rights, democratic attitudes, and religious and ethnic tolerance. She caused a social scandal while in Canada when she joined her servants to take high tea. The Aberdeens were given a huge farewell on their departure from Ireland in 1915.
Lady Aberdeen was president of the International Council of Women for thirty-six years (1893–1936) and the National Council of Women of Canada for six years (1893–1899). When her husband was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, she took up the fight against tuberculosis, starting the Woman's National Health Association.
'The Earl and Countess of Aberdeen had a greater impact on Dublin society than any Vice Regal couple since the Clarendons - but for very different reasons. They inspired some affection and a great deal of ridicule in the nine years that they spent in Vice-Regal Lodge.
There was something faintly ridiculous about their appearance, described by Leon O'Broin as:
"he bearded and small and polite, she disproportionately large, matronly and masterful."
Lady Aberdeen had a genius for getting things a little wrong, for meddling in matters that had nothing whatsoever to do with her and for an apparent inability to recognise rebuff....
However all recognised that she had a heart of Gold and a strong dislike of Injustice in this World. If she had faults they were far outweighed by her qualities of organising and basically cajoling the powers that be to improve the lot of the ordinary people.
However while very well meaning the good Lady was not the most tactful of people in all situations, the story goes that back in 1886 at the time of Gladstone's first Home Rule Bill she was dining in Dublin Castle when she remarked to Lord Chief Justice Morris:
"I suppose everyone but yourself is a Home Ruler here tonight."
"Not at all, Your Excellency", he replied frostily. "Barring yourself and the waiters there's not a Home Ruler in the room."
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Áras an Uachtaráin
Saturday, 17 April 2021
17 April 1876: The whaling vessel Catalpa rescued six Irish prisoners from British Captivity on this day. The ship under Captain George S. Anthony carried out one of the most daring and long distance rescues in history when she was used to spirit away the six Fenian prisoners from Freemantle, Australia. Even though the British quickly realised the men had fled and gave chase the ship could not be boarded as she flew the American flag. The rescued men (Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Robert Cranston and James Wilson) were brought safely to New York City. The Fenians John Devoy and John J. Breslin planned the rescue operation from America and Breslin was dispatched to Australia to co-ordinate the rescue.
In July 1874 the Clan na Gael Organisation in the USA decided to rescue the six prisoners who were excluded from a conditional pardon for all civilian Fenian prisoners. These men had been members of the British Army and thus considered outright ‘Traitors’ by the British. John Devoy was assigned to co-ordinate this rescue. He saw that funds were raised and a Captain George S. Anthony was ‘head hunted’ to undertake the dangerous mission. When it was put to him he was willing to take the risk. It was then decided that the voyage must look like a whaling voyage, thus Captain Anthony went looking for a suitable ship. In the port of Boston he found one that suited his needs and purchased the Catalpa, a three-master whaler, for $5200.
The ship set out from New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA, in April 1875. The Voyage was undertaken with the deliberate intention engaging in a daring a yearlong mission of international rescue. On 28 March 1876 the Catalpa arrived off Bunbury Harbour, Western Australia and a meeting was set up between Captain Anthony and John Breslin. At this meeting they agreed the rescue date should be on 6 April. However due to the presence of a British gunboat at the Harbour and the information that another gunboat was due to arrive they rescheduled the rescue for 17 April.
With the help of the prison chaplain, the six men escaped to the coast where Captain Anthony was waiting with a small whaleboat that would take them to the Catalpa. The resistance they overcame, both from armed British vessels and a furious sea storm, made their escape the stuff of legend. The British attempted to capture the Catalpa but Captain Anthony had the Flag of the United States raised and warned the prospective boarders that such a move would be viewed as an Act of War. They thought the better of it and the Catalpa made good her escape.
The Catalpa landed the ‘Freemantle Six’ in New York Harbour on 19 August 1876. Though Captain Anthony would never again put to sea in open waters for fear of arrest by the British, his rescue voyage, made mostly without the use of a functioning chronometer, is one of the greatest feats of seamanship ever recorded in nautical annals.
Friday, 16 April 2021
16 April 1958: Margaret Burke Sheridan the famous Irish Soprano died on this day. At the height of her fame she was ranked amongst most famous Prima Donnas’ of the World of Opera. She came from a modest but respectable background in the town of Castlebar Co Mayo where her father was the Postmaster.
However tragedy struck her early in life and by the time she was 11 she was an orphan. To further her education she was packed off to Dublin and placed in the care of the Dominican nuns at Eccles Street, Dublin. It was there that she received her first singing lessons from Mother Clement who was a noted music teacher. Margaret won a gold medal at the Feis Ceoil [Festival of Music] in 1908 and showed so much musical promise that a benefit concert was given in the old Theatre Royal in Dublin to help fund her studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
It was there that her career really took off as was given leading roles in some of the leading Operas of the day. She quickly became known as ‘La Sheridan’ as her fame spread. It was there that the great inventor Marconi heard her sing and proclaimed “yours is the voice I’ve been waiting to hear all my life”. He decided that she must go to Italy to further her career.
She became a singing sensation in Italy as audiences were captivated by her rich and lyric soprano voice. The conductor Toscanini dubbed her “the Empress of Ireland” and she was chosen to sing at the wedding of the Italian Crown Prince, Umberto. Margaret made numerous recordings including the first ever complete recording of Madame Butterfly in 1930. In the 1920’s People said there were only three people known outside of Ireland, Eamon De Valera, John McCormack and Margaret Burke Sheridan.
But Margaret’s time at the pinnacle was to be a short one. In 1936 she developed throat problems that stymied her career. She had an operation but it was limited in its success. In an Art where perfection is paramount she realised that her time was up and chose retirement over ridicule.
She returned to Dublin and while she kept away from the Limelight she did continue to sometimes sing, notably her interpretations of Moore’s Melodies and her rendition of Balfe’s “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls”. She sang in public on and off but basically she just socialized around the town where she was known as quite a character. She kept a small flat near Fitzwilliam St and was a ‘regular’ in the exclusive Shelbourne Hotel. She also spent some time with a wealthy patron in New York. Her end came in April 1958 when she died of cancer in the Pembroke Nursing Home on Leeson Street. She is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery Dublin.
Thursday, 15 April 2021
15/16 April 1941: The Luftwaffe Bombed Belfast on this night. The city’s first major attack of War was on Easter Tuesday night, 15-16 April. An estimated 180 aircraft participated in the assault, which lasted for five and a half hours (11:30 pm–4:55 am). Bombs fell on average at a rate of two per minute. There was virtually no resistance from the ground. Due to blast damage to the city’s telephone exchange the anti-aircraft guns fell silent from 1:45 am onwards. By the time of the “all clear” it had to be rung by hand-bells because of a power failure.
Belfast was only lightly defended by AA guns as both Stormont and Westminster did not believe that the Luftwaffe would take much interest in Belfast as it was too far away from German Air bases and there were more lucrative targets in Britain for them to bomb.
In the time between the start of the war in September 1939 to the first bombing in April 1941, Belfast had experienced 22 air raid siren alerts – each one a false alert. This cultivated an atmosphere of carelessness among many and this extended to things such as blackouts – strictly enforced on the mainland. “People were careless about their light.” (Jimmy Wilton, Belfast ARP).
However the city was a major shipbuilding centre and a major port and that attracted attention with probing raids that should have shook both politicians, the populace and the Military out of their complacency. When this major raid did go ahead it stunned everyone in its intensity and the death and destruction it brought down on the City.
An Observer from Dublin, Major Sean O’Sullivan noted that:
In the Antrim Road [North Belfast] and vicinity the attack was of a particularly concentrated character and in many instances bombs from successive waves of bombers fell within 15-20 yards of one another … In this general area, scores of houses were completely wrecked, either by explosion, fire or blast, while hundreds were damaged so badly as to be uninhabitable … In suburban areas, many were allowed to burn themselves out and during the day wooden beams were still burning … During the night of 16-17, many of these smouldering fires broke out afresh and fire appliances could be heard passing throughout the night…
Belfast bore the brunt of the indiscriminate enemy air attacks carried out against Northern Ireland during the night. Shortly after the alert had been sounded, high explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped at random over the city. A considerable number fell in residential and shopping areas, causing numerous casualties, many of which, it is feared, are fatal.
The Air Raid killed some 745 people, injured 1,500 and destroyed about 1,600 houses with many more damaged to a greater or lesser extent. It was the bloodiest day of violence in Modern Irish History.
Wednesday, 14 April 2021
14 April 1794 General Arthur Dillon, a French soldier of Irish descent, was guillotined in Paris on this day. The Dillon family were amongst the most famous of the ‘Wild Geese’ who served in the armies of France in the 17th and 18th Centuries. He was born in 1750 and had a distinguished military career, seeing action in the West Indies and in the American Revolutionary War.
In 1778, he sailed with his regiment to the Caribbean to campaign against Britain. In 1779 he and his regiment fought at the Capture of Grenada against British forces under George Macartney. They landed on 2 July, and stormed the Hospital Hill which the British had chosen as the centre of their resistance. Arthur personally led one of the storm parties, his brother Henry led another. He served also served at the siege Savannah, Georgia (where he was promoted to brigadier); and elsewhere.
After the Treaty of Paris, he became governor of Tobago. His first wife having died, he married a wealthy French Creole widow from Martinique, Laure de Girardin de Montgérald, the Comtesse de la Touche, by whom he had six children. His daughter Fanny married General Bertrand and was with Napoleon in his exiles on Elba and St Helena and present at his deathbed.
He was briefly Governor of the Caribbean island of St Kitts & when he visited London after the peace of 1783 he was complimented by the lord chancellor on his administration of that island. He was the representative of the island of Martinique in the National Assembly where he spoke on colonial affairs.
In June 1792 he received command of the Army of the North but fell into political disfavour with the Jacobins and was reduced to a subordinate position under General Dumouriez where he distinguished himself in the Argonne passes. However he compromised his security by offering the landgrave of Hesse an unmolested retreat so as to be able to withdraw unhindered. For this he was arrested and imprisoned.
He was eventually accused of being involved in a plot behind bars called the ‘Luxembourg Prison Plot’. After eight months in prison he was executed with 20 others including his intimate friend Lucile Desmoulines whose own husband was guillotined just days before. In his final moments he mounted the scaffold shouting, "Vive le roi! (Long live the king)".
Tuesday, 13 April 2021
13 April 1742: George Frederic Handel conducted the first performance of his Messiah, in the New Music Hall, Fishamble Street, on this day.
In the late summer of the year 1741 the Duke of Devonshire, the Viceroy of Ireland, invited Handel to Dublin. Moreover, the Governors of Mercer's Hospital, and of the Charitable Infirmary, had asked Handel to compose something special in aid of the Dublin sick. This special work, the immortal Messiah, was finished by Handel on September 14th, 1741, having been written in three weeks--a marvellous tour de force. On November 18th, 1741, Handel arrived in Dublin and spent the Winter in giving performances in the City and working on drafts of Messiah. He took a house in Abbey Street near Liffey Street where he received visitors.
Handel's first concert was on December 23rd, consisting of L'Allegro, with two concertos for several instruments, and a concerto on the organ. But it had become known that Handel was planning something special to mark his Season in Dublin and expectation grew that it would be a musical event of great importance. An open air Rehearsal Concert some days prior to the formal opening drew large crowds and was met with open approval.
In apprehension of overcrowding at the performance, posted The Dublin Journal on this day the following notice:
The Stewards of the Charitable Music Society request the Favour of the Ladies not to come with Hoops this Day to the Musick-Hall in Fishamble Street: The Gentlemen are desired to come without their Swords.
In its Edition of 17 April 1742 the publication wrote that:
On Tuesday last Mr. Handel’s Sacred Grand Oratorio, the MESSIAH, was performed at the New Musick-Hall in Fishamble-street; the best Judges have allowed it to be the most finished piece of Musick. Words are wanting to express the exquisite delight it afforded to the admiring, crowded audience. The Sublime, Grand and Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick and moving Words conspired to transport and charm the ravished heart and ear. It is but Justice to Mr. Handel that the World should know, he generously gave the money arising from this grand performance, to be equally shared by the Society for relieving Prisoners, the Charitable Infirmary and Mercer’s Hospital.
This great opening Performance was carried out with the help of the choirs from St. Patrick's and Christ Church. The £400 proceeds were given to Mercer's Hospital, the Charitable Infirmary and for the relief of prisoners.
Handel spent the rest of the Summer giving repeat performances of his many works including the Messiah. He also spent some time in the City of Cork. He left Ireland on Friday, August 13th, never to return but his time here marked one of the highest points of his later career as a Musician. He died in London in 1759 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Handel is the greatest composer who ever lived.
I would bare my head and kneel at his grave.
Ludwig van Beethoven