Tuesday, 31 August 2021

 


31 August 1994: The IRA announced a complete cessation of military activities on this day as their long awaited ‘Ceasefire’ came into effect. The efforts to bring the Provisional IRA to this point had been years in the making but had faced many obstacles along the way, both within and without the Republican Movement.

The IRA announced: "Recognising the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic process and underlying our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of the IRA have decided that as of midnight, August 31, there will be a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly....

The genesis for moving away from violence and towards a purely peaceful strategy began at the time of the 1981 Hunger Strikes when a number of republican representatives were elected both North and South of the Border - most notably Bobby Sands who was on hunger strike in the Long Kesh prison camp at the time.

In the aftermath of those events Sinn Fein decided to contest elections across Ireland and while initially any success they had was in the North they had made a start and there was no going back.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, as the acknowledged leaders of the Republican Movement, were the two individuals most closely associated with developing a strategy that would see a metamorphosis of Sinn Fein into a purely political Party and an end to its support for the IRAs campaign. However they realised that at the end of the day only the IRA could call it.

Initially there was scepticism and hostility in many quarters but a number of factors, some positive and some negative helped push things along the way.

On the positive side was the election of Bill Clinton as President of the USA from 1991, a man with an Irish background and a real interest in helping to bring Peace about. Here in Ireland the appointment of Albert Reynolds as Taoiseach in 1992 brought to power a man of calibre who carried no baggage on the issue and was prepared to take risks to get the end result. In Britain John Major became Prime Minister in 1990 and if not as committed as others to the process he was of a practical turn of mind who was prepared to cut a deal at the end of the day.

On the negative side many people, not least in Nationalist areas of the North of Ireland were sick and tired of years of violence with no end in sight. The yearning for Peace was high and in addition the Loyalist paramilitaries had been re armed and re organised and were launching effective counter strikes of their own. The British Army were still on the streets. Though the IRA were well armed and motivated it was clear the Armed Struggle had reached Deadlock.

The Hume Adams initiative was an internal attempt by Adams and John Hume, the leader of the SDLP, then the biggest nationalist party in the North, to develop a framework for Peace but was stymied by its utter rejection by Unionists and the British Government. The Unionist community did not trust what was happening and were wary of any initiatives that emanated from Dublin or indeed from any parties on the Nationalist side. Major in turn was reliant on Unionist votes to keep him in power and would not risk pushing them too far. Albert Reynolds had other ideas and had Hume and Adams sidelined as he went for cutting a deal with the British Prime Minister that would put them in the driving seat and steering the process down a road that all could follow.

Thus came about in December 1993 the 'Downing Street Declaration' when Reynolds and Major issued a joint statement which laid out the guidelines on which a settlement could be built.

It argued for self-determination on the basis of consensus for all the people of Ireland. It argued that any agreement had to be based on the right of people on both parts of the island to "exercise the right of self determination on the basis of consent freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland if that is their wish." Not everyone was happy with this but at least there was now something to build upon.

Another significant breakthrough came at the end of January 1994 when Gerry Adams was given a 48 hour visa to visit the USA in order to be able to convince Republican supporters to support his efforts to stop the violence. The visa was granted on the personal authority of Bill Clinton, despite the opposition of his own State Department, FBI, CIA and speaker of the House, Tom Foley.

That same month the broadcasting ban under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act was lifted in the Republic of Ireland. This allowed Sinn Féin access to the Irish media and marked the end of official political censorship in the South.

At Easter 1994 the IRA announced a three day ceasefire and across Ireland there was a growing expectation that a permanent one would follow. Behind the scenes the Irish government had given written assurances that in the event of an IRA cessation, it would end its marginalisation of the Sinn Féin electorate and that there would be an early public meeting between Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, John Hume and Gerry Adams.

Despite some twists and turns and secret negotiations the momentum held. Not even shocking acts of violence like the Shankill road bombing in October 1993 in which eleven innocent people were killed by an IRA bomb and the revenge murders by the UVF at Greysteel were enough to derail the process. When it came though many were relieved that what had seemed almost impossible had at last come about. It was a seminal moment in Modern Irish History.




Monday, 30 August 2021

 



30 August 1855: The Death of Feargus Edward O'Connor , Chartist Leader on this day. He was the son of Roger O'Connor, a United Irishman, and was born in 1796 in County Cork. When Feargus O'Connor was twenty-four he inherited an estate there. Although a Protestant, O'Connor was a reforming landlord and denounced the religious Tithes & the power of the Established Church. Daniel O’Connell soon spotted his potential and secured a candidacy for him in the General Election of 1832 in which he was returned as an MP for County Cork. But O’Connor rashly decided to try and unseat the Great Dan as Leader of the Irish MPs in the House of Commons and the two fell out.

O’Connor thereafter focused his attentions on Radical English Politics, moving to Manchester where he published the highly successful Northern Star newspaper. He became a leading light in the Chartist Movement, dedicated to Universal Suffrage and Annual parliaments. Here again though his maverick personality and impatience with pacific political activity led him into trouble with him advocating the threat of violence to achieve political Reform. O'Connor responded to criticism by forming a new Chartist organisation, the East London Democratic Association.

He was found guilty of sedition in 1839 and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment. O'Connor continued to edit the Northern Star newspaper from his prison cell and upset the other Chartist leaders when he told his readers that from "September 1835 to February 1839 I led you single-handed and alone."

In 1845 O'Connor launched his Chartist Land Plan. His objective was to raise money to buy a large estate that would be divided into plots of three and four acres. Subscribers would then draw lots and the winners would obtain a cottage and some land. O'Connor promised that his Land Scheme would "change the whole face of society in twelve months" and would "make a paradise of England in less than five years".

But the scheme backfired and the estate went bankrupt before too long. Some of the tenants ended up being evicted and the whole disastrous enterprise badly damaged O’Connor’s credibility with the English Working Class. The stress and effort involved took its toll on O’Connor’s mental health. In 1847, O'Connor was elected MP for Nottingham, becoming the first and only Chartist MP.

His finest moment should have been the Great Demonstration he organised to assemble in Kennington Park [near where the Oval Cricket Club now is situated] in London on 10 April 1848 that was to march on the Houses of Parliament. 200,000 people were expected to attend and this projected assembly put the wind up the British Establishment. The Duke of Wellington was put in charge of the Military and tens of thousands of citizens were made temporary 'policemen' to control the situation.

In the event it proved a damp squib as only about 25,000 people turned up in a heavy downpour to hear O’Connor make outlandish claims that proved to be untrue- namely that over five million people had signed his Petition on workers rights when it was really about two million. Even then on examination it was discovered that many were clearly forgeries including those of the Queen and the Iron Duke, who appeared to have endorsed the petition no fewer than seventeen times! It was all over by 2 O'clock that afternoon and the Establishment could breath again.

After 1848 Chartism went into sharp decline. From 1851, O'Connor's behaviour became increasingly irrational, possibly as a result of syphilis. In 1852 he was declared insane and sent to an asylum in Chiswick. He died on 30 August 1855.

A charismatic and talented actor on the stage of politics O’Connor at his best was a man to be watched. He claimed Royal descent from the last King of Ireland - Rory O’Connor of Connacht. He always supported the Repeal of the Union even though it must have cost him support amongst the English People. He was though dogged by personal problems and sometimes allowed his temperament to get the better of him. But whatever his faults he helped to raise the English Working Class up out of their misery enough to know that together and organised they could challenge the Establishment to at least listen to their demands to be treated fairly and with Justice.



Sunday, 29 August 2021

 




29 August 1975: Éamon de Valera died on this day. His active political career spanned the years 1913-1973 from when he first joined the Irish Volunteers until his retirement as President of Ireland. Born in New York City in 1882 he was brought back to Ireland two years later and raised by his wider family in Co Limerick

He was one of the leading commandants of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 and was sentenced to death by the British but this was commuted to Life Imprisonment as being born in the USA he was eligible to claim US citizenship

In 1917 he was elected as MP for East Clare but did not take his seat and in 1918 he was again imprisoned by the British but escaped from Lincoln Jail in England 1919. He returned home where he was elected by Dáil Éireann as Príomh Aire (President). He then made his way to America where he campaigned hard to gain support for the Irish Republic especially amongst the huge Irish American community there

Returning home in 1920 he and the British began tentative negotiations which led to the Truce of July 1921. But he broke with many of his colleagues in December that year when the Treaty was signed. The Civil War of 1922-1923 saw him side lined and after another period of imprisonment by the Irish Free State he in 1926 founded his own Party Fianna Fáil which he led until 1959

In 1927 he led the Party into the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann and took the Oath to the British King George V - but under protest that he felt not bound by it! A dodgy tactic but it worked and he carried most of the Republican Movement with him to back this approach.

After the General Election of  January 1932  he was elected by the Dáil as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State and governed it until 1948 - being returned as Leader in every election. In the early 1930s he faced down General Eoin O’Duffy and his fascistic Blueshirt Movement and contained the threat from the IRA who wanted to re start the War with Britain over their continued Occupation of the North.

He refused to pay the Annuities due to the UK and this triggered the Economic war with England which brought great hardship to many farmers & others. While he was right in Principle the cost was high. He got rid of the Oath to the British Monarch in 1936 & brought before the People a New Constitution - Bunreacht na hÉireann - which was passed in a Referendum and came into operation in 1937. It is still the Constitution to this day - though somewhat amended now. In 1938 he got the British to hand back the Treaty Ports they still held and made a final settlement to the Economic War with a once off payment to them which finished the matter.

In 1939 the Second World War began and this State declared itself Neutral - the British were disgusted but had to accept it. However Dev played it well and ensured that co operation with England while low key was real nonetheless. He allowed anyone who wanted to go to cross the water to join up or work there if they wanted to. At War’s end in 1945 he offered condolences to the USA on the death of President Roosevelt but also to Germany on the death of Adolf Hitler - a gaffe in most people’s eyes.

He lost the General Election of 1948 and was out of power until 1951 when he was returned once again. However he was to lose it once more in 1954 and by this stage he was well into his 70s. The State could not provide enough jobs for its young people and Emigration was astronomical + widespread poverty in many parts of the Country. No Party seemed to have the solution. When he was returned to power in 1957 he came under pressure to look for new ways to change things and in 1958 it was decided to open up Ireland to Foreign Investment and Trade to which Dev gave his Imprimatur. This led to rapid economic expansion that continued until 1974.

But Dev was old and tired by now and his eyesight was failing. He resigned as Taoiseach in 1959 and was then elected President of Ireland  in June of that year by popular vote. Probably the highlight of his term in Office was the visit of President John F Kennedy in 1963 and the celebrations in 1966 of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. In that year he also was re elected President defeating the Fine Gael candidate Tom O’Higgins by a narrow margin. His last years were much more low key as age caught up with him. By that stage he was seen by many younger people as an archaic figure out of touch with Modern Ireland.

Always a divisive figure and a controversial one he led his followers through many crises - though many would consider some at least self inflicted ones! There was no doubting his fine mind and his ability to think a few steps ahead of his opponents on most occasions. His abiding legacy must be though the Constitution of 1937 and keeping the Irish State out of the Second World War + initiating the change that started our rise in living standards from 1958.

At his retirement in 1973 at the age of 90, he was the oldest head of state in the world. His wife of many years Sinéad de Valera died some months before he did and he was buried alongside her in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin after a State Funeral.







Friday, 27 August 2021

 


27 August 1979: Lord Mountbatten was assassinated  by the IRA on this day. Albert Victor Nicholas Louis Francis Mountbatten Admiral of the Fleet , 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, KG, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO was the most senior member of the British Establishment ever to be killed by the IRA in their campaign against British rule in Ireland. He was blown up while sailing in his yacht at Mullaghmore,‭ ‬County Sligo. He was accompanied by members of his family and a local boy. Three of them were killed and others seriously injured.

He had served with distinction in the Royal Navy from the time of the First World War in 1916 to the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945. He was sunk at sea as captain of  HMS Kelly in 1941. He was then made Chief of Combined Operations where he had some success and some failures, notably the disastrous raid on the port of Calais in 1942. He ended that War as  Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Theatre where he oversaw the British campaign to retake Burma from the Japanese Army and the surrender of their troops in Malaya when the War ended.

Probably his most controversial role was in 1947 when he became the last Viceroy of India charged with handing over the Administration of India’s many parts to local rulers and politicians. He has been criticised for too hasty a withdrawal and the terrifying levels of violence that erupted between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus that resulted when India was partitioned. Nonetheless he got Britain out of a situation in double quick time that had the potential to turn into a Quagmire for the Imperial Power.

His Life was something of an anti climax after that but he remained a well known figure and while at times controversial with a tendency to meddle in the backwaters of British politics he remained a respected figure with the general public in the UK.  Though some of the more lurid tales of his antics in the 'Swinging Sixties’ England should be taken with a grain of salt.

That same afternoon at Warrenpoint, County Down, the IRA killed 18 British  soldiers, most of them members of the elite Parachute Regiment, in a double bomb attack. An innocent bystander on the Republic’s side of the border was also killed in retaliatory fire by the Paras

This was the greatest loss of life suffered by the British during the Conflict and caused shock waves throughout the British Establishment and with the general British Public.‭ The news of these events immediately spread around the World and made the North an International News story. Mountbatten, a great-grandson of Queen Victoria and uncle to Prince Charles was a very senior member of the British Royal Family. They felt his death at the hands of the IRA very keenly.

Soon after a grisly‭ Graffiti appeared on Belfast walls. It read:

13‭ ‬gone but not forgotten - we got 18 and Mountbatten.

This referred to the role of the Parachute Regiment in the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972. Strangely enough the deaths of the Paras at Warrenpoint was a footnote to the press coverage that was given to the death of Mountbatten at the hands of the IRA.


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Wednesday, 25 August 2021

 


25 August 1580: The Battle of Glenmalure/ Cath Ghleann Molúra was fought on this day. Lord Deputy Arthur Grey de Wilton led an English army into the fastness of the Wicklow Mountains to seek out and kill or capture the Irish Chieftain Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne. This battle was fought during the 2nd Desmond War as the Catholics of Ireland united to stop the encroachments of the English Protestants. O’Byrne was joined in this campaign by Viscount Baltinglass, a member of the old Anglo-Irish colony of the Pale. Before the Reformation began the Gaels and the Palesman would have been traditional enemies but force of circumstance threw them together at this time.

The English leader brought his army of about 3,000 men down from Dublin through the flat Countryside of Kildare before proceeding to strike up into the rugged and wooded mountains of Wicklow in his pursuit of the Irish forces in revolt. But many of his men were raw levies from across the water, unused to the hardships and dangers involved in such an enterprise. As they entered the fastness near Feagh's residence of Ballinacor in the Glenmalure Valley they were attacked and harried from the dense woods thereabouts. The Irish used harquebuses, darts and spears to pick them off one by one. Eventually the English levies began to break and all cohesion lost fled back down the way that they came.

they [the Irish] were laied all along the woode as they shoulde passe behind trees, rocks, crags, bogs, and in covert.

Once the Irish realised the tide of battle had turned in their favour they launched a furious counter attack and massacred any of the fleeing Englishmen they could lay about.

the enemy charged us very hottlye ....

Sir William Stanley

When the insurgents had heard of the approach of such an overwhelming force, they retreated into their fastnesses in the rough and rugged recesses of Glenmalure. The Lord Justice then selected the most trustworthy and best tried captains of his army, and despatched them, at the head of eight or nine companies of soldiers, to search and explore Glenmalure; but they were responded to without delay by the parties that guarded the valley, so that very few of these returned without being cut off and dreadfully slaughtered by the Irish party. On this occasion were slain Peter Carew Master Moor (John), and Master Frans, with many other gentlemen who had come from England in the retinue of the Lord Justice. When this news reached the Lord Justice, he left his camp.

Annals of the Four Masters

It is estimated that over 800 of the invaders fell in battle that day, around 25% of the total force that had left Dublin some days previously. It was England’s greatest defeat of the Desmond Wars. Amazingly the Irish fielded less than a thousand men on the day itself and were heavily outnumbered but still won the Battle! However this Victory over the Crown Forces did not trigger any nationwide revolt. The resistance to the Tudor Conquest at that time was too disparate and too local in effect to overthrow English Rule. Within a year the War was over and Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne had made his peace with the Crown while Baltinglass sought exile on the Continent.

 



 


 


 



 

25 August 1986: Hurricane Charley swept across Ireland causing devastation in its wake on this night. 

In Ireland the wind blows mainly from the west and it usually brings mild but somewhat wet weather across the island. This weather pattern along with the Gulf Stream ensures that the Country for its latitude enjoys a temperate climate that belies its position on the map of the globe. Sometimes though things take a different turn and the tail ends of powerful Hurricanes that emanate from the Caribbean make their way across the Atlantic and wreak devastation here. Such a one was the infamous ‘Hurricane Charley’ that hit Ireland  on the night of 25 August 1986. 

The hurricane had first been spotted off the South Carolina coast of the USA on the 15 August. It then made its way up along the east coast causing a fair degree of damage. By the 20th it was south of Nova Scotia moving east out into the Atlantic and losing strength rapidly. At that stage it was downgraded to a Tropical Storm. But while still out in the Atlantic it deepened again and split in two. The more powerful half then rapidly made its way towards Ireland. It reached the south west coast on the evening of Sunday 24 August and spread country wide on the following day with light to heavy rain and strong winds.

However it was only when it reached the east coast that its full power and fury was unleashed. It was in Little Bray County Dublin that it caused the most damage with the river Dargle bursting its banks and causing the evacuation of over 1,000 people to safety to higher ground. Elsewhere too it caused severe disruption with the river Dodder area in Ballsbridge in Dublin also hit hard. In the Phoenix Park hundreds of trees were destroyed and for sure it was not the only place in Ireland that night that suffered arboreal devastation. I think though for those who remember it the most memorable feature was the huge and terrifying winds combined with the tremendous amounts of rain that fell. My own house actually had water flowing into the bedroom!  It truly was a Storm that anyone who lived through it would never forget.

http://www.met.ie/climate-ireland/weather-events/Aug1986_HurCharlie.pdf







Tuesday, 24 August 2021

 


24‭ August 1103: Magnus ‘Bare Legs’, King of Norway, was killed by the Irish of Ulaid in battle on this day.

King Magnus reigned as King of Norway from‭ 1093 to his untimely death in 1103, described as ambitious, his military campaigns were fought in Sweden, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man and along the eastern coastline of Ireland. He was described as being very tall with bright yellow hair and bright blue eyes. His grandfather was Harald Hardrata, the Viking warrior king who died at the battle of Stamford Bridge, fighting the English in 1066, and his father was Olaf the Peaceful.

Having formed an alliance in‭ ‬1102 with Muirchertach O'Brien, King of Ireland (1086 - 1119), the arrangement being formalised by the marriage of Siguard - the 12 year old son of Magnus- to O'Briens' 5 year old daughter, Biadmaynia. The deal was for Magnus to supply man power to O'Brien to assist him in his on going local wars, and in return Magnus was to receive cattle, to provide much needed provisions for his homeward journey to Norway.

Having sailed his long boats in from Strangford Lough,‭ ‬up the river Quoile, and beaching them on Plague Island near to the present day Down Cathedral along the Ballyduggan Road, Magnus impatiently waited for the cattle to arrive on the agreed day - St. Bartholomew's Day, 23rd August 1103- but evening came and no cattle had arrived, so against the advice of his commander Eyvind Elbow he decided the next morning to leave the safety of his ships and seek out the missing cattle, believing that O'Brien had broken his promise.

Marching along the side of the tidal marshes he came to a high hill,‭ ‬possible to the site where Dundrum Castle now stands. Looking west-wards he saw a great dust cloud, & believing that the cattle were on their way convinced himself that soon he and his men would homeward bound with supplies enough to get them there. Perhaps in a joyous mood and letting his guard slip we went to meet the approaching column but suddenly 'the trees came alive,' they were ambushed, by the 'men of Ulster.' In the ensuring battle that raged across the mud flats of the Quoile Estuary, now in total confusion, the Vikings, led by Magnus were slaughtered. 

Some of the Vikings made it back to their boats,‭ ‬leaving King Magnus and a few of his loyal guard to fight to the death. The Norse King receiving a javelin thrust through his leg and then was struck in the neck with an axe, and he died. However his famous sword 'Legbiter,' was retrieved and brought home to Norway, but the remains of its Loyal Master, and those of his loyal guard lie in a common grave on the marshes of Down. King Magnus Barefoot, nicknamed 'Barelegs,' said, "That Kings are made for honour not for long life," - and he was right in his own case for he was not yet thirty years of age when he died.
 Magnus was the last Norwegian king to fall in battle abroad, and he may in some respects be considered the final Viking king.

















Monday, 23 August 2021


 

23 August 1170: Richard De Clare - aka Richard fitz Gilbert - aka Strongbow, the Earl of Pembroke and Strigul, landed near Waterford on this day. By the time Richard reached Ireland the Invasion was well underway but his force was so large it was bound to be a game changer in terms of what could be accomplished by these English Knights from across the Irish Sea. Perhaps more than any man he saw to it that the Anglo Norman Invasion of Ireland gained a momentum that the Gaelic kings could not subsequently undo.


From an Earldom of some substance in Wales he found him self out of favour with the Angevin King Henry II who ruled over England & much of France. However the King of Leinster Diarmait Mac Murchada had been kicked out of Ireland by the High King Rory O’Conner/Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair and had appealed to Henry to help him.


Henry could not leave France due to his commitments and issued a Royal appeal for his subjects to help the Irish king in any way they could. Richard De Clare saw his chance and offered to help Diarmait regain his kingdom and set about raising an expedition to send to Ireland. In return Strongbow for this service would gain the hand of Diarmait’s daughter Aoife and then succeed to the kingdom of Leinster when Diarmait died.


In August 1170, he landed at Waterford, captured the city, and his wedding to Aoife [above] was celebrated almost immediately in Reginald’s Tower - which still stands in the city.


According to what old people say earl Richard landed at Waterford shortly afterwards;


he brought a full fifteen hundred men with him.


The earl landed on the eve of the feast of St Bartholomew...


On St. Bartholomew's day Richard the capable earl captured and conquered the city of waterford


but many of the citizens of waterford were killed onside the city before it was conquered and taken from them by force.


When the earl had taken the city  by military power he sent word at once to king Diarmait by messenger that he had landed at waterford and conquered the city...


King Diarmait, you must know came promptly and with great magnificence.


he brought with him many barons;


He also brought his daughter


and gave her to the noble earl.


The earl married her with due ceremony in the presence of the people.


The Deeds of the Normans in Ireland [La Geste des Engleis en Yrlande]


Editor: Evelyn  Mullaly [Editor]


Strongbow together with the forces of Diarmait Mac Murchada, then set out to take the city of Dublin/Dubhlinn  from the Vikings and having done so, embarked on expansionist raids into Meath. Besieged in turn by the Ard Rí [High King] Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair he defeated him in battle and broke the siege. He thus secured the city for the Anglo Normans. In May 1171, Diarmait Mac Murchada died at Ferns, and Strongbow’s control of Leinster was secured.


From 1172 onwards, Strongbow was titled "earl of Strigoil," which, however, brought him no additional lands. When Henry II came to Ireland to settle its affairs in his favour he removed control of Dublin, Waterford, and Wexford from Strongbow, retaining them for his own use. After military service in France Strongbow returned to Ireland and campaigned once more against the Irish kings.


He was appointed Henry’s principal agent in Ireland, and, in that capacity, he issued charters on behalf of the king relating to the city of Dublin to which Henry had granted a Royal Charter.


He died unexpectedly in April 1176 from an injury to his foot and was buried in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. The tomb there that is traditionally associated with him is of later date though it probably does contain his remains. His funeral was presided over by Lorcan Ua tuathail (Laurence O’Toole), the Archbishop of Dublin. He left as his heir a three-year-old son, Gilbert, and a daughter, Isabella but his wife Aoife wielded power in her own name for a number of years thereafter. The current Monarch of England, Queen Elizabeth II, counts Strongbow & Aoife amongst her ancestors.


"His complexion was somewhat ruddy and his skin freckled; he had grey eyes, feminine features, a weak voice, and short neck. For the rest, he was tall in stature, and a man of great generosity and of courteous manner. What he failed of accomplishing by force, he succeeded in by gentle words. In time of peace he was more disposed to be led by others than to command. Out of the camp he had more the air of any ordinary man-at-arms than of a general-in-chief; but in action the mere soldier was forgotten in the commander. With the advice of those about him, he was ready to dare anything; but he never ordered any attack relying on his own judgment, or rashly presuming on his personal courage. The post he occupied in battle was a sure rallying point for his troops. His equanimity and firmness in all the vicissitudes of war were remarkable, being neither driven to despair in adversity, nor puffed up by success."


Giraldus Cambrensus


* Painting - excerpt from The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Daniel Maclise.


National Gallery of Ireland





Sunday, 22 August 2021

 



22 August 1922: General Michael Collins was shot dead on this day. He was killed in an ambush at Béal na mBláth (Mouth of the Flowers) near Macroom in Co. Cork by a party of the local anti Treaty IRA.

Michael Collins had been the main driving force within the IRA that had helped to fight the War of Independence against the British Crown Forces in 1919-1921. It was a ‘War of the Shadows’ in which Collins wore no uniform but stayed in Mufti. But he had been one of the signatories of a Treaty with the British in December 1921 that had split the IRA into pro and anti Treaty camps. By the Summer of 1922 he thus found himself leading a new war against many of his old comrades in arms, dressed as the General in Chief of the new National Army of the emerging Irish Free State.

He was in his native Cork to inspect the local military forces. He travelled out to White’s Hotel (now Munster Arms) in Bandon on 22 August 1922. On the road to Bandon, at the village of Béal na mBláth Collins’ column stopped to ask directions. However the man whom they asked, Dinny Long, was also a member of the local Anti-Treaty IRA. An ambush was then prepared for the convoy when it made its return journey back to Cork city. They knew Collins would return by the same route as the two other roads from Bandon to Cork had been rendered impassable by Republicans.

The ambush party, allegedly commanded by Liam Deasy, had mostly dispersed by 8:00 p.m. as they had given up any hope of an ambush so late in the day. So when Collins and his men returned through Béal na mBlath there was just a rear-guard left on the scene to open fire on Collins’ convoy. The ambushers had laid a mine on the scene, however they had disconnected it and were in the process of removing it by the time the Collins convoy came into view.

Collins was killed in the subsequent gun battle, which lasted approximately 20 minutes, from 8:00 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. He was the only fatality in the action. He had ordered his convoy to stop and return fire, instead of choosing the safer option of driving on in his touring car or transferring to the safety of the accompanying armoured car, as his companion, Emmet Dalton, had wished. It is said that when the first shots were fired at the convoy, Emmet Dalton had ordered the driver to "drive like hell" out of the ambush. Collins himself countermanded the order and said "Stop! We'll fight them". He was killed while exchanging rifle fire with the ambushers. Under the cover of the armoured car, Collins’ body was loaded into the touring car and driven back to Cork. Collins was 31 years old.

There is no consensus as to who fired the fatal shot. The most recent authoritative account suggests that the shot was fired by Denis (”Sonny”) O’Neill, an Anti-Treaty IRA fighter and a former British Army marksman who died in 1950. He later emigrated to the USA. This is supported by eyewitness accounts of the participants in the ambush. The general consensus at that time was it was a ricochet that took him out but that has been challenged in recent years.

Collins’ men brought his body back to Cork where it was then shipped to Dublin for a State funeral. His body lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners filed past his coffin to pay their respects. His funeral mass took place at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral where there was a large military and civilian presence. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery Dublin.








Saturday, 21 August 2021

 


21‭ August 1879: The Apparition of Knock on this day. A number of witnesses of various ages reported that they had seen the Virgin Mary, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist appear on the wall of Knock Church. As a result Knock became a major centre of Pilgrimage.

On a wet Thursday evening,‭ 21st August 1879, at about 8 o'clock, a heavenly vision appeared at the south gable of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Knock, Co. Mayo. Fifteen people - men, women and children - ranging in age from six years to seventy-five, watched the Apparition in pouring rain for two hours, reciting the rosary. Though they themselves were soaked, no rain fell in the direction of the church gable, where the ground remained perfectly dry.

Our Lady wore a large white cloak,‭ ‬fastened at the neck. Her hands and eyes were raised towards heaven, in a posture of prayer. On her head was a brilliant crown and where the crown fitted the brow, was a beautiful rose. On her right was St Joseph, head bowed and turned slightly towards her as if paying her his respects. He wore white robes. On our Lady's left was St John the Evangelist, dressed as a bishop, with a book in his left hand and right hand raised as if preaching. His robes were also white. Beside the figures and a little to the right in the centre of the gable was a large plain altar. On the altar stood a lamb, facing the West and behind the lamb a large cross stood upright. Angels hovered around the lamb for the duration of the Apparition.

http://www.knock-shrine.com/apparition_at_knock.htm

Most Rev.‭ ‬Dr. John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, only six weeks after the Apparition, set up a Commission of Enquiry. Fifteen witnesses were examined and the Commission reported that the testimony of all taken as a whole, were trustworthy and satisfactory. 

There was a‭ ‬2nd Commission of enquiry in 1936 when, Mary Byrne, one of the last surviving witnesses, was interviewed. The commissioners interviewed her in her bedroom,‭ as she was too ill to leave. She gave her final testimony and concluded with the words: 

'I am clear about everything I have said and I make this statement knowing I am going before my God‭'

She died six weeks later.





 


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Friday, 20 August 2021



20 August 1845: Phytophthora infestans, a fungal infection that rots the tubers of potatoes, was recorded in Ireland on this day. David Moore, curator of the Botanic Gardens in Dublin noted that leaves of some of the potato plants in the institution were showing signs of blight. His was the first known scientific observation in Ireland of this fungus.

Phytophthora infestans (pronounced fy-TOF-thor-uh in-FEST-ans) is a rather common pathogen of potatoes wherever they are grown, but it is usually not a problem unless the weather is unusually cool and wet. The water is necessary for the spores to swim to infect the leaves of the potatoes; the tubers and roots of the potato are more resistant to the pathogen. The name, meaning "infesting plant destroyer" is especially appropriate, because under the right conditions and with the correct susceptibility genes in the host, Phytophthora can kill off a field of potatoes in just a few days!

Phytophthora infestans is so virulent in wet weather because it produces enormous numbers of swimming spores called zoospores in zoosporangia. The zoosporangia crack open and release dozens of zoospores. These zoospores have two flagella; a whiplash flagellum faces the back and pushes the spore through the water and a tinsel flagellum points forward and pulls the spores through the water.

http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/m2001alt.html

From such mundane sequences in the life of a fungi did the fate of a People hang in the late summer of 1845. Within weeks the Blight had swept the land and millions of Irish men women and children knew that at least a year of hardship lay ahead of them. In fact the Blight was to come back each year until 1849 and in its wake leave at least a Million dead from starvation and disease and another Million forced to flee abroad.






Thursday, 19 August 2021

 



19‭ ‬August 1504: The battle of Knockdoe/Cnoc Tuagh (the Hill of Axes) was fought on this day. This battle was the greatest clash of arms seen in Ireland in hundreds of years. It took place around Knockdoe, a hillock about eight miles north east of Galway city. The combatants were the forces under Gerald Fitzgerald, the Great Earl of Kildare and his rival Ulick Burke of Clanrickard.



Despite a somewhat uncertain relationship the Great Earl was King Henry VII’s man in Ireland.‭ ‬He was charged with ensuring that no other than himself should dictate the state of the King's affairs in this Country. Something of a poacher turned gamekeeper the Great Earl would brook no rivals. Ulick Burke had thrown down the gauntlet however by seizing three castles belonging to the O’Kellys of south Galway and also taking under his control the Royal city of Galway. Ironically Ulick was also Gerald’s son in law! While not a certainty he seems to have fallen out with his wife Eustacia and she had returned to be under her fathers roof. The O’Kellys also appealed to him for the restitution of their fortresses. 



Gerald was, said the Irish, ‘a knight famous in deeds of arms, royal and just in word and judgement’. He was a descendent of the Maurice FitzGerald of Strongbow’s Invasion, the Head of the great house of Kildare, and the strongest man in Ireland. The King of England ...found him indispensable.
Irish Battles, G.A. Hayes-McCoy


He decided to lead an Army to the West and settle the issue through battle.‭ He led a formidable force with him, perhaps as many as 6,000 warriors and many of them the iron clad Gallowglass who dominated the battlefields of Ireland in the latter Middle Ages. To oppose him Ulick gathered a similar type of force but he could not match the Great Earls resources or network of connections. He had maybe about 4,000 men in the field on the day of battle. The Great Earl mustered forces from Leinster and Ulster with some Connacht allies too. Burkes’ own force was comprised of his retinue from south Galway, and his allies from northwest Munster. To the Gaels it seemed that the great wars between the provincial kings of old in the days before the English arrived had returned. But to Gerald it was more like a version of a suppression of a rebellion against Royal authority that the King of England might engage upon across the water. In truth there was a mixture of both these analogies in what happened.


In the event Gerald Fitzgerald beat his opponent decisively and retook Galway from Ulick Burke.‭ The battle though was bloody and hard fought – ‘a dour struggle’. Essentially an infantry battle both sides hacked and slashed at each other to bring the other down. It is also the first battle to record the use of a gun - a Palesman beat out his opponent’s brains with the butt of his piece! It was really a medieval battle of the old style and the last great one of its kind. Both sides clashed early in the morning and it was late in the day before the remnants of Burkes’ much depleted host broke and ran. The Geraldine force camped on the battlefield that night to collect booty and bring in the stragglers. The Great Earl proceeded the next day to enter the City of Galway in Triumph and received the keys of the metropolis from the grateful Mayor.




A fierce battle was fought between them,‭ such as had not been known of in latter times. Far away from the combating troops were heard the violent onset of the martial chiefs, the vehement efforts of the champions, the charge of the royal heroes, the noise of the lords, the clamour of the troops when endangered, the shouts and exultations of the youths, the sound made by the falling of the brave men, and the triumphing of the nobles over the plebeians.


 The battle was at length gained against Mac William, O'Brien, and the chiefs of Leath-Mhogha; and a great slaughter was made of them; and among the slain was Murrough Mac-I-Brien-Ara, together with many others of the nobles. And of the nine battalions which were in solid battle array, there survived only one broken battalion. A countless number of the Lord Justice's forces were also slain, though they routed the others before them. It would be impossible to enumerate or specify all the slain, both horse and foot, in that battle, for the plain on which they were was impassable, from the vast and prodigious numbers of mangled bodies stretched in gory litters; of broken spears, cloven shields, shattered battle-swords, mangled and disfigured bodies stretched dead, and beardless youths lying hideous, after expiring.
Annals of the Four Masters





Wednesday, 18 August 2021

 


18 August 670: The Feast of St. Fiacre the Abbot on this day. He was was born in Ireland about the end of the sixth century. He had a hermitage on the banks of the river Nore at Kilfera, County Kilkenny. Disciples flocked to him, but, desirous of greater solitude, he left his native land and arrived, in 628 AD, at Meaux in what is now France. 

St. Farowas the Bishop there generously received him. He gave him a solitary dwelling in a forest, which was his own patrimony, called Breuil, in the province of Brie. Here he founded a Monastery and a Hospice. He resided in a little cell and led a frugal existence surrounded by a small garden, which he worked himself. He was very strict on the rule that no women should be about the place. He was noted for his great ability to cure the sick and many flocked to him to be cured. 

After his death a Shrine to him became a place of Pilgrimage and in later centuries he had some very famous devotees. Anne of Austria attributed to the meditation of this saint to the recovery of Louis XIII at Lyons, where he had been dangerously ill; in thanksgiving for which she made, on foot, a pilgrimage to the shrine in 1641. She also sent to his shrine, a token in acknowledgement of his intervention in the birth of her son, Louis XIV.

 St. Fiacre is also a patron saint of gardeners and of the cab-drivers of Paris. French cabs are called fiacres because the first establishment to let coaches on hire, in the middle of the seventeenth century, was in the Rue Saint-Martin, near the hotel Saint-Fiacre in that City.


Tuesday, 17 August 2021


 17 August 1922: The transfer of Dublin Castle by the British to the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State was completed on this day.

The Castle loomed large in the consciousness of the Irish People as the source and origin of many of their troubles. It was from here that the Crown of England through its Justiciars, Viceroys, Lord Lieutenants & latterly its Chief Secretaries attempted with various degrees of success to administer the Country they claimed the Right to rule over.. ‘The Castle’ - as it was commonly referred to - was an imposing structure that dated back to the early 13th century when King John gave orders for its construction. It was completed by 1230 and the Great Courtyard (Upper Castle Yard) of today corresponds closely with the fortification.

Though its origins go deeper into the past as ‘The Castle’ stands on the high ridge, the highest ground in the locality, at the junction of the River Liffey and its tributary the (now underground) Poddle, which formed a natural boundary on two sides. It is very probable that the original fortification on this easily defended strategic site was a Gaelic ráth [ringfort], which guarded the hurdled ford across the river Liffey [Átha Cliath], the adjacent Dubhlinn [Blackpool] monastic settlement and the four long distant roads that converged nearby that made Dublin such an important site. In the 940's, a Viking fort stood on this site when they decided to 'over-winter’ here and make a permanent settlement and berth their longships in black pool to the south of where the Castle now is.

The structure built on the orders of King John  had large sturdy walls and four round towers to protect it from attack by the Irish. The south-east Record Tower is the last intact medieval tower, not only of Dublin Castle but also of Dublin itself. It functioned as a high security prison and held native Irish hostages and priests in Tudor times.

So strong and well-defended was it and so important to the Crown that it never fell to attack. It was besieged in 1537 during the Revolt of Silken Thomas, almost taken in the Rising of 1641 and later occupied by the soldiers of the English Parliament under Cromwell. In 1798 it again came under threat and at Easter 1916 the insurgents of the Irish Citizen Army attempted to seize it by coup de main but without success. 

But with the signing of the Treaty in December of 1921 the British had agreed to withdraw from most of Ireland and the days of the Castle as the centre of British Power in this Country started to draw to a close. While the British Army pulled out in January 1922 the transfer of administration took months to organise. 

Thus the day came about in August 1922 when the last contingent of the members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) marched out and the first detachment of the Civic Guards (later the Garda Síochána) marched in, led by the first Garda Commissioner Michael Staines & Chief Superintendent McCarthy. At last ‘The Castle’ was fully in Irish hands.







Monday, 16 August 2021

 


16 August‭ 1927: The Alderman Jinks Affair. Mr Denis Johnstone, the leader of the Labour Party, proposed a motion of No Confidence in the Government of Mr W.T. Cosgrave. Johnstone opened the crucial debate with the following words:

The motion down in my name and which I move is:

‭“That the Executive Council has ceased to retain the support of the majority in Dáil Eireann.”

In effect,‭ ‬it is clear that that motion is intended to test the views of the House as to whether the present Executive Council shall continue in office. It is based on Article 53 of the Constitution, which says: “The President and Ministers nominated by him shall retire from office when they cease to retain the support of the majority in Dáil Éireann.”

The result was a tie of‭ 71 votes each. As a result the vote of the Speaker Mr Michael Hayes decided the issue for the Government. The absence of Mr Jinks of the National League Party (who were in alliance with Fianna Fail) was crucial to Cosgrave’s survival.

It is widely believed that Jinks non-appearance was due to the intervention of Major Bryan Cooper and J.M.‭ Smyllie (editor of the Irish Times) who plied Jinks with liberal quantities of drink in the hours before the vote was taken. Their hospitality apparently rendered their hapless guest in no fit state to attend the House. The pair convinced their drinking companion that a ticket home was a better course of action than attendance upon the House when he was obviously the worse for wear. ‬They then put him on the Sligo train and thus unable to partake in the day’s parliamentary proceedings. This development thus saved Mr Cosgrave’s Government from almost certain defeat.

Jink’s, a National League Deputy, was the centre of wild speculation that he had been kidnapped to keep him from voting. Rumours swept the country and headlines such as, ‘The Mystery of Deputy Jinks, the missing deputy’ screamed from several newspapers not only in the U.K. and America.

The sensational affair began when Jinks walked out of the Dáil chambers before the vote was about to be called and he couldn’t be found despite a frantic search by colleagues.

There was consternation amongst the opposition who had been confident that the Government would fall. Jinks was later tracked to a hotel at Harcourt Street having spent the day strolling through the streets of Dublin. He told reporters he had gone to Dublin with instruction from two thirds of his supporters to vote for the Government.

“I was neither kidnapped nor spirited away. I simply walked out of the Dáil when I formed my own opinion after listening to a good many speeches.

“I cannot understand the sensation nor can I understand the meaning or object of the many reports circulated. What I did was done after careful consideration of the entire situation.

“I have nothing to regret for my action. I am glad I was the single individual who saved the situation for the Government, and perhaps, incidentally, for the country. I believe I acted for its good,” said Deputy Jinks.

The Sligo deputy arrived home on Wednesday night by the midnight mail train. A large crowd greeted his arrival. He spent the following morning receiving callers including one proclaiming him  “ The Ruler of Ireland.”!!!


Jinks had only been elected a TD in June of that year and subsequently lost his seat in the General Election of September that same year. He returned to local politics where he served once again as Mayor of Sligo. He died in 1934.

To this day the bizarre actions of Mr Jinks have been the subject of much speculation. The common accepted story is that he was inveigled into doing the rounds of various establishments in Dublin City centre by Smylie and Cooper, men with Sligo connections and who were from a Unionist background. They did not want to see Mr De Valera in power!

By the time the vote was called he was nowhere to be seen and his somewhat ignominious place in modern Irish political history was assured - Legend has it that Mr Cosgrave then purchased or had purchased on behalf of the Government a horse called Mr Jinks [above]. This horse went on to win the Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket, England in 1929!



















Sunday, 15 August 2021

 


15‭ August 1569: The sack of Enniscorthy on this day by Sir Edmund Butler, the brother of the Earl of Ormond. The Co Wexford town held a great Fair on this date, named ‘Lady Day’ after Our Lady the Mother of Christ. This date in August is celebrated in the Catholic Calendar as the Feast of her Assumption into Heaven. 

This was one of the great Medieval Fairs of Ireland where people would come from miles around to trade and buy the wares on offer.‭ Many valuable commodities would be available and those with the coinage to buy or goods to barter would be there in plenty. But the Fair this year was held against a backdrop of a vicious War full of atrocities and counter atrocities committed by both sides. As the townsmen and country folk went about their business a large Geraldine raiding party overcame them. This was no doubt a well planned operation, designed to loot and punish the inhabitants who considered themselves under the protection of the Crown of England.

The Earl of Ormond,‭ ‬i.e. Thomas…, being at this time in England, his two brothers, Edmond of Caladh and Edward, had confederated with James, the son of Maurice. These two sons of the Earl went to the fair of Inis-corr on Great Lady-Day; and it would be difficult to enumerate or describe all the steeds, horses, gold, silver, and foreign wares, they seized upon at that fair. The Earl returned to Ireland the same year, and his brothers were reconciled to the State.

Annals of the Four Masters

No quarter was given to the hapless inhabitants.‭ Many of the Anglo-Irish Merchants were put to death and their bodies thrown in the River Slaney and their womenfolk raped. It was reported that ‘divers young maidens and wives’ were defiled before their parents and husbands faces’.  The Castle of Enniscorthy was also taken and ransacked and lay abandoned for thirteen years thereafter.







 


15 August 1998: The Omagh Bombing. On a Saturday afternoon the quite town centre of Omagh Co Tyrone was ripped apart by a single bomb that killed 29 innocent people and injured hundreds more. The atrocity was carried out by a small splinter group of the 'Real IRA' [RIRA].

The group was being monitored by the British Secret Service who knew something was up but failed to pass on any information they may have had to the local RUC. It is an open question though whether this would have made much material difference. Warnings were phoned in but the location for the car bomb were vague. It referred to a bomb in 'Main St' near the Courthouse - but there is no street by that name in Omagh. The RUC started to clear the area where they thought the bomb was but in actual fact they sent people towards its location.

The car bomb detonated at about 3.10pm in the crowded shopping area. It tore the car into deadly shrapnel and created a fireball and shockwave. People were caught in "a storm" of glass, masonry and metal as the blast destroyed shop fronts and blew the roofs off buildings. A thick cloud of dust and smoke filled the street. Twenty-one people who were standing near the bomb were killed outright. Eight more people would die on the way to or in hospital. The people who died included a pregnant woman, six children, and six teenagers.

A 500lb bomb packed in the Cavalier is detonated with a remote trigger. The explosion tears through Market Street. Shop fronts on both sides are blown back on top of customers still inside. Glass, masonry and metal tears through the crowd on the street as a fireball sweeps out from the epicentre. Twenty-one people are killed instantly - some of their bodies were never found, such was the force of the blast. A water main under the road ruptures. Gallons of water gushes out. Some of the dead and badly injured are washed down the hill.

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/timeline-of-the-omagh-bombing-1.1525134

Injured survivor Marion Radford described hearing an "unearthly bang", followed by "an eeriness, a darkness that had just come over the place", then the screams as she saw "bits of bodies, limbs" on the ground while she searched for her 16-year-old son, Alan. She later discovered he had been killed only yards away from her, the two having become separated minutes before the blast.

In the aftermath there was widespread condemnation across the board from all sides. The Good Friday Agreement had been signed only months before and people throughout Ireland were genuinely hopeful that 'The Troubles’ were at an end. Some days later the RIRA admitted that they did it and apologised. But their words fell on deaf ears. 'Enough was Enough' as far as most people were concerned. The bombing campaign was suspended and never reactivated. While there have been deaths and murders in the North since then nothing like this [the worst single bombing atrocity in the Northern Troubles 1968-1998] has happened since.

Photo above: Two Spanish tourists stopped beside the car, and were photographed. The photographer died in the bombing, but the man and child in the photograph survived.









Saturday, 14 August 2021

 


14 August 1598 O.S./24 August 1598 N.S.- the Battle of the Yellow Ford (Cath Bhéal-an-Átha-Buí)  was fought on this day. 

Introduction

It was fought between the forces of Aodh [Hugh] O’Neill the Earl of Tyrone [above] and those of Queen Elizabeth I of England under the direct command of Marshal Bagenal. The cause of the battle was the attempt by the English to relieve their garrison at the Portmore fort situated adjacent to the Black water river. This tiny outpost of about 150 men was nothing more really than an earthen structure in need of constant repair and revictualling. Situated some two miles north of the ancient settlement of Armagh it was meant to act as a toehold into Tyrone and thus a gateway into the heart of Ulster. However it was in fact a thorn in the side of the English who found it difficult to maintain but could not afford the loss of prestige of abandoning it to O’Neill who for some years had been in revolt against the English Queen.

In the year 1598 Ireland was a country divided in its allegiances. The most powerful man in the North, Aodh O’Neill & his allies were in revolt against the Crown under its English monarch Queen Elizabeth I. The Gaelic Catholic chieftains had been nominally loyal to her but resented the creeping English encroachment on Gaelic lands and on their way of life. O’Neill saw what was coming and rather than await events he had revolted, at first by proxy and then openly. But many others stood on the fence until things became clearer. Most of the Catholic ‘Old English’ who were descended from the original colonists of the 12th century were also still loyal to her albeit reluctantly, but they feared for their safety at the hands of the Gaelic Irish and gave lukewarm support to the war effort.. There was also a tiny but growing number of ‘New English’ who were protestant and very loyal but were fearful of their tenuous grasp on their new holdings in Ireland. Those in positions of power & who were Catholic, both English or Gaelic, were reluctant to accept her rule as currently dictated but bided their time to see what way the war then raging between the warring parties would fall out. 

The conflict had intensified since 1593 and broken out into open warfare the following year. The most intense fighting & manoeuvring was in the province of Ulster where the Earl of Tyrone - Aodh O’Neill - led the most serious resistance to English Rule. His defiance was quite successful and his shrewd and determined stand was being carefully watched by the leading Catholics of Ireland - who at least retained a nominal allegiance to the Crown in the absence of any viable alternative. For they were caught on the horns of a dilemma. To do nothing was to await the ever advancing encroachment of English Rule and with that the loss of their lands and the enforcement of an alien Religion upon them and their people. On the other hand to rise in open revolt was a huge risk as failure in such an enterprise would mean not just loss of territory but loss of everything. The end result was probably either exile, a  violent death in battle or in the back or their heads on the walls of Dublin Castle.

By the summer of 1598 the situation here had gained  attention abroad, it was not just a drain on England’s manpower and thus a further complication in her conduct of international affairs but also sucked on the Crown’s finances that had to be met by the Exchequer.  As in many wars a place that is of insignificance in and of itself became to assume an importance out of all proportion to its real value. This place was the English held fort of the Blackwater on the banks of the river called Portmore. This tiny outpost of about 150 men was nothing more really than an earthen structure in need of constant repair and revictualling. Situated some four miles north west of the ancient settlement of Armagh it was meant to act as a toehold into Tyrone and thus a gateway into the heart of Ulster. However it was in fact a thorn in the side of the English who found it difficult to maintain but could not afford the loss of prestige of abandoning it to Aodh O’Neill and thus increasing his prestige at the expense of their own.



The New Fort, of which we have before written an account, was defended during the time of peace and war by the Queen's people; but when the English and Irish did not make peace as had been expected in the beginning of summer, O'Neill laid siege to the fort, so that the warders were in want of provisions in the last month of summer. 


Annals of the Four Masters [AFM]


Once a course of action was decided upon a determined effort was made to put together a substantial force to undertake the expedition. With some some difficulty about 4,000  foot & 300 horse were gathered together at  Ardee Co Louth on 7 August and began to march north via Newry. They reached Armagh on the 13th and encamped. 


Sir Henry Bagenall, the Marshal, is now to draw into Ulster with part of the army (consisting of 3,500 men by poll, and about 300 horse), to revictual the Blackwater; and the Lord Lieutenant, with another part of the army, is to attend the prosecution in Leinster. The nobility of the English Pale, with the strength of the country, have been appointed to remain in defence upon the borders till the army return out of Ulster. The day for the rendezvous of the latter is the 7th instant, at Ardee, whence they are to march to Newry, and so to the Blackwater. 

Calendar of State Papers [CSP] IRELAND 1598


In the years since the conflict began O’Neill had built up a formidable fighting force under his command. They were unlike the warriors of old who just fought with sword, spear & darts but he now had organised bodies of fighting men who were reasonably armed with pike and shot. It was the men armed thus with long range weapons who proved crucial on the day of battle.

No less than an opponent than Lord Mountjoy, Tyrone’s eventual nemeses noted that ‘so far from being a naked people , as before times, were generally better armed than we....and even exceeded us in that discipline which was fittest for the advantage of the natural strength of the country, for that they, being very many, and expert shot, and excelling in footman ship all other nations, did by that means make better use of those strengths [that is their own wild terrain] both for offense and defense, than could have been made of any squadrons of pikes or artificial fortifications of towns’


The Yellow Ford, Irish Battles - G.A. Hayes McCoy


O’Neill of course knew that they were coming. His scouts, spies and informants kept a constant flow of information coming into him so he would not be caught unawares by any sudden moves upon him. This of course was a two way affair with the English also utilising the same methods to ascertain what was afoot. But given the more static nature of the Crown Forces in castles, keeps and towns it was easier for the Irish to spy their comings and goings than vice versa as the Irish kept to their lakes, bogs, woodlands and remote places to mask their locations & intentions. By the time Bagenal’s force arrived in Armagh he was in position to meet and repulse any attempt to relieve the beleaguered garrison.


When O'Neill had received intelligence that this great army was approaching him, he sent his messengers to O'Donnell, requesting of him to come to his assistance against this overwhelming force of foreigners who were coming to his country. O'Donnell proceeded immediately, with all his warriors, both infantry and cavalry, and a strong body of forces from Connaught, to assist his ally against those who were marching upon him. The Irish of all the province of Ulster also joined the same army, so that they were all prepared to meet the English before they arrived at Armagh. They then dug deep trenches against the English in the common road, by which they thought they the English would come to them.


AFM 


The Day of Battle


The Marshal broke camp early on the 14 August and began to march north hoping to skirt O’Neill’s formidable defenses by avoiding the main route to the Blackwater fort. In this he was to be stymied as the Irish had extended their defenses over a stretch of ground approximately a mile or so whose primary obstacle was a huge waterlogged ditch topped with thorny hedges. The whole area was wet and boggy with only limited patches that were dry and suitable to cross in any cohesive way. The areas where any woodland existed had been ‘plashed’ that is the undergrowth had been interlaced to form impediments to passage.


Bagenal’s force was divided into three columns - the Van, the Battle & Rear with the Marshal up front with the Van. They made slow progress and got through to the ‘Yellow Ford’ [Beal-an-atha-bhuidhe] whose location is now unknown but was probably a pathway through the watery bogs. The Van made it up to the ditch itself and broke into the ground beyond it. They were almost there opposite the fort whose haggard garrison could see them from afar. So  it looked like that O’Neill was not going to seriously contend the issue other than one of severe harassment of the relieving force - a traditional enough tactic.


It was at this stage that it all began to fall apart for the Marshal. His columns had become dangerously extended and his Van came under severe and sustained attack. The Battle in turn learned that the Rear was also under attack. Wingfield who led the Battle called upon Bagenal to return to the centre to sort it all out. This he did and satisfied that he had done enough he went to go forward again and try to re-establish contact with Percy who was at the head of the lead regiment. But Percy’s force had collapsed  by this stage as the Irish smelt blood with him being so isolated alone on their side of the trench and pressed home their attacks. Before the Marshal could even make it back as far as the trench he had to raise his visor to get a better view of what has actually going on- and got a bullet in his head for his troubles! To make matters worse for his men their saker cannon got stuck in a bog and had to be abandoned. Then an ammunition wagon blew up which totally spooked the newer recruits and they ran for it.


the Marshal of Newry, was slain; and as an army, deprived of its leader and adviser, does not usually maintain the battle-field, the General's people were finally routed, by dint of conflict and fighting, across the earthen pits, and broad, deep trenches, over which they had previously passed. They were being slaughtered, mangled, mutilated, and cut to pieces by those who pursued them bravely and vigorously.

AFM

Aftermath


By nightfall it was apparent that O’Neill had won a great Victory, perhaps in relative terms the greatest any Gaelic leader had ever won over the English since they came here. The remnants of the invading column made it back under constant attack to the ruins of Armagh Cathedral, approximately 1,500 men out of 4,000, who huddled there that night to await the dawn. O’Neill had shattered them with maybe losing circa 800 men out of a force perhaps a shade below 5,000 strong, a not inconsiderable loss but worth it for what was achieved.


Captain Montague's report of the accident at Armagh; dated 16 August, 1598."

"On Monday, the 14th of August, the army marched from Armagh (leaving there all our victuals and some munition), for the Blackwater, by computation, 3,500 foot and 300 horse. Their form was in six regiments...By the Captains' estimation we had killed and run away to the enemy, not less than 1,800 foot, some ten horsemen, and thirty horses. The enemy lost, as we heard by some of theirs that we took, seven or eight hundred. There remains of ours about 1,500 in the Church of Armagh." 

CSP Ireland 1598


The remains of the force who had set out so confidently that morning were surrounded by the Irish and that night what was left of the horse broke out and made it back to Newry, within a couple of days the news was in Dublin. The Lords Justices there immediately dispatched a letter of plea to the Earl pointing out that a further massacre could only provoke the Queen further against him. The Earl was smooth operator to his fingertips and knew a negotiated peace was his Holy Grail in this conflict. He consented to spare the lives of those soldiers of the Queen who were cut off from succour and let them go stripped of their arms and accoutrements to return to whence they came - and the surrender of the Blackwater Fort to boot.


they finally agreed to give them liberty to pass out of the places in which they were, on condition, however, that they should not carry out of the fort meat or drink, armour, arms, or ordnance, powder or lead or, in fine, any thing, excepting only the captain's trunk and arms, which he was at liberty to take with him....They were all then escorted from Armagh to Newry, and from thence to the English territory. After their departure from Tyrone, O'Neill gave orders to certain persons to reckon and bury the gentlemen and common people slain. After they had been reckoned, there were found to be two thousand five hundred slain, among whom was the General, with eighteen captains, and a great number of gentlemen whose names are not given.

AFM


The Queen's people were dispirited and depressed, and the Irish joyous and exulting, after this conflict. This battle of Athbuidhe was fought on the 10th day of August. The chiefs of Ulster returned to their respective homes in joyous triumph and exultation, although they had lost many men.

AFM


News of this great victory soon spread across Ireland and the effect was to galvanise many who had doubts about rising out to discard them and cast their lot in with O’Neill. The English now faced the greatest threat to their hold on Ireland in over 400 years - only time would tell how that would turn out.







Friday, 13 August 2021

 


13 August 1925. President W.T. Cosgrave helped to raise the first pylon at the Ardnacrusha power station that would help spread electricity across the Land.

Ardnacrusha power plant is a hydroelectric power station which was originally referred to as The Shannon Scheme. It is located near Ardnacrusha within County Clare approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the Limerick border. It is Ireland's largest river hydroelectric scheme and is operated on a purpose built canal connected to the River Shannon.

The generating plant at Ardnacrusha is composed of three vertical-shaft Francis turbine generators (commissioned in 1929) and one vertical-shaft Kaplan turbine generator (commissioned in 1934) operating under an average head of 28.5 metres.

In 1924-25 the new Irish Free State's Minister for Industry and Commerce Patrick McGilligan commissioned the engineer Dr. Thomas McLoughlin to submit proposals. Dr McLoughlin had started working for Siemens-Schuckert, a large German engineering firm, in late 1922, and produced a scheme that would cost £5.2m. This caused considerable political controversy as the new state's entire budget in 1925 was £25m, but it was accepted. The Siemens report drew on earlier hydrological work of John Chaloner-Smith an engineer with the Commissioners of Public Works.

Developed in conjunction with German engineering giant Siemens, most of the skilled workers and engineers on the power station were Germans. A camp was set up for the workers that included living quarters for 750 men and a dining room that seated 600. Initially employment for 700 was provided, whilst at its peak there were 5,200 employed during the construction phase, with this dropping back to 2,500 near completion. The construction project was not without controversy, with national and governmental debate over wages, conditions, strikes, and spending over-runs.

The Shannon Scheme was officially opened at Parteen Weir on 22 July 1929. One of the largest engineering projects of its day, it was successfully executed by Siemens to harness the Shannon River. It subsequently served as a model for large-scale electrification projects worldwide. Operated by the Electricity Supply Board of Ireland, it had an immediate impact on the social, economic and industrial development of Ireland and continues to supply significant power in the 21st century.







Thursday, 12 August 2021

 


12 August 1822: The death by suicide of Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh on this day. Born in Dublin in 1769 to a political family of wealthy Presbyterian stock, Castlereagh’s sympathies – in an era of awakening nationalisms – were for the Irish patriot cause. But a visit to revolutionary France in the early 1790s tempered his thinking. He now warned of the dangers for any nation to be placed “in the hands of experimental philosophers”. Castlereagh was not initially a counter-revolutionary, but a reformist keen on political progress (not least Catholic emancipation). However ambition meant he could never rise in politics with such an approach and the further he rose the more reactionary he became.

As Chief Secretary of Ireland during the 1798 Rising he oversaw its brutal repression and in 1800 was instrumental in ensuring that the old Parliament of Ireland voted itself out of existence by the use of threats, bribery and the use of Government placement to get the result needed. Even 20 years later, political cartoons would depict Castlereagh lurking around Westminster with a cat o’ nine tails behind his back.

But while a cold and calculating man there was no doubting Castlereagh’s great skills of diplomacy and the ability to form alliances against Napoleonic Rule on the European Continent. As chief secretary for Ireland from 1796 to 1800, colonial secretary from 1802 to 1805, war secretary from 1806 to 1809 and foreign secretary from 1812 to 1822 he was on top of his game dealing with those who he viewed as a threat to the established order.

While he took criticism of his politics with aplomb it eventually started to effect his internal stability and that combined with his ‘workaholic’ character led to a gradual and then noticeable decline of his mental faculties. Friends, political colleagues and his own family became ever more concerned for his well being.

He began suffering from paranoia, which could be attributed to the years of abuse by an angry citizenry and press, overwork, or even gout or VD. He imagined himself persecuted from every quarter and became irrational and incoherent. His devoted wife continued sleeping with him but removed pistols and razors from his reach and kept in close contact with her husband's physician, Dr. Bankhead, who had cupped him.

Three days before his death he met with King George IV, who became upset over Castlereagh's mental state, as did the Duke of Wellington, with whom he was close. Knowing that he was losing his mind, Castlereagh left London for Loring Hall, his country estate in Kent. The morning of his death he became violent with his wife, accusing her of being in a conspiracy against him. She left their bedroom to call the doctor. That was when her husband went to his dressing room with a small knife which he had managed to hide. He stabbed himself in the carotid artery. Just as Dr. Bankhead entered the room, he said, "Let me fall on your arm, Bankhead. It's all over!"

Not many liked him and indeed many hated him including some of England’s greatest poets.

I met Murder on the way – / He had a mask like Castlereagh– / Very smooth he looked, yet grim; / Seven bloodhounds followed him… one by one, and two by two, / He tossed them human hearts to chew.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley




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