Thursday, 30 June 2022
Wednesday, 29 June 2022
29 June 1915: The death of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Fenian in New York City on this day. He was born at Roscarbery County Cork in 1831 to a family of tenant farmers. As a young man he kept a shop in Skibereen but became increasingly involved in revolutionary politics. He joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood on its foundation and was soon arrested by the British. In 1865, he was charged with plotting a Fenian rising, put on trial for high treason and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to his previous convictions. He spent five years in English jails in very harsh conditions. In 1869 he was elected an MP but his victory was annulled as he was considered a ‘Felon’. In 1870 he was released on condition that he went into Exile and he sailed for New York with a group of fellow exiles that were dubbed the ‘Cuba Five’ after the boat they left in.
Once in New York he helped to organise clandestine operations against British rule and was the main instigator of the ‘Dynamite Campaign’ – a series of bombings in England designed to force Britain to relinquish her hold on Ireland. However he was allowed to return home in 1894 and in 1904 on brief visits. In later years he suffered from ill health and was confined to a hospital on Staten Island. He died there in 1915 and his remains were returned home for burial. His graveside was the occasion of Padraig Pearse’s famous oration on the power of the Fenian dead. On his immediate hearing of his death Pearse recorded the following:
O'Donovan Rossa was not the greatest man of the Fenian generation, but he was its most typical man. He was the man that to the masses of his countrymen then and since stood most starkly and plainly for the Fenian idea…
No man, no government, could either break or bend him. Literally he was incapable of compromise. He could not even parley with compromisers. Nay, he could not act, even for the furtherance of objects held in common, with those who did not hold and avow all his objects…
Enough to know that the valiant soldier of Ireland is dead; that the unconquered spirit is free.
His funeral in Dublin at Glasnevin Cemetery on 1 August 1915 was a huge affair at which Pearse gave in the Irish Language his famous speech The Fools the fools the fools....
They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! - they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.
There is a monument in Dublin's St Stephen's Green to O'Donovan Rossa [pictured above]
Tuesday, 28 June 2022
28 June 1919: The Treaty of Versailles was signed on this day. On the afternoon of 28 June 1919 two German Ministers, Johannes Bell and Hermann Müller stepped forward inside the magnificent Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles to sign a document placed before them to formally bring to an end the Great War and hopefully establish Peace in Europe once again. The Conference had opened on 18 January 1919. The date and setting were significant. On that day and in the same place in 1871 Wilhelm I had been proclaimed Emperor of a united Germany, following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.
The tranquillity of the continent had been shattered by the assassination five years to the day beforehand [28 June 1914] when the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie had been shot dead on the streets of Sarajevo in Bosnia. Within weeks most of Europe was at War that was to claim the lives of millions of her People.
But it was a bitter pill for the German delegates to swallow as their signatures were viewed as a humiliation by their own People. Germany had started the War as the most powerful Empire in Europe and was a powerhouse of Industry & Armaments. By 1919 she was on her knees. Under the terms of the Treaty she was to be shorn of lands and provinces she considered hers by Right of Conquest and Blood. Lands and People were taken by the French, Belgians, Danes and Poles. Not only that but Germany had to reduce her once mighty Army and Navy to the status of a paltry 100,000 men home force and basically a flotilla of boats to guard her coastline. She was denied the use of tanks, submarines, or an Air Force of any kind.
By far the biggest humiliation though was the imposition of a huge level of reparations for the damage her armies had inflicted on the lands of the Allies that they had occupied during the War. The notorious Article 231 of the Treaty established German War guilt for starting the War and on the foundation of that principle a punitive level of reparations were deemed to be due to the Allied Powers from Germany*
"The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies."
This really stuck in the throat of the German Delegates and back home where there was outrage and anger at such harsh terms. The Germans had been led to believe [or chose to believe] that under the US President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Point Plan for Peace that the Rights to self determination of all peoples would be respected and that they would get a reasonably honourable deal. But the opposition of France in particular knocked this one on the head as they wanted Revenge for the damage to their Country caused by Germans during their Occupation of northern France for over four years. All the major Allied Powers [bar Russia] that had fought Germany signed the Treaty, the USA, the British Empire, the Republic of France, the Kingdoms of Italy and Belgium etc, followed by the lesser powers who took part in the War.
However one Country that had struck for its Freedom during the War in 1916 and indeed had seen many of its countrymen fighting with the Allies & that had shed so much of their blood for the ‘Freedom of small Nations’ on the battlefields of France and Belgium & further afield was absent - and that was the newly declared Irish Republic. It was not for want of trying as the Irish Cabinet had already dispatched a little delegation of its own to Paris to try their luck at pressing the Allied Powers about upholding the Principle of self determination.
On February 22 1919 Sean T. O’Kelly, [T.D. and Ceann Comhairle of the 1st Dáil Éireann] addressed a letter to the President of the Peace Conference M. Clemenceau [President of France] and to every delegate to the Conference in Paris. He brought to their notice the claim of the Government of the Irish Republic for international recognition; he requested the conference to receive its delegates and allow them the earliest opportunity:
‘To establish formally and definitely before the Peace Conference and the League of Nations Commission, now assembled in Paris, Ireland’s indisputable right to international recognition of her independence and the propriety of her claim to enter the League of Nations as one of its constituent members’
The Irish Republic by Dorothy Macardle pages 259-260.
O’Kelly distributed copies to all the delegates assembled in Paris but it was to no avail and Irish demands were brushed aside. However the cat as it were was out the bag and was not for turning. Wilson had opened a Pandora’s Box that National self determination was the cornerstone of International Affairs. Specifically Point 14 of his Plan:
XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.
28 June 1919 was thus a seminal moment in the History of Europe and indeed of the World. Germany had been wounded but was not crushed and the bitterness of the terms of the Treaty led to a thirst for revenge on its perpetrators - a legacy that was come back and haunt Europe in the decades to come. Further afield the concept of National self determination came to be seen as a Global Principle that all the European Great Powers would eventually be held accountable to. And they were.
* The final payment was made on 3 October 2010, settling German loan debts in regard to reparations.
Painting: the signing of the Treaty of Versailles 28 June 1919 by William Orpen.
28 June 1920: Irish soldiers in India engaged in a Mutiny on this day. Five men from C Company, 1st battalion Connaught Rangers, refused to take orders from their officers, declaring their intent not to serve the King until the British forces left Ireland. They were disturbed by reports reaching them from home that members of the Crown Forces in Ireland were committing atrocities. The news quickly spread amongst the other outposts of the Rangers in the Punjab and rumours were rife that these five men had been summarily executed. This in turn triggered more a serious incident some days later at Solan.
At the barracks there Private James Daly and 70 other Rangers attacked the armoury. However it was successfully defended and Privates Smyth and Sears were shot dead. In total, nearly 400 men had joined the mutiny. 88 men were court martialled in the aftermath, 14 were sentenced to death and the rest given up to 15 years in jail. James Daly was executed on November 2nd 1920. Privates Sears and Smyth were buried at Solan; Daly and John Miranda (who died in prison of harsh treatment) were buried at the Dagshai graveyard. In 1970 the remains of Daly Smith and Sears were returned to Ireland for reburial.
They were repatriated to Ireland by The National Graves Association and given a military funeral with full honours. A special monument in their honour was erected at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. [above]
28 June 1691: At the 2nd Siege of Athlone Sgt. Custume led a small band of Volunteers that successfully tore down the attempted ‘planking’ by the Williamites of the partially destroyed bridge across the Shannon.
The siege had begun on the 19th when the Dutch General Ginkel of King William's of Orange Army had led a force of 21,000 men to the eastern side of Athlone and attacked the bastion there. The defenders were under the overall command of the French General St Ruth of King Louis XIV Army but whose troops had sworn loyalty to the Catholic King James II. St Ruth kept his main force back from the town to avoid encirclement and put a garrison of 1,500 men into to hold as long as possible.
By the 28th of June the Williamites had taken the eastern bastion and were advancing across the bridge of Athlone replacing the broken structure with lines of planks. As their men advanced the cannon and mortars of the Williamites kept up a terrific fire upon the defenders to stop them interfering with the progress of their operations.
It was Sunday, the 28th of June--the Irish saw with consternation that barely a few planks more laid on would complete the bridge. Their own few cannon were now nearly all buried in the ruined masonry, and the enemy beyond had battery on battery trained on the narrow spot--it was death to show in the line of the all but finished causeway.
Out stepped from the ranks of Maxwell's regiment, a sergeant of dragoons, Custume by name. "Are there ten men here who will die with me for Ireland?" A hundred eager voices shouted "Ay." "Then," said he, "we will save Athlone; the bridge must go down."
Grasping axes and crowbars, the devoted band rushed from behind the breastwork, and dashed forward upon the newly-laid beams. A peal of artillery, a fusillade of musketry, from the other side, and the space was swept with grapeshot and bullets. When the smoke cleared away, the bodies of the brave Custume and his ten heroes lay on the bridge, riddled with balls. They had torn away some of the beams, but every man of the eleven had perished.
Out from the ranks of the same regiment dashed as many more volunteers. "There are eleven men more who will die for Ireland." Again cross the bridge rushed the heroes. Again the spot is swept by a murderous fusillade. The smoke lifts from the scene; nine of the second band lie dead upon the bridge--two survive, but the work is done. The last beam is gone; Athlone once more is saved.
STORY OF IRELAND
By A. M. Sullivan
Alas the brave stand of Sergeant Custume and his comrades was in vain for Lt General Ginkel, who commanded the besiegers was determined to take the town no matter what the cost. On the evening of the 30th he launched his troops 20 abreast under a German officer in the Danish service Major General Tettau into the ford at Athlone and through the waters of the Shannon. By sheer weight of numbers he got his men across while a terrific bombardment was opened up on the Irish positions. At the same time the Scottish General Mackay renewed the assault upon the bridge. Irish resistance crumbled as they were overwhelmed by superior numbers in men and material. So Athlone fell to the Williamite Army.
Monday, 27 June 2022
Sunday, 26 June 2022
26 June 1932: The Eucharistic Congress culminated on this day when over one million people attended the Pontifical High Mass in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. The Chief Celebrant was the Papal Legate Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri [above], personally selected by Pope Pius XI himself. The Holy Father had charged him to:
Go to Ireland in my name and say to the good people assembled there that the Holy Father loves Ireland and sends to Ireland and its inhabitants and visitors not the usual Apostolic blessing but a very special all embracing one.
As his ship arrived in Dún Laoghaire on Monday 20 June, it was escorted into the harbour by aeroplanes flying in formation in the shape of a cross. He travelled in procession the nine miles from Dun Laoghaire to St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin in the Lord Mayor’s Coach, led by the Blue Hussars, a recently created ceremonial cavalry unit. Made a Freeman of Dublin at a ceremony at Mansion House, during his week long stay, the Legate visited a number of towns including Armagh, Drogheda, and Dundalk.
Lauri wrote Edward Joseph Byrne, Archbishop of Dublin,
I shall never forget the unforgettably glorious days of this Eucharistic Congress . . . all have participated, all have co-operated to make this congress a triumph, government and civic leaders, as well as ecclesiastical authorities, priests, members of religious communities, men, women and children, have all united to make this Eucharistic Congress a plebiscite of love for the Blessed Eucharist, a plebiscite of devotion to the vicar of Christ."
The arrival of the Cardinal and the holding of the 19th Eucharistic Congress in Dublin was seen as a great honour for the Catholics of Ireland. The week long event saw huge displays of religious devotion with crowds of tens of thousands in attendance at various events. The high point of the Eucharistic Congress came on the final Sunday of the week’s festivities in the form of a massive open air mass in the Phoenix Park. An ornate High Altar flanked with choirs and bands from all over the Catholic world was the main focus of attention. The Cardinal was accompanied by the highest ranks of the Irish Catholic Hierarchy in his fulfilment of his celebration of the Mass. In addition thousands of the Clergy were there to witness and partake in the biggest religious gathering the Country had ever seen.
“It is 12.30. The Bishops are assembling, their purple shining through the green of the trees. They march in hundreds, slowly, pensively, the Bishops of the world, in white and black and red, in cream and gold and brown. They file through the three thousand priests like a coloured thread being drawn through white silk. Then up the crimson carpet, turning right and left to the colonnades of the altar, and there they sit and seen from afar through the white pillars, each group looking like Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper.”
THE IRISH PRESS
The Government of Mr Eamon De Valera and the leading members of the Opposition were in attendance as well as numerous dignitaries from home and abroad. The huge multitude heard Mass broadcast over an extensive PA system, the largest in the world at that time. The event was listened to across the Nation and internationally through the medium of Radio Athlone. Count John McCormack gave a brilliant rendition of the Panis Angelicus (Bread of the Angels) to the multitude that grew praise from many quarters.
The audition was marvellous, whether it was of the full tones of the Cardinal Legate as he spoke the Mass, the tuneful antiphon of the choir, the sharp clamour of the trumpets as they paid homage at the elevation of the Host, or the beautiful voice of John Mc Cormack that came clear and bell like, borne without a tremor over the whole silent space, midway through the Service. It was at that moment of the Elevation of the Host, the supreme point in Catholic ritual, that one fully realised the common mind that swallowed up all individuality in the immense throng. Flung together in their hundreds of thousands, like the sands on the seashore, these people were merely parts of a great organism which was performing a great act of faith, with no more ego in them than the sands themselves.
Prior to the closing ceremony a special blessing by Pope Pius XI broadcasting directly from the Vatican was relayed to the huge congregation. This marked the culmination of a series of events held over the previous four days, which saw scenes of unprecedented devotion by the Catholics of Ireland. The Eucharistic Congress entered Catholic folk memory and remained the greatest public gathering in Ireland until the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, which also took place in the Phoenix Park..
Saturday, 25 June 2022
25 June 1973: The murders of Paddy Wilson and Irene Andrews took place in Belfast, on the night of 25/26 June 1973. The victims, Catholic Senator Paddy Wilson and his Protestant friend, Irene Andrews, were hacked and repeatedly stabbed to death by members of the "Ulster Freedom Fighters" (UFF). This was a cover name for the Ulster Defence Association(UDA), a then-legal loyalist paramilitary organisation. John White, the UFF's commander, who used the pseudonym "Captain Black", was convicted of the sectarian double murder in 1978 and sentenced to life imprisonment. White, however maintained that the UFF's second-in-command Davy Payne helped him lead the assassination squad and played a major part in the attack. Although questioned by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) after the killings, Payne admitted nothing and was never charged.
Wilson was the founder and General Secretary of the Social Democratic and Labour Party(SDLP) and Irene Andrews was noted in Belfast as a popular ballroom dancer. The mutilated bodies of Wilson and Andrews were found lying in pools of blood on either side of Wilson's car parked in a quarry off the Hightown Road near Cavehill. Wilson had been hacked and stabbed 30 times and his throat cut from ear-to-ear. Andrews had received 20 knife wounds. The killings were described by the judge at White's trial as "a frenzied attack, a psychotic outburst".
UFF leader and self-styled "Captain Black", John White confessed to the killings during a police interrogation for other offences at the Castlereagh Holding Centre in 1976. He was convicted of the murders in 1978 and given two life sentences. The trial judge described the killings as "a frenzied attack, a psychotic outburst". He maintained that the UFF's second-in-command (and later North Belfast UDA brigadier) Davy Payne, also known as "the Psychopath", was part of the assassination squad and played a leading role in the killings. Author Ian S. Wood confirmed Payne's central involvement in the double killing. Although Payne had been questioned by the RUC after the killings, he admitted nothing and never faced any charges. It was alleged that whenever Payne wished to frighten or intimidate others he would shout: "Do you know who I am? I'm Davy Payne. They say I killed Paddy Wilson".
Following White's release from the Maze Prison in 1992, he joined the Ulster Democratic Party. A prominent figure in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, in 1996 he comprised part of a four-man loyalist delegation to 10 Downing Street where he met British Prime Minister John Major and shook his hand, much to the consternation of many in the Nationalist Community.
Later when asked why he had perpetrated the killings, White claimed that they were carried out to strike fear into the Catholic community after the IRA blew up six Protestant pensioners in Coleraine on 12 June 1973. Regarding Irene Andrews, White replied, "We didn't know [who] she was."
White had to leave the North in 2003 after a falling out with other Loyalists and fled to Scotland. His current whereabouts is unknown.
Friday, 24 June 2022
24 June 1798: The Battle of Castlecomer on this day. The picturesque County Kilkenny town of Castlecomer was burnt to the ground as the Army of the United Irishmen from Wexford clashed with the Crown Forces in the streets of the town. In the wake of the defeat at Vinegar Hill on 21 June it was decided by the Insurgents to leave County Wexford and advance on Castlecomer where it was hoped the militant colliers there would join them. In the event quite a few did but were of limited fighting value given the immediacy of the situation, not helped by the fact that town was already garrisoned by 300 soldiers under Walter Butler, a local Bigwig and the future 18th Earl of Ormonde.
Major General Charles Asgil of the British Army advanced from Kilkenny City with about 1,000 men to relieve the troops defending Castlecomer. He sent ahead some 100 men to augment the 300 or so already there under Butler’s command.
The Insurgents, with about 8,000 men advanced upon the town in two columns, one under Father Murphy himself and the other under Miles Byrne. They eventually joined forces within the town and drew up plans to assault by storm Castlecomer House that still held out. But the appearance of Asgil’s relief force on the heights outside the town meant that the Wexfordmen had to turn their attention to that quarter. The British General opened up with artillery to cover the retreat of the trapped garrison. The United Irishmen fell back under this sustained under fire as Asgil held his ground long enough for his trapped soldiers & supporters in the town to get out and then he marched away.
Early in the morning of the 24th the rebel troops diminished by desertion to about 8,000 descended from the heights and advancing towards Castlecomer defeated a body of about two hundred and fifty men at a place called Coolbawn a mile and a half from that town which they entered with the slaughter of about fifty Loyalists. The town was set on fire – and of this conflagration each party accuses the other. The General arriving at length with his army, fired with his artillery on the streets and houses not knowing that many Loyalists were still in the place who were making a desperate defence to prevent their families and friends from falling into the enemies hands. This firing however determined the rebels to retire from the town about four O'clock in the afternoon, which furnished an opportunity to Protestants there assembled to retreat with the general to Kilkenny, but they were obliged to leave their good s a prey to the enemy who took full possession of the place as soon as the Royal Army retreated.
Musgrave’s History of the Rebellion in Ireland, in the Year 1798
The forces Loyal to the Crown had a lucky escape as the Loyalists within and the troops without would have been overwhelmed had the relative numbers been known in the Insurgent camp. But an early morning fog and the smoke of the buildings alight within the town along with the firing of the guns masked the weakness of the Loyalist position. In the event Murphy decided that it was no use proceeding into areas where the prospects of revolt were so poor and after a brief foray into County Laois it was decided to return to Wexford and fight it out there.
Thursday, 23 June 2022
23 June 1985: The destruction of Air India flight 182 on this day. The plane was flying from Toronto, Canada to Delhi, India via London, England. It was some 120 miles off the south west coast of Ireland at an altitude of 31,000 feet when at 8.13am the plane disappeared off the radar screen of Air Traffic Control at Shannon airport. It had exploded - killing all on board - 329 lives were lost, including 268 Canadian citizens, 27 Britons, and 24 Indians. 80 were children.
The majority of the victims were Canadian citizens of Indian ancestry. The bombing of Air India 182 occurred at the same time as the Narita airport [Japan] bombing. Investigators believe that the two plots were linked, and that the group responsible was aiming for a double bombing. However, the bomb at Narita exploded before it could be loaded onto the plane.
Canadian law enforcement determined that the main suspects in the bombing were members of the Sikh group Babbar Khalsa. The attack is thought to have been a retaliation against India for the operation carried out by the Indian Army Operation Blue Star to flush out several hundred Sikh Militants who were within the premises of the Golden Temple and the surrounding structures. The operation was ordered by the Prime Minister Indira Ghandi. Though a handful of members were arrested and tried, Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Canadian national, remains the only person legally convicted of involvement in the bombing. Singh pleaded guilty in 2003 to manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for building the bombs that exploded aboard Flight 182 and at Narita.
The subsequent investigation and prosecution lasted almost twenty years and was the most expensive trial in Canadian history, costing nearly130 million Canadian dollars.
131 bodies were subsequently recovered from the sea. It was one of the biggest operations in the history of the State to recover their remains which was undertaken by the Irish Navy. The L.É. AISLING navy ship, under the command of Lieutenant Commander James Robinson, was one of the first vessels on scene. The RAF and the Royal Navy also helped to recover the bodies and debris from the site which extended over a large area of the sea.
Every year, a remembrance ceremony is held in Cork at the memorial garden and sundial in Ahakista in County Cork [above]
Wednesday, 22 June 2022
22 June 1922: Field-marshal Sir Henry Wilson was assassinated by the IRA on this day. He was gunned down as he approached the steps of his London home at 36 Eaton Place, Belgravia whilst returning home from unveiling a war memorial at Liverpool Street station. His killers were Reginald Dunne & Joseph O'Sullivan both members of London IRA.
Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson, 1st Baronet, GCB, DSO was a notorious figure in the eyes of Irish Republicans he had a distinguished military career but a controversial ‘political’ one. He was born at Currygrane Ballinalee, County Longford to a minor Anglo-Irish family and was a Unionist to his fingertips. He joined the British Regular Army in 1884. He was wounded in action fighting the Burmese in 1887 at the tail end of the 3rd Burmese War which left him with a permanent facial disfigurement.
After avoiding overseas service Wilson graduated from Staff College in December 1893 and was immediately promoted captain, on 5 May 1895 his 31st birthday, he took over from Repington as staff captain of section A thus making him the youngest staff officer in the British Army. He served in the South Africa War [1899-1902] on the Staff & was highly critical of the way military operations were conducted. On his return to London he resumed his previous positions but gained a reputation as a schemer. Through talent and serious wire pulling he worked his way up to become Commandant Staff College, Camberley in January 1907.
In 1910 Wilson became Director of Military Operations at the British War Office. As its Director he played a vital role in drawing up plans to deploy an Expeditionary Force to France in the event of war. During these years Wilson acquired a reputation as a political intriguer for his role in agitating for the introduction of conscription and in the Curragh incident of 1914, when he encouraged senior officers to resign rather than move against the Ulster Volunteers (UVF).
He planned deeply for what he saw as an inevitable war with Germany and he laid the military groundwork for co-operation with France in the event of it happening. When the Great War started in 1914 he was instrumental in determining when and where the BEF would be deployed. He is generally seen as the ‘brains’ behind the logistics of getting a British Army into France and on the frontlines within weeks of the outbreak of hostilities. This played a small but vital part in the defeat of Germany’s Schlieffen Plan to knock France out of the War in a matter of weeks. If Wilson has a historical legacy in the international sphere then this is what he is remembered for.
He played an important role in Anglo-French military relations in 1915 and after his only experience of field command as a corps commander in 1916 he served in senior staff positions and was an ally of the controversial French General Robert Nivelle in early 1917. In 1918 became Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) and informally as a military advisor to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. After the War he was promoted to Field Marshal the highest military rank open to a British Officer. Unlike many other who gained such an exalted rank his was for services as a senior Staff officer rather than for any particular skill on the battlefield. Later on he was the British Permanent Military Representative at the Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919.
However it was his deepening involvement in Irish politics that sealed his fate. He favoured a hard crackdown by the British Army on the IRA but was aghast at the antics of the Black and Tans. He resigned from the Army early in 1922 and was elected an MP for North Down. He then advised the northern government on security issues and though he made some military suggestions that were more balanced than many of the Orangemen wanted to hear he was nonetheless seen by Irish Republicans as deeply associated with severe and repressive methods against the Catholic and Nationalist populace in the Six Counties.
On the day of his death he attended and unveiled a memorial at Liverpool street station to members of Great Eastern Railway who had died in the Great War. He returned to his home at 36 Eaton Place Belgravia by taxi and as he alighted he was gunned down by two members of the London IRA - Reginald Dunne and Joseph O'Sullivan both ex servicemen who had served in the War. He was in full uniform and tried to confront his attackers but he fell to six bullets two of which were fatal.
Wilson made for the door as best he could and actually reached the doorstep when I encountered him at a range of 7 or 8 feet. I fired three shots rapidly, the last one from the hip, as I took a step forward. Wilson was now uttering short cries and in a doubled up position staggered toward the edge of the pavement. At this point Joe fired once again and the last I saw of him he had collapsed.
Tuesday, 21 June 2022
21 June 1798: The Battle of Vinegar Hill/Cath Chnoc Fhíodh na gCaor was fought on this day. The engagement was fought near the town of Enniscorthy in County Wexford. While not the last battle of the Rising of that year it was the most decisive - for after that date there was no real hope that the Insurrection could succeed without Foreign Intervention.
After the outbreak of the Rising in May under the United Irishmen forces were organised to try and break out of County Wexford and spread the Revolt. These attempts though were repulsed and eventually the Insurgents main force fell back on Vinegar Hill for a final stand.
Here perhaps 20,000 men women and children had gathered in a huge makeshift camp to escape the depredations of the Military. They were in a blood lust against those who they considered to be ‘rebels’. Massacres and atrocities had been committed by people on both sides but the general consensus is that the Yeomanry and Militia were the worst and the hapless peasants of the Countryside the chief victims.*
A number of columns of the British Army under General Lake advanced upon Enniscorthy from various points on the compass. His intention was to completely surround the town and hill and force a capitulation. Lake divided his force into four columns to accomplish this; three columns, under Generals Dundas, Duff and Needham were to assault Vinegar Hill, while the fourth column, under General Johnson, was to storm Enniscorthy and its bridge.
The insurgents had done little or nothing to prepare their defenses even though a number of weeks had elapsed since they occupied the position.
Miles Byrne was:
surprised to find that scarcely anything had been done to make formidable against the enemy; that vast fences and ditches that surround it on three sides and which should have been levelled to the ground for at least a cannon shot, or half a mile of distance, were all left untouched. The English forces availing themselves of these defences advanced from field to field, bringing with them their cannon which they placed to great advantage behind and under cover of the hedges and fences, whilst our men were exposed to a terrible fire from their artillery and small arms without being able to drive them back from their strongholds in those fields.
The battle began at dawn with an artillery bombardment by the British. This had a devastating impact on the masses of people gathered on the hill and it can only be expected that many took any opportunity they had to flee to safety. Sometime after 7 am the Infantry commenced their Advance. As the day wore on the net tightened and despite two charges by the pikemen it was hopeless against such a well armed force. Eventually those that could made a break for it as General Needham was unable to close in on his assigned position in time and a gap was open to which to escape. Through it flowed a mixture of fighters and peasants who had the incentive to get out while the going was good.
But many others were either too tired, shocked or plain terrified to risk it and remained to await their fate. It was not to be a good one. When the hill fell many were put to the sword or shot out of hand. Recent archaeological scanning of the site indicates large pits on the north side of the hill that are believed to be mass graves of those who were captured on that day. Though the graves have not yet been excavated perhaps the remains of 1,000 to 2,000 unfortunates are believed to be buried under the soil of Vinegar Hill.
Thomas Cloney [an envoy from Wexford] came within a mile of Enniscorthy in the aftermath of the Battle and saw:
The dead and dying were scattered promiscuously in the fields, in dykes, on the roads, or wherever chance had directed their last steps. ... In one place we beheld some men with arms and some with legs off, and others cruelly mutilated in various ways; horses with their necks broken, and their cars with women and children under them, either dead or dying in the road and ditches, where in their precipitate flight they had been upset.
In the town of Enniscorthy there had also been fierce fighting and much of the town burnt,
Edward Hay saw:
the house which had been used as an hospital by the insurgents, and which was set on fire with all the patients in it, continued burning until next morning, when I saw a part of a corpse still hissing in the embers.
* The accounts you see of the numbers of enemy destroyed in every action are, I conclude greatly exaggerated. From my own knowledge of military affairs I am sure a very small proportion of them only could be killed in battle and I am much afraid that any man in a brown coat who is found within several miles of the field of action, is butchered without discrimination.
Marquis Cornwallis to the Duke of Portland 28 June 1798.
Quotes from Charles Dixon: The Wexford Rising in 1798: Its causes and its course.
21 June 1854: Midshipman Charles Davis Lucas, by an act of outstanding bravery on board HMS Hecla on this day was awarded the first Victoria Cross. Midshipman Lucas was a native of County Monaghan, Ireland. He won the medal during a British Naval Expedition to the Baltic during the ‘Crimean War’. The fleet under Admiral Napier commenced a bombardment of the island fortress of Bomarsund. Three ships were sent forward to undertake the task, led by Captain Hall.
‘At the height of the bombardment, a live shell from an enemy battery landed on Hecla's upper-deck, with its fuse still hissing. All hands were ordered to fling themselves flat on the deck, but Lucas, with what Hall called in a letter to Napier next day 'great coolness and presence of mind', ran forward, picked up the shell and tossed it overboard. It exploded with a tremendous roar before it hit the water. Some minor damage was done to the ship's side and two men were slightly hurt but, thanks to Lucas, nobody was killed or seriously wounded. He was immediately promoted to Acting Lieutenant for his bravery, and the Admiralty later confirmed the promotion on Napier's strongest recommendation.’
'The VC at Sea' by John Winton.
The 6-gun steam paddle sloop Hecla was under the direct command of Capitan Hall himself who reported to the Admiral that:
With regard to Mr. Lucas, I have the pleasure to report a remarkable instance of coolness and presence of mind in action, he having taken up, and thrown overboard, a live shell thrown on board the 'Hecla' by the enemy, while the fuse was burning.
Queen Victoria invested Charles Lucas with his Victoria Cross on the 26th June 1857 in Hyde Park, London. Lucas eventually reached the rank of Rear Admiral in the Navy. He died on the 7th August 1914, aged 80, at his home in Great Culverden, Kent, and was buried in St. Lawrence's Churchyard, Mereworth.
Monday, 20 June 2022
Saturday, 18 June 2022
18 June 1815: The Battle of Waterloo on this day. This great battle was fought out some 10 kilometres south of the Belgic city of Brussels, along the Ridge of Mont St Jean and on the fields to the south & east of it. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by the combined armies of the Duke of Wellington of the British & Allied Armies and Marshal Blucher leading the forces of Prussia. It was a battle in which men of many nations participated. Soldiers from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the United Provinces (Holland + Belgium), Hanover, Wurtembourg, Prussia and other minor German states fought the forces of France to decide the fate of Europe.
At least three infantry or cavalry brigades were led by Anglo Irish generals.
Major General Sir William Ponsonby (KIA) 2nd British (Union) Cavalry Brigade
Major General Sir John Ormsby Vandeleur 4th British Cavalry Brigade.
Major General Sir Denis Pack 9th British Infantry Brigade
There were also a number of battalion commanders with Irish connections who saw action on the field of Waterloo
Lt. Col.Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby [WIA] 12th Light Dragoons
Lt. Col. Patrick Doherty 13th Light Dragoons
Lt. Col. Henry Murray 18th Hussars
Lt. Col. John Dawson [AWOL] 23 Light Dragoons but fought with the 18th Hussars later on
Lt. Col. John Millet Hammerton [WIA] 44th foot - succeded by Major George O’Malley
Lt. Col. Sir Andrew Barnard 1st battalion Royal Green Jackets
Major Dawson Kelly - led the 73rd foot after all Officers were killed or wounded.
Major Arthur Rowley Heyland [KIA] 1st battalion 40th foot
While the British Army had 10 infantry regiments and 4 cavalry ones with ‘Irish’ in their description only three actually saw service in this campaign:
18th (King's Irish) Hussars - 12 dead 73 wounded officers & men
6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons - 86 dead 107 wounded officers & men
1st Battalion, 27th (Inniskilling) Foot - 105 dead 373 wounded officers & men
History of the Waterloo Campaign - Major General H.T. Siborne
The Inniskillings ‘the Skins’ took some of the heaviest losses of any Regiment on the day.
‘By that evening, the 27th Regiment's casualties were apparently considerable for all to see and an officer of the 95th Rifles later wrote that, 'the twenty-seventh regiment were literally lying dead, in square, a few yards behind us'. When Wellington ordered the general advance around 2000 hours, there were, despite such descriptions, sufficient survivors to enable the Inniskillings to move forward to La Haye Sainte. Perhaps it was there that a captured French General was first reported as saying, 'I have seen Russian, Prussian and French bravery, but anything to equal the stubborn bravery of the regiment with castles I never before witnessed'.
The 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot's killed and wounded amounted to almost 500 out of a total of 747 - amongst the highest casualties of British regiments. In this number were sixteen out of the nineteen officers and twenty-three of the thirty-four Colour Sergeants and Sergeants, all killed or wounded.’
The British Army who fought that day fielded about 24,000 men drawn from England & Wales, Scotland and Ireland. At that time the Irish (Catholic, Protestant & Dissenter) comprised some 30% of the population of these islands. That ratio was well reflected in the ranks of the military force present at Waterloo with the Irish having a strong presence pretty well across the board in all arms Cavalry, Infantry and Artillery. Outside of the Officer Class most of these were poor men, labourers and weavers in the main who found in the Army a relatively secure measure of employment along with shelter & comradeship.
By all accounts the Irish were good fighters but rightly or wrongly were seen as undisciplined off the battlefield. Many were from Catholic households but the Protestant population was represented as best we can judge in numbers that matched their proportion of their Country’s population. The rank and file were seen as emanating from the ‘scum of the earth’ by Wellington and probably by most of the Officer Class too. In some respects he was right as many were there because they were outcasts and misfits from civil society or rough men who sought a fighting career. But they could fight and fight well - and that's what they were there to do.
When the battle ended that evening some 6,000 men of the British Army laid dead, dying or severely wounded on the battlefield - some 25% of the force engaged. On a per capita basis that would be around 2,000 or so men from Ireland who fell that day - a heavy enough toll. On the other hand the population of the island was some Six Million souls in 1815 so while a severe loss to those that had family in the Military it would not have been seen as a National Calamity. Indeed many might well have wished for a French Victory that day - Daniel O’Connell being one of them.
There are a number of roads and landmarks in Ireland still that celebrate the battle that day. The most imposing being the Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park in Dublin that commemorates the Duke of Wellington’s Victories. The halfpenny footbridge over the Liffey in the City Centre is officially ‘Wellington’ bridge and in the suburbs south of the city there are the Wellington and Waterloo roads. North of the river Liffey off the North Strand there is a Waterloo Avenue. In Trim Co Meath where his family hailed from there is also a monument to honour him.
Friday, 17 June 2022