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Sunday, 26 February 2017

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26‭ ‬February‭ ‬943:‭ ‬The Vikings of Dublin got a lucky break,‭ ‬when they ambushed the heir apparent to the High King,‭ ‘‬Muirchertach of the Leather Cloaks/‭ ‬Muirchertach na Cochall Craicinn‭’ ‬and slew him on this day.

Muirchertach son of Niall,‭ ‬i.e.‭ ‬Muirchertach of the Leather Cloaks,‭ ‬king of Ailech and the Hector of the western world,‭ ‬was killed by the heathens,‭ ‬i.e.‭ ‬by Blacair son of Gothfrith,‭ ‬king of the foreigner,‭ ‬at Glas Liatháin beside Cluain Chaín,‭ ‬in Fir Rois,‭ ‬on the first feria,‭ ‬fourth of the Kalends of March‭ ‬[26‭ ‬Feb‭]
 Ard Macha was plundered by the same foreigners on the following day,‭ ‬the third of the Kalends of March‭…
ANNALS OF ULSTER

Muirchertach was the son of Niall Glundubh who had himself been killed fighting the Vikings at Dublin in‭ ‬919‭ ‬AD.‭ ‬He had fought and won many battles and in one report is mentioned as leading a naval expedition against the Norsemen of the Hebrides.‭ ‬However he suffered an embarrassing episode in‭ ‬939‭ ‬when in a surprise raid his enemies‭’ ‬ships raided his fortress of Aileach‭ (‬outside Derry‭) ‬and carried him off.‭ ‬He was forced to ransom his own release to regain his freedom.‭

‬Muirchertach,‭ ‬under the ancient rule of the kingship of Tara alternating between the northern and southern O’Neills,‭ ‬was due to replace King Donnachadh on the latter’s demise.‭ ‬Sometimes though ambition got the better of him and he clashed with his senior colleague and at other times co-operated with him.‭  ‬Muirchertach married Donnchad's daughter Flann,‭ ‬but relations between the two were not good.‭ ‬Conflict between them is recorded in‭ ‬927,‭ ‬929,‭ ‬and‭ ‬938.

His most remarkable feat came in‭ ‬941‭ ‬when he carried out a Circuit of Ireland with a picked force of‭ ‬1,000‭ ‬men and secured pledges from all the principal kingdoms and carried away with him hostages as security.‭ ‬The Dalcassians‭ (‬Brian Boru’s people‭) ‬alone refused to submit.‭ ‬But Muirchertach eventually handed over all his hostages to Donnachadh as a mark of respect.

But his luck ran out in‭ ‬943‭ ‬when he was taken by surprise by the Vikings of Dublin somewhere near Ardee,‭ ‬Co Louth.‭ ‬It looks like Muirchertach was attempting to fend off a raid by them that was heading north towards Armagh when he was taken off guard:

Muirchertach son of Niall,‭ ‬heir designate of Ireland,‭ ‬was killed in Áth Firdia by the foreigners of‭
Áth Cliath,‭ ‬and Ard Macha was plundered by the heathens.
Chronicon Scotorum

Saturday, 25 February 2017

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25‭ ‬February‭ ‬1570:‭ ‬Saint Pope Pius V [above*] excommunicated Queen Elizabeth of England on this day.‭ ‬He issued a Papal Bull called‭ ‬Regnans in Excelsis‭ (‘‬ruling from on high‭’) ‬that absolved all her subjects from any obligations of allegiance to her. It read in part as follows:‭

"We charge and command all Pope St Pius V, Battle of LePanto, nashville dominicans, Dominican sisters of stand singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication...

‬As Elizabeth claimed Ireland as part of her inheritance this Papal decree released by inference the Catholics of Ireland from any sense of obligation to her they may have felt.‭ ‬While the excommunication was of no personal interest to Elizabeth‭ ‬-‭ ‬who had long since abandoned the Catholic Faith‭ ‬-‭ ‬the political ramifications were profound.‭ ‬The Excommunication made her dealings with the Catholic Powers of Europe more problematical and difficult and increased the chances of Spain under Philip II in particular lending his support to revolts within these islands.

In response she increased anti-Catholic persecution and set out to eliminate the presence of the Jesuits from her Realms.‭ ‬The position of the‭ ‘‬New English‭’ ‬Protestants in Ireland was made even more precarious as the Catholics here saw that the Pope himself was now openly opposed to her rule.‭ ‬The English Monarch did not have a high opinion of the Irish anyway as she expressed in a Letter to Sir Francis Walsingham in that month of February‭ ‬1570:

We have heard and knowne it to be true,‭ ‬that certain savage rebells,‭ ‬being men of no valour,‭ ‬had fled out of our realme of Ireland into Spaine,‭ ‬and to cover their lewdness,‭ ‬and procure both reliefe for themselves and for such like as they are in Ireland,‭ ‬they do pretend their departure out of the land for matter of religion,‭ ‬where indeed they be neither of one nor other religion,‭ ‬but given to beastiality,‭ ‬and yet have they writt enough to shewe hypocrisy for their purpose.

While tenuous on off relations between the Vatican and St James Palace continued in the years after Elizabeth’s reign it was not until the French Revolution that regular envoys were exchanged. Full relations were not established until April 1 1982 when Sir Mark Heath presented his credentials to Pope John Paul II and thus became the United Kingdom’s first ever ambassador to the Holy See.

* Statue of Pope Pius V. Photos by Philip Serracino Inglott & Vincent Ruf

Friday, 24 February 2017


24‭ ‬February‭ ‬1969:‭ ‬A General Election was held in the North on this day.‭ ‬It was called by the Prime Minister Terence O’Neill [above],‭ ‬who hoped to strengthen his position to deal with the rapidly changing political situation that was developing due to advent of the Civil Rights Movement.‭ ‬The Rev Ian Paisley ran against him in his own constituency and secured‭ ‬6,331‭ ‬votes to O’Neill’s‭ ‬7,741‭ – ‬an ignominious result for O’Neill who was not used to being challenged for a seat he saw as his own.‭ ‬

It was an embarrassing victory given his previous unchallenged position.‭ ‬On the Nationalist side this election saw the rise of John Hume‭ (‬Independent‭) ‬in the Foyle Constituency of Derry.‭ ‬He defeated the veteran leader of the Nationalist Party Eddie Mc Ateer by‭ ‬8,920‭ ‬votes to‭ ‬5,267‭ ‬in a major upset.‭


The Unionist Party won‭ ‬36‭ ‬seats‭; ‬the Unofficial Unionist Party‭ ‬3‭ ‬seats‭; ‬the Northern Ireland Labour Party‭ ‬2‭ ‬seats‭; ‬the Nationalist Party‭ ‬2‭ ‬seats‭; ‬the Republican Labour Party‭ ‬2‭ ‬seats‭ & ‬Independents‭ ‬2‭ ‬seats.

For O’Neill it was a‭ ‬Pyrrhic‭ ‬Victory for out of the‭ ‬39‭ ‬Unionists returned only‭ ‬27‭ ‬were in support of his policies and‭ ‬12‭ ‬were against or undecided.‭ ‬Four days later he was re-elected as leader of the Unionist Parliamentary Party and thus was confirmed again as the Prime Minister.‭ ‬It was obvious though that his days were clearly numbered.

He retired from Stormont politics in January 1970 when he resigned his seat, having become the Father of the House in the previous year. On 23 January 1970 he was created a life peer as Baron O'Neill of the Maine of Ahoghill in the County of Antrim. He died in England in 1990.

Thursday, 23 February 2017


23‭ ‬February‭ ‬1886:‭ ‬Lord Randolph Churchill spoke at a meeting in Belfast in which he uttered the phrase‭ ‘‬Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right.‭’

Lord Churchill was anxious to undermine the rapport that had developed between the Liberal Party under William Gladstone and the Irish Parliamentary Party under Charles Stewart Parnell.‭ ‬The Liberals had won the General Election the previous year but had not secured an overall majority.‭ ‬They then relied on Parnell to secure their hold on the House of Commons.‭ ‬The price for such support was Gladstone committing himself to bring forward a Bill for Home Rule for Ireland in the current session of Parliament.‭

Churchill was fundamentally opposed to Home Rule and planned to use his name in Ulster to give heart to those within the ranks of the Orange Order that were prepared to resist by any means the bringing in of such a measure.‭ ‬He had written to a friend some days previously what his plan was:

I decided some time ago that if the G.O.M.‭* ‬went for Home Rule,‭ ‬the Orange card would be the one to play.‭ ‬Please God it may turn out to be the ace of trumps and not the two.

‭* ‬Grand Old Man‭ – ‬Mr Gladstone

The revitalised Orange Order had sponsored meetings for all who were against Home Rule.‭ ‬It arranged the meeting in the Ulster Hall at which the main speaker was to be Lord Randolph Churchill himself.‭ ‬He gave,‭ ‬to a wildly enthusiastic audience,‭ ‬a slogan that was to become their rallying cry in the years ahead:

‭ ‬Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right.

Thus began the close association between the Conservative Party and the Unionists in Ireland that was to such a feature of Anglo-Irish relations for decades to come.



Wednesday, 22 February 2017


22 February 1973: Elizabeth Bowen author, socialite and spy[?] died on this day. Of Anglo Irish stock she was born at 15 Herbert Place in the city of Dublin on 7 June 1899. Her parents were Henry Charles Cole Bowen and Florence (née Colley) Bowen. In 1907 her father declined into mental illness and she moved with her mother to England where they took up residence at the seaside town of Hythe in Kent. Tragedy was to strike her again though when her mother died in 1912. After that she was brought up by a committee of Aunts and shunted back and forth between them.

It was only as she grew older that she realised the chasm between the closed world of the Anglo-Irish set she belonged to and the bulk of the Catholic population of Ireland:

‘It was not until after the end of those seven winters that I understood that we Protestants were a minority, and that the unquestioned rules of our being came, in fact, from the closeness of a minority world’...
I took the existence of Roman Catholics for granted but met few and was not interested in them. They were simply “the others,” whose world lay alongside ours but never touched.'
Elizabeth Bowen, Bowen’s Court & Seven Winters: Memories of a Dublin Childhood, (London: Virago, 1984;1942)

After some time at art school in London she decided that her talent lay in writing. She mixed with the Bloomsbury Group, which contained some the most talented and outrageous (for the time) people involved in the London Arts scene. Her first book, a collection of short stories entitled Encounters was published in 1923. It was in that year she married one Alan Cameron. He had served in the Great War in which he was badly gassed. The marriage has been described as "a sexless but contented union." The marriage was reportedly never consummated! She reputedly had numerous extra martial affairs with other men though they stayed married until his death in 1952.

The great love of her life was Charles Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat of great charm and intelligence from a privileged Nova Scotia background. They first met in 1941 and continued an On-Off relationship for over 30 years until her death. She really could not live without knowing that he loved her - but to him she was a fascinating creature though not the absolute centre of his life. He later married another woman and that must have hurt Elizabeth - but there was nothing she could really do about it.

But while an author of some note its clear her personal life was an unsettled one. The loss of her parents while still a child must have had a had a huge impact on her psyche that left her reserved and unsure in human relations though with a great deal of silent perception on the frailties of the human condition. Though somewhat cryptic in style her reading of human nature was what made her novels such gems in the way she described her characters and the rarefied world that they moved through.

Strangely in Ireland she is remembered as much for her writing reports from here during the Second World War to the British Ministry of Information in London about the attitudes and feelings of the Great and the Ordinary towards Britain and the War - for which some have labelled her a ‘Spy’. A matter of opinion really.

She tried to spend as much time as possible at her beloved Bowen’s Court in Cork, the family seat she inherited in 1930. But while it was a idyll away from the drudgery of London its upkeep was a huge burden on her finances. Eventually it led her to a nervous breakdown, a string of unpaid debts and the sale and eventual demolition of Bowens Court in 1960. She returned to London and witnessed the ‘Swinging Sixties’ there. A smoker she developed Lung Cancer in 1972. That year she saw out her last Christmas in Ireland staying with friends in Kinsale Co Cork. She died in London on 22 February 1973, aged 73. She is buried with her husband in Farahy Co Cork  churchyard, close to the gates of Bowen's Court, where there is a memorial plaque to her.

Her best-known novels are The Death of the Heart and The Heat of the Day, but her own favourite was The Last September, published when she was still in her 20s; it was, she said, the work of hers “nearest to my heart”.
Her prose is so subtle and allusive that it would be a disservice to quote from her, but read almost any descriptive passage in The Last September and you will understand her greatness.
John Banville Irish Times 7 March 2015






Tuesday, 21 February 2017


21‭ ‬February‭ ‬1922:‭ ‬A new Police Force,‭ ‬the‭ ‘‬Civic Guard‭’ ‬began its first‭ ‬Recruitment campaign on this day.‭ ‬It was intended to replace the Royal Irish Constabulary as the instrument charged with Law enforcement within the prospective Irish Free State that was due to come into full operation by the end of the year.‭

In January‭ ‬1922,‭ ‬the Provisional Government had decided that the Royal Irish Constabulary was to be disbanded‭ "‬as soon as possible‭"‬.‭ ‬They decided to replace the Republican Police with a regular police force under a trained police officer.‭ ‬Michael Collins had reported to the Provisional Government on‭ ‬28‭ ‬January that a police organising committee was being formed,‭ ‬that would include members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police.‭

‬The committee held their first meeting in the Gresham Hotel on Thursday,‭ ‬9‭ ‬February,‭ ‬with General Richard Mulcahy,‭ ‬Michael Collins,‭ ‬and Michael J.‭ ‬Staines among those in attendance.‭ ‬Work was started immediately under Michael Staines T.D. [above]‭ ‬as the acting chairman.‭ ‬A veteran of the Easter Rising he had been active in‭ ‬the administration of the National Arbitration Courts and the Republican Police during the War of Independence.‭

Volunteer Brigade Officers around the Country were requested to dispatch suitable recruits for training to a temporary headquarters at the Royal Dublin Society in Ballsbridge,‭ ‬Dublin.‭ ‬Any candidates who attended for examination were to be at least‭ ‬5‭' ‬9‭"‬,‭ ‬unmarried and between the ages of‭ ‬19‭ ‬and‭ ‬27.‭ ‬They were compelled to sit examinations in reading spelling and arithmetic to gain entry as cadets.‭ ‬The first man to join the Civic Guard was an ex RIC man P.‭ ‬J.‭ ‬Kerrigan.

However the name‭ ‘‬Civic Guard‭’ ‬was not formally decided upon until‭ ‬27‭ ‬February and on the following‭ ‬10‭ ‬March,‭ ‬Michael Joseph Staines was formally appointed as its first Commissioner.‭ ‬In August of the following year the Police Force of the State was renamed the‭ ‬Garda Síochána
‭ (‬Guardians of the Peace‭) ‬and has remained the name of the Force ever since.‭ ‬Michael Staines was then retrospectively recognised as the first Commissioner of the‭ ‬Garda Síochána.‭ ‬His most famous saying was that:

The Garda Síochána will succeed,‭ ‬not by force of arms or numbers,‭
‬but by their moral authority as servants of the people.


Monday, 20 February 2017


20 February 1644: The Execution of Sir Connor Maguire - ‘The Maguire’ of Fermanagh at Tyburn, London on this day. He was hanged, drawn and quartered for ‘High Treason’. Maguire had been one of the leaders of the 1641 Rising in Ireland and was tasked with seizing Dublin Castle from the English. At the last moment the plans were discovered and the plot was aborted. He was quickly captured and eventually confessed to his role in the affair. In June 1642 he and other prisoners were sent over to London and held in the Tower under severe conditions. They were then sent to Newgate Prison and held as ‘close prisoners’ - bread and water diet in close confinement. Moved back to the Tower they were treated somewhat better. The guard loosened Maguire and others managed to escape but while waiting for a ship to the Continent they were recognised and recaptured after just a few weeks of freedom.

'The peerage in Maguire’s case made a difficulty. There were several precedents for trying in England treasons committed in Ireland. That being admitted as good law, it was easy to show that an Irish peer was a commoner in England, and as such Maguire was tried. Many points of law were raised, but the facts were patent, and he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. On the cart at Tyburn Maguire was cruelly harassed about religious matters, but he remained firm. He carried in his hand some curious papers, partly of a devotional character, with directions as to how he should bear himself. He declared that he forgave all his 'enemies and defenders, even those that have a hand in my death,' and that he died a Roman catholic.'
Dictionary of National Biography

On February 20 1644 Lord Maguire to whom the executioner would have shown some favour by leaving him to hang on the gallows until he should be quite dead and meanwhile the executioner was busy kindling the fire with which his entrails were to be burned after his death but so inhuman were the officers that they totally denied Lord Maguire the services of one of our Fathers on the scaffold and they waited not for the executioner but one of them cut the rope with a halberd and let the Lord Maguire drop alive and then called the executioner to open him alive and very ill the executioner did it the said Lord Maguire making resistance with his hand and defending himself with such little strength as he had; and such was the cruelty that for sheer compassion the executioner bore not to look upon him in such torment, and, to have done with him, speedily handled his knife well and cut his throat.
Letter from Father Hugh Burke, bishop of Kilmacduagh
Eyewitness to Irish History
By Peter Berresford Ellis