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Wednesday, 24 May 2017


25 May 1921- The Custom House in Dublin was burnt out by members of the Dublin Brigade IRA. In an audacious and well planned operation some 200 IRA members seized control of the Custom House building on Dublin’s North Quay and set it alight. The purpose of the raid was to destroy the Local Government records of the British Administration in Ireland in order to further undermine their ability to rule the Country.

The Operation had been decided upon by the senior members of the Republican Movement at the time incl. Michael Collins and Eamon De Valera. It was hoped that such a devastating blow would undermine British rule to such a degree that it would never recover it ability to collect taxation at local level.

The 2nd battalion Dublin IRA was tasked with carrying out the Operation. Vinny Byrne - a member of Collins hit men unit - ‘the Squad’ - recalled:

'However a 25 May IRA attack on the Customs House in Dublin made it clear that the advocates of continued force within the Irish Independence movement were more than content to keep the fight going. The attack, waged largely by the Dublin Brigade's 2nd Battalion, marked the largest armed deployment by the rebel forces since the Easter Rising. With some 200 men involved in all, the attack in retrospect might be judged to have been as foolhardy for the IRA as it was dramatic in scale. While the objective of damaging the Customs House and destroying thousands of tax records was achieved, in all the attack resulted in the loss of some seventy-five members of the Dublin Brigade due to arrests at the scene and the deaths of six others...

The objective for attacking the Customs House in fact dated back to the end of 1918, when the Irish Volunteers devised a plan for the building's destruction if and when the British Government imposed conscription on Ireland. Vincent Byrne, a member of the execution gang attached to Michael Collins Intelligence Department, recalled his role in the attack and subsequent escape.

I got a tin of petrol and proceeded to the second floor. I opened the door and sitting inside there were a lady and a gentleman, civil servants having tea. I requested them to leave, stating that I was going to set fire to the office. The gentleman stood up and said 'Oh, you can't do that.' I showed him my gun and told him I was serious. . . The lady then asked me if she could get her coat, and I replied: 'Miss, you'll be lucky if you get out with your life.'

The Irish Revolution and its Aftermath 1916-1923 - Years of Revolt

Francis Costello

So while the immediate objective was achieved the operation was a costly one for the IRA as many of its top operatives were captured. The building was quickly surrounded by the Auxiliaries of the RIC who while ruthless were all combat experienced men. Many of the Volunteers were unable to effect their escape in time and were captured. So it was something of a Pyrrhic Victory for the men of the Dublin Brigade to burn out such an important edifice (both symbolic and real) of the British presence in Ireland that day.


Tuesday, 23 May 2017


May 23-4 1798: The outbreak of the United Irishmen Rising on this day. Overnight mail coaches were attacked on the roads to Dublin to signal the start of revolutionary action. In order to give some degree of co ordination it was agreed that the ‘Rising of the Moon’ would be the hour to strike the coaches.

In the City itself attempts to trigger an outbreak were thwarted as the British Army moved to seize strategic assembly points and thus nip things in the bud. Small crowds of men had set out from the poor districts of the city of Dublin to seize the Castle and other key public buildings. Agents of the Crown had infiltrated their revolutionary organization, the United Irishmen, and had already arrested several of their key leaders, Lord Edward FitzGerald being the most important of them. The Militia mobilized before the insurgents could assemble in large groups and what their leaders had hoped would be an almost bloodless coup turned into a debacle.

Outside the City though the insurgents fared better and many gathered in rural areas of County Dublin as well as southern County Meath, northern County Kildare and northern and western County Wicklow. These groups attacked towns and villages in their respective localities and stopped and destroyed some of the mail coaches that were making their way out to the provinces.


On the 23rd of May, Dublin was placed under martial law; the citizens were armed, the guard was trebled, the barristers pleaded with regimentals and swords, and several of the lamplighters were hung from their own lamp-posts for neglecting to light the lamps. The country people were prepared to march on the city, but Lord Roden and his Foxhunters soon put down their attempt. The next morning the dead were exhibited in the Castle-yard, and the prisoners were hanged at Carlisle-bridge.[now O’Connell Bridge] Sir Watkins Wynn and his Ancient Britons distinguished themselves by their cruelties.
http://www.libraryireland.com



Monday, 22 May 2017


22 May 1849: Maria Edgeworth died on this day. She was born in England in 1767 and spent her early years there. Her mother died while she was quite young and she was raised by a series of step mothers. (Her father married four times and sired 22 children!). Unusual for the Age for a female she was sent to school where she excelled at her studies. However in 1782 she accompanied her father, his third wife and a number of children to Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford. It was here that she made her home for the rest of her Life.

An intelligent and curious woman she corresponded with famous and learned people across these islands, though in her heart she wanted to be a writer and with her material needs provided by her father and her social isolation on his Estate she began to pour out a succession of publications. She served as her father's secretary as well, and collaborated with him on several nonfiction works. She also helped to raise many of the numerous brood of his offspring.

Her first work was Letters for Literary Ladies (1795), and this owed much her fathers’ ideas on women's education. It was followed by The Parent's Assistant (1796), a collection of children's stories, and their jointly written Practical Education (1798). More children's stories were published in 1801 as Early Lessons and Moral Tales. Her first and best novel, Castle Rackrent (1800), was published anonymously. It achieved immediate success, and her name appeared on subsequent editions. Indeed her reputation today more less rests on this work and its portrayal of Irish life at that time.

Castle Rackrent is also recognized as the first regional novel, depicting the speech, mannerisms, and activities of a specific Irish region and social class. This technique influenced subsequent novelists, including William Thackeray, James Fenimore Cooper, and Sir Walter Scott, who commended "the rich humour, pathetic tenderness, and admirable tact" of Edgeworth's novel and expressed the hope that his own novels would accomplish for Scotland "something . . . of the same kind with that which Miss Edgeworth so fortunately achieved for Ireland".

In 1802 the Edgeworths toured the English midlands. They then travelled to the continent, first to Brussels and then to France when a brief Peace operated  between Britain and Napoleonic France.  They met all the notables, and Maria received a marriage proposal from a Swedish courtier, Count Edelcrantz- but it appears she wasn’t very interested in him.

On a visit to London in 1813, where she was received as a literary lion, Maria met Lord Byron (whom she disliked). She entered into a long correspondence with the ultra-Tory Sir Walter Scott and they formed a lasting friendship. She visited him at his home in Scotland at in 1823 where he took her on a tour of the area.

After her father's death in 1817 she edited his memoirs, and extended them with her biographical comments. She was an active writer to the last. She was might be perhaps described as a mild unionist who believed in fair treatment for all but not in the separation of England and Ireland. She was a strong believer in Woman’s Rights and Children's’ Rights.

After a visit to see her relations in Trim, Maria, now in her eighties, began to feel heart pains and died suddenly of a heart attack in Edgeworthstown on 22 May 1849. She was buried in the family vault there alongside her father.

* Portrait of Maria Edgeworth by John Downman 1807

Sunday, 21 May 2017


21 May 1981: The Third and Fourth Irish Hunger Strikers Died in Long Kesh Prison on this day

Raymond McCreesh (24), an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, and Patsy O'Hara (23), an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoner, both died having spent 61 days on hunger strike. Tomás Ó Fiaich, then Catholic Primate of Ireland, criticised the British government's attitude to the hunger strike.

The two men were preceded by Bobby Sands (5 May) and Frankie Hughes (12 May) in their struggle for political status.

Their 5 demands were:
The right not to wear a prison uniform;
The right not to do prison work;
The right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
The right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
Full restoration of remission lost through the protest

But perhaps what they felt is best summed up in these lines from this H Block Ballad:

But I'll wear no convict's uniform
Nor meekly serve my time
That Britain may call Ireland's fight
Eight hundred years of crime.

The strike was to last until 3 October 1981 and was to see 10 Republican prisoners starve themselves to death in support of their protest. The strike led to a heightening of political tensions in the region. It was also to pave the way for the emergence of Sinn Féin (SF) as a major political force in Ireland.


Saturday, 20 May 2017


20 May 1311: The Battle of Bunratty/Bun Raite on this day.

Civil War raged in north Thomond (today's Co Clare) in the year 1311, a war that had been going on and off for decades as the O'Briens of that part of Ireland fought with one another to control their own territory. The chief antagonists at the time of this battle were King Dermot O'Brien[Clan Brien] and King Donough O'Brien [Clan Turlough].

The King of England's Justicar in Dublin was worried about the situation in Thomond and in May 1311 issued instructions that:

The war in the parts of Thomond between Richard Clare and Donatus Obreen, who calls himself prince of the Irish of Thomond, disturbs the peace throughout Ire. by its continuation. ORDER to prohibit Richard and Donatus from continuing that war and cause them to keep the peace for life.
Patent Roll 4 Edward II
Patent Roll 4 Edward II | CIRCLE

Which both sides ignored!

Donough O'Brien had the support of the Anglo-Norman DeBurghs of Connacht while Dermot O'Brien had the support of Anglo-Norman Richard de Clare based in Bunratty Castle.

The DeBurghs, led by William DeBurgh himself, invaded Clare to support their protege and clashed with Richard de Clare's men near Bunratty Castle. While the DeBurghs won the tactical battle disaster befell them when William was taken prisoner and Donough O'Brien fled the field of battle as a result.

Lord William de Burgh was captured. On the day of the Ascension of the Lord lord john de Crok* was killed with many others in the battle of Bunratty with a great deal of booty given up in battle.
Annals of Ireland by Friar John Clyn

*He was deBurgh’s Standard bearer.

However the hapless Lord was most unfortunate as another account of this Battle relates:

A great hosting by William Burk into Mumha, against the Clarach;
and they gave battle to each other,
and the Clarach was worsted, and a great defeat was inflicted on him there.
William Burk was himself taken prisoner in the rere of his people, whilst he was following up the rout;
and although he was there taken prisoner,
it was he that had the triumph of that battle.

Annals of Loch Cé

None of this ended the War and even though King Donough was treacherously killed later that year and Dermot died in 1313 the dispute lingered on for many more years.

Friday, 19 May 2017


19 May 1870: Isaac Butt founded the Home Government Association  at a meeting in the Bilton Hotel, Dublin on this day. This was the beginning of a concerted and growing campaign to gain a measure of self government for Ireland from Britain.

The meeting was attended or supported by sixty-one people of different political and religious persuasions, including six Fenians, Butt seemingly having consulted with the Irish Republican Brotherhood before launching his initiative.
Jackson, Alvin: Home Rule: An Irish History 1800—2000

An Irish Parliament sitting in Dublin with control of Ireland’s internal affairs became the ambition of those who supported Home Rule. Isaac Butt though was an unlikely choice to lead such a Movement but he did have some degree of pedigree in Nationalist politics.

He was born on September 6th, 1813 at Glenfin, Co Donegal, the son of a Protestant clergyman. He studied Law in the 1840s and he was a political opponent of Daniel O’Connell who recognised  him as a man to watch. But the Famine changed everything and Butt went from being a Conservative Unionist to being a moderate nationalist. He was an MP for various constituencies from the 1850s to the 1870s. In the 1860s he defended many of the Fenians arrested by the British for attempting to overthrow their Rule here.

As the Home Rule movement developed it went through various stages but the gentlemanly Butt remained its Leader. However he could not gain much traction at Westminster and younger and more ambitious men began to snap at his heels in particular John Connor Power and Joseph Biggar who brought into the British Parliament the tactic of ‘Obstructionism’ that is they would talk for hours to stop any legislation being passed. In July 1877 Butt threatened to resign from the party if obstruction continued, and a gulf developed between himself and Parnell, who was growing steadily in the estimation of both the Fenians and the Home Rulers.

Eventually things came to a head in 1878 over the War in Afghanistan as Butt saw this as an Imperial matter that was too important to block as it would damage the Empire. This constant infighting wore him out and he suffered a stroke. He died at his home in Clonskeagh Co Dublin and was buried in the family plot in Stranorlar Co Donegal.

While his legacy today is not much remembered it was he who reignited the Parliamentary campaign to gain Ireland a measure of independence from what was then the most powerful Empire in the World - you might say he lit a spark that is still there - flickering but not extinguished.

Thursday, 18 May 2017


18 May 1613: The opening of Parliament in Dublin Castle on this day. This parliament had been called by King James I [above] in London in order to strengthen his rule in Ireland and to ensure that the Protestant Religion was the dominant one in that body. By doing this he would be able to get legislation passed for the raising of taxes and the enforcement of anti Catholic laws. King James created some 40 micro boroughs (mostly in Ulster) in order to be able to ‘pack’ the Houses with Protestant supporters. In 1612 six of the major Catholic Lords of the Pale had written to him to complain about this:

the project of erecting so many corporations in places that constantly rank as the poorest villages in Christendom, do tend naught else but by the voices of a few selected for the purpose…extreme penal laws should be imposed on your subjects [i.e. Catholics]

But their protest was to no avail as James (a devout Protestant) was determined to see the measure through. He had once described the Catholics of Ireland as half subjects and he did not trust their loyalty to his Throne at all.

When the members of parliament met that day they consisted of 132 Protestants and 100 Catholics - even though over 85% of the population of the Country were Catholics! Of the Catholics, 80 were Old English and only 20 Gaelic Irish. In the House of Lords, the block vote of 20 Protestant Bishops gave the British Crown control of the Upper House in which also sat 12 Catholic and 4 other protestant peers.

In the event on the day mayhem ensued as clashes erupted inside the Castle as the supporters of both religions exchanged blows as to who should have the Speakers Chair. The Catholics peremptorily installed their own nominee Sir John Everard literally into the Chair while the other side had left the Chamber to be counted. On return they then sat their champion Sir John Davies on top of him! After a scuffle Everard was rejected and the opposition withdrew.

 ‘Those within the house are no house and Sir John Everard is our Speaker, and therefore we will not join with you, but we will complain to my Lord Deputy and the King, and the King shall hear of this’ exclaimed Sir William Talbot.

The whole proceedings had turned into a Fiasco, after a series of adjournments the parliament was prorogued on 17 June to await the results of an appeal to England.

Primary Source: Chapter VII of Early Modern Ireland Volume III: Pacification, plantation and the catholic question 1603-23 by Aiden Clarke with R. Dudley Edwards