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Thursday, 25 August 2016

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 30 years ago 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.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

24‭ ‬August‭ ‬1103:‭ ‬Magnus‭ ‘‬Bare Legs‭’‬,‭ ‬King of Norway,‭ ‬was killed by the Irish in a 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 sought 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 to Norway.

Having sailed his long boats in from Strangford Lough,‭ ‬up the river Quoile,‭ ‬and beaching them on Plague Island 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.‭ ‬Evening came and no cattle had arrived,‭ ‬against the advice of his commander Eyvind Elbow he decided next morning to leave the safety of his ship 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 site where Dundrum Castle now stands,‭ ‬looking west-wards he saw a great dust cloud,‭ ‬the cattle were on their way and soon he and his men would homeward bound.‭ ‬Perhaps in a joyous mood and letting their guard slip,‭ ‬suddenly‭ '‬the trees came alive,‭' ‬they had been 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 struck in the neck with an axe,‭ ‬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 thirty years of age when he died.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

23 August 1170: Richard De Clare - aka Richard fitz Gilbert - aka Strongbow, the Earl of Pembroke and Strigul, landed near Waterford on this day. 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. 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 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

Monday, 22 August 2016

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 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.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

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.

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.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

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.

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 their Homeland.

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 Garret 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 Garret’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.‭

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 Garret 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 Garret 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