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Sunday, 1 February 2015


1 February 523/25: The Feast Day of Saint Brigid/ Naomh Bhríde aka ‘Mary of the Gael’ and the ‘Fiery Arrow’ on this day. Or as the Irish Annals are fond of stating ‘according to some’.




1 February 525 AD: Saint Brighit, virgin, Abbess of Cill Dara, died. It was to her Cill Dara was first granted, and by her it was founded. Brighit was she who never turned her mind or attention from the Lord for the space of one hour, but was constantly meditating and thinking of him in her heart and mind, as is evident in her own Life, and in the Life of St. Brenainn, Bishop of Cluain Fearta. She spent her time diligently serving the Lord, performing wonders and miracles, healing every disease and every malady, as her Life relates, until she resigned her spirit to heaven, the first day of the month of February; and her body was interred at Dun, in the same tomb with Patrick, with honour and veneration.




Annals of the Four Masters


Whatever the true story of Brigid’s Life we are capable of putting the outlines of her story. She was born to a mother called Brocca, a Christian from Britain who was not married to but subservient to Dubhthach, a Gaelic Chieftain and the father of Brigid. Her place of birth was at Faughart in what is now north Co Louth. Whether Brocca was merely an attractive slave girl or a trophy mistress taken on a raid is an open question but its possible that Brigid did not know her father well while a child and was more or less raised by her Mother. Her name Brigid was taken from that of a Celtic Goddess and this considered Diety was apparently worshipped in her Father’s Household. This female diety was the goddess of Fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge.


As she grew to womanhood she showed signs of piety and generosity to those less fortunate than herself. While the date is not quite certain she was perhaps took the veil in around 468 AD and was received into Holy Orders by Saint Mel. If this be true she might have already have been a devotee of Brigid and as the daughter of a powerful man who was won over to Christianity she would have been a important convert to the Church.


She is believed to have founded her first convent in Clara, County Offaly, other ones followed after her fame grew. But it was to be in Kildare that her major foundation would emerge. Her father seems to have had his base around here and have used his local influence to secure her a good site, perhaps on the locus of an earlier Shrine to Goddess herself. Around 470 she founded Kildare Abbey, a double monastery, for nuns and monks, on the plains of Cill-Dara, "the church of the oak", her cell being made under a large oak tree. As Abbess of this sacred place she wielded considerable power. She became famous for her great spiritual powers over men and women and the animals that she encountered. She was also reputed to have powerful gifts of divination and the ability to impose herself on the powers of Nature. Perhaps in a throwback to her earlier devotion she maintained a Sacred Flame at her abbey of Kildare that was never allowed to go out.



But eventually St Brigid went the way of all flesh and on her death her mortal remains were buried beside the High Alter of her beloved Church in Kildare. Years later when the Viking Raids moved inwards her remains were dug up and moved to Downpatrick and eventually interred along with those of Saints Patrick and Columba (Colmcille). Alas we now know not their exact place of burial but it is believed they may be buried underneath or near Downpatrick Cathedral.





In Down, three saints one grave do fill,
Patrick, Brigid and Columcille
 

After her death the 1st February became known in Ireland as Féile Brígíd and it replaced the old Celtic Festival of Imbolc that celebrated the beginnings of Spring time. For nearly 1,500 years the eve of her day was marked throughout the Country but especially in Leinster with the St Brigid’s Cross, [above] that possibly based around an even more ancient design.

Saturday, 31 January 2015



31 January 1953: The Loss of the Princess Victoria. 126 people were drowned when the car ferry of that name sank while making it’s way from Stranraer to Larne. In one of the worst gales in living memory in these islands the ship went down when heavy seas caused the stern car deck doors to buckle and break open. Water then flooded into the ship causing her to capsize. Among the passengers who perished were Stormont’s Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Major J M Sinclair, and Sir Walter Smiles, the Ulster Unionist MP for North Down.

Captained by the 55 year old James Ferguson, the vessel left Stranraer's railway loading pier at 07:45 AM with 44 tons of cargo, 128 passengers and 51 crew. Captain Ferguson had served as master on various ferries on the same route for 17 years. A gale warning was in force but he made the decision to put to sea.
There were 44 survivors, notably none of the women and children on board were rescued but neither were any the ship's officers either incl Captain. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a lifeboat containing at least some of the women and children being smashed against the side of the Princess Victoria by the huge waves. The disaster shocked many people because, although it took place in extreme weather conditions, it involved a routine journey, on a relatively short crossing (20 miles) in what were believed to be safe waters.


The ship had sent out distress signals in morse code but due to the listing of the vessel continaully gave wrong readings as to its actual location. The winds were terrific and visibility very poor in great storm that caused havoc across north west Europe that day. As a result ships sent to assist in the rescue failed to spot her as she sank and perhaps lives that could have been saved were thus lost. No aircraft was available to help locate her either.

The Court of Enquiry into the sinking, held in March 1953 at Crumlin Road Courthouse in Belfast found that the Princess Victoria was lost due to a combination of factors. In a report of 30,000 pages the enquiry found that: firstly, the stern doors were not sufficiently robust. Secondly, arrangements for clearing water from the car deck were inadequate. The report concluded "If the Princess Victoria had been as staunch as those who manned her, then all would have been well and the disaster averted."



In summary it found that the loss of the M V 'Princess Victoria' was caused or contributed to by the default of the owners and the manager in that they were negligent before the disaster:

a) In failing to appreciate that the vessel was unfit to encounter the full range of foreseeable weather conditions on the Larne and Stranraer route by reason of the inabilit6y of the stern doors to withstand heavy seas.

b) In not taking appropriate steps to provide adequate freeing arrangements on the car deck or else to make the stern doors sufficiently strong and adequate to prevent heavy seas from flooding that deck.




 

Monday, 26 January 2015


26 January 1316: The Battle of Ardscull on this day. Edward Bruce, the Scottish claimant to the Crown of Ireland, defeated an Anglo-Irish army led by Edmund Butler the Justicar of Ireland*, John Fitzthomas Baron of Offaly, Arnold Power, Seneschal of Kilkenny and Maurice Fitz Thomas (afterwards 1st Earl of Desmond). The battle site, near the great Motte of Ardscull (Hill of Shouts) is about three miles east of Athy, Co Kildare. Bruce had been making his way south out of Ulster, raiding and burning as he went but his men were tired and hungry by the time he reached this place. A terrible famine was sweeping across the land and provisions were in short supply. To put a stop to the depredations of the Scots, the Anglo-Irish assembled a large but ramshackle force to meet them in the field. In the event the day was won by Bruce who had an easy victory over the Sassenach, as he led his battle hardened veterans against what was primarily a scratch force of country yokels with a leavening of English and Anglo Irish fighting men.


After the Battle, the Scottish dead were buried in the graveyard attached to the Dominican Priory in Athy, which occupied the area on the east bank of the River Barrow. Among those buried were two Scottish chiefs, Lord Fergus Andressan and Lord Walter de Morrey. The English lost two men worthy of note, Hamon le Gras and William of Prendergast. No doubt many of the lesser fry on both sides fell on this day as well.



This was the third defeat that the forces loyal to King Edward II of England had suffered since Edward Bruce had landed in Ireland the previous May. The English charged with defending the Colony were mortified to be defeated once again and John of Hotham, who had been commissioned by King Edward to make arrangements for the expulsion of the Scots, sent a report to him that excused the loss of the battle with the words:



‘but by bad luck the enemy kept the field, losing however some of their good people, while the kings forces lost only one, thanks to God’.



Clearly being the bearer of bad tidings was an enterprise fraught with danger for one’s career then as now!



However it was a Victory that was of limited use to the Scotsman as conditions rapidly became so bad that he had no choice but to turn round and march back to Ulster and the relative security of being in a Province where the Gaels of the North could offer him succour and his back would be towards Scotland and the promise of further help. Thus this battle decided nothing other than that if the English of Ireland wished to defeat the Scots here and stop the Country slipping completely out of their control they needed better equipped and supplied forces than were currently available during this campaign.


 
* the man apppinted to rule Ireland in the name of Edward II the King of England

Sunday, 25 January 2015


25 January 1356: Maurice FitzThomas Fitzgerald, the 1st Earl of Desmond, died in Dublin Castle on this day. He was the first in a long line of the holders of this powerful name that ruled over much of south and southwest Ireland during the late Middle Ages. The name Desmond derived from the Gaelic name Deasmhumhain, which means south Munster. An ambitious Anglo-Irish Freebooter at a time when Ireland was divided between the Gaels and the English he led a mixed force of English and Irish soldiers and into which Force he accepted any man willing to fight on his side. These bands were known as ‘MacThomas’s Rout’ and terrorised the towns and the countryside wherever they made their appearance.



 
He was later accused by other Colonialists that he:

‘had filled his heart with such pride and ambition that he thought to obtain the whole of Ireland for his own and to crown himself a false king’





There is at least a fair level of plausibility that he wished to rule if not all of Ireland then at least a fair chunk of it by carving the Country up between the most powerful magnates, both Gaelic and of English stock, and to pretty well ignore the King of England’s writ if that could be done.



In the turbulent 1320’s Maurice FitzThomas made war upon his enemies across Munster and especially with the powerful De Poer family based at Kilkenny. To placate him and also hopefully to reign in his depredations he was created by the Crown the 1st Earl of Desmond in August 1329. However the new Earl was determined to remain his own master and he resented the overbearing interference of Crown Officials sent over from England. His ambition though exceeding his ability to do so for in 1331 he was forced to submit to the Justicar and remained a prisoner of the Crown for almost two years. In 1341 he was the primary hand in the letters of complaint issued by the ‘Kilkenny Parliament’ that were sent to King Edward III. Yet despite his proto Anglo-Irish Patriotism his continued ability to alienate the Colonial townsfolk of the various urban settlements such as Clonmel and Tipperary led to further complaints against him.



His most dangerous moments came in 1345 when the new Justicar, Ralf Ufford, a man as ruthless as Maurice FitzThomas himself, launched an expedition from Dublin down to Limerick and Kerry to bring the obstreperous Earl to heel. Gathering an Army of over 2,000 men, both Foreign and Gaelic, the Justicar quickly took the Earl’s Castles of Askeaton in Limerick and Castleisland in Kerry. The Earl had to flee and go into hiding to avoid capture. But a stroke of Fortune paved the way for his recovery when Ufford died the following year. The Earl then made his way to England on issue of a summons to plead his case in person before King Edward III. Eventually after an enforced stay of some five or so he was allowed to return home and restored to his lands.



Despite further tribulations in July 1355 he achieved a full acceptance by the Crown when he was made the Justicar of Ireland, that is the King of England’s right hand man here. It was the pinnacle of his vicious and bloody career and no doubt of immense satisfaction to himself to have reached such high office and to be at last in the King’s favour. On the other hand the appointment of such a man to that position must have filled his most ardent enemies, chiefly the townsfolk of the English Colony and the Magnates of the other great Lordships with foreboding and not a little anger that such an individual would be trusted to rule in the King’s name.
 

Saturday, 24 January 2015


24 January 1957: Sir Alfred Chester Beatty became the first Honourary Irish Citizen for his distinguished service to the Nation.


Born in New York in 1875 Chester Beatty made his Fortune as a Mining Engineer. He set up a highly successful mining consultancy firm in that city in 1908. By pioneering a new method of extracting copper from low-grade ore he made a Fortune in international mining operations.

 
However tragedy struck in 1911 when his wife died and he then moved London where he began anew. He remarried in 1913 and visited Egypt on the eve of the Great War where his already considerable interest in Oriental artefacts was whetted when they bought ancient Koranic scripts in the bazaars of Cairo. The dry climate there suited Beatty and he wintered in Egypt on many occasions.

In 1917 he went further East and developed a deeper interest Chinese and Japanese paintings. In the inter war years he became one of the World’s greatest collectors of non western fine arts and was renowned for his great collections of Objects de Art that he amassed. During the Second World War he materially helped the Allied cause by ensuring that vital supplies of raw materials were shipped to the relevant destinations where they could be used in the War Effort. For these services he was Knighted by the British.


In 1950 he decided to move to Ireland and it was here he decided to set a museum for his collection of priceless artefacts. In 1953 he purchased a large house on Shrewsbury Road in Dublin and it was here that the collection stayed for many years. He was made an honourary Citizen in 1957 and when he died in 1968 was accorded a State Funeral. His great collection is today housed in the grounds of Dublin Castle where it is permanently open to the Public.

Thursday, 22 January 2015


22 January 1902: The death of Queen Victoria on this day. She died at her Royal home at Osborne on the Isle of White, England. Her playboy son, Edward The Prince of Wales, Earl of Dublin etc, succeeded her as King Edward VII.

Her relation with Ireland was always problematical. She became known as the ‘The Famine Queen’ after the disastrous events of 1845-1849 and during which she appeared so detached from the terrible sufferings of so many of her ‘Subjects’. She donated the miserly sum of just £2,000 towards Relief out of her ample personal Fortune. She first visited here as Queen in 1849 and returned in 1853 and 1858 for brief visits. After that it was to be another 42 years before she returned again!

Her last visit in April 1900 was a three week affair and generally considered a success. On each of these visits she was greeted with great enthusiasm by large crowds of well wishers as well as idle curiosity seekers. However it would seem there was a direct correlation between those who welcomed her presence and those who held political and social power in this Country at the time. The Ascendancy, the Gentry, the Protestant Churches and the followers of those denominations were the most enthusiastic. Amongst the Catholics of Ireland her reception was more lukewarm but not actively hostile either, at least at a personal level. The ‘Castle Catholics’ and certain sections of the Hierarchy were eager to ingratiate themselves but most kept their distance or were there for appearances only.

While she had affection for the Irish People as individuals she never seemed able to comprehend Ireland’s desire to manage her own affairs. Though reasonably tolerant in religious matters she was a reactionary in politics, viewing for instance the members of the Irish Parliamentary Party as ‘low disreputable men, who were elected by order of Parnell.’ As regards the Repeal of the Union she opposed it on the grounds that to countenance it would be repugnant to her Coronation Oath.

Her death was greeted in Ireland with regret by some but indifference by most. The Victorian Era was not one in which Ireland’s lot had improved but if anything declined while there was no doubt that the converse had happened in her Other Island.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


21 January 1919: The Declaration of Irish Independence on this day. The first meeting of Dáil Éireann was held in Dublin to bring together all the T.D.s still at liberty to attend. Assembling in the Round Room of the Mansion House, those members elected the previous month in the General Election and not held prisoners by the British or on the run unanimously voted in favour of the Independence of Ireland.



Of the 73 Sinn Féin MPs elected only 27 TDs present, 36 were “Fé ghlas an Gallaibh” [prisoner of the foreigner] including Eamon De Valera and Arthur Griffith.  



The Declaration was as follows:


Whereas the Irish people is by right a free people: And Whereas for seven hundred years the Irish people has never ceased to repudiate and has repeatedly protested in arms against foreign usurpation: And Whereas English rule in this country is, and always has been, based upon force and fraud and maintained by military occupation against the declared will of the people: And Whereas the Irish Republic was proclaimed in Dublin on Easter Monday, 1916, by the Irish Republican Army acting on behalf of the Irish people: And Whereas the Irish people is resolved to secure and maintain its complete independence in order to promote the common weal, to re-establish justice, to provide for future defence, to insure peace at home and goodwill with all nations and to constitute a national polity based upon the people's will with equal right and equal opportunity for every citizen:

And Whereas at the threshold of a new era in history the Irish electorate has in the General Election of December, 1918, seized the first occasion to declare by an overwhelming majority its firm allegiance to the Irish Republic: Now, therefore, we, the elected Representatives of the ancient Irish people in National Parliament assembled, do, in the name of the Irish nation, ratify the establishment of the Irish Republic and pledge curselves and our people to make this declaration effective by every means at our command: We ordain that the elected Representatives of the Irish people alone have power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which that people will give its allegiance: We solemnly declare foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate, and we demand the evacuation of our country by the English Garrison.

We claim for our national independence the recognition and support of every free nation in the world, and we proclaim that independence to be a condition precedent to international peace hereafter: In the name of the Irish people we humbly commit our destiny to Almighty God who gave our fathers the courage and determination to persevere through long centuries of a ruthless tyranny, and strong in the justice of the cause which they have handed down to us, we ask His divine blessing on this the last stage of the struggle we have pledged ourselves to carry through to Freedom.
A Ministry pro tempore [Temporary Cabinet] was then selected to run the Country for the time being and attempt to bring effect to the Independence of Ireland so proclaimed:

Cathal Brugha was the First President, Professor Eoin MacNeill was Minister of Finance, Michael Collins of Home Affairs, George Noble Count Plunkett of Foreign Affairs and Richard Mulcahy in charge of National Defence.



 

 
21 January 1919: The Start of the War for Independence on this day. Dan Breen and Sean Treacy of the IRA carried out an ambush on an RIC escort at Soloheadbeag, Co. Tipperary. They were members of the South Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Volunteers (IRA). The cart the RIC were escorting was carrying gelignite for a quarry in the Soloheadbeag area (about four miles from Tipperary Town and about one mile from Limerick Junction).  In the ambush, the two RIC men, guarding the consignment, Constables James McDonnell and Patrick O'Connell, were shot dead.