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Monday, 30 March 2015


30 March 1979: The British M.P. Airey Neave was assassinated in the car park of the House of Commons, London on this day. Tipped to be Margaret Thatcher’s Secretary of State in the North if she won the upcoming General Election, his death at the hands of the INLA was a severe personal blow to her, which she felt for many years after. A noted hardliner with links to Britain’s’ Secret Service he was an ex British Officer (DSO & MC) who had made it known he intended to rule the North with an Iron Hand if he was appointed as Secretary of State.

 

He had served with distinction in the Second World War (DSO; MC) He was the first officer to make "the home run" from Colditz, and the intelligence from this experience brought about his appointment to M19, where he was code named "Saturday". His book Saturday at MI9 was a bestseller. When the War ended, he became assistant secretary of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, and had the task of serving indictments on the Nazi war leaders who had survived Hitler. Another book, Nuremberg, dealt with the part he played there. He entered Parliamentary politics in 1953.

Neave was driving his car up the ramp leading out of Commons car park at around 3 pm when the mercury tilt switch attached to his vehicle blew up underneath him. Emergency services were on the scene in minutes. The 63-year-old Conservative MP was taken to Westminster Hospital where he died from his injuries.

Mrs Thatcher was gutted by the news at the loss of her close friend and political ally. She proclaimed that:


He was one of freedom's warriors. Courageous, staunch, true. He lived for his beliefs and now he has died for them.
The British General Election of that year had just been called the day before and Mr Neave was a close adviser to Mrs Thatcher, he had led her campaign to become the Conservative Party leader in 1975 and headed her private office.



Sunday, 29 March 2015


29 March 1901: The death of James Stephens, founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, on this day. He was born in 1825 at Blackmill Street, Kilkenny, the son of John Stephens, an auctioneer’s clerk. He supported the Young Ireland movement and the Irish Confederation, and he served as aide-de-camp to William Smith O’Brien in the 1848 Rising at Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary in which he was wounded. In the wake of this abortive affair he escaped to Paris. In the French Capital he met the Young Irelanders, John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny. He was deeply influenced by the French radicals and the underground figures that he encountered. He earned his living by teaching English.



In 1856 he returned to Ireland disguised as a beggar. His purpose was to establish a new secret revolutionary society that would achieve Irish independence from British rule by the use of military force. He travelled the Country incognito establishing networks and organising cells. On St Patrick’s Day 1858 he founded in Dublin the ‘Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood’, which became known later as the ‘Irish Republican Brotherhood’ (aka IRB). It was secret and oath-bound Society. Stephens structured it on military principles with himself as the ‘Head Centre’.



In 1858 Stephens went to America to raise funds for the IRB. When he returned to Ireland in 1859 the British knew well who he was and what he was doing, and so he returned to America. He seized nominal headship of the sister movement in the USA, ‘the Fenians’ in early 1859. From 1861 to 1866 Stephens’s influence was at its height. The IRB flourished in Ireland, Britain and the USA. He had returned to Ireland in 1861 and renewed his activities, building up a numerous but very lightly armed Revolutionary structure. Gaining the support of Irish soldiers in the British army and importing arms shipments were meant to overcome the lack of weaponry. However in 1865 Stephens suddenly suspended a planned Rising after calling all the leaders together in Dublin and after interviewing them one by one he succeeded in getting them all to agree that the time was not ripe to overthrow British rule.



But by now the British were alert to what was afoot and the scale of the preparations – they decided to strike and break up the IRB. During the same year they raided IRB headquarters in Dublin, situated at the newspaper office of the Irish People where many of the IRB worked as journalists and used as a base. Most of the leaders were arrested and were convicted of ‘treason and felony’ and sentenced to penal servitude. Stephens, having avoided immediate arrest, was picked up with Charles J. Kickham for conspiracy and was imprisoned in Richmond Gaol, Dublin. However, in a brilliant but relatively straightforward rescue he was sprung from captivity by Breslin and John Devoy and spirited out of the Country to freedom.



But his star was waning, more especially so as he attempted once again to convince supporters in the USA (where he was in exile) that a Rising was out of the question in 1866 too. Col Kelly replaced him as Head Centre. The American Fenians denounced him as a ‘rogue, impostor, and traitor’. Stephens went to France where he worked as a journalist and an English teacher. He spent the years thereafter in France, Belgium and the USA. In 1890 Charles Stewart-Parnell worked his influence to allow the British to permit his return home. A public subscription was raised by friends in Ireland to facilitate this. Thus Stephens returned home to Ireland in 1891. He spent the remainder of his life in seclusion in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, avoiding anymore political intrigue.



Saturday, 28 March 2015


28 March 1957: The death of the Artist Jack B. Yeats on this day. He was born in London in 1871 the son of John Butler Yeats. His younger brother was W. B. Yeats. His early years were spent chiefly in County Sligo and later in London where he studied at the Westminster School of Art. He initially settled in Devon with his wife and his first one-man exhibition was at the Clifford Gallery, Haymarket, London in 1897, showing chiefly Devon paintings. He moved to the USA in 1905 and had several one-man shows at the Clausen Gallery, New York in this period.



He returned to Ireland in 1910, living first at Greystones, then in Dublin. He had earned a living from sketch work for various publications as well as Exhibitions of his paintings. He took up Oils in 1913 and while schooled in traditionalist painting he was drawn to more abstract and impressionist works that soon became his forte. He applied his love of this kind of work to scenes of life in the West of Ireland, travellers and social events both rural and urban. From early youth he was fascinated by the Circus and worked that into his paintings too. A solitary figure he took no pupils and allowed no one watch him work, so his method remains a mystery. In later life he used colour to the full and cut down on distinctive outlines in his works that gave them a blurred but visually strong impact on the viewer.


While he was a successful artist in his own day, not just with the brush but also as an illustrator, playwright and novelist. Prior to his death in 1957, he began to be recognized as one of the foremost Irish painters and illustrators in the 20th century. But it is only in the last 25 years that his genius has been accorded the status of a Great Artist and he is now acknowledged as a figure of the considerable importance on the International stage in 20th Century Modern Art.


Amongst his most well known works are: Bachelor’s Walk; In Memory; The Funeral of Harry Boland ; Communicating with Prisoners; The Singing Clown and the Face in the Shadow.




 
Towards the end he described his Life as follows:




I have travelled all my life without a ticket, and therefore I was never to be seen when Inspectors came round because then I was under the seats. It was rather dusty but I used to get the Sun on the floor sometimes.


 

He was 85 years old when he died and still active until a few days beforehand. His funeral was held at St Stephens Church, Upper Mount Street and afterwards to the burial plot at Mount Jerome Cemetery. There were no flowers, only a single one on the coffin.

Friday, 27 March 2015


27 May 1224: Cathal Crovderg [‘Redhand’] O'Conor, king of Connacht, son of Turlough and brother of Rory O'Conor (the last Ard Rí or 'High King' of Ireland), died at the age of 72. He was the last of the great Irish Kings. His death opened the way for the Norman takeover of Connacht.

King Cathal had to play what might be described in today's terms as a masterly game of 'Realpolitic' in his time as King. He was faced with a range of enemies both internal and external who wished to bring him down. Depending on circumstances he was prepared to 'switch sides' and play one off against another. He built alliances with Thomand (north Munster), with Tir Owen and Fermanah in the North and sometimes with the Anglo-Norman invaders. But he was not averse to throwing himself at the mercy of the Justicar in Dublin when he was forced to flee his own kingdom.

From his base west of the river Shannon he was forced to deal with the Norman invaders. He was a competent leader despite problems, avoiding major conflicts and winning battles. Ua Conchobair attempted to make the best of the new situation with Ireland divided between Norman and Gaelic rulers.

He succeeded as head of the O'Conors on the death of his brother Rory in 1198. But by the time Cathal became king the power and influence of his family was much reduced. Now they ruled just in Connacht and that with difficulty. The early part of his reign was passed in contests with the Anglo-Normans and with his nephew Cathal Carrach, who at one time succeeded in expelling him from his territories. In 1201, however, Cathal Crovderg, with the assistance of the Anglo Norman De Burghs, defeated and slew his nephew in battle near Boyle. On King John's arrival in Ireland in 1210, he paid him homage, and by the surrender of a portion of his territories, secured to himself a tolerably peaceful old age. He died in the abbey of Knockmoy (having assumed the habit of a Grey Friar) in 1224. The principal abode of the heads of the O'Connor family at this period was at Rathcroghan [above], near Tulsk, in the County of Roscommon.

He founded Ballintubber Abbey in 1215, and was succeeded by his son, Aedh mac Cathal Crobdearg Ua Conchobair. His wife, Mor Ní Briain, was a daughter of King Domnall Mór Ua Briain of Thomond, died in 1218.

By the end of his Life he had come to accept the primacy of the King of England as also 'Lord of Ireland' as a political necessity and only wished to have his son recognised by King Henry III of England as his successor.

He wrote to King Henry in 1224 shortly before his death:


'To his dear Lord Henry,by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, from his faithful King of Connacht, greeting, and bond of sincere affection with faithful obedience.'

'We feel sure that you have heard, through the trusty men and counsellors of your father and your own, how that we did not fail to give faithful and devoted service to the Lord John, your father of happy memory ; and since his death, as your trusty servants stationed in Ireland know and have learned, we are not failing to give devoted obedience to you, nor do we wish ever as long as we live to fail you. Wherefore, although we possess a charter for the land of Connacht from the Lord your father given to ourselves and our heirs, and by name to Od [Aedh] our son and heir...'
LETTER FROM CATHAL "CROVDEARG" O'CONOR, KING OF CONNACHT, TO HENRY III, circa 1224

Taken from A History of Ireland by Eleanor Hull

His eulogy in the Annals of Connacht relates the attributes that a true King was expected to portray to his People:

'A great affliction befell the country then, the loss of Cathal Crobderg son of Toirrdelbach O Conchobair, king of Connacht;


the king most feared and dreaded on every hand in Ireland;

the king who carried out most plunderings and burnings against Galls and Gaels who opposed him;

the king who was the fiercest and harshest towards his enemies that ever lived;

the king who most blinded, killed and mutilated rebellious and disaffected subjects;

the king who best established peace and tranquility of all the kings of Ireland;

the king who built most monasteries and houses for religious communities;

the king who most comforted clerks and poor men with food and fire on the floor of his own habitation;

the king whom of all the kings in Ireland God made most perfect in every good quality;

the king on whom God most bestowed fruit and increase and crops;

the king who was most chaste of all the kings of Ireland;

the king who kept himself to one consort and practised continence before God from her death till his own;

the king whose wealth was partaken by laymen and clerics, infirm men, women and helpless folk, as had been prophesied in the writings and the visions of saints and righteous men of old;

the king who suffered most mischances in his reign, but God raised him up from each in turn;

the king who with manly valour and by the strength of his hand preserved his kingship and rule.

And it is in the time of this king that tithes were first levied for God in Ireland. This righteous and upright king, this prudent, pious, just champion, died in the robe of a Grey Monk, after a victory over the world and the devil, in the monastery of Knockmoy, which with the land belonging to it he had himself offered to God and the monks, on the twenty-seventh day of May as regards the solar month and on a Monday as regards the week-day, and was nobly and honourably buried, having been for six and thirty years sole monarch of the province of Connacht.
So says Donnchad Baccach O Maelchonaire in his poem on the Succession of the Kings:


‘The reign of Red-hand was a pleasant reign, after the fall of Cathal Carrach; he ruled for sixteen and twenty prosperous calm years.’

And he was in the seventy-second year of his age, as the poet Nede O Maelchonaire says: ‘Three years and a half-year, I say, was the life of Red-hand in Cruachu till the time that his father died in wide-stretching Ireland.


He was born at Port Locha Mesca and fostered by Tadc O Con Chennainn in Ui Diarmata, and it was sixty-eight years from the death of Toirrdelbach to the death of Cathal Crobderg, as the chronicle shows.'

The Annals of Connacht

Thursday, 26 March 2015


26 March 1931: The death occurred of Timothy Healy, ex Governor General of the Irish Free State on this day.



Healy had been active in Irish politics for over 40 years when he was appointed to this controversial position. Born in Bantry, Co Cork he moved at an early age to Waterford and was a Nationalist MP for various constituencies from 1880 until 1918. He started his political career in England, pressing for Irish Home Rule. Parnell admired Healy's intelligence and energy after Healy had established himself as part of Parnell's broader political circle. He became Parnell's secretary, but was denied contact to Parnell's small inner circle of political colleagues. He famously fell out with Parnell following the exposure of his affair with Kitty O’Shea. Parnell felt that Healy had politically stabbed him in the back and indeed there were many who thought the same.



In the years following the Split he drifted in and out of Irish Politics but was considered something of a loose cannon and never really regained his place at the centre of Irish political life and remained on the fringes. He spent many years building up his legal practise to compensate for this. When the Great War broke out he supported the Allied War aims and had a son at Gallipoli. But the events of Easter 1916 shook him and he slowly drifted towards supporting the idea of full Independence if it could be achieved without bloodshed. He acted for Thomas Ashe at his trail and represented Republican prisoners held by the British but confined his activities within the legal sphere. He resigned his seat in Cork North east in advance of the 1918 General Election to allow SF a clear run and did not seek re election elsewhere.



However he came to prominence once again when in October 1922 when he was proposed as the Governor General of the Irish Free State. Healy accepted the post after some consideration. His name was suggested to the British by the head of the newly emerging State W.T. Cosgrave. Healy thus took up occupancy of the old Vice-regal Lodge as the official representative of King George V and his Government to the Irish Free State. There is no doubt that he enjoyed the role tremendously and did his best to make the role a viable part of public life in the State. Technically he had the power to dissolve the Free State Parliament and call elections but this scenario never arose during his tenure. He acted as a liaison between the British Government and the Free State and gave advice whether wanted or not as to how matters should proceed between the two. Cosgrave had a difficult time with him and had to remind the Governor of the limits of his powers until Healy got the message. Though to be fair his notions as to what exactly his role should be was an open question. Basically his misconceptions were due more to feeling his way than to any deliberate intent to supersede his authority. Overall he was adept enough to steer his way through any difficulties that arose and avoided outright political controversy – an unusual state of affairs for him!



However in the latter part of his time in Office his influence was diminished as his role was redefined to one of the King’s Representative only and not that of the British Government per se. Though he appeared to think that being Governor General was his for life this was not the view of the Free State Executive and James McNeill took up this role on his retirement in January 1928. His wife had died the year before and he retired to the family home at Chapelizod, Co. Dublin. He the published his extensive two volume memoirs called Letters and Leaders of my Day.He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.



 
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Wednesday, 25 March 2015


25 March 1738: The death of the Harpist Turlough O'Carolan/ Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin on this day. He was the most famous Irish musician and player of his day who plied his trade throughout Ireland. He was born in 1670 at Nobber, Co Meath and from an early age trained to become a player of the harp. However at the age of 18 he caught the smallpox and was left Blind. Nevertheless he continued his love of the instrument and mastered his disability. Due to the generosity of a patron, Mrs. MacDermott, he was able to equip himself for the road with a harp, a horse, a guide, and the money to launch a career as an itinerant harper, playing for patrons throughout the Irish countryside.


Various sources say that he was cheerful and gregarious, enjoyed ludicrous stories, practical jokes and he was an excellent backgammon player. As with many harpers of the time, he also drank a great deal, and he had a temper to be avoided. He developed his natural musical talent and talent and turned his hand to composition, penning over 220 works of Irish music many of which are still recorded and played today. In his travels around the Country he stayed at the Houses of various Patrons, both native and planter and his influences were drawn not just from Ireland but also further afield.


He eventually married a woman called Mary Maguire, they lived on a farm near Mohill, Co. Leitrim and had seven children. Mary died in 1733 and just five years later, feeling ill, Carolan returned to the home of his original Patron Mrs. MacDermott Roe. After several days, he called for a drink and repeated these lines to his first patron:

Mary Fitzgerald, dear heart,
Love of my breast and my friend,
Alas that I am parting from you,
O lady who succoured me at every stage
.

His final composition was to the butler, Flinn, who brought him his last drink. And, in a final fitting salute, his wake lasted four days.


When he died his passing was recalled a famous man of letters of the time:



Saturday, the 25th day of March 1738. Turlough O'Carolan, the wise master and chief musician of the whole of Ireland, died today and was buried in the O'Duignan's church of Kilronan, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. May his soul find mercy, for he was a moral and religious man.

Charles O'Conor


Tuesday, 24 March 2015



24 March 1968: The Aer Lingus plane, St Phelim, plunged into the Irish Sea off the Tuskar Rock on this day. Just after noon on a fine spring day the aircraft inexplicably plunged into the Irish Sea off the County Wexford coast from a height of 17,000 ft, killing all 61 passengers and crew on board. Flight 712 had taken off from Cork airport about 30 minutes beforehand and was due to land at Heathrow, London. The plane was a propeller driven Vickers Viscount 803 [like above] with no known structural defects that could explain the sudden loss of this aircraft. Of the 61 people on board but only 14 bodies were ever recovered.

 

Its penultimate, garbled message indicated another aircraft was in the area. In its last message, eight seconds later, co-pilot Paul Heffernan, aged 22, said: "12,000 ft descending, spinning rapidly."

 

Witnesses say Captain Barney O'Beirne, aged 35, managed to level the four-engine plane about 1,000 ft above the water, and flew on for about 15 minutes before it crashed close to Tuskar Rock. There was no black box recorder on the aircraft, which had undergone a major inspection three weeks earlier.

 

The Guardian 11 January 1999

 

Speculation over the years has centred around the possibility that the plane was shot down by a rogue British test missile fired from an RAF base in Wales. However no set of established facts has ever been able to show what actually caused the plane to crash with such a devastating loss of life. The St Phelim Disaster is the worst ever recorded in the history of Irish Aviation.