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Friday, 4 September 2015

4 September 1828: The Annaghdown/Anach Cuain Boat Tragedy. Eleven men and eight women were drowned on the river Corrib aboard an old and decrepit boat the Caisleán Nua. The tragedy was the subject of a poem by Anthony O’Rafferty Anach Cuain. On September 4th, 1828 the boat left Annaghdown Pier bound for a fair at Galway City. On board were some sheep, which were for auction at the fair, and some thirty men and women who had intended to make a holiday out of the visit to Galway. Some two miles from the city on the river Corrib tragedy struck.

Its not quite certain what caused the boat to sink, but the story is told that one of the sheep on board got restless and poked his hoof through the floor of the boat. One of the men on board tried to stuff the hole with a piece of clothing but only succeeded in knocking a plank out of the boat which caused the water to pour in. Nineteen men and women on board drowned in the ensuing panic and scarcely a family in the village of Annaghdown remained unaffected by the tragedy.

The boat and passengers proceeded without obstruction until they arrived opposite Bushypark, within two miles of the town, when she suddenly went down and all on board perished except twelve persons who were fortunately rescued from their perilous situation by another boat. Galway Advertiser 6 September 1828

One man on board was named John Cosgrave who was a strong swimmer. He saved several people and went back to save the woman he was shortly to marry. Some desperate people clung to him in a desperate bid to save themselves but only succeeded in drowning him also.

The recovered bodies of those who drowned were brought ashore near Menlo/Mionnloch Castle, [above] itself the scene of a tragic fire in 1910. It is now a ruin.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

3 September 1658: Oliver Cromwell ‘The Lord Protector’ died on this day. He still remains one of the most hated figures in Irish History even though he spent less than a year of his life in this Country. He was born in 1599 but did not rise to prominence until the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 when he raised a troop of cavalry to fight for their Parliament against King Charles I.

Quickly proving his worth in his native area of east Anglia he played a significant role in the parliamentary victories at Marston Moor [1644] and Naseby [1645]. When civil war flared up again he commanded a force which first crushed a Royalist revolt in South Wales and then at the battle of Preston [1648] when he defeated a Scottish-royalist army of invasion. Cromwell consistently attributed his military success to ‘God's Will’ but there is no doubt that he had natural leadership talents that made him the best military Leader that England’s Parliament had - and indeed one of the most able soldiers of that Age.

Following the execution of King Charles in January 1649 an Expedition was assembled to take back Ireland from the Catholics. This was a task that Cromwell did indeed consider ‘Gods Will’ and as its Commander he was determined to see that those who had ‘rebelled’ against the rule of England’s Parliament were punished for what he believed were the huge atrocities and massacres committed against the Protestants of Ireland in the Rising of 1641.

On 15th August 1649 he came ashore at Ringsend near Dublin having left Milford Haven in Wales two days before. He brought with him an army of 4,000 horse and 8,000 foot. He quickly moved north to take the town of Drogheda where there was a strong force of Royalists. On 11 September with the help of his artillery train he breached the town’s walls and stormed the place. A massacre followed in which most of the garrison was put to the sword and it is believed many of the inhabitants too.

After the massacre, Cromwell sought to explain his actions in a letter to William Lenthall, speaker of the Parliament:

…I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgement of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbued their hands in so much innocent blood, and it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds to such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remourse and regret….

One month later on 11 October his Army was before the walls of the important port of Wexford and while still in negotiations with the garrison his troops gained entry through an agent inside. Another massacre followed and many priests and women were slaughtered.

These actions sent shock waves throughout Ireland and Cromwell’s reputation for ferocity was firmly established.

With Winter now closing in and his Army ravaged by disease and the cold Cromwell curtailed his operations. He too came down sick and he allowed his subordinates to do the running. It was not to be until the following Spring that he was again involved in a major siege - this time at Clonmel.

On 9 May the Parliamentarians poured through a breach in the towns walls –and right into a trap. Cromwell had to withdraw with a loss of 2,500 men. The following day General O’Neill led his men out - and Cromwell led his battered men in. Surprisingly this time he kept them on a leash and no massacre followed. But a deeply chastened Cromwell had suffered the biggest defeat of his military career.

Less than a month later Cromwell returned to England, which was facing a threat of invasion from Scotland, which had declared for the exiled King Charles II. He never returned.

But Cromwell’s legacy did not end there. In the years that followed his lieutenants and subordinates issued forth from their strongholds across Ireland to wage a vicious campaign of war and slaughter on many of the populace.

Tens of thousands of people were shipped off as virtual slaves to the West Indies & many landowners were dispossessed of their ancient holdings. Religious Freedom was denied to the Catholics of Ireland & their civil and political liberties trampled on. To this day his name is reviled amongst the Irish.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

2 September 1022 AD: The death of the King of Mide, Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill, on this day. His passing marked the end of an era in Irish History. Since the Battle of Ocha in circa 483 AD the southern and northern O’Neill’s had shared the title of King of Temair (Tara) [above] between them on a more or less continual basis. This made the holder of the title the most influential king in Ireland - if he had the wherwithal to make use of the status the title gave him.

For it was believed that in ancient times Ireland had been ruled from the Royal seat of Tara. The O’Neills believed that any man who held that hallowed ground was the heir to a lost Kingdom. However Brian Boru of Munster in 1002 had pushed aside King Máel and had himself recognised as the superior king in his stead.

It was only with the death of King Brian at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 that Máel Sechnaill had regained his position. But by then he was an old man and Ireland had changed greatly since his predecessors had established their dual kingdoms all those centuries before. After him Mide(Meath) would no longer be the force it was in Irish Wars and Politics.

Mael Sechnaill son of Domnall son of Donnchad, overlong of Ireland, pillar of the dignity and nobility of the western world, died in the 43rd year of his reign and the 73rd of his age on Sunday the fourth of the Nones 2nd of September, the second of the moon.
Annals of Ulster 1022 AD

Mael Sechnaill son of Domnall, son of Donnchad, overking of Ireland, the

flood of honour of the western world, died in Cró-inis of Loch Aininne in

the forty-third year of his reign on the 4th of the Nones 2nd of September,

that is, on Sunday, the second day of the moon, the one thousandth and

twenty-second year after the Lord's Incamation, and died penitent and at

peace, with the successors of venerable saints Pátraic and Colum Cille and

Ciarán present and assisting him.

Chronicon Scotorum

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

1 September 1701: The Irish Brigade in the service of France fought in the Battle of Chiari [above]*on this day. This clash of arms took place in Lombardy in northern Italy during the War of the Spanish Succession. The French Army was under the command of Marshal Villeroy who was opposed by Prince Eugene of Savoy in the service of the Austrian Empire. Villeroy decided to attack the town of Chiari as he felt it was his duty to fight for King Louis rather than just observe the enemy.

Villeroy ignored the warnings of his subordinate Marshal Catinat that Eugene was in a strong position, remarking his deputy that the King had not sent so many brave men there just to look at the enemy through their spy glasses!

The attack was however a fiasco as the French were cut down in droves. Amongst the regiments leading the attack was the Irish regiment of Galmoy (Its Colonel was Pierce Butler, 3rd Viscount Galmoy), which suffered heavily in the assault. Eventually the attempt was called off and the surviving troops were told to retire. The French losses were over 2,000 men killed or wounded while their enemies sustained a loss in the low hundreds. The most prominent Irish casualty was Dominick Sarsfield, 4th Lord Killmallock who was killed at the head of his men in the attack.


Some of the Irishmen who survived were badly wounded. Felix MacNamee, aged 35, a native of Armagh, had had his left arm taken off by a cannon ball and, put out of service, was admitted into the military hospital of Les Invalides in Paris, dying at Arras in 1726. The ensign of the Colonel’s company, Terence Sweeny, aged 33, was hit in the right thigh by cannon shot and across the body by a musket ball. He too, was admitted to Les Invalides and survived until 1750. Also hit by a cannon shot in the right leg was the reformed Lieutenant Thomas Meade, aged 31, a native of Kilmallock, who survived until 1736. John Conor, aged 31, a Kerryman and the sergeant of grenadiers, lost his right arm through a musket ball but lived until 1721.


* Battle of Chiari, by Jan van Huchtenburg

Monday, 31 August 2015

31 August 1767: Henry Joy McCracken, United Irishman, was born on this day. His ancestors on both sides had come from the Continent to escape religious persecution. His father was a wealthy businessman and when he was twenty-two he was entrusted with the management of a cotton factory. In 1791 he co-operated with Thomas Russell in the formation of the first society of United Irishmen in Belfast and when the society in 1795 assumed its secret and military organization, he became one of the most trusted members of the council in the north.

In 1796 he was arrested and imprisoned in the notorious Kilmainham Jail in Dublin along with his brother William. After his release he returned to Belfast and renewed the plans to bring about a Revolution in Ireland. He was appointed head of the United Irishmen of Antrim. In June of 1798 he raised the insurgents there to take arms and attack the Crown Forces. He and his followers briefly seized Antrim town but were defeated and dispersed.

McCracken went to hiding in the vicinity but was betrayed and was taken prisoner. His trial and conviction by court-martial followed. The British offered to spare his life on condition of his giving information concerning other leaders. His aged father encouraged him to spurn the proposition. On 17 July 1798 he was executed by hanging at the Cornmarket in Belfast on the evening of the conclusion of his Trial.

His sister Mary Ann McCracken accompanied him almost to the last, and wrote:

At five p.m. he was ordered to the place of execution…. I took his arm, and we walked together to the place of execution, where I was told it was the general's orders I should leave him, which I peremptorily refused. Harry begged I would go. Clasping my hands round him (I did not weep till then) I said I could bear anything but leaving him. Three times he kissed me, and entreated I would go... I suffered myself to be led away... I was told afterwards that poor Harry stood where I left him at the place of execution, and watched me until I was out of sight; that he then attempted to speak to the people, but that the noise of the trampling of the horses was so great that it was impossible he should be heard; that he then resigned himself to his fate.

The United Irishmen, their Lives and Times, Robert R. Madden

Sunday, 30 August 2015

30 August 1855: The Death of Feargus Edward O'Connor , Chartist Leader on this day. He was the son of Roger O'Connor, a United Irishman, and was born in 1796 in County Cork. When Feargus O'Connor was twenty-four he inherited an estate there. Although a Protestant, O'Connor was a reforming landlord and denounced the religious Tithes & the power of the Established Church. Daniel O’Connell soon spotted his potential and secured a candidacy for him in the General Election of 1832 in which he was returned as an MP for County Cork. But O’Connor rashly decided to try and unseat the Great Dan as Leader of the Irish MPs in the House of Commons and the two fell out.

O’Connor thereafter focused his attentions on Radical English Politics, moving to Manchester where he published the highly successful Northern Star newspaper. He became a leading light in the Chartist Movement, dedicated to Universal Suffrage and Annual parliaments. Here again though his maverick personality and impatience with pacific political activity led him into trouble with him advocating the threat of violence to achieve political Reform. O'Connor responded to criticism by forming a new Chartist organisation, the East London Democratic Association.

He was found guilty of sedition in 1839 and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment. O'Connor continued to edit the Northern Star newspaper from his prison cell and upset the other Chartist leaders when he told his readers that from "September 1835 to February 1839 I led you single-handed and alone."

In 1845 O'Connor launched his Chartist Land Plan. His objective was to raise money to buy a large estate that would be divided into plots of three and four acres. Subscribers would then draw lots and the winners would obtain a cottage and some land. O'Connor promised that his Land Scheme would "change the whole face of society in twelve months" and would "make a paradise of England in less than five years".

But the scheme backfired and the estate went bankrupt before too long. Some of the tenants ended up being evicted and the whole disastrous enterprise badly damaged O’Connor’s credibility with the English Working Class. The stress and effort involved took its toll on O’Connor’s mental health.

His finest moment should have been the Great Demonstration he organised to assemble in Kensington London in 10 April 1848 that was to march on the Houses of Parliament. 200,000 people were expected to attend and this projected assembly put the wind up the British Establishment. The Duke of Wellington was put in charge of the Military and tens of thousands of citizens were made temporary policemen to control the situation.

In the event it proved a damp squib as only about 25,000 people turned up in a heavy downpour to hear O’Connor make outlandish claims that proved to be untrue- namely that over five million people had signed his Petition on workers rights when it was really about two million. Even then on examination it was discovered that many were clearly forgeries including those of the Queen and the Iron Duke, who appeared to have endorsed the petition no fewer than seventeen times! It was all over by 2 O'clock that afternoon and the Establishment could breath again.

After 1848 Chartism went into sharp decline. From 1851, O'Connor's behaviour became increasingly irrational, possibly as a result of syphilis. In 1852 he was declared insane and sent to an asylum in Chiswick. He died on 30 August 1855.

A charismatic and talented actor on the stage of politics O’Connor at his best was a man to be watched. He claimed Royal descent from the last King of Ireland - Rory O’Connor of Connacht. He always supported the Repeal of the Union even though it must have cost him support amongst the English People. He was though dogged by personal problems and sometimes allowed his temperament to get the better of him. But whatever his faults he helped to raise the English Working Class up out of their misery enough to know that together and organised they could challenge the Establishment to at least listen to their demands to be treated fairly and with Justice.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

29 August 1975: Éamon de Valera died on this day. His active political career spanned the years 1913-1973 from when he first joined the Irish Volunteers until his retirement as President of Ireland.

Born in New York City in 1882 he was brought back to Ireland two years later and raised by his wider family in Co Limerick

He was one of the leading commandants of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 and was sentenced to death by the British but this was commuted to Life Imprisonment as being born in the USA he was eligible to claim US citizenship

In 1917 he was elected as MP for East Clare but did not take his seat and in 1918 he was again imprisoned by the British but escaped from Lincoln Jail in England 1919. He returned home where he was elected by Dail Eireann as Príomh Aire (President). He then made his way to America where he campaigned hard to gain support for the Irish Republic especially amongst the huge Irish American community there

Returning home in 1920 he and the British began tentative negotiations which led to the Truce of July 1921. But he broke with many of his colleagues in December that year when the Treaty was signed. The Civil War of 1922-1923 saw him side lined and after another period of imprisonment by the Irish Free State he in 1926 founded his own Party Fianna Fáil which he led until 1959

In 1927 he led the Party into the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann and took the Oath to the British King George V - but under protest that he felt not bound by it! A dodgy tactic but it worked and he carried most of the Republican Movement with him to back this approach.

After the General Election of January 1932 he was elected by the Dáil as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State and governed it until 1947 - being returned as Leader in every election. In the early 1930s he faced down General Eoin O’Duffy and his fascistic Blueshirt Movement and contained the threat from the IRA who wanted to re start the War with Britain over their continued Occupation of the North.

He refused to pay the Annuities due to the UK and this triggered the Economic war with England which brought great hardship to many farmers & others. While he was right in Principle the cost was high. He got rid of the Oath to the British Monarch in 1936 & brought before the People a New Constitution - Bunreacht na hÉireann - which was passed in a Referendum and came into operation in 1937. It is still the Constitution to this day - though somewhat amended now. In 1938 he got the British to hand back the Treaty Ports they still held and made a final settlement to the Economic War with a once off payment to them which finished the matter.

In 1939 the Second World War began and this State declared itself Neutral - the British were disgusted but had to accept it. However Dev played it well and ensured that co operation with England while low key was real nonetheless. He allowed anyone who wanted to go to cross the water to join up or work there if they wanted to. At War’s end in 1945 he offered condolences to the USA on the death of President Roosevelt but also to Germany on the death of Adolf Hitler - a gaffe in most people’s eyes.

He lost the General Election of 1947 and was out of power until 1951 when he was returned once again. However he was to lose it once more in 1954 and by this stage he was well into his 70s. The State could not provide enough jobs for its young people and Emigration was astronomical + widespread poverty in many parts of the Country. No Party seemed to have the solution. When he was returned to power in 1957 he came under pressure to look for new ways to change things and in 1958 it was decided to open up Ireland to Foreign Investment and Trade to which Dev gave his Imprimatur. This led to rapid economic expansion that continued until 1974.

But Dev was old and tired by now and his eyesight was failing. He resigned as Taoiseach in 1959 and was then elected President of Ireland in June of that year by popular vote. Probably the highlight of his term in Office was the visit of President John F Kennedy in 1963 and the celebrations in 1966 of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. In that year he also was re elected President defeating the Fine Gael candidate Tom O’Higgins by a narrow margin. His last years were much more low key as age caught up with him. By that stage he was seen by many younger people as an archaic figure out of touch with Modern Ireland.

Always a divisive figure and a controversial one he led his followers through many crises - though many would consider some at least self inflicted ones! There was no doubting his fine mind and his ability to think a few steps ahead of his opponents on most occasions. His abiding legacy must be though the Constitution of 1937 and keeping the Irish State out of the Second World War + initiating the change that started our rise in living standards from 1958.

At his retirement in 1973 at the age of 90, he was the oldest head of state in the world. His wife of many years Sinéad de Valera died some months before he did and he was buried alongside her in Glasnevin Cemetery [above] in Dublin after a State Funeral.