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Friday, 1 July 2016

1 July 1916: The Battle of the Somme began on this day. After an immense bombardment lasting a week the British Army launched its Summer Offensive at precisely 7.30 am that morning. General Rawlinson commanded the British 4th Army, which contained 15 Divisions earmarked for the Offensive.

Rawlinson’s tactical plan was to see the infantry advance across no man’s land at a walking pace, carrying a full load of equipment (66 lbs. per man), to take possession of the German trenches from a demoralised and shaken foe. However during the bombardments most of the German troops took refuge in deep bunkers. Once the artillery had stopped firing on the front line trenches and the attack was imminent these men rushed to the surface and manned their posts. It was the failure of the British to anticipate the speed of the Germans reaction to the lifting of the barrage that led to their defeat on the 1 July. The casualties suffered by the attacking forces numbered almost 60,000 men incl about 20,000 dead. Many of these men were from Ireland.

The men of the 36th Ulster Division carried out the most famous attack of the day. They took the German stronghold of the Schwaben Redoubt by storm and overwhelmed the defenders. However due to the almost universal failure of the other attacking battalions on their flanks to take their objectives the Ulstermen were left dangerously exposed. They were out in a salient that the Germans were able to enfilade with devastating results. Despite a grim determination to hold their positions the 36th was forced back and the order was given to withdraw to their start lines. Given that they had suffered thousands of casualties that day this was a bitter pill to swallow - but a legend was born that day that still resonates down to our own times.

The other great attack that day that had strong Irish connections was the series of assaults carried out by the 34th Division. This included the 103rd Tyneside Irish Brigade from Northumberland, in the main consisting of the descendants of Irish immigrants in the 19th Century to the coalfields there. However the connections with Ireland were still extant and these men were proud of their ancestry. That day they met the full force of the German machine-guns as they went over the top and were slaughtered in great numbers. For them there was no success to match the sacrifice made and thousands lay dead and wounded upon the field of battle for no great purpose.

There were also Irish battalions engaged this day within other Divisions and some 14 battalions with definite Irish identities took part in the day’s battle. In addition thousands more served in an individual capacity in various units like those raised in Liverpool, Manchester and London as well as in units with no particular connections to Ireland like the 1st South Staffordshire’s. Thus on 1st July 1916 many men from Ireland met their end in one of the bloodiest days in Military History. The survivors too never forgot that terrible day when so many from this island fought and suffered on the bloody fields of Picardy.

By the time the battle petered out in the November rains some 420,000 British & Commonwealth, 205,000 French and 465,000 German soldiers were killed, wounded or missing- over One Million men had fallen.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

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29‭ ‬June‭ ‬1915:‭ ‬The death of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa,‭ ‬Fenian,‭ ‬on this day in New York City.‭ ‬He was born at Roscarbery County Cork in‭ ‬1831‭ ‬to a family of tenant farmers.‭ ‬As a young man he kept a shop in Skibereen but became increasingly involved in revolutionary politics.‭ ‬He joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood on its foundation and was soon arrested by the British.‭  ‬In‭ ‬1865,‭ ‬he was charged with plotting a Fenian rising,‭ ‬put on trial for high treason and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to his previous convictions. He spent five years in English jails in very harsh conditions.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1869‭ ‬he was elected an MP but his victory was annulled as he was considered a‭ ‘‬Felon‭’‬.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1870‭ ‬he was released on condition that he went into Exile and he sailed for New York with a group of fellow exiles that were dubbed the‭ ‘‬Cuba Five‭’ ‬after the boat they left in.

Once in New York he helped to organise clandestine operations against British rule and was the main instigator of the‭ ‘‬Dynamite Campaign‭’ – ‬a series of bombings in England designed to force Britain to relinquish her hold on Ireland.‭ ‬However he was allowed to return home in‭ ‬1894‭ ‬and in‭ ‬1904‭ ‬on brief visits.‭ ‬In later years he suffered from ill health and was confined to a hospital on Staten Island.‭ ‬He died there in‭ ‬1915‭ ‬and his remains were returned home for burial.‭ ‬His graveside was the occasion of Padraig Pearse’s famous oration on the power of the Fenian dead.‭ ‬On his immediate hearing of his death Pearse recorded the following:‭

O'Donovan Rossa was not the greatest man of the Fenian generation,‭ ‬but he was its most typical man.‭ ‬He was the man that to the masses of his countrymen then and since stood most starkly and plainly for the Fenian idea‭…
No man,‭ ‬no government,‭ ‬could either break or bend him.‭ ‬Literally‭ ‬he was incapable of compromise.‭ ‬He could not even parley with compromisers.‭ ‬Nay,‭ ‬he could not act,‭ ‬even for the furtherance of objects held in common,‭ ‬with those who did not hold and avow all his objects‭…
Enough to know that the valiant soldier of Ireland is dead‭; ‬that the unconquered spirit is free.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

28 June 1920: Irish soldiers in India engaged in a Mutiny on this day. Five men from C Company, 1st battalion Connaught Rangers, refused to take orders from their officers, declaring their intent not to serve the King until the British forces left Ireland. They were disturbed by reports reaching them from home that members of the Crown Forces in Ireland were committing atrocities. The news quickly spread amongst the other outposts of the Rangers in the Punjab and rumours were rife that these five men had been summarily executed. This in turn triggered more a serious incident some days later at Solan.

At the barracks there Private James Daly and 70 other Rangers attacked the armoury. However it was successfully defended and Privates Smyth and Sears were shot dead. In total, nearly 400 men had joined the mutiny. 88 men were court martialled in the aftermath, 14 were sentenced to death and the rest given up to 15 years in jail. James Daly was executed on November 2nd 1920. Privates Sears and Smyth were buried at Solan; Daly and John Miranda (who died in prison of harsh treatment) were buried at the Dagshai graveyard. In 1970 the remains of Daly Smith and Sears were returned to Ireland for reburial.

They were repatriated to Ireland by The National Graves Association and given a military funeral with full honours. A special monument in their honour was erected at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. [above]

Sunday, 26 June 2016

26‭ ‬June‭ ‬1932:‭ ‬The Eucharistic Congress culminated on this day when over one million people attended the Pontifical High Mass in the Phoenix Park,‭ ‬Dublin.‭ ‬The Chief Celebrant was the‭ ‬Papal Legate Cardinal‭ ‬Lorenzo Lauri,‭ ‬personally selected by Pope‭  ‬Pius XI himself.‭ ‬The Holy Father had charged him to:

Go to Ireland in my name and say to the good people assembled there that the Holy Father loves Ireland and sends to Ireland and its inhabitants and visitors not the usual Apostolic blessing but a very special all embracing one.

The arrival of the Cardinal and the holding of the‭ ‬19th Eucharistic Congress in Dublin was seen as a great honour for the Catholics of Ireland.‭ ‬The week long event saw huge displays of religious devotion with crowds of tens of thousands in attendance at various events.‭ ‬The high point of the Eucharistic Congress came on the final Sunday of the week‭’‬s festivities in the form of a massive open air mass in the Phoenix Park. An ornate High Altar flanked with choirs and bands from all over the Catholic world was the main focus of attention.‭ ‬The Cardinal was accompanied by the highest ranks of the Irish Catholic Hierarchy in his fulfilment of his celebration of the Mass.‭ ‬In addition thousands of the Clergy were there to witness and partake in the biggest religious gathering the Country had ever seen.

‭“‬It is‭ ‬12.30.‭ ‬The Bishops are assembling,‭ ‬their purple shining through the green of the trees.‭ ‬They march in hundreds,‭ ‬slowly,‭ ‬pensively,‭ ‬the Bishops of the world,‭ ‬in white and black and red,‭ ‬in cream and gold and brown.‭ ‬They file through the three thousand priests like a coloured thread being drawn through white silk.‭ ‬Then up the crimson carpet,‭ ‬turning right and left to the colonnades of the altar,‭ ‬and there they sit and seen from afar through the white pillars,‭ ‬each group looking like Leonardo da Vinci‭’‬s painting of the Last Supper.‭”


The Government of Mr Eamon De Valera and the leading members of the Opposition were in attendance as well as numerous dignitaries from home and abroad.‭ ‬The huge multitude heard Mass broadcast over an extensive PA system,‭ ‬the largest in the world at that time.‭ ‬The event was listened to across the Nation and internationally through the medium of Radio Athlone.‭ ‬Count John McCormack gave a brilliant rendition of the‭ ‬Panis Angelicus ‭(‬Bread of the Angels‭)‬ to the multitude that grew praise from many quarters.‭

The audition was marvellous,‭ ‬whether it was of the full tones of the Cardinal Legate as he spoke the Mass,‭ ‬the tuneful antiphon of the choir,‭ ‬the sharp clamour of the trumpets as they paid homage at the elevation of the Host,‭ ‬or the beautiful voice of John Mc Cormack that came clear and bell like,‭ ‬borne without a tremor over the whole silent space,‭ ‬midway through the Service.‭ ‬It was at that moment of the Elevation of the Host,‭ ‬the supreme point in Catholic ritual,‭ ‬that one fully realised the common mind that swallowed up all individuality in the immense throng.‭ ‬Flung together in their hundreds of thousands,‭ ‬like the sands on the seashore,‭ ‬these people were merely parts of a great organism which was performing a great act of faith,‭ ‬with no more ego in them than the sands themselves.


Prior to the closing ceremony a special blessing by Pope Pius XI broadcasting directly from the Vatican was relayed to the huge congregation.‭ ‬This marked the culmination of a series of events held over the previous four days,‭ ‬which saw scenes of unprecedented devotion by the Catholics of Ireland.‭

The Eucharistic Congress entered Catholic folk memory and remained the greatest public gathering in Ireland until the visit of Pope John Paul II in‭ ‬1979,‭ ‬which also took place in the Phoenix Park.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

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25‭ ‬June‭ ‬1731:‭ ‬The Dublin Society was founded on this day.‭ ‬The society was originally founded by members of the Dublin Philosophical Society as the‭ '‬Dublin Society for improving Husbandry,‭ ‬Manufactures and other Useful Arts‭'‬.‭ ‬On‭ ‬8‭ ‬July‭ ‬1731‭ ‬-‭ ‬a couple of weeks after initial foundation‭ ‬-‭ ‬the designation‭ '‬and Sciences‭' ‬was added to the end of its name.‭

The aim of the Society's founders was to improve Ireland's economic condition by promoting the development of Agriculture,‭ ‬Arts,‭ ‬Science and Industry.‭ ‬Initially confined to publishing pamphlets on new discoveries and best practice,‭ ‬the Society as a publishing house developed and broadened its remit to include scientific journals and books.‭

It grew out of the‭ ‬18th century desire for agricultural and industrial improvement.‭ ‬Membership reached‭ ‬300‭ ‬by the‭ ‬1740s,‭ ‬with a royal charter being received in‭ ‬1750.‭ ‬The society offered grants‭ (‘‬premiums‭’) ‬for land reclamation,‭ ‬livestock breeding,‭ ‬fisheries,‭ ‬and textiles.‭ ‬The‭ ‘‬Royal‭’ ‬title was added in‭ ‬1820‭ ‬and today the RDS has its HQ at Simmonscourt in Ballsbridge,‭ ‬Dublin where it host hundreds of events throughout the year incl the Horse Show.

Several gentlemen having agreed to meet in the Philosophical Rooms in Trinity College Dublin in order to promote Improvements of all kinds,‭ ‬and Dr.‭ ‬Stephens being desired,‭ ‬took the Chair.‭
It was proposed and unanimously agreed unto,‭ ‬to form a Society,‭ ‬by the name of the Dublin Society,‭ ‬for improving Husbandry,‭ ‬Manufactures,‭ ‬and other useful arts.‭

It was proposed and resolved,‭ ‬that all the present,‭ ‬and all such who should become members of the Society,‭ ‬shall subscribe their names to a Paper,‭ ‬containing their agreement to form a Society for the purposes aforesaid.‭

Ordered that a Committee of all the members present do meet next Thursday.,‭ ‬in the Philosophical Rooms in Trinity College Dublin to consider of a Plan or Rules for the Government of the Society,‭ ‬any three thereof to be a Quorum,‭ ‬and that notice be sent to the members in Town,‭ ‬the day before the time for meeting.‭ ‬The Society adjourned to this day fortnight.

Present:‭ ‬Judge Ward.‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Stephens.‭
Sir Th.‭ ‬Molyneux.‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Magnaten.‭
Th.‭ ‬Upton,‭ ‬Esq.‭ ‬Dr.‭ [‬John‭] ‬Madden.‭
John Pratt,‭ ‬Esq.‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Lehunte.‭
Rich.‭ ‬Warburton,‭ ‬Esq.‭ ‬Mr.‭ ‬Walton.‭
Rev.‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Whitecomb.‭ ‬Mr.‭ ‬Prior.‭
Arthur Dobs,‭ ‬Esq.‭ ‬W.‭ ‬Maple.‭

Friday, 24 June 2016

24‭ ‬June‭ ‬1798:‭ ‬The Battle of Castlecomer on this day.‭ ‬The picturesque County Kilkenny town of Castlecomer was burnt to the ground as the Army of the United Irishmen from Wexford clashed with the Crown Forces in the streets of the town.‭ ‬Major General Charles Asgil of the British Army had about‭ ‬1,400‭ ‬men in total to oppose the‭ ‬5,000‭ ‬or so under Father John Murphy.‭ ‬In the wake of the defeat at Vinegar Hill on‭ ‬21‭ ‬June it was decided by the Insurgents to leave County Wexford and advance on Castlecomer where it was hoped the militant colliers there would join them.‭ ‬In the event quite a few did but were of limited fighting value.‭ ‬Asgil himself had advanced from Kilkenny City with about‭ ‬1,000‭ ‬men to relieve the troops defending Castlecomer.‭ ‬He sent ahead some‭ ‬100‭ ‬men to augment the‭ ‬300‭ ‬or so already there.‭ ‬Walter Butler,‭ ‬a local Bigwig and the future‭ ‬18th Earl of Ormonde commanded the garrison within the town.

The Insurgents advanced upon the town in two columns,‭ ‬one under Father Murphy himself and the other under Miles‭ ‬Byrne.‭ ‬They eventually joined forces within the town and drew up plans to assault by storm Castlecomer House that still held out.‭ ‬But the appearance of Asgil’s relief force on the heights outside the town meant that the Wexfordmen had to turn their attention to that quarter.‭ ‬The British General opened up with artillery to cover the retreat of the trapped garrison.‭ ‬Asgil held his ground long enough for his trapped soldiers‭ & ‬supporters in the town to get out and then he marched away.

Early in the morning of the‭ ‬24th the rebel troops diminished by desertion to about‭ ‬8,000‭ ‬descended from the heights and advancing towards Castlecomer defeated a body of about two hundred and fifty men at a place called Coolbawn a mile and a half from that town which they entered with the slaughter of about fifty Loyalists.‭ ‬The town was set on fire‭ – ‬and of this conflagration each party accuses the other.‭ ‬The General arriving at length with his army,‭ ‬fired with his artillery on the streets and houses not knowing that many Loyalists were still in the place who were making a desperate defence to prevent their families and friends from falling into the enemies hands.‭ ‬This firing however determined the rebels to retire from the town about four O'clock in the afternoon,‭ ‬which furnished an opportunity to Protestants there assembled to retreat with the general to Kilkenny,‭ ‬but they were obliged to leave their good s a prey to the enemy who took full possession of the place as soon as the Royal Army retreated.‭

Musgrave’s History of the Rebellion in Ireland,‭ ‬in the Year‭ ‬1798

The forces Loyal to the Crown had a lucky escape as the Loyalists within and the troops without would have been overwhelmed had the relative numbers been known in the Insurgent camp.‭ ‬But an early morning fog and the smoke of the buildings alight within the town along with the firing of the guns masked the weakness of the Loyalist position.‭ ‬In the event Murphy decided that it was no use proceeding into areas where the prospects of revolt were so poor and after a brief foray into County Laois it was decided to return to Wexford and fight it out there.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

23 June 1985: The destruction of Air India flight 182 on this day. The plane was flying from Toronto, Canada to Delhi, India via London, England. It was some 120 miles off the south west coast of Ireland at an altitude of 31,000 feet when at 8.13am the plane disappeared off the radar screen of Air Traffic Control at Shannon airport. It had exploded - killing all on board - 329 lives were lost, including 268 Canadian citizens, 27 Britons, and 24 Indians. 80 were children. The majority of the victims were Canadian citizens of Indian ancestry. The bombing of Air India 182 occurred at the same time as the Narita airport bombing. Investigators believe that the two plots were linked, and that the group responsible was aiming for a double bombing. However, the bomb at Narita exploded before it could be loaded onto the plane.

Canadian law enforcement determined that the main suspects in the bombing were members of the Sikh group Babbar Khalsa. The attack is thought to have been a retaliation against India for the operation carried out by the Indian Army Operation Blue Star to flush out several hundred Sikh Militants who were within the premises of the Golden Temple and the surrounding structures ordered by the Prime Minister Indira Ghandi. Though a handful of members were arrested and tried, Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Canadian national, remains the only person legally convicted of involvement in the bombing. Singh pleaded guilty in 2003 to manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for building the bombs that exploded aboard Flight 182 and at Narita.

The subsequent investigation and prosecution lasted almost twenty years and was the most expensive trial in Canadian history, costing nearly130 million Canadian dollars.

131 bodies were recovered from the sea. It was one of the biggest operations in the history of the State to recover the bodies which was undertaken by the Irish Navy.

The L.É. AISLING navy ship, under the command of Lieutenant Commander James Robinson, was one of the first vessels on scene. The RAF and the Royal Navy also helped to recover the bodies and debris from the site which extended over a large area of the sea.

Every year, a remembrance ceremony is held in Cork at the memorial garden and sundial in Ahakista in County Cork [above]