Google+ Followers

Monday, 15 September 2014


16 September 1945 –Count John McCormack, the great Irish Tenor died at his residence, Glena, Booterstown, Co. Dublin on this day. His remains were interred at Deansgrange cemetery. Born in Athlone in 1884 he went to Italy in 1903 to perfect his voice and enjoyed huge International success touring England, Australia, America and elsewhere. He became the most celebrated lyric tenor of his day. Famous for his extraordinary breath control, he could sing 64 notes on one breath in Mozart's Il Mio Tesoro from Don Giovanni, and his Handelian singing was just as impressive in this regard. He also made many popular recordings including It’s a Long way to Tipperary, The Wearing of the Green, The Ministrel Boy and The Last Rose of Summer.

He became a naturalized US Citizen in 1917 but returned to Ireland in the 1920’s. His last professional performance was in London at the Royal Albert Hall in 1938. He is best remembered at home though for his magnificent performance of César Franck's Panis Angelicus to the hundreds of thousands who thronged Dublin's Phoenix Park for the 1932 Eucharistic Congress. Pope Pius XI made him a Count of the Church in 1928.

His last professional performance was in London at the Royal Albert Hall in 1938. During the War he gave Concerts gratis for the Red Cross in Britain but had to stop in 1942 due to failing health. He moved back to Dublin and eventually settled in Booterstown. As his end approached he wrote in his Diary the folowing words:

I live again the days and evenings of my long career. I dream at night of operas and concerts in which I have had my share of success. Now, like the old Irish Minstrels, I have hung up my harp because my songs are all sung.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


14 September 919 AD: Niall ‘Glundubh’ mac Aeda, (Niall ‘Black Knee’, son of Aed) the High King of Ireland, was killed in battle by the Vikings of Dublin on this day. He had raised an Army from amongst the Gaels and marched to Dublin/Dubhlinn [above] to retake it from the Vikings. On this day a great battle was fought outside the walls, the battle of Ath Cliath/Cell Moshamog, which was probably by the banks of the river Liffey at Islandbridge. The Irish were badly defeated and lost many of their warriors, King Niall himself being among the fallen. It was the Vikings greatest military victory over the Gaels of Ireland.

Niall was one of the Cenél nEóġain from what is now Co Tyrone in the North of Ireland. Son of Aed Finliath, Niall is first recorded succeeding his brother Domnall mac Áedo as King of Ailech upon his death in 911. Extending his control to neighbouring kingdoms, Niall defeated the Kings of Dál nAraidi and Ulaid at the Battles of Glarryford (in present day County Antrim) and Ballymena before his defeat by high-king Flann Sinna mac Maíl Sechnaill of the Clann Cholmáin Uí Néill at the Battle of Crossakiel (in present day County Meath). Following Flann's death in 916, Niall succeeded him as High King of Ireland. It was during his reign in which he would re-establish the Óenach Tailteann, a traditional gathering of Irish people. But his reign was short lived as he met with defeat by the banks of the Liffey.

Though some place the battle at Kilmashoge, near Rathfarnham in County Dublin as a location, the Ford at Islandbridge is a more likely spot as Niall was advancing from the North and had to cross the Liffey to get around to the river's right bank to attack the city's walls. It is from him that the O'Neills of the North trace their ancestry.

Mournful today is virginal Ireland

Without a mighty king in command of hostages;

It is to view the heaven and not to see the sun

To behold Niall's plain without Niall

Annals of Ulster

Saturday, 13 September 2014


13 September 908 AD: The Battle of Belach Mugna/Cath Belach Mugna was fought on this day. (Bellaghmoon, in the south of modern County Kildare). In this engagement the Bishop-King of Cashel, King Cormac mac Cuilennáin, was thoroughly defeated while trying to exact tribute from the King of Leinster. He invaded the Leinster territory expecting an easy victory but the King of Tara, one Flann Sinna of the southern O’Neills, was not prepared to see the land of Leinster under anyone’s thumb but his own. In alliance with the King of Connacht he led a relief expedition into Leinster and in a great battle the combined forces of Connacht, Leinster and the O’Neills of Meath routed the forces of King Cormac who was unhorsed and beheaded.

The Munster men entered the battle at a distinct numerical disadvantage of which they were acutely aware of. Information had reached their camp in the woods that King Flann Sinna of Tara had brought his army south to reinforce King Cerball. This was in order to ward of the threat to his kingdom. In addition King Cathal of Connacht came from the west with his host to support Flann Sinna, who he acknowledged as his High King. It looks like the Munstermen came out of their wooded enclosure and formed up for battle with the Wood at their backs. This may well have been a deliberate tactical decision as that way they could not be taken in the rear and such a disposition would make it difficult for their flanks to be turned.

Then the men of Munster sounded trumpets and battle cries, and proceeded to Mag Ailbe [Co Carlow]. They were waiting for their enemies with their backs to a dense wood. The men of Munster formed themselves into three equally large, equally extensive battalions: Flaithbertach son of Inmainén and Cellach son of Cerball, king of Osraige, leading the first battalion; Cormac son of Cuilennán, the king of Munster, leading the middle Munster battalion; Cormac son of Mothla, king of the Déissi, and the king of Ciarraige, and kings of many other tribes of West Munster in the third battalion.

Fragmentary Annals of Ireland

In the event the battle quickly became a rout. When the battle was joined, many important Munstermen began to desert. Cormac himself attempted to flee but fell from his horse and broke his neck. King Cellach mac Cerbaill of the Osraige [Kilkenny] too was amongst the slain along with a large number of prominent nobles.

In the aftermath of the battle his Cormac's head was offered to King Flann as a trophy but the King of Tara refused to dishonour his noble opponent. He took the head and kissed it and had it brought in all solemnity to be reunited with its torso. Cormac’s mortal remains were then given to Bishop Móenach who had the body interred [presumed grave shown above] at the Monastery of Dísert Diarmata [Castle Dermot, Co Kildare]. Móenach had tried to mediate between the warring sides prior to the battle but without success.

This was one of the most important battles in Ireland for a long time as Cormac’s death severely weakened the grip of the Eoghanachta - the extended royal family that had ruled Munster for centuries. Their power had been slipping and now the weakness of their line was out in the open. Within a few more decades their power was no more and Munster had new rulers with bigger agendas.

A battle was fought between the men of Mumu, the Leth Cuinn, and the Laigin in Mag Ailbi on the feast of Dagán of Inber Dáile, i.e. on Tuesday the Ides 13th of September, the thirteenth of the moon, and Cormac son of Cuilennán, king of Caisel, was killed there together with other distinguished kings. These are: Fogartach son of Suibne, king of Ciarraige, Cellach son of Cerball, king of Osraige, Ailill son of Eógan, superior of the Trian of Corcach, and Colmán, superior of Cenn Eitig. Flann son of Mael Sechnaill, king of Temair, Cerball son of Muirecán, king of Laigin, and Cathal son of Conchobor, king of Connacht, were victors.

Annals of Ulster

Friday, 12 September 2014


12 September 1528: James FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Desmond wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V [above] requesting military assistance against the English. The Earl was a very rich and influential Anglo-Irish Magnate whose family were descended from the Anglo-Norman Lords who came over at the time of the attempted Conquest of Ireland in the 12th Century.

But he and many of his associates were deeply troubled at the turn of events in England as King Henry VIII broke with Rome over his desire to divorce Queen Catherine of Aragon. The Reformation did not find fertile soil in Ireland either amongst the Gaels or the Anglo-Irish. This attempt to seek help from a European Monarch was a watershed in Irish History as the Catholics sought to seek an alliance outside of these islands to overthrow the English Crown in this Country.

The Emperor commissioned his chaplain to visit Ireland. The report of his mission to Dingle, of the resources of the country, of the demeanour of the Earl, and his reasons for hostility. He reported that:

'The Earl himself is from thirty to forty years old, and is rather above the middle height. He keeps better justice throughout his dominions than any other chief in Ireland. Robbers and homicides find no mercy, and are executed out of hand. His people are in high order and discipline. They are armed with short bows and swords. The Earl's guard are in a mail from neck to heel, and carry halberds. He has also a number of horse, some of whom know how to break a lance. They all ride admirably, without saddle or stirrup.'

But in effect Charles V had too many problems of his own to deal with in Germany, Spain & with France and also against the Turks to be able to offer any effective aid to his co religionist in what was to him  a far flung island in the Atlantic Ocean that could not really alter the Balance of Power in Europe.

Thursday, 11 September 2014


11 September 1649: The Massacre at Drogheda/ Droichead Átha on this day.[above]* It was carried out by the troops of Oliver Cromwell. The town was protected by a circuit of walls four to six feet wide and twenty feet high that were studded by a number of guard towers. Sir Arthur Aston (an Englishman) was the commander of the Royalist garrison and was convinced he could hold the town against the Parliamentary Army.

But Cromwell had shipped over to Ireland a siege train that was put to work against the walls and within days had made a breach wide enough for the besiegers to risk a storming. By noon on 11 September, the heavy siege guns had blasted breaches in the southern and eastern walls and demolished the steeple of St Mary's Church. Around five o'clock that evening, Cromwell ordered the storming to begin.

The defenders put up a spirited defense and cost their attackers dear. In a furious passion, Cromwell ordered that no quarter was to be given. Catholic priests and friars were treated as combatants and killed on sight and many civilians died in the carnage as the ‘Roundheads' ran amuck.

About 3,000 men of the Royalist garrison, both Irish and English soldiers were killed with the majority being put to the sword after they had laid down their weapons. Aston was bludgeoned to death with his own wooden leg, which the Parliamentarian soldiers believed to be filled with gold coins. In addition at least a 1,000 Catholic inhabitants of the town were massacred.

However a good number of the occupants of the town made it over the north wall that was left unguarded by Cromwell’s men and made their way to safety. There they related the horrendous events that took place in Drogheda on that infamous day.

Cromwell wrote afterwards that:

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

* The view from the headquarters of Colonel John Hewson, in command of the attack on the eastern wall at the time of the second - and successful - assault on Drogheda. Gouache painting by Graham Turner
http://www.studio88.co.uk/acatalog/Ireland_1649-52.html

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


10 September 1966: Donogh O’Malley the Irish Education Minister announced a scheme for free secondary education on this day. His surprise decision that he would implement free secondary education up to Intermediate Level for all students caught both his political colleagues and opponents on the hop. He announced that from 1969 all schools up to Intermediate level would be free and that free buses would bring students from rural area to the nearest school.

O’Malley seems to have made this decision himself without consulting other ministers, however, he did discuss it with An Taoiseach Sean Lemass. Jack Lynch, who was Minister of Finance at the time had to find the money to pay for it, was certainly not consulted and was dismayed at the announcement. In spite of this O’Malley’s proposals were hugely popular with the public and it was impossible for the government to go back on its word. O’Malley’s impromptu decision opened the way for free secondary education in the State that continues to this day.

O’Malley’s brilliant but flamboyant political career was cut tragically short when he was killed in a motorcar crash in 1968. He left a wife and two children behind him. He was a close colleague of Brian Lenihan and C. J. Haughey Had he lived he would undoubtedly have been a senior political player for many years more. His nephew Desmond O'Malley succeeded him as the TD for Limerick East.

Sunday, 7 September 2014


9 September circa 544/45 AD: The death of Naomh Ciarán (Saint Kieran) of Clonmacnoise on this day. He was born around 512 AD in Fuerty, County Roscommon. The son of Beoit, a carpenter and wheelwright, he inherited a love of learning from his mother’s side of the family, as his maternal grandfather had been a bard, poet, and historian. Baptized by deacon Justus, who also served as his first tutor he continued his education at the monastery of Clonard, which was led by St. Finnian. After completing his studies under Finnian, he left Clonard and moved to the monastery of Inishmore in the Aran Isles, which was directed by St. Enda.


After many wanderings he eventually settled at a location in the centre of Ireland, on the east bank of the River Shannon at a place called the meadows of the sons of Noise: Cluan mac Noise as Gaeilge or in the English language: Clonmacnoise. It was here he laid the foundations of what became one of Ireland’s greatest monasteries that was to last nearly a 1,000 years through many trials and turmoils. St. Ciarán’s task was greatly eased by the help and lands he received from Diarmait mac Cerbaill, the last pagan King of Tara. However just not long after he had commenced his great work St. Ciarán died. His early demise was in all probability from the Bléfed (the Great Plague) that was sweeping across Europe at the time and had made its way to the shores of Ireland.

Due to his great learning, his sanctity, and the generosity he displayed to those less fortunate in life and because of his prominence in the early Irish church, St. Ciarán is known as one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland.”

The panel above shows what is believed to be a representation of St Ciarán and King Diarmait mac Cerbaill planting a stake in the ground at Clonmacnoise. If so it shows the symbiotic relationship between Church & State in early Medieval Ireland - the Church gained protection and the King gained the blessing of the Church - even though in this case King Diarmait was a Pagan!