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Thursday, 19 October 2017

19 October 1745: Jonathan Swift died in Dublin on this day. He was 77 years old. He was a brilliant satirist, an essayist, a political pamphleteer (first for Whigs then for the Tories), and a poet. Ordained a Cleric he went on to become the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. He is remembered for works such as Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier's Letters, The Battle of the Books, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, and A Tale of a Tub. While living in London in 1711 he wrote The Conduct of the Allies an attack upon the conduct of the War with France and Spain.

The success of this pamphlet has scarcely a parallel in history. It seems to have for a time almost reversed the current of public opinion, and to have enabled the Ministers to conclude the Peace of Utrecht.

He held a Doctor of Divinity degree from the Established Church of Ireland and it was in his later years that he was appointed Dean Of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. He was though never really happy in that role and devoted most of his time and energy to literary and political activities. He was a constant thorn in the side of the Dublin Administration and an advocate of Ireland controlling her own destiny - though within the Protestant framework.

He is still one of the best known literary figures of the 18th Century throughout the English speaking World. His novel Gulliver's Travels is one of the most widely known works of fiction in the English language.

His last years were sad ones as his friends died off and his intellectual capacity deserted him. Definite symptoms of madness appeared in 1738. In 1741 guardians were appointed to take care of his affairs and watch lest that in his outbursts of violence he should do himself harm. In 1742 he suffered great pain from the inflammation of his left eye, which swelled to the size of an egg; five attendants had to restrain him from tearing out his eye. He went a whole year without uttering a word.

After being laid out in public view for the people of Dublin to pay their last respects, he was buried in his own cathedral by Esther Johnson's [Stella] side, in accordance with his wishes. The bulk of his fortune (twelve thousand pounds) was left to found a hospital for the mentally ill, originally known as St Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles, which opened in 1757, and which still exists today as a psychiatric hospital.

“When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
Abolishing Christianity and other Essays

Picture: Jonathan Swift, by Rupert Barber, circa 1745 [above]

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

18 October circa 1720: Peg Woffington, the most beautiful and talented actress of her Age, was born in Dublin on this date. She was born into poor circumstances in the Dame street area of the city centre. Her father was a bricklayer but died when she was still a child leaving her mother and her siblings to fend for themselves. At an early age she displayed a gift for the stage and in between helping her mother sell watercress on the streets of Dublin she developed her career in the City's theatres.

At the age of 10 she had made her stage debut in a Juvenile production of The Beggars Opera. She made her name in Ireland as Ophelia in a 1737 production of Hamlet and came to London in 1740. There she was an immediate success. One of her most celebrated roles was as Sir Harry Wilder, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. She caused quite a stir in this part by wearing breeches.

Woffington enjoyed success in the role of Sylvia in The Recruiting Officer. She performed at Drury Lane for several years and later returned to Dublin, appearing in a variety of plays. Her most well-received performances were in comic roles, such as elegant women of fashion like Lady Betty Modish and Lady Townley, and breeches roles. But she was impeded in the performance of tragedy by a harsh tone in her voice that she did her best to overcome.

She lived openly with David Garrick, the foremost actor of the day, and her other love affairs (including liaisons with Edward Bligh, 2nd Earl of Darnley and MP Charles Hanbury Williams) were numerous and notorious. For whatever reason, Woffington left Garrick in about 1744 and moved to Teddington, into a house called Teddington Place.

She pursued a successful stage career in London and also briefly in Paris. When she returned to Dublin she was a sensation as people flocked in droves to see her perform at the famous Smock Alley Theatre. Again though her amorous affairs cost her dear and she departed to once again act upon the London Stage.

But tragedy struck short her career when, at London’s Covent Garden in 1757, and playing the part of Rosalind in As You Like It she took ill on stage and could not continue. Her last words as an actress were:

If I were a woman, I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased . . .

A spectator described what then happened:

Her voice broke, she faltered, endeavoured to go on but could not proceed – then in a voice of tremor cried ‘Oh, God! Oh, God!’ [she] tottered to the stage door speechless, where she was caught. The audience of course applauded until she was out of sight and then sank into awful looks of astonishment . . . to see one of the most handsome women of the age, a favourite principal actress . . . struck so suddenly by the hand of death.
Tate Wilkinson, Memoirs 1790

A broken women she lingered on for a number of years but never made a full recovery. A generous benefactor she died in her house at Teddington, London on 28 March 1760.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

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17 October 1803 William Smith O'Brien the Nationalist politician and Young Irelander, was born in Dromoland, Co. Clare on this day. O'Brien was educated in England and was a Conservative when elected to Parliament from Ennis in 1829. However, his politics changed once there and by 1844 he supported Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Movement. He soon became a member of the Young Irelanders. In 1848 he was part of a Delegation that went to Paris to congratulate the birth of the Second Republic, they returned with a new flag for Ireland - Green, White and Orange.

That year the British suspended habeas corpus and began arresting all the Young Ireland leaders. Smith eluded escape for a time and led a brief, abortive rising in Tipperary. He was arrested and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered but the sentence was reduced to penal servitude for life in Tasmania.

After serving five years there, he was given partial pardon in 1854 and then a full pardon two years later. As he prepared to leave Australia in '54 he was given a series of dinners and testimonials and presented with gifts by the Irish population of the area. O'Brien lived in Brussels until his final pardon came through and then returned to Ireland but did not participate in Irish politics again. On June 16, 1864, he died in Bangor, Wales. He is buried in Rathronan churchyard in Co. Limerick.

There is a statue of him in Dublin's O'Connell Street [above]

Monday, 16 October 2017

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16 October 1854: Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin on this day. His father Dr. William Wilde was a renowned medical statistician and he was knighted for his work. He also had an international reputation as an antiquarian and archaeologist and he was recognised as an expert on Irish pre-history. His mother Jane Wilde was a figure in her own right. She became closely associated with the Young Irelanders, Thomas Davis, William Smith O'Brien and Charles Gavan Duffy and she wrote revolutionary poetry for 'The Nation' newspaper under the pseudonym ‘Speranza’. She subsequently became a leading society hostess in Dublin.

The Wildes' house at 21 Westland Row attracted some of the leading figures in art, literature, science and medicine - including John Hogan, Samuel Ferguson and William Rowan Hamilton. It was here that Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was brought into this world in which he would prove to be such a delightful yet such a tragic figure. He became fluent in French and German early in life.

Until he was nine he was educated at home by a French Governess and he was sent to the Portora Royal School at Enniskillen to complete his secondary education. While there he excelled in the Classics, taking top prize in his last two years, and also earning a second prize in drawing. In 1871, Oscar was awarded the Royal School Scholarship to attend Trinity College in Dublin. Again, he did particularly well in his classics courses, placing first in his examinations in 1872 and earning the highest honour the college could bestow on an undergraduate, a Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, Oscar crowned his successes at Trinity with two final achievements. He won the college's Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship scholarship to Magdalen College in Oxford. After finishing his scholastic career in Oxford he moved to London where his literary career took off.

There is a colourful edifice of Oscar [left] in Merrion Square Dublin directly across the road from No 1 Merrion Sq. where he spent most of his childhood years. It attracts many visitors each day. Though perhaps the most famous and popular one to his memory is his mausoleum in the graveyard of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery [ right] in Paris where he is buried. Which is as far as I could judge on the day I visited it some years ago by far the most popular attraction in that most famous of cemeteries.

A man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her.
Oscar Wilde

Sunday, 15 October 2017

15 October 1945: The death of Eoin MacNeill occurred in Dublin on this day. Born in County Antrim he became a scholar of the Irish language, a prominent nationalist, a revolutionary and a politician.. He was a co-founder of the Gaelic League, founded to preserve the Irish language and culture. In 1909 he was appointed foundation Professor of Early Irish History in UCD and was elected to the first Senate of the new NUI where, along with Douglas Hyde, he campaigned to make Irish a compulsory subject for entry to the university.

While primarily a scholar and cultural activist, in an article entitled ‘The North began’ in An Claidheamh Soluis [Sword of Light] on 1 November 1913, McNeill advocated the formation of a national volunteer force on the lines of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The organisation was established in Dublin on 25 November with the intent to back the push for Home Rule by force of arms if necessary.

He was Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers at the time of the Easter Rising but was kept out of it and indeed tried to stop it as he foresaw a bloody failure if it went ahead. On the eve of the planned  Rising ( 22 April 1916) he issued his infamous countermand order to try and stop the Rising going ahead:

"Volunteers completely deceived. All orders for tomorrow, Sunday, are completely cancelled...

As a result the Revolt went off at half cock and only in Dublin did enough Volunteers turn out to be able to make a go of it to take on the British Army in battle. But for all his attempts to stop the Rising he was interned in Frognoch Camp in Wales with the other prisoners taken in the aftermath and remained under British suspicion on release.

He supported the Treaty in 1921 and held the Cabinet position of Minister of Education in the first Free State Government. He represented the State on the Anglo Irish Boundary Commission in 1925 but resigned when the findings were leaked to a British newspaper. He lost his seat in the 1927 General Election. In that same year he was the first man to come across Kevin O’Higgins as he lay fatally injured after being shot near his home on Booterstown Avenue in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

He retired from politics completely and became Chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission. He published a number of books on Irish history incl. Phases of Irish History (1919) and Celtic Ireland (1921) His work on early Irish History was ground breaking esp. his study of Kingship and succession rights in Ireland before the Anglo Norman Invasion in 1169 AD. Indeed he was one of the first Irish Historians to make a serious attempt to divide fact from myth in the study of the ancient sources of Irish History. His works are still of value today as one of the foundation stones of modern historical study in this Country.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

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14 October 1817: John Philpot Curran died on this day. He was one of the great Legal orators of his Age and a defender in the Courts of members of the United Irishmen. He was born in County Cork in 1750 and after receiving a local education was sent to Trinity College. He was intended for the Church of Ireland, and studied divinity, but never wrote more than two sermons. He switched to Law and moved to London to continue his studies at at the Middle Temple.

He suffered from a bad stammer that hampered his ability to speak publicly which he overcame by reciting the works of Shakespeare in front of a mirror until he mastered his impediment. During his second year in London he married his cousin, Miss Sarah Creagh. Her fortune and some money supplied by his family supported them until he was called to the Irish Bar in 1775. After a shaky start he soon built up a decent practise but could never free himself completely from Debt. His most famous early appearance in the Courts was  in Co Cork where he brought a case on behalf of a Catholic Priest Fr. Father Neale who had been horsewhipped by a local landlord Protestant Lord Doneraile. Against the odds Curran won the case and the priest was awarded 30 guineas! He afterwards fought a duel with a Captain St. Leger over this affair but both survived unscathed and indeed Curran was a notable duellist surviving a number of encounters.

In 1783 he entered the Parliament in Dublin  as member for Kilbeggan; three years afterwards he was returned for Rathcormack, which he represented until 1797. But he seems to have left little mark there and his great oratorical powers were confined to the Courts and his wit and intelligence in private conversations. He was an advocate of Catholic Emancipation [namely the right of Catholics to be elected to Parliament] and defended a number of the United Irishmen in the Courts. Amongst his most famous cases being Hamilton Ronan, Napper Tandy, the Sheares Brothers, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Wolfe Tone in 1798. He was not a member of any revolutionary organisations himself did not seek or desire the violent overthrow of the Established Order in Ireland at that time.
It was in 1803 that Curran’s most infamous entanglement in Irish affairs took place when circumstances placed him at the centre of events that involved politics, his legal career and his family. It was not a happy mixture for him. The attempted revolt of Robert Emmet that summer had ended in a bloody Fiasco and in the tumult Lord Kilwarden ( a friend to Curran) had been dragged from his carriage in the streets of Dublin and hacked to pieces. It could have fallen to Curran to defend Robert Emmet of the charges brought against him. However to complicate matters further Curran’s beautiful daughter Sarah was in affair of sorts with Robert. They were secretly engaged but to how deep a degree it went after that we do not know. Correspondence was discovered between them and seen by her father. Thereafter he would have nothing to do with defending Emmet from the charges brought against him and he immediately disowned his daughter forever.

Devastated by the turn of events in Ireland he nevertheless accepted the position of Master of the Rolls for Ireland in 1806 and this brought in a lucrative salary and pension. Whether you could say he was ‘bought’ at this stage is an open question but in fairness to him he never sought Revolution but Reform.

His life became even more unhappy. His wife of many years left him and he was depressed also by the state Ireland was in after the Act of Union, without a Parliament of its own and under England’s Rule. The affairs of Ireland and the World weighed heavily upon him in his latter years:

"Everything I see disgusts and depresses me: I look back at the streaming of blood for so many years, and everything everywhere relapsed into its former degradation — France rechained, Spain again saddled for the priests, and Ireland, like a bastinadoed elephant, kneeling to receive the paltry rider."

After his resignation of this office in 1814 he resided much at his mansion in Brompton, London where he enjoyed the society of Erskine, Horne Tooke, Sheridan, the Prince Regent, Thomas Moore, and William Godwin.

In the summer of 1817 he was attacked by paralysis at the table of his friend Thomas Moore, in London. After his return home, another attack supervened, and he succumbed in London, 14th October 1817, aged 67. He was initially buried in Paddington Cemetery. His dying wish was to be interred in Ireland. In 1834 his remains arrived in Dublin on a very wet and stormy night and were brought to Glasnevin cemetery by torch light where they were reburied in an impressive sarcophagus that stands intact to this day.

Friday, 13 October 2017

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13 October 1881: Charles Stuart Parnell MP was arrested in Morrison’s Hotel, Dublin and conveyed to Kilmainham Jail on this day. The British Prime Minister Gladstone had ordered Parnell’s arrest the previous night after a Cabinet meeting. He then and there dispatched Mr Foster (Britain’s Chief Secretary for Ireland) to Dublin with orders to capture the Irish Leader. Detectives Mallon and Sheridan of the ‘G’ Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police carried out the arrest. They arrived at the hotel and asked the hotel porter to request an interview with Mr Parnell. The leader of the Land League asked for time to dress and then called up his two visitors who were greeted with the words Do you intend to arrest me?Yes - replied John Mallon.

The trio went downstairs and into a waiting cab, though Parnell refused to leave until he had been given 10% off the Bill! Mallon then gave the order to Kilmainham and they set off with a police escort to the notorious jail. Once there Parnell was incarcerated with the other political prisoners already held being held there.

He wrote to his lover Katharine O’Shea when he was arrested:

‘Politically it is a fortunate thing for me that I have been arrested, as the movement is breaking fast and all will be quiet in a few months, when I shall be released’.

For the arrest of Parnell backfired on the British Government as left without a Leader the rural population increasingly turned to Captain Moonlight* to settle agrarian disputes - as Parnell had predicted at the time of his arrest!

By the start of 1882, Irish agrarian unrest escalated to unprecedented levels (3,433 episodes of agrarian violence were recorded) and it was clear to both Gladstone and Parnell that it was time to reach a compromise.

The Kilmainham Treaty was agreed. The agreement was that Gladstone would amend the Land Act of 1881 to include tenants in arrears and leaseholders; drop coercion; and release ‘suspects’ in police custody. In return, Parnell would help to pacify the people of Ireland and co–operate with the Liberal Party in forwarding Liberal principles and measures of general reform. Parnell was released on 2 May 1882 and crossed directly to England where he made a dramatic appearance in the House of Commons.

* Attackers in the moonlight

Thursday, 12 October 2017

12 October 1984: An IRA bomb at the Grand Hotel, Brighton killed five members of the Conservative Party and narrowly missed killing the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – it’s intended target. Until that time this was the most audacious attack ever undertaken against a British Leader. Thatcher was lucky in that her room was changed from the previous years and this saved her life. For the IRA bomber - Patrick Magee - had booked into her old room weeks previously and planted a bomb with a timing device primed to explode on the night she would arrive.
The bomb detonated at 2:54 a.m. on 12 October. The mid-section of the building collapsed into the basement, leaving a gaping hole in the hotel's façade. Firemen said that many lives were likely saved because the well-built Victorian hotel remained standing. Margaret Thatcher was still awake at the time, working on her conference speech for the next day in her suite. The blast badly damaged her bathroom, but left her sitting room and bedroom unscathed. Both she and her husband Denis escaped injury. She changed her clothes and was led out through the wreckage along with her husband and Cynthria Crawford (her friend and aide) and driven to Brighton police station.

Those killed were Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry, Eric Taylor (North-West Area Chairman of the Conservative Party), Lady Jeanne Shattock (wife of Sir Gordon Shattock, Western Area Chairman of the Conservative Party), Lady Muriel Maclean (wife of Sir Donald Maclean, President of the Scottish Conservatives), and Roberta Wakeham (wife of Parliamentary Treasury Secretary John Wakeham). Donald and Muriel Maclean were in the room in which the bomb exploded.

Several more, including Margaret Tebbit—the wife of Norman Tebbit, who was then President of the Board of Trade—were left permanently disabled. Thirty-four people were taken to hospital and recovered from their injuries. When hospital staff asked Tebbit whether he was allergic to anything, he famously answered "bombs"

That night the IRA issued a statement:

Mrs. Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country and torture our prisoners and shoot our people in their own streets and get away with it. Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war.

11‭ ‬October‭ ‬1741:‭ ‬Birth of James Barry,‭ ‬the great neo Classicalist Painter,‭ ‬in Cork on this day.‭ ‬His contemporaries considered Barry a child prodigy.‭ ‬He started painting while still in Cork and then moved to Dublin.‭ ‬There‭ ‬he produced several large pictures,‭ ‬which decorated his father's house,‭ ‬such as‭ ‬Aeneas escaping with his Family from the Flames of Troy,‭ ‬Susanna and the Elders and‭ ‬Daniel in the Lions‭' ‬Den.‭ ‬The painting that first brought him into widespread public notice,‭ ‬and gained him the acquaintance and patronage of Edmund Burke,‭ ‬was founded on an old tradition St Patrick visiting Cashel,‭ ‬and of the conversion of its king in‭ ‬The Baptism of the King of Cashel by St Patrick.‭

After some time in Dublin he made his way to London where he gained the patronage of Edmund Burke and won renown for his artistic talent.‭ ‬He then went on an extended‭ ‬tour,‭ ‬first to Paris,‭ ‬then to Rome,‭ ‬where he remained upwards of three years,‭ ‬from Rome to Florence and Bologna,‭ ‬and thence to Venice.‭ ‬He returned to London in about‭ ‬1771.‭ ‬There he produced his picture of‭ ‬Venus,‭ ‬which was compared to the Galatea of Raphael,‭ ‬the Venus of Titian and the Venus de Medici.

He is‭ ‬best remembered though for his six part series of paintings entitled‭ ‬The Progress of Human Culture in the Great Room of the Royal Society of Arts in London,‭ ‬in which city he made the rest of his career.

He produced numerous paintings in the course of artistic career that varied greatly in accomplishment but little in style.‭ ‬He was determined to follow his own path in life and in Art and while this won him admiration it also lost him friends and more crucially Patrons in an Age when patronage was essential to social advancement.‭

He died in London on‭ ‬22‭ ‬February‭ ‬1806‭ ‬and the following month‭ ‬his remains were interred in St Paul’s Cathedral,‭ ‬London.

Above: Self portrait circa 1803: National Gallery of Ireland

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

10 October 1918: The sinking of the mailboat RMS Leinster in the Irish Sea on this day. The ship was sunk by a German submarine and went down very rapidly. Over 500 men, women and children were drowned. It was the greatest loss of life suffered by an Irish owned vessel in the 20th century. The ship had set sail from Kingstown [Dún Laoghaire ] for Holyhead, Wales. She was only just over the horizon soon after 10am that morning when disaster struck. The first torpedo hit her forward on the port side which blew open the mail sorting office aboard and killed many of the Royal Mail employees.

RMS Leinster (2,640 gross tons) was built in 1897 at Laird Brothers, Birkenhead for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. At the time she was one of the fastest ships at sea with a speed of 24 knots.

Captain Birch ordered the ship to make a U-turn in an attempt to return to port but the ship began to settle slowly by the bow; however the ship sank rapidly after a third torpedo struck her, causing a huge explosion. Attempts were made to launch the lifeboats but panic ensued as there was a mad scramble for them.

The ship's log states that she carried 77 crew and 694 passengers on her final voyage and at least 501 people are known to have been drowned - the vast majority serving military personnel from the British Army, Royal Navy and the RAF. Captain Birch was lost in the rescue operation undertaken by HMS Lively, Mallard & Seal. Survivors were brought ashore at Kingstown where emergency services treated them.

Ironically the U Boat that sank her was herself lost soon after. The UB-123 was probably lost in a minefield in the North Sea on its way back to Germany, on or about 19 October 1918. The bodies of her commander Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm and his crew of two officers and thirty-three men were never recovered.

The sinking of the Leinster had international ramifications. Delicate behind the scenes negotiations were going on to bring the War to an end. When US President Wilson heard the news he stalled the talks telling the Germans that, amongst other things there could be no peace as long as Germany attacked passenger ships. This was technically true but the ship was protected by Royal Navy sailors and armed with a 12 pounder. She was painted in camouflage colours and was carrying serving military personnel returning to Active Service. To the Germans she would have been seen as a legitimate target.

Nevertheless within days the German High Command realised the game was up. On 21 October Reinhard Scheer, Admiral of the German High Seas Fleet, signalled his submarines:

"To all U-boats: Commence return from patrol at once. Because of ongoing negotiations any hostile actions against merchant vessels prohibited. Returning U-boats are allowed to attack warships only in daylight. End of message. Admiral."

One Month later the War was over. In the months and years that followed the loss of the Leinster was forgotten due to the great events that followed in Ireland in the aftermath of the War. It is only within the last decade or so that this tragedy has finally been given recognition as something that has its place in Irish History.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Illustration: John Harris (1791-1873)

9 October 1834: The first railway in Ireland - the Dublin to Kingstown line - opened for business on this day. The novelty of a railway for commercial purposes was a relatively recent one the first being the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830. The town of Dún Laoghaire some eight miles south east of Dublin possessed a deep water port that was viable for vessels that could not make it up the river Liffey. A group of businessmen decided to develop a rail line between the two urban centres to turn a profit from this new mode of transportation.  For this purpose a company was formed the Dublin and Kingstown Rail Company, with a capital of £200,000, and the necessary Act of Parliament (I & 2 Wm. IV, Cap. 69) received Royal assent on 6th September 1831.

From the start though the scheme met with opposition from two different landowners who insisted on large cash compensations and in the case of Lord Cloncurry  the building of a private foot bridge over the line to a bathing area complete with a Romanesque temple, a short tunnel and a cutting to maintain his privacy!

The contract was given to William Dargan, son of a tenant farmer from near Carlow, who had already established a reputation as a road and canal builder. Work began in April 1833. At one stage 1,800 men were toiling away. Work at the Dublin end went on around the clock. At night the scene was lit by coal and wood fires and blazing tar barrels.

The Dublin Penny Journal of 25th October 1834, gives the following description...
On the 9th instant a train of carriages, crowded with ladies and gentlemen, proceeded the entire length of the line from the station-house at Westland Row to Salt-hill. There were eight carriages attached to the train; one of the first class, three second, and four of the third class. The first trip was made by the locomotive engine called the 'Hibernia",* and with the many disadvantages attendant on a first starting, the trip to the station-house at Salt-hill was performed in fifteen minutes and a half; and back to Dublin in twenty-two and a half minutes Having joined in one of these trips we were delighted with the perfect ease and safety with which it was performed; there is so little motion perceptible even when going at the quickest rate, that we could read or write without the slightest inconvenience.

The Neighbourhood of Dublin: The History of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway

Weston St. John Joyce

* The Hibernia had been specially built for the Dublin and Kingstown Rail Company by Richard Roberts, a Welsh engineer.

Full services began in November but contrary to the expectations of the investors from the start (as elsewhere) it proved to be hugely popular with the general public who flocked to the carriages in droves to go on excursions. The line (with some adjustments) is still in operation today and is one the oldest in the world to still do so.

    Illustration: John Harris (1791-1873) : Train leaving Westland Row station, Dublin.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

8 October 1899: The foundation stone of a monument to Charles Stewart Parnell was laid in Upper Sackville (O'Connell) Street, Dublin, on this day. The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Daniel Tallon, marched at the head of a procession which that year replaced the usual demonstration at the grave of Charles Stewart Parnell in Glasnevin Cemetery, and subsequently laid the foundation stone of the Parnell Statue at the head of Sackville Street. It was completed in 1911.

When finished to monument was inscribed with a excerpt from one of Parnell’s most famous speeches:
No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country: ‘Thus far shalt thou go, and no further’; and we have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland's nationhood, and we never shall.

Parnell had led the Irish Parliamentary Party to some of its greatest triumphs and to some of its greatest defeats. A man with a commanding presence he put the question of Ireland at the heart of British Politics. He was brought down as a result of his liaison with another man’s wife - Kitty O’Shea. He died in 1891 and his stature with the Irish rose again with his internment in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. The monument was erected to honour his name - it still stands today.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

7 October 1921: Eamon de Valera, the President of Ireland issued secret instructions to the plenipotentiaries about to depart to London on this day. They were to begin negotiations with the British Government to secure a Treaty that would give recognition to Ireland’s claim to be an independent Nation.
They were as follows:

(1) The Plenipotentiaries have full powers as defined in their credentials.

(2) It is understood however that before decisions are finally reached on the main questions that a despatch notifying the intention of making these decisions will be sent to the Members of the Cabinet in Dublin and that a reply will be awaited by the Plenipotentiaries before the final decision is made.

(3) It is also understood that the complete text of the draft treaty about to be signed will be similarly submitted to Dublin and reply awaited.

(4) In case of break the text of final proposals from our side will be similarly submitted.

(5) It is understood that the Cabinet in Dublin will be kept regularly informed of the progress of the negotiations

De Valera was concerned that the meeting of the inexperienced Irish delegates with some of the most astute and clever minds in British politics would leave the Irish wrong footed and he wanted to ensure that any deal would have his Imprimatur on it before it was signed.
And indeed when the Treaty was signed in December of that year he was not happy with the result that gave the Irish Free State the status of a British Dominion rather than all of Ireland becoming an independent Republic.

Friday, 6 October 2017

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6 October 1731: Emily FitzGerald, Duchess of Leinster was born on this day. She was the daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond & his wife Lady Sarah Cadogan. Charles was a direct descendant of King Charles II but by a liaison outside of marriage. While English by birth Emily was to spend  much of her life in Ireland.

When she was 15 years old she fell madly in love with James FitzGerald, 20th Earl of Kildare. The Fitzgeralds were of a noble and ancient Anglo-Irish family who had been for many centuries influential in the affairs of Ireland. James was in his early twenties and something of ‘a man about town’ so it was decided that the best course of action was to marry them off as soon as possible. After their wedding in London, the couple returned to Fitzgerald's native Ireland, first residing at Leinster House in Dublin and then at their country estate Carton House in County Kildare. It was landscaped under the supervision of Emily in the then very fashionable jardin anglais manner popularised by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. They were to have seventeen children together incl. Lord Edward Fitzgerald who was a prominent member of the United Irishmen in the Rising of 1798 and died of wounds he received when he was captured by the forces of the Crown.

While by eighteenth century standards the union was a relatively successful one there is no doubt that her husband spread his affections elsewhere outside of the marriage bed. Emily though turned a blind eye to her husbands many infidelities and got on with raising her children. Though given her wealthy circumstances (James was one of the wealthiest men in Ireland) she would have had numerous maids and manservants to assist her in their upbringing. After the death of her parents she also helped raise her younger sisters and took them into her household.

Lord Kildare was created successively Marquess of Kildare and then the 1st Duke of Leinster in recognition of his contribution to the political life of his country. After the death of the Duke in 1773 the Duchess caused a minor sensation by marrying  her children's tutor William Ogilvie. He was a dour Scotsman who was a tutor to her children, with whom she had begun an affair some years earlier. To get away from the gossip and scandal associated with marrying someone of a much lower status in Society they got married in Toulouse in France. Despite her remarriage she continued to be known as The Dowager Duchess of Leinster. Ogilvie was nine years her junior, and was the natural father of her youngest son from her first marriage. They returned from France in 1779 &  eventually settled in Ardglass, Co Down where Ogilvie worked hard to develop the village as a going concern. She bore him three children two of which survived till adulthood.

She had three sisters Caroline (1723–74), Louisa (1743–1821), and Sarah (1745–1826) who married prominent men and attracted varying degrees of admiration or notoriety. A fifth sister - Cecilia -died aged 19, and two others in infancy. Emily FitzGerald, Duchess of Leinster died in Grosvenor Square London on 27 March 1814.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

5 October 1968: A Civil Rights march attended by some 2,000 people and organised by local activists and the NICRA was attacked by the RUC in the Waterside district of Derry. Serious rioting then erupted in the wake of the breaking up of the demonstrators. That night and the following day further clashes occurred and some 80 members of the public and 11 RUC men were injured. The pictures subsequently shown on TV throughout Britain and Ireland and further afield awoke large bodies of public opinion to the sectarian nature of the northern State and from that day on the ‘Troubles’ in the North were to be continually front page news.

'The Civil Rights march in Derry on 5 October 1968 was organised to draw attention to a series of grievances over issues related to housing, employment and electoral practices in the city. The driving force behind the idea for the march was a group of left-wing radicals who, through the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) and other organisations, had been taking non-violent direct action to try and improve conditions in the area. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was contacted and following a meeting the NICRA decided to support the proposed march. When the march was publicised Loyalists announced that they were holding an 'annual' parade on the same day, at the same time, and over the same route. The Stormont government then issued a banning order on all marches and parades. When the demonstration went ahead the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) blocked the route of the march and then baton charged the crowd. The scenes were recorded by television cameras and the subsequent news coverage sparked rioting in Derry. Most commentators consider the 5 October 1968 to be the start date of 'the Troubles'.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

4 October 1957: Sputnik/Спутник over Ireland. The Soviet Union amazed the World when it launched the first man made object into orbit around the Earth – Sputnik 1 - on this day. Sputnik was a small silver-coloured ball 58cm (2 feet) in diameter, with four frond-like antennae and two radio transmitters. Radio stations rushed to record and re-broadcast the crackly 'beep-beep' signal emitted by the satellite, and it became an iconic sound for a new era - the space generation. The signals continued for 21 days until the transmitter batteries ran out on 26 October 1957.

By a fortuitous coincidence the trajectory of the satellite brought it over Ireland and many thousands of Irish people were able to witness the birth of the Space Age. The rocket booster used to launch the metal ball was visible high in the night sky as it orbited the Earth. People from Dublin drove up into the Dublin Mountains to see it more clearly away from the city lights and were not disappointed to see the distinct object as it made its way overhead – incl. Yours truly!

I remember it as a red dot high above  and indeed I had no idea what I was doing up in the mountains looking at the dark sky with my mother and uncle. I recall other people out of their cars doing the same thing. It was only many years later that I pieced it all together as to what this curious recollection buried in my childhood memories actually was.

So for once I can say I witnessed a major historical event and the birth of an Age: The Space Age!

3 October 1981: The Irish Hunger Strike of 1981 ended on this day. The remaining prisoners on the strike in the H Blocks [above] of Long Kesh issued a statement which read in part:

We, the protesting Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks, being faced with the reality of sustained family intervention, are forced by this circumstance, over which we have little control at the moment, to end the hunger strike...

Our comrades have lit with their very lives an eternal beacon which will inspire this nation and people to rise and crush oppression forever and this nation can be proud that it produced such a quality of manhood...

We reaffirm our commitment to the achievement of the five demands by whatever means we believe necessary and expedient. We rule nothing out. Under no circumstances are we going to devalue the memory of our dead comrades by submitting ourselves to a dehumanising and degrading regime.

On 6 October 1981 James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced a series of measures which went a long way to meeting many aspects of the prisoners' five demands.

The hunger strike of 1981 had very important and far-reaching consequences and proved to be one of the key turning points of 'the Troubles'. The Republican movement had achieved a huge propaganda victory over the British government and had obtained a lot of international sympathy. Active and tacit support for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) increased in Nationalist areas. Political support for Sinn Féin (SF) was demonstrated in two by-elections (and the general election in the Republic of Ireland) and eventually led to the emergence of SF as a significant political force in Ireland

The Republican prisoners who died on Hunger Strike that year were:

Bobby Sands

Francis Hughes

Ray McCreesh

Patsy O'Hara

Joe McDonnell

Martin Hurson

Kevin Lynch

Kieran Doherty

Thomas McElwee

Michael Devine

Monday, 2 October 2017

2 October 1600: The Battle of the Moyry Pass /Cath Bealach na mhaighre on this day. The 'Gap of the North' was the traditional invasion route between Ulster and Leinster going back centuries. It began with a clash of arms between the forces of Aodh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone and the army of the English Viceroy, Lord Mountjoy. He brought with him some 3,000 foot soldiers and 300 cavalry to try and crush O'Neill's revolt against the English Queen Elizabeth I. The size of O'Neill's force is unknown but was probably in the range of 1,500-2,000 men of all arms.

The battle was initiated by Mountjoy who tried to force his way through the pass west of Newry, which the Irish had fortified. His forces were repulsed with loss and despite repeated attempts over the following days he could not break the Irish lines.

On the 9th he withdrew towards Dundalk. Honour satisfied and with his supplies low the Earl withdrew towards Dungannon. Mountjoy then cautiously advanced through the Pass to build Fort Norris and in which he placed a garrison of some 400 men. He then went back to Dundalk, not through the pass (where an ambush was possible), but by way of Carlingford. However O'Neill attacked him anyway when he withdrew and harassed his columns from the woods as they marched by the lough.

But the lateness of the season meant this campaign was now over. O’Neill had done enough to stymie the Viceroy’s attempt to take Dungannon that year and cost the English hundreds of casualties in their futile attempts to take his power base. But Irish losses were heavy too and O'Neill could not so easily replace the expenditure of arms and munitions like Mountjoy was capable of so doing. Of the defences the English encountered in this battle one wrote he never saw: a more villainous piece of work, and an impossible thing for an army to pass without intolerable loss.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

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1 October 1795: St Patricks College, Maynooth/Coláiste Naoimh Phádraig, Maigh Nuad opened its doors on this day. This was a seminal moment in the history of Church-State relations in Ireland as an accommodation was reached - that would see the British Government fund the training of Catholic priests in Ireland! Before this seminarians went abroad to complete their training for the priesthood. It was hoped that such a gesture would at least mean that the Irish Catholic Hierarchy would acquiesce in upholding the Law in Ireland and discourage and condemn any violent attempt at its overthrow.

This arrangement came about as a direct result of the 1789 French Revolution which saw the overthrow of the Monarchy there and the persecution of the Catholic Religion. Many priests and prelates had to flee France and return home. The Seminaries in France and others in places conquered by the Revolutionary Armies were thus no longer available.

At home the winds of Revolution were blowing across the land - and the distinct possibility of an Insurrection weighed on the minds of the British. The Catholic Church was the strongest and most cohesive entity amongst the Catholic People. With the Penal Laws being abolished one by one the need to bring the Church within the fold was an imperative that became daily more apparent.

In 1795 the British brought in the Maynooth College Act which was: An Act for the better Education of Persons professing the Popish, or Roman Catholick Religion. It provided a modest grant to establish a college.

'The Bishops began to look for a site. It was desirable that the College be near Dublin, but they found themselves not exactly welcome in several desirable locations. They settled on Maynooth because the local magnate, the Duke of Leinster, was benevolent, and his Duchess even more so. This more than compensated for the fact that Maynooth was a little more distant from the city than they would have wished. The College opened in the autumn of 1795 in a house recently built by John Stoyte, steward of the Duke.'

Since then the College has trained over 11,000 priests and while also a lay college when it opened that closed in 1817. However since the 1970s more and more lay students have been taken in. Today they make up the vast majority of students in attendance and Maynooth is now one of the major centres of learning in Ireland.

Friday, 29 September 2017

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29 September 1972: The death of Kathleen Clarke née Daly on this day. She was the widow of Thomas Clarke who had been executed by the British after the 1916 Rising. However she was also a political activist in her own right especially in the years after the Rising and in the early years of the Irish Free State.

She was born in Limerick in 1878 into a large family with connections to the Fenian Movement. In her early adulthood Kathleen went into the dressmaking business and did well for herself. When Thomas Clarke came out of prison in 1898 she was introduced to him by her Uncle. They quickly fell in love and married in New York in 1901. She was 23 years old and he was over 40.

Tom worked for John Devoy and the American Fenian group, Clan na Gael whose aim was to rid Ireland of British Rule. They returned to Ireland in 1907 with their young family in order to play their part in the coming struggle. He opened a tobacco shop in Dublin’s City Centre. In between having more children she was active as a founder member of Cumann na mBan, and worked hard at fundraising as well as raising her family and helping to run the shop.

After the week-long fighting and the surrender, Kathleen was taken to visit her husband in Kilmainham Jail the night before his execution. The interview lasted almost two hours, then Kathleen had to leave; Tom was shot in the early morning on 3 May. The following night she was back in the jail, with two of her sisters, to say goodbye to their brother Ned; he was executed on 4 May.

In May 1918 she was arrested by the British and spent 11 months in Holloway Jail in England. In 1919 she was elected as an Alderman for the Wood Quay and Mountjoy Wards of Dublin Corporation. In 1921 she was elected to the 2nd Dáil and afterwards she opposed the Treaty. She joined Fianna Fail on its foundation in 1926 won was elected a TD in the 1st election of 1927 but lost it in the 2nd contest of that year. She was the elected to the 1st Seanad in 1928 and served until its abolition in 1936.

In 1930 she was elected to the re-constituted Dublin Corporation for Fianna Fáil. She opposed the Constitution of Ireland of 1936 as she felt that several of its sections would place women in a lower position that they had been afforded in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

The peak of her political career came in 1941 when she became the Lord Mayor of Dublin. She was the first woman to hold that Office. She declined to stand as a Fianna Fáil candidate at the 1943 general election She helped found the Irish Red Cross while Lord Mayor of Dublin. However she split from De Valera & FF after that and contested the 1948 election for Clan na Poblactha but was not elected.

She died in a Liverpool Nursing Home in 1972 and was given a State Funeral. She is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery in Dublin. Her gravestone is inscribed with the name she wished to be known by: Caitlín Bean Uí Chléirigh (Kathleen, Mrs Clarke).

Thursday, 28 September 2017

28 September 1912: 'Ulster Day' The signing of the Solemn League and Covenant on this day. It was signed by the Loyalist men and the women signed a similar Declaration. It was taken by some 500,000 Ulster Unionists in protest against the passing of the Third Home Rule Bill by the British Parliament. Sir Edward Carson was the first person to sign as the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

This public avowal of repudiation of the terms of the Bill alerted the political establishments in both Britain and Ireland that a major Constitutional Crises was brewing that would split Nations and Parties apart.

237,368 men signed it and 234,046 women signed a parallel declaration.

The Covenant ran as follows:

BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as of the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the Empire, we, whose names are underwritten, men of Ulster, loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George V., humbly relying on the God whom our fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant, throughout this our time of threatened calamity, to stand by one another in defending, for ourselves and our children, our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, and in using all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland. And in the event of such a Parliament being forced upon us, we further solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognise its authority. In sure confidence that God will defend the right, we hereto subscribe our names.
And further, we individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant.

However the key words within that were to have such fraught consequences were 'using all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland.'

This opened the way for the importation of arms into Ireland, firstly for the Ulster Unionists and later by Irish Nationalists. The introduction of the concept of armed force to settle political affairs was to have terrible repercussions that has lasted right up until modern times in Ireland.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

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27 September 1922: The Passing of the 'Public Safety Act' on this day. It was proposed by the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State. This Act was brought in to allow for the detainment and execution of those found in arms against the State. The Irish Free State was still in the process of formation at this stage but wide sections of the IRA and indeed the general public did not accept its Legitimacy.

On 28 June of that year the Irish Civil War had broken out in Dublin and quickly spread across the 26 Counties. The War soon degenerated into hit and run raids and sweeps and captures. There were numerous casualties on both sides. But the head of the new Government President WT Cosgrave felt that harsher methods were needed to bring the situation under control. In this he was fully supported by the Minister for Defence General Mulcahy who pressed for its introduction.

It was proposed amongst other measures that if persons were found guilty by Military Courts that they could face the death sentence:

The breach of any general order or regulation made by the Army Authorities and the infliction by such Military Courts or Committees of the punishment of death or of penal servitude for any period

Cosgrave spoke that:

If murderous attacks take place, those who persist in those murderous attacks must learn that they have got to pay the penalty for them…They must be taught that this Government is not going to suffer their soldiers to be maimed and ruined, crippled and killed, without at least bringing those responsible for such destruction before a tribunal that will deal out justice to those people.

The Labour Party Leader Thomas Johnson opposed the Bill likening it to a military dictatorship;

We are pretending to govern through this Dáil. We are supposed to have a Government which is responsible to this Dáil. The Government hands over that responsibility to an Army which is not fitted for this particular kind of work—entirely unfitted for this particular kind of work.

Thus it came about that on 27 September a Bill was put before the new parliament of Dáil Éireann was passed by 41 votes to 18 votes to allow its implementation.

Notwithstanding the misgivings of some the Bill was passed and after an Amnesty ran out the first executions took place in November. By the time the Civil war was over 77 men had been executed under its terms.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

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26 September 1902: The birth of James Dillon in Dublin on this day. Dillon was to become one of the most colourful and entertaining politicians in Ireland during the mid 20th century and was Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1966. He came from a family of politicians, his father John Dillon & his grandfather John Blake Dillon had been Members of Parliament under the British Regime and had supported Home Rule.

James Dillon qualified as a Barrister and was called to the Bar in 1931. He then went abroad to study business methods in Britain and the USA before returning home to run the family business. But it was in the field of politics that he made his mark. Between 1932 and 1937 Dillon served as a TD for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and later for Fine Gael. He played a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and would become a senior member of the party in later years. He remained as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969.

An intelligent man with an impressive oratory and a brilliant command of rhetoric he was perhaps too finely tuned an individual at times for his own good. He was in some respects a loner who stood out from the crowd. None more so than in the years of the Emergency when he advocated the Irish Free State joining the Allies in the war against the Axis Powers. He resigned from Fine Gael in 1942 over its refusal to back him on this.

The historian J.J.Lee believes that Dillon ‘showed great courage, if doubtful judgement, in defying the over-whelming consensus of Irish opinion, including that of his own party, in increasingly urging support for Britain and America, a position which obliged him to resign from Fine Gael in 1942 and plough his political furrow as an independent...

Times Literary Supplement 13 April 2001

After the War he was still an Independent and in that role served in the Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture (1948-1951) & later after re-joining FG in the same role in 1954-1957 in the inter Party Governments of John J. Costello. Times were very hard then but he made as good a job as he could of the role he was given. One of his major achievements as Minister for Agriculture was the Land Reclamation Programme. This scheme meant that more productive agricultural land was made available, especially in the West of Ireland.

In 1959 his fortunes changed again when he was elected Leader of Fine Gael and thus Leader of the Opposition. Brilliant oratorical performances followed but it was hard to dent the Fianna Fail Government of those years that oversaw the most dramatic rise in Irish living standards that had ever been seen. His last opportunity  came at the General Election of 1965 but a failure to cut a deal for a Coalition with the Labour Party meant that the odds were stacked against him and his Party. In the event Sean Lemass was returned as Taoiseach and Dillon’s tenure as Leader of Fine Gael came to an end. He retired from active politics in 1969 when he did not contest the General Election of that year. He died in Dublin in 1986 at the age of 83.