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Saturday, 16 December 2017


16 December 1971: General Richard Mulcahy died in Dublin on this day. Richard James Mulcahy was born in Waterford and educated by the Christian Brothers both there, and later in Thurles where his father was postmaster. He joined the post office and was employed initially at Bantry, transferring to the engineering department in Wexford and from there to Dublin. A member of the I. R. B. and the Gaelic League he joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913. He fought with Thomas Ashe in Ashbourne during Easter 1916, was imprisoned at Frongoch, and released in the general amnesty in 1917. Chief of Staff of the IRA, he was elected MP for the Clontarf Division in 1918 and served as Minister for Defence in the First Dáil until April 1919. He played an important role as the senior staff officer in the War of Independence ensuring that the IRA was organised and conducted its affairs as a disciplined force answerable to its officers.
He supported the Treaty and served as Minister for National Defence in the Provisional Government and succeeded Michael Collins as Commander in Chief of the Free State Army after his death. He gave the graveside oration at Michael Collins funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery. He exercised primary responsibility for the conduct of the Civil War campaign against anti-Treaty forces. He pressed for harsh measures against the Republican forces including the execution of men taken in arms. However his ability to balance calculated harsh measures against atrocities and unofficial reprisals carried out at local level was problematic to say the least. While his determination and ruthlessness shortened the War it also prolonged the many years of bitterness that followed.

He resigned from the Cabinet during the army crisis of 1924 but re-entered the Cabinet as Minister for Local Government in June 1927. After the resignation of W.T. Cosgrave in June 1944 Mulcahy was elected leader of Fine Gael. Because of his Civil War legacy he stood aside to allow John A. Costello to form the First and Second Inter-Party Governments and served as Minister for Education in both (1948–51, 1954–57) and as Minister for the Gaeltacht (July–October 1956). He resigned from the leadership of Fine Gael in 1959 and from active politics in 1961.





Friday, 15 December 2017

Image result for Major General Fitzroy Hart

15‭ ‬December‭ ‬1899:‭ ‬The Battle of Colenso was fought on this day.‭ ‬The‭ ‬5th Irish Brigade of the British Army under‭ ‬Major General Fitzroy Hart‭ [above] ‬was engaged in action against the Boers and suffered heavy casualties.‭

The battle was fought on the Tugela River in Northern Natal,‭ ‬South Africa.‭ ‬The British were under Sir Redvers Buller with‭ ‬16,000‭ ‬soldiers and the Boers were led by General Botha with about‭ ‬3,000‭ ‬of his doughty men drawn from the Boer farming communities and the‭ ‘‬Burghers‭’ ‬from the towns‭ ‬-‭ ‬most of them first class riflemen.‭ 

To the west of Colenso the river described a loop to the North West before continuing straight.‭ ‬A half mile west of the loop lay Bridle Drift,‭ ‬a river ford.‭ ‬Buller directed the Irish Brigade under Major General Hart to cross the drift and drive the Boers‭ ‬force‭ ‬the‭ ‬passage‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬Tugela.

General Hart was ordered to advance the‭ ‬5th Brigade and gain the‭ ‘‬drift‭’ ‬or ford on the river Tugela.‭ ‬Early that morning the force began to move forward but General Hart insisted that his Brigade fight shoulder to shoulder as if on parade in Aldershot.‭ ‬He had the following battalions with which to secure his objective,‭ ‬three of which were Irish:‭ ‬2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers‭; ‬1st Inniskilling Fusiliers‭; ‬1st Connaught Rangers and one English the‭ ‬1st Border Regiment.‭ ‬The General deployed his Brigade in lines of advance thus:‭

2nd‭ ‬Bn.‭ ‬Dublin‭ ‬Fusiliers,‭ ‬as‭ ‬Covering‭ ‬Battalion to the Front.
1st‭ ‬ Connaught‭ ‬Rangers,‭ ‬First‭ ‬line.
1st‭ ‬Border‭ ‬Regt,‭ ‬Second line.
1st‭ ‬R.‭ ‬Inniskilling‭ ‬Fusiliers,‭ ‬Third line.

Hart had but a local Native Guide and a civilian interpreter to show him the way and it soon became clear that the Guide was as lost as he was.‭ ‬In addition the artillery while in support was too far away for direct instructions and Hart was basically on his own feeling his way forward.‭ ‬No other Brigade came to his support and the‭ ‬500‭ ‬cavalry he had with him had to take the rear until a passage of the river was secured.‭

His machine guns became separated from the rest of the Brigade and thus the Infantry advanced alone.‭ ‬His men spread out into one long line each battalion one behind the other.‭ ‬This was not what the General intended to happen as it extended his front to such an extent that it became impossible to maintain control.

Even though supported at a distance‭ ‬by two field batteries‭ (‬64th and‭ ‬73rd Batteries,‭ ‬R.F.A.‭) ‬they soon ran into a storm of fire directed from across the Tugela.‭ ‬This was made worse as where they intended to cross was a loop in the river and the Boers enfiladed them from three sides.‭

Our burghers as well as our artillery allowed the enemy to advance unmolested to a range of about‭ ‬1,500‭ ‬yards with their guns,‭ ‬and having allowed the infantry to approach to approximately‭ ‬500‭ ‬yards,‭ ‬they suddenly unleashed a heavy fire.‭ ‬The enemy had orders to cross the river at this point,‭ ‬and although they stormed repeatedly,‭ ‬the fire of our burghers and artillery was so well directed and had such good effect that only a captain,‭ ‬two lieutenants and a few men were able to reach the river bank.‭ ‬Here the enemy suffered a tremendous loss in dead and wounded.

General Botha’s Official Report

General Hart described what happened to his men at this moment as follows:

The‭ ‬infantry had‭ ‬advanced‭ ‬only‭ ‬a‭ ‬little‭ ‬way,‭ ‬when‭ ‬a‭ ‬tremendous‭ ‬rifle‭ ‬fire‭ ‬was‭ ‬poured‭ ‬into‭ ‬us‭ ‬from‭ ‬our‭ ‬front,‭ ‬and‭ ‬a‭ ‬considerable rifle‭ ‬fire‭ ‬from‭ ‬our‭ ‬left‭ ‬front.‭ ‬There‭ ‬was no‭ ‬smoke‭ ‬and‭ ‬not a‭ ‬sign‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬enemy‭ ‬himself,‭ ‬or‭ ‬even‭ ‬a‭ ‬horse,‭ ‬but‭ ‬the‭ ‬streaks‭ ‬of‭ ‬dust‭ ‬as‭ ‬the‭ ‬Boer‭ ‬bullets‭ ‬showered‭ ‬in,‭ ‬grazing‭ ‬the ground,‭ ‬plainly showed‭ ‬where‭ ‬they‭ ‬were,‭ ‬by‭ ‬a‭ ‬process‭ ‬of‭ ‬interpolation.‭ ‬The‭ ‬infantry lay‭ ‬down‭ ‬flat.‭ ‬Fire was‭ ‬new‭ ‬to‭ ‬them‭…

I‭ ‬could‭ ‬see‭ ‬officers‭ ‬here and‭ ‬there‭ ‬urging on the‭ ‬advance‭;‬ and‭ ‬all‭ ‬this‭ ‬was‭ ‬so‭ ‬far‭ ‬successful‭ ‬that‭ ‬a‭ ‬slow
advance‭ ‬was‭ ‬made.‭ ‬Here and‭ ‬there‭ ‬men‭ ‬with‭ ‬better‭ ‬nerves‭ ‬pushed‭ ‬on.‭ ‬There‭ ‬was‭ ‬no‭ ‬panic,‭ ‬and‭ ‬once‭ ‬when‭ ‬I said to‭ ‬a‭ ‬lot of‭ ‬men‭ ‬who‭ ‬were‭ ‬deaf‭ ‬to‭ ‬my‭ ‬commands‭ ‬to‭ ‬advance‭— 
" If‭ ‬I‭ ‬give‭ ‬you‭ ‬a‭ ‬lead,‭ ‬if‭ ‬your‭ ‬General‭ ‬gives‭ ‬you‭ ‬a‭ ‬lead‭—‬will‭ ‬you‭ ‬come‭ ‬on‭?‬ "
 They‭ ‬answered‭ ‬quite‭ ‬cheerily‭ ‬with‭ ‬their‭ ‬brogues‭ ‬" We‭ ‬will,‭ ‬sir,‭" ‬and‭ ‬up‭ ‬they‭ ‬jumped‭ ‬and‭ ‬forward they‭ ‬went.‭
Time‭ ‬and experience‭ ‬are‭ ‬necessary‭ ‬to‭ ‬make‭ ‬men‭ ‬go‭ ‬well‭ ‬under‭ ‬fire.

LETTERS‭ ‬OF‭ ‬MAJ.-GEN.‭ ‬HART-SYNNOT


Of those men that did reach the Tugela‭ ‬many fell headlong into the river for along the bottom barbed wires had been stretched.‭ ‬Worse still,‭ ‬it was found that instead of being two feet deep,‭ ‬as was expected,‭ ‬it was eight feet‭; ‬for the Boers had erected a dyke across the river a little lower down,‭ ‬and had dammed the water back.


Hart was criticised afterwards for preventing any effort to take cover or move the attack out of the loop towards the correct crossing point at Bridle Drift,‭ ‬keeping his dwindling brigade in the loop for the rest of the day.‭ ‬He accordingly achieved nothing except heavy losses and a damaging blow to his men’s morale.‭ ‬Eventually orders reached him to retire and with some effort this was done under cover of the guns.‭ ‬The Brigade played no further part in the battle.‭ ‬Casualties as reported by Hart amounted to some‭ ‬25‭ ‬officers‭ ‬and‭ ‬528‭ ‬men,‭ ‬total‭ ‬553,‭ ‬killed,‭ ‬wounded‭ ‬and‭ ‬missing.‭

An experienced Officer his conduct this day was such to indicate that bravery and a rigid adherence to orders in the face of well armed and dug in riflemen was not enough and could only lead to disaster.‭ ‬However he was in some respects a victim of circumstance as he had followed his orders to the letter and had acted honourably given the situation he found himself in.‭

lsewhere the battle was also a bloody fiasco for the British as the Boers poured a deadly fire into the advancing ranks and eventually Buller called a Retreat,‭ ‬which was as ineptly handled.‭ ‬The British Army lost‭ ‬1,167‭ ‬men killed,‭ ‬wounded and captured while the Boers lost but a few score men.‭ ‬Over half the casualties were incurred by the Irish Brigade‭!

The British High Command had become used to fighting native armies that were poorly armed and unused to being under fire.‭ ‬The Boers however were Europeans well used to handling guns and the application of marksmanship.‭ ‬That plus their adept use of cover allowed them to dominate the battlefield and put a stop to all attempts by the British to storm their positions.‭ 

Buller was soon relieved of his position and replaced by Anglo-Irish General Lord Roberts whose only son,‭ ‬Lieutenant Freddie Roberts VC,‭ ‬had been killed in the battle trying to rescue the guns‭ – ‬an action in which General Buller himself had put it to him to partake in‭!


Thursday, 14 December 2017


14 December 1831: The Carrickshock Massacre on this day. A party of the Irish Constabulary was ambushed at Carrickshock [carriag-seabhac/‘the hawks rock'] Co Kilkenny and three of the attackers and fourteen Constables were killed in the affray. It happened at the height of the ‘Tithe War’ as catholic farmers and tenants resisted having to pay a ‘tithe’ or tax to the local clergy of the Church of Ireland.

Dr Hans Hamilton, the Rector of Knocktopher in County Kilkenny insisted that it be collected from the locals. He appointed his Land agent James Bunbury to see it done. Bunbury in turn employed one Edmund Butler, a local butcher, to serve these processes to the tenants. The local R.M. (Resident Magistrate) Joseph Green, authorised a Constabulary escort for Butler as he went about his task. At first all went well as Butler made his way house to house serving notices but soon resentment grew and by the third day of his travels hundreds of men had gathered to follow him and impede his progress. Everywhere he went the alarm was raised and people mobilised to stop him.

Things came to head as the procession made its way through a Boreen (a narrow country pathway) that was flanked on both sides by walls. Butler was accompanied by 38 constables under the command of a sub-inspector, Captain James Gibbons but by this stage the crowd had swelled to some two thosuand men. The cry went up ‘We will have Butler or Blood!’ and one young fellow (James Treacy) ran forward and grabbed at Butler. He was brutally baynotted and fatally shot. At this the crowd erupted and a torrent of stones were flung upon the target and his escort, one of which brought down Butler. The Constabulary were then overwhelmed and attacked with mallets and hurleys and stab wounds from pikes and scythes. It was all over in minutes and at the end of it all James Treacy, Patrick Power & Thomas Phelan were dead from amongst the atatckers as well as Butler, Gibbons, and 11 constables who had been killed or mortally wounded, with 14 constables severely injured. A curious note is that of the 38 constables, 24 were Protestants, of whom 9 were killed and 11 wounded, while of the 14 Catholics only 2 were killed and 4 wounded!

A number of men were brought to Trial the following year but at the end of it all no one was ever convicted. Daniel O’Connell defended some of the men and successfully argued that under the circumstances that they could not get a fair trial before packed juries and all the adverse publicity surrounded the events of that day. Dublin Castle realised that any convictions and executions would only inflame and excaberate the situation further and the whole matter was dropped with the collection of Tithes suspended. Eventually in 1838 a compromise was put into practise whereby Landlords would collect the amounts due from their tenants and pass them on in turn and the whole sorry saga stopped. There ended The Tithe War - a period of intense violence in Ireland akin to ‘The Troubles’ of latter years that is now almost forgotten by the general public.

* Image from Relief on the base of the memorial cross at the site of the incident
Courtesy of: By IrishFireside - Flickr: Carrickshock Monument, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22648856

Wednesday, 13 December 2017



13 December 1867: The Clerkenwell Explosion. In an abortive attempt to free the Fenian Leader Richard O’Sullivan Burke from Clerkenwell Prison in London a huge bomb was placed at the foot of the prison wall. This detonated with such devastating force that it brought down a large chunk of it but without result. Unfortunately the amount of explosives was so great that it blew down a tenement block across the road and killed 12 of its inhabitants while injuring many more.
 
Richard Burke was at the time a political convict confined in Clerkenwell Prison, London, and the design was formed by Fenian sympathizers in the metropolis to effect his release by making a breach in the outer wall of the prison by means of gunpowder at an hour of the day when he was supposed to be exercising in the yard inside of this wall; so as he might "bolt" directly after an aperture had been effected by the explosion. In pursuance of this plan, a barrel of gunpowder was placed against the wall on the 13th of December, 1867, and at the appointed hour was exploded by means of a fuse. The effect was fearful: one hundred and fifty feet of the wall was blown in, and a dozen tenement houses oh the opposite side of the street were laid in ruins. There were twelve persons killed, and more than one hundred wounded in these houses. The report of the explosion was heard all over the metropolis, and brought crowds to the scene of the disaster. Utter ignorance of the nature and potency of explosives, in the minds of some man or men of the labouring class, who had executed this reckless business, is assigned as the true cause of this calamity.
STORY OF IRELAND

By A. M. Sullivan


The Times of London thundered:
Let there be no more clemency for Fenianism, which is a mixture of treason and assassination. 

Even Karl Marx was driven to comment:
 
“The London masses, who have shown great sympathy towards Ireland, will be made wild and driven into the arms of a reactionary government. One cannot expect the London proletarians to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of Fenian emissaries.”

As it turned out the object of the rescue, U.S. Civil War veteran Colonel Richard O’Sullivan Burke remained securely inside. He was eventually released by the British in 1872 after feigning insanity and made his way back to the USA where he joined Clan na Gael and continued his efforts on behalf of the Fenians. He lived on until 1922 when he died at the ripe old age of 84!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017


11/12 December 1956: ‘The Border Campaign’ or 'Operation Harvest' began on this day. The IRA under its Chief of Staff Sean Cronin carried out a series of attacks on Crown Forces personnel and installations in the Border areas of the Six Counties. A BBC relay transmitter was bombed in Derry, a courthouse was burned in Magherafelt, as was a B-Specials post near Newry and a half built Army barracks at Enniskillen was blown up. A raid on Gough barracks in Armagh was beaten off after a brief exchange of fire.


That day the IRA issued the following statement:


Spearheaded by Ireland’s freedom fighters, our people have carried the fight to the enemy…Out of this national liberation struggle a new Ireland will emerge, upright and free. In that new Ireland, we shall build a country fit for all our people to live in. That then is our aim: an independent, united, democratic Irish Republic. For this we shall fight until the invader is driven from our soil and victory is ours.

The campaign after an initial surge of activity was to be marked by a number of intermittent attacks on the British in the North that continued until 1962. But without a certain level of popular support on both sides of the Border it was obvious that further resistance was futile and the IRA called off their campaign and dumped arms. It was deliberately kept to the Border areas as it was felt to attempt actions in Belfast etc would only inflame sectarian tensions.

The IRA's Border Campaign was an ambitious plan to wage a guerrilla war in the North. In hindsight, it was an abject failure. But to many in the Republican Movement any action was better than no action.

'Operation Harvest, the codename for the IRA's border campaign of the 1950s, was an ambitious plan to wage a guerrilla war in the North. The IRA used tactics adopted by flying columns that had been successful during the War of Independence in a bid to make Northern Ireland ungovernable and force a British withdrawal. In hindsight, it was an abject failure. They received little or no support from the nationalist population in the North. Most volunteers were from the South with little knowledge of the North. Governments north and south of the border introduced internment and the campaign was almost stillborn.'
Soldiers of Folly: The IRA Border Campaign 1956-1962







Monday, 11 December 2017


11 December 1920: The burning of Cork on this day. After an IRA attack on a lorry load of RIC Auxiliaries at Dillons Cross in which one of them was killed members of the Crown Forces went on a rampage in Cork City Centre. Buildings were set alight and many were gutted by fire. Two men who were members of the Cork IRA, Con and Jer Delaney were shot dead in their own home. British forces deliberately set fire to several blocks of buildings along the east and south sides of Saint Patrick’s Street during the hours of darkness and the following morning. The City Hall and the Carnegie Library were also completely destroyed by fire. The loss of the stock of the library and of the records in Cork City Hall was a huge blow to future historians.

Florrie O'Donoghue described the scene in Cork on the morning of the 12th:

Many familiar landmarks were gone forever – where whole buildings had collapsed here and there a solitary wall leaned at some crazy angle from its foundation. The streets ran with sooty water, the footpaths were strewn with broken glass and debris, ruins smoked and smouldered and over everything was the all- pervasive smell of burning.

The Chief Secretary for Ireland, Sir Hamar Greenwood, immediately denied that Crown forces were responsible for the conflagration. However subsequent local inquiries carried out by reputable bodies established that members of the Crown Forces were indeed culpable for the widespread destruction. Afterwards, some Auxiliaries took to wearing piece of half-burnt cork in their hats. But their black humour could not disguise the fact that these actions further undermined their already weakening authority and showed the World that Britain could not control her own Forces on the streets of a City that it claimed was part of their Empire.



Sunday, 10 December 2017


10 December 1710: The Irish Brigades in the service of France and Spain saw action at the battle of Villaviciosa in Spain on this day. The war of the Spanish Succession was between the two contenders for the Spanish Throne: Philip [Felipe] V backed by France and Charles of Austria backed by Austria, England and Holland. During this see saw war the fortunes of both sides waxed and waned. The battle took place about 70 miles north east of Madrid as Charles of Austria retreated towards Catalonia. Philip’s army hotly pursued him under the direct command of Marshal Vendome of France.

Three Irish regiments fought with the Spanish army in this battle, commanded by respectively Col. Don Demetrio MacAuliffe, Col. Don John de Comerford and Col. Don Reynaldo Mac Donnell. They were collectively known as the Brigade of Castlelar. The Marshal’s army also included a force of Dragoons under the dashing cavalry commander General Count Daniel O’Mahony who was assisted by General Henry Crofton. To this ‘Arme Blance’ was attached a Lord Killmaloc’s Regiment of Dragoons. All of the Irish troops were to play a full part in the battle that materially affected the outcome of the War in Spain.




The engagement was fought on a bleak day in the midst of a Spanish Winter. The main action began in the early afternoon and after many hours of hard fighting it looked like that Charles had won. Marshal Vendome had even ordered the Retreat when his cavalry under the Marquis de Val-de-Canas and Count O’Mahony won the day by charging into the enemy’s rear and forced them to retreat. Only the onset of the darkness of a December night stopped them from destroying their opponents in detail. Though O’Mahony did manage to hamstring 700 mules that severely hampered the enemy from carrying away much of their material from the battlefield. Combined with the defeat and capture the previous day by Vendome of 5,000 English soldiers at the town of Brihuega the losses inflicted upon the enemy were such to render them unable to maintain the field and Charles had no option but to continue his sorry retreat to Barcelona and safety. His bid though for the Throne of Spain was effectively over.

Their brave and daring actions raised the status of the Irish troops and their leaders immeasurably during the Campaign of 1710. Though Lord Killmaloc was mortally wounded in the final battle the Count O’Mahony was awarded for his services.


The Comte de Mahoni acquired a great deal of glory on the battle-day of Villaviciosa, at the head of the dragoons. The King was so satisfied with him, that he conferred upon him a Commandership of the Order of St. Jacques (ie Jago) producing a rent of 15,000 Livres. …


History of the Irish Brigades in the Service of France
by John Cornelius O’Callaghan.

Painting: by Jean Alaux (1840) - Marshal Vendome presenting the captured colours to King Philip V