seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Matilda Cullen Knowles, Pioneer in Irish Lichenology

matilda-cullen-knowlesMatilda Cullen Knowles, considered the founder of modern studies of Irish lichens following her work in the early twentieth century on the multi-disciplinary Clare Island Survey, is born on January 31, 1864 in Cullybackey near Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Her work is said to have “formed an important baseline contribution to the cryptogamic botany of Ireland and western oceanic Europe.”

Knowles’ early interest in botany is encouraged by her father, William James Knowles, himself an amateur scientist who takes Matilda and her sister to meetings of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club. This is where she first meets Robert Lloyd Praeger who continues to be a lifelong influence. In 1895 she is introduced to the Derry botanist Mary Leebody and together they work on a supplement to Samuel Alexander Stewart‘s and Thomas Hughes Corey‘s 1888 book the Flora of the North-east of Ireland.

Knowles then volunteers to help with the crowdsourcing of material about the plants of County Tyrone. While completing this work Knowles publishes her own first paper about Tyrone’s flowering plants in 1897. She eventually sends in over 500 examples that are considered for inclusion in the Irish Topographical Botany, which Praeger publishes in 1901.

In 1902, after attending the Royal College of Science for Ireland for a year, Knowles is appointed a temporary assistant in the then Botanical Section of the National Science and Art Museum. She works closely with Professor Thomas Johnson to continue the development of the Herbarium collection. She also co-authors with him the Hand List of Irish Flowering Plants and Ferns (1910).

One of Knowles’ first works is The Maritime and Marine Lichens of Howth, which the Royal Dublin Society publishes in 1913. Knowles had gathered the knowledge and experience to do this while diligently assisting with a survey of Clare Island as suggested by Praeger. This novel survey involves not only Irish but also several European scientists including prominent UK lichenologist, Annie Lorrain Smith. This is claimed as the most extensive piece of field work at the time. As a result, Knowles is able to create a foundation for her later specialism in lichens.

Knowles publishes more than thirty scientific papers on a wide range of botanical subjects between 1897 and 1933. It is while studying the lichens of Howth that she discovers how lichens by the shore grow in distinct tidal zones that can be distinguished by their colour: black, orange and grey.

Her major work is The Lichens of Ireland which adds over 100 species of lichen to the Irish List and records the distribution of the eight hundred species identified in Ireland. She achieves this task with the collaboration of thirty other natural scientists. It is published in 1929 and includes twenty lichens that had previously not been identified as Irish.

Professor Thomas Johnson retires in 1923, allowing Knowles to take over curatorship, working with Margaret Buchanan. As she becomes older Knowles’ hearing begins to fail such that she has to rely on an ear trumpet. Despite her deafness she still attends meetings. She cares for and adds to the National Museum Herbarium collection although never gets the credit she deserves. In 1933 she plans to retire but pneumonia ends her life before she ends her career. Knowles dies in Dublin on April 27, 1933.

Knowles is honoured with a commemorative plaque by the Irish National Committee for Science and Engineering in October 2014 to mark the 150th anniversary of her birth.


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Birth of Katharine O’Shea Parnell

katharine-osheaKatharine O’Shea (née Wood), English woman of aristocratic background, whose decade-long secret adultery with Charles Stewart Parnell leads to a widely publicized divorce in 1890 and his political downfall, is born in Braintree, Essex on January 30, 1846.

Katharine is the daughter of Sir John Page Wood, 2nd Baronet (1796–1866), and granddaughter of Sir Matthew Wood, a former Lord Mayor of London. She has an elder brother who becomes Field Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood and is also the niece of both Western Wood MP (1804–1863) and Lord William Wood, William Ewart Gladstone‘s first Liberal Lord Chancellor.

Katharine marries Captain William O’Shea in 1867, a Catholic Nationalist MP for Clare from whom she separates around 1875. She first meets Parnell in 1880 and begins a relationship with him. Three of her children are fathered by Parnell. Although Captain O’Shea keeps publicly quiet for several years, he is aware of the relationship. He challenges Parnell to a duel in 1881 and initially forbids his estranged wife to see him, although she says that he encouraged her in the relationship. Although their relationship is a subject of gossip in London political circles from 1881, later public knowledge of the affair in an England governed by “Victorian morality” with a “nonconformist conscience” creates a huge scandal, as adultery is prohibited by the Ten Commandments.

Out of her family connection to the Liberal Party, Katharine acts as liaison between Parnell and Gladstone during negotiations prior to the introduction of the First Irish Home Rule Bill in April 1886. Parnell moves to her home in Eltham, close to the London-Kent border, that summer.

Captain O’Shea files for divorce in 1889 and his reasons are a matter for speculation. Some say he may have political motives. Alternatively, it is claimed that he has been hoping for an inheritance from Katharine’s rich aunt whom he had expected to die earlier, but when she dies in 1889 her money is left in trust to cousins. After the divorce the court awards custody of Katharine O’Shea and C.S. Parnell’s two surviving daughters to her ex-husband.

Katharine’s November divorce proceedings from Captain O’Shea, in which Parnell is named as co-respondent, leads to Parnell’s being deserted by a majority of his own Irish Parliamentary Party and to his downfall as its leader in December 1890. Catholic Ireland feels a profound sense of shock when Katharine breaks the vows of her previous Catholic marriage by marrying Parnell on June 25, 1891. With his political life and his health essentially ruined, Parnell dies at the age of 45 in Hove on October 6, 1891 in her arms, less than four months after their marriage. The cause is stomach cancer, possibly complicated by coronary artery disease inherited from his grandfather and father, who also died prematurely.

Though to her friends Katharine is known as Katie O’Shea, Parnell’s enemies, in order to damage him personally, call her “Kitty O’Shea” because at that time “kitty,” as well as being an Hiberno-English version of Catherine/Katherine/Katharine, is also a slang term for a prostitute. She lives the rest of her life in relative obscurity. She dies on February 5, 1921, at the age of 75, and is buried in Littlehampton, Sussex, England, apparently never once setting foot on Irish soil.

Captain Henry Harrison, MP, who had acted as Parnell’s bodyguard and aide-de-camp, devotes himself after Parnell’s death to the service of his widow. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce issue from that which had appeared in the press, and this is to form the seed of his later two books defending Parnell published in 1931 and 1938. They have a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair.


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Irish Republican Army Bombings in Central London

regent-street-london-1977At least seven bombs explode in Central London on January 29, 1977. One person is injured. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) later claims responsibility.

Hundreds of police seal off the Oxford Street area as Selfridges department store is set ablaze and one man is injured. The explosions occur over a two-mile area within 50 minutes. The bombs wreck buildings in Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Wardour Street, causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage and burying a taxi under the rubble, injuring the driver. Another man is trapped in a basement in Selfridges after the blast.

The attacks come less than 72 hours before the IRA commemoration of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Londonderry and, according to the police, bear all the hallmarks of the IRA. The bombs, left in doorways of shops and offices, are similar to those used in fire bomb attacks on the centre of Belfast and Londonderry over the previous four years.

Hundreds of police are drafted into the Oxford Street area within minutes of the first blast, shortly after midnight. Police using sniffer dogs examine hundreds of cars stretched along Oxford Street and residents are warned to evacuate by police and fire officers using bullhorns. Dozens of fire engines respond to the resulting blaze in the huge department store.

A two-mile area around Oxford Street is cordoned off by police road-blocks shortly after the first explosions. Scotland Yard and the Fire Brigade are unable to keep pace with the bombs and fires as news reports flood in.

The first explosions occur in Wardour Street where two bombs blow out the front of a publishing office and a travel agency, hurling glass and furniture into the street. Within 20 minutes, three other bombs explode in Oxford Street, Regent Street, Poland Street and in the side-streets of Soho. The fire brigade simultaneously fights two major fires within a mile of each other, in Selfridges and in a building in Berwick Street, Soho. Debris from the bombs is littered around as bomb squad officers and police patrols begin examining all suspicious cars and packages in the area. Several bomb squad officers are standing within yards of a building when the fourth bomb, fortunately a small one, goes off.

The Assistant Commissioner for Crime, Jock Wilson, joins Bomb Squad officers in a special mobile control unit. A senior police officer says that many of the bombs are crammed through letter-boxes in the business premises. However, the bomb at Selfridges is placed in the basement, police believe, on previous afternoon.

(Pictured: Police cordon off Regent Street following IRA bombs in the West End, London, January 1977. Photograph: ANL/REX/Shutterstock)


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Birth of Louis Brennan, Irish Australian Inventor

louis-brennanLouis Brennan, Irish Australian mechanical engineer and inventor, is born in Castlebar, County Mayo on January 28, 1852.

Brennan moves to Melbourne, Australia in 1861 with his parents. He starts his career as a watchmaker and a few years later is articled to Alexander Kennedy Smith, a renowned civil and mechanical engineer of the period. He serves as a sergeant in the Victorian Engineers under the command of Captain John James Clark. He invents the idea of a steerable torpedo in 1874, from observing that if a thread is pulled on a reel at an angle with suitable leverage, the reel will move away from the thread side. He spends some years working out his invention, and receives a grant of £700 from the Victorian government towards his expenses. He patents the Brennan torpedo in 1877. The idea is trialed at Camden Fort near Crosshaven, County Cork.

Brennan goes to England in 1880 and brings his invention before the War Office. Sir Andrew Clarke alerts the authorities to the possibilities of the torpedo if used in the defence of harbours and channels, and the patent is eventually bought for a sum believed to be more than £100,000 (£ 9,331,100 in 2019). In 1887 he is appointed superintendent of the Brennan torpedo factory, and is consulting engineer from 1896 to 1907.

Brennan does much work on a gyro monorail locomotive which is kept upright by a gyrostat. In 1903 he patents a gyroscopically-balanced monorail system that he designs for military use. He successfully demonstrates the system on November 10, 1909, at Gillingham, England, but fears that the gyroscopes might fail prevents adoption of the system for widespread use.

From 1916 to 1919 Brennan serves in the munitions inventions department. From 1919 to 1926 he is engaged by the air ministry in aircraft research work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, and gives much time to the invention of a helicopter. The government spends a large sum of money on it, but in 1926 the air ministry gives up working on it, much to Brennan’s disappointment.

Brennan marries Anna Quinn on 10 September 10, 1892. The marriage results in a son and a daughter. He is created a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1892, and is foundation member of the National Academy of Ireland in 1922.

In January 1932 Brennan is knocked down by a car at Montreux, Switzerland, and dies on January 17, 1932. He is buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London, in an unmarked plot numbered 2454 that is opposite the Chapel record office. On March 11, 2014, Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveils a new gravestone for Brennan at St. Mary’s in a ceremony honouring the inventor’s life and career.

Gillingham Library retains the archive of his papers.


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Birth of Máiread Maguire, Northern Irish Peace Activist

mairead-maguireMáiread Maguire, née Máiread Corrigan, also called Máiread Corrigan Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland, is born in Belfast on January 27, 1944. Along with Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown, she founds the Peace People, a grassroots movement of both Roman Catholic and Protestant citizens dedicated to ending the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. For their work, Maguire and Williams share the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize.

Although Maguire from a young age earns her living as a secretary, she also is from her youth a member of the Legion of Mary, a lay Catholic welfare organization, and through it she becomes deeply involved in voluntary social work among children and teenagers in various Catholic neighbourhoods of Belfast. She is stirred to act against the growing violence in Northern Ireland after witnessing in August 1976 an incident in which a car being driven by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist goes out of control when the IRA man is shot by British troops. The car strikes and kills three children of Maguire’s sister.

Within days each woman publicly denounces the violence and calls for mass opposition to it. Marches of Catholic and Protestant women, numbering in the thousands, are organized, and shortly afterward the Peace People is founded based on the conviction that genuine reconciliation and prevention of future violence are possible, primarily through the integration of schools, residential areas, and athletic clubs. The organization publishes a biweekly paper, Peace by Peace, and provides a bus service to and from Belfast’s jails for families of prisoners.

Although Williams breaks away from the Peace People in 1980, Maguire remains an active member and later serves as the group’s honorary president. In 2006 she joins Williams and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Wangari Maathai, and Rigoberta Menchú to found the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She is also active in various Palestinian causes, notably efforts to end the Israeli government’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, and she is deported from Israel on several occasions.

In October 2012, Maguire travels to New York City to serve on the Russell Tribunal on Israel/Palestine alongside writer Alice Walker, activist Angela Davis, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. The Russell Tribunal’s findings and conclusions challenge governments and civil society to have courage and act by implementing sanctions, thereby refusing to be silent and complicit in the face of Israel ’s violation of International Laws.

In March 2018, Maguire and two Nobel peace laureates, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman, visit rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and share opinion on the crisis. After returning to Dhaka they discuss the Rohingya crisis with members of the civil society of Bangladesh.

Maguire is a proponent of the belief that violence is a disease that humans develop but are not born with. She believes humankind is moving away from a mindset of violence and war and evolving to a higher consciousness of nonviolence and love. Among the figures she considers spiritual prophets in this regard are Jesus, Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffār Khān, Fr. John L. McKenzie, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She professes to reject violence in all its forms.


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Birth of Sir Arthur Philip du Cros

arthur-du-crosSir Arthur Philip du Cros, British industrialist and politician, is born in Dublin on January 26, 1871.

Du Cros is the third of seven sons of Harvey du Cros. He is brought up in modest circumstances. His father, later a well-known manufacturer, is at the time only a bookkeeper with an income of £170 a year. He attends a national school in Dublin and then enters the civil service at the lowest grade. In 1892 he joins the Pneumatic Tyre and Booth’s Cycle Agency Ltd, of which his father is now the chairman, and is made a joint managing director in 1896 when it is floated as a public company.

In 1895 du Cros marries Maude Gooding, the daughter of a Coventry watch manufacturer. They have two sons and two daughters before a divorce in 1923.

In 1901 du Cros founds the Dunlop Rubber Company, converting 400 acres of land in Birmingham to produce and manufacture tires, with the area henceforth being known as Fort Dunlop. The firm eventually diversifies into making other rubber products as well as tires, and du Cros selects plantations in Malaya and Sri Lanka for the company, which by 1917 owns 60,000 acres of rubber-producing land.

In 1906 du Cros enters politics, unsuccessfully contesting the seat of Bow & Bromley as a Conservative Party candidate, a seat his brother is elected to in 1910. In 1908 he is elected Member of Parliament for Hastings, a position his father had held immediately before.

In 1909 du Cros forms, and is director of, the Parliamentary Aerial Defence Committee to ensure funding for military aeronautical development, of which he is a strong proponent. During World War I he works for the Ministry of Munitions on an honorary basis, buying two motorised ambulance convoys out of his own money and helping raise an infantry battalion, being a former captain of the Royal Warwickshires and for some years being the honorary colonel of the 8th battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. In 1916 he is created a baronet. He continues to represent Hastings until 1918, when he is elected as a Member of Parliament for Clapham, a position he resigns four years later.

His later career is awash with financial impropriety. He finds it difficult to distinguish between personal and company assets, using company funds to sponsor family investments and appointing family members to senior position with no regard for merit. He also participates in financial manipulation, being a close associate of James White, a financial expert who specialises in share rigging and whose actions leave Dunlop, had already lost influence within the company, close to collapse in 1921. He is quietly removed after the 1921 crash.

Arthur du Cros dies at home near Watford, Hertfordshire on October 28, 1955 at the age of 84. He is interred in Finstock, Oxfordshire.


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Birth of Edmund Ignatius Hogan, Jesuit Scholar

edmund-ignatius-hoganJesuit scholar Edmund Ignatius Hogan S.J. is born in Cork, County Cork on January 25, 1831.

Hogan joins the Society of Jesus and studies for the priesthood in Belgium and France. He returns to Ireland where he teaches German for a year at Clongowes Wood College and then languages and music in the Sacred Heart College, Limerick.

After extensive research in Rome Hogan publishes a history of the Jesuits in Ireland and a life of Saint Patrick. He lectures on Irish language and history at University College Dublin and is Todd Professor (Celtic) at the Royal Irish Academy.

Hogan’s works include Distinguished Irishmen of the 16th Century (1894), the Irish Phrase Book (1899) and Onomasticon Goedelicum: An Index to Irish Names of Places and Tribes (1910), a standard reference based on the research of John O’Donovan, The Irish Wolfhound, A Description of Ireland in 1598 and Chronological list of the Irish members of the Society of Jesus, 1550-1814. He also contributes to the editing and compilation of other works in his field.

Edmund Ignatius Hogan dies on November 26, 1917.