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


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The Completion of the “Annals of the Four Masters”

annals-of-the-four-mastersThe Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland or the Annals of the Four Masters, chronicles of medieval Irish history, are completed on August 10, 1636. The entries span from the Deluge, dated as 2,242 years after creation to 1616 AD.

The annals are mainly a compilation of earlier annals, although there is some original work, and are one of the principal Irish language sources for Irish history up to 1616. They are compiled between 1632 and 1636 at a Franciscan friary near the Drowes River in County Leitrim, on the border with County Donegal and County Sligo. The patron of the project is Fearghal Ó Gadhra, MP, a Gaelic lord in Coolavin, County Sligo. While many of the early chapters are essentially lists of names and dates, the later chapters, dealing with events of which the authors have first-hand accounts, are much more detailed.

The chief compiler of the annals is Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh from Ballyshannon, who is assisted by, among others, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maol Chonaire and Peregrine Ó Duibhgeannain. Although only one of the authors, Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, is a Franciscan friar, they become known as “The Four Friars” or in the original Irish, Na Ceithre Máistrí. The Anglicized version of this is “The Four Masters,” the name that has become associated with the annals themselves.

Due to the criticisms by Irish historian Tuileagna Ó Maol Chonaire, the text is not published during the lifetime of any of the participants. The first substantial English translation (starting at 1171 AD) is published by Owen Connellan in 1846. The Connellan translation includes the annals from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries. The only version to have a four-colour frontispiece, it includes a large folding map showing the location of families in Ireland. This edition, neglected for over 150 years, is republished in the early twenty-first century. The original Connellan translation is followed several years later by a full translation by the historian John O’Donovan. The translation is funded by a government grant of £1,000 obtained by the notable mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton while he is president of the Royal Irish Academy.

The reliability and usefulness of the Annals as a historical source has sometimes been questioned on the grounds that they are limited to accounts of the births, deaths and activities of the Gaelic nobility of Ireland and often ignore wider social trends or events. On the other hand, the Annals, as one of the few prose sources in Irish from this period, also provide a valuable insight into events such as the Desmond Rebellions and the Nine Years’ War from a Gaelic Irish perspective.

The early part of this work is based upon the Lebor Gabála Érenn. Today, most scholars regard the Lebor Gabála Érenn as primarily myth rather than history. It appears to be mostly based on medieval Christian pseudo-histories, but it also incorporates some of Ireland’s native pagan mythology. Scholars believe the goal of its writers was to provide an epic history for Ireland that could compare to that of the Israelites or the Romans, and which reconciled native myth with the Christian view of history.

The several manuscript copies are held at Trinity College, Dublin, the Royal Irish Academy, University College Dublin and the National Library of Ireland.

(Pictured: Illustration of “the four masters” by B. H. Holbrooke, 1846)

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The Battle of Dungan’s Hill

battle-of-dungans-hillThe Battle of Dungan’s Hill takes place in County Meath on August 8, 1647. It is fought between the armies of Confederate Ireland and the Parliament of England during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The battle takes place near the modern village of Summerhill and along the present main road between Trim and Kilcock.

By 1647, The Irish Catholic Confederation controls all of Ireland except for Parliamentarian enclaves around Dublin and Cork and a Scottish outpost in Ulster. The previous year they had rejected a treaty with the English Royalists in favour of eliminating the remaining British forces in Ireland.

In August 1647, the Confederate Leinster army under Thomas Preston is attempting to take Dublin from the English Parliamentarian garrison under Michael Jones, when it is intercepted by the Roundheads and forced to give battle. Jones had marched to Trim to relieve the Parliamentarian outpost there at Trim Castle. Preston, who had been shadowing Jones’ movements, attempts to march on Dublin before Jones’ army returns there, but covers only 12 of the 40 miles before being caught at Dungan’s Hill, where the Confederate forces have to form up for battle.

From a Parliamentarian point of view, victory in this battle is presented to them by the incompetence of the Irish commander. Preston is a veteran of the Thirty Years’ War, where he had been a commander of the Spanish garrison at Leuven, but has no experience in open warfare or handling cavalry. Jones, by contrast, had been a cavalry officer in the English Civil War. As a result, Preston tries to move his cavalry along a narrow covered lane where they are trapped and subjected to enemy fire without being able to respond. Even worse, Preston has placed a large number of his troops in wheat fields over seven feet tall. As a result these troops are unable to see the Parliamentarians until it is too late. With the Confederate army spread out and in confusion, Jones’ troops fall in amongst them causing the demoralised Irish cavalry to flee the field, leaving the remainder of Preston’s infantry unsupported.

The Confederate army’s infantry are primarily equipped with pikes and heavy muskets and trained to stand in tercios in the Spanish manner. This means they are difficult to break, but also highly immobile, without cavalry to cover their cumbersome formation when it moves. What is worse, Preston has positioned them in a large walled field, so that when their cavalry has run away, the Parliamentarians can surround and trap them. Some of the Irish infantry, Scottish Highlanders brought to Ireland by Alasdair Mac Colla, manage to charge and break through Jones’ men and escape into a nearby bog, where the English cavalry could not follow. Preston and 2,000 to 3,000 of his regular infantry manage to follow the Highlanders to safety, but the remainder are trapped.

What happens next is disputed. The Irish infantry manages to hold off several assaults on their position, before trying to follow their comrades into the safety of the bog. This makes them lose their formation and the Parliamentarians get in amongst them and then surround them in the bogland. Parliamentarian accounts simply say that the Irish force is then destroyed. Irish accounts, however, claim that the Confederate troops surrender and are then massacred. One account, by a Catholic friar named O Meallain, says that the corpses of the Irish foot soldiers are found with their hands tied. A recent study suggests that the Irishmen probably tried to surrender, but that, according to the conventions of 17th century warfare, this had to be accepted before it entitled them to safety. In this case, it was not accepted and the infantrymen were butchered.

Around 3,000 Confederate troops and a small number of Parliamentarians die at Dungan’s Hill. One of the English regimental commanders, Colonel Anthony Hungerford, is shot in the mouth, a wound that invalids him out of the English Army. Most of the dead are Irish infantrymen killed in the last stage of the battle. Those prisoners who are taken are mainly officers, whom the Parliamentarians can either ransom or exchange for prisoners of their own. Richard Talbot, a junior cavalry officer but later Earl of Tyrconnell and Lord Deputy of Ireland, is among the Confederate prisoners.

In the immediate aftermath of the battle, Owen Roe O’Neill‘s Ulster Army marches through the pass of Portlester Mill to mount an effective rearguard action, routing Jones’ advanced brigade and enabling the survivors of the Leinster army to escape. Jones, fearing O’Neills army, does not continue the pursuit and returns to Dublin. O’Neill and his Ulstermen return four months later to bury the dead Confederates.


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The Rathlin Island Massacre

bruces-castle-ruinsThe Rathlin Island massacre takes place on Rathlin Island, off the coast of what is now Northern Ireland, on July 26, 1575. More than 600 Scots and Irish are killed.

Rathlin Island is used as a sanctuary because of its natural defences and rocky shores. In earlier times, when the wind blows from the west it is almost impossible to land a boat. It is also respected as a hiding place, as it is the one-time abode of Saint Columba. Installing themselves in Rathlin Castle (also known as Bruce’s Castle), the MacDonnells of Antrim make Rathlin their base for resistance to the Enterprise of Ulster. Their military leader, Sorley Boy MacDonnell (Scottish Gaelic: Somhairle Buidhe Mac Domhnaill) and other Scots have thought it prudent to send their wives, children, elderly, and sick to Rathlin Island for safety.

Acting on the instructions of Sir Henry Sidney and the Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys take the castle by storm. Drake uses two cannons to batter the castle and when the walls give in, Norreys orders direct attack on July 25, and the Garrison surrenders. Norreys sets the terms of surrender, whereupon the constable, his family, and one of the hostages are given safe passage and all other defending soldiers are killed. On July 26, 1575, Norreys’ forces hunt the old, sick, very young and women who are hiding in the caves. Despite the surrender, they kill all the 200 defenders and more than 400 civilian men, women and children. Sir Francis Drake is also charged with the task of preventing any Scottish reinforcement vessels from reaching the island.

The entire family of Sorley Boy MacDonnell perishes in the massacre. Essex, who orders the killings, boasts in a letter to Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s secretary and spymaster, that Sorley Boy MacDonnell watched the massacre from the mainland helplessly and was “like to run mad from sorrow.”

Norreys stays on the island and tries to rebuild the walls of the castle so that the English might use the structure as a fortress. As Drake is not paid to defend the island, he departs with his ships. Norreys realises that it is not possible to defend the island without intercepting Scottish galleys and he returns to Carrickfergus in September 1575.

(Pictured: the ruins of Rathlin Castle)


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Death of Justin McCarthy, Jacobite General

justin-mccarthy-lord-mountcashelJustin MacCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel, a Jacobite general in the Williamite War in Ireland and a personal friend of James II of England, dies in France of complications from previous battle wounds on July 1, 1694.

McCarthy, born about 1643, is the younger son of Donough MacCarty, 1st Earl of Clancarty, head of the MacCarthy of Muskerry dynasty who holds extensive lands in the former Kingdom of Desmond. His mother is Lady Eleanor Butler, sister of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. The family has their property confiscated under Oliver Cromwell‘s regime, but it is restored to them at the Restoration of Charles II of England. McCarthy is made Viscount Mount Cashel with the subsidiary title of Baron Castleinch on May 1, 1689 and becomes a Lieutenant-General.

McCarthy becomes a professional soldier and shows great skill in his profession, but poor eyesight hampers his career. He enters the French army in 1671 and then transfers to James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth‘s regiment, then in French pay, and serves against the Dutch.

McCarthy comes to England in 1678 and is befriended by the future James II, who generally chooses soldiers, especially Irish soldiers, as his boon companions. Charles II decides to use his services in Ireland and makes him a colonel in Sir Thomas Dongan‘s regiment. On the outbreak of the Popish Plot, however, the discovery of McCarthy’s presence at Whitehall causes uproar. He flees the country and the Secretary of State for the Northern Department, Sir Joseph Williamson, who had issued his commission, is sent to the Tower of London.

Under the Catholic King James II, McCarthy becomes both Major General and a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. He quarrels with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, and probably intrigues to secure his recall.

In 1689 McCarthy takes Castlemartyr and Bandon for James. At Bandon there is a massacre called “Black Monday,” but he persuades the King to issue a general pardon to his defeated opponents. He meets James at his landing at Kinsale, and is commanded to raise seven regiments. He sits in the Irish House of Lords in the Parliament of Ireland of 1689.

With 3,000 men McCarthy advances from Dublin towards Enniskillen, which with Derry is the remaining resistance to James II. He is met by 2,000 Protestant “Inniskillingers” at the Battle of Newtownbutler on July 31, 1689. His forces are routed, he is wounded and then captured. Allowed out on parole he breaks parole and escapes to Dublin. Frederick Schomberg, 1st Duke of Schomberg, remarks that he had thought McCarthy was a man of honour, but on the other hand he expected no better from an Irishman.

McCarthy goes into exile in France and commands the first Irish Brigade of Louis XIV. His later career is hampered by his near-blindness. He dies at Barèges on July 1, 1694 and is buried there.


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Patrick Darcy Delivers His “Argument”

dublin-castlePatrick Darcy, a prominent constitutional lawyer who wrote the constitution of Confederate Ireland, delivers his famous Argument during a conference on June 9, 1641.

During a conference held in the dining room of Dublin Castle, Darcy delivers his Argument. Published in 1643 and reprinted in 1764, it is the first forceful and detailed statement of the rule of law in Ireland, articulating an effective constitutional position for her as England‘s colonial country. He is quoted arguing to William Molyneux that “no parliament but an Irish one can properly legislate for Ireland,” which is the central summation of his work.

In 1961, the American constitutional expert C.H. McIlwain says in compliment of Darcy’s Argument that it “constitute the first definite statement of the central point of the American opposition more than a century later. Patrick Darcy deserves a place in American constitutional history.”

The format of the 142-page Argument comprises a series of legal questions on the powers of the Parliament of Ireland in 1640–41. It refers to and suggests the extent by which the parliament’s general self-governing powers are superior to all ad-hoc (and possible illegal, unlawful or illicit) decisions by judges and royal officials in the Kingdom of Ireland. The relevant text nearest to the subject of Irish self-government is at page 130:

“Whither the Subjects of this kingdome bee a free people, and to be governed onely by the Common-lawes of England, and statutes of force in this kingdome. The subjects of this his Majesties kingdome of Ireland, are a free people, and to be governed onely according to the Common-law of England, and Statutes made & established by Parliament in this kingdome of Ireland, and according to the lawfull customes used in the same.”

(Pictured: Dublin Castle)


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Birth of William King, Archbishop of Dublin

william-kingWilliam King, Anglican divine in the Church of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin from 1703 to 1729, is born in County Antrim on May 1, 1650. He is an author and supports the Glorious Revolution. He has considerable political influence in Ireland, including for a time what amounts to a veto on judicial appointments.

King is educated at The Royal School, Dungannon, County Tyrone, and thereafter at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating BA on 23 February 23, 1670 and MA in 1673.

On October 25, 1671, King is ordained a deacon as chaplain to John Parker, Archbishop of Tuam, and on July 14, 1673 Parker gives him the prebend of Kilmainmore, County Mayo. King, who lives as part of Parker’s household, is ordained a priest on April 12, 1674.

King’s support of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 serves to advance his position. He becomes Bishop of Derry in 1691. His years as a bishop are marked by reform and the building of churches and glebe houses, and by the dispensing of charity. His political influence is considerable. He is always consulted on judicial appointments and at times seems to have an effective veto over candidates he considers unsuitable.

He is advanced to the position of Archbishop of Dublin in 1703, a post he holds until his death. He gives £1,000 for the founding of “Archbishop King’s Professorship of Divinity” at Trinity College in 1718. His influence declines after the appointment of Hugh Boulter as Archbishop of Armagh in 1724.

William King dies in May 1729. Much of his correspondence survives and provides a historic resource for the study of the Ireland of his time.


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Construction of Royal Hospital Kilmainham Begins

royal-hospital-kilmainhamThe first stone of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Kilmainham, Dublin, is laid by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, on April 29, 1680. Completed in 1684, it is one of the finest 17th-century buildings in Ireland.

The hospital is built by Sir William Robinson, official State Surveyor General of Ireland for James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to King Charles II, as a home for retired soldiers of the Irish Army and continues in that use for over 250 years. The style is based on Les Invalides in Paris with a formal facade and a large courtyard. The Royal Hospital Chelsea in Chelsea, London is completed two years later and also has similarities in style. A priory, founded in 1174 by Strongbow, exists on the site until the English close it down in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s.

The Richmond Tower at the end of the formal avenue leading to the Royal Hospital is designed by Francis Johnston, one of the leading architects of the day. This gateway originally stands beside the River Liffey at Bloody Bridge (now Rory O’More Bridge), but has to be moved after the arrival of the railway in 1844 increases traffic congestion. Johnston places his personal coat of arms above the arch, concealed by a piece of wood painted to match the stone, his idea being that his arms would be revealed to future generations after the wood becomes rotten. However, his little trick is uncovered when the gateway is taken down for removal. The coat of arms currently on the gateway is that of the Royal Hospital.

The Royal Hospital Kilmainham graveyards, including Bully’s Acre, are 400 metres to the west. A cross-shaft in the former cemetery may be the remains of a boundary cross associated with a ninth-century monastery located at this site.

Following the creation of the Irish Free State the Royal Hospital is considered as a potential home for Oireachtas Éireann, the new Irish national parliament. Eventually it is decided to keep parliament in its temporary home in Leinster House. The Hospital remains the home of a dwindling number of soldiers, before being variously used by the Garda Síochána and as a storage location for property belonging to the National Museum of Ireland. The large statue Queen Victoria which used to stand in the forecourt of Leinster House, before its removal in 1947, is stored in the main courtyard of the Hospital, as are various state carriages, including the famously spectacular State Coach of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The Royal Hospital Kilmainham is finally restored by the Irish Government in 1984 and controversially opens as the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). Some people working in heritage organisations criticise the decision to demolish the eighteenth-century barrack rooms in one section of the quadrangle to create open spaces for the IMMA.

Every year on the National Day of Commemoration, the Sunday nearest July 11, the anniversary of the Truce that ends the Irish War of Independence, the President of Ireland, in the presence of members of the Government of Ireland, members of Dáil Éireann and of Seanad Éireann, the Council of State, the Defence Forces, the Judiciary and the Diplomatic Corps, lays a wreath in the courtyard in memory of all Irishmen and Irishwomen who have died in past wars and on service with the United Nations.

In recent years, Royal Kilmainham Hospital has become a popular location for concerts during the summer months. Acts such as Blur, Leonard Cohen, The Flaming Lips, Jack White and Public Enemy have played within the grounds in the past.