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


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Death of Anglo-Irish Statesman Henry Flood

henry-floodHenry Flood, Anglo-Irish statesman and founder of the Patriot movement that in 1782 wins legislative independence for Ireland, dies on December 2, 1791.

Flood is born in Dublin in 1732, the illegitimate son of Warden Flood, Lord Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench in Ireland. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and afterwards at Christ Church, Oxford, where he becomes proficient in the classics.

Flood enters the Irish Parliament in 1759 as member for Kilkenny County. Irish Protestants are becoming impatient with the British Parliament’s right to legislate for Ireland over the wishes of the Irish Parliament. Moreover, the British government controls a majority in Ireland’s House of Commons through the distribution of crown patronage by the owners of parliamentary boroughs.

Flood’s outstanding oratorical powers soon enable him to create a small but effective opposition inside the Irish Parliament that agitates for political reforms. They demand provisions for new Irish parliamentary elections every eight years, instead of merely at the start of a new British king’s reign. Their long-range goal is legislative independence. In 1768 his Patriots engineer passage of a bill limiting the duration of Parliament to eight years, and in 1769 and 1771 they defeat measures to grant funds for the British administration in Ireland.

Although Flood had become the first independent Irish statesman, he sacrifices this position in 1775 by accepting the office of vice treasurer under the British viceroy, Lord Simon Harcourt, 1st Earl Harcourt. Henry Grattan, an even greater orator than Flood and who describes Flood as a man “with a metaphor in his mouth and a bribe in his pocket,” replaces him as leader of the Patriots.

Flood, however, leaves the Patriot cause at the wrong time. The movement grows rapidly as more and more Irish people are influenced by the North American colonists who are rebelling against the British in the American Revolution. In 1779 he rejoins his old party, and two years later he is officially dismissed from his government post. Although he has lost his following, he helps Grattan force the British government to renounce its restrictions on Irish trade (1779) and grant legislative independence to Ireland (1782).

Flood then decides to challenge Grattan’s leadership. Charging that Grattan has not gone far enough in his reforms, he obtains passage of a measure requiring the British Parliament to renounce all claims to control of Irish legislation. Nevertheless, his newly acquired popularity is destroyed upon the defeat of his attempt to reform the Irish Parliament in 1784.

Flood is a member of both the British and Irish parliaments from 1783 until he loses his seat in both parliaments in 1790, although in England he fails to achieve the kind of political successes that characterize his Irish parliamentary career.

Following the loss of his seats in parliament, Flood retires to Farmley, his residence in County Kilkenny, where he remains until his death on December 2, 1791. He and his wife Lady Frances Beresford, daughter of Marcus Beresford, 1st Earl of Tyrone, who survives until 1815, have no children, and his property passes to a cousin, John Flood. A large bequest to Trinity College Dublin is declared invalid.

(Pictured: Portrait of Henry Flood (1732 – 1791) by Bartholomew Stoker (1763-1788). John Comerford later makes a sketch of the portrait, from which James Heath makes an engraving.)


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Murder of Shane “the Proud” O’Neill

shane-o-neillShane O’Neill, Irish patriot known by the nickname “Shane the Proud,” is murdered in what is now Cushendum, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on June 2, 1567. He is among the most famous of all the O’Neills.

O’Neill, the eldest legitimate son of Conn O’Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, is a chieftain whose support the English consider worth gaining. However, he rejects overtures from Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, and refuses to help the English against the Scottish settlers on the coast of Antrim. He allies himself instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these immigrants. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth I of England is disposed to come to terms with O’Neill who, after his father’s death, is de facto chief of the O’Neill clan. She recognizes his claims to the chieftainship, thus throwing over a kinsman, Brian O’Neill. O’Neill, however, refuses to put himself in the power of Sussex without a guarantee for his safety and his claims are so exacting that Elizabeth determines to restore Brian. An attempt to incite the O’Donnells against him, however, is frustrated.

Elizabeth, who is not prepared to undertake the subjugation of the Irish chieftain, urgently desires peace with O’Neill, especially when the devastation of his territory by Sussex brings him no nearer to submission. Sussex is not supported by the queen, who sends Gerald FitzGerald,  11th Earl of Kildare to arrange terms with O’Neill. The latter agrees to present himself before Elizabeth. Accompanied by Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde and Kildare, he reaches London on January 4, 1562. Elizabeth temporizes but, finding that O’Neill is in danger of becoming a tool in the hands of Spanish intriguers, permits him to return to Ireland, recognizing him as “the O’Neill,” and chieftain of Tyrone.

There are at this time three powerful contemporary members of the O’Neill family in Ireland — O’Neill, Turlough Luineach O’Neill, and Matthew Ó Néill, 1st Baron Dungannon. Turlough had schemed to supplant O’Neill during his absence in London. The feud does not long survive O’Neill’s return to Ireland, where he reestablishes his authority and renews his turbulent tribal warfare. Elizabeth at last authorizes Sussex to take the field against O’Neill, but two expeditions fail. O’Neill then lays the entire blame for his lawless conduct on the lord deputy’s repeated alleged attempts on his life. Elizabeth consents to negotiate, and practically all of O’Neill’s demands are conceded.

O’Neill then turns his hand against the MacDonnells, claiming that he is serving the Queen of England in harrying the Scots. He fights an indecisive battle with Sorley Boy MacDonnell near Coleraine in 1564, and in 1565 he routs the MacDonnells and takes Sorley Boy prisoner near Ballycastle. This victory strengthens O’Neill’s position, but the English make preparations for his subjugation.

Failing in an attempt to arrange terms, and also in obtaining the help which he solicited from France, O’Neill is utterly routed by the O’Donnells at the Battle of Farsetmore near Letterkenny and, seeking safety in flight, throws himself on the mercy of his enemies, the MacDonnells. Attended by a small body of gallowglass, and taking his prisoner Sorley Boy with him, he presents himself among the MacDonnells near Cushendun, on the Antrim coast, hoping to propose an alliance. Here, on June 2, 1567, he is killed by the MacDonnells and his headless body is buried at Crosskern Church at Ballyterrim above Cushendun. His body is possibly later moved to Glenarm Abbey. Unbeknownst to O’Neill, The Scots had already come to an agreement with Henry Sidney and William Piers, Seneschal of Clandeboye, commander of the English garrison at Carrickfergus. The English Government tries to pass this off as a “drunken brawl” turned savage. Piers travels to Cushendun to take O’Neill’s head and send it to Dublin Castle.