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


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Birth of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon & First Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon PC PC (NI) DL, prominent Irish unionist politician, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1921 until his death in 1940, is born at Sydenham, Belfast, on January 8, 1871.

Craig is the seventh of nine children of James Craig (1828–1900), a wealthy whiskey distiller who had entered the firm of Dunville & Co. as a clerk and by age 40 is a millionaire and a partner in the firm. Craig Snr. owns a large house called Craigavon, overlooking Belfast Lough. His mother, Eleanor Gilmore Browne, is the daughter of Robert Browne, a prosperous man who owned property in Belfast and a farm outside Lisburn. Craig is educated at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, Scotland. After school he begins work as a stockbroker, eventually opening his own firm in Belfast.

Craig enlists in the 3rd (Militia) battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles on January 17, 1900 to serve in the Second Boer War. He is seconded to the Imperial Yeomanry, a cavalry force created for service during the war, as a lieutenant in the 13th battalion on February 24, 1900, and leaves Liverpool for South Africa on the SS Cymric in March 1900. After arrival he is soon sent to the front and is taken prisoner in May 1900, but released by the Boers because of a perforated colon. On his recovery he becomes deputy assistant director of the Imperial Military Railways, showing the qualities of organisation that are to mark his involvement in both British and Ulster politics. In June 1901 he is sent home suffering from dysentery, and by the time he is fit for service again the war is over. He is promoted to captain in the 3rd Royal Irish Rifles on September 20, 1902, while still seconded to South Africa.

On his return to Ireland, having received a £100,000 legacy from his father’s will, Craig turns to politics, serving as Member of the British Parliament for East Down from 1906 to 1918. From 1918 to 1921 he represents Mid Down, and serves in the British government as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Pensions (1919–20) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1920–21).

Craig rallies Ulster loyalist opposition to Irish Home Rule in Ulster before World War I, organising the paramilitary Ulster Volunteers (UVF) and buying arms from Imperial Germany. The UVF becomes the nucleus of the 36th (Ulster) Division during World War I. He succeeds Edward Carson as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in February 1921.

In the 1921 Northern Ireland general election, the first ever, Craig is elected to the newly created House of Commons of Northern Ireland as one of the members for Down.

On June 7, 1921, Craig is appointed the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The House of Commons of Northern Ireland assembles for the first time later that day.

Craig is made a baronet in 1918, and in 1927 is created Viscount Craigavon, of Stormont in the County of Down. He is also the recipient of honorary degrees from Queen’s University Belfast (1922) and the University of Oxford (1926).

Craig had made his career in British as well as Northern Irish politics but his premiership shows little sign of his earlier close acquaintance with the British political world. He becomes intensely parochial, and suffers from his loss of intimacy with British politicians in 1938, when the British government concludes agreements with Dublin to end the Anglo-Irish trade war between the two countries. He never tries to persuade Westminster to protect Northern Ireland‘s industries, especially the linen industry, which is central to its economy. He is anxious not to provoke Westminster, given the precarious state of Northern Ireland’s position. In April 1939, and again in May 1940 during World War II, he calls for conscription to be introduced in Northern Ireland (which the British government, fearing a backlash from nationalists, refuses). He also calls for Winston Churchill to invade Ireland using Scottish and Welsh troops in order to seize the valuable ports and install a Governor-General at Dublin.

While still prime minister, Craig dies peacefully at his home at Glencraig, County Down at the age of 69 on November 24, 1940. He is buried on the Stormont Estate on December 5, 1940, and is succeeded as the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Minister of Finance, J. M. Andrews.

(Pictured: James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, bromide print by Olive Edis, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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Birth of Henry Harrison, Politician & Writer

henry-harrisonCaptain Henry Harrison, nationalist politician and writer, is born in Holywood, County Down on December 17, 1867.

A Protestant nationalist, Harrison is the son of Henry Harrison and Letitia Tennent, the daughter of Robert James Tennent, who had been Liberal Party MP for Belfast from 1847 to 1852. Later, when widowed, she marries the author Hartley Withers.

Harrison goes to Westminster School and then to Balliol College, Oxford. While there he develops an admiration for Charles Stewart Parnell and becomes secretary of the Oxford University Home Rule League. At this time, the Land War is in progress and in 1889 he goes to Ireland to visit the scene of the evictions in Gweedore, County Donegal. He becomes involved in physical confrontations with the Royal Irish Constabulary and as a result becomes a Nationalist celebrity overnight. The following May, Parnell offers the vacant parliamentary seat of Mid Tipperary to Harrison, who leaves Oxford at age 22, to take it up, unopposed.

Only six months later, following the divorce case involving Katharine O’Shea, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Parnell’s leadership. Harrison strongly supports Parnell, acts as his bodyguard and aide-de-camp, and after Parnell’s death devotes himself to the service of his widow Katharine. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce case from that which had appeared in the press, and this is to form the seed of his later books.

At the 1892 United Kingdom general election, Harrison does not defend Mid-Tipperary. He stands at West Limerick as a Parnellite instead, but comes nowhere near winning the seat. In the 1895 United Kingdom general election, he stands at North Sligo, polling better but again far short of winning. In 1895 he marries Maie Byrne, an American, with whom he has a son. He comes to prominence briefly again in 1903 when, in spite of his lack of legal training, he successfully conducts his own case in a court action all the way to the House of Lords.

Otherwise, however, Harrison disappears from public view until his war service with the Royal Irish Regiment when he serves on the Western Front with distinction in the New British Army formed for World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and being awarded the Military Cross (MC). He organises patrols in “No Man’s Land” so successfully that he is appointed special patrol officer to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is invalided out and becomes a recruiting officer in Ireland. He is appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1919 New Year Honours.

Harrison then makes a return to Irish politics, working with Sir Horace Plunkett as Secretary of the Irish Dominion League, an organisation campaigning for dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire. He is a lifelong opponent of Irish partition. He is Irish correspondent of The Economist from 1922 to 1927 and owner-editor of Irish Truth from 1924 to 1927.

Harrison’s two books defending Parnell are published in 1931 and 1938. They have had a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair. F. S. L. Lyons comments that he “did more than anyone else to uncover what seems to have been the true facts” about the Parnell-O’Shea liaison. The second book, Parnell, Joseph Chamberlain and Mr Garvin, is written in response to J. L. Garvin‘s biography of Joseph Chamberlain, which had ignored his first book, Parnell Vindicated: The Lifting of the Veil. Later, he successfully repulses an attempt in the official history of The Times to rehabilitate that newspaper’s role in using forged letters to attack Parnell in the late 1880s. In 1952 he forces The Times to publish a four-page correction written by him as an appendix to the fourth volume of the history.

During the difficult years of the Anglo-Irish Trade War over the land purchase annuities, declaration of the Republic, Irish neutrality during World War II, and departure from the Commonwealth, Harrison works to promote good relations between Britain and Ireland. He publishes various books and pamphlets on the issues in dispute and writes numerous letters to The Times. He also founds, with General Sir Hubert Gough, the Commonwealth Irish Association in 1942.

At the time of his death on February 20, 1954, Harrison is the last survivor of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Parnell, and as a member of the pre-1918 Irish Parliamentary Party, he seems to have been outlived only by John Patrick Hayden, who dies a few months after him in 1954 and by Patrick Whitty and John Lymbrick Esmonde who are only MPs for a very short time during World War I. He is buried in Holywood, County Down.


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Guinness First Exported from Ireland

guinnessJust ten years after Guinness is first brewed in St. James Gate, Dublin, the beautiful magic brew is first exported from Ireland on May 19, 1769 as six-and-a-half barrels are shipped to England.

Guinness is an Irish dry stout that originates in the brewery of Arthur Guinness (1725–1803) at St. James’s Gate brewery in the capital city of Dublin. Guinness, produced by the Diageo beverages company, is one of the most successful beer brands worldwide. It is brewed in almost 50 countries and is available in over 120. Annual sales total of Guinness in 2011 was 850 million litres (220,000,000 US gal).

Guinness features a burnt flavour that is derived from malted barley and roasted unmalted barley. The use of roasted barley is a relatively modern development, not becoming part of the grist until the mid-20th century. For many years, a portion of aged brew is blended with freshly brewed beer to give a sharp lactic acid flavour. Although Guinness’s palate still features a characteristic “tang,” the company has refused to confirm whether this type of blending still occurs. The draught beer‘s thick, creamy head comes from mixing the beer with nitrogen and carbon dioxide when poured. It is popular with the Irish, both in Ireland and abroad. In spite of declining consumption since 2001, it is still the best-selling alcoholic drink in Ireland where Guinness & Co. Brewery makes almost €2 billion worth of the beverage annually.

The company is started in 1759 in Dublin, but has to move its headquarters to London at the beginning of the Anglo-Irish Trade War in 1932. In 1997, Guinness plc merges with Grand Metropolitan to form the multinational alcoholic drinks producer Diageo.


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Establishment of the Irish Free State

free-state-executive-councilThe Irish Free State (Irish: Saorstát Éireann), an independent state established under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, comes into being on December 6, 1922. The treaty ends the three-year Irish War of Independence between the forces of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and British Crown forces.

The Free State is established as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations. For one day, it encompasses all thirty-two counties of Ireland. Northern Ireland, which is comprised of the six northernmost counties, exercises its right under the Treaty to opt out of the new state on December 7.

The Free State government consists of the Governor-General, the representative of the king, and the Executive Council, which replaces both the revolutionary Dáil Government and the Provisional Government set up under the Treaty. W. T. Cosgrave, who had led both of these governments since August 1922, becomes the first President of the Executive Council. The legislature consists of Dáil Éireann, the lower house, and Seanad Éireann, also known as the Senate. Members of the Dáil are required to take an Oath of Allegiance, swearing fidelity to the king. The oath is a key issue for opponents of the Treaty, who refuse to take the oath and therefore do not take their seats. Pro-Treaty members, who form Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923, hold an effective majority in the Dáil from 1922 to 1927, and thereafter rule as a minority government until 1932.

In the first months of the Free State, the Irish Civil War is waged between the newly established National Army and the anti-Treaty IRA, who refuse to recognise the state. The Civil War ends in victory for the government forces, with the anti-Treaty forces dumping its arms in May 1923. The anti-Treaty political party, Sinn Féin, refuses to take its seats in the Dáil, leaving the relatively small Labour Party as the only opposition party. In 1926, when Sinn Féin president Éamon de Valera fails to have this policy reversed, he resigns from Sinn Féin and founds Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil enters the Dáil following the 1927 general election, and enters government after the Irish general election of 1932, when it becomes the largest party.

De Valera abolishes the Oath of Allegiance and embarks on an economic war with Britain. In 1937 he drafts a new constitution, which is passed by a referendum in July of that year. The Free State comes to an end with the coming into force of the new constitution on December 29, 1937. Under the new constitution the Irish state is named Ireland.

(Pictured: The Executive Council of the Irish Free State, October 1928)