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


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The Execution of William Michael Byrne

William Michael Byrne, a key figure in the Society of United Irishmen in the years leading to the Irish Rebellion of 1798 against the British government, is executed in Dublin on July 25, 1798.

Byrne is one of the two sons of Colclough Byrne of Drumquin, Hackettstown and Mary Galway of Cork, a great grand-niece of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. He lives most of his adult life at Park Hill in the Glen of the Downs, County Wicklow. In late 1796, he enlists in the yeomanry, serving in the Newtown Mount Kennedy cavalry.

Byrne joins the Society of the United Irishmen in the spring of 1797 and later that same year is appointed by the Leinster committee to organise the half barony of Rathdown. As a delegate for Rathdown barony, he is a well respected and competent figure. With the assistance of his Protestant friend Thomas Miller of Powerscourt, he undertakes the organisation of military and civil branches of the United Irishmen in Rathdown, recruiting 2,000 men by late 1797. In October 1797 he is forced to resign from the yeomen after refusing to swear the oath of loyalty and his activities begin to come to the attention of Dublin Castle.

According to the informant A.B. (Thomas Murray), Byrne attends the inaugural meeting of the United Irishmen’s Wicklow county committee in December. It is held in the Annacurra home of William’s first cousin, John Loftus. Murray’s information tells that Byrne established networks of contacts between the Leinster committee and the Cork United Irishmen along with other contacts in Munster.

Byrne’s career comes to an end when he, along with fourteen other Leinster delegates, are arrested on March 12, 1798 at the house of Oliver Bond. They had been betrayed by Thomas Reynolds, treasurer of Kildare United Irishmen and member of the provincial committee. Reynolds had been informed that plans for an insurrection were about to be finalised by the committee. Byrne is arrested in possession of incriminating documents which are described by Attorney-General for Ireland Arthur Wolfe as being ‘very treasonable printed papers.’

On July 4, 1798 Byrne with four others is brought before a commission of oyer and terminer on charges of high treason. The case mounted by the state against him is based principally on the evidence of Reynolds and also that given by his former comrade William Miller of Powerscourt. The weight of the evidence is overwhelming, rendering an effective defence impossible.

Byrne’s lawyer, John Philpot Curran KC, the leading defence counsel of the period, attempts to cast Reynold’s character and motives in a foul light but it is futile. In his last days, efforts are made to spare his life if he would only express regret for his actions and accuse Lord Edward FitzGerald for having led him to this point. He refuses, meeting his end with great dignity and stoicism.

Byrne is convicted of high treason and executed on July 25, 1798 outside Green Street Courthouse, Dublin.

The Dublin Magazine notes that Byrne “met his fate with a degree of courage perhaps unequalled.” For his service to the state, Reynolds is honoured by Dublin Corporation with the freedom of the city on October 19, 1798, spending much of his life thereafter in fear of assassination.


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Birth of John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell

John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, Irish barrister and judge known as The Lord Earlsfort between 1784 and 1789 and as The Viscount Clonmell between 1789 and 1793, is born in County Tipperary on June 8, 1739. Sometimes known as “Copperfaced Jack”, he is Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench for Ireland from 1784 to 1789.

Scott is the third son of Thomas Scott of Scottsborough, County Tipperary, and his wife Rachel, daughter of Mark Prim of Johnswell, County Kilkenny. His parents are cousins, being two of the grandchildren of Nicholas Purcell, 13th Baron of Loughmoe. His elder brother is the uncle of Bernard Phelan, who establishes Château Phélan Ségur, and Dean John Scott, who first plants the gardens open to the public at Ballyin, County Waterford and marries a niece of Scott’s political ally, Henry Grattan.

While at Kilkenny College, Scott stands up to the tormentor of a boy named Hugh Carleton, who grows up to be Viscount Carleton of Clare. They become firm friends, and Carleton’s father, then known as the “King of Cork,” due to his wealth and influence, invites him to their home and becomes his patron. In 1756, Carleton sends both the young men off, with equal allowances, to study at Trinity College, Dublin and then the Middle Temple in London. On being called to the Irish bar in 1765, Scott’s eloquence secures him a position that enables him to pay £300 a year to his patron, Francis Carleton, who through a series of disappointments has been declared bankrupt. He continues to gratefully support his patron until Hugh Carleton is financially able to insist that he take up the payments to his father. Scott in later life turns against Carleton, describing him in his diary as a “worthless wretch.”

Admitted to King’s Inns in 1765, Scott is entitled to practice as a barrister. In 1769 he is elected as the Member of Parliament for Mullingar, a seat he holds until 1783. The following year he is made a King’s Counsel (KC). In 1772 he is Counsel to the Board of Revenue and in 1774 is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland (1774–1777). Three years later, he is elected a Privy Councillor and Attorney-General for Ireland (1774–1783). He is dismissed from the latter position in 1782 for refusing to acknowledge the right of England to legislate for Ireland. In 1775, he is awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Law (LL.D.) by Trinity College, Dublin. He holds the office of Prime Serjeant-at-Law of Ireland between 1777 and 1782. He is Clerk of the Pleas of the Court of the Exchequer in 1783 and is elected Member of Parliament for Portarlington between 1783 and 1784.

In 1784, Scott is created 1st Baron Earlsfort of Lisson-Earl, County Tipperary, following his appointment to Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. In 1789 he is created 1st Viscount Clonmel, of Clonmel, County Tipperary and in 1793 is created 1st Earl of Clonmel. By the 1790s he has an annual income of £20,000. Due to heavy drinking and overeating he becomes seriously overweight, and this no doubt contributes to his early death, although his diary shows that he makes frequent efforts to live a more temperate life. Drinking also produces the red face which earns him the nickname “Copper-faced Jack.”

In 1768, Scott marries the widowed Catherine Anna Maria Roe, daughter of Thomas Mathew, of Earl Landaff and sister of Francis Mathew, 1st Earl Landaff. She dies in 1771. In 1779, he marries Margaret Lawless, daughter and eventual heiress of banker Patrick Lawless of Dublin. He leaves a son and heir and a daughter by his second marriage.

Scott lives at Clonmell House, 17 Harcourt Street, Dublin. He also keeps a country residence, Temple Hill House, in County Dublin. Clonmell Street in Dublin is named in his honour, as is Earlsfort Terrace, also in Dublin. He also gains a reputation of being an experienced duelist.

In 1797, in the last conversation he would have with his wife’s cousin, Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, he exclaims, “My dear Val, I have been a fortunate man in life. I am a Chief Justice and an Earl; but, believe me, I would rather be beginning the world as a young (chimney) sweep.” He dies at the age of 58 the following year on May 23, 1798.

(Pictured: John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, oil on canvas by Gilbert Charles Stuart)


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First Issue of “The Irish People” Printed in Dublin

The Irish People, a nationalist weekly newspaper supportive of the Fenian movement, is first printed in Dublin on November 28, 1863. It is suppressed by the British Government in 1865.

Other republican newspapers namely, the United Irishman, The Irish Tribune, The Irish Felon, and then the Repeal Association-supporting paper, The Nation, are suppressed in 1848 after their writers, Young Irelanders and members of the Irish Confederation, are accused of promoting sedition. James Stephens is a Young Irelander and part of the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 that follows the closures of these newspapers. He flees to France after the rebellion’s failure. In 1856, he returns to Ireland and makes connections with former rebels. Two years later, he founds the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

In 1863, Stephens tells friends he is to start a newspaper. With funds through John O’Mahony, founder of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, he sets up an office at 12 Parliament Street. John O’Leary becomes the editor, with Thomas Luby, Charles Kickham, and Denis Mulcahy as editorial staff and Luby as a proprietor. Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is the business manager and James O’Connor his assistant and bookkeeper. The newspaper is printed by John Haltigan. Most of the articles are written by O’Leary and Kickham. The first issue comes out on Saturday, November 28, 1863. Its sympathies are clear. A front-page advertisement offers to ship old copies of the United Irishman and The Irish Felon to any address in the UK and editorial content is critical of the political status quo. Superintendent Daniel Ryan of G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which is largely concerned with Fenianism, notes the new publication’s birth and comments on its low circulation.

Plans for a rising in Ireland, hatched in the United States, are found at Kingstown station in July 1865 in an envelope containing a £500 New York bankers’ draft payable to Stephens’ brother-in-law. This is handed over to Dublin Castle and the link proves to be decisive for what follows. Later, a letter to the Tipperary IRB calling for a nationalist uprising is found by Pierce Nagle, a police informer working for The Irish People. Nagle had visited British officials while in New York in 1864 and offers his services after being upset by Stephens’ manner. After Nagle provides the information, the offices of The Irish People are raided on September 15. The last issue comes out the following day.

The paper is suppressed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, John Wodehouse. Luby, O’Leary, O’Donovan Rossa and O’Connor are arrested and held at Richmond Bridewell prison. Stephens and Kickham join them a month later. Stephens escapes from prison on November 24. A Special Commission is opened on November 27 and forty-one people are charged are ultimately charged. Luby, O’Leary, O’Connor, O’Donovan Rossa and Kickham are charged with the most serious crime of treason felony, first used against the republicans of 1848. Evidence used for the prosecution includes the letter found by Nagel and his testimony about Fenian connections, articles from The Irish People as far back as the first issue, in which Irish Catholic judges including one of the presiding judges, the current Attorney-General for Ireland and Privy Councillor William Keogh, had been strongly criticised, and a devastating secret document from 1864 written by Stephens and entrusted to Luby granting Luby, O’Leary and Kickham executive powers over the IRB. Kickham is unaware of the document. The conflicts of interest, also with the other judge, John David FitzGerald, who is involved in the defendants’ arrest, are highlighted by the defending counsel, former Tory MP Isaac Butt. Also noted is the striking, if not unusual, jury packing, an act where in a mostly-Catholic land, some of the juries involved are entirely Protestant.

Luby, O’Leary and O’Connor receive sentences of twenty years. O’Donovan Rossa is sentenced to life imprisonment because of his previous convictions. The frail Kickham, lifelong near-blind and deaf, gets twelve years. Judge Keogh praises his intellect and expresses sympathy with his plight, despite having refused his request for a writ of corpus to bring Luby and Charles Underwood O’Connell to his trial concerning his ignorance of the “executive document,” as Luby had already begun his sentence in Pentonville Prison.

(Pictured: The masthead of the first issue of The Irish People | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license)


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Alan Brodrick Appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench

alan-brodrickAlan Brodrick, 1st Viscount Midleton, a leading Anglo-Irish lawyer and politician of the early eighteenth century, is appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench on December 24, 1709. He is a man of great gifts, but so hot-tempered and passionate that even Jonathan Swift is said to have been afraid of him.

Brodrick is the second son of Sir St. John Brodrick of Ballyannan, near Midleton in County Cork, by his wife Alice, daughter of Laurence Clayton of Mallow, County Cork. His father receives large land grants during The Protectorate, and thus the family has much to lose if the land issue in Ireland is settled to the satisfaction of dispossessed Roman Catholics. He is educated at Magdalen College, Oxford and the Middle Temple, being called to the English bar in 1678. He and his relatives flee Ireland during the Glorious Revolution. They are attainted under the rule of King James II in Ireland. In exile in England, Brodrick argues for a speedy reconquest.

In 1690 Brodrick returns to Dublin and is given the legal office of Third Serjeant. He also becomes Recorder of Cork. He is dismissed as Serjeant in 1692, apparently on the ground that there is no work for him to do. While complaining bitterly about his dismissal, he admits privately that his post has been a superfluous one.

As a prominent Whig supporter of the outcome of the Glorious Revolution he is not always in agreement with court policies in Ireland, which he considers too lenient on the Jacobites. The dismissal of the First Serjeant, John Osborne, at the same time as Brodrick is due to his even stronger opposition to Court policy. Despite this he often holds Irish government offices and aspires to manage the Irish Parliament for English ministers. He represents Cork City in the Irish Parliament, which meets in 1692 and holds this seat until 1710. He is a vocal opponent of court policies, until the new Whig Lord Deputy of Ireland, Lord Henry Capell, decides to appoint him Solicitor-General for Ireland in 1695. He promotes penal laws against Catholics, whilst also supporting greater powers for the Irish Parliament.

Brodrick is Speaker of the Irish House of Commons from September 21, 1703. After promoting resolutions critical of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland he loses his post as Solicitor-General in 1704. From 1707 until 1709 he is Attorney-General for Ireland. He becomes Chief Justice of Ireland in 1710 and is replaced as Speaker on May 19, 1710, but again holds the office in the next Parliament (November 25, 1713 – August 1, 1714), where he also represents Cork County. He is appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1714 and is ennobled in the Peerage of Ireland in 1715, as the 1st Baron Brodrick. He is advanced to the rank of 1st Viscount Midleton in 1717.

Brodrick feuds with his successor as Speaker William Conolly, as they are rivals to be the leading figure in Irish politics. Despite intrigues in England, he loses out and resigns as Lord Chancellor in 1725. He leaves behind him a legacy of bitterness and ill-will for which he is not really responsible as the Irish peers choose to blame him for the loss of their powers under the Sixth of George I, rather than their own misjudgment in imprisoning the Barons of the Exchequer.


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Birth of Walter Hussey Burgh, Irish Statesman

walter-hussey-burghWalter Hussey Burgh, Irish statesman, barrister, and judge, is born in Kildare on August 23, 1742. Burgh sits in the Irish House of Commons and is considered to be one of its outstanding orators. He serves briefly as Chief Baron of the Exchequer at the end of his life.

Burgh is the son of Ignatius Hussey of Donore House, near Naas, and his wife Elizabeth Burgh. Elizabeth is the daughter of the leading statesman and architect Colonel Thomas de Burgh, who designs some of the most notable Irish buildings of his era, including Trinity College Library. Walter adopts the surname Burgh as a condition for inheriting the Burgh estate at Drumkeen, County Limerick, from his uncle Richard Burgh.

Burgh is educated at Mr. Young’s school at Abbey Street in Dublin, and then at the University of Dublin, where he graduates Bachelor of Arts in 1762. He is an accomplished classical scholar and has some reputation a poet. After studying at the Temple, he is called to the Bar in 1769 and within a few years becomes one of its leaders. He enters the Irish House of Commons in the same year, sitting first for Athy, later for the University of Dublin.

In Parliament he is a close associate of Henry Grattan and a supporter of his “free trade” programme. He becomes legendary for his oratory in support of the Irish Patriot Party. At the same time he prides himself on his independence of mind, preferring not to pledge support for any particular policy until he has examined its merits. He acquires as his patron Philip Tisdall, the immensely influential Attorney-General for Ireland, who calls him “the most promising of the rising young men.” At Tisdall’s request Burgh is appointed Prime Serjeant in 1776. He resigns the office in 1779, in protest at the continuing restrictions on free trade, after making the celebrated “England has sown her laws as dragon’s teeth” speech. After the removal of the restrictions, he agrees to accept office again and is re-appointed Prime Serjeant in 1782. A month later he is appointed Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, but he dies the following year at the assizes in Armagh, reportedly from gaol fever.