seamus dubhghaill

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


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Ahern Meets Paisley in County Antrim

paisley-and-ahern-2008Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visits Ballymena on February 1, 2008 to meet Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley in his County Antrim constituency. Paisley says the Taoiseach’s visit to north Antrim is a historic day, and Ahern says his visit is another tangible benefit of the ongoing peace process.

Ahern and Paisley discuss political and economic developments in Northern Ireland and increasing cross-Border co-operation. The Taoiseach says he is honoured to visit the north Antrim heartland of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader.

“I do not believe even a year back it could have been envisaged we would have been together here,” Ahern says. “It is an honour to be here with the First Minister to talk about progress.”

Paisley jokes that Ahern and his entourage had held a prayer meeting in their helicopter hoping that they would not be pelted with snowballs by him, a reference to his famous protest when former Taoiseach Seán Lemass visited Stormont in 1965.

When asked about welcoming the Fianna Fáil leader to his constituency Paisley quips, “What I am saying is he is in under my control. This is a good day for work. It is a good day for our province. It is a good day for the whole of Ireland because we need help from outside. We cannot live on our own.”

Ahern and Paisley meet again the following week at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce AGM dinner where Paisley has been invited to be a guest speaker.

The engagement is the latest visit to the Republic by the DUP leader since the Assembly was restored in Stormont the previous May. The Taoiseach invites Paisley to the historic Battle of the Boyne battle site in County Louth in July where the DUP leader presents a 17th-century musket to Ahern.

In October 2007, Paisley addresses the Trinity College Historical Society in Dublin and also attends an event in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in the city in November.

(From The Irish Times, Friday, February 1, 2008)

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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 Historian George Benn

george-bennGeorge Benn, Irish historian of Belfast, is born in Tanderagee, County Armagh on January 1, 1801.

Benn’s grandfather, Jonn Benn, came from Cumberland about 1760 as engineer of the Newry Canal. His father, also John Benn (1767-1853), was proprietor of a brewery in Belfast. He is educated at the Belfast Academy, under Rev. Dr. Bruce and afterwards under Sheridan Knowles, then a teacher of English at Belfast. He enters the collegiate classes of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1816, being one of the original alumni, and takes gold medals in logic (1817) and moral philosophy (1818).

In 1819 the faculty prize is offered for the “best account of a parish.” Benn is the successful essayist, with the parish of Belfast as his theme. He also gains in 1821 the faculty prize (The Crusades), and Dr. Tennant’s gold medal (Sketch of Irish Authors in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries). His essay of 1819 attracts the attention of James M’Knight, LL.D., then editor of the Belfast News-Letter who offers to print and publish it. It is issued anonymously in an enlarged form in 1823, with three maps and sixteen engravings by J. Thomson. For so young a writer it is a work of uncommon judgment and research, exceedingly well written, with an eye for scenery and a taste for economics as well as for antiquities. It is not superseded by Benn’s later labours.

Benn, with his brother Edward (1798- 1874), engages in distilling near Downpatrick. Subsequently the brothers spend the prime of their days on an estate they purchase at Glenravel, near Ballymena. Here, in an unimproved district, they plant the hillsides, plough the moors, build good houses, and collect a valuable library. They endeavour to create a new industry by an experiment in the manufacture of potato spirit, but excise regulations in place at the time frustrate their object. The cost of the experiment, and the losses from potato disease, induce the brothers to undertake a business in Liverpool for some years. Returning to Glenravel, a casual circumstance leads to a rich discovery of iron ore in the Glenravel hills. The first specimen is smelted in 1851 under Edward Benn’s direction. In 1866 an agreement is made with James Fisher, of Barrow-in-Furness, to work the mineral beds. Hence comes a new and valuable addition to the commercial products of Ulster, which has since attained important proportions.

Meanwhile, Edward Benn is contributing antiquarian articles to various journals and forming a fine archaeological collection, now in the Ulster Museum. It his proposed to George to resume and complete the history of Belfast. He modestly indicates, as more fit for the task, William Pinkerton, who collects some materials, but dies in 1871 without having begun the history. Pinkerton’s papers are submitted to Benn for publication, but he finds employment of them impracticable, and states in his preface to his history, “It is all my own work from beginning to end.”

Benn returns to Belfast after his brother’s death in 1874, publishing A History of the Town of Belfast in 1877. A second volume appears in 1880. This supplementary volume, though the proof-sheets are “corrected by a kind friend,” the late John Carlisle, head of the English department in the Royal Academical Institution, bears evidence of the author’s affecting statement: “Before I had proceeded very far, my sight entirely failed.” Benn dies on January 8, 1882.

Edward and George Benn are members of the nonsubscribing presbyterian body, but wide in their sympathies and broad in their charities beyond the limits of their sect. Edward is the founder, and George the benefactor, of three hospitals in Belfast and their gifts to educational institutions are munificent.


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Birth of Rose Maud Young, Writer & Scholar

rose-maud-youngRose Maud Young (Irish: Róis Ní Ógáin), writer, scholar and collector of Irish songs, is born in Galgorm Castle, Ballymena, County Antrim, in what is now Northern Ireland, on October 30, 1866. She is best known for her work to preserve the Irish language. Her books make lyrics from the Gaelic tradition accessible to the general public and are used in the Irish classroom for several decades.

Young is the daughter and seventh of twelve children born to Grace Charlotte Savage and John Young, who is a prosperous unionist and high sheriff. Despite his position he is a believer in tenant rights. Her younger sister is the writer Ella Young and her brother Willie Young is secretary of the Ulster Unionist League.

Young is educated by governesses until 1884 before completing training as a teacher through the University of Cambridge. She also attends Gaelic League classes in 1903 in London while visiting her sister who is living in the city at the time. After visiting the Bodleian Library she becomes committed to the study of the Irish language.

In the early 1900s Young returns to Ireland and continues her study of the Irish language in Belfast at Seán Ó Catháin‘s Irish College and in Donegal at Coláiste Uladh in Gort an Choirce. She also stays in Dublin and becomes friends with members of the Gaelic League and meets Margaret Dobbs. She works with Dobbs on the Feis na nGleann (The Glens Festival), a gathering dedicated to the Irish language.

Young is not involved in nationalism though she is strongly supportive of creating and maintaining a sense of “Irishness” through language and culture. She is also a friend and patron of Roger Casement. She also works with Ellen O’Brien and contributes to O’Brien’s book, The Gaelic Church. She keeps meticulous diaries and becomes interested in Rathlin Island and the Gaelic spoken there.

Rose Young dies on May 28, 1947 in Cushendun, County Antrim, where she resides with Dobbs. She is buried in the Presbyterian churchyard at Ahoghill, County Antrim.


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Death of Samuel McCaughey, Australian Philanthropist

samuel-mccaugheySir Samuel McCaughey, Irish-born pastoralist, politician and philanthropist in Australia, dies in Yanco, New South Wales on July 25, 1919.

McCaughey is born on July 1, 1835 at Tullynewey, near Ballymena, County Antrim, the son of Francis McCaughey, farmer and merchant, and his wife Eliza, née Wilson.

McCaughey comes to Australia with an uncle, Charles Wilson, a brother of Sir Samuel Wilson, and lands at Melbourne in April 1856. He immediately goes to the country and begins working as a jackaroo. Within three months he is appointed an overseer and two years later becomes manager of Kewell station while his uncle is on a visit to England.

In 1860, after his uncle’s return, McCaughey acquires an interest in Coonong station near Urana with two partners. His brother John who comes out later becomes a partner in other stations.

During the early days of Coonong station McCaughey suffers greatly from drought conditions, but overcomes these by sinking wells for artesian water and constructing large tanks, making him a pioneer of water conservation in Australia.

In 1871 McCaughey is away from Australia for two years on holiday, and on his return does much experimenting in sheep farming. At first he seeks the strains that can produce the best wool in the Riverina district. Afterwards, when the mutton trade develops, he considers the question from that angle.

In 1880 Sir Samuel Wilson goes to England and McCaughey purchases two of his stations, Toorale and Dunlop Stations, during his absence. He then owns about 3,000,000 acres. In 1886 he again visits the old world and imports a considerable number of Vermont sheep from the United States and also introduces fresh strains from Tasmania. He ultimately owns several million sheep, earning the nickname of “The Sheep King.”

In 1900 McCaughey purchases North Yanco and, at great cost, constructs about 200 miles of channels and irrigates 40,000 acres. The success of this scheme is believed to have encouraged the New South Wales government to proceed with the dam at Burrinjuck.

McCaughey becomes a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1899, and in 1905 he is made a Knight Bachelor. He suffers from nephritis and dies from heart failure at Yanco on July 25, 1919 and is buried in the grounds of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Narrandera. He never marries.


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Birth of Minister William Dool Killen

william-dool-killenWilliam Dool Killen, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and church historian, is born at Church Street, Ballymena, County Antrim, on April 16, 1806.

Killen is the third of four sons and nine children of John Killen (1768–1828), a grocer and seedsman in Ballymena, by his wife Martha, daughter of Jesse Dool, a farmer in Duneane. His paternal grandfather, a farmer at Carnmoney, marries Blanche Brice, a descendant of Edward Brice. A brother, James Miller Killen (1815–1879), is a minister in Comber, County Down. Thomas Young Killen is his father’s great-nephew.

After attending local primary schools, Killen goes to Ballymena Academy around 1816, and in November 1821 enters the collegiate department of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, under James Thomson. In 1827, he is licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Ballymena, and on November 11, 1829 he is ordained minister at Raphoe, County Donegal.

In July 1841 Killen is appointed, by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, its professor of church history, ecclesiastical government, and pastoral theology, in succession to James Seaton Reid. He concentrates on history. When Assembly’s College, Belfast is set up in 1853, he becomes one of the professors there. In 1869 he is appointed president of the college, in succession to Henry Cooke, and undertakes fundraising for professorial endowments and new buildings. In 1889 he resigns his chair but continues as president.

During his career Killen receives the degrees of D.D. (1845) and of LL.D. (1901) from the University of Glasgow. His portrait, painted by Richard Hooke, hangs in the Gamble library of the college.

William Dool Killen dies on January 10, 1902, and is buried in Balmoral Cemetery, Belfast, where a monument marks his resting place.


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Birth of William Reeves, Bishop of Down, Connor & Dromore

bishop-william-reevesWilliam Reeves, Irish antiquarian and the Church of Ireland Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore from 1886 until his death, is born on March 16, 1815. He is the last private keeper of the Book of Armagh and at the time of his death is President of the Royal Irish Academy.

Reeves is born at Charleville, County Cork, the eldest child of Boles D’Arcy Reeves, an attorney, whose wife Mary is a daughter of Captain Jonathan Bruce Roberts, land agent to the Edmund Boyle, 8th Earl of Cork. This grandfather had fought at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, and Reeves is born at his house in Charleville.

From 1823, Reeves is educated at the school of John Browne in Leeson Street, Dublin, and after that at a school kept by the Rev. Edward Geoghegan. In October 1830, he enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he quickly gains a prize for Hebrew. In his third year, he becomes a scholar and goes on to graduate BA in 1835. He proceeds to read medicine, wins the Berkeley Medal, and graduates MB in 1837. His object in taking his second degree is that he intends to become a clergyman and to practice the medical profession among the poor of his parish.

In 1838, Reeves is appointed Master of the diocesan school in Ballymena, County Antrim, and is ordained a deacon of Hillsborough, County Down. The following year, he is ordained a priest of the Church of Ireland at Derry.

In 1844, Reeves rediscovers the lost site of Nendrum Monastery when he visits Mahee Island in Strangford Lough, County Down, searching for churches recorded in 1306, and recognises the remains of a round tower. By 1845, he is corresponding with the Irish scholar John O’Donovan, and an archive of their letters between 1845 and 1860 is preserved at University College, Dublin. In July 1845, Reeves visits London.

Reeves resides in Ballymena from 1841 to 1858, when he is appointed vicar of Lusk following the success of his edition of Adomnán‘s Life of Saint Columba (1857), for which the Royal Irish Academy awards him their Cunningham Medal in 1858. In 1853, he purchases from the Brownlow family the important 9th-century manuscript known as the Book of Armagh, paying three hundred pounds for it. He sells the book for the same sum to Archbishop Beresford, who has agreed to present it to Trinity College, Dublin.

In 1875 Reeves is appointed Dean of Armagh, a position he holds until 1886 when he is appointed as Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore. In 1891 he is elected as President of the Royal Irish Academy. As bishop, he resides at Conway House, Dunmurry, County Antrim, and signs his name “Wm. Down and Connor.”

William Reeves dies in Dublin on January 12, 1892, while still President of the Academy. At the time of his death, he is working on a diplomatic edition of the Book of Armagh, by then in the Trinity College Library. The work is completed by Dr. John Gwynn and published in 1913.