seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Ramillies

The Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Ramillies in the War of the Spanish Succession on May 23, 1706. For one hundred years Irishmen are smuggled from Ireland to France, where their rights are stripped by foreign invaders to fill the ranks of the famous Irish Brigade. During those one hundred years they fight all over Europe, in North America, the Caribbean, and even India. They shed their blood freely on several hundred fields “from Dunkirk to Belgrade,” in the words of Thomas Davis.

For the Grand AllianceAustria, England, and the Dutch Republic – the Battle of Ramillies follows an indecisive campaign against the Bourbon armies of King Louis XIV of France in 1705. Although the Allies capture Barcelona that year, they are forced to abandon their campaign on the Moselle, stall in the Spanish Netherlands and suffer defeat in northern Italy. Yet despite his opponents’ setbacks Louis XIV wants peace, but on reasonable terms. Because of this, as well as to maintain their momentum, the French and their allies take the offensive in 1706.

The campaign begins well for Louis XIV’s generals. In Italy, Marshal of France Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme, defeats the Austrians at the Battle of Calcinato in April, while in Alsace Marshal Claude Louis Hector de Villars forces Louis William, Margrave of Baden-Baden, back across the Rhine. Encouraged by these early gains Louis XIV urges Marshal François de Neufville, Duke of Villeroy, to go over to the offensive in the Spanish Netherlands and, with victory, gain a ‘fair’ peace. Accordingly, the French Marshal sets off from Leuven at the head of 60,000 men and marches toward Tienen, as if to threaten Zoutleeuw. Also determined to fight a major engagement, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, commander-in-chief of Anglo-Dutch forces, assembles his army of some 62,000 men near Maastricht, and marches past Zoutleeuw. With both sides seeking battle, they soon encounter each other on the dry ground between the rivers Mehaigne and Gete, close to the small village of Ramillies, Belgium.

In less than four hours Marlborough’s Dutch, English, and Danish forces overwhelm Villeroi’s and Maximilian II Emanuel‘s Franco-Spanish-Bavarian army. The Duke’s subtle moves and changes in emphasis during the battle, something his opponents fail to realise until it is too late, catches the French in a tactical vice. With their foe broken and routed, the Allies are able to fully exploit their victory. Town after town falls, including Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp. By the end of the campaign Villeroi’s army has been driven from most of the Spanish Netherlands. With Prince Eugene of Savoy‘s subsequent success at the Siege of Turin in northern Italy, the Allies impose the greatest loss of territory and resources that Louis XIV would suffer during the war. Thus, the year 1706 proves, for the Allies, to be an annus mirabilis.

(Pictured: “The Battle of Ramillies between the French and the English, 23 May 1706” by Jan van Huchtenburgh, oil on canvas painted between 1706 and 1710)


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The Munich Air Disaster

munich-air-disasterThe Munich air disaster occurs on February 6, 1958 when British European Airways Flight 609 crashes on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany. On the plane is the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the “Busby Babes“, along with supporters and journalists. Twenty of the 44 on the aircraft die at the scene. The injured, some unconscious, are taken to the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich where three more die, resulting in 23 fatalities with 21 survivors. Among the Manchester United fatalities is inside forward Liam “Billy” Whelan who was born in Cabra on the northside of Dublin in 1935.

The team is returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, having eliminated Red Star Belgrade to advance to the semi-finals of the competition. The flight stops to refuel in Munich because a non-stop flight from Belgrade to Manchester is beyond the Airspeed Ambassador‘s range. After refuelling, pilots James Thain and Kenneth Rayment twice abandon take-off because of boost surging in the left engine. Fearing they will get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejects an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt. By then snow is falling, causing a layer of slush to form at the end of the runway. After the aircraft hits the slush, it ploughs through a fence beyond the end of the runway and the left wing is torn off after hitting a house. Fearing the aircraft might explode, Thain begins evacuating passengers while Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg helps pull survivors from the wreckage.

An investigation by West German airport authorities originally blames Thain, saying he did not de-ice the aircraft’s wings, despite eyewitness statements to the contrary. It is later established that the crash is caused by the slush on the runway, which slows the plane too much to take off. Thain is cleared in 1968, ten years after the incident.

At the time of the disaster, Manchester United is trying to become the third club to win three successive English Football League titles. They are six points behind League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go. They also hold the Charity Shield and have just advanced into their second successive European Cup semi-final. The team has not been beaten in eleven consecutive matches. The crash not only derails their title ambitions that year but also virtually destroys the nucleus of what promised to be one of the greatest generations of players in English football history. It takes ten years for the club to recover, with Busby rebuilding the team and winning the European Cup in 1968 with a new generation of “Babes.”