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


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Death of Emily Lawless, Irish Novelist & Poet

The Honourable Emily Lawless, Irish novelist and poet from County Kildare, dies at Gomshall, a village in the borough of Guildford in Surrey, England, on October 19, 1913. According to Betty Webb Brewer, writing in 1983 for the journal of the Irish American Cultural Institute, Éire/Ireland, “An unflagging unionist, she recognised the rich literary potential in the native tradition and wrote novels with peasant heroes and heroines, Lawless depicted with equal sympathy the Anglo-Irish landholders.”

Lawless is born at Lyons Demesne below Lyons Hill, Ardclough, County Kildare. Her grandfather is Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, a member of the Society of United Irishmen and son of a convert from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland. Her father is Edward Lawless, 3rd Baron Cloncurry, thus giving her the title of “The Honourable.” In contrast, her brother Edward Lawless is a landowner with strong Unionist opinions, a policy of not employing Roman Catholics in any position in his household, and chairman of the Property Defence Association set up in 1880 to oppose the Irish National Land League and “uphold the rights of property against organised combination to defraud.” The prominent Anglo-Irish unionist and later nationalist, Home Rule politician Horace Plunkett is a cousin. Lord Castletown, Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown is also a cousin. It is widely believed that she is a lesbian and that Lady Sarah Spencer, dedicatee of A Garden Diary (1901) is her lover.

Lawless spends part of her childhood with the Kirwans of Castle Hackett, County Galway, her mother’s family, and draws on West of Ireland themes for many of her works. She occasionally writes under the pen name “Edith Lytton.”

Lawless writes nineteen works of fiction, biography, history, nature studies and poetry, many of which are widely read at the time. She is most famous today for her Wild Geese poems (1902).

Some critics identify a theme of noble landlord and noble peasant in her fourth book, Hurrish, a Land War story set in The Burren of County Clare which is read by William Ewart Gladstone and said to have influenced his policy. It deals with the theme of Irish hostility to English law. In the course of the book a landlord is assassinated, and Hurrish’s mother, Bridget, refuses to identify the murderer, a dull-witted brutal neighbour. The book is criticised by Irish-Ireland journals for its “grossly exaggerated violence,” its embarrassing dialect, staid characters.

Her reputation is damaged by William Butler Yeats who accuses her in a critique of having “an imperfect sympathy with the Celtic nature” and for adopting “theory invented by political journalists and forensic historians.” Despite this, Yeats includes her novels With Essex in Ireland (1890) and Maelcho (1894) in his list of the best Irish novels.

Emily Lawless dies at Gomshall, Surrey, on October 19, 1913. Her papers are preserved in Marsh’s Library in Dublin.

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The Theft of the Irish Crown Jewels

irish-crown-jewels-rewardThe theft from Dublin Castle of the Irish Crown Jewels, the heavily jeweled star and badge regalia of the Sovereign and Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick, as well as the collars of five knights of the Order is discovered on July 6, 1907. The theft has never been solved and the jewels have never been recovered.

Prior to 1903, the insignia of the Sovereign and those of deceased Knights are in the custody of the Ulster King of Arms, the senior Irish officer of arms, and are kept in a bank vault. In 1903, the jewels are transferred to a safe, which is to be placed in the newly constructed strongroom in Dublin Castle beside the Ulster King of Arms’ office. The new safe is too large for the doorway to the strongroom and Arthur Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms, instead stores it in his office. Seven latch keys to the door of the Office of Arms are held by Vicars and his staff, and two keys to the safe containing the insignia are both in the custody of Vicars. Vicars is known to regularly get drunk on overnight duty and he once awoke to find the jewels around his neck. It is not known whether or not this is a prank or a practice for the actual theft.

The insignia are last worn by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen, on March 15, 1907, at a function to mark Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17. They are last known to be in the safe on June 11, when Vicars shows them to a visitor to his office. The jewels are discovered to be missing on July 6, four days before the start of a visit by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to the Irish International Exhibition, at which it is planned to invest Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown, into the Order. The theft reportedly angers the King but the visit goes on as scheduled, however, the investiture ceremony is cancelled.

A police investigation is conducted by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). Posters issued by the DMP depict and describe the missing jewels. Detective Chief Inspector John Kane of Scotland Yard arrives on July 12 to assist. His report, which is never released, is said to name the culprit but is suppressed by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

Vicars refuses to resign his position, and similarly refuses to appear at a Viceregal Commission into the theft. Vicars argues for a public Royal Commission instead, which has the power to subpoena witnesses. He publicly accuses his second in command, Francis Shackleton, of the theft. Kane explicitly denies to the Commission that Shackleton, brother of the explorer Ernest Shackleton, is involved. Shackleton is exonerated in the Commission’s report, and Vicars is found to have “not exercise[d] due vigilance or proper care as the custodian of the regalia.” Vicars is compelled to resign, as are all the staff in his personal employ.