seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of James Ussher, Primate of All Ireland

james-ussherJames Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, is born in Dublin on January 4, 1581. He is best known for his massive compendium of ancient history, The Annals of the World, in which he attempts to calculate the number of years that had elapsed since creation.

Early in life Ussher is determined to pursue a career with the Church of England, a resolve quite similar to that of the Biblical Judge, Samuel.

A gifted polyglot, Ussher enters Dublin Free School and then the newly founded Trinity College, Dublin on January 9, 1594, at the age of thirteen (not an unusual age at the time). He receives his Bachelor of Arts degree by 1598, and was a fellow and MA by 1600. In May 1602, he was ordained in the Trinity College Chapel as a deacon (and possibly priest on the same day) in the Protestant Church of Ireland by his uncle Henry Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

At the age of 26, Ussher becomes Professor and Chairman of the Department of Divinity at Dublin University, and he holds his professorship from 1609 to 1621. In 1625, he becomes Archbishop of Armagh, an office he apparently holds until his death. In 1628, King James I makes him a Privy Councillor.

Ussher is considered well-read and well-versed in history, a subject that soon becomes his primary focus. He writes several histories of the doings of the Irish and English churches dating back to Roman times. He also makes himself an expert in Semitic languages, an expertise that informs his argument in favor of the Masoretic Text of the Bible in preference to the Septuagint.

Ussher’s Confessions appear in 1643, followed in 1646 by his fifth work, Here I Stand. His most famous work, the dating of the creation as calculated from the Biblical record, appears in writing in the 1650s.

In 1656, Ussher goes to stay in the Countess of Peterborough’s house in Reigate, Surrey. On March 19, he feels a sharp pain in his side after supper and takes to his bed. His symptoms seem to have been those of a severe internal haemorrhage. Two days later, on March 21, 1656, he dies at the age of 75. His last words are reported as: “O Lord, forgive me, especially my sins of omission.” His body is embalmed and is to have been buried in Reigate, but at Oliver Cromwell‘s insistence he was given a state funeral on April 17 and was buried in the chapel of St. Erasmus in Westminster Abbey.

Ussher’s extensive library of manuscripts, many of them Middle Eastern originals, become part of the collection at Dublin University.

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The Birth of John Toland, Philosopher & Freethinker

john-tolandJohn Toland, Irish rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, is born in Ardagh on the Inishowen peninsula, a predominantly Catholic and Irish-speaking region in northwestern Ireland, on November 30, 1670. He writes numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment.

Very little is known of Toland’s early life. His parents are unknown. He later writes that he had been baptised Janus Junius, a play on his name that recalls both the Roman two-faced god Janus and Lucius Junius Brutus, reputed founder of the Roman Republic. According to his biographer, Pierre des Maizeaux, he adopts the name John as a schoolboy with the encouragement of his school teacher.

Having formally converted from Catholicism to Protestantism at the age of 16, Toland gets a scholarship to study theology at the University of Glasgow. In 1690, at age 19, the University of Edinburgh confers a master’s degree on him. He then gets a scholarship to spend two years studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and subsequently nearly two years at the University of Oxford in England (1694–95). The Leiden scholarship is provided by wealthy English Dissenters who hope Toland will go on to become a minister for Dissenters.

In Toland’s first and best known book, Christianity not Mysterious (1696), he argues that the divine revelation of the Bible contains no true mysteries. Rather, all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles. For this argument he is prosecuted by a grand jury in London. As he is a subject of the Kingdom of Ireland, members of the Parliament of Ireland propose that he should be burned at the stake. In his absence three copies of the book are burned by the public hangman in Dublin as the content is contrary to the core doctrines of the Church of Ireland. Toland bitterly compares the Protestant legislators to “Popish Inquisitors who performed that Execution on the Book, when they could not seize the Author, whom they had destined to the Flames.”

After his departure from Oxford, Toland resides in London for most of the rest of his life, but is also a somewhat frequent visitor to Continental Europe, particularly Germany and the Netherlands. He lives on the Continent from 1707 to 1710.

John Toland dies in Putney on March 10, 1722. Just before he dies, he composes his own epitaph: “He was an assertor of liberty, a lover of all sorts of learning … but no man’s follower or dependent. Nor could frowns or fortune bend him to decline from the ways he had chosen.” The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica says of him that at his death in London at age 51 “he died… as he had lived, in great poverty, in the midst of his books, with his pen in his hand.”

Very shortly after his death a lengthy biography of Toland is written by Pierre des Maizeaux.

(Pictured: The only known image of John Toland)


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Formation of the Kildare Place Society

The Kildare Place Society, known officially as the Society for the Promotion of the Education of the Poor of Ireland, is formed on December 2, 1811, to maintain non-denominational schools and to promote the education of the poor. It is the most successful of all the voluntary educational agencies founded in the years prior to the establishment of the National Board of Education in 1831.

Set up in 1811 explicitly to cater to the demand for education among the Catholic poor, the Kildare Place Society aims to provide a Bible-based but non-denominational education that is acceptable to Catholics. In 1816 the society petitions the Parliament of the United Kingdom and is awarded 10,000 pounds, an amount that is greatly increased over the following decade. This money allows the society to spread across the country and to establish the rudiments of a national system of primary education. The society aims to modernize the teaching profession with a training college and an inspectorate, decent schoolhouses, and regular salaries for teachers. It also produces reading material aimed at a popular audience, which competes very favorably with the much-derided chapbooks that are the staple of popular reading material at the time.

Despite the commitment of the founders, many of whom are members of the Society of Friends, to respect denominational differences, and despite the allocation of seats for Catholics on the board of trustees, the society is increasingly drawn into quarrels over the use of the Protestant Bible for educational purposes during the second decade of the 19th century.

Particularly significant is the influence of the evangelical members of the board, especially Chief Justice Thomas Lefroy, who insists on the compulsory use of the Bible “without note or comment” in the Kildare Place schools. This measure is openly and stridently criticized by the Reverend John MacHale in the famous Hierophilus Letters of 1820 and is the immediate cause of the resignations of Daniel O’Connell and Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry from the society’s board in 1821. This gesture is followed in short order by directives to Catholic parents to withdraw their children from the schools.

The substance of O’Connell’s and MacHale’s attacks on the Kildare Place Society is that its policies are in line with the more overtly proselytizing societies associated with the “Second Reformation” and are therefore unsuitable for Catholic children. The society does not survive the challenge. As a result of the ideological conflict over education, the government inaugurates a series of inquiries to determine what kind of educational system would be acceptable to the different denominations in Ireland, and the outcome is the establishment of the National Board of Education in 1831. Although the Kildare Place Society continues its work into the 1830s, its school system suffers an inevitable decline with the spread of the new national system.

(Pictured: The main offices of the Kildare Place Society in Kildare Place, Dublin)


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Use of the “Book of Common Prayer” Ordered in Ireland

The Book of Common Prayer, the short title of a number of related prayer books, is ordered to be used in Ireland on June 9, 1549.

The Book of Common Prayer is used in the Anglican Communion, as well as by the Continuing Anglican movement, Anglican realignment and other Anglican churches. The original book, published in 1549 during the reign of Edward VI, is a product of the English Reformation following the break with the Roman Catholic Church. Prayer books, unlike books of prayers, contain the words of structured, or liturgical, services of worship.

The work of 1549 is the first prayer book to include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English. It contains Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, the Litany, and Holy Communion and also the occasional services in full such as the orders for Baptism, Confirmation, Marriageanointing of the sick and a Funeral service. It also sets out in full the “propers,” that is the parts of the service which vary week by week or, at times, daily throughout the Church’s Year. Old Testament and New Testament readings for daily prayer are specified in tabular format as are the Psalms.

The 1549 book is soon succeeded by a more reformed revision in 1552 under the same editorial hand, that of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. It is used only for a few months, as after Edward VI’s death in 1553, his half-sister Mary I restores Roman Catholic worship. Mary dies in 1558 and, in 1559, Elizabeth I reintroduces the 1552 book with a few modifications to make it acceptable to more traditionally minded worshippers, notably the inclusion of the words of administration from the 1549 Communion Service alongside those of 1552.

In 1604, James I orders some further changes, the most significant of these being the addition to the Catechism of a section on the Sacraments. William Bedell undertakes an Irish translation of the Book of Common Prayer in 1606. Following the tumultuous events leading to and including the English Civil War, another major revision is published in 1662. This edition has remained the official prayer book of the Church of England, although in the 21st century, alternative provision under the title Common Worship has largely displaced the Book of Common Prayer at the main Sunday worship service of most English parish churches. An Irish translation of the revised prayer book of 1662 is effected by John Richardson and published in 1712.

A Book of Common Prayer with local variations is used in churches inside and outside the Anglican Communion in over 50 different countries and in over 150 different languages. In many parts of the world, other books have replaced it in regular weekly worship.

Traditional English Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian prayer books have borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer and the marriage and burial rites have found their way into those of other denominations and into the English language. Like the King James Version of the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare, many words and phrases from the Book of Common Prayer have entered common parlance.

(Pictured: A 1760 printing of the 1662 “Book of Common Prayer”)


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Attempted Assassination of Mussolini by Violet Gibson

violet-albina-gibsonThe Honourable Violet Albina Gibson, daughter of Lord Ashbourne, attempts to assassinate Benito Mussolini in Rome on April 7, 1926.

Gibson is born in Dublin in 1876. Her father, Edward Gibson, is an Irish lawyer and politician who is created Baron Ashbourne in 1886. She becomes a Roman Catholic in 1902.

In 1924, after spending two years in a mental institution, Gibson is released and goes to Rome accompanied by a nurse, Mary McGrath. They take up residence in a convent in a working class neighborhood with a high crime rate. Her crisis of conscience grows as she becomes more convinced that killing is the sacrifice that God is asking of her. During this time she somehow gains possession of a gun.

On February 27, 1925 Gibson goes to her room, reads the Bible, and then shoots herself in the chest. The bullet misses her heart, passes through her ribcage, and lodges in her shoulder. She tells McGrath that she wants to die for God. She recovers from the wound.

On Wednesday, April 7, 1926 Gibson leaves the convent after breakfast. In her right pocket she carries a revolver wrapped in a black veil. In her left pocket she carries a rock in case she has to break a windshield to get to Mussolini. She also clutches the address of the Fascist Party headquarters written on a scrap of envelope as she has read in the newspaper that Mussolini will be there in the afternoon.

Mussolini appears as scheduled and walks through the Palazzo del Littorio, soaking in the praise of the crowd. He stops about a foot from where Gibson is standing. Just before the gun goes off, Mussolini leans his head back to acknowledge the crowd’s adoration and the bullet grazes his nose. Gibson shoots again but the gun misfires.

Mussolini maintains his composure and consoles the crowd saying, “Don’t be afraid. This is a mere trifle.” Gibson is immediately captured and beaten by the crowd. The police gain control of the situation and take her away just before she succumbs to vigilante justice.

At the time of the assassination attempt Gibson is almost fifty years old and does not explain her reason for trying to assassinate Mussolini. It is theorised that Gibson is insane at the time of the attack and the idea of assassinating Mussolini is hers and that she worked alone. In a statement in reply to the questions of the Crown prosecutor, Gibson says she felt impelled by a “supernatural force entrusting her with a lofty mission.”

Gibson is later deported to Britain after being released without charge at the request of Mussolini. She spends the rest of her life in a mental asylum, St. Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton. She dies on May 2, 1956 and is buried in Kingsthorpe Cemetery, Northampton. No one attends her burial.


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James I Ascends to King of England and Ireland

king-james-iJames VI of Scotland ascends to King of England and Ireland as James I on March 24, 1603. The kingdoms of Scotland and England are individual sovereign states, with their own parliaments, judiciary, and laws, though both are ruled by James in personal union.

James is born on June 19, 1566 at Edinburgh Castle, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and a great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, uniquely positioning him to eventually accede to all three thrones. He is baptised “Charles James” on December 17, 1566 in a Catholic ceremony held at Stirling Castle.

James succeeds to the Scottish throne at the age of thirteen months, after his mother is compelled to abdicate in his favour. Four different regents govern during his minority though he does not gain full control of his government until 1583. On March 24, 1603, he succeeds his cousin, Elizabeth I, upon her death, uniting the crowns of Scotland and England, while also gaining possession of the Kingdom of Ireland, then an English possession.

James continues to reign in all three kingdoms for 22 years, a period known as the Jacobean era, until his death in 1625 at 58 years of age. After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, he bases himself in England, which is the largest of the three realms, and styles himself “King of Great Britain and Ireland.” He returns to Scotland only once in 1617. He is a major advocate of a single parliament for England and Scotland. During his reign, the Plantation of Ulster and British colonisation of the Americas begins.

At 57 years and 246 days, James’s reign in Scotland is longer than those of any of his predecessors. He achieves most of his aims in Scotland but faces great difficulties in England, including the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and repeated conflicts with the English Parliament. Under James, the “Golden Age” of Elizabethan literature and drama continues, with writers such as William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, and Sir Francis Bacon contributing to a flourishing literary culture. James himself is a talented scholar, the author of works such as Daemonologie (1597), True Law of Free Monarchies (1598), and Basilikon Doron (1599). He sponsors the translation of the Bible that is named after him – the Authorised King James Version.

In early 1625, James is plagued by severe attacks of arthritis, gout, and fainting fits. In March, he falls seriously ill with tertian ague followed by a stroke. He dies at Theobalds House on March 27 during a violent attack of dysentery. James is buried in Westminster Abbey but the position of the tomb is lost for many years. In the 19th century, following an excavation of many of the vaults beneath the floor, the lead coffin is found in the Henry VII vault.