seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Frank Stagg, Provisional IRA Hunger Striker

Frank Stagg, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger striker, is born in Hollymount, County Mayo on October 4, 1941.

Stagg is the seventh child in a family of thirteen children. His father, Henry, and his uncle had both fought in the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War. His brother, Emmet Stagg, becomes a Labour Party politician and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Kildare North. He is educated to primary level at Newbrook Primary School and at CBS Ballinrobe to secondary level. After finishing his schooling, he works as an assistant gamekeeper with his uncle prior to emigrating to England in search of work. Once in England, he gains employment as a bus conductor in North London and later becomes a bus driver. While in England he meets and marries fellow Mayo native, Bridie Armstrong from Carnacon in 1970.

In 1972, Stagg joins the Luton cumann of Sinn Féin and soon after becomes a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In April 1973, Stagg is arrested with six others alleged to comprise an IRA unit planning bombing attacks in Coventry. He is tried at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury finds three of the seven not guilty. The remaining four are all found guilty of criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. Stagg and English-born priest, Father Patrick Fell, are found to be the unit’s commanding officers. Stagg is given a ten-year sentence and Fell is given twelve years. Thomas Gerald Rush is given seven years and Anthony Roland Lynch, who is also found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property, namely nitric acid, balloons, wax and sodium chlorate, is given ten years.

Stagg is initially sent to the top security Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight. In March 1974, having been moved to Parkhurst Prison, he and fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan join a hunger strike begun by the sisters Marian Price and Dolours Price, Hugh Feeney and Gerry Kelly.

Following the hunger strike that results in the death of Michael Gaughan, the Price sisters, Feeney and Kelly are granted repatriation to Ireland. Stagg is denied repatriation and is transferred to Long Lartin Prison. During his time there he is subject to solitary confinement for refusing to do prison work and is also subjected, along with his wife and sisters during visits, to humiliating body searches. In protest against this, he begins a second hunger strike that lasts for thirty-four days. This ends when the prison governor agrees to an end of the strip-searches on Stagg and his visitors. He is bed-ridden for the rest of his incarceration in Long Lartin, due to a kidney complaint.

In 1975 Stagg is transferred to Wakefield Prison, where it is demanded that he again do prison work. He refuses and is placed in solitary confinement. On December 14, 1975, he embarks on a hunger strike in Wakefield, along with a number of other republican prisoners, after being refused repatriation to Ireland during the IRA/British truce. His demands are an end to solitary confinement, no prison work and repatriation to prison in Ireland. The British government refuses to meet any of these demands and Stagg dies on February 12, 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike.

Stagg’s burial causes considerable controversy. Republicans and two of his brothers seek to have him buried in the republican plot in Ballina beside the grave of Michael Gaughan, in accordance with his wishes. His widow, his brother Emmet Stagg and the Irish government wish to have him buried in the family plot in the same cemetery and to avoid republican involvement in the funeral.

In order to prevent the body from being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the grave is covered with concrete. Local Gardaí keep an armed guard by the grave for six months. However, unknown to them, the plot beside the grave is available for purchase. Stagg’s brother George purchases the plot and places a headstone over it, with it declaring that the “pro-British Irish government” had stolen Frank’s body. In November 1977, a group of republicans dig down into the plot that George had purchased, then dig sideways and recover Stagg’s coffin from the adjacent plot under cover of darkness, before reburying it in the republican plot beside the body of Michael Gaughan. The Republicans hold their own version of a funeral ceremony before disappearing back into the night.

Following the final burial, an anonymous letter is sent to Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Minister for Justice Patrick Cooney, Minister for Post and Telegraphs Conor Cruise O’Brien and Minister for Foreign Affairs Garret FitzGerald, informing them each that they have been “marked out for assassination” because of their government’s involvement with Stagg’s burials. Stagg’s widow Bridie and his brother Emmett are reported to be intimidated by members of the Provisional IRA due to their opposition to his burial in a Republican plot.

The IRA swears revenge over Stagg’s death, warning the British public it is going to attack indiscriminately. They explode about 13 bombs throughout England within a month after his death.


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Birth of John Boland, Politician & Olympic Medalist

John Mary Pius Boland, Irish Nationalist politician, is born at 135 Capel Street, Dublin, on September 16, 1870. He serves as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and as a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party for South Kerry (1900–1918). He is also noteworthy as a gold medalist tennis player at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.

Boland is born to Patrick Boland (1840–1877), businessman, and Mary Donnelly. Following the death of his mother in 1882, he is placed with his six siblings under the guardianship of his uncle Nicholas Donnelly, auxiliary bishop of Dublin.

Boland is educated at two private Catholic schools, one Irish, the second English, and both of whose existence and evolution are influenced by John Henry Newman – the Catholic University School, Dublin, and The Oratory School, Birmingham. His secondary education at the two schools helps give him the foundation and understanding to play an influential role in the politics of Great Britain and Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century, when he is a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party which pursues constitutional Home Rule.

In 1892 Boland graduates with a BA from London University. He studies for a semester in Bonn, Germany, where he is a member of Bavaria Bonn, a student fraternity that is member of the Cartellverband. He studies law at Christ Church, Oxford, graduating with a BA in 1896 and MA in 1901. Although called to the Bar in 1897, he never practises.

Boland is the first Olympic champion in tennis for Great Britain and Ireland at the first modern Olympics, which takes place in Athens in 1896. He visits his friend Thrasyvoulos Manos in Athens during the Olympics, and Manos, a member of the organising committee, enters Boland in the tennis tournament. Boland promptly wins the singles tournament, defeating Friedrich Traun of Germany in the first round, Evangelos Rallis of Greece in the second, Konstantinos Paspatis of Greece in the semifinals, and Dionysios Kasdaglis of Greece in the final.

Boland then enters the doubles event with Traun, the German runner whom he had defeated in the first round of the singles. Together, they win the doubles event. They defeat Aristidis and Konstantinos Akratopoulos of Greece in the first round, have a bye in the semifinals, and defeat Demetrios Petrokokkinos of Greece and Dimitrios Kasdaglis in the final. When the Union Flag and the German flag are run up the flagpole to honour Boland and Traun’s victory, Boland points out to the man hoisting the flags that he is Irish, adding “It’s a gold harp on a green ground, we hope.” The officials agree to have an Irish flag prepared.

Following a visit to Kerry, Boland becomes concerned about the lack of literacy among the native population, as he also has a keen interest in the Irish language.

In 1908, Boland is appointed a member of the commission for the foundation of the National University of Ireland (NUI). From 1926 to 1947, he is General Secretary of the Catholic Truth Society. He receives a papal knighthood, becoming a Knight of St. Gregory in recognition for his work in education, and in 1950 he is awarded an honorary doctorate of Laws by the NUI.

Boland marries Eileen Moloney (1876–1937), daughter of an Australian Dr. Patrick Moloney, at SS Peter and Edward, Palace-street, Westminster, on October 22, 1902. They have one son and five daughters. His daughter Honor Crowley (née Boland) succeeds her husband, Frederick Crowley, upon his death sitting as Fianna Fáil TD for South Kerry from 1945 until her death in 1966. His daughter Bridget Boland is a playwright who writes The Prisoner.

Boland dies at the age of 87 at his home in London on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1958.


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Birth of Sean Scully, Painter, Printmaker, Sculptor & Photographer

Sean Scully, Irish-born American-based artist working as a painter, printmaker, sculptor and photographer, is born in Dublin on June 30, 1945. His work is held in museum collections worldwide and he has twice been named a Turner Prize nominee.

Four years after his birth, Scully’s family moves to London where they live in a working-class part of South London, moving from lodging to lodging for a number of years. By the age of 9, he knows he wants to become an artist. From the age of 15 until he is 17, he is apprenticed at a commercial printing shop in London as a typesetter, an experience that greatly influences his future artwork.

Scully studies at Croydon School of Art between 1965-67 and at Newcastle University between 1967-71. He is awarded the Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship in 1972 to attend Harvard University. It is during this first stay in the United States that he begins to experiment with new techniques such as tape and spray paint. In 1975 he is awarded a Harkness Fellowship and establishes a studio in New York, where he settles, becoming an American citizen in 1983.

Over the years, Scully develops and refines his own recognisable style of geometric abstraction and most notably his characteristic motif of the ‘stripe.’ Although he is predominately known for his monumental paintings, he is also a gifted printmaker who has made a notable body of woodcuts and etchings.

Scully has his first solo exhibition at the Rowan Gallery, London in 1973. He has his first retrospective at the Ikon Gallery in Brindleyplace, Birmingham, in 1981, which travels throughout the United Kingdom. In 1989 his first solo exhibition in a European museum travels from the Whitechapel Gallery in London to Palacio Velázquez in Madrid and Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich. He has further solo exhibitions at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen in Düsseldorf (2001) which travels to Haus der Kunst in Munich and the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern in Valencia; The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. (2005) travels to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas, the Cincinnati Art Museum in Ohio and finally the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. A major retrospective tours multiple venues in China between 2015 and 2017.

Scully’s paintings and prints are held in the collections of Tate in London, the Albertina in Vienna, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Instituto Valencia d’Arte Modern in Valencia, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas, Guangzhou Museum of Art in Guangzhou, China, and the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, China.

Scully has held teaching positions at Chelsea College of Arts and Goldsmith’s College of Art and Design, both in London, Princeton University in New Jersey, Parsons School of Design in New York, and most recently at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich. He is shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989 and in 1993, and is elected a Royal Academician in 2013. He participates for the first time at the Venice Biennale in 2014.

Sean Scully lives and works in New York and in Bavaria, Germany.


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Birth of Shakespearean Actress Harriet Smithson

Harriet Constance Smithson, Anglo-Irish Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and best known as the first wife and muse of Hector Berlioz, is born at Ennis, County Clare on March 18, 1800.

Her father, William Joseph Smithson, is an actor and theatrical manager from Gloucestershire, England, and her mother is an actress whose full name is unknown. She also has a brother, Joseph Smithson, and a sister, name also unknown. In October 1801, she is left in the care of Reverend James Barrett, a priest of the Church of Ireland, parish of Drumcliffe. Barrett becomes her guardian and raises her as though she were his own daughter. He instructs her “in the precepts of religion,” and keeps everything connected with the stage from her view. After his death on February 16, 1808, the Smithsons send Harriet to a boarding school in Waterford.

On May 27, 1814, Smithson makes her first stage appearance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as Albina Mandevill in Frederick Reynolds‘s The Will. Her performance is well received. In 1815, she takes her parents’ place in Montague Talbot’s company in Belfast after they return to Dublin. The season opens on January 1, 1816, where she extends her range in roles, performing in multiple comedies. She then travels to Newry, Limerick, Dublin, and Birmingham, where she joins Robert Elliston‘s company. She spends the next two months playing over forty roles in various genres.

Four years later, January 20, 1818, Smithson makes her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Letitia Hardy in The Belle’s Stratagem. Her first performance receives mixed reviews from critics, but she quickly gains some favour of critics and performers as she obtains more experience. She joins the permanent company at the Royal Coburg Theatre later that year. However, she rejoins Drury Lane Company in the autumn of 1820. On February 20, 1821, she takes the lead female role in Thérèse by John Howard Payne, when the cast actress falls ill. Overall, the London public remembers her as The Times put it, “a face and features well adapted to her profession; but [an actress] not likely to make a great impression on a London audience, or to figure among stars of the first magnitude.”

In 1827, Smithson makes her Paris début as Lydia Languish in The Rivals at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice. Though she receives negative reviews for this role, she is highly praised for her beauty and ability in the subsequent performance of She Stoops to Conquer. On September 11, 1827, she is given the small part of Ophelia next to Charles Kemble in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She leaves a long lasting impression on the French through her interpretation of Ophelia’s madness, utilizing pantomime and natural presentation.

The tremendous success of Hamlet leads to the announcement of Romeo and Juliet, for September 15. Smithson is cast as Juliet, where she revolutionizes the women’s role in theatre by becoming as important as her male counterpart. Until this point, women’s lines in theatre are heavily cut and censored to reduce the role for the company’s “restricted talent.” Again, the production is widely well received. On September 18, Shakespeare’s Othello becomes the third Shakespeare tragedy to be performed by The English theatre. Her performance as Desdemona is less effective, but the production is popular enough to be repeated the following week. She is cast as Jane Shore in the renowned tragedy The Tragedy of Jane Shore, a role in which she moves her audience to tears. The production soon becomes the most performed play in the English season. At the end of her time in France, she had acted in several productions with famous actors such as William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean, and Charles Kemble.

As opportunities to continue her work in Paris dwindle, Smithson returns to London to perform Jane Shore again. The production opens at Covent Garden on May 11, 1829 under unfavorable circumstances. Some audience members, who had read her reviews before she went to Paris, feel reluctant to attend the show. However, just seven days after her next performance as Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the press gives her glowing reviews.

After Covent Garden closes for the summer in 1832, Smithson tours England to minor theatres performing almost exclusively in tragedies. In June 1832, she joins the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where she has limited success and receives criticism about her weight.

In 1830, Smithson goes back to Paris to set up an English theatre under her own management. She obtains permission to perform at the Theatre-Italien where she performs several unsuccessful plays. A year later, she breaks her leg and is forced to put her career on hold until her leg heals, leaving her in great debt. She gives her last performance, as Ophelia, on December 15, 1836, before her health deteriorates.

Toward the end of her life, Smithson suffers from paralysis, which leaves her barely able to move or speak. She dies on March 3, 1854, at her home on the rue Saint-Vincent, and is buried at the Cimetière Saint-Vincent. Berlioz has her body is later reinterred at the Montmartre Cemetery when Cimetière Saint-Vincent undergoes redevelopment.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas portrait of Harriet Smithson by Claude-Marie-Paul Dubufe, located at the Musee Magnin, Dijon, France)


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The Clerkenwell Explosion

The Clerkenwell explosion, also known as the Clerkenwell Outrage, is a bombing that takes place in London on December 13, 1867. The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), nicknamed the “Fenians“, explode a bomb to try to free one of their members being held on remand at Clerkenwell Prison. The explosion damages nearby houses, kills 12 people and causes 120 injuries. None of the prisoners escape.

The whole of Ireland has been under British rule since the end of the Nine Years’ War in 1603. The Irish Republican Brotherhood is founded on March 17, 1858 with the aim of establishing an independent democratic republic in Ireland, and the Fenian Brotherhood, ostensibly the American wing of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is founded in New York City in 1859.

On November 20, 1867, Ricard O’Sullivan Burke and his companion Joseph Casey are arrested in Woburn Square in London. Burke had purchased weapons for the Fenians in Birmingham. Burke is charged with treason and Casey with assaulting a constable. They are remanded in custody pending trial, and imprisoned at the Middlesex House of Detention, also known as Clerkenwell Prison.

Burke’s IRB colleagues try to free him on Thursday, December 12, without success. They try to blow a hole in the prison wall while the prisoners are exercising in the prison yard but their bomb fails to explode. They try again at about 3:45 PM the following day, December 13, using a barrel of gunpowder concealed on a costermonger‘s barrow. The explosion demolishes a 60-foot section of the wall, but no one escapes. The prison authorities had been forewarned and the prisoners were exercised earlier in the day, so they are locked in their cells when the bomb explodes. The blast also damages several nearby tenement houses on Corporation Lane on the opposite side of the road, killing 12 people and causing many injuries, with estimates ranging from around 30 to over 120.

Charges are laid against eight, but two turn Queen’s evidence. Michael Barrett and five others are tried at the Old Bailey in April 1868. Lord Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn and Baron George Bramwell preside with a jury. The prosecution is led by the Attorney General Sir John Karslake and the Solicitor General Sir William Baliol Brett supported by Hardinge Giffard QC and two junior counsel. Defence barristers included Montagu Williams and Edward Clarke.

Barrett, a native of County Fermanagh, protests his innocence, and some witnesses testify that he was in Scotland on December 13, but another identifies him as being present at the scene. Two defendants are acquitted on the instructions of the presiding judges in the course of the trial, leaving four before the jury. Following deliberations, three of the defendants are acquitted, but Barrett is convicted of murder on April 27 and sentenced to death. Barrett is hanged by William Calcraft on the morning of Tuesday, May 26, 1868 outside Newgate Prison. He is the last man to be publicly hanged in England, with the practice being ended from May 29, 1868 by the Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868.

The trial of Burke and Casey, and a third defendant, Henry Shaw, begains on April 28, all charged with treason. The prosecution claims that Burke had been involved in finding arms for the Fenians in Birmingham in late 1865 and early 1866, where he was using the name “Edward C Winslow.” The case against Casey is ultimately withdrawn, but Burke and Shaw are found guilty of treason on April 30 and sentenced to 15 years and 7 years of penal servitude respectively.

The bombing enrages the British public, souring relations between England and Ireland and causing a panic over the Fenian threat. The radical, Charles Bradlaugh, condemns the incident in his newspaper, the National Reformer, as an act “calculated to destroy all sympathy, and to evoke the opposition of all classes.” The Metropolitan Police form a Special Irish Branch at Scotland Yard in March 1883, initially as a small section of the Criminal Investigation Department, to monitor Fenian activity.

In April 1867, the supreme council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood condemns the Clerkenwell Outrage as a “dreadful and deplorable event,” but the organisation returns to bombings in Britain in 1881 to 1885, with the Fenian dynamite campaign.

(Pictured: The House of Detention in Clerkenwell after the bombing as seen from within the prison yard)


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Birth of John Rocha, Hong Kong Born Fashion Designer

john-rochaJohn Rocha, fashion designer of Chinese and Portuguese (Macanese) descent, is born in Hong Kong on August 23, 1953. He has been based mainly in Dublin since the late 1970s.

Rocha moves to Ireland after graduating from the Croydon School of Art, London. Known for his hand-crafting, beading and appliqué to garments, he first establishes a name for himself with his Chinatown label in Dublin in the 1980s and later designing clothing for both men and women in the Irish high street stores A Wear and their luxury stores Brown Thomas. He designs a range of cut crystal stemware and vases for Waterford Crystal in collaboration with glass designer Marcus Notley, until that firm’s closure in 2008. The brand relaunches in 2010 and Rocha’s crystal product ranges become available again.

By 1993, Rocha is named Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards. He runs his own “John Rocha,” “John Rocha Jeans,” “Rocha John Rocha” and “John Rocha Jewellery” labels alongside a diffusion clothing, homeware and accessories label for the department store Debenhams. He also designs the interiors of the Morrison Hotel in Dublin and the Orion Building in Birmingham. He is awarded the ‘Special Award’ at the Ernst & Young Irish Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2008 which takes place in the City West Hotel in Dublin on October 23, 2008.

Rocha continues to produce a ‘pret-a-porter’ womenswear and menswear range which he showcases twice annually at the British Fashion Council sponsored London Fashion Week (February & September). His John Rocha lifestyle boutique opens on Dover Street, London, in 2006. His design business, operating as Three Moon Design, is located at Dublin’s Ely Place with a turnover of €200 million per year.

In 2014 Rocha showcases another Spring/Summer collection at London Fashion Week and announces his retirement from the event, stating, “At this point in my life I want to live by my calendar and not the Fashion Week calendar. Stopping allows me to do that.”

Rocha is made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2002 for his contributions to the British fashion industry. In April 2015 he is awarded the Outstanding Achievement in Art & Design at The Asian Awards.

In 2010 Rocha is one of six contemporary, internationally renowned Irish fashion designers featured on a set of Irish postage stamps issued by An Post. The other designers featured are Paul Costelloe, Louise Kennedy, Lainey Keogh, Philip Treacy and Orla Kiely.

Rocha resides in Dublin with his wife. The Rocha family keep a second home in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in southern France. His daughter, Simone Rocha, is also a successful designer.


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Hanging of Peter Barnes & James Richards

peter-barnes-and-james-mccormackIrish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers Peter Barnes and James Richards are hanged in Winston Green Prison in Birmingham, England on February 7, 1940 for their involvement in a bombing in Coventry the previous year which killed five people.

Barnes and Richards (also known as James McCormack) are members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and participate in the August 25, 1939 Coventry bombing which kills five people. Although they both admit to constructing the bomb, which is intended to be used to destroy a power station, they claim not to be involved in planting the bomb.

Seán MacBride, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and Irish barrister, attempts to secure their release claiming they are being illegally held without a writ of habeas corpus. However, both are charged with murder on December 12 along with Brigid O’Hara and Joseph and Mary Hewitt. All five plead not guilty before the court at Birmingham Assizes.

Brigid O’Hara issues statements between August 28 and September 4 to Scotland Yard and Birmingham City Police denying any knowledge of the bombings and later provides evidence for the prosecution. Found guilty of murder on December 15, Barnes and Richards are hanged at Winston Green Prison in Birmingham on February 7, 1940. Their remains are returned to Dublin in 1969.

The reinterment in Mullingar, County Westmeath is attended by an estimated 15,000 people. Mass is said in Irish in the Cathedral before the funeral to Ballyglass Cemetery. Among those attending are three brothers of Peter Barnes and a sister and brother of McCormack.

The trial and execution results in a public outcry in Ireland against Neville Chamberlain and the British Government as Peadar O’Donnell and other prominent Irish writers sign a petition campaigning for leniency towards the condemned men.


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The Arrest of the Birmingham Six

the-birmingham-sixHugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Robert Hunter, Noel McIlkenny, William Power, and John Walker, known as the “Birmingham Six,” are arrested on November 22, 1974 in connection with pub bombings which took place earlier in the week.

The Birmingham pub bombings take place on November 21, 1974 and are attributed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Explosive devices are placed in two central Birmingham pubs, the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda and the Tavern in the Town in New Street. The resulting explosions, at 8:25 PM and 8:27 PM, collectively are the most injurious attacks in England since World War II. Twenty-one people are killed and 182 are injured. A third device, outside a bank in Hagley Road, fails to detonate.

Five of the six arrested are Belfast-born Roman Catholics, while John Walker is a Roman Catholic born in Derry. All six have lived in Birmingham since the 1960s. All the men except for Callaghan leave the city early on the evening of November 21 from New Street Station, shortly before the explosions. They are travelling to Belfast to attend the funeral of James McDade, a Provisional IRA member who had accidentally killed himself on November 14 when his bomb detonates prematurely while he is planting it at a telephone exchange in Coventry.

When they reach Heysham they and others are subject to a Special Branch stop and search. The men do not tell the police of the true purpose of their visit to Belfast, a fact that is later held against them. While the search is in progress the police are informed of the Birmingham bombings. The men agree to be taken to Morecambe police station for forensic tests.

On the morning of November 22, after the forensic tests and questioning at the hands of the Morecambe police, the men are transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit. Callaghan is taken into custody on the evening of November 22.

The Birmingham Six are charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions on May 12, 1975. The trial begins on June 9, 1975 at the Crown Court sitting at Lancaster Castle, before Justice Nigel Bridge and a jury. The jury finds the six men guilty of murder. On August 15, 1975, they are each sentenced to twenty-one life sentences.

On November 28, 1974, the Birmingham Six appear in court for a second time after they had been remanded into custody at HM Prison Winson Green, all showing bruising and other signs of ill-treatment. Fourteen prison officers are charged with assault in June 1975, but are ultimately acquitted. The Six bring a civil claim for damages against the West Midlands Police in 1977, but it is struck out on January 17, 1980 by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division).

In March 1976 the Birmingham Six’s first application for leave to appeal is dismissed by the Court of Appeal, presided over by John Widgery. Their second full appeal, in 1991, is allowed. New evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence, the successful attacks on both the confessions and the 1975 forensic evidence causes the Crown to decide not to resist the appeals. The Court of Appeal states that in light of the fresh scientific evidence, the convictions are both unsafe and unsatisfactory. On March 14, 1991 the Birmingham Six are set free.

In 2001, a decade after their release, the six men are awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.


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First Balloon Crossing of the Irish Sea

william-windham-sadlerWilliam Windham Sadler makes the first balloon crossing of the Irish Sea, from Dublin to Anglesey, on July 22, 1817.

Sadler is born near Dublin on October 17, 1796, the son by a second wife of James Sadler, one of the earliest British balloonists. The elder Sadler makes his first ascent on May 5, 1785, in company with William Windham, the politician, who subsequently consents to stand godfather to his son. In October 1811 he makes a rapid flight from Birmingham to Boston, Lincolnshire, in less than four hours. Less successful is his attempt to cross the Irish Sea on October 1, 1812, when he ascends from the lawn of the Belvedere House, Dublin, receiving his flag from the Duchess of Richmond. In spite of a tear in the balloon fabric, which he partially repairs with his neckcloth, he nearly succeeds in crossing the Channel. However, when over Anglesey a strong southerly current carries him out to sea, and he has a most perilous escape, being rescued by a fishing craft, which ran its bowsprit through the balloon. He is not deterred from making other ascents, and his name is long familiar in connection with ballooning. George III takes a special interest in his ascents.

The younger Sadler is brought up as an engineer, acquires a good practical knowledge of chemistry, and enters the service of the first Liverpool gas company. He gives up his employment there for professional aërostation, with which, upon his marriage in 1819, he combines the management of an extensive bathing establishment at Liverpool.

Sadler’s most notable feat is performed in 1817, when, with a view to carrying his father’s adventure of 1812 to a successful issue, he ascends from the Portobello barracks at Dublin on June 22. He rises to a great height, obtains the proper westerly current, and manages to keep the balloon in it across the St. George’s Channel. In mid-channel he writes, “I enjoyed at a glance the opposite shores of Ireland and Wales, and the entire circumference of Man.” Having started at 1:20 PM, Sadler alights a mile south of Holyhead at 6:45 PM.

On September 29, 1824 Sadler makes his thirty-first ascent at Bolton. He prepares to descend at dusk near Blackburn, but the wind dashes his car against a lofty chimney, and he is hurled to the ground, sustaining injuries of which he dies at 8:00 on the following morning. He is buried at Christchurch in Liverpool, where he was very popular. He well deserves the title of ‘intrepid’ bestowed on his father by Erasmus Darwin, but he did little to advance a scientific knowledge of aërostation by making systematic observations.


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Death of Novelist Arthur Henry Ward

arthur-henry-wardArthur Henry “Sarsfield” Ward, prolific English novelist better known as Sax Rohmer, dies on June 1, 1959. He is best remembered for his series of novels featuring the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu.

Born in Birmingham to a working class family on February 15, 1883, Ward initially pursues a career as a civil servant before concentrating on writing full-time. He works as a poet, songwriter and comedy sketch writer for music hall performers before creating the Sax Rohmer persona and pursuing a career writing fiction.

Like his contemporaries Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, Ward claims membership to one of the factions of the qabbalistic Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He also claims ties to the Rosicrucians, but the validity of his claims has been questioned. His doctor and family friend Dr R. Watson Councell may have been his only legitimate connection to such organisations.

Ward’s first published work comes in 1903, when the short story “The Mysterious Mummy” is sold to Pearson’s Weekly. His main literary influences are Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and M. P. Shiel.

Ward gradually transitions from writing for music hall performers to concentrating on short stories and serials for magazine publication. In 1909 he marries Rose Elizabeth Knox. He publishes his first book Pause! anonymously in 1910.

After penning Little Tich in 1911 as ghostwriter for the famous music hall entertainer of the same name, Ward issues the first Fu Manchu novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, serialised from October 1912 to June 1913. It is an immediate success. The Fu Manchu stories, together with his more conventional detective series characters — Paul Harley, Gaston Max, Red Kerry, Morris Klaw and the Crime Magnet — make him one of the most successful and well-paid authors of the 1920s and 1930s. In the 28 years from 1931 to 1959, he adds no fewer than 10 new books to the Fu Manchu series.

Other works by Ward include The Orchard of Tears (1918), The Quest of the Sacred Slipper (1919), Tales of Chinatown (1922) and Brood of the Witch-Queen as well as numerous short stories.

Ward’s work is banned in Nazi Germany, causing him to complain that he could not understand such censorship, stating “my stories are not inimical to Nazi ideals.”

After World War II, Ward and his wife move to New York, only returning to London shortly before his death. He dies on June 1, 1959 at the age of 76, due to an outbreak of Influenza A virus subtype H2N2.