seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Curlew Pass

The Battle of Curlew Pass is fought on August 15, 1599, during the campaign of the Earl of Essex in the Nine Years’ War, between an English force under Sir Conyers Clifford and a rebel Irish force led by Hugh Roe O’Donnell. The English are ambushed and routed while marching through a pass in the Curlew Mountains, near the town of Boyle, in northwestern Ireland. The English forces suffer heavy casualties. Losses by allied Irish forces are not recorded but are probably minimal.

In April 1599, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, lands in Ireland with over 17,000 troops and cavalry to put down the rebellion of Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell, which has spread from Ulster to all Ireland. To this end, he supports an Irish enemy of O’Donnell’s, Sir Donogh O’Connor (O’Connor Sligo), encouraging him to repossess those territories of his in Sligo that O’Donnell has occupied. Sligo Town is an excellent advance base, with Ballyshannon 20 miles to the northeast commanding an important river-ford at the principal western passage into O’Donnell’s country in Ulster. English military advisers have long urged the government councils in Dublin and London to capture these strategic points. O’Connor’s brother-in-law, Tibbot ne Long Bourke, is appointed joint-commander with an English captain of a force sailing from Galway, and O’Connor is expected to receive them in Sligo. However, O’Donnell quickly besieges O’Connor at Collooney Castle with over 2,000 men in an effort to starve him out, and Essex is put on the back foot. Essex has no option but to support the besieged O’Connor, one of the few Gaelic chieftains the Crown can rely upon for support. He orders the experienced Sir Conyers Clifford, who is based in Athlone, to relieve the castle with 1,500 English infantry and 200 cavalry. It is hoped that the operation would also distract the chief rebel, O’Neill, and afford the crown an opportunity to march into his Ulster territory across its southeastern border.

O’Donnell leaves 300 men at Collooney Castle under his cousin, Niall Garbh O’Donnell, and sends another 600 to Sligo town to prevent the landing of English reinforcements under Tibbot ne Long Bourke. He then marches to Dunavaragh with 1,500 of his men, where he is joined by additional forces under local chieftains Conor MacDermott and Brian Óg na Samhthach Ó Ruairc. The Irish then carefully prepare an ambush site in the Curlew Mountains, along the English line of march. O’Donnell has trees felled and placed along the road to impede their progress. When he gets word of the English passing through Boyle, O’Donnell positions his men. Musketeers, archers and javelin men are placed in the woods alongside the road to harass the English. The main body of Irish infantry, armed with pikes and axes, are placed out of sight behind the ridge of the mountain.

In hot harvest weather, Clifford’s force marches from Athlone through Roscommon, Tulsk and Boyle. At 4:00 PM on August 15, they reach the foot of the Curlew Mountains, which have to be crossed before Sligo can be approached. The expedition is poorly supplied, and Clifford’s men are tired and hungry, and probably in no fit state to continue. But Clifford has received false intelligence that the pass is undefended, and he therefore chooses to seize the opportunity and march across, promising his troops plenty of beef in the evening. This means that his men miss out on the rest that had been planned for them in Boyle, whereas the Irish are well fed and prepared.

The English come under gunfire, arrow and javelin attack as soon as they reach the first of O’Donnell’s barricades, between Boyle and Ballinafad. The barricade is immediately abandoned by the Irish but as the English moved past and proceed up the hill they sustain further casualties. The road consists of “stones of six or seven foot broad, lying above ground, with plashes of bog between them,” and is lined with woodland on one side. The further the English advance, the more intensive the rebels’ fire becomes, and some English soldiers begin to lose their nerve and slip away. Eventually, there is a firefight, lasting about 90 minutes, at the end of which the English vanguard has run out of gunpowder. The commander of the vanguard, Alexander Radcliffe, can no longer control his troops. They wheel about in a panic and collide with the main column, which breaks and flees. The commander leads a charge with his remaining pikemen but is shot dead. With the English ranks in disarray, the main body of Irish infantry, which has concealed itself on the reverse slope of the hill, closes in and fights hand to hand. Clifford tries to regain control over his men, but appears overcome by his circumstances. He manages to rally himself and is killed by a pike-thrust as he rushes the enemy. The English are routed, but the situation is prevented from becoming a complete disaster for them when the commander of the horse, Sir Griffin Markham, charges uphill and temporarily drives the rebels back.

Though the actions of the English cavalry allows many of their foot soldiers to escape, Clifford’s men are pursued as far as the town of Boyle, where they find shelter in Boyle Abbey. About 500 English are killed in the battle. Irish losses are not recorded, but are probably small, having been firing from prepared positions and then routing a disorganised and demoralised enemy.

Clifford’s head is cut off and delivered to O’Donnell, who has remained nearby but without taking part in the fight. While the head is brought to Collooney Castle to intimidate its defenders, the trunk is carried by MacDermott to the monastery of Lough Key, where he hopes to use it to ransom his own prisoners. At last, the trunk is given a decent burial in the monastery.

O’Connor Sligo surrenders the castle shortly afterwards and reluctantly joins with the rebels. After the victory, there is a noticeable increase in the rate of desertion by Irish troops from the ranks of Essex’s army, and the earl orders that the surviving troops be divided up as fit only to hold walls.

The battle is a classic Gaelic Irish ambush, similar to the Battle of Glenmalure in 1580 or the Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, the victory is put down to the intercession of the Blessed Mary, rather than to arms. But Clifford had been overconfident, a trait in him that Essex once warned against, and it is clear that English military commanders are choosing to learn the hard way about the increased effectiveness of Irish rebel forces. Queen Elizabeth I‘s principal secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, rates this defeat (and the simultaneous defeat of Sir Henry Harrington in the Battle of Deputy’s Pass in County Wicklow) as the two heaviest blows ever suffered by the English in Ireland, and seeks to lay the blame indirectly on Essex. It leaves O’Donnell and O’Neill free from any threat from the Connacht side, and renders a land-based attack through Armagh highly improbable, a factor that weighs with Essex as he marches northward later in the year and enters a truce with O’Neill.

In August 1602, the Curlew Pass is the scene of the last victory won by the rebels during the war, when a panicking English force is again routed and suffers significant losses. This time the rebels are led by Rory O’Donnell who commands 400 musketeers.

Today the battlefield at Curlew Pass is overlooked by an impressionistic sculpture by Maurice Harron called “The Gaelic Chieftain”, unveiled in 1999.


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Death of Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich

tomas-o-fiaichRoman Catholic Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, the Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh and an ardent Irish nationalist, dies of cardiac arrest in a hospital at Toulouse, France at the age of 66 on May 8, 1990 after falling ill on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Lourdes is a Catholic shrine where a peasant girl reported a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1858. Miraculous cures have been reported there.

Ó Fiaich is born Thomas Fee on November 3, 1923 in Cullyhanna, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, within sight of the border with the Republic of Ireland. He changes his name to the Gaelic form as his love of the Irish language and nationalist sentiments develop.

An announcement of the death, issued by the church’s press office in both Belfast and Dublin, says Ó Fiaich had appeared unwell to doctors accompanying the group of 600 pilgrims from his seat at Armagh in Northern Ireland.

Ó Fiaich is admitted first to a hospital in Lourdes, then flown by helicopter to Toulouse. Philippe Giovanni, director of the Rangueil Hospital there, says the cardinal died of a brutal cardiac arrest soon after being admitted.

While calling for a unified Ireland and criticizing British policy in Northern Ireland, Ó Fiaich, whose name is pronounced O’Fee, also castigates the violence of the Irish Republican Army, the predominantly Catholic outlawed guerrilla army that seeks to end British rule in Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland.

Ó Fiaich is appointed spiritual leader of Ireland’s four million Catholics in in 1977. Two years later Pope John Paul II makes him one of the first cardinals of his papacy.

Tributes to Ó Fiaich poured in from some both sides of the Irish border. In Dublin, Taoiseach Charles Haughey says he is “devastated, … deeply grieved.” Britain’s top official in Northern Ireland, Secretary of State Peter Brooke, also expresses sadness. “We did not always agree about everything, but he treated me with the greatest possible courtesy, friendliness and warmth.”

However hardline Protestant leader Ian Paisley of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party says Ó Fiaich is “the mallet of Rome against the Protestants of Northern Ireland.” He claims Ó Fiaich had “made an outrageous statement that the majority of bigotry in Ulster stemmed from the Protestant section of the community” and added, “He did not seem to realize that the IRA, which is carrying out the most atrocious of outrages … were the people who needed to be indicted with bigotry.”

In Belfast, Ulster Television suspends scheduled programs for an hour and airs a religious program and a news program about the cardinal.

Ó Fiaich retains close ties to Armagh, which had been dubbed “bandit country” because of the IRA activity. From the time he becomes primate, he speaks publicly of his wishes for a united Ireland. He visits IRA guerrillas in jail, calls the British Army’s fatal shooting of an Irish civilian murder, and says the border dividing Ireland is “unnatural.”

Following his death, Ó Fiaich lies in state at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, where thousands of people line up to pay their respects.

(From: AP News, apnews.com, May 8, 1990)


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Death of Ann Lovett & Her Newborn Son

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnn Lovett, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Granard, County Longford, dies on January 31, 1984 while giving birth beside a grotto. Her baby son dies at the same time and the story of her death plays a huge part in a seminal national debate in Ireland at the time on women giving birth outside marriage.

Tuesday, January 31, 1984 is a cold, wet, winter’s day in Granard. That afternoon, the fifteen-year-old school girl leaves her Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School and makes her way to a Grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary at the top of her small hometown in the Irish midlands. It is here beneath the statue of Our Lady, that she gives birth, alone, to her infant son.

At around 4:00 PM some children on their way home from school see Ann’s schoolbag on the ground and discover her lying in the Grotto. They alert a passing farmer who rushes to the nearby priest’s house to inform him of the chilling discovery of Ann and her already deceased baby in the adjacent grotto. The priest’s response to his request for help is “It’s a doctor you need.”

Ann, still alive but hemorrhaging heavily, is carried to the house of the Parish Priest from where a doctor is phoned. She is then driven in the doctor’s car to her parents house in the centre of the town. By the time an ambulance arrives it is already too late.

Ann Lovett and her child are quietly buried three days later in Granardkill cemetery.

An inquest is held in Mullingar a few weeks later and finds that Ann’s death is due to irreversible shock caused by hemorrhage and exposure during childbirth. The inquest also confirms that, contrary to claims emanating from the local community, some people did indeed know about Ann’s condition before her death. Subsequent inquiries by the Gardaí, the Department of Education and the Midlands Health Board have yet to be published leaving the tragic events of that day and the circumstances that forced a young girl to leave her classroom on a cold, wet winters day to give birth alone in a grotto, still shrouded in uncertainty.

Ann Lovett’s death comes just four months after the outcome of a divisive abortion referendum in which a two-thirds majority vote to enshrine the right to life of the unborn in the constitution, creating confusion over where that leaves the rights of the mother. In the ensuing public debate, the tragic events at Granard become symbolic of the emerging clash between church and state.


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Death of Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond

fitzgerald-coat-of-armsMaurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond, Irish nobleman in the Peerage of Ireland, Captain of Desmond Castle in Kinsale, so-called ruler of Munster, and for a short time Lord Justice of Ireland, dies at Dublin Castle on January 25, 1356.

FitzGerald is the second son of Thomas FitzMaurice FitzGerald, 2nd Baron Desmond by his wife Margaret. His father dies in 1296 when he is still a child. He succeeds his elder brother Thomas FitzGerald, 3rd Baron Desmond as 4th Baron Desmond in 1307, and also inherits great wealth and large estates.

By 1326 FitzGerald’s influence is such that there are rumours of a conspiracy to make him King of Ireland. Modern historians tend to dismiss the story, on the ground that the alleged conspirators were other magnates who were more interested in increasing their own power than aggrandising FitzGerald.

FitzGerald is created Earl of Desmond by Letters Patent dated at Gloucester, England, August 27, 1329, by which patent also the county palatine of Kerry is confirmed to him and his heirs male, to hold of the Crown by the service of one knight’s fee. This is part of a Crown policy of attempting to win the support of the magnates by conferring earldoms on them.

In January 1330 FitzGerald is summoned by Sir John Darcy, Lord Justice of Ireland, to fight armed Irish rebels, with a promise of the King’s pay. It is FitzGerald who introduces the practice of Coigne and Livery, the quartering of troops on the inhabitants of the district they are sent to protect.

Accepting the King’s proposal, in addition to dealing with Munster and Leinster, FitzGerald routs the O’Nolans and O’Murroughs and burns their lands in County Wicklow and forces them to give hostages. He recovers the castle of Ley from the O’Dempsies, and has a liberate of £100 sterling dated at Drogheda August 24, 1335, in return for the expense he has incurred in bringing his men-at-arms, hobelars, and foot-soldiers, from various parts of Munster to Drogheda, and there, with Lord Justice Darcy, disperses the King’s enemies.

In 1331 there are further rumours of an attempt to make him King. Although there seems to be no foundation for them, the Crown takes them seriously enough to imprison FitzGerald for several months. He is released when a number of fellow nobles stand surety for his good behaviour.

In 1339 FitzGerald is engaged against Irish rebels in County Kerry where it is said he slays 1,400 men, and takes Nicholas, Lord of Kerry, prisoner, keeping him confined until he dies as punishment for siding with the rebels against the Crown.

The same year FitzGerald is present in the parliament held in Dublin. He is summoned by Writ dated at Westminster July 10, 1344, with Maurice, Earl of Kildare, and others, to attend the King at Portsmouth “on the octaves of the nativity of the Virgin Mary,” with twenty men-at-arms and fifty hobelars, at his own expense, to assist in the war against Philip V of France.

FitzGerald, who has long been acting “with a certain disregard for the niceties of the law” now decides on open rebellion. In 1345 he presides at an assembly of Anglo-Irish magnates at Callan, County Kilkenny, ignores a summons to attend the Irish Parliament and attacks Nenagh. He is a formidable opponent, and for the next two years his defeat is the main preoccupation of the Crown. He surrenders on a promise that his life will be spared. He is imprisoned and his lands forfeited. He is allowed to go under guard to England to answer the charges against him.

By no means for the last time, the Crown evidently decides that it can not govern Ireland without the magnates’ support. In 1348 FitzGerald is released, and pardoned in 1349. His loyalty does not seem to have been in question during the last years of his life.

In July 1355 FitzGerald is appointed Lord Justice of Ireland for life, dying, however, the following January in Dublin Castle. He is interred in the Church of the Friars-Preachers in Tralee.


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Pope John Paul II’s Visit to Ireland

pope-john-paul-iiPope John Paul II becomes the first pontiff to set foot on Irish soil with his pastoral visit to the Republic of Ireland beginning on September 29, 1979. Over 2.5 million people attend events in Dublin, Drogheda, Clonmacnois, Galway, Knock, Limerick, and Maynooth during what is one of Pope John Paul’s first foreign visits. The visit is occasioned by the centenary of the reputed apparition of Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist in Knock, County Mayo.

An Aer Lingus Boeing 747, named the St. Patrick, brings Pope John Paul II from Rome to Dublin Airport. The Pope kisses the ground as he disembarks. After being greeted by the President of Ireland, Dr. Patrick Hillery, the Pope flies by helicopter to the Phoenix Park where he celebrates Mass for 1,250,000 people, one quarter of the population of the island of Ireland, one third of the population of the Republic of Ireland. Afterwards he travels to Killineer, near Drogheda, where he leads a Liturgy of the Word for 300,000 people, many from Northern Ireland. There the Pope appeals to the men of violence, “on my knees I beg you to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace.” The Pope has hopes of visiting Armagh, but the security situation in Northern Ireland renders it impossible. Drogheda is selected as an alternative venue as it is situated in the Catholic Archdiocese of Armagh. Returning to Dublin that evening, the Pope is greeted by 750,000 people as he travels in an open top popemobile through the city centre and visits Aras an Uachtarain, the residence of the Irish President.

The Pope begins the second day of his tour with a short visit to the ancient monastery at Clonmacnois in County Offaly. With 20,000 in attendance, he speaks of how the ruins are “still charged with a great mission.” Later that morning he celebrates a Youth Mass for 300,000 at Ballybrit Racecourse in Galway. It is here that the Pope utters perhaps the most memorable line of his visit, “Young people of Ireland, I love you.” That afternoon, he travels by helicopter to Knock Shrine in County Mayo which he describes as “the goal of my journey to Ireland.” The outdoor Mass at the shrine is attended by 450,000. The Pope meets with the sick and elevates the church to the title of Basilica.

The final day of the visit begins with a trip to St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, the National Seminary, in County Kildare. Some 80,000 people pack the grounds of the college for the brief visit. A dense fog delays the Pope’s arrival from Dublin by helicopter. The final Mass of the Pope’s visit to Ireland is celebrated at Greenpark Racecourse in Limerick before 400,000 people, many more than had been expected. The Mass is offered for the people of Munster. Pope John Paul leaves Ireland from nearby Shannon Airport travelling to Boston where we begins a six-day tour of the United States.


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Apparition at Church of Saint John the Baptist at Knock

knock-shrineOn the evening of Thursday, August 21, 1879, at about 8 o’clock, fifteen people, whose ages range from five to seventy-five and include men, women, teenagers, and children, witness what they state is an apparition of Our Lady, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist at the south gable end of the local small parish church, the Church of Saint John the Baptist. Behind them and a little to the left of Saint John is a plain altar. On the altar is a cross and a lamb, a traditional image of Jesus as reflected in the religious phrase The Lamb of God, with adoring angels.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is described as being beautiful, standing a few feet above the ground. She wears a white cloak, hanging in full folds and fastened at the neck. Her crown appears of a golden brightness, of a deeper hue, than the striking whiteness of the robe she wears. The upper parts of the crown appear to be a series of sparkles, or glittering crosses. She is described as “deep in prayer,” with her eyes raised to heaven, her hands raised to the shoulders or a little higher, the palms inclined slightly to the shoulders.

Saint Joseph, also wearing white robes, stands on the Virgin’s right hand. His head is bent forward from the shoulders towards the Blessed Virgin. Saint John the Evangelist stands to the left of the Blessed Virgin. He is dressed in a long robe and wears a mitre. He is partly turned away from the other figures. He appears to be preaching and he holds open a large book in his left hand. To the left of St. John is an altar with a lamb on it. There is a cross standing on the altar behind the lamb.

Those who witness the apparition stand in the pouring rain for up to two hours reciting the Rosary, a series of traditional Catholic prayers. When the apparition begins there is good light, but although it then becomes very dark, witnesses can still see the figures very clearly – they appear to be the colour of a bright whitish light. The apparition does not flicker or move in any way. The witnesses report that the ground around the figures remains completely dry during the apparition although the wind is blowing from the south. Afterwards, however the ground at the gable becomes wet and the gable dark.

A number of cures and favours are associated with visitors to Our Lady of Knock’s Shrine and those who claim to have been cured here still leave crutches and sticks at the spot where the apparition is believed to have occurred.

Each Irish diocese makes an annual pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine and the nine-day Knock novena attracts ten thousand pilgrims every August.

While the original church still stands, a new Apparition chapel with statues of Our Lady, St. Joseph, the lamb, and St, John the Evangelist, has been built next to it. Knock Basilica is a separate building showing a tapestry of the apparition.


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Archbishop Paul Cullen Elevated to First Irish Cardinal

cardinal-paul-cullenArchbishop Paul Cullen,  Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and previously of Armagh, is elevated to the cardinalate as Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Montorio on June 22, 1866, becoming the first Irish cardinal.

Cullen is born at Prospect, Narraghmore, Athy, County Kildare. He enters St. Patrick’s, Carlow College, in 1816, and proceeds to the Pontifical Urban College in Rome in 1820.

Cullen is ordained in 1829 and is appointed Rector of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome in late 1831. He successfully secured the future of the college by increasing the student population and thereby strengthening the finances of the college.

Cullen is promoted to the primatial See of Armagh on December 19, 1849 and is consecrated by the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda at the Irish College in Rome on February 24, 1850. He is also named Apostolic Delegate. Cullen is transferred to the See of Dublin on May 1, 1852.

Cullen is sent to Ireland to bring the Irish church into conformity with Roman canon law and usage. His first major act as Archbishop of Armagh is to convene the Synod of Thurles, the first national synod held in Ireland since the Reformation. This occurs during the period of the debilitating Irish Famine which reduces the population of the country by over 2 million people through starvation, disease, and emigration. After a series of disastrous harvests in the 1860s, he founds, along with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the Mansion House Relief Committee in 1862. Cullen also starts the practice of Irish priests wearing Roman clerical collars and being called “Father” rather than “Mister” by their parishioners.

Cullen pays frequent visits to Rome. He takes part in the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1854, and with the eighteenth centenary of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul in 1867.

After his elevation to cardinal, Cardinal Cullen takes an active part in deliberations during the Vatican Council. Towards the close of the council at the express wish of the Central Commission, Cardinal Cullen proposes a formula for the definition of Papal Infallibility. It is a matter of great delicacy, as promoters of the definition are split up into various factions, some anxious to assign a wide range to the pope’s decisions, while others wish to set forth in a somewhat indefinite way the papal prerogative.

Cullen is the most important Irish political figure in the thirty years between Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell. In political matters Cullen makes it a rule to support every measure, whatever its provenance, conducive to the interests of his vision for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Cullen is also a frequent visitor at the vice-regal lodge to lobby the government.

Cardinal Paul Cullen dies in Dublin on October 24, 1878, at the age of 75. He is buried at Holy Cross College in Drumcondra.