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


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Birth of William Massey, New Zealand Prime Minister

william-ferguson-masseyWilliam Ferguson Massey, New Zealand statesman, Prime Minister from 1912 to 1925, and founder of the Reform Party, is born in Limavady, County Derry in what is now Northern Ireland on March 26, 1856. He is a lifelong spokesman for agrarian interests and opponent of left-wing movements. His Reform Party ministries include leadership of the country during World War I.

The Massey family arrives in New Zealand on October 21, 1862 on board the Indian Empire as Nonconformist settlers, although William remains in Ireland for an additional eight years to complete his education. After arriving on December 10, 1870 on the City of Auckland, he works as a farmhand for some years before acquiring his own farm in Mangere, south Auckland, in 1876.

While managing his own farm, Massey assumes leadership in farmers’ organizations. He enters Parliament in 1894 as a conservative and from 1894 to 1912 is a leader of the conservative opposition to the Liberal ministries. He becomes prime minister in 1912 and promptly signs legislation enabling freeholders to buy their land at its original value. The first years of his ministry see labour strikes by miners in Waihi in 1912 and wharf workers in Wellington in 1913. His harsh repression of them give impetus to the formation of the Labour Party in 1916. He also improves federal administration by putting civil service positions under a nonpolitical commission.

A coalition with the Liberal Party led by Sir Joseph Ward enables Massey to continue his ministry in 1915. He participates in the Imperial War Cabinet (1917–18) and signs the Treaty of Versailles at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, making New Zealand a founding member of the League of Nations. He opposes separate sovereign status for dominions within the British Commonwealth.

Following the war, farmers are troubled by depressed prices resulting from the sharply reduced British demand for their products, and they also face inflation in land prices, aggravated by increased demand for land by returning servicemen. Massey responds to these problems by establishing the Meat Control Board (1922) and the Dairy Export Control Board (1923), but rural and urban unrest resulting from rising prices continue to mount in the final years of his ministry.

In 1924 cancer forced Massey to relinquish many of his official duties, and he dies on May 10, 1925 at Wellington, New Zealand. The Massey Memorial is erected as his mausoleum in Wellington, paid for mostly by public subscription. Massey University is named after him, the name chosen because the university had a focus on agricultural science, matching Massey’s own farming background.


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Death of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett

Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Anglo-Irish agricultural reformer, pioneer of agricultural cooperatives, Unionist Member of Parliament (MP), supporter of Home Rule, Irish Senator and author, dies in Weybridge, Surrey, England on March 26, 1932.

Plunkett, the third son of Admiral the 16th Baron of Dunsany, of Dunsany Castle, Dunsany, near Dunshaughlin, County Meath, and the Honourable Anne Constance Dutton, daughter of John Dutton, 2nd Baron Sherborne, is born on October 24, 1854. He is educated at Eton College and University College, Oxford, of which he becomes an honorary fellow in 1909.

Threatened by lung trouble in 1879, Plunkett goes to the United States and spends ten years as a cattle rancher in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. He returns to Ireland in 1889 and devotes himself to the agricultural cooperative movement, first organizing creameries and then, in 1894, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, a forerunner of similar societies in England, Wales, and Scotland. A moderate Unionist member of Parliament for South County Dublin from 1892 to 1900, he becomes vice president (1899–1907) of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, which he has been instrumental in creating.

Plunkett’s later experience convinces him of the need for the independence of an Ireland without partition inside the Commonwealth, and he fights strongly for this goal, as chairman of the Irish Convention (1917–18) and, in 1919, as founder of the Irish Dominion League and of the Plunkett Foundation for Cooperative Studies, an agricultural research and information centre. He is appointed to the first Senate of the Irish Free State (1922–23). His house in Dublin is bombed and burned during in the Irish Civil War and he lives in England thereafter. In 1924 the Plunkett Foundation also moves to England. In 1924 he presides over a conference in London on agricultural co-operation in the British Commonwealth and in 1925 he visits South Africa to help the movement there.

Plunkett is made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1902 and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1903. His writings include Ireland in the New Century (1904) and The Rural Life Problem of the United States (1910).

Sir Horace Plunkett dies at Weybridge, Surrey, England on March 26, 1932.


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Birth of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett

Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Anglo-Irish agricultural reformer, pioneer of agricultural cooperatives, Unionist Member of Parliament (MP), supporter of Home Rule, Irish Senator and author, is born on October 24, 1854.

Plunkett is the third son of Admiral the 16th Baron of Dunsany, of Dunsany Castle, Dunsany, near Dunshaughlin, County Meath, and the Honourable Anne Constance Dutton, daughter of John Dutton, 2nd Baron Sherborne. He is educated at Eton College and University College, Oxford, of which he becomes an honorary fellow in 1909.

Threatened by lung trouble in 1879, Plunkett goes to the United States and spends ten years as a cattle rancher in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. He returns to Ireland in 1889 and devotes himself to the agricultural cooperative movement, first organizing creameries and then, in 1894, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, a forerunner of similar societies in England, Wales, and Scotland. A moderate Unionist member of Parliament for South County Dublin from 1892 to 1900, he becomes vice president (1899–1907) of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, which he has been instrumental in creating.

Plunkett’s later experience convinces him of the need for the independence of an Ireland without partition inside the Commonwealth, and he fights strongly for this goal, as chairman of the Irish Convention (1917–18) and, in 1919, as founder of the Irish Dominion League and of the Plunkett Foundation for Cooperative Studies, an agricultural research and information centre. He is appointed to the first Senate of the Irish Free State (1922–23). His house in Dublin is bombed and burned during in the Irish Civil War and he lives in England thereafter. In 1924 the Plunkett Foundation also moves to England. In 1924 he presides over a conference in London on agricultural co-operation in the British Commonwealth and in 1925 he visits South Africa to help the movement there.

Plunkett is made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1902 and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1903. His writings include Ireland in the New Century (1904) and The Rural Life Problem of the United States (1910).

Sir Horace Plunkett dies at Weybridge, Surrey, England on March 26, 1932.


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The Beginning of the Battle of the Somme

On July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, twenty thousand soldiers of the British Army are killed and forty thousand are wounded. The 36th (Ulster) Division suffers heavy casualties.

The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, is a battle of the World War I fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It takes place between July 1 and November 18, 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle is intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and is the largest battle of World War I on the Western Front. More than 3 million men fight in this battle and one million men are wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

The French and British commit themselves to an offensive on the Somme during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise, in December 1915. The Allies agree upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916, by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. Initial plans call for the French army to undertake the main part of the Somme offensive, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). When the Imperial German Army begins the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on February 21, 1916, French commanders divert many of the divisions intended for the Somme and the “supporting” attack by the British becomes the principal effort.

The first day on the Somme, July 1, sees a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which is forced out of its first position by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank and by the Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the AlbertBapaume road. The first day on the Somme is, in terms of casualties, also the worst day in the history of the British army, which suffers 57,470 casualties. These occur mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack is defeated and few British troops reach the German front line. The British troops on the Somme comprise a mixture of the remains of the pre-war standing army, the Territorial Force, and Kitchener’s Army, a force of volunteer recruits including many Pals Battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations.

The battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces have penetrated 6 miles into German-occupied territory, taking more ground than in any of their offensives since the First Battle of the Marne in 1914. The Anglo-French armies fail to capture Péronne and halt three miles from Bapaume, where the German armies maintain their positions over the winter. British attacks in the Ancre valley resume in January 1917 and force the Germans into local withdrawals to reserve lines in February, before the scheduled retirement to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) begins in March.

Debate continues over the necessity, significance and effect of the battle. David Frum opines that a century later, “‘the Somme’ remains the most harrowing place-name” in the history of the British Commonwealth.


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Ireland Declares Independence from British Commonwealth

Ireland declares its total independence and withdraws from the British Commonwealth on April 18, 1949, officially becoming the Republic of Ireland rather than the Irish Free State within the British Commonwealth.

Since December 1922 Ireland, apart from the six counties in the north, has been the Irish Free State, a British Dominion established by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922. The partition leads to the civil war in Ireland that carries on into 1923, with Éamon de Valera leading the Irish Republican Army who are vehemently against the division of their country.

By 1927, however, de Valera has been brought into government and becomes Prime Minister in 1932, changing the name of the country to Éire in 1937, a symbol of its identity as separate from Britain.

In accordance with the terms of a 1938 treaty between the two states, British naval forces close their bases in southern Ireland and the Irish make a settlement of loans provided previously by the British. The two countries continue to drift apart. This separation is underlined further by Eire’s decision to remain neutral during World War II.

In February 1948, John Costello, the head of a six party coalition, ousts Fianna Fail and de Valera from power. By November of that year The Republic of Ireland Act is passed in the Dail, formally ending all Irish allegiance to Britain and its Commonwealth. The Oireachtas gathers to sign The Republic of Ireland Act on December 21, 1948, and it comes into force four months later on Easter Monday, April 18, 1949. The Act ends Ireland’s membership in the British Commonwealth of Nations and the existing basis upon which Ireland and its citizens are treated in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries as “British subjects” rather than foreigners.

The Act, which has five concise sections, grants executive authority of Ireland, and its external relations, to the President of Ireland. The President will act under the advice of Government of Ireland, which will act alone without British influence. The Act is still largely in force but has been amended.

Britain accepts the Republic’s independence, but they enact the Ireland Act of 1949 which holds that citizens of the Republic will not be treated as aliens under British nationality law. They also guarantee to support Northern Ireland until the Northern Irish parliament decides they want a split.