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


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Birth of Brian Cleeve, Writer of Novels & Short Stories

Brian Brendon Talbot Cleeve, writer whose published works include twenty-one novels and over a hundred short stories, is born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England, on November 22, 1921. He is also an award-winning television broadcaster on RTÉ One.

Cleeve is the second of three sons to Charles Edward Cleeve and his wife Josephine (née Talbot). His father, who was born in Limerick, County Limerick, is a scion of a famous and wealthy family that runs several successful Irish enterprises in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His mother is a native of Essex. The Cleeves came from Canada originally and emigrated to Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century. As a result of labour troubles and the effects of the Irish Civil War, the Cleeve business fails and the family moves to England.

Cleeve’s mother dies in 1924 and his maternal grandparents, Alfred and Gertrude Talbot, take over responsibility for his upbringing. At age eight, he is sent as a boarder to Selwyn House in Kent, followed at age 12 by three years at St. Edward’s School, Oxford. He is by nature a free-thinker and rejects the assumptions and prejudices that are then part of upper-middle class English life. His unwillingness to conform means that school life is very difficult for him. In the late summer of 1938, he decides not to return to St. Edward’s for his final year. Instead, he runs away to sea.

Cleeve leads an eventful life during the next fifteen years. He serves on the RMS Queen Mary as a commis waiter for several months. At age 17 he joins the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders as a private soldier, and, because of his age, just misses being sent to Europe as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) when World War II breaks out. In 1940, he is selected for officer training, is commissioned into the Somerset Light Infantry, and sent to Kenya as a second lieutenant in the King’s African Rifles. A year later he is court-martialed as a result of his objections to the treatment by colleagues of an African prisoner. Stripped of his commission and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude, he is transferred to Wakefield Prison in West Yorkshire. There, through the intervention of Sir Alexander Paterson, he is offered parole if he agrees to work for British Intelligence. For the remainder of the war he serves as a counter-spy in neutral ports such as Lisbon and Dublin. As cover, he works as an ordinary seaman in the Merchant Navy.

In 1945, Cleeve takes an Irish passport and comes to Ireland where, in the space of three weeks, he meets and marries Veronica McAdie. A year later, they leave Ireland with baby daughter Berenice on a protracted odyssey that takes them to London, Sweden, the West Indies, and finally South Africa. In 1948, the family settles in Johannesburg where they set up their own perfume business. A second daughter, Tanga, is born to the couple there in 1953. As a result of his friendship with Fr. Trevor Huddleston, he witnesses the conditions in which the black population has to live in townships such as Sophiatown. He becomes an outspoken critic of Apartheid, and, in 1954, he is branded by the authorities as a ‘political intractable’ and ordered to leave South Africa. He returns to Ireland where he lives for the remainder of his life.

Cleeve starts writing poems in his teens, a few of which are published in his school paper, the St. Edward’s Chronicle. During the war he continues to produce poems of a spiritual or metaphysical nature, most of which are never published. In 1945, he turns to novel-writing. After his first two attempts are rejected, his third novel, The Far Hills, is published in 1952. Two further novels about South Africa follow and their unvarnished descriptions of the reality of life for the native population probably contributes to his eventual expulsion from the country.

In the mid-1950s, Cleeve begins to concentrate on the short story form. During the next 15 years over 100 of his short stories are published in magazines and periodicals across five continents. He sells nearly thirty to The Saturday Evening Post alone. In 1966, his story Foxer is honoured with a scroll at the annual Edgar Awards.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Cleeve returns to writing novels with considerable success. He produced a series of well-received mystery and spy thrillers that do not sacrifice character to plot. In 1971, he publishes Cry of Morning, his most controversial and successful novel to date. It is a panoramic depiction of the economic and social changes that affected Ireland during the 1960s as seen through the eyes of a disparate collection of well-drawn characters. He subsequently achieves even greater commercial success, especially in the United States, with a number of historical novels featuring a strong female character as protagonist.

Cleeve also writes several works of non-fiction, principally the Dictionary of Irish Writers. This is a 20-year project to provide to scholars and the general public alike a comprehensive resource on Irish writers at an affordable price. It is a labour of love that consumes a great deal of his time and is effectively subsidised by his more commercial pursuits. The last edition is published in 1985.

On December 31, 1961, Telefís Éireann is launched as the Republic of Ireland‘s first indigenous television station. Cleeve joins the station as a part-time interviewer on the current affairs programme, Broadsheet. Following appearances on two additional programmes, Telefís Éireann does not renew his contract when it expires in 1973.

Following his wife’s death in 1999, Cleeve moves to the village of Shankill, Dublin. His health deteriorates rapidly following a series of small strokes. In November 2001, he marries his second wife, Patricia Ledwidge, and she cares for him during his final months. He suddenly dies of a heart attack on March 11, 2003. His body now lies under a headstone bearing the inscription “Servant of God.”


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Birth of Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson

henry-hughes-wilsonField Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson, 1st Baronet, GCB, DSO, one of the most senior British Army staff officers of World War I and briefly an Irish unionist politician, is born at Currygrane in Ballinalee, County Longford on May 5, 1864.

Wilson attends Marlborough public school between September 1877 and Easter 1880, before leaving for a crammer to prepare for the Army.

Wilson serves as Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley, and then as Director of Military Operations at the War Office, in which post he plays a vital role in drawing up plans to deploy an Expeditionary Force to France in the event of war. During these years he acquires a reputation as a political intriguer for his role in agitating for the introduction of conscription and in the Curragh incident of 1914, when he encourages senior officers to resign rather than move against the Ulster Volunteers.

As Sub Chief of Staff to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), Wilson is John French‘s most important adviser during the 1914 campaign, but his poor relations with Douglas Haig and William Robertson see him sidelined from top decision-making in the middle years of the war. He plays an important role in Anglo-French military relations in 1915 and, after his only experience of field command as a corps commander in 1916, again as an ally of the controversial French General Robert Nivelle in early 1917. Later in 1917 he is informal military advisor to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and then British Permanent Military Representative at the Supreme War Council at Versailles.

In 1918 Wilson serves as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the professional head of the British Army. He continues to hold this position after the war, a time when the Army is being sharply reduced in size whilst attempting to contain industrial unrest in the UK and nationalist unrest in Mesopotamia, Iraq and Egypt. He also plays an important role in the Irish War of Independence.

After retiring from the army Wilson serves briefly as a Member of Parliament, and also as security advisor to the Government of Northern Ireland. He is assassinated on his own doorstep by two Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen on June 22, 1922 while returning home from unveiling the Great Eastern Railway War Memorial at Liverpool Street station.


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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.