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


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Birth of Arctic Explorer Robert McClure

robert-mcclureSir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure, Irish explorer of the Arctic, is born in Wexford, County Wexford on January 28, 1807.

McClure is the posthumous son of one of James Abercrombie‘s captains, first cousin of Oscar Wilde and spends his childhood under the care of his godfather, General John Le Mesurier, governor of Alderney, by whom he is educated for the army. The McClures are of Highland Scots ancestry, being a sept of Clan MacLeod of Harris. He enters the navy, however, in 1824, and twelve years later gains his first experience of Arctic exploration as mate of HMS Terror in the expedition (1836–1837) commanded by Captain George Back.

Upon his return he obtains his commission as lieutenant, and from 1838 to 1839 serves on the Canadian lakes, being subsequently attached to the North American and West Indian naval stations, where he remains until 1846. Two years later he joins John Franklin‘s search expedition (1848–1849) under James Clark Ross as first lieutenant of HMS Enterprise.

After he returns from the first Franklin search expedition, a new search expedition is launched in 1850, with Richard Collinson commanding the HMS Enterprise and McClure, as his subordinate, given the command of HMS Investigator. The two ships set out from England, sail south on the Atlantic Ocean, navigate through the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean with the assistance of steam-sloop HMS Gorgon, where they become separated and have no further contact for the rest of their respective journeys.

The HMS Investigator sails north through the Pacific and enters the Arctic Ocean by way of the Bering Strait, and sails eastward past Point Barrow, Alaska to eventually link up with another British expedition from the northwest. Although the HMS Investigator is abandoned to the pack ice in the spring of 1853, McClure and his crew are rescued by a party from the HMS Resolute, one of the ships under the command of Sir Edward Belcher that are sailing from the east, after a journey over the ice by sledge. Subsequently he completes his journey across the Northwest Passage. HMS Resolute itself does not make it out of the Arctic that year and is abandoned in ice, but later recovered. The wood from that ship becomes quite famous later.

Thus, McClure and his crew are the first both to circumnavigate the Americas, and to transit the Northwest Passage, considerable feats at that time. The HMS Enterprise, meanwhile, having arrived at Point Barrow in 1850 a fortnight later than the HMS Investigator, finds its passage blocked by winter ice and has to turn back and return the following year.

Upon his return to England, in 1854, McClure is court martialed for the loss of the HMS Investigator, which is automatic when a captain loses his ship. Following an honourable acquittal, he is knighted and promoted to post-rank, his commission being dated back four years in recognition of his special services. McClure and his crew share a great monetary reward of £10,000 awarded them by the British Parliament. He subsequently is also awarded gold medals by the English and French geographical societies. In 1855 he is elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.

From 1856 to 1861 McClure serves in Eastern waters, commanding the division of the Naval Brigade before Canton in 1858, for which he receives a CB in the following year. His latter years are spent in a quiet country life. He attains the rank of rear admiral in 1867, and of vice admiral in 1873. He dies on October 17, 1873 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

McClure Strait is later named after Robert McClure, as well as the crater McClure on the Moon.

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Founding of Republican Sinn Féin

republican-sinn-feinRepublican Sinn Féin (Irish: Sinn Féin Poblachtach), an unregistered Irish Republican political organisation, is founded at the West County Hotel in Dublin on November 2, 1986.

Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) claim to be heirs of the Sinn Féin party founded in 1905 and take its present form in 1986 following a split with Provisional Sinn Féin. RSF members take seats when elected in local Irish councils but do not recognise the partition of Ireland and subsequently the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland governments, so does not register itself under them.

The decision to form, or to reorganise or reconstitute as its supporters see it, the organisation was taken in response to Gerry Adams-led Sinn Féin’s decision at its 1986 ard fheis to end its policy of abstentionism and to allow elected Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála take their seats in Leinster House‘s Dáil Éireann. The supporters of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill who go on to form RSF oppose this move as it signals a departure from the traditional republican analysis which views the parliament of the Republic of Ireland as an illegal assembly, set up by an act of the British parliament. They argue that republicans owe their allegiance to the All-Ireland (32 County) Irish Republic, maintaining that this state exists de jure and that its authority rests with the IRA Army Council. Hence, if elected, its members refuse to take their seats in the Oireachtas.

The organisation views itself as representing “true” or “traditional” Irish republicanism, while in the mainstream media the organisation is portrayed as a political expression of “dissident republicanism.” Republican Sinn Féin rejects the Good Friday Agreement and indeed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. As part of this they refuse to discount Irish republicans using militant means to “defend the Irish Republic” and considers the Continuity Irish Republican Army (IRA) to be the legitimate army of the Irish Republic. The CIRA is designated as a terrorist organisation by the governments of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.


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Birth of Irish Politician Henry Grattan

henry-grattanHenry Grattan, Irish politician and member of the Irish House of Commons, who campaigns for legislative freedom for the Irish Parliament in the late 18th century, is born at Fishamble Street in Dublin on July 3, 1746.

Grattan is baptised at the church of St. John the Evangelist in Dublin. He attends Drogheda Grammar School and then goes on to become a distinguished student at Trinity College, Dublin, where he begins a lifelong study of classical literature, and is especially interested in the great orators of antiquity.

After studying at the King’s Inns, Dublin, and being called to the Irish bar in 1772, he never seriously practises law but is drawn to politics, influenced by his friend Henry Flood. He enters the Irish Parliament for Charlemont in 1775, sponsored by Lord Charlemont, just as Flood has damaged his credibility by accepting office. Grattan quickly supersedes Flood in the leadership of the national party, not least because his oratorical powers are unsurpassed among his contemporaries.

Grattan’s movement gains momentum as more and more Irish people come to sympathize with the North American colonists in their war for independence from Great Britain. By 1779, he is powerful enough to persuade the British government to remove most of its restraints on Irish trade, and in April 1780 he formally demands the repeal of Poynings’ Law, which has made all legislation passed by the Irish Parliament subject to approval by the British Parliament. Two years later the British relinquish their right to legislate for Ireland and frees the Irish Parliament from subservience to the English Privy Council. Despite these successes, Grattan soon faces rivalry from Flood, who bitterly criticizes Grattan for failing to demand that the British Parliament completely renounce all claims to control of Irish legislation. Flood succeeds in undermining Grattan’s popularity, but by 1784 Flood himself has lost much of his following.

From 1782 to 1797 Grattan makes limited progress in his struggle to reform the composition of the Irish Parliament and to win voting rights for Ireland’s Roman Catholics. The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 bolsters his cause by infusing democratic ideas into Ireland, but the subsequent growth of a radical Irish movement for Catholic emancipation provokes repressive measures by the British. Grattan is caught between the two sides. Ill and discouraged, he retires from Parliament in May 1797 and is in England when the Irish radicals stage an unsuccessful rebellion in 1798.

Grattan returns to Parliament for five months in 1800 and wages a vigorous but fruitless campaign against Prime Minister William Pitt’s plans for the legislative union of the Irish and British parliaments. In 1805, Grattan is elected to the British House of Commons, where for the last 15 years of his life he fights for Catholic emancipation.

In 1920, after crossing from Ireland to London while in poor health to bring forward the Irish question once more, he becomes seriously ill. On his death-bed he speaks generously of Castlereagh, and with warm eulogy of his former rival, Flood. Henry Grattan dies on June 6, 1820, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. His statue is in the Outer Lobby of the Palace of Westminster.

The building housing the faculty of Law and Government at Dublin City University has been named in his honour. Grattan Bridge crossing the River Liffey between Parliament Street on the south side of Dublin and Capel Street on the north side is also named in his honour.


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The Beginning of the 1916 Easter Rising

proclamation-of-independenceThe Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, begins in Dublin 100 years ago today and lasts for six days. The Rising, organised by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is launched to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom is heavily engaged in World War I. It is the most significant uprising in Ireland since the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the first armed action of the Irish revolutionary period.

Shortly before midday, members of the Irish Volunteers, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse and joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 women of Cumann na mBan, seize key locations in Dublin and proclaim an Irish Republic. The rebels’ plan is to hold Dublin city centre, a large, oval-shaped area bounded by the Grand Canal to the south and the Royal Canal to the north, with the River Liffey running through the middle.

The rebels march to the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, and occupy the building and hoist two republican flags. Pearse stands outside and reads the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Elsewhere in Dublin, some of the headquarters battalion under Michael Mallin occupy St. Stephen’s Green, where they dig trenches and barricade the surrounding roads. The 1st battalion, under Edward “Ned” Daly, occupy the Four Courts and surrounding buildings, while a company under Seán Heuston occupies the Mendicity Institution across the River Liffey from the Four Courts. The 2nd battalion, under Thomas MacDonagh, occupies Jacob’s Biscuit Factory. The 3rd battalion, under Éamon de Valera, occupy Boland’s Mill and surrounding buildings. The 4th battalion, under Éamonn Ceannt, occupy the South Dublin Union and the distillery on Marrowbone Lane. From each of these garrisons, small units of rebels establish outposts in the surrounding area.

There are isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, with attacks on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Ashbourne, County Meath and in County Galway, and the seizure of the town of Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Due to a last-minute countermand issued on Saturday, April 22, by Volunteer leader Eoin MacNeill, the number of rebels who mobilise is much lower than expected.

The British Army brings in thousands of reinforcements as well as artillery and a gunboat. There is fierce street fighting on the routes into the city centre, where the rebels put up stiff resistance, slowing the British advance and inflicting heavy casualties. Elsewhere in Dublin, the fighting mainly consists of sniping and long-range gun battles. The main rebel positions are gradually surrounded and bombarded with artillery.

With much greater numbers and heavier weapons, the British Army suppresses the Rising, and Pearse agrees to an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April 29. Almost 500 people are killed during Easter Week. About 54% are civilians, 30% are British military and police, and 16% are Irish rebels. More than 2,600 are wounded. Many of the civilians are killed as a result of the British using artillery and heavy machine guns, or mistaking civilians for rebels. Others are caught in the crossfire in a crowded city. The shelling and the fires leave parts of inner city Dublin in ruins.

After the surrender the country remains under martial law. About 3,500 people are taken prisoner by the British, many of whom have played no part in the Rising, with 1,800 of them being sent to internment camps or prisons in Britain. Most of the leaders of the Rising are executed following courts-martial. The Rising brings physical force republicanism back to the forefront of Irish politics, which for nearly 50 years has been dominated by constitutional nationalism. It, and the British reaction to it, leads to increased popular support for Irish independence. In December 1918, republicans, represented by the reconstituted Sinn Féin party, win a landslide victory in the general election to the British Parliament. They do not take their seats, but instead convene the First Dáil and declare the independence of the Irish Republic, which ultimately leads to the Irish War of Independence.