seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits

The Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits takes place in County Fermanagh on August 7, 1594 when a force of English Army soldiers led by Sir Henry Duke is ambushed and defeated by an Irish force under Hugh Maguire and Cormac MacBaron O’Neill in the region of the fords of the Arney River on the approaches to Enniskillen.

The battle acquires its distinctive name due to the supplies of the Crown forces, largely hard biscuits, which are scattered and left floating in the river. The battle is an early exchange in the Nine Years’ War, and exposes the vulnerability of Crown forces to ambushes in the wilder parts of Ulster with its thick woods and bogs.

The relief force is under the joint command of Sir Henry Duke and Sir Edward Herbert, who have 600 infantrymen and 40 horses. Duke and Herbert believe this to be insufficient, and write to the Lord Deputy that “to go without a thousand men at the least or otherwise we shall dearly repent our going.” No reinforcements are forthcoming therefore the column sets north from Cavan on August 4. Burdened with supplies, the army is expected to take four days to march 29 miles north to Enniskillen. The night before the battle the English camp is pestered by Irish gunfire and incessant skirmishing which causes the English troops to be poorly rested when the set out on August 7 to relieve the beleaguered garrison. As the thin column starts to snake its way north, almost immediately it comes under attack on both flanks as Irish skirmishes hurl javelins, but this is not the main attack.

As the relief expedition approaches Enniskillen from the south, Maguire and Cormac MacBaron lay in wait for them on the Arney River. The Army’s cavalry scouts fail to detect the Irish laying in wait for them. The ground is boggy near the Arney ford, therefore they are forced to dismount. Consequently the infantry escorting the supply wagons for Enniskillen run straight into the ambush. Around eleven o’clock the head of the column approaches the ford. Without warning intense Irish gunfire tears into the lead English elements from concealed positions on the opposite bank. With the advance stalled, Maguire and MacBaron assail the rear of the column with the bulk of their forces. Wings of English shot deploy to skirmish with the Irish, but withering Irish fire pushes them back to their pike stands in the column.

The English rear falls into disorder causing the Irish pike and Scots mercenaries to charge, forcing them to flee pell mell onto the centre of the column. The English collapse continues as the column concertinaed towards the head of the army stalled at the ford. Fortunately the leading English pike has forced the crossing, pushing back the Irish shot, giving the English some room to reorder and regroup north of the river.

The English are engaged by Irish shot from the surrounding hills, but a counter-attack is stillborn when its leader, Captain Fuller, is killed. With most of the supplies abandoned at the river, Duke and Herbert decide their only option is to retreat. However, their retreat to the ford is met with renewed gunfire and the disintegrating army is compelled to cross on another ford an “arrow shot” upstream.

Luckily for Duke and Herbert’s men they are not pursued as most of the Irish have fallen to looting the baggage train which gives the battle its name, Béal-Átha-na-mBriosgadh or The Ford of the Biscuits.

The badly-mauled Crown forces retreat to Cavan. News of the defeats causes some alarm due to the small size of the peacetime Royal Irish Army, which is scattered in garrisons across the island. Although this can be supplemented by forces of loyal Gaelic chiefs, fresh troops need to be raised in England and sent across the Irish Sea to contain the developing northern rebellion. In addition a force of soldiers who have been serving in Brittany is brought to Ireland.

A second relief expedition, this time led by the Lord Deputy of Ireland William Russell, 1st Baron Russell of Thornhaugh, manages to reach Enniskillen and re-supply it. However Enniskillen does fall to the rebels in May of the following year and the garrison is massacred, despite having been promised their lives when they surrendered.

(Photo with permission by Dr.James O’Neill (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)


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Birth of Walter Frederick Osborne, Landscape & Portrait Painter

Walter Frederick Osborne, impressionist and Post-Impressionism landscape and portrait painter, is born in Rathmines, Dublin on June 17, 1859.

Most of Osborne’s paintings are figurative and focus on women, children, the elderly, the poor, and the day-to-day life of ordinary people on Dublin streets, as well as series of rural scenes. He also produces city-scapes, which he paints from both sketches and photographs. A prolific artist, he produces oils, watercolours, and numerous pencil sketches. He is best known for his documentary depictions of late 19th century working class life.

Osborne is the second of three sons of William Osborne, a successful animal painter who specialises in portraying horses and dogs for the then prosperous Irish landlords. He is educated at Rathmines School and at the Royal Hibernian Academy school. He learns from his father that there is money to be earned from painting animals. He produces quite a few, including of children with their pets, notably his 1885 A New Arrival, and a series of impressionistic works on cows.

Osborne wins the Taylor Prize in 1881 and 1882, the highest student honour in Ireland of the time, while studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He is influenced by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, and the French realist, plein-air painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage, as well as Berthe Morisot.

In 1883, Osborne moves from Antwerp to Brittany where he paints his famous Apple Gathering, Quimperlé, now in the National Gallery of Ireland. Soon after, he moves to England where he works alongside Nathaniel Hill and Augustus Burke at Walberswick. During his period he often returns to Dublin to make preparatory sketches for what becomes his most renowned series, of the everyday lives of the city’s poor. Although highly regarded today, these documentary, street paintings are not commercially successful, and Osborne supplements his income through portrait paintings of the middle class, which are not as artistically satisfying.

In 1886, he is elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy and receives many commissions for portraits. This is an important source of income, as he has no private means of his own. After his sister dies he is involved in looking after her daughter, and his own parents become increasingly financially dependent on him.

In 1892, he returns to Ireland to live in the family residence, and he also keeps a studio at No. 7 St. Stephen’s Green. He spends a considerable amount of time painting outdoors, in Dublin around St. Patrick’s Cathedral or in the country. He is well liked in social circles and counts the surgeon Sir Thornely Stoker, brother of Bram Stoker, among his best friends.

Osborne’s mother becomes ill in the early 1900s, and Walter spends significant periods caring for her. In 1903, while gardening, he overheats himself and catches a chill, which he neglects, and which develops into pneumonia. He dies prematurely from the illness at the age of 43 on April 24, 1903. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.

Some critics have suggested that at the time of his death he is on the brink of his artistic maturity. His final work Tea in the Garden, a fusion of naturalism and impressionism, remains unfinished at his death and is now in the collection of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. Today his work is highly sought after by collectors.


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Death of Artist Augustus Joseph Nicholas Burke

augustus-nicholas-burkeAugustus Joseph Nicholas Burke, artist and a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), dies on December 28, 1891, at 22 Via La Marmora, Florence, Italy.

Burke is born on July 28, 1838, into the Galway Burkes of Glinsk and is the sixth son of William Burke of Knocknagur, Tuam, County Galway. He is born at Waterslade House in the town. One of his brothers is Theobald Hubert Burke, 13th Baronet of Glinsk, while another brother is Thomas Henry Burke, Permanent Under Secretary at the Irish Office.

Burke shows an early interest in drawing, displaying a love for depicting the people and land of Connemara. His career in the arts is initiated at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He exhibits at the Royal Academy and the Royal Hibernian Academy, where he is also Professor of Painting, from 1863 until his death. From 1870 to 1872 he resides in the Netherlands where he illustrates a handful of Dutch scenes. One of the earliest Irish artists to travel to Brittany, Burke exhibits fifteen Breton scenes at the Royal Hibernian Academy between 1876 and 1878. He paints further in his native Ireland, as well as Scotland and England. The 1880s bring Burke to Walberswick in Suffolk to an artist’s colony created by Philip Wilson Steer. A student of Burke, Walter Osborne, paints with him here.

Burke, overcome with grief by his brother Thomas’ murder during the Phoenix Park Murders in 1882, leaves the Royal Hibernian Academy and his position as Professor of Painting. He moves with the remaining members of his family first to England and then to Italy.

Two of Burke’s most famous paintings, Connemara Girl and A Connemara Landscape, hang at the National Gallery of Ireland. His work is relatively rare, mainly because the contents of his studio are destroyed during the fire that engulfs the Abbey Street buildings of the RHA in 1916. Furthermore, many of the paintings lay hidden in a cellar for over ninety years until their recent discovery.


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Death of Brendan the Navigator

brendan-the-navigatorSaint Brendan of Clonfert, called “the Navigator” and one of the early Irish monastic saints, dies on May 16, 577 in Annaghdown, County Galway.

In 484, Brendan is born in Tralee, County Kerry, in the province of Munster. He is born among the Altraige, a tribe originally centred around Tralee Bay, to parents called Finnlug and Cara. He is baptised at Tubrid, near Ardfert by Saint Erc, and is originally to be called “Mobhí” but signs and portents attending his birth and baptism lead to him being christened “Broen-finn” or “fair-drop.” For five years he is educated under Saint Ita, “the Brigid of Munster.” When he is six, he is sent to Saint Jarlath‘s monastery school at Tuam to further his education. Brendan is one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland,” one of those said to have been tutored by the great teacher, Finnian of Clonard.

At the age of twenty-six, Brendan is ordained a priest by Saint Erc. Afterwards, he founds a number of monasteries. Brendan’s first voyage takes him to the Aran Islands, where he founds a monastery. He also visits Hinba, an island off Scotland where he is said to meet Columcille. On the same voyage he travels to Wales, and finally to Brittany, on the northern coast of France. Between the years 512 and 530 Brendan builds monastic cells at Ardfert and, at the foot of Mount Brandon, Shanakeel— Seana Cill, usually translated as “the old church.” From here he supposedly sets out on his famous seven-year voyage for Paradise.

St. Brendan is chiefly renowned for his legendary journey to the Isle of the Blessed as described in the ninth century Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator. Many versions exist that tell of how he sets out onto the Atlantic Ocean with sixteen pilgrims searching for the Garden of Eden. One of these companions is said to be Saint Malo, the namesake of Saint-Malo. This occurs sometime between 512 and 530 AD, before his travel to the island of Great Britain. On the trip, Brendan supposedly sees Saint Brendan’s Island, a blessed island covered with vegetation. He also encounters a sea monster, an adventure he shares with his contemporary, Saint Columba. The most commonly illustrated adventure is his landing on an island which turns out to be a giant sea monster called Jasconius or Jascon. This too, has its parallels in other stories, not only in Irish mythology but in other traditions, from Sinbad the Sailor to Pinocchio.

Brendan travels to Wales and the holy island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Returning to Ireland, he founds a monastery at Annaghdown, where he spends the rest of his days. He also founds a convent at Annaghdown for his sister Briga. Having established the bishopric of Ardfert, St. Brendan proceeds to Thomond, and founds a monastery at Inis-da-druim, in the present parish of Killadysert, County Clare, about the year 550. He then journeys to Wales and studies under Saint Gildas at Llancarfan, and then to Iona, for it is said that he leaves traces of his apostolic zeal at Kil-brandon and Kil-brennan Sound. After a three years’ mission in Britain he returns to Ireland, and does more proselytising in various parts of Leinster, especially at Dysart, Killiney, and Brandon Hill. He establishes churches at Inchiquin, County Clare and at Inishglora, County Mayo, and founds Clonfert in County Galway around 557 AD.

Brendan dies on May 16, 577 at Annaghdown, while visiting his sister Briga. Fearing that after his death his devotees might take his remains as relics, Brendan arranges before his death to have his body secretly carried back to the monastery he founded at Clonfert concealed in a luggage cart. He is buried in Clonfert Cathedral.