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


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Birth of Rory O’Connor, Irish Republican Revolutionary

Rory O’Connor (Irish: Ruairí Ó Conchubhair), Irish republican revolutionary, is born in Kildare Street, Dublin, on November 28, 1883.

O’Connor is educated in St. Mary’s College, Dublin, and then in Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, a public school run by the Jesuit order. It is also attended by the man who later condemns O’Connor to death, his close friend Kevin O’Higgins. He studies experimental physics, logic, and metaphysics. He also attends the College of Science, Merrion Street. He takes a BA (1906) and receives a B.Eng (1911). In 1910, he takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees at University College Dublin (UCD), then known as the National University. Prominent in the university’s Literary and Historical Society, he advocates militant constitutional nationalism as one of the many society members active in the Young Ireland branch of the United Irish League.

O’Connor goes to work as a railway engineer, then he moves to Canada where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of railroad. He returns to Ireland in 1915 at Joseph Plunkett‘s request and works for Dublin Corporation as a civil engineer. He joins the Catholic nationalist organisation the Ancient Order of Hibernians and serves in the Easter Rising in 1916 in the GPO as an intelligence officer. He is wounded by a sniper during reconnaissance at the Royal College of Surgeons.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21) O’Connor is Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers. The specialist skills of engineering and signaling are essential to the development of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Its men are forbidden frontline duty as their contribution is regarded as vital, their number too small. But units only expand on an incremental local basis, disappointing General Richard Mulcahy.

O’Connor is also involved in the Republican breakout from Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England, on October 25, 1919. Michael Collins takes a particular interest in the escape, and actually visits Austin Stack in the prison under a false name to finalise the arrangements. IRA men hold up traffic while a ladder is propped up against the outside of a prison wall. In all six prisoners escape, among them Piaras Beaslaí.

O’Connor refuses to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State. It is ratified by a narrow vote in Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament. He and many like him feel that the Treaty copper-fastens the partition of the six counties of Northern Ireland and undermines the Irish Republic declared in 1916.

On January 10, a meeting is held at O’Connor’s home in Monkstown, Dublin. In attendance are all senior anti-Treaty IRA officers except Liam Mellows. O’Connor is appointed to chair this grouping, known as the Republican Military Council. It is agreed that an IRA convention should be called without delay; failing this, a separate GHQ will be formed. At a further meeting in O’Connor’s office on March 20, a temporary IRA GHQ staff is elected under Liam Lynch as chief of staff. O’Connor remains in charge of engineering.

On March 26, 1922, the anti-Treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin, in which they reject the Treaty and repudiate the authority of the Dáil. However, they are prepared to discuss a way forward. The convention meets again on April 9. It creates a new army constitution and places the army under a newly elected executive of 16 men, including O’Connor, that are to choose an army council and headquarters staff. Asked by a journalist if this development means the anti-Treatyites ware proposing a “military dictatorship” in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “You can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor is one of a number of IRA leaders in a 200-strong force that occupies the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons‘ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.

Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade the IRA men to leave the Four Courts. At the Third IRA Convention on June 18, the Executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. A motion to this effect, opposed by Lynch, is narrowly defeated, whereupon O’Connor and others leave the meeting to set up a separate GHQ. The IRA effectively splits into two factions opposed to the government.

On June 22, 1922, Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated in London by two IRA men, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, each a former British soldier. Some now argue that this was done on the orders of Michael Collins, who had been a close friend of Dunne’s in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Prime Minister David Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins, which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the National Army, Collins gives orders for the shelling of the Four Courts with borrowed artillery lent by Winston Churchill. The shelling leads to the Four Courts catching fire, damaging parts of the building in addition to destroying numerous government documents. O’Connor is one of 130 men that surrender on June 30, some of whom are arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison. This incident marks the official start of the Irish Civil War, as fighting breaks out openly around the country between pro- and anti-Treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with three other republicans, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, captured with the fall of the Four Courts, O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-Treaty IRA’s killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales. The execution order is signed by Kevin O’Higgins. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’s wedding on October 27, 1921. Their deaths remain a symbol of the bitterness and division of the Irish Civil War. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Provisional Government, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.

On O’Connor’s execution, the equestrienne Joan de Sales La Terriere, a close friend of his, names her son in his honour. “Rory O’Connor Place” in Arklow is named in his honour. There is also a pub in Crumlin, Dublin, named after him and a housing estate near Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, called “Rory O’Connor Park.” A Sinn Féin cumann (UCD) is named after him.

(Pictured: Rory O’Connor addressing members of the IRA’s Dublin City Brigade at Smithfield, April 1922)


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Birth of Sir John Purser Griffith, Civil Engineer & Politician

Sir John Purser Griffith, a Welsh-born Irish civil engineer and politician, is born at Holyhead, Wales, on October 5, 1848.

Griffith is educated at Trinity College Dublin, and gains a licence in civil engineering in 1868. He serves a two-year apprenticeship under Dr. Bindon Blood Stoney, the Engineer in Chief of the Dublin Port and Docks, before working as assistant to the county surveyor of County Antrim. He returns to Dublin in 1871 and works as Dr. Stoney’s assistant, becoming the Chief Engineer in 1898 before retiring in 1913.

Griffith serves as president of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland between 1887 and 1889 and of the Institution of Civil Engineers between 1919 and 1920. He is elected Commissioner of Irish Lights in 1913 and is a member of the Royal Commission on Canals and Waterways between 1906 and 1911.

Griffith purchases and drains the bogland at Pollagh, part of the Bog of Allen. A peat fueled power station is built which drives an excavator and excess peat is taken via the Grand Canal for sale in Dublin. The site is sold to the Turf Development Board in 1936 who use it as a basis for all of their later peat fueled power stations. The area is now a nature reserve.

Griffith receives a knighthood in 1911 and becomes vice-president of the Royal Dublin Society in 1922. He serves as Honorary Professor of Harbour Engineering at Trinity College, his alma mater, and receives an honorary M.A.I. degree from the University of Dublin in 1914. From 1922 he is an elected member of the Seanad Éireann, the Irish Free State senate, until its abolition in 1936. In the 1930s he and Sarah Purser endow the Purser Griffith Travelling Scholarship and the Purser Griffith Prize to the two best performing students in European Art History at University College Dublin.

Griffith dies at Rathmines Castle in Dublin on October 21, 1938.


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Death of John Hewitt Jellett, Mathematician & Priest

John Hewitt Jellett, Irish mathematician whose career is spent at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), where he rises to the rank of Provost, dies in Dublin on February 19, 1888. He is also a priest in the Church of Ireland.

Jellett is born at Cashel, County Tipperary, on December 25, 1817, the son of Rev. Morgan Jellett and his wife Harriette Townsend, daughter of Hewitt Baldwin Poole of County Cork, by his wife Dorothea Morris. He is the eldest brother of Hewitt Poole Jellett, Serjeant-at-law (Ireland) and Chairman of the Quarter Sessions for County Laois, and of the Venerable Henry Jellett, Archdeacon of Cloyne. He is educated at Kilkenny College and at TCD, where he becomes a fellow in 1840.

Jellett marries his cousin on his mother’s side, Dorothea Charlotte Morris Morgan, daughter of James Morgan, on July 7, 1855. The marriage produces seven children. His son, William Morgan Jellett, is a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and is the father of the celebrated artist Mainie Jellett, and of Dorothea Jellett, director of the orchestra of the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. Another son Henry Holmes Jellett is a civil engineer in British India. His daughter Harriette Mary Jellett is the wife of the noted Irish physicist George Francis FitzGerald. Another daughter Eva Jellett is the first woman to graduate with a degree in medicine from Trinity, and goes on to practice as a doctor in India.

Jellett graduates B.A. in mathematics in 1837, M.A. 1843, B.D. 1866, and D.D. 1881. He is ordained a priest in 1846. In 1848 he is elected to the chair of natural philosophy at TCD, and in 1868 he receives the appointment of commissioner of Irish national education.

In 1851 Jellett is awarded the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy for his work on the “Calculus of Variations.” The society later elects him their president, a position he holds from 1869 to 1874.

In 1870, on the death of Dr. Thomas Luby, Jellett is co-opted a Senior Fellow, and thus a member of the Board of TCD. William Ewart Gladstone‘s government in February 1881 appoints him provost of Trinity. In the same year he is awarded a Royal Medal by the Royal Society.

After the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland by the Irish Church Act 1869, Jellett takes an active part in the deliberations of the general synod and in every work calculated to advance its interests. He is an able mathematician, and writes A Treatise of the Calculus of Variations (1850), and A Treatise on the Theory of Friction (1872), as well as several papers on pure and applied mathematics, articles in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. He also writes some theological essays, sermons, and religious treatises, of which the principal are An Examination of some of the Moral Difficulties of the Old Testament (1867), and The Efficacy of Prayer (1878).

Jellett dies of blood poisoning at the provost’s house, TCD, on February 19, 1888, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery on February 23. The funeral procession is the largest that ever left Trinity.

(Pictured: “John Hewitt Jellett,” oil on canvas by Sarah Purser)


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Death of T. P. Gill, Member of the Irish Parliamentary Party

Thomas Patrick (T. P.) Gill, a prominent member of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) in the late 19th and early 20th century, dies on January 19, 1931. He is a Member of Parliament (MP) in the British House of Commons representing the South Louth constituency unopposed from 1885 to 1892. His uncle Peter is an unsuccessful election candidate in 1868 in County Tipperary.

Gill is born on October 25, 1858, in Ballygraigue, Nenagh, County Tipperary, the first of four sons of Robert Gill, a civil engineer who is assistant county surveyor, and Mary (née Clampett), daughter of a woolen merchant, James Clampett of Mount Kennett, County Limerick. He attends St. Joseph’s CBS Nenagh, St. John’s College, Kilkenny, and Trinity College Dublin becoming a journalist, firstly as editor of the Catholic World magazine of New York, and an associate editor of the North American Review (1883–85). He marries Annie Fennell of Dublin in 1882 and they have two sons, Donat and Roy, and a daughter Finola.

Gill is a friend and political ally of Charles Stewart Parnell. After the death of Parnell he remains with the Irish Parliamentary Party. He works with Horace Plunkett in developing the Irish co-operative movement. He is member and honorary secretary to the 1895 Recess Committee which leads to the formation of both the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI), forerunner of the Irish Department of Agriculture, and the Vocational Education Committee (VEC). His key work for the Recess Committee is research into the state aid to agriculture in France and Denmark. In February 1900, he is appointed Secretary of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland. In 1907, he is appointed Chairman of the Departmental Committee on Irish Forestry. He also serves on a number of governmental committees concerning agriculture and agricultural production. He is President of the Irish Technical Instruction Association from 1925 to 1929.

A raconteur with, in the words of R. A. Anderson, ‘a queer charm about him,’ Gill moves in Dublin literary circles, and in his retirement he makes a translation of Louis Paul-Dubois’ Le drame irlandais et l’Irlande nouvelle (1927), published posthumously as The Irish struggle and its results (1934).

Gill is an uncle of former Workers’ Party of Ireland president and Dublin West TD Tomás Mac Giolla.

Gill dies in a Dublin hospital on January 19, 1931. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland.

(Pictured: “Portrait of T.P. Gill, Journalist, Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction,” oil on canvas by Sarah Purser, 1898, National Gallery of Ireland)


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Death of Sir John Purser Griffith, Civil Engineer & Politician

Sir John Purser Griffith, Irish civil engineer and politician, dies at Rathmines Castle in Dublin on October 21, 1938.

Griffith is born on October 5, 1848 in Holyhead, Wales. He is educated at Trinity College Dublin, and gains a license in civil engineering in 1868. He serves a two-year apprenticeship under Dr. Bindon Blood Stoney, the Engineer in Chief of the Dublin Port and Docks, before working as assistant to the county surveyor of County Antrim. He returns to Dublin in 1871 and works as Dr. Stoney’s assistant, becoming the Chief Engineer in 1898 before retiring in 1913.

Griffith serves as president of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland between 1887 and 1889 and of the Institution of Civil Engineers between 1919 and 1920. He is elected Commissioner of Irish Lights in 1913 and is a member of the Royal Commission on Canals and Waterways between 1906 and 1911.

Griffith purchases and drains the bogland at Pollagh, part of the Bog of Allen. A peat fueled power station is built which drives an excavator, with excess peat being taken by the Grand Canal for sale in Dublin. The site is sold to the Turf Development Board in 1936 who uses it as a basis for all of their later peat fueled power stations. The area is now a nature reserve.

Griffith receives a knighthood in 1911 and becomes vice-president of the Royal Dublin Society in 1922. He serves as Honorary Professor of Harbour Engineering in Trinity College, his alma mater, and receives an honorary M.A.I. degree from the University of Dublin in 1914. From 1922 he is an elected member of the Seanad Éireann, the Irish senate, until its abolition in 1936. In the 1930s he and his niece, Sarah Purser, endow the Purser Griffith Travelling Scholarship and the Purser Griffith Prize to the two best performing students in European Art History at University College Dublin.

Griffith dies at Rathmines Castle in Dublin on October 21, 1938, having rightly earned the epithet ‘Grand Old Man of Irish engineering.’ A portrait in oils by his niece Sarah Purser, RHA, hangs in the Museum Building in Trinity College Dublin.


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Birth of Joss Lynam, Civil Engineer & Mountaineer

Joss Lynam, Irish civil engineer who is well known as a mountaineer, hillwalker, orienteer, writer and sports administrator, is born James Perry O’Flaherty Lynam in London on June 29, 1924. He is one of Ireland’s most influential figures in outdoor activities.

Lynam is born to Irish parents Edward and Martha (née Perry), both Galway natives. He and his older sister, Biddy, are both raised in London where his father works as curator of maps in the British Museum. This is where he is first introduced to orienteering and cartography. The family frequently returns to the west coast of Ireland to holiday. Here he finds his love for mountaineering and climbs his first mountain, Knocknarea in County Sligo, with his aunt.

At 18, Lynam joins the British Army and trains as an officer. He is deployed to India in 1944 under the Corps of Royal Engineers where he spends the remainder of World War II. While there, he participates in his first of many Himalayan expeditions, climbing Kolahoi Peak. When he returns in 1947, he immediately moves to Dublin and enrolls in Trinity College Dublin, after encouragement from his parents, where he begins to study engineering. He graduates and receives his degree with Upper Second Class (2.1) Honours.

Lynam is a civil engineer by profession but devotes most of his life developing the sport of mountaineering in Ireland. He climbs extensively in Ireland, Great Britain, the Alps and in India. He is leader, or deputy leader, of expeditions to Greenland, the Andes, Kashmir, Tian Shan, Garhwal, Tibet and India, including the 1987 expedition to Changtse, that is the forerunner to the successful first Irish ascent of Mount Everest in 1993.

With his involvement in developing adventure sport in Ireland Lynam is active in promoting access and developing waymarked trails. He is involved in the creation and administration of the Federation of Mountaineering Clubs in Ireland (now Mountaineering Ireland), the Association for Adventure Sports, Bord Oiliúint Sléibhte (Irish Mountain Training Board), Tiglin (National Outdoor Training Centre), Outdoor Education Ireland, and Cospóir (now Sport Ireland) and the National Waymarked Ways Advisory Committee (part of Sport Ireland).

Lynam is a founder member of the Irish Mountaineering Club (IMC) serving as president from 1982-1984. He is also a founder member of both the Irish Orienteers and Three Rock Orienteering club. He is president of the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme‘s expeditions commission in the 1990s.

Lynam writes and edits many guide books on walking and climbing in Ireland and helps create and is editor of The Mountain Log (the journal of Mountaineering Ireland).

In 2001, Lynam is awarded an honorary degree from Trinity College Dublin in acknowledgment of his volunteer work and remarkable achievements. He celebrates his 80th birthday by climbing the Paradise Lost Route and then goes on to abseil down Winder’s Slab for his 82nd birthday, both routes in Dalkey Quarry. Both climbs are to raise funds for cancer research, as he had been undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Disease.

As a result of a short illness, which is being treated at St. Vincent’s University Hospital Dublin, Lynam dies on the January 9, 2011, aged 86. His funeral is held in the Church of St. Therésè, Mount Merrion, Dublin and then continues to Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium.

After Lynam’s death, his two daughters, Clodagh and Ruth, donate his papers to his alma mater, Trinity College Dublin. These papers cover a vast range of topics such as his life and career, family, childhood, experience of war, his involvement with different mountaineering clubs, and his many writings. The collection also contains photos and slides that he captures himself of landscapes and mountaineering, and consists of maps that are collected by him and his father. There is so much material in the collection that it takes a year for the collection to be catalogued by an archivist.

Lynam’s ashes are scattered by his daughters over the Knocknarea Mountain on the February 12, 2011, being the first mountain he climbed. The Lynam Lecture is introduced in 2011 by Mountaineering Ireland in his memory and his achievements in climbing, hillwalking and mountaineering in Ireland and around the world. Every December the Lynam Lecture is held by leading national and international mountaineers and discusses the development and future of mountaineering in Ireland. Past speakers include Ines Papert, Frank Nugent and Paddy O’Leary.


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Birth of Helen Blackburn, Feminist & Women’s Rights Activist

Helen Blackburn, feminist and campaigner for women’s rights, especially in the field of employment, is born in Knightstown, County Kerry, on May 25, 1842. She is also an editor of The Englishwoman’s Review.

Blackburn is the daughter of Bewicke Blackburn, a civil engineer from County Kerry, and Isabella Lamb of County Durham in North East England. When her family moves to London in 1859, she soon comes into contact with the women of the Langham Place Group, especially Jessie Boucherett and Emily Faithfull.

Over the years Blackburn and Boucherett work together in a number of endeavours. Both are editors of The Englishwoman’s Review. Together they establish the Women’s Employment Defence League in 1891 to defend women’s working rights against restrictive employment legislation. Together they also edit The Condition of Working Women and the Factory Acts, 1896.

Blackburn joins the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1872 and is secretary of the executive committee of the Society from 1874 to 1880. She subsequently holds similar positions in a number of related organisations. She also takes opportunities to study, taking a class in Roman Law at University College London in 1875, and later (1886–88) classes at University College, Bristol. In the early 1890s, she assists Charlotte Carmichael Stopes in her writing of British Freewomen: Their Historical Privilege by supplying her own notes on the subject, then by purchasing the whole of the first edition in 1894. She retires in 1895 to care for her aged father, though later returns to take up her work.

Blackburn inspires and funds two collections. The first is an art collection in 1885 that includes pictures and work done by professional women to show the result of women’s industry. She is insistent that this not include voluntary or amateurish work but rather show the products of female professionals. This loan exhibition includes portraits of leading women like Florence Nightingale and Mary Carpenter. This is donated to the University of Bristol, but recent enquiries indicate that this work is now lost. Her second collection is focused on a book collection by women. The books are from her collection, friends and from second hand sources. Bookplates are commissioned and two bookcases which are decorated with paintings of Lydia Becker and Caroline Ashurst Biggs who had been the previous chairs of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. These bookcases are given to Girton College, Cambridge and are extant. In 1880 she is secretary of the West of England Suffrage Society in Bristol and is the main organizer of a large demonstration.

Blackburn’s long term connection with the women’s movement allows her to write her history of the Victorian women’s suffrage campaign, Women’s suffrage: a record of the women’s suffrage movement in the British Isles, with biographical sketches of Miss Becker, finished in 1902, shortly before her death the following year, at Greycoat Gardens, Westminster, on January 11, 1903. She is buried at Brompton Cemetery. She leaves her archives and the decorated book collection to Girton College, Cambridge. Her will also makes provisions for establishing a loan fund for training young women.

A collaboration with Nora Vynne, published in 1903, titled Women under the Factory Act, criticises legislators for treating women as if they have not the intelligence of animals. Blackburn and Vynne argue that women should be allowed to take risks with their health in the workplace or they may find themselves always in need to protection as if they are incapable. The book is noted for its accuracy, but The Economic Journal recognises its authors as Freedom of Labour Defence members and suspects that it may have political motives arguing for the “equality of men and women.”

Blackburn’s name and picture, as well as those of 58 other women’s suffrage supporters, are on the pedestal of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.