seamus dubhghaill

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


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Execution of Robert Emmet, Irish Nationalist & Republican

Robert Emmet, Irish nationalist and Republican, orator and rebel leader, is hung, drawn, and quartered in Dublin on September 20, 1803, following his conviction for high treason.

Emmet is born at 109 St. Stephen’s Green, in Dublin on March 4, 1778, the youngest son of Dr. Robert Emmet, a court physician, and his wife, Elizabeth Mason. He attends Oswald’s school, in Dopping’s-court, off Golden-lane and enters Trinity College, Dublin in October 1793, at the age of fifteen. He becomes secretary of a secret United Irish Committee in college, and is expelled in April 1798 as a result. That same year he flees to France to avoid the many British arrests of nationalists that are taking place in Ireland.

After the 1798 rising, Emmet is involved in reorganising the defeated Society of United Irishmen. In April 1799 a warrant is issued for his arrest. He escapes and soon after travels to the continent in the hope of securing French military aid. His efforts are unsuccessful, as Napoleon is concentrating his efforts on invading England.

Emmet returns to Ireland in October 1802 and, along with fellow revolutionaries Thomas Russell and James Hope, begins preparations for another uprising in March of the following year. A premature explosion at one of Emmet’s arms depots forces him to advance the date of the rising before the authorities’ suspicions are aroused.

Emmet is unable to secure the help of Michael Dwyer‘s Wicklow rebels. Many rebels from Kildare turn back due to the scarcity of firearms they had been promised, but the rising proceeds in Dublin on the evening of July 23, 1803. Failing to seize Dublin Castle, which is lightly defended, the rising amounts to a large-scale disturbance in the Thomas Street area. He sees a dragoon pulled from his horse and piked to death, the sight of which prompts him to call off the rising to avoid further bloodshed but he has no control over of his followers. Sporadic clashes continue into the night until finally quelled by British military forces.

Emmet flees into hiding but is captured on August 25 and taken to Dublin Castle, then removed to Kilmainham Gaol. He is tried for treason on September 19. The Crown repairs the weaknesses in its case by secretly buying the assistance of Emmet’s defence attorney, Leonard McNally, for £200 and a pension. McNally’s assistant Peter Burrowes cannot be bought and he pleads the case as best he can. Emmet is found guilty of high treason.

Chief Justice John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury sentences Emmet to be hanged, drawn and quartered, as is customary for conviction of treason. The following day, September 20, Emmet is executed in Thomas Street near St. Catherine’s Church. He is hanged and beheaded once dead. As family members and friends of Emmet had also been arrested, including some who had nothing to do with the rebellion, no one comes forward to claim his remains out of fear of arrest.

Emmet’s remains are first delivered to Newgate Prison and then back to Kilmainham Gaol, where the jailer is under instructions that if no one claims them they are to be buried in a nearby hospital’s burial grounds. A later search there finds no remains. It is speculated that Emmet’s remains were secretly removed from the site and reinterred in St. Michan’s Church, a Dublin church with strong United Irish associations, though it is never confirmed. It is later suspected that they are buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When the vault is inspected in the 1950s a headless corpse was found, suspected of being Emmet’s, but cannot be identified. Widely accepted is the theory that Emmet’s remains were transferred to St. Peter’s Church in Aungier St. under cover of the burial of his sister, Mary Anne Holmes, in 1804. In the 1980s the church is deconsecrated and all the coffins are removed from the vaults. The church has since been demolished.

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Death of the Irish Giant, Patrick Cotter O’Brien

Patrick Cotter O’Brien, the first of only seventeen people in medical history to stand at a verified height of eight feet or more, dies on September 8, 1806 in Bristol, England.

O’Brien is born in Kinsale, County Cork. His real name was Patrick Cotter and he adopts O’Brien as his stage name in the sideshow circus, claiming descent from the legendarily gigantic Brian Boru. He is also known as the Bristol Giant and the Irish Giant. Another giant of this period, Charles Byrne, also claims to be an O’Brien.

It is believed that O’Brien dies from the effects of the disease gigantism.

No hearse can be found to accommodate his nine foot four inch coffin encased in lead, and his remains are borne to the grave by relays of fourteen men. In his will, Cotter leaves £2,000 to his mother and requests that his body be entombed within twelve feet of solid rock in order to prevent exhumation for scientific or medical research.

O’Brien’s remains are exhumed three times – in 1906, 1972 and finally in 1986. In 1972 O’Brien’s remains are examined and it is determined that, while alive, he stood approximately 8 feet 1 inch (246 cm) tall. This makes him the tallest person ever at that time, a record that is surpassed by the next “eight-footer,” John Rogan, who dies almost a century later. O’Brien is subsequently reburied but in 1986, during a redevelopment in the area, his remains are again identified and then cremated after a church service. O’Brien’s giant boots are on display in the Kinsale Museum.

One of O’Brien’s arms is currently preserved in the Medical Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London.


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The Assassination of Michael Collins

michael-collinsMichael Collins, soldier and politician who is a leading figure in the struggle for Irish independence in the early 20th century, is shot and killed in ambush at Béal na Bláth, County Cork, on August 22, 1922.

In August 1922, the Irish Civil War seems to be winding down. The Irish Free State has regained control of most of the country and Collins is making frequent trips to inspect areas recently recovered from anti-Treaty forces.

His plan to travel to his native Cork on August 20 is considered particularly dangerous and he is strenuously advised against it by several trusted associates. County Cork is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) stronghold, much of it still held by anti-Treaty forces. Yet he seems determined to make the trip without delay. He has fended off a number of attempts on his life in the preceding weeks and has acknowledged more than once, in private conversation, that the Civil War might end his life at any moment. On several occasions Collins assures his advisors that they will not shoot him in his own county.

On August 22, 1922 Collins sets out from Cork City on a circuitous tour of West Cork. He passes first through Macroom then takes the Bandon road via Crookstown. This leads through Béal na Bláth, an isolated crossroads. There they stop at a local pub, now known as the The Diamond Bar, to ask a question of a man standing at the crossroad. The man turns out to be an anti-Treaty sentry. He and an associate recognise Collins in the back of the open-top car. As a result, an ambush is laid by an anti-Treaty column at that point, on the chance that the convoy might come through again on their return journey.

Shortly before 8:00 PM, Collins’ convoy approaches Béal na Bláth for the second time. By that time most of the ambush party has dispersed and gone for the day, leaving just five or six men on the scene. Two are disarming a mine in the road, while three on a laneway overlooking them, provide cover. A dray cart, placed across the road, remains at the far end of the ambush site.

Shots are exchanged. Collins, who suffers a head wound, is the only fatality. Almost every other detail of what happens is uncertain, due to conflicting reports from participants and other flaws in the record.

michael-collins-bodySome of the most disputed details include how the shooting starts, what kind of fire the convoy comes under, where the ambushers’ first shots strike, where Collins is and what he is doing when he is hit, whether anyone else is wounded, whether the armoured car’s machine gun is fully functional throughout the engagement, who moves Collins’ body, and who is nearby when Collins falls.

Many questions have been raised concerning the handling of Collins’s remains immediately following his death. Among them are the inordinately long time the convoy takes to cover the twenty miles back to Cork City, who searched his clothes, and what became of documents he is known to have been carrying on his person.

Collins’s body is transported by sea from Cork to Dublin. He lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners file past his coffin to pay their respects, including many British soldiers departing Ireland who had fought against him. His funeral mass takes place at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral where a number of foreign and Irish dignitaries are in attendance. Some 500,000 people attend his funeral, almost one fifth of the country’s population at that time.

No official inquiry is ever undertaken into Collins’s death and consequently there is no official version of what happened, nor are there any authoritative, detailed contemporary records.

An annual commemoration ceremony takes place each year in August at the ambush site at Béal na Bláth, County Cork, organised by The Béal na mBláth Commemoration Committee. There is also a remembrance ceremony in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery at Collins’s grave on the anniversary of his death.