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


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The Battle of Scarrifholis

The Battle of Scarrifholis takes place on June 21, 1650, near Letterkenny, County Donegal, during the Irish Confederate Wars. A force loyal to the Commonwealth of England commanded by Charles Coote defeats the Catholic Ulster Army, commanded by Heber MacMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher.

Although slightly smaller than their opponents, Coote’s troops consist largely of veterans from the New Model Army and have three times the number of cavalry. After an hour of fighting, the Ulster army collapses and flees, losing most of its men, officers, weapons, and supplies. The battle secures the north of Ireland for the Commonwealth and clears the way to complete the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

The Irish Confederate Wars, sparked by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, are initially fought between the predominantly Catholic Confederation, and a largely Protestant Irish Royal Army, led by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. Both claim to be loyal to Charles I, while there is a three sided war in Ulster. The latter involves Royalists, Gaelic Catholic leader Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill, and Presbyterian militia, known as the Laggan Army, supported by Scots Covenanters under Robert Munro.

In September 1643, Ormond agrees a truce, or ‘Cessation’, with the Confederation, freeing his troops for use in England against Parliament in the First English Civil War. Some Irish Protestants object, and switch sides, including Sir Charles Coote, who becomes Parliamentarian commander in Connacht. Charles surrenders in 1646, while a Covenanter/Royalist uprising is quickly suppressed in the 1648 Second English Civil War. On January 17, 1649, the Confederation allies with Ormond’s Royalists. Following the execution of Charles on January 30, they are joined by the Laggan Army, and remaining Scots troops in Ulster.

There are various reasons for this. The Covenanter government, who provide support for Scottish settlers in Ulster, consider Oliver Cromwell and other leaders of the new Commonwealth of England dangerous political and religious radicals. As Scots, they object to the execution of their king by the English. As Presbyterians, they view monarchy as divinely ordained, making regicide also sacrilegious, and they transfer their allegiance to his son, Charles II of England.

However, this is offset by a split within the Confederation, between Catholic landowners who want to preserve the position prevailing in 1641, and those like Ó Néill, whose estates had been confiscated in 1607. As a result, he agrees a truce with Coote, and refuses to join the Alliance, depriving them of their most effective fighting force in the north. Despite this, by late July, Ormond’s combined Royalist/Confederate army control most of Ireland.

Ormond’s defeat at the Battle of Rathmines on August 2 allows Cromwell and an army of 12,000 to land in Dublin unopposed. After capturing Drogheda on September 11, his main force heads south towards Wexford. Colonel Robert Venables is sent north with three regiments, or around 2,500 men, to take control of Ulster. Munro’s garrisons surrender with minimal resistance, and by the end of September, Venables has occupied Dundalk, Carlingford, Newry, and Belfast. These are accompanied by the mass expulsion of Scots settlers, as punishment for their defection. When Coote captures Coleraine on September 15, he massacres the largely Scottish garrison.

Ó Néill’s death in November 1649 and Coote’s defeat of a combined Royalist/Covenanter force at Lisnagarvey in December leaves the Catholic Ulster army as the only remaining opposition to the Commonwealth in the north. At a meeting at Belturbet on March 18, 1650, Heber MacMahon, Catholic Bishop of Clogher, is appointed in his place. Although a leading figure in the Confederation, MacMahon has no military experience and opposes the alliance with Ormond’s Royalists. His election is essentially a compromise between supporters of Henry, Ó Néill’s son, and his cousin, Felim Ó Néill.

By May 20, MacMahon and his deputy Richard O’Farrell have assembled an army near Loughgall, with 5,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry. They lack both arms and artillery but after Ormond promises to send these from Connacht, they march north, intending to divide Coote’s troops at Derry from those commanded by Venables at Carrickfergus in the east. To do this, MacMahon establishes a line of garrisons with its northern end at Ballycastle, then moves south, intending to cross the River Foyle just below Lifford and maintain contact with Ormond through Ballyshannon.

At this point, Coote has only 1,400 men and seems vulnerable. The Irish cross the river on June 2, beating off an attack by the Commonwealth cavalry and occupy Lifford, where they spend the next two weeks and Coote withdraws to Derry. However, the supplies promised by Ormond fail to arrive, leaving MacMahon short of provisions, while on June 18 Coote is joined by an additional 1,000 infantry under Colonel Roger Fenwick sent from Belfast. At the same time, detaching men for the new garrisons leave MacMahon with around 4,000 infantry and 400 cavalry.

MacMahon now relocates to the Doonglebe/Tullygay Hill overlooking the pass at Scariffhollis, a strong defensive position two miles west of Letterkenny on the River Swilly. When Myles MacSweeney takes his regiment off to recapture his ancestral home at Doe Castle, it leaves the two armies roughly equal in number. However, Coote’s men are well equipped veterans and he has three times the number of cavalry. When he appears at Scariffhollis on June 21, MacMahon’s subordinates advise him not to risk battle. They argue Coote will soon be forced to retreat due to lack of provisions, allowing the Irish to withdraw into Connaught in good order.

For reasons that are still debated, MacMahon ignores this advice and on the morning of June 21, 1650 orders his troops down from their mountain camp to give battle. Coote later reports that although the ground is still “excessive bad,” it allows him to use his cavalry, although the initial fighting is conducted by the opposing infantry.

The Irish army is drawn up in a large mass formation with 200–300 musketeers in front, which may have been due to their shortage of ammunition. The battle begins when Colonel Fenwick leads a detachment of 150 men against the advance guard. After an exchange of fire, during which Fenwick is mortally wounded, it turns into a hand-to-hand struggle. As Coote feeds in reinforcements, the Irish musketeers fall back on their main force, which has no room to manoeuvre and is now subjected to devastating volleys at close range. After an hour of bitter conflict, the Irish are out of ammunition and at this point the Parliamentarian cavalry charges their flank. Thrown into disarray, the Irish break and run.

In most battles, flight is the point at which the defeated suffer the heaviest casualties, exacerbated by the lack of Irish cavalry and the brutal nature of the war. Most of the infantry dies on the battlefield or in the pursuit that follows, including Henry Ó Néill and many officers, some of whom are killed after surrendering. Estimates of the Irish dead range from 2,000 – 3,000, while Coote loses around 100 killed or wounded.

MacMahon escapes with 200 horse but is captured a week later and executed. Phelim Ó Néill and O’Farrell make it to Charlemont, which is besieged by Coote and surrenders on August 14. With the exception of a few scattered garrisons, this ends fighting in the north. Limerick is taken by Hardress Waller in October 1651 and the war ends when Galway surrenders to Coote in May 1652.

(Pictured: A view of the mouth of River Swilly at Lough Swilly, Letterkenny, County Donegal)


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Death of Owen Roe O’Neill, Member of the O’Neill Dynasty of Ulster

Owen Roe O’Neill, Gaelic Irish soldier and one of the most famous of the O’Neill dynasty of Ulster, dies on November 6, 1649 at the O’Reilly stronghold of Cloughoughter Castle located on an island in Lough Oughter in County Cavan.

O’Neill is the illegitimate son of Art MacBaron O’Neill, a younger brother of Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, who holds lands in County Armagh. His mother is the daughter of Aodh Conallach O’Raghallaigh, the chief of Breifne O’Reilly in County Cavan.

As a young man O’Neill leaves Ireland, one of the ninety-nine involved in the Flight of the Earls escaping the English conquest of his native Ulster. He grows up in the Spanish Netherlands and spends 40 years serving in the Irish regiment of the Spanish army. He sees most of his combat in the Eighty Years’ War against the Dutch Republic in Flanders, notably at the Siege of Arras, where he commands the Spanish garrison. He also distinguishes himself in the Franco-Spanish War by holding out for 48 days with 2,000 men against a French army of 35,000.

O’Neill is, like many Gaelic Irish officers in the Spanish service, very hostile to the English Protestant presence in Ireland. In 1627, he is involved in petitioning the Spanish monarchy to invade Ireland using the Irish Spanish regiments. He proposes that Ireland be made a republic under Spanish protection to avoid in-fighting between Irish Catholic landed families over which of them would provide a prince or king of Ireland. This plot comes to nothing. However in 1642, He returns to Ireland with 300 veterans to aid the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

The subsequent war, known as the Irish Confederate Wars, is part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, civil wars throughout Britain and Ireland. Because of his military experience, O’Neill is recognised on his return to Ireland in July 1642, at Doe Castle in County Donegal, as the leading representative of the O’Neills and head of the Ulster Irish. Sir Phelim O’Neill resigns the northern command of the Irish rebellion in his favour and escorts him from Lough Swilly to Charlemont.

Jealousy between the kinsmen is complicated by differences between O’Neill and the Catholic Confederation which meet at Kilkenny in October 1642. O’Neill professes to be acting in the interest of Charles I, but his real aim is the complete Independence of Ireland as a Roman Catholic country, while the Old English Catholics represented by the council desire to secure religious liberty and an Irish constitution under the crown of England. More concretely, O’Neill wants the Plantation of Ulster overturned and the recovery of the O’Neill clan’s ancestral lands. Moreover, he is unhappy that the majority of Confederate military resources are directed to Thomas Preston‘s Leinster army. Preston is also a Spanish veteran but he and O’Neill have an intense personal dislike of each other.

Although O’Neill is a competent general, he is outnumbered by the Scottish Covenanter army that lands in Ulster in 1642. Following a reverse at Clones, he has to abandon central Ulster and is followed by thousands of refugees, fleeing the retribution of the Scottish soldiers for some atrocities against Protestants in the rebellion of 1641. He does his best to stop the killings of Protestant civilians, for which he receives the gratitude of many Protestant settlers. From 1642–1646 a stalemate exists in Ulster, which he uses to train and discipline his Ulster Army. This poorly supplied force nevertheless gains a very bad reputation for plundering and robbing friendly civilians around its quarters in northern Leinster and southern Ulster.

In 1646 O’Neill, with substantial Gallowglass numbers and additionally furnished with supplies by the Papal Nuncio, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, attacks the Scottish Covenanter army under Major-General Robert Monro, who had landed in Ireland in April 1642. On June 5, 1646 O’Neill utterly routs Monro at the Battle of Benburb, killing or capturing up to 3,000 Scots. However after being summoned to the south by Rinuccini, he fails to take advantage of the victory, and allows Monro to remain unmolested at Carrickfergus.

In March 1646 a treaty is signed between James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond and the Catholics, which would have committed the Catholics to sending troops to aid the Royalist cause in the English Civil War. The peace terms however, are rejected by a majority of the Irish Catholic military leaders and the Catholic clergy including the Nuncio, Rinuccini. O’Neill leads his Ulster army, along with Thomas Preston’s Leinster army, in a failed attempt to take Dublin from Ormond. However, the Irish Confederates suffer heavy military defeats the following year at the hands of Parliamentarian forces in Ireland at Dungan’s Hill and Knocknanauss, leading to a moderation of their demands and a new peace deal with the Royalists. This time O’Neill is alone among the Irish generals in rejecting the peace deal and finds himself isolated by the departure of the papal nuncio from Ireland in February 1649.

So alienated is O’Neill by the terms of the peace the Confederates have made with Ormond that he refuses to join the Catholic/Royalist coalition and in 1648 his Ulster army fights with other Irish Catholic armies. He makes overtures for alliance to George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, who is in command of the parliamentarians in the north, to obtain supplies for his forces, and at one stage even tries to make a separate treaty with the English Parliament against the Royalists in Ireland. Failing to obtain any better terms from them, he turns once more to Ormond and the Catholic confederates, with whom he prepares to co-operate more earnestly when Oliver Cromwell‘s arrival in Ireland in August 1649 brings the Catholic party face to face with serious danger.

Before, however, anything is accomplished by this combination, O’Neill dies on November 6, 1649 at the O’Reilly stronghold of Cloughoughter Castle located on an island in Lough Oughter in County Cavan. There is no clear evidence of the cause of death, with one belief being that he was poisoned by a priest, while others think it is more likely that he died from an illness resulting from an old wound. Under cover of night he is reputed to have been brought to the Franciscan abbey in Cavan town for burial. However some local tradition still suggests that it may have been at Trinity abbey located upon an island in Lough Oughter, which may be more likely given the logistics of his removal. His death is a major blow to the Irish of Ulster and is kept secret for some time.

The Catholic nobles and gentry meet in Ulster in March 1650 to appoint a commander to succeed O’Neill, and their choice is Heber MacMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher, the chief organiser of the recent Clonmacnoise meeting. O’Neill’s Ulster army is unable to prevent the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, despite a successful defence of Clonmel by O’Neill’s nephew Hugh Dubh O’Neill and is destroyed at the Battle of Scarrifholis in County Donegal in 1650. Its remnants continue guerrilla warfare until 1653, when they surrender at Cloughoughter Castle in County Cavan. Most of the survivors are transported to serve in the Spanish Army.

In the nineteenth century, O’Neill is celebrated by the Irish nationalist revolutionaries, the Young Irelanders, who see him as an Irish patriot. Thomas Davis writes a famous song about O’Neill, titled “The Lament for Owen Roe” which is popularised in their newspaper, The Nation.

O’Neill has been commemorated in the names of several Gaelic Athletic Association clubs, including Middletown Eoghan Rua Gaelic Athletic Club in County Armagh; CLG Eoghan Rua in Coleraine; St. Oliver Plunketts/Eoghan Ruadh GAA in Dublin, and Brackaville Owen Roes GFC; Owen Roe O’Neill’s GAC in County Tyrone; and the defunct Benburb Eoghan Ruadh GAC.


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Birth of Charles Williams, Journalist & War Correspondent

Charles Frederick Williams, Scottish-Irish writer, journalist, and war correspondent, is born in Coleraine, County Londonderry on May 4, 1838.

Williams is descended on his father’s side from the yeomen of Worcestershire who grew their orchards and tilled their land in the parishes of Tenbury and Mamble. His mother’s side descended from Scottish settlers who planted Ulster in 1610. He is educated at Belfast Academy in Belfast and at a Greenwich private school. Later on, he goes to the southern United States for health purposes and takes part in a filibustering expedition to Nicaragua, where he sees some hard fighting and reportedly earns the reputation of a blockade runner. He is separated from his party and is lost in the forest for six days. Fevered, he discovers a small boat and manages to return to the nearest British settlement. He serves in the London Irish Rifles with the rank of Sergeant.

Williams returns to England in 1859, where he becomes a volunteer, and a leader writer for the London Evening Herald. In October 1859, he begins a connection with The Standard which lasts until 1884. From 1860 until 1863, he works as a first editor for the Evening Standard and from 1882 until 1884, as editor of The Evening News.

Williams is best known for being a war correspondent. For The Standard, he is at the headquarters of the Armée de la Loire, a French army, during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He is also one of the first correspondents in Strasbourg, where the French forces are defeated. In the summer and autumn of 1877, he is a correspondent to Ahmed Muhtar Pasha who commands the Turkish forces in Armenia during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78). He remains constantly at the Turkish front, and his letters are the only continuous series that reaches England. In 1878, he publishes this series in a revised and extended form as The Armenian Campaign: A Diary of the Campaign on 1877, in Armenia and Koordistan, which is a large and accurate record of the war, even though it is pro-Turkish. From Armenia, he follows Muhtar Pasha to European Turkey and describes his defence of the lines of Constantinople against the Imperial Russian Army. He is with General Mikhail Skobelev at the headquarters of the Imperial Russian Army when the Treaty of San Stefano is signed in March 1878.

At the end of 1878, Williams is in Afghanistan reporting the war, and in 1879 publishes the Notes on the Operations in Lower Afghanistan, 1878–9, with Special Reference to Transport.

In the autumn of 1884, representing the Central News Agency of London, Williams joins the Nile Expedition, a British mission to relieve Major-General Charles George Gordon in Khartoum, Sudan. His is the first dispatch to tell of the loss of Gordon. While in Sudan, he quarrels with Henry H. S. Pearse of The Daily News, who later unsuccessfully sues him. After leaving The Standard in 1884, he works with the Morning Advertiser, but later works with the Daily Chronicle as a war correspondent. He is the only British correspondent to be with the Bulgarian Land Forces under Prince Alexander of Battenberg during the Serbo-Bulgarian War in November 1885. In the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, he is attached to the Greek forces in Thessaly. His last war reporting is on Herbert Kitchener‘s Sudanese campaign of 1898.

In 1887, Williams meets with United States General of the Army, General Philip Sheridan in Washington, D.C. to update the general on European affairs and the prospects of upcoming conflicts.

Williams tries to run as a Conservative Party candidate for the House of Commons representative of Leeds West, a borough in Leeds, West Yorkshire, during the 1885 United Kingdom general election. He fails to win the seat against Liberal candidate Herbert Gladstone. He serves as the Chairman of the London district of the Institute of Journalists from 1893 to 1894. He founds the London Press Club where he also serves as its President from 1896 to 1897.

Williams dies in Brixton, London on February 9, 1904 and is buried in Nunhead Cemetery in London. His funeral is well attended by the press as well as members of the military including Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood.

(Pictured: Portrait of Charles Frederick Williams, London President, The Institute of Journalists, from The Illustrated London News, September 30, 1893 issue)


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Death of Isabella Tod, Women’s Rights Activist

Isabella Maria Susan Tod, Irish women’s rights activist, dies at her home at 71 Botanic Avenue in Belfast on December 8, 1896. She is a formidable lady who uses her political skills to great advantage in order to further many causes.

Tod is born on May 18, 1836 in Edinburgh into a well known Irish Presbyterian family, her uncle being the Rev. Hope Masterton Waddell, one of the earliest Irish Presbyterian missionaries who served with the Scottish Missionary Society in Jamaica and whose great grandfather is the Rev. Charles Masterton, one of the most distinguished minsters of the General Synod of Ulster who ministers at Connor and Rosemary Street, Belfast. She is very proud of her Presbyterian heritage and of her Scottish ancestry.

The daughter of James Banks Tod, an Edinburgh merchant, Tod spends her early years in Edinburgh. She is educated at home by her mother, Maria Isabella Waddell, who comes from County Monaghan. The family moves to Belfast in the 1850s following the death of her father. She and her mother join Elmwood Presbyterian Church. Her Presbyterian background no doubt contributes to her radical views on social issues and women’s rights. She earns her living from writing and journalism, contributing, for example, to the Dublin University Magazine, an independent literary, cultural and political magazine, and to the Banner of Ulster, a Presbyterian newspaper.

Tod becomes one of the leading pioneers in the fight to improve the position of women. She is the only woman called to give evidence to a Select Committee of Enquiry on the reform of the married women’s property law in 1868 and serves on the executive of the Married Women’s Property Committee in London from 1873 to 1874. She successfully campaigns for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866 and 1869 which enacted that a woman suspected of being a prostitute could be arrested and forced to undergo medical examination for venereal disease. She sees this legislation as an infringement of a woman’s civil liberties.

Tod is also a strong supporter of the temperance movement and, along with her friend Margaret Byers, forms the Belfast Women’s Temperance Association in 1874. Perhaps she is best known for her tireless campaign to extend the educational provision for middle-class women. For example, in 1878 she organises a delegation to London to put pressure on the Government to include girls in the Intermediate Education Act of 1878. The Ladies’ Collegiate School in Belfast, Alexandra College in Dublin and the Belfast Ladies Institute owe their existence largely to her. She writes a paper entitled “An Advanced Education for Girls in the Upper and Middle Classes” which is presented in 1867 at a meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and is among the pamphlets held in the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland library.

Tod is also an active campaigner for women’s right to vote, embarking on her first campaign in 1872 and addressing meetings in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Coleraine and Londonderry. Following a meeting in Dublin a suffrage committee is established that later becomes the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Society and in 1873 she forms the North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society. She extends her meetings to London, Glasgow and Edinburgh and is a frequent visitor to London to lobby politicians during the parliamentary session.

Tod is very much a staunch opponent of Home Rule, establishing a branch of the London-based Women’s Liberal Federation in Belfast and the Liberal Women’s Unionist Association. She sees unionism as the way to progress. “I knew that all the social work in which I had taken so prominent a part for 20 years was in danger and most of it could not exist a day under a petty legislature of the character which would be inevitable,” she says. “What we dread is the complete dislocation of all society, especially in regard to commercial affairs and organised freedom of action.”

Tod suffers from ill-health in her later days and dies in Belfast of pulmonary illness on December 8, 1896. She is buried in Balmoral Cemetery in South Belfast.


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City of Londonderry Established by Royal Charter

walls-of-londonderryA charter incorporates Derry as the city of Londonderry on March 29, 1613 and also creates the new county of Londonderry. Despite the official name, the city is more usually known as simply Derry, which is an anglicisation of the Old Irish Daire, which in modern Irish is spelled Doire, and translates as “oak-grove/oak-wood.” The name derives from the settlement’s earliest references, Daire Calgaich (“oak-grove of Calgach”). The name is changed from Derry in 1613 during the Plantation of Ulster to reflect the establishment of the city by the London guilds.

Ulster is finally brought under the control of Elizabeth I’s government at the beginning of the 17th century following a long struggle between the Tudor monarchy and the Gaelic chieftains. This follows the defeat of the chieftains at the Siege of Kinsale in 1601 after a war lasting nine years. Although the Gaelic chieftains are allowed to remain on their land, their positions have been weakened. A group of them leave Ireland for the continent in 1607, never to return. The “Flight of the Earls”, as it is known, is seen as treason by James I’s government and their lands are confiscated. This important event opens the way for James I to further increase his control over Ulster by settling tens of thousands of settlers from England, Scotland and Wales on the confiscated lands.

Surveying and planning for the plantation take place during 1608 and 1609 and the plantation proper begins in 1610. The towns of Derry and Coleraine, as well as much of the lands that are to become County Londonderry, are granted to the City of London Corporation, which is charged with planting them.

The Society of the Governor and Assistants, London, of the New Plantation in Ulster, within the realm of Ireland, known after the Restoration as the Irish Society, is formed in 1609 by the City of London, to manage the estates which it has been obliged very reluctantly to take on. The Irish Society takes charge of the overall management of the Irish estates, with direct control of the new city of Derry and of the town of Coleraine.

The City of London livery companies are required to take on estates in the surrounding County of Londonderry. The Great Twelve livery companies bear the heaviest financial burden. The county is divided among them into twelve “proportions,” distributed by the drawing of lots. The Great Twelve are in turn supported by a number of minor companies, so that thirty livery companies in all have Irish estates derived from their participation in James I’s scheme for the plantation of Ulster.

However, the first phase of the existence of the Irish Society is short-lived. The Great Parchment Book is compiled in the late 1630s when Charles I claims the estates as forfeit after a politically-motivated case in Star Chamber rules that the Londoners have not fulfilled their obligations of plantation.

The City of Londonderry is very much a product of the plantation and plays a pivotal role in safeguarding the plantation. Its walls, which are still intact today, repulse sieges in 1641, 1649 and 1689.

By the end of the 17th century, Ulster, which had been the most Gaelic part of Ireland, has become the most “British.” The plantation creates Ulster we know today with its socio-economic base, its religious and political diversity, and its shared heritage.

The archives of the Irish Society and the City of London livery companies are held by the City of London at London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library respectively.


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Birth of Reverend John Abernethy

john-abernethyJohn Abernethy, Irish Presbyterian minister and church leader, is born at Coleraine, County Londonderry on October 19, 1680. He is the grandfather of the surgeon John Abernethy.

Abernethy’s father, also named John, a Presbyterian minister, accompanies Patrick Adair on a deputation from the general committee of Ulster presbyterians, who present a congratulatory address to William III in London in 1689, and obtain from the king a letter (November 9, 1689) recommending their case to Meinhardt Schomberg, 3rd Duke of Schomberg.

At the age of 13, Abernethy enters the University of Glasgow and, upon concluding his course there, goes on to the University of Edinburgh, where he soon moves in the most cultured circles. Returning home, he is licensed to preach from his Presbytery before he is twenty-one. In 1701 he is called to accept charge of an important congregation in Antrim. After an interval of two years, mostly spent in further study in Dublin, he is ordained there on August 8, 1703. He becomes a noted debater in the synods and assemblies of his church and a leading evangelist. He has been described as being at this time “the young minister of Antrim … a man of studious habits, heretical opinions, and remarkable ability.”

In 1712, he is devastated by the loss of his wife, Susannah Jordan. Five years later, he is invited to the congregation of Usher’s Quay, Dublin, and also to what is called the Old Congregation of Belfast. The synod assigns him to Dublin. After careful consideration he refuses and remains at Antrim. This refusal arouses disapproval and a controversy follows, with Abernethy standing firm for religious freedom and repudiating the ecclesiastical courts. The controversy and quarrel bears the name of the two camps in the conflict, the “Subscribers” and the “Non-subscribers.” Abernethy and his associates sow the seeds of the struggle (1821–1840) in which, under the leadership of Dr. Henry Cooke, the Arian and Socinian elements of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland are thrown out.

Much of what Abernethy contends for, and which the “Subscribers” oppose bitterly, is silently granted in the lapse of time. In 1726, the “Non-subscribers” are cut off, with due ban and solemnity, from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. In 1730 he moves to Wood Street, Dublin. It is said of him that, although a “Non-subscriber,” he is a Trinitarian. However, Dr. Cooke states that Arianism “made very considerable progress under the patronage of high names, as Abernethy, the author of a very excellent work upon the Attributes, who gave it a great deal of eclat.”

In 1731 comes the greatest controversy in which Abernethy is involved. It is nominally about the Test Act, but actually on the entire question of tests and disabilities. His stand is against all laws that, upon account of mere differences of religious opinions and forms of worship, exclude men of integrity and ability from serving their country.

Abernethy is nearly a century in advance of his age. He has to reason with those who deny that a Roman Catholic or Dissenter can be a “man of integrity and ability.”

John Abernethy dies on December 1, 1740.


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Magee College Opens in Derry, County Londonderry

magee-college-1870Magee College opens on October 10, 1865 as a Presbyterian Christian arts and theological college in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Since 1953, it has had no religious affiliation and provides a broad range of undergraduate and postgraduate academic degree programmes in disciplines ranging from business, law, social work, creative arts & technologies, cinematic arts, design, computer science and computer games to psychology and nursing.

The Magee Campus gains its name from Martha Magee, the widow of a Presbyterian minister, who, in 1845, bequeathed £20,000 to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to found a college for theology and the arts. It opens in 1865 primarily as a theological college, but accepts students from all denominations to study a variety of subjects. It is a college of the Royal University of Ireland from 1880 and later becomes associated with Trinity College, Dublin when the Royal University is dissolved in 1909 and replaced by the National University of Ireland.

During World War II, the college is taken over by the Admiralty for Royal NavyRoyal Navy operational use, becoming with Ebrington Barracks (HMS Ferret), a major facility in the Battle of the Atlantic. A 2013 BBC report describes a secret major control bunker, later buried beneath the lawns of the college. From 1941 this bunker, part of Base One Europe, together with similar bunkers in Derby House, Liverpool and Whitehall is used to control one million Allied personnel and fight the Nazi U-boat threat.

In 1953, Magee Theological College separates from the remainder of the college, eventually moving to Belfast in a 1978 merger that forms Union Theological College. Also in 1953, Magee College breaks its ties with Dublin and becomes Magee University College. It is hoped by groups led by the University for Derry Committee that this university college would become Northern Ireland’s second university after Queen’s University Belfast. However, in the 1960s, following the recommendations in The Lockwood Report by Sir John Lockwood, Master of Birkbeck College, London and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, the Parliament of Northern Ireland makes a controversial decision to pass it over in favour of a new university in Coleraine. Instead it is incorporated into the two-campus New University of Ulster in 1969. The next fourteen years see the college halve in size, while development focuses on the main Coleraine campus.

In 1984, the New University merges with the Ulster Polytechnic, and Magee becomes the early focus of development of a new four-campus university, the University of Ulster. Student and faculty numbers recover and grow rapidly over the next ten to fifteen years, accompanied by numerous construction projects. Magee grows from just 273 students in 1984 to over 4,000 undergraduates in 2012. In 2012, the University continues to lobby the Northern Ireland Executive for an additional 1,000 full-time undergraduate places, leading to 6,000 students at Magee in 2017.

On September 14, 2013 Magee hosts, for the first time on the island of Ireland, the 23rd International Loebner Prize Contest in Artificial Intelligence based on the Turing test proposed by the renowned British computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950. Turing also works on cracking the Enigma machine code at Bletchley Park which is instrumental in the Battle of the Atlantic.

In October 2014 the University of Ulster is rebranded as Ulster University.

(Pictured: Magee College, c. 1870)


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Brian Keenan Released by Islamic Jihad

brian-keenanBrian Keenan, Northern Irish writer, is released by the Islamic Jihad Organization on August 24, 1990 after having spent 52 months as a hostage in Beirut, Lebanon. His works include the book An Evil Cradling, an account of the four and a half years he spends as a hostage.

Keenan is born into a working-class family in East Belfast on September 28, 1950. He leaves Orangefield High School early and begins work as a heating engineer. However, he continues an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gains a place at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Other writers there at the time included Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid 1980s he returns to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepts a teaching position at the American University of Beirut, where he works for about four months.

On the morning of April 11, 1986 Keenan is kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad Organization. After spending two months in isolation, he is moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. He is kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and is chained by hand and foot when he is taken out of solitary.

The British and American governments at the time have a policy that they will not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan is considered by some to have been ignored. Because he is travelling on both Irish and British passports, the Irish government makes numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap they also provide support to his two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who are spearheading the campaign for his release. He is released from captivity to Syrian military forces on August 24, 1990 and is driven to Damascus. There he is handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters are flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland.

An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experiences with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that is inflicted upon them by their captors. It is the 1991 winner of The Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

Keenan returns to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since his release 17 years earlier, and describes “falling in love” with the city.

Brian Keenan now lives in Dublin.


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Death of Colonel Dennis O’Kane

dennis-o-kaneColonel Dennis O’Kane, officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War, dies on July 4, 1863 of wounds sustained the previous day when fighting with the 69th Pennsylvania Irish Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Born in Coleraine, County Londonderry, O’Kane is a tavern owner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia regiment prior to the Civil War. When the conflict starts, he helps recruit the 24th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a unit that has the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia as its nucleus. Commissioned Major, Field and Staff, on May 1, 1861, he is with his regiment as it serves first in Maryland and then Virginia before their enlistment expires in July 1861.

In August 1861 O’Kane joins with many of the men from the 24th Pennsylvania in re-enlisting to continue the war effort, and they form the basis of what becomes the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, Field and Staff on August 19, 1861, his new regiment is composed largely of Irish immigrants like himself, and they emblazon the Irish harp on their flag. The unit eventually is joined with the 71st, 72nd and 106th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments to form the famous Philadelphia Brigade.

O’ Kane serves as second-in-command through 1862, participating in the Peninsular Campaign of May and June, the Second Battle of Bull Run in August, and the September 1862 Battle of Antietam, where his brigade is caught in the West Woods area and takes heavy losses. In November 1862, the 69th Pennsylvania’s commander, Colonel Joshua T. Owen, is promoted to Brigadier General, US Volunteers. O’Kane is advanced to Colonel on December 1, 1862 to fill the vacancy.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 14, 1862, O’Kane leads his men in the third of four waves of futile Union charges on strong Confederate positions at Marye’s Heights south of the town, and sees his regiment sustain fifty-one casualties. In May 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville, his brigade is held in reserve and sees limited action.

During the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, O’Kane finds the 69th Pennsylvania positioned along a rock fencing in the middle of the Union lines that becomes famous as “The Angle.” That position becomes the epicenter of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, the third day of the battle, as the remnants of the Confederate forces, having been much devastated from Union artillery fire, crash over the rock walls and engage the Philadelphia Brigade in brutal hand-to-hand fighting.

O’Kane is shot in the head at the wall and dies the following day. His regiment again takes high casualties but succeeds in helping to repulse the rebels and defeat the charge. The monument for the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry in Gettysburg National Military Park stands on the spot where O’Kane was mortally wounded.


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Murder of Shane “the Proud” O’Neill

Shane O’Neill, Irish patriot known by the nickname “Shane the Proud,” is murdered in what is now Cushendum, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on June 2, 1567. He is among the most famous of all the O’Neills.

O’Neill, the eldest legitimate son of Conn O’Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, is a chieftain whose support the English consider worth gaining. However, he rejects overtures from Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, and refuses to help the English against the Scottish settlers on the coast of Antrim. He allies himself instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these immigrants. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth I of England is disposed to come to terms with O’Neill who, after his father’s death, is de facto chief of the O’Neill clan. She recognizes his claims to the chieftainship, thus throwing over a kinsman, Brian O’Neill. O’Neill, however, refuses to put himself in the power of Sussex without a guarantee for his safety and his claims are so exacting that Elizabeth determines to restore Brian. An attempt to incite the O’Donnells against him, however, is frustrated.

Elizabeth, who is not prepared to undertake the subjugation of the Irish chieftain, urgently desires peace with O’Neill, especially when the devastation of his territory by Sussex brings him no nearer to submission. Sussex is not supported by the queen, who sends Gerald FitzGerald,  11th Earl of Kildare to arrange terms with O’Neill. The latter agrees to present himself before Elizabeth. Accompanied by Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde and Kildare, he reaches London on January 4, 1562. Elizabeth temporizes but, finding that O’Neill is in danger of becoming a tool in the hands of Spanish intriguers, permits him to return to Ireland, recognizing him as “the O’Neill,” and chieftain of Tyrone.

There are at this time three powerful contemporary members of the O’Neill family in Ireland — O’Neill, Turlough Luineach O’Neill, and Matthew Ó Néill, 1st Baron Dungannon. Turlough had schemed to supplant O’Neill during his absence in London. The feud does not long survive O’Neill’s return to Ireland, where he reestablishes his authority and renews his turbulent tribal warfare. Elizabeth at last authorizes Sussex to take the field against O’Neill, but two expeditions fail. O’Neill then lays the entire blame for his lawless conduct on the lord deputy’s repeated alleged attempts on his life. Elizabeth consents to negotiate, and practically all of O’Neill’s demands are conceded.

O’Neill then turns his hand against the MacDonnells, claiming that he is serving the Queen of England in harrying the Scots. He fights an indecisive battle with Sorley Boy MacDonnell near Coleraine in 1564, and in 1565 he routs the MacDonnells and takes Sorley Boy prisoner near Ballycastle. This victory strengthens O’Neill’s position, but the English make preparations for his subjugation.

Failing in an attempt to arrange terms, and also in obtaining the help which he solicited from France, O’Neill is utterly routed by the O’Donnells at the Battle of Farsetmore near Letterkenny and, seeking safety in flight, throws himself on the mercy of his enemies, the MacDonnells. Attended by a small body of gallowglass, and taking his prisoner Sorley Boy with him, he presents himself among the MacDonnells near Cushendun, on the Antrim coast, hoping to propose an alliance. Here, on June 2, 1567, he is killed by the MacDonnells and his headless body is buried at Crosskern Church at Ballyterrim above Cushendun. His body is possibly later moved to Glenarm Abbey. Unbeknownst to O’Neill, The Scots had already come to an agreement with Henry Sidney and William Piers, Seneschal of Clandeboye, commander of the English garrison at Carrickfergus. The English Government tries to pass this off as a “drunken brawl” turned savage. Piers travels to Cushendun to take O’Neill’s head and send it to Dublin Castle.