seamus dubhghaill

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


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Heroic Act of Charles Davis Lucas Earns First Victoria Cross

Charles Davis Lucas, a 20-year-old mate on the HMS Hecla in the Royal Navy, hurls a Russian shell, its fuse still burning, from the deck of his ship on June 21, 1854 during the Crimean War. For this action, he becomes the first recipient of the Victoria Cross in 1857.

Lucas is born in Druminargal House, Poyntzpass, County Armagh, on February 19, 1834. He enlists in the Royal Navy in 1848 at the age of 13, serves aboard HMS Vengeance, and sees action in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852–53 aboard the frigate HMS Fox at Rangoon, Pegu, and Dalla. By age 20, he has become a mate.

On June 21, 1854 in the Baltic Sea, HMS Hecla, along with two other ships, is bombarding Bomarsund, a fort in the Åland Islands off Finland. The fire is returned from the fort and, at the height of the action, a live shell lands on HMS Hecla‘s upper deck with its fuse still hissing. All hands are ordered to fling themselves flat on the deck, but Lucas with great presence of mind runs forward and hurls the shell into the sea where it explodes with a tremendous roar before it hits the water. Thanks to Lucas’s action no one on board is killed or seriously wounded by the shell and, accordingly, he is immediately promoted to lieutenant by his commanding officer. His act of bravery is the first to be rewarded with the Victoria Cross.

His later career includes service on HMS Calcutta, HMS Powerful, HMS Cressy, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Liffey and HMS Indus. He is promoted to commander in 1862 and commands the experimental armoured gunboat HMS Vixen in 1867. He is promoted to captain in 1867, before retiring on October 1, 1873. He is later promoted to rear admiral on the retired list in 1885. During his career he receives the India General Service Medal with the bar Pegu 1852, the Baltic Medal 1854–55, and the Royal Humane Society Lifesaving Medal.

In 1879 he marries Frances Russell Hall, daughter of Admiral William Hutcheon Hall, who had been captain of HMS Hecla in 1854. The couple has three daughters together. Lucas serves for a time as Justice of the Peace for both Kent and Argyllshire, and dies in Great Culverden, Kent on August 7, 1914. He is buried at St. Lawrence Church, Mereworth, Maidstone, Kent.

Lucas’s campaign medals, including his Victoria Cross, are displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. They are not the original medals, which were left on a train and never recovered. Replacement copies were made, though the reverse of the Victoria Cross copy is uninscribed.


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Birth of Charles Wood, Composer & Teacher

Charles Wood, composer and teacher, is born in Vicars’ Hill in the Cathedral precincts of Armagh, County Armagh on June 15, 1866. His pupils include Ralph Vaughan Williams at Cambridge and Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music. For most of his adult life he lives in England, but preserves a lively interest in Ireland.

Wood is the fifth child and third son of Charles Wood, Sr. and Jemima Wood. He is a treble chorister in the choir of the nearby St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His father sings tenor as a stipendiary “Gentleman” or “Lay Vicar Choral” in the Cathedral choir and is also the Diocesan Registrar of the church. He is a cousin of Irish composer Ina Boyle.

Wood receives his early education at the Cathedral Choir School and also studies organ with two Organists and Masters of the Boys of Armagh Cathedral, Robert Turle and his successor Dr. Thomas Marks. In 1883 he becomes one of fifty inaugural class members of the Royal College of Music, studying composition with Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry primarily, and horn and piano secondarily. Following four years of training, he continues his studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge through 1889, where he begins teaching harmony and counterpoint.

In 1889 he attains a teaching position at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, first as organ scholar and then as fellow in 1894, becoming the first Director of Music and Organist. He is instrumental in the reflowering of music at the college, though more as a teacher and organiser of musical events than as composer. After Stanford dies in 1924, Wood assumes his mentor’s vacant role as Professor of Music in the University of Cambridge.

Like his better-known colleague Stanford, Wood is chiefly remembered for his Anglican church music. As well as his Communion Service in the Phrygian mode, his settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are still popular with cathedral and parish church choirs, particularly the services in F, D, and G, and the two settings in E flat. During Passiontide his St. Mark Passion is sometimes performed, and demonstrates Wood’s interest in modal composition, in contrast to the late romantic harmonic style he more usually employs.

Wood’s anthems with organ, Expectans expectavi, and O Thou, the Central Orb are both frequently performed and recorded, as are his unaccompanied anthems Tis the day of Resurrection, Glory and Honour and, most popular of all, Hail, gladdening light and its lesser-known equivalent for men’s voices, Great Lord of Lords. All of Wood’s a cappella music demonstrates fastidious craftsmanship and a supreme mastery of the genre, and he is no less resourceful in his accompanied choral works which sometimes include unison sections and have stirring organ accompaniments, conveying a satisfying warmth and richness of emotional expression appropriate to his carefully chosen texts.

Wood collaborates with priest and poet George Ratcliffe Woodward in the revival and popularisation of renaissance tunes to new English religious texts, notably co-editing three books of carols. He also writes eight string quartets, and is co-founder of the Irish Folk Song Society in 1904.

He marries Charlotte Georgina Wills-Sandford, daughter of W. R. Wills-Sandford, of Castlerea, County Roscommon on March 17, 1898. Their son is killed in World War I.

Charles Wood dies on July 12, 1926 and is buried at the Ascension Parish Burial Ground in Cambridge alongside his wife.


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The Government of Ireland Act 1920 Becomes Law

government-of-ireland-act-1920The Government of Ireland Act 1920, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom also known as the Fourth Home Rule Bill, becomes law on December 23, 1920.

The Act is intended to establish separate Home Rule institutions within two new territories of Ireland – the six northeastern counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone are to form “Northern Ireland,” while the remaining 26 counties of the country are to form “Southern Ireland.” Each territory is to be self-governing, except in areas specifically reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom such as defence, foreign affairs, international trade, and currency. Provision is made for their future reunification under common Home Rule institutions.

Home Rule never takes effect in Southern Ireland due to the Irish War of Independence, which results instead in the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment in 1922 of the Irish Free State. However, the institutions set up under this Act for Northern Ireland continue to function until they are suspended by the British parliament in 1972 as a consequence of the Troubles.

The final provisions of the 1920 Act remaining in force are repealed under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, after the Good Friday Agreement. In the republic, the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 repeals the Act almost 85 years after Constitution of the Irish Free State replaced it as the basic constitutional law.


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Assassination of Máire Drumm, VP of Sinn Féin

maire-drummMáire Drumm, vice president of Sinn Féin and a commander in Cumann na mBan, is shot dead on October 28, 1976, by Ulster loyalists dressed as doctors while recovering from an eye operation in Belfast‘s Mater Hospital.

Drumm is born in Newry, County Down to a staunchly Irish republican family. Drumm’s mother has been active in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. Drumm grows up in the village of Killean, County Armagh, where she plays camogie. She is active in the republican movement after meeting her husband, a republican prisoner. She begins to speak at many rallies and protest meetings and is soon elected as Vice President of Sinn Fein. She becomes involved in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in the 1960s and works to rehouse Catholics forced from their homes by loyalist intimidation.

Drumm is jailed twice for seditious speeches. After she is released from HM Prison Armagh, raids on her house by the security forces escalate. She is widely demonised in the British media and is already a target for assassination when she is admitted to Belfast’s Mater Hospital for eye treatment in October 1976.

While recovering from the operation, Drumm is shot at point blank range in a joint operation by the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association who are able to enter and leave the hospital undisturbed. No one has ever been convicted of her murder.

Drumm’s speeches and quotations can be found on murals across Northern Ireland, including:

“The only people worthy of freedom are those who are prepared to go out and fight for it every day, and die if necessary.”

“We must take no steps backward, our steps must be onward, for if we don’t, the martyrs that died for you, for me, for this country will haunt us forever.”


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The Battle of the Diamond

daniel-winter-homesteadThe Battle of the Diamond, a planned confrontation between the Catholic Defenders and the Protestant Peep o’ Day Boys, takes place on September 21, 1795 near Loughgall, County Armagh. The Diamond, which is a predominantly Protestant area, is a minor crossroads in County Armagh, lying almost halfway between Loughgall and Portadown.

In the 1780s, County Armagh is the most populous county in Ireland, and the center of its linen industry. Its population is equally split between Protestants, who dominate in the northern part of the county, and Catholics, who dominate in the south. Sectarian tensions increase throughout the decade and are exacerbated by the relaxing of some of the Penal Laws, failure to enforce others, and the entry of Catholics into the linen industry at a time when land is scarce and wages are decreasing due to pressure from the mechanised cotton industry.

By 1784, sectarian fighting breaks out between gangs of Protestants and Catholics. The Protestants re-organise themselves as the Peep o’ Day Boys, with the Catholics forming the Defenders. The next decade sees an escalation in the violence between the two and the local population as homes are raided and wrecked.

On the morning of September 21, the Defenders, numbering around 300, make their way downhill from their base, occupying Daniel Winter’s homestead, which lay to the northwest of The Diamond and directly in their line of advance. News of the advance reaches the Peep o’ Day Boys who quickly form at the brow of the hill where they have made their camp. From this position, they gain three crucial advantages: the ability to comfortably rest their muskets allowing for more accurate shooting, a steep uphill location which makes it hard for attackers to scale, and a direct line-of-sight to Winter’s cottage, which the Defenders have made their rallying point.

The shooting begins and, after Captain Joseph Atkinson gives his weapon and powder to the Peep o’ Day Boys, he rides to Charlemont Garrison for troops to quell the trouble. There is no effective unit stationed in the garrison at the time, despite the fact a detachment of the North-Mayo Militia is stationed in Dungannon and a detachment of the Queen’s County Militia is at Portadown.

The battle is short and the Defenders suffer “not less than thirty” fatalities. James Verner, whose account of the battle is based on hearsay, gives the total as being nearly thirty, whilst other reports give the figure as being forty-eight, however this may be taking into account those that die afterwards from their wounds. A large amount of Defenders are also claimed to have been wounded. One of those claimed to have been killed is “McGarry of Whiterock,” the leader of the Defenders. The Peep o’ Day Boys on the other hand, in the safety of the well-defended hilltop position, suffered no casualties.

In the aftermath of the battle, the Peep o’ Day Boys retire to James Sloan’s inn in Loughgall, and it is here that James Wilson, Dan Winter, and James Sloan found the Orange Order, a defensive association pledged to defend “the King and his heirs so long as he or they support the Protestant Ascendancy.” The first Orange lodge of this new organisation is established in Dyan, County Tyrone, founding place of the Orange Boys.

(Pictured: Daniel Winter’s home near Loughgall)


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Founding of the “Belfast News-Letter”

belfast-news-letterThe Belfast News-Letter, one of Northern Ireland‘s main daily newspapers and the oldest English language general daily newspaper still in publication, is founded on September 1, 1737.

The Belfast News-Letter is originally printed in Joy’s Entry in Belfast. The Joys are a family of Huguenot descent who add much to eighteenth-century Belfast, noted for their compiling materials for its history. Francis Joy, who founds the paper, had come to Belfast early in the century from the County Antrim village of Killead. In Belfast, he marries the daughter of the town sovereign and sets up a practice as an attorney. In 1737, he obtains a small printing press which is in settlement of a debt and uses it to publish the town’s first newspaper at the sign of “The Peacock” in Bridge Street. The family later purchases a paper mill in Ballymena and are able to produce enough paper not only for their own publication but for the whole province of Ulster.

Originally published three times weekly, the Belfast News-Letter becomes a daily in 1855. The title is now located at two addresses – a news section in Donegall Square South in central Belfast, and a features section in Portadown, County Armagh. Before the partition of Ireland, the Belfast News-Letter is distributed island-wide.

The newspaper’s editorial stance and readership, while originally republican, is now strongly unionist. Its primary competitors are the Belfast Telegraph and The Irish News. The Belfast News-Letter has changed hands several times since the mid-1990s, and since 2005 is owned by the Johnston Press holding company Johnston Publishing (NI). The full legal title of the newspaper is the Belfast News-Letter, although the word “Belfast” no longer appears on the masthead.

Historical copies of the Belfast News-Letter, dating back to 1828, are available to search and view in digitised form at the British Newspaper Archive.


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The Battle of the Yellow Ford

battle-of-the-yellow-fordThe Battle of the Yellow Ford is fought in western County Armagh, near the River Blackwater on August 14, 1598, during the Nine Years War. It is fought between the Gaelic native Irish army under Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and Hugh Roe O’Donnell and a crown expeditionary force from Dublin under Henry Bagenal. The crown forces are marching from Armagh to resupply a besieged fort on the Blackwater when they fall into an ambush and are routed with heavy losses.

The crown forces are organized in six regiments — two forward, two centre, and two rear, and with cavalry at centre. As soon as they leave Armagh garrison, they are all harassed with gunfire from rebel forces concealed in the woods. As a result, the different regiments become separated from one another as they pause to deal with the hit and run attacks. The problem is accentuated when one of their ox-drawn artillery pieces becomes stuck in the bog with a damaged wheel and a rear regiment stays behind to guard it as it is slowly coaxed through the bog. The regiment at the front of the march encounters a mile-long trench, 4 feet wide and 5 feet deep. The regiment succeeds in crossing the trench but then comes under heavy attack from large forces and decides to retreat back across the trench, suffering significant losses during the retreat. This regiment then merges into the ranks of the other forward regiment.

At this point, Henry Bagenal is killed by a shot through the head. Command of the army is assumed by Thomas Maria Wingfield. Further demoralising the crown troops and causing chaos, their gunpowder store explodes, apparently ignited accidentally by the fuse of a matchlock musket. Daunted, Wingfield decides to retreat to Armagh. The commander of the forward part either doesn’t get the command or refuses to obey it, or is unable to execute an orderly retreat and judges it necessary to maintain his forward position. Seeing their enemy in confusion, the O’Neill cavalry rushes at the head of the forward part, followed by swordsmen on foot. Crown troops in this part of the field are cut to pieces and any wounded left on the field after the battle are slain as well. The rest of the crown forces have to struggle their way back to the Armagh garrison. They reach it largely intact, but are harried all the way by the Irish.

Crown forces lose approximately 1,500 men in the battle, including 18 “captains” or officers. Three hundred soldiers desert to the rebels including two English recruits. Out of 4,000 soldiers who set out from Armagh, just over 2,000 reach the town after the battle and become virtual prisoners inside. The cavalry breaks out and dashes south escaping the Irish.

After three days of negotiations, it is agreed that the crown troops can leave Armagh as long as they leave their arms and ammunition behind and that the garrison of the Blackwater Fort surrenders. O’Neill’s forces suffer perhaps 200 to 300 casualties in the battle, though sources for the number lost on O’Neill’s side are very scanty. In light of the battle’s outcome, the court at London greatly and rapidly increase its military forces in Ireland. Simultaneously, many in Ireland who have been neutral on the sidelines begin to support the rebellion. Thus the ultimate outcome of the battle is an escalation of the war.