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


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Birth of Thomas Steele, Engineer & Political Activist

Thomas (Tom) Steele, engineer and political activist, is born on November 3, 1788 at Derrymore, County Clare, the son of William Steele, gentleman, and Catherine Steele (née Bridgeman).

In July 1805 Steele enters Trinity College Dublin, graduating BA in the spring of 1810. He then studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he graduates MA in 1820, becoming an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the same year. In 1821 he inherits Cullane House, near Craggaunowen, County Clare, on the death of his uncle. Of an enthusiastic and adventurous nature, in 1823 he decides to support the cause of the liberals in Spain who had rebelled against the autocratic rule of Ferdinand VII in 1820. Mortgaging the house and lands at Cullane, he purchases a large quantity of arms and ships them to Spain on board the ship Iris. Commissioned in the Legion Estrenjera of the liberal army, he distinguishes himself in the Battle of Trocadero and the defence of Madrid. He later publishes an account of his experiences, Notes on the war in Spain (London, 1824).

Returning from Spain with his fortunes ruined, Steele begins experiments with underwater diving apparatus, patenting “Steele’s improved diving-bell” in 1825. In the same year he becomes a partner in the Vigo Bay Co., which attempts to recover gold and silver bullion from Spanish ships which sank in Vigo Bay in 1702. After extensive diving operations using Steele’s diving-bell, the company is wound up at an acrimonious meeting of shareholders in September 1826. Despite claims by some of the shareholders that bullion had been found, the scheme is a total failure.

Steele is involved in the Catholic Association and, a close friend of Daniel O’Connell, is active in the emancipation campaign although himself a protestant. In 1828 he seconds O’Connell’s nomination for Clare in the general election of that year. Appointed by O’Connell as ‘Head Pacificator,’ he tours the country collecting weapons and discouraging the rural population from engaging in faction fighting. There is a certain irony in this appointment, as Steele’s own volatile temper is well known. A noted duelist, he fights an inconclusive duel in 1829 with William Smith O’Brien, who had opposed O’Connell’s second candidature for County Clare. In 1828 he is a founder of the Limerick Independent Club.

An associate of the diving pioneers John and Charles Deane, Steele dives on the wreck of the Intrinsic, off the Clare coast in January 1836, using their new diving helmet. He then begins developing equipment to provide underwater illumination, and in 1840 dives with the Deane brothers off Plymouth on the wreck of Henry VIII‘s ship, the Mary Rose. Yet he is in serious financial difficulties, which are not helped by some of his more eccentric building projects. It is said of him that “he seemed utterly incapable of rationally estimating the value of money in his own case.” He begins renovating, at great expense, a ruined castle that stands on his land at Cullane. He also later has a large standing stone, known as the ‘Umbilicus Hiberniae’ (‘Navel of Ireland’), removed from Birr, King’s County (now County Offaly), and taken to his house. At Cullane it is set up as an altar and used for mass whenever O’Connell or members of the Catholic Association visit. It is not returned to Birr until 1974.

Known as “Honest Tom Steele,” Steele is deeply devoted to O’Connell, and is one of his key lieutenants during the repeal campaigns of the 1830s and 1840s. He takes his title and responsibilities as O’Connell’s “Head Pacificator” so seriously and generally expresses himself with such long-winded pomposity that he becomes something of a figure of fun for opponents of O’Connell and for many of the younger men in the Repeal Association. Tried on conspiracy charges after the prohibition of the Clontarf monster meeting, he is one of the six “traversers” imprisoned with O’Connell in Richmond jail from May to September 1844. Strongly supporting O’Connell’s repudiation of physical force, he chairs and takes a prominent part in the peace resolution debates of July 1846 in which the Young Ireland group walks out of the Repeal Association.

After the death of O’Connell on May 15, 1847, Steele falls into a deep depression and, financially ruined, jumps from Waterloo Bridge in London on April 19, 1848. Pulled from the river by a Thames boatman, he survives for a number of weeks. Former political opponents, including Lord Brougham, offer financial help but he refuses. He dies on June 15, 1848, and his remains are taken to Dublin, where he is waked at Conciliation Hall, the headquarters of the Repeal Association, on Burgh Quay. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, beside O’Connell’s tomb. He appears as one of the figures on the O’Connell memorial in O’Connell Street, Dublin.

Steele never marries, but harbours an unrequited passion for a Miss Eileen Crowe of Ennis, County Clare, and is often to be seen standing on a large rock, which comes to be known as “Steele’s Rock,” on the banks of the River Fergus in Ennis as he tries to catch a glimpse of Miss Crowe, who lives across the river.

(From: “Steele, Thomas (Tom)” by David Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: (L to R) Thomas Steele, Daniel O’Connell and O’Gorman Mahon by Joseph Patrick Haverty)


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Birth of Anthony Foley, Rugby Union Player and Coach

Anthony Gerard Foley, Irish rugby union player and head coach of Munster, is born on October 30, 1973, in Limerick, County Limerick. He is attached to the same squad during his professional playing career. He is a member of the Munster team that wins the 2002–03 Celtic League and is the winning captain during their 2005–06 Heineken Cup success. He plays for Ireland from 1995 until 2005 and captains the squad on three occasions. He is nicknamed “Axel,” after the fictional character Axel Foley of the Beverly Hills Cop film series. His father Brendan Foley and sister Rosie Foley also play rugby for Ireland.

In March 1989, Foley leads St. Munchin’s College to victory in the Munster Schools Junior Cup. He later represents Munster and Ireland Schools on several occasions over two seasons, notably during the 1992 Irish Schools tour of New Zealand. Winning six games out of eight, Ireland narrowly loses the final game to a New Zealand side featuring Jonah Lomu. A controversial Jeff Wilson penalty-goal wins the game in the final minutes.

Foley makes his professional debut for Munster against Swansea in November 1995, a game that is also Munster’s first ever Heineken Cup fixture. He is on the Munster team that loses 8–9 to Northampton Saints in the 2000 Heineken Cup Final, and is again the runner-up when Munster loses 15–9 to Leicester Tigers in the 2002 Heineken Cup Final. He is finally on the winning side when Munster wins the 2002–03 Celtic League.

When Mick Galwey resigns as Munster captain, Foley narrowly loses to Jim Williams in a vote to decide the next captain. When Williams leaves Munster in 2005, Foley becomes the new captain, and in his first season in the position, he leads Munster to victory over Biarritz Olympique in the 2006 Heineken Cup Final. He has played in all but one of Munster’s first 78 Heineken Cup games until a shoulder injury sustained during Munster’s 21–19 victory over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road Stadium in their first game of the 2006–07 Heineken Cup causes him to miss his side’s subsequent victory over CS Bourgoin-Jallieu, as well as back-to-back games against Cardiff in December 2006.

Foley stands down as captain at the beginning of the 2007–08 season, making way for Paul O’Connell. He is dropped for Munster’s final fixtures of the 2007–08 Heineken Cup, and announces his retirement for the end of the season.

Foley makes his debut for Ireland against England in the 1995 Five Nations Championship on January 21, 1995. He scores a try on his debut in an 8-20 defeat. He goes to the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, and plays as a replacement in one pool game against Japan which Ireland wins 50-28. He misses the 1999 Rugby World Cup, but is selected for the 2003 Rugby World Cup, featuring in two of the pool games against Romania and Australia.

Foley captains Ireland three times: in 2001 against Samoa, and in 2002 against Romania and Georgia. His last international is against Wales in the 2005 Six Nations Championship. In total he plays in 62 matches for Ireland and scores 5 tries against England in 1995, Romania in 2001, Fiji in 2002, France in 2004, and Wales in 2004.

In March 2011, it is announced that Foley will take over as Munster forwards coach at the end of the 2011 season. He temporarily replaces Gert Smal as Ireland’s forwards coach during the 2012 Six Nations Championship, after Smal is forced to miss the remainder of the tournament with an eye condition. He signs a contract extension with Munster in May 2013. The following year it is announced that he will succeed Rob Penney as Munster’s head coach, signing a two-year contract that begins on July 1, 2014.

Foley dies in his sleep on October 16, 2016, of an acute pulmonary edema brought on by heart disease while staying at a hotel in the Paris suburb of Suresnes with the Munster squad. The team is preparing to face Racing 92 in its opening game of the 2016–17 European Rugby Champions Cup. The match is postponed as a result of his death. President Michael D. Higgins and then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny make tributes to Foley, and the Irish flag flies at half mast at government buildings in Munster.

Foley is brought home to Ireland on Wednesday, October 19, 2016. His funeral takes place on Friday, October 21, 2016 at St. Flannan’s Church in Killaloe, County Clare.

On October 22, 2016, in the first game after Foley’s death, Munster beats Glasgow 38–17 at a sold-out Thomond Park. Tributes are paid to Foley before, during and after the game and the number 8 jersey is retired for the game, with CJ Stander wearing the number 24 for the occasion. Before their historic first ever win against New Zealand at Soldier Field, Chicago, on November 5, 2016, the senior Irish men’s team pays tribute to Foley by forming a figure of 8, led by Munster’s CJ Stander, Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and Donnacha Ryan, to face the All Blacks Haka. Ahead of a game against Munster on November 11, 2016, the Māori All Blacks team pays tribute to Foley by placing a jersey with his initials on the halfway line before performing a Haka. Māori captain Ash Dixon then presents the jersey to Foley’s sons. Munster goes on to win the historic game 27–14. On January 7, 2017, further tributes are paid to Foley when the rescheduled Round 1 fixture between Racing 92 and Munster takes place.

To honour Foley’s memory and contribution to European rugby, the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) announces that the 2016–17 European Player of the Year would receive the Anthony Foley Memorial Trophy. The trophy is commissioned with the agreement of the Foley family and Munster Rugby and it is envisaged that it will be presented to all future European Player of the Year winners.


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Birth of William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

William Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, is born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, on October 17, 1803.

O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to The Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.

(Pictured: Portrait of William Smith O’Brien by George Francis Mulvany, National Gallery of Ireland)


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First Assassination by “The Squad”

On July 30, 1919, the first assassination authorised by Michael Collins is carried out by The Squad, also known as the Twelve Apostles, when Detective Sergeant “the Dog” Smith is shot near Drumcondra, Dublin.

The Squad is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit founded by Collins to counter British intelligence efforts during the Irish War of Independence, mainly by means of assassination.

On April 10, 1919, the First Dáil announces a policy of ostracism of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men. At the time Sinn Féin official policy is against acts of violence. Boycotting, persuasion and mild intimidation succeed against many officers. However others escalate their activities against republicans and in March 1920 Collins asks Dick McKee to select a small group to form an assassination unit.

When The Squad is formed, it comes directly under the control of the Director of Intelligence or his deputy and under no other authority. The Squad is commanded by Mick McDonnell.

The original “Twelve Apostles” are Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Paddy Daly, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vincent Byrne, Sean Doyle, Paddy Griffin, Eddie Byrne, Mick Reilly and Jimmy Conroy. After some time The Squad is strengthened with members Ben Byrne, Frank Bolster, Mick Keogh, Mick Kennedy, Bill Stapleton and Sam Robinson. Owen Cullen, a member of 2nd Battalion, is driver for a short time, and Paddy Kelly of County Clare for a short time. They are employed full-time and received a weekly wage.

Sometimes, as occasion demands, The Squad is strengthened by members of the IRA Intelligence Staff, the Active Service Unit, munition workers and members of the Dublin Brigade, Tipperary Flying Column men, Dan Breen, Séumas Robinson, Seán Treacy and Seán Hogan, and also Mick Brennan and Michael Prendergast of County Clare. The IRA Intelligence Staff consists of the Director of Intelligence Michael Collins, the Deputy Director of Intelligence Liam Tobin, the Second Deputy Director of Intelligence Tom Cullen, the Third Director of Intelligence Frank Thornton, and members Joe Dolan, Frank Saurin, Ned Kelleher, Joe Guilfoyle, Paddy Caldwell, Paddy Kennedy, Charlie Dalton, Dan McDonnell and Charlie Byrne. The munitions workers include Mat Furlong, Sean Sullivan, Gay McGrath, Martin O’ Kelly, Tom Younge and Chris Reilly.

Other members include Mick Love, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Patrick Caldwell, Charlie Dalton, Mick O’Reilly, Sean Healy, James Ronan, Paddy Lawson, John Dunne, Johnny Wilson and James Heery. Seán Lemass and Stephen Behan, the father of Irish writers Brendan and Dominic Behan, have also been listed as members of the Apostles. There is no hard evidence to support the inclusion of many of the names, but those who subsequently serve in the Irish Army have their active service recorded in their service records held in the Military Archives Department in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines. Andrew Cooney is also reported to have been associated with The Squad. Stephen Behan’s involvement is first made public in 1962, when the BBC broadcasts an episode of This Is Your Life dedicated to Behan. During the broadcast, remaining members of the squad joined Behan on the set of the show.

Following “The Dog” Smith’s assassination, The Squad continues to target plainclothes police, members of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and, occasionally, problematic civil servants. Organisationally it operates as a subsection of Collins’ Intelligence Headquarters. Two of the executions by The Squad are the killing on January 21, 1920 of RIC Inspector William Redmond of the DMP “G” Division and on March 2, 1920 a British double agent John Charles Byrnes.

One of the Apostles’ particular targets is the Cairo Gang, a deep-cover British intelligence group, so called since it has either been largely assembled from intelligence officers serving in Cairo or from the Dublin restaurant called The Cairo, which the gang frequents. Sir Henry Wilson brings in the Cairo Gang in the middle of 1920, explicitly to deal with Michael Collins and his organization. Given carte blanche in its operations by Wilson, the Cairo Gang adopts the strategy of assassinating members of Sinn Féin unconnected with the military struggle, assuming that this will cause the IRA to respond and bring its leaders into the open.

The most well-known operation executed by the Apostles occurs on what becomes known as Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, when British MI5 officers, linked to the Cairo Gang and significantly involved in spying, are shot at various locations in Dublin with fourteen killed and six wounded. In addition to the The Squad, a larger number of IRA personnel are involved in this operation. The only IRA man captured during the operation is Frank Teeling. In response to the killings, the Black and Tans retaliate by shooting up a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary at Croke Park, the proceeds from which are for the Irish Republican Prisoners Fund. Fourteen civilians are killed including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and 68 are wounded. The Hogan stand at Croke Park is named after Hogan.

The elimination of the Cairo Gang is seen in Dublin as an intelligence victory, but British Prime Minister David Lloyd George comments dismissively that his men “… got what they deserved, beaten by counter-jumpers…”. Winston Churchill adds that they were “.. careless fellows … who ought to have taken precautions.”

Some members of The Squad are hanged in 1921 for the killings on Bloody Sunday, including Thomas Whelan and Patrick Moran. Moran had killed a vet, Patrick MacCormack, who seems to have been an innocent victim.

In May 1921, after the IRA’s Dublin Brigade takes heavy casualties during the burning of the Custom House, The Squad and the Brigade’s Active Service Unit are amalgamated into the Dublin Guard, under Paddy Daly. Under the influence of Daly and Michael Collins, most of the Guard take the Free State side and join the National Army in the Irish Civil War of 1922–23. During this conflict some of them are attached to the Criminal Investigation Department and are accused of multiple assassinations of Anti-Treaty fighters. They are also involved in several atrocities against Republican prisoners, particularly after the death of Collins, due to many of them having personal ties with him.

Bill Stapleton goes on to become a director in Bord na Móna, Charles Dalton and Frank Saurin become directors in the Irish Sweepstakes. In October 1923, Commandant James Conroy is implicated in the murder of two Jewish men, Bernard Goldberg and Emmanuel ‘Ernest’ Kahn. He avoids arrest by fleeing to Mexico, returning later to join the Blueshirts. A later application for an army pension is rejected. The killings are the subject of a 2010 investigative documentary by RTÉ, CSÍ: Murder in Little Jerusalem.


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Death of Gerald Griffin, Novelist, Poet & Playwright

Gerald Griffin (Irish: Gearóid Ó Gríofa), Irish novelist, poet and playwright, dies of typhus fever on June 12, 1840. His novel The Collegians is the basis of Dion Boucicault‘s play The Colleen Bawn, or The Brides of Garryowen. Feeling he is “wasting his time” writing fiction, he joins the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious congregation founded by Edmund Ignatius Rice, to teach the children of the poor.

Griffin is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on December 12, 1803, the youngest son of thirteen children of a substantial Catholic farming family. Patrick Griffin, his father, also makes a living through brewing, and he participates as one of Henry Grattan‘s Irish Volunteers (18th century). His mother comes from the ancient O’Brien dynasty, and first introduces him to English literature. When he is aged seven, the family moves to Fairy Lawn, a house near Loghill, County Clare, which sits on a hill above the bank of the Shannon Estuary, about twenty-seven miles from Limerick. Here he has an idyllic childhood and receives a classical education.

In 1820 the family at Fairy Lawn is broken up. The parents with several of the children emigrate to the United States and settle in Pennsylvania. Griffin, with one brother and two sisters, is left behind under the care of his elder brother William, a practicing physician in Adare, County Limerick. He meets John Banim in Limerick. Inspired by the successful production of Banim’s play Damon and Pythias (1821), Griffin, at nineteen years of age, moves to London in 1823. After an unsuccessful attempt at becoming a playwright, he endures years of poverty in London, managing only to scrape by through writing reviews for periodicals and newspapers. At the end of two years he obtains steady employment in the publishing house as reader and reviser of manuscripts, and in a short time becomes frequent contributor to some of the leading periodicals and magazines. His early pieces in The Literary Gazette vividly describe the rural setting of his childhood, recount Irish folklore, translate the Celtic Irish language for the English readers, and, as Robert Lee Wolff observes, “waxed richly sardonic about Irishmen who tried to be more English than the English.”

Griffin’s Holland-Tide or Munster Popular Tales is published by Simpkin & Marshall in 1827. Holland-Tide is a collection of seven short stories, all of which are told in the house of a hospitable Munster farmer during All Hallows’ Eve in Munster. Holland-Tide establishes his reputation and he returns to Ireland, where he writes Tales of the Munster Festivals in Pallaskenry to which his brother William has moved.

Experience leads Griffin to modify his expectations in relation to literary work, and, with a view to the legal profession, he enters the University of London as a law student, but in a short time removes to Dublin for the study of ancient Irish history, preparatory to his work The Invasion, which is published in 1832. This work has a good sale and is highly praised by scholars, but never becomes popular.

With the exception of a tour through Scotland and a short trip on the European continent, Griffin lives with his brother, keeping up to some extent his literary labours. By 1833, he is increasingly concerned that he is wasting his time, and begins to devote himself to teaching the poor children of the neighborhood. In 1838, hes all of his unpublished manuscripts and joins the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order which has as its special aim the education of children of the poor. Writing to an old friend he says he feels a great deal happier in the practice of this daily routine than he ever did while roving about the great city, absorbed in the modest project of rivaling Shakespeare and throwing Scott in the shade. In June 1839, he is transferred from Dublin to Cork, where he dies of typhus fever at the age of thirty-six on June 12, 1840.

Griffin’s play Gisippus is produced posthumously at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on February 23, 1842 by William Macready, and it runs to a second edition in print.

One of Griffin’s most famous works is The Collegians, a novel based on a trial that he had reported on, involving the murder of a young Irish Catholic girl (Ellen Hanley) by a Protestant Anglo-Irish man (John Scanlon). The novel is later adapted for the stage as The Colleen Bawn by Dion Boucicault.

Griffin has a street named after him in Limerick and another in Cork. Loughill/Ballyhahill GAA club in west Limerick plays under the name of Gerald Griffins.

(Pictured: “Portrait of Gerald Griffin (1803-1840), Poet and Novelist,” painting by Richard Rothwell (1800-1868), National Gallery of Ireland)


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Birth of Sir Eyre Coote, Soldier, Politician & Governor of Jamaica

Sir Eyre Coote, Irish-born British soldier and politician who serves as Governor of Jamaica, is born on May 20, 1759.

Coote is the second son of the Very Reverend Charles Coote of Shaen Castle, Queen’s County (now County Laois), Dean of Kilfenora, County Clare, and Grace Coote (née Tilson). Educated at Eton College (1767–71), he enters Trinity College Dublin (TCD) on November 1, 1774, but does not graduate. In 1776 he is commissioned ensign in the 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot and carries the regiment’s colours at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War. He fights in several of the major battles in the war, including Rhode Island (September 15, 1776), Brandywine (September 11, 1777) and the siege of Charleston (1780). He serves under Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, in Virginia and is taken prisoner during the siege of Yorktown in October 1781.

On his release Coote returns to England, is promoted major in the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot in 1783, and in 1784 inherits the substantial estates of his uncle Sir Eyre Coote. He inherits a further £200,000 by remainder on his father’s death in 1796. He resides for a time at Portrane House, Maryborough, Queen’s County, and is elected MP for Ballynakill (1790–97) and Maryborough (1797–1800). Although he opposes the union, he vacates his seat to allow his elder brother Charles, 2nd Baron Castle Coote, to return a pro-union member. He serves with distinction in the West Indies (1793–95), particularly at the storming of Guadeloupe on July 3, 1794, and becomes colonel of the 70th (Surrey) Regiment of Foot (1794), aide-de-camp to King George III (1795), and brigadier-general in charge of the camp at Bandon, County Cork (1796).

Coote is active in suppressing the United Irishmen in Cork throughout 1797, and in June arrests several soldiers and locals suspected of attempting to suborn the Bandon camp. On January 1, 1798 he is promoted major-general and given the command at Dover. He leads the expedition of 1,400 men that destroy the canal gates at Ostend on May 18, 1798, holding out stubbornly for two days against superior Dutch forces until he is seriously wounded and his force overwhelmed. Taken prisoner, he is exchanged and in 1800 commands a brigade in Sir Ralph Abercromby‘s Mediterranean campaign, distinguishing himself at Abu Qir and Alexandria. For his services in Egypt he receives the thanks of parliament, is made a Knight of the Bath, and is granted the Crescent by the Sultan.

In 1801 Coote returns to Ireland. Elected MP for Queen’s County (1802–06), he generally supports the government, and is appointed governor of the fort of Maryborough. He gives the site and a large sum of money towards the building of the old county hospital in Maryborough. In 1805 he is promoted lieutenant-general, and he serves as lieutenant-governor of Jamaica (1806–08). His physical and mental health deteriorates in the West Indian climate, and he is relieved of his post in April 1808. He is second in command in the Walcheren Campaign of 1809 and leads the force that takes the fortress of Flushing. However, he shows signs of severe stress during the campaign and asks to be relieved from command because his eldest daughter is seriously ill.

Coote is conferred LL.D. at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1811. Elected MP for Barnstaple, Devon (1812–18), he usually votes with government, but opposes them by supporting Catholic emancipation, claiming that Catholics strongly deserve relief because of the great contribution Catholic soldiers had made during the war. He strongly opposes the abolition of flogging in the army. Despite a growing reputation for eccentricity, he is promoted full general in 1814 and appointed Knight Grand Cross (GCB) on January 2, 1815, but his conduct becomes increasingly erratic. In November 1815 he pays boys at Christ’s Hospital school, London, to allow him to flog them and to flog him in return. Discovered by the school matron, he is charged with indecent behaviour. The Lord Mayor of London dismisses the case and Coote donates £1,000 to the school, but the scandal leads to a military inquiry on April 18, 1816. Although it is argued that his mind had been affected by the Jamaican sun and the deaths of his daughters, the inquiry finds that he is not insane and that his conduct is unworthy of an officer. Despite the protests of many senior officers, he is discharged from the army and deprived of his honours.

Coote continues to decline and dies in London on December 10, 1823. He is buried at his seat of West Park, Hampshire, where in 1828 a large monument is erected to him and his uncle Sir Eyre Coote.

Coote first marries Sarah Robard in 1785, with whom he has three daughters, all of whom die young of consumption. Secondly he marries in 1805, Katherine, daughter of John Bagwell of Marlfield, County Tipperary, with whom he has one son, his heir Eyre Coote III, MP for Clonmel (1830–33). He also has a child by Sally, a slave girl in Jamaica, from whom Colin Powell, United States Army general and Secretary of State, claims descent.


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Death of Patrick Hillery, Sixth President of Ireland

Patrick John Hillery, Irish politician and the sixth President of Ireland, dies in Glasnevin, Dublin, at the age of 84 on April 12, 2008, following a short illness. He serves two terms in the presidency and, though widely seen as a somewhat lacklustre President, is credited with bringing stability and dignity to the office. He also wins widespread admiration when it emerges that he has withstood political pressure from his own Fianna Fáil party during a political crisis in 1982.

Hillery is born in Spanish Point, County Clare on May 2, 1923. He is educated locally at Milltown Malbay National school before later attending Rockwell College. At third level he attends University College Dublin where he qualifies with a degree in medicine. Upon his conferral in 1947 he returns to his native town where he follows in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.

Hillery is first elected at the 1951 Irish general election as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Clare, and remains in Dáil Éireann until 1973. During this time he serves as Minister for Education (1959–1965), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1965–1966), Minister for Labour (1966–1969) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1969–1973).

Following Ireland’s successful entry into the European Economic Community in 1973, Hillery is rewarded by becoming the first Irishman to serve on the European Commission, serving until 1976 when he becomes President. In 1976 the Fine GaelLabour Party National Coalition under Liam Cosgrave informs him that he is not being re-appointed to the Commission. He considers returning to medicine, however fate takes a turn when Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan launches a ferocious verbal attack on President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, calling him “a thundering disgrace” for referring anti-terrorist legislation to the courts to test its constitutionality. When a furious President Ó Dálaigh resigns, a deeply reluctant Hillery agrees to become the Fianna Fáil candidate for the presidency. Fine Gael and Labour decide it is unwise to put up a candidate in light of the row over Ó Dálaigh’s resignation. As a result, Hillery is elected unopposed, becoming President of Ireland on December 3, 1976.

When Hillery’s term of office ends in September 1983, he indicates that he does not intend to seek a second term, but he changes his mind when all three political parties plead with him to reconsider. He is returned for a further seven years without an electoral contest. After leaving office in 1990, he retires from politics.

Hillery’s two terms as president, from 1976 to 1990, end before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which sets terms for an end to violence in Northern Ireland. But he acts at crucial moments as an emollient influence on the republic’s policies toward the north, and sets a tone that helps pave the way for eventual peace.

Patrick Hillery dies on April 12, 2008 in his Dublin home following a short illness. His family agrees to a full state funeral for the former president. He is buried at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, near Dublin. In the graveside oration, Tánaiste Brian Cowen says Hillery was “A humble man of simple tastes, he has been variously described as honourable, decent, intelligent, courteous, warm and engaging. He was all of those things and more.”


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Death of Nelly O’Brien, Miniaturist, Artist & Activist

Ellen Lucy or Nelly O’Brien, Irish miniaturist, landscape artist, and Gaelic League activist, dies suddenly on April 1, 1925 while visiting her brother Dermod at 66 Elm Park Gardens, London.

O’Brien is born Ellen Lucy O’Brien on June 4, 1864, at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick. She is the eldest child of Edward William O’Brien and Mary O’Brien (née Spring Rice). Her siblings are Lucy and Dermod, with Dermod also becoming an artist. Her father is a landowner, and her mother is a sculptor and painter and sister of Thomas Spring Rice. Her grandfather is William Smith O’Brien.

While a young child, O’Brien spends two years living on the French Riviera from 1866 to 1868. Her mother later dies of tuberculosis, and the three children are raised by their aunt, the writer and nationalist, Charlotte Grace O’Brien. Their father remarries in 1880, to Julia Marshall, with whom he has two sons and two daughters.

O’Brien attends school in England from 1879, and later enrolls to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art. She meets Walter Osborne through her brother Dermod, and considers herself engaged to him, but Osborne dies on April 24, 1903. A portrait of O’Brien by Osborne is held in the Hugh Lane Gallery.

O’Brien returns to Ireland, and begins to paint miniatures on ivory using a magnifying glass. She also paints watercolour landscapes. Her first exhibition with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) is in 1896, where she shows three works including Sketch near Malahide. She exhibits with the RHA on and off until 1922. During some of her time in Dublin, she lives with her half-brother, Edward Conor Marshall O’Brien, on Mount Street.

As part of an exhibition of Irish painters, O’Brien exhibits a number of portrait miniatures at the London Guildhall in 1904. The 1906 Oireachtas na Gaeilge features a number of her paintings, and in the same year she becomes honorary secretary of a newly established art committee. At the MunsterConnacht exhibition in Limerick of 1906, she exhibits a miniature of William Smith O’Brien amongst her 12 works on show. She produces many portraits, including one of Douglas Hyde, which is exhibited by the RHA in 1916.

O’Brien is an early member of the Gaelic League, being present at its first Oireachtas na Gaeilge in 1897, and founding the Craobh na gCúig gCúigí (Branch of the Five Provinces). In 1905, she writes a long letter in defence of Douglas Hyde and the Gaelic League in The Church of Ireland Gazette. She holds meetings of Craobh na gCúig gCúigí in her flat at 7 St. Stephen’s Green every Saturday night in 1907. In 1911, she founds Coláiste Eoghain Uí Chomhraí (O’Curry Irish College) in Carrigaholt, County Clare, which is named in honour of Eugene O’Curry, with the help of her cousin and friend Mary Spring Rice.

One of her ultimate goals is to create a national Irish church, which would unite Protestants and Catholics through the Irish language. To this end, she establishes the Irish Guild of the Church with Seoirse de Rút in 1914. The aim of the organisation is to provide a communal union for members of the Church of Ireland who are dedicated to “Irish Ireland” ideals.

Acting as a representative for the Gaelic League, she travels to the United States with Fionan MacColuim in 1914 to 1915, to fund raise and promote Irish art and industries. At Coláiste Eoghain Uí Chomhraí, she stresses the importance of the Irish language in the home, as well as the skills of housewives and those in domestic service in strengthening the language and Irish culture.

O’Brien notes that she initially thought that the 1916 Easter Rising was “in the nature a demonstration against conscription as it had been announced that the volunteers would resist disarmament.” She is staying with the Hydes at 1 Earlsfort Place during the Rising, as her flat at College Park Chambers had been destroyed. She protests the conscription bill in Ireland as a mass meeting of women at the Mansion House in 1918. She launches the Gaelic Churchman in 1919 as the official publication of the Irish Guild of the Church. In one article entitled A plea for the Irish services, she promotes her campaign for Irish language services in Protestant churches. In her capacity of vice-president of the guild, she invites Éamon de Valera to attend one of their meetings in 1921.

O’Brien dies suddenly on April 1, 1925 while visiting Dermod at 66 Elm Park Gardens, London. She is buried at the family plot in Cahirmoyle.

(Pictured: Nelly O’Brien by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1723-1792)


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Death of Pat Upton, Labour Party Politician & Veterinarian

Pat Upton, Irish Labour Party politician and veterinarian, dies of a heart attack on February 22, 1999.

Upton is born in Kilrush, County Clare and educated at St. Flannan’s College in Ennis, at University College Galway, and at University College Dublin (UCD) where he receives a doctorate in veterinary medicine. He then works as a lecturer.

Upton is first elected to public office as a Labour Party member of Dublin County Council for Terenure at the 1991 Irish local elections, where he serves until the Council’s abolition in 1994, and then as a member of South Dublin County Council until 1999.

Upton unsuccessfully contests the Dublin South-Central constituency at the 1989 Irish general election. However, he is then elected to the 19th Seanad on the Agricultural Panel, and becomes the Labour Party’s leader in Seanad Éireann.

At the 1992 Irish general election, Upton stands again in Dublin South-Central, and in Labour’s “Spring Tide” surge at that election, he tops the poll with nearly 12,000 first-preference votes, a remarkable 1.48 quotas. He is re-elected at the 1997 Irish general election with a considerably reduced vote.

In the 28th Dáil Upton is appointed as Labour’s spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Law Reform. A leading critic of Labour’s 1999 merger with the Democratic Left, he nonetheless becomes the party’s spokesman on communications and sport after the merger.

Upton is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 1994–95.

Upton dies suddenly of a heart attack on February 22, 1999 at the UCD Veterinary College, where he is an occasional lecturer. He is taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and his death is officially confirmed. He is survived by his wife and their four children. Politicians of all parties pay glowing tributes to him for his outspoken but “erudite and incisive” contributions to politics and to Irish culture.

The by-election for Upton’s Dáil seat in Dublin South-Central is held on October 27, 1999, and won for the Labour Party by his sister Mary Upton.

Following Upton’s death, the University College Dublin branch of the Labour party is named in his honour due to his involvement with the college. It has since been renamed to honour the Spanish Civil War veteran Charlie Donnelly.


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The Poulnabrone Dolmen Purchased by the State

The Poulnabrone dolmen in the Burren, County Clare is bought for £300,000 by the State on November 8, 2001 to protect it from vandalism.

Poulnabrone dolmen is an unusually large dolmen or portal tomb. Situated in a rocky and unblemished field in the remote and high altitude townland of Poulnabrone, Kilcorney, it comprises three standing portal stones supporting a heavy horizontal capstone, and dates to the Neolithic period, probably between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. Contrary to some information sources, it is well outside the boundaries of the Burren National Park. It is the best known and most widely photographed of the approximately 172 dolmens in Ireland.

The karst setting has been formed from limestone laid down around 350 million years ago. The dolmen was built by Neolithic farmers, who chose the location either for ritual, as a territorial marker, or as a collective burial site. What remains today is only the “stone skeleton” of the original monument. Originally it would have been covered with soil, and its flagstone capped by a cairn.

When the site is excavated in 1986 and again in 1988, approximately 33 human remains, including those of adults, children (and the remains of a much later Bronze Age infant) are found buried underneath it, along with various stone and bone objects that would have been placed with them at the time of interment. Both the human remains and the burial objects date to between 3800 BC and 3200 BC.

The site is relatively unblemished, despite being a popular tourist attraction. A rope provides a barrier between tourists and the dolmen in order to preserve the ancient stone, and it is requested that tourists do not go beyond this barrier or touch the dolmen.

A large car park is opened in 2007 by the Clare County Council to deal with traffic problems caused by cars or coaches parking in the narrow road, guided by a 2005 estimate that put the number of annual visitors at 200,000. In 2007, tension arises when Dr. Ann Lynch, the archaeologist who led the excavation of the site, requests that visitor facilities be reduced in order to preserve “the spiritual quality of the landscape surrounding the tomb.”

(Pictured: The Poulnabrone dolmen with karst limestone pavement in the foreground)