seamus dubhghaill

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


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The McMahon Murders

The McMahon murders occur on March 24, 1922 when six Catholic civilians are shot dead at the home of the McMahon family in Belfast. Police officers break into their house at night and shoot all eight males inside, in an apparent sectarian attack. The victims are businessman Owen McMahon, four of his sons, and one of his employees. Two others are shot but survive, and a female family member is assaulted. The survivors say that most of the gunmen wore police uniforms and it is suspected that they were members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). It is believed to be a reprisal for the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of two policemen the previous day.

Following the end of the Irish War of Independence in July 1921 and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the new unionist Government of Northern Ireland establishes the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), a quasi-military reserve police force to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), to counter the IRA.

The McMahon killings are believed to be a reprisal for the IRA’s killing of two USC policemen in Belfast. On March 23, 1922, USC officers Thomas Cunningham and William Cairnside are patrolling Great Victoria Street in the city centre when they are approached by a group of IRA members and shot dead. Two Catholics, Peter Murphy (61) and Sarah McShane (15), are shot dead in a suspected reprisal attack several hours later in the Catholic Short Strand area by unidentified gunmen. The McMahon family has no connection to any paramilitary violence.

At about 1:00 a.m. on March 24, 1922, two men wearing police uniforms seize a sledgehammer from a Belfast Corporation workman, who is guarding a building site at Carlisle Circus. A curfew is in place at the time, due to the daily violence in the city. At nearby Clifton Avenue they meet three other men and the party of five proceed to the home of Owen McMahon. Eight males and three females are in the house that night. The males are Owen, his six sons, and Edward McKinney, a parish just north of Buncrana in Inishowen, County Donegal. He works for the McMahons as a barman. The women are Owen’s wife Eliza, her daughter and her niece. At about 1:20 a.m., the gang uses the sledgehammer to break down the door of the McMahon residence.

Owen’s wife, Eliza, says that four of the men wore police caps and carried revolvers while another wore civilian clothes. John McMahon, one of Owen’s sons, says, “Four of the five men were dressed in the uniform of the RIC but, from their appearance, I know they are Specials, not regular RIC.” All of the men hide their faces. The four men in police uniform rush up the stairs and herd the males into the dining room. The women are taken into another room. When Owen asks why his family is being singled-out, one of the gunmen says it is because he is “a respected papist.” The gunmen say “you boys say your prayers,” before opening fire. The shooting continues for five minutes. Five of the men are killed outright and two are wounded, one fatally.

Owen McMahon (50), Gerard McMahon (15), Frank McMahon (24), Patrick McMahon (22) and Edward McKinney (25) are killed outright while Bernard McMahon (26) dies later. The youngest McMahon son, 12-year-old Michael, survives the attack by hiding behind furniture and pretending to be hit. John McMahon (30) survives despite serious gunshot wounds. Eliza McMahon raises the alarm by opening the drawing room window and shouting “Murder! Murder!” A matron at an adjoining nursing home is alerted and phones the police and an ambulance.

It is alleged that a group of policemen operating out of Brown Square Barracks in the Shankill Road area are behind the killings. This has never been proved, but historian Eamon Phoenix, of Stranmillis University College in Belfast, has said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” that District Inspector John Nixon was responsible. Historian Tim Pat Coogan believes the police were responsible. An inquiry is carried out by the Department of Defence of the Irish Free State, but not by the Northern Irish authorities. A 1924 Free State report alleges that twelve policemen, whom the report identifies by name, had carried out the McMahon murders, as well as several other attacks on Catholics.

The killings cause outrage among Belfast’s Catholic population and over 10,000 people attend the funerals of those killed.

David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, worried that the violence could collapse the new Northern Ireland administration, organise a meeting in London between Irish republican leader Michael Collins and Sir James Craig, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, both to try to stop the IRA violence which Collins has been tacitly encouraging and supporting, and to pressure Craig to provide more protection for Catholics. Craig denies the nationalist assertion that the McMahon killings were part of an anti-Catholic pogrom on behalf of state forces.

No one is ever prosecuted for the killings but District Inspector John Nixon of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is strongly suspected of being responsible. Nixon is later forced to step down from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the force that succeeds the RIC in June 1922, albeit on full pension, in 1924 after being heard giving (in breach of police regulations) a political speech to an Orange Order meeting saying that, “not an inch of Ulster should be yielded” to the Free State.


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The Death of Stopford Brooke, Chaplain & Writer

Stopford Augustus Brooke, churchman, royal chaplain and writer, dies in Ewhurst, Surrey, England, on March 18, 1916.

Brooke is born in the rectory of Glendoen, near Letterkenny, County Donegal on November 14, 1832, the eldest son of the Rev. Richard Sinclair Brooke, later incumbent of the Mariners’ Church, Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire). His maternal grandfather, Joseph Stopford, is then rector of the parish. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He is ordained in the Church of England in 1857, and holds various charges in London. From 1863 to 1865 he is chaplain to Victoria, Princess Royal in Berlin. In 1869, with his brother Edward, he makes long tours of Counties Donegal and Sligo, and spends much time at Kells, County Meath studying Irish antiquities. Between 1866 and 1875 he is the minister at St. James’s Chapel, a proprietary chapel. After it closes he takes services at Bedford Chapel, Bloomsbury where he continues to attract large congregations. In 1875, he becomes chaplain in ordinary to Queen Victoria. But in 1880 he secedes from the Church, being no longer able to accept its leading dogmas, and officiates as an independent preacher for some years at Bedford Chapel, Bloomsbury.

Bedford Chapel is pulled down about 1894, and from that time Brooke has no church of his own, but his eloquence and powerful religious personality continues to make themselves felt among a wide circle. A man of independent means, he is always keenly interested in literature and art, and a fine critic of both. The two-volume Life and Letters of Stopford Brooke, written by his son-in-law L. P. Jacks and published in 1917, contains many details of different facets of his life.

In 1890-1891 Brooke takes the lead in raising the funds to purchase Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s home in Grasmere from 1800 to 1808, and establishing it “for the eternal possession of those who love English poetry all over the world.” Dove Cottage is now administered by the Wordsworth Trust.

Brooke publishes in 1865 his Life and Letters of FW Robertson (of Brighton), and in 1876 writes an admirable primer of English Literature, followed in 1892 by The History of Early English Literature down to the accession of Alfred the Great, and English Literature from the Beginnings to the Norman Conquest (1898).

Brooke gives the inaugural lecture to the Irish Literary Society, London, on “The Need and Use of Getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue” at Bloomsbury House, March 11, 1893. He delivers a sermon on “The Kingdom of God Within” to the International Council of Unitarian and Other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers, meeting in London in May 1901. He continues preaching at Bedford Chapel and to unitarian congregations throughout Britain until forced to retire because of ill-health in 1895.

Brooke lives in London until 1914 and then retires to Ewhurst, Surrey, where he dies on March 18, 1916. His published letters record that his work brought him into touch with most of his famous contemporaries – including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Philip Burne-Jones, William Morris, James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, James Martineau and Matthew Arnold.


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Death of Supreme Court Judge Adrian Hardiman

Adrian Hardiman, Irish judge who serves as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland from 2000 to 2016, dies in Portobello, Dublin, on March 7, 2016. He writes a number of important judgments while serving on the Court. He also presides, as does each Supreme Court judge on a rotating basis, over the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Hardiman is born on May 21, 1951, in Coolock, Dublin. His father is a teacher and President of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI). He is educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and University College Dublin, where he studies history, and the King’s Inns. He is president of the Student Representative Council at UCD and Auditor of the Literary and Historical Society (UCD) and wins The Irish Times National Debating Championship in 1973.

Hardiman is married to Judge Yvonne Murphy, from County Donegal, a judge of the Circuit Court between 1998 and 2012, who conducts important inquiries relating to sex abuse including the Murphy Report and the Cloyne Report. She serves as chair of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. They have three sons, Eoin, who is a barrister and has been a member of the Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee, Hugh, who is a personal assistant to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell, and Daniel, a doctor.

Hardiman joins Fianna Fáil while a student in University College Dublin, and stands unsuccessfully for the party in the local elections in Dún Laoghaire in 1985. In 1985, he becomes a founder member of the Progressive Democrats, but leaves the party when he is appointed to the Supreme Court. He remains very friendly with the former party leader and ex-Tánaiste, Michael McDowell, who is a close friend at college, a fellow founding member of the party, and best man at his wedding.

Hardiman is called to the Irish Bar in 1974 and receives the rare honour of being appointed directly from the Bar to Ireland’s highest court. Prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court in 2000, he has a successful practice as a barrister, focusing on criminal law and defamation.

Politically, Hardiman supports the liberal side in Ireland’s debates over abortion, being active in the “anti-amendment” campaign during the 1982 Abortion Referendum and later represents the Well Woman Centre in the early 1990s. After his death, he is described by Joan Burton as a liberal on social issues. But he could be an outspoken opponent of Political Correctness, such as when he rejects the Equality Authority‘s attempt to force Portmarnock Golf Club to accept women as full members. He also believes that certain decisions, such as those involving public spending, are better left to elected politicians rather than unelected judges, regardless of how unpopular that might sometimes be in the media (which he tends to hold in low esteem) and among what he describes as the “chattering classes.”

Hardiman’s concern for individual rights is not confined to Ireland. In February 2016, he criticizes what he describes as the radical undermining of the presumption of innocence, especially in sex cases, by the methods used in the UK‘s Operation Yewtree inquiry into historical sex allegations against celebrities, and he also criticizes “experienced lawyer” and then United States presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for allegedly declaring in January that “every accuser was to be believed, only to amend her view when asked if it applied to women who had made allegations against her husband”, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

In a tribute following his death in 2016, President Michael D. Higgins says Justice Hardiman “was one of the great legal minds of his generation”, who was “always committed to the ideals of public service.” He is described as a “colossus of the legal world” by Chief Justice Susan Denham.

One commentator writes that “Hardiman’s greatest contribution …was the steadfast defence of civil liberties and individual rights” and that “He was a champion of defendants’ rights and a bulwark against any attempt by the Garda Síochána to abuse its powers.”


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Birth of Irish Composer John McLachlan

Irish composer John McLachlan is born in Dublin on March 5, 1964.

McLachlan is the son of the writer Leland Bardwell, and studies at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) Conservatory of Music and Drama (1982–86), the Royal Irish Academy of Music (1989–97), and Trinity College Dublin (BA 1988). He studies composition with William York, Robert Hanson and Kevin Volans. He holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Trinity College (1999) for a study of the relationship between analysis and compositional technique in the post-war avant-garde.

McLachlan writes numerous articles for The Journal of Music in Ireland (2000–10). He is executive director of the Association of Irish Composers (1998–2012), and in 2007 he is elected to Aosdána.

McLachlan is the featured composer in the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra‘s “Horizons” series in 2003 and 2008. He also represents Ireland at international festivals, including the ISCM World Music Days in Slovenia in 2003 and Croatia in 2005. In 2006, his work Grand Action is commissioned as a test-piece for the AXA Dublin International Piano Competition.

McLachlan’s musical aesthetic is largely shaped by a desire to impart a sense of narrative and expectation to his music without recourse to pastiche rhetorical devices. A critic writes of a recording of McLachlan’s piano piece Nine: “The style of each little piece sends one’s imagination and musical memory reeling, some of them evoking French Impressionism, some jazzy in feel, some reminiscent of the miniatures for piano of Webern, and none of them in any way, shape or form derivative.” Much of his music is structured in contrasting and suddenly changing block-like sections of homogeneous material. The material within these sections is propelled by a rigorous focus on subtle rhythmic and melodic permutations, which result in both surface opacity and gradually increasing tension.

McLachlan’s works have been performed in the United States, Peru, Japan, South Africa, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, and around Ireland, with broadcasts in several of these countries. Performers who have played his music include the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Opera Theatre Company, the National Chamber Choir, Concorde, Sequenza, Traject, Archaeus, the Pro Arte Orchestra, Antipodes, Ensemble Nordlys, The Fidelio Trio, The ConTempo Quartet and Trio Arbós as well as many prominent soloists including Ian Pace, John Feeley, Mary Dullea, Darragh Morgan, Satoko Inoue and David Adams.

McLachlan is also known as a broadcaster and writer on contemporary music, with many published articles.

McLachlan now lives in Inishowen, County Donegal.


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Birth of Pearse Hutchinson, Poet, Broadcaster & Translator

Pearse Hutchinson, Irish poet, broadcaster and translator, is born in Glasgow, Scotland, on February 16, 1927.

Hutchinson’s father, Harry Hutchinson, a Scottish printer whose own father had left Dublin to find work in Scotland, is Sinn Féin treasurer in Glasgow and is interned in Frongoch internment camp in 1919–21. His mother, Cathleen Sara, is born in Cowcaddens, Glasgow, of emigrant parents from County Donegal. She is a friend of Constance Markievicz. In response to a letter from Cathleen, Éamon de Valera finds work in Dublin for Harry as a clerk in the Labour Exchange, and later he holds a post in Stationery Office.

Hutchinson is five years old when the family moves to Dublin, and is the last to be enrolled in St. Enda’s School before it closes. He then goes to school at Synge Street CBS where he learns Irish and Latin. One of his close friends there is the poet and literary critic John Jordan. In 1948 he attends University College Dublin (UCD) where he spends a year and a half, learning Spanish and Italian.

Having published some poems in The Bell in 1945, Hutchinson’s poetic development is greatly influenced by a 1950 holiday in Spain and Portugal. A short stop en route at Vigo brings him into contact for the first time with the culture of Galicia. Later, in Andalusia, he is entranced by the landscape and by the works of the Spanish poets Federico García Lorca, Emilio Prados and Luis Cernuda.

In 1951 Hutchinson leaves Ireland again, determined to live in Spain. Unable to get work in Madrid, as he had hoped, he travels instead to Geneva, where he gets a job as a translator with the International Labour Organization, which brings him into contact with Catalan exiles, speaking a language then largely suppressed in Spain. An invitation by a Dutch friend leads to a visit to the Netherlands, in preparation for which he teaches himself the Dutch language.

Hutchinson returns to Ireland in 1953, and becomes interested in the Irish language poetry of writers such as Piaras Feiritéar and Aonghus Fionn Ó Dálaigh, and publishes a number of poems in Irish in the magazine Comhar in 1954. The same year he travels again to Spain, this time to Barcelona, where he learns the Catalan and Galician languages, and gets to know Catalan poets such as Salvador Espriu and Carles Riba. With the British poet P. J. Kavanagh, he organises a reading of Catalan poetry in the British Institute.

Hutchinson goes home to Ireland in 1957 but returns to Barcelona in 1961, and continues to support Catalan poets. An invitation by the publisher Joan Gili to translate some poems by Josep Carner leads to the publication of his first book, a collection of thirty of Carner’s poems in Catalan and English, in 1962. A project to publish his translation of Espriu’s La Pell de brau (The Bull-skin), falls through some years later. Some of the poems from this project are included in the collection Done into English.

In 1963, Hutchinson’s first collection of original poems in English, Tongue Without Hands, is published by Dolmen Press in Ireland. In 1967, having spent nearly ten years altogether in Spain, he returns to Ireland, making a living as a poet and journalist writing in both Irish and English. In 1968, a collection of poems in Irish, Faoistin Bhacach (A Lame Confession), is published. Expansions, a collection in English, follows in 1969. Friend Songs (1970) is a new collection of translations, this time of medieval poems originally written in Galician-Portuguese. In 1972 Watching the Morning Grow, a new collection of original poems in English, comse out, followed in 1975 by another, The Frost Is All Over.

In October 1971, Hutchinson takes up the Gregory Fellowship in Poetry at the University of Leeds, on the recommendation of Professor A. Norman Jeffares. There is some controversy around the appointment following accusations, later retracted, that Jeffares had been guilty of bias in the selection because of their joint Irish heritage. He holds tenure at the University for three years, and during that time contributes to the University’s influential poetry magazine Poetry & Audience.

From 1977 to 1978 Hutchinsonn compiles and presents Oró Domhnaigh, a weekly radio programme of Irish poetry, music and folklore for Ireland’s national network, RTÉ. He also contributes a weekly column on the Irish language to the station’s magazine RTÉ Guide for over ten years. A collaboration with Melita Cataldi of Old Irish lyrics into Italian is published in 1981. Another collection in English, Climbing the Light (1985), which also includes translations from Irish, Italian and Galician, is followed in 1989 by his last Irish collection, Le Cead na Gréine (By Leave of the Sun). The Soul that Kissed the Body (1990) is a selection of his Irish poems translated into English. His most recent English collection is Barnsley Main Seam (1995). His Collected Poems is published in 2002 to mark his 75th birthday. This is followed in 2003 by Done into English, a selection of many of the translated works he produced over the years.

A co-editor and founder of the literary journal Cyphers, Hutchinson receives the Butler Award for Irish writing in 1969. He is a member of Aosdána, the state-supported association of artists, from which he receives a cnuas (stipend) to allow him to continue writing. He describes this as “a miracle and a godsend” as he is fifty-four when invited to become a member and is at the end of his tether. A two-day symposium of events is held at Trinity College Dublin, to celebrate his 80th birthday in 2007, with readings from his works by writers including Macdara Woods, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Paul Durcan and Sujata Bhatt. His most recent collection, At Least for a While (2008), is shortlisted for the Poetry Now Award.

Hutchinson lives in Rathgar, Dublin, and dies of pneumonia in Dublin on January 14, 2012.

(Pictured: Pearse Hutchinson in 1976, photographed by Eve Holmes, © RTÉ Archives 2032/078)


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British Ultimatum to the Irish Delegation at the Anglo-Irish Treaty Talks

The Irish delegation at the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks in London are given an ultimatum by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George on December 5, 1921. Sign the treaty or face “immediate and terrible war.”

In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, the Government of Ireland Act not only establishes the new state of Northern Ireland but gives that state the right to opt-out of a future self-governing Irish Free State within the British Commonwealth of Nations.

The Northern state consists of the six northeastern counties of Ulster with a unionist majority. They are Antrim, Down, Armagh, Derry, Tyrone, and Fermanagh. Belfast is to be the seat of a government and hold limited devolved powers. The counties of Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan are to be absorbed within the Irish Free State controlled from parliament in Dublin.

Irish nationalists are dismayed with the plan. Protestant Unionists, particularly those living within the boundaries of the new state, accept and start to implement the Act. Sectarian attacks are launched upon Catholic homes in Belfast, Derry, Banbridge, Lisburn, and Dromore. Catholics are driven from Belfast shipyards and from various engineering works in the city. Supposedly these attacks are in revenge for Irish Republican Army (IRA) assassinations.

The IRA continues the campaign to establish a republic with the Irish War Of Independence. By the middle of 1921, both sides are exhausted and a truce is called on June 9.

In July 1921, Éamon DeValera, the president of Dáil Éireann, goes to London to meet with Prime Minister Lloyd George. They agree an Irish delegation will come to London to discuss terms in the autumn.

The delegation appointed by the Dáil to travel to London consists of Arthur Griffith (Minister for Foreign Affairs and chairman of the delegation); Michael Collins (Minister for Finance and deputy chairman of the delegation); Robert Barton (Minister for Economic Affairs); George Gavan Duffy and Éamonn Duggan, with Erskine Childers, Fionán Lynch, Diarmuid O’Hegarty, and John Chartres providing secretarial assistance. DeValera himself does not attend. Future historians wonder if he knew they would not be able to negotiate a 32 county Irish Republic.

During the debate, Lloyd George insists Ireland remain part of the Commonwealth and Dáil Éireann members take the oath of allegiance to the British throne. After a delay of two months, Lloyd George delivers the ultimatum on December 5, sign a treaty within three days or there will be war.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty is to give Ireland a 26 county Free State with Dominion status. The right to raise taxes, regulate foreign trade, independence in internal affairs, own an army, and the oath of allegiance is changed to one of fidelity.

The British are to retain three naval bases within the jurisdiction of the Free State, at Cobh, Lough Swilly, and Berehaven. The Northern Ireland boundary is to be determined by a commission. This gives false hope to large tracts of Tyrone, Fermanagh, Down, Armagh, and Derry City would be given to the Free State as they have Catholic majorities.

Just after 2:00 AM on December 6, 1921, the Irish delegation, without consulting the Dáil, finally sign a treaty with the British. Collins writes, prophetically, later on the day of the signing, “early this morning I signed my death warrant.”

The Treaty displeases the Catholics in the north and the unionists in the south. Meanwhile, many of those involved in the conflict are abhorred at the fact that not all of Ireland is to leave the United Kingdom.

(From: “The Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921)” by Brian O’Neill, Your Irish Culture, http://www.yourirish.com, May 20, 2020)


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Birth of Cahir Healy, Irish Nationalist Politician

Cahir Healy, Irish nationalist politician, is born in Mountcharles, County Donegal, on December 2, 1877. He is a leader of northern Nationalists and is a self educated man who makes major contributions to Ireland’s cultural and literary heritage.

Healy becomes a journalist working on various local papers. He joins Sinn Féin on its foundation in 1905. He later campaigns against the inclusion of County Fermanagh and County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, arguing that they have an Irish nationalist majority. He is imprisoned for his activities in 1922, before being elected in the 1922 United Kingdom general election to represent Fermanagh and Tyrone as a Nationalist Party MP, but with the support of Sinn Féin.

Healy is re-elected in 1923, but remains in custody until the following year, in which he does not defend his seat. Instead, he is elected to represent the seat in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland in the 1925 Northern Ireland general election, but does not take his seat until 1927 due to the Nationalist abstentionist policy. In 1928 he becomes a founder of the National League of the North. In 1929, with the break-up of the large Fermanagh and Tyrone constituency, he switches to sit for the new seat of South Fermanagh. In a 1931 Fermanagh and Tyrone by-election he is again elected for Fermanagh and Tyrone to the British Parliament, but stands down again in 1935.

Healy becomes an insurance official but continues to write, his output including journalism, poetry and short stories. He is interned by the United Kingdom government for a year during World War II under Defence Regulation 18B. In 1950 he is elected to the British House of Commons for a third time, on this occasion representing Fermanagh and South Tyrone. He finally sits in the British Parliament in 1952, and holds the seat until he stands down in 1955. He leaves the Northern Ireland House of Commons in 1965, by which point he is the Father of the House.

Healy dies on February 8, 1970, at the age of 92 at Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.

(Pictured: Portrait of Cahir Healy by Lafayette, half-plate nitrate negative, July 7, 1932, given by Pinewood Studios via Victoria and Albert Museum, 1989, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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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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Death of James Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn

James Albert Edward Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn, dies on September 12, 1953 in London, England.

Hamilton is born in Hamilton Place, Piccadilly, London, on November 30, 1869. Styled Marquess of Hamilton between 1885 and 1913, he is a British peer and Unionist politician. He serves as the first Governor of Northern Ireland, a post he holds between 1922 and 1945. He is a great-grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Hamilton is the eldest son of James Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Abercorn, and godson of the Prince of Wales. His mother, Lady Mary Anna, is the fourth daughter of Richard Curzon-Howe, 1st Earl Howe. He is educated at Eton College and subsequently serves first in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers until 1892 when he joins the 1st Life Guards. He is later transferred as major to the North Irish Horse.

In early 1901 he accompanies his father on a special diplomatic mission to announce the accession of King Edward to the governments of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Russia, Germany, and Saxony.

In the 1900 general election, Hamilton stands successfully as Unionist candidate for Londonderry City, and three years later he becomes Treasurer of the Household, a post he holds until the fall of Arthur Balfour‘s Conservative administration in 1905. After serving for a time as an Opposition whip, Hamilton succeeds his father as third Duke of Abercorn in 1913. In 1922, he is appointed governor of the newly created Northern Ireland. He also serves as Lord Lieutenant of Tyrone from 1917 until his death, having previously been a Deputy Lieutenant for County Donegal. Hamilton proves a popular royal representative in Northern Ireland, and is reappointed to the post in 1928 after completing his first term of office. In 1931, he declines the offer of the governor generalship of Canada, and three years later he is again reappointed governor for a third term. He remains in this capacity until his resignation in July 1945.

Hamilton is made the last non-royal Knight of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick in 1922. In 1928 he becomes a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and is also the recipient of an honorary degree from the Queen’s University Belfast. He receives the Royal Victorian Chain in 1945, the same year he is sworn of the Privy Council.

Hamilton marries Lady Rosalind Cecilia Caroline Bingham, only daughter of Charles George Bingham, 4th Earl of Lucan and his wife Lady Cecilia Catherine Gordon-Lennox at St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, on November 1, 1894. They have three daughters and two sons.

Hamilton dies at his London home on September 12, 1953, and is buried at Baronscourt in County Tyrone.

(Pictured: “James Albert Edward Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn” by Alexander Bassano, Collodion Negative, 1894, Photographs Collection, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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Death of Red Hugh O’Donnell

Hugh Roe O’Donnell (Aodh Rua ÓDomhnaill), sixteenth century Irish nobleman also known as Red Hugh O’Donnell, dies at Simancas Castle in Valladolid, Spain, on September 10, 1602. Evidence suggests he might have been poisoned by an English spy.

O’Donnell is born on October 30, 1572 in Lifford (which is in present-day County Donegal) and is the son of Hugh McManus O’Donnell, the Gaelic Lord of Tyrconnell, a territory which takes in most of the present-day county of Donegal except for the Inishowen peninsula. His mother, Aodh MacManus’ second wife, is the formidable and extremely well connected Scottish lady, Fionnuala Nic Dhomhnaill, known to history as the Iníon Dubh or The Dark Daughter. A daughter of James Mac Donald she had been raised at the Scottish court.

In 1587, at the age of fifteen, O’Donnell marries Rose O’Neill, the daughter of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, a nephew of Turlough Luineach O’Neill who is recognised by the Irish as The O’Neill. He is, therefore, a bridge between two traditional enemies, the O’Donnell’s and the O’Neills.

The English Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir John Perrot, recognises the importance of the young O’Donnell prince and decides to secure him as a hostage thus giving him power over the O’Donnell clan and preventing them from forming a treaty with the O’Neills. In 1587, when he is sixteen, O’Donnell and two friends, a MacSweeney and an O’Gallagher, are persuaded to board a ship at Rathmullan which has been disguised as a Spanish wine barque. Once onboard they are carried off to Dublin Castle as prisoners. The O’Donnell’s offer to pay a large ransom and the Iníon Dubh also gives up 25 Spaniards rescued from the Armada. The English agree to this but as soon as the Spaniards are handed over they are beheaded. The agreement is not kept.

Perrot has his hostage but a most reluctant one. The young man continuously seeks ways to escape. His first opportunity comes at Christmas in 1590 when a rope is smuggled in to the prince. He escapes and flees into the Wicklow Mountains. He seeks shelter with Phelim O’Toole who has him returned to the English as he fears the anger of the infamous Perrot.

A year later, at Christmas in 1591, O’Donnell makes his second attempt at escape, this time by crawling through the Dublin Castle sewers. With him are Henry and Art O’Neill, two sons of Shane O’Neill (Shane the Proud). This time the escapees make their way to the Glenmalure stronghold of Fiach McHugh O’Byrne. Unfortunately, the winter is very severe and Art O’ Neill dies from exposure just as the O’Byrne rescue party finds them. Both Red Hugh and Henry O’Neill suffer severe frostbite but are safely returned to Ulster.

While O’Donnell is held prisoner by the English, his father becomes senile. In 1592, when O’Donnell is sufficiently recovered, he is inaugurated as the O’Donnell and England, for her treachery, has an avowed and implacable enemy.

O’Donnell aids the Maguires of Fermanagh against the English and when his father-in-law, Hugh O’Neill, initiates the Nine Years’ War by leading his clan against the English at the Battle of Clontibret (1595) and Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598), O’Donnell is at his side.

In 1595 O’Donnell ambushes an English force in the Curlew Mountains, killing 500 of them including their commander. However, the tide is turning against the Irish now. England is flooding the country with armies and many of the leading Gaelic families are beginning to make deals with them.

In 1601 the Spanish land in Kinsale and the English besiege them. O’Neill and O’Donnell march south from Ulster and Ballymote Castle in Sligo in an attempt to break the siege. This turns into a debacle causing the Irish to scatter and the Spanish to surrender. O’Neill marches back north and O’Donnell is sent to Spain to ask for more troops from Phillip III. In Spain, he is treated like a royal. He petitions aid from the King who gives him a promise of another Spanish force.

As a year passes and O’Donnell does not receive any news from Philip III of Spain, he leaves again for Valladolid but he dies on September 10, 1602 while en route. He is attended on his death-bed by Archbishop of Tuam Fláithrí Ó Maolchonaire and two friars from Donegal named Father Muiris mac Donnchadh Ulltach Ó Duinnshléibhe and Father Muiris mac Seaán Ulltach Ó Duinnshléibhe. The Anglo-Irish double-agent, James “Spanish” Blake, is alleged to have poisoned O’Donnell.

It is, however, unlikely that O’Donnell is poisoned. A more probable cause of death is the tapeworm that Simancas documents of the time state to be the cause of his demise. His Last Will and Testament, written in his dying moments with his loyal retinue, is an extremely evocative and moving document. One original is preserved in Simancas and the other in the Chancellery archive in Valladolid.

O’Donnell is buried in the chapter of the Franciscan monastery in Valladolid. Though the building is demolished in 1837, the exact location of the tomb may have been discovered following a Spanish archaeological dig in May 2020.

O’Donnell is succeeded as chieftain of his clan and prince of Tyrconnell by his brother Rory.

(Pictured: Statue of Gaelic Chieftain Red Hugh O’Donnell in County Donegal)