seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Isaac Corry, Lawyer & Member of Parliament

Isaac Corry FRS, PC (I), PC, an Irish and British Member of Parliament and lawyer, is born on May 15, 1753, in Newry, County Down.

Corry is the son of Edward Corry, sometime Member of Parliament, and Catharine Bristow. His cousin is the writer Catherine Dorothea Burdett. He is educated at the Royal School, Armagh, where his contemporaries include Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, and later at Trinity College, Dublin, from which he graduates in 1773. On October 18, 1771 he is admitted to the Middle Temple and called to the bar at King’s Inns in 1779.

Corry succeeds his father as Member of Parliament for Newry in 1776, sitting in the Irish House of Commons until the Acts of Union 1800. From 1782 to 1789 he serves as equerry to Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland, being described in 1794 by Rt. Hon. Sylvester Douglas as “a well-bred man…He has no brogue…He once acted as a sort of groom of the bedchamber to the late Duke of Cumberland.” In 1798, he is also elected for Randalstown, but chooses not to sit and, in 1802, he is returned to the British House of Commons for Newry. He serves as a Whig at Westminster until 1806. It is written in 1783 that he would expect to enter high office, given that “he lives expensively and does not pursue his profession, which is the law.” In 1788 he becomes Clerk of the Irish Board of Ordnance. The following year he is appointed a commissioner of the revenue. Finally in 1799 he is appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland and a Lord High Treasurer of Ireland in place of Sir John Parnell, who quarreled violently with William Pitt the Younger over the projected union, which he categorically refuses to support. In 1795 he becomes a Privy Councillor.

In 1802 Corry is dismissed from the Exchequer and replaced by John Foster (later Lord Oriel), he is awarded, however, £2,000 p.a. in compensation. In 1806 the changes in ownership of the Newry estates alters his position. The lands pass to a senior line of the Needham family and they support General Francis Needham, 1st Earl of Kilmorey, at the general election. Corry does not have the funds needed, in excess of £5000, to purchase a seat elsewhere. However, Lady Downshire is inclined to support the Grenville ministry and comes to a formal agreement with Corry to give him £1000 towards his expenses should he be successful in Newry, and, if not, to bring him in for another borough. He fails against the Needham interest in Newry, but a seat at Newport, Isle of Wight, is purchased for him, with £4000 from Lady Downshire, and he is appointed to the Board of Trade. Six months later Grenville’s ministry has fallen and there is another general election. Corry stands, again unsuccessfully, for Newry.

Corry is unmarried but has a long-term relationship with Jane Symms. They have three sons and three daughters. His daughter Ann marries Lt. Col. Henry Westenra, the brother of Robert Cuninghame, 1st Baron Rossmore. His residence in Newry is the Abbey Yard, now a school, and Derrymore House, Bessbrook, County Armagh, which he had inherited from his father and sold in 1810. It is now the property of the National Trust. During his life, a road is constructed from near the main entrance of Derrymore House around Newry and links up with the Dublin Road on the southern side of the town primarily for his use. This road subsequently becomes known as “The Chancellor’s Road,” as a result of his term as the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer. A local legend has it that the road is constructed after an incident in which Corry’s stagecoach is stoned while passing through Newry by people angry at an unpopular window tax he had introduced. The road has retained this name but it is cut in half by the Newry by-pass in the mid-1990s, however, as a result of works associated with the new A1 dual carriageway, the two-halves of the road are now reconnected.

Corry dies at his house in Merrion Square, Dublin, on May 15, 1813, his 60th birthday. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.


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Birth of Mathematician William McFadden Orr

William McFadden Orr, mathematician, is born May 2, 1866, at Ballystockart, Comber, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.

Orr is the eldest son of Fletcher Blakely Orr of Ballystockart, a unitarian farmer and millowner, and Elizabeth Orr, daughter of David Lowry, farmer, of Ballymacashin, County Down. He attends a local national school, spends two years at an intermediate school in Newtownards, and then attends Methodist College Belfast (MCB). He wins a Royal University of Ireland (RIU) scholarship in mathematics in 1883 and graduates in 1885 from Queen’s College Belfast, a constituent college of the RUI. He then matriculates at St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he is Senior Wrangler in 1888 and comes in first in part two of the Mathematical Tripos in 1889. Two years later he is elected into a fellowship at St. John’s, and the same year is appointed professor of applied mathematics at the Royal College of Science for Ireland in Dublin. When the Royal College is merged with University College Dublin (UCD) in October 1926, he becomes professor of pure and applied mathematics, a position he holds until his retirement in 1933.

Orr’s 1909 publication Notes on Thermodynamics for Students is seen as epitomising his style of teaching, with its emphasis on logical rigour and clear statement of underlying assumptions. Known for his generosity to staff and students who encounter difficulties, he is nonetheless a strict disciplinarian who abhors idleness and valued stoicism. He is elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1909 and is awarded an honorary degree of D.Sc. from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) in 1919.

In 1892, Orr marries Elizabeth Campbell of Melbourne, Australia, whose father, Samuel Campbell, is from County Down. They live at 19 Pembroke Road, Dublin, and have three daughters. He dies at Douglas, Isle of Man on August 14, 1934, and is interred in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. He is survived by his two daughters.

(From: “Orr, William McFadden” contributed by Paul Rouse, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of Mary Ward, Astronomer, Microscopist, Author & Artist

Mary Ward (née King), Irish naturalist, astronomer, microscopist, author, and artist, is born in Ballylin near present-day Ferbane, County Offaly, on April 27, 1827. She is killed in 1869 when she falls under the wheels of an experimental steam car built by her cousins, thereby becoming the first person known to be killed by a motor vehicle.

King is the youngest child of the Reverend Henry King and his wife Harriette. She and her sisters are educated at home, as are most girls at the time. However, her education is slightly different from the norm because she is of a renowned scientific family. She is interested in nature from an early age, and by the time she is three years old she is collecting insects.

King is a keen amateur astronomer, sharing this interest with her cousin, William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, who builds the Leviathan of Parsonstown, a reflecting telescope with a six-foot mirror which remains the world’s largest until 1917. She is a frequent visitor to Birr Castle, producing sketches of each stage of the process. Along with photographs made by Parson’s wife, Mary Rosse, her sketches are used to aid in the restoration of the telescope.

King also draws insects, and the astronomer James South observes her doing so one day. She is using a magnifying glass to see the tiny details, and her drawing so impresses him that he immediately persuades her father to buy her a microscope. A compound microscope made by Andrew Ross is purchased for £48 12s 8d. This is the beginning of a lifelong passion. She begins to read everything she can find about microscopy, and teaches herself until she has an expert knowledge. She makes her own slides from slivers of ivory, as glass is difficult to obtain, and prepares her own specimens. The physicist David Brewster asks her to make his microscope specimens, and uses her drawings in many of his books and articles.

Universities and most societies do not accept women at the time, but King obtains information any way she can. She writes frequently to scientists, asking them about papers they had published. During 1848, Parsons is made president of the Royal Society, and visits to his London home allows her to meet many scientists.

King is one of only three women on the mailing list for the Royal Astronomical Society. The others are Queen Victoria and Mary Somerville, a scientist for whom Somerville College at the University of Oxford is named.

On December 6, 1854, King marries Henry Ward of Castle Ward, County Down, who in 1881 succeeds to the title of Viscount Bangor. They have three sons and five daughters, including Maxwell Ward, 6th Viscount Bangor. Her best-known descendants are her grandson, Edward Ward, the foreign correspondent and seventh viscount, and his daughter, the Doctor Who actress Lalla Ward.

When Ward writes her first book, Sketches with the microscope (privately printed in 1857), she apparently believes that no one will print it because of her gender or lack of academic credentials. She publishes 250 copies of it privately, and several hundred handbills are distributed to advertise it. The printing sells during the next few weeks, which prompts a London publisher to take the risk and contract for future publication. The book is reprinted eight times between 1858 and 1880 as A World of Wonders Revealed by the Microscope. A new full-colour facsimile edition at €20 is published in September 2019 by the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society, with accompanying essays.

Her books are A Windfall for the Microscope (1856), A World of Wonders, Revealed by the Microscope (1857), Entomology in Sport, and Entomology in Earnest (1857, with Lady Jane Mahon), Microscope Teachings (1864), Telescope Teachings (1859). She illustrates her books and articles herself, as well as many books and papers by other scientists.

Ward is the first known automobile fatality. William Parsons’ sons had built a steam-powered car and on August 31, 1869, she and her husband are traveling in it with the Parsons boys, Richard Clere Parsons and the future steam turbine pioneer Charles Algernon Parsons, and their tutor, Richard Biggs. She is thrown from the car on a bend in the road at Parsonstown (present-day Birr, County Offaly). She falls under its wheel and dies almost instantly. A doctor who lives near the scene arrives within moments, and finds her cut, bruised, and bleeding from the ears. The fatal injury is a broken neck. It is believed that the grieving family destroys the car after the crash.

Ward’s microscope, accessories, slides and books are on display in her husband’s home, Castle Ward, County Down. William Parsons’ home at Birr Castle, County Offaly, is also open to the public.


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Death of Rosamond Praeger, Artist & Sculptor

Sophia Rosamond Praeger, Irish artist, sculptor, illustrator, poet and writer, dies at Rock Cottage, County Down, Northern Ireland, on April 17, 1954.

Praeger is born on April 15, 1867 in Holywood, County Down. She is the daughter of Willem Emilius Praeger, a Dutch linen merchant who had settled in Ireland in 1860, and Marie Patterson. She has five brothers, of who Robert goes on to become a distinguished naturalist. Within months of her birth the family moves to Woodburn House, Croft Road, Holywood, where they have as a neighbour Rev. Charles McElester, a Non-subscribing Presbyterian minister who runs a day school in his church. She both attends this school, and later teaches there. She receives her secondary education at Sullivan Upper School, Holywood, the Belfast School of Art, and the Slade School of Fine Art, London. Before returning to Ireland to open a studio in Belfast and then in Holywood, she studies art in Paris.

Praeger writes and illustrates children’s books, but achieves fame with her sculpture The Philosopher which is exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, bought by an American collector, and is now on display in the Colorado Springs Museum and Art Gallery. She mostly works in plaster, but also uses stone, marble, terracotta and bronze, and her work includes relief panels, memorial plaques and stones. She exhibits in London and Paris, at the Royal Hibernian Academy, as well as at the Irish Decorative Art Association Exhibitions. She is a member of the Guild of Irish Art Workers.

Among Praeger’s other works are The Wai, Johnny the Jig, These Little Ones, St. Brigid of Kildare and The Fairy Fountain. For the Causeway School near Bushmills, County Antrim, she carves Fionnula the Daughter of Lir in stone. She models a heraldic figure for the Northern Bank in Donegall Square West, Belfast, and bronze plaques for the front door of the Carnegie library, Falls Road, Belfast, as well as the angels on Andrews Memorial Hall in Comber, County Down, and some work in St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. She illustrates three books for her brother, Robert Praeger. She is President of the Royal Ulster Academy, an honorary Fellow of the Royal Hibernian Academy, and she receives an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University, Belfast. In 1939 she is awarded the MBE.

Praeger maintains her studio in Hibernian Street, Holywood, up until 1952, at the age of 85. She dies at Rock Cottage, County Down, on April 17, 1954. She is buried in the Priory Cemetery, Holywood. Her work in included in the collections of the Ulster Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland, and some private collections around the world

(From: “Sophia Rosamond Praeger (1867 – 1954): Sculptor” by Kate Newmann and Richard Froggatt, Dictionary of Ulster Biography, http://www.newulsterbiography.co.uk)


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The Downpatrick Land Mine Attack

On April 9, 1990, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a massive improvised land mine under a British Army convoy outside Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. Four soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) are killed, the regiment’s greatest loss of life since 1983.

The Provisional IRA had been attacking British Army patrols and convoys with land mines and roadside bombs since the beginning of its campaign in the early 1970s. The deadliest attack was the Warrenpoint ambush of August 1979, when 18 soldiers were killed by two large roadside bombs near Warrenpoint, County Down. In July 1983, four soldiers of the local Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) were killed when their vehicle struck an IRA land mine near Ballygawley, County Tyrone. It was the UDR’s biggest loss of life up until then.

On the morning of April 9, 1990, two UDR armoured landrovers are traveling from Abercorn Barracks to Downpatrick. An IRA unit has planted a 1,000-pound improvised land mine in a culvert under the Ballydugan Road, just outside the town. The unit waits in woodland overlooking the road, about 350 feet away. As the landrovers drive over the culvert, the IRA detonates the bomb by command wire. The huge blast blows the vehicle into a field and gouges a large crater in the road, 50 feet wide and 15 feet deep. A witness describes “a scene of utter carnage.” Four soldiers are killed: Michael Adams (23), John Birch (28), John Bradley (25), and Steven Smart (23). It is the biggest loss of life suffered by the UDR since the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack. The soldiers in the other landrover suffer severe shock and are airlifted to hospital. According to police, a civilian driver also suffers shock and another receives cuts and bruises.

The bombers escape on a motorcycle which had been stolen in Newry a week earlier, and is later found abandoned in Downpatrick. The IRA issues a statement saying the attack was carried out by members of its South Down Brigade.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says on BBC Radio, “You take these murders of these four people today alongside those decisions in the Supreme Court of the Republic not to extradite those accused of violent crime – and one is very, very depressed.” Charles Haughey, the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, condemns the attack as an “atrocity.”

A 23 year-old man is later sentenced to 15 years in prison for the attack. He had driven a scout car for the bombers when it was planted the day before the attack.


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Birth of Irish American Novelist Thomas Mayne Reid

Thomas Mayne Reid, Irish American novelist, who fought in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), is born on April 4, 1818 in Ballyroney, a hamlet near Katesbridge, County Down, in present day Northern Ireland.

Reid is the son of the Rev. Thomas Mayne Reid, a Presbyterian minister and later a senior clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and his wife, a daughter of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford. Educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, he rebels against his father’s plans for him and decides not to pursue a career in the church. He briefly runs a school at Ballyroney before emigrating to the United States in 1839. Arriving in New Orleans, Louisiana, he finds a job as a corn factor’s clerk in the corn market. After six months he leaves because he refuses to whip slaves. Travelling across America, he works as a teacher, a clerk and an Indian-fighter, and anonymously publishes his first poem in August 1843. Later that year he meets Edgar Allan Poe in Philadelphia and the two become close friends. Poe later admits that Reid was ‘a colossal but most picturesque liar,’ but was impressed by his brilliant story-telling abilities.

With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846 Reid enlists in the 1st New York Infantry Regiment and is commissioned second lieutenant. Contributing a series of reports from the front under the pseudonym ‘Ecolier,’ he performs with great bravery in the Battle of Chapultepac on September 13, 1847. Wounded during the battle, he is promoted to first lieutenant three days later. Following his discharge from the army in 1848 he claims to have reached the rank of captain, but this is another of his inventions.

Reid’s first play, Love’s Martyr, is staged at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, for five nights in October 1848, and the following year he publishes an embellished account of his experiences in Mexico entitled War Life. All of his works are published under the name ‘Captain Mayne Reid.’ In July 1849 he sails to England with a group of Hungarian radicals, but decides against accompanying them to the Continent. Returning briefly to Ireland, he settles in London in 1850 and writes a novel, The Rifle Rangers. It is an immediate success and is followed quickly by The Scalp Hunters (1851), The Desert Home (1852), and The Boy Hunters (1853). While in England in 1851 he meets and falls in love with a 13-year old girl, Elizabeth Hyde, daughter of his publisher, G. W. Hyde, an English aristocrat. When he discovers her age he tells her that she is ‘getting old enough to have a lover, and you must have me.’ Two years later he continues with his suit, and this time is successful as they marry in 1853. He is immensely proud of his young bride, and later writes a semi-autobiographical novel The Child Wife (1868), based on their relationship.

Establishing a reputation as one of the most popular novelists of his generation, Reid does much to enhance the romantic image of the American West. His internationally successful books include The White Chief (1855), Bush Boys (1856), Oceola (1859), and The Headless Horseman (1865), and his novel about miscegenation, The Quadroon (1856), is later plagiarised by Dion Boucicault for The Octoroon (1859). A champion croquet player, he writes a treatise on the subject in 1863.

Disaster strikes in November 1866 when Reid is declared bankrupt. He had squandered all his money on the construction of ‘The Ranche,’ a Mexican-style hacienda in England. To raise money he returns to the United States and embarks on a successful lecturing tour. Settling at Newport, Rhode Island, he writes another novel, The Helpless Hand (1868), which is a huge success and alleviates some of his difficulties. His wife hates America, however, and after he is briefly hospitalised in 1870 they decide to return to England.

Ill health, artistic doubts, and financial insecurity plagued Reid’s final years. Diagnosed with acute depression, he is unable to recapture his earlier audience and, despite a pension from the U.S. government, he struggles for money. He dies at Ross in Herefordshire on October 22, 1883 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Although not regarded as an important novelist, Reid none the less has a significant influence on subsequent writers. The young Vladimir Nabokov is deeply impressed by his adventure stories, and one of his own first works is a poetic recreation of The Headless Horseman in French alexandrine. Both Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle are admirers, and politicians as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt and Leon Trotsky also make reference to his varied output. In total, Reid publishes over sixty novels, which are printed in ten languages.


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Birth of Patrick Brontë, Anglican Priest & Author

Patrick Brontë, Irish Anglican priest and author, is born at Drumballyroney, near RathfrilandCounty Down, on March 17, 1777. He is the father of the writers Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell Brontë.

Brontë is the first of ten children born to Hugh Brunty, a farm labourer, and Alice McClory. At one point in his adult life, he formally changes the spelling of his name from Brunty to Brontë. He spends most of his adult life in England.

Brontë has several apprenticeships until he becomes a teacher in 1798. He moves to England in 1802 to study theology at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and receives his BA degree in 1806. He is then appointed curate at Wethersfield, Essex, where he is ordained a deacon of the Church of England in 1806, and into the priesthood in 1807.

In 1809, Brontë becomes assistant curate at Wellington, Shropshire, and in 1810 his first published poem, Winter Evening Thoughts, appears in a local newspaper, followed in 1811 by a collection of moral verses, Cottage Poems. He moves to the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1811 as assistant curate at Hartshead, where he serves until 1815. In the meantime he is appointed a school examiner at a Wesleyan academy, Woodhouse Grove School, near Guiseley. In 1815 he moves again on becoming perpetual curate of Thornton. At Guiseley, Brontë meets Maria Branwell, whom he marries on December 29, 1812.

Brontë is offered the perpetual curacy of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Haworth in June 1819, and he takes the family there in April 1820. His sister-in-law Elizabeth Branwell, who had lived with the family at Thornton in 1815, joins the household in 1821 to help to look after the children and to care for Maria Brontë, who is suffering the final stages of uterine cancer. She decides to move permanently to Haworth to act as housekeeper.

After several attempts to seek a new spouse, Brontë comes to terms with widowhood at the age of 47, and spends his time visiting the sick and the poor, giving sermons, communion, and extreme unction, leaving his children alone with their aunt and a maid, Tabitha Aykroyd (Tabby), who tirelessly recounts local legends in her Yorkshire dialect while preparing the meals.

Brontë is responsible for the building of a Sunday school in Haworth, which he opens in 1832. He remains active in local causes into his old age, and between 1849 and 1850 organises action to procure a clean water supply for the village, which is eventually achieved in 1856.

In August 1846, Brontë travels to Manchester, accompanied by Charlotte, to undergo surgery on his eyes. On August 28 he is operated upon, without anaesthetic, to remove cataracts. Surgeons do not yet know how to use stitches to hold the incision in the eye together and as a consequence the patient is required to lie quietly in a darkened room for weeks after the operation. Charlotte uses her time in Manchester to begin writing Jane Eyre, the book which is to make her famous.

Following the death of his last surviving child, Charlotte, nine months after her marriage, he co-operates with Elizabeth Gaskell on the biography of his daughter. He is also responsible for the posthumous publication of Charlotte’s first novel, The Professor, in 1857. Charlotte’s husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls, who had been Brontë’s curate, stays in the household until he returns to Ireland after Patrick Brontë’s death, at the age of 84, on June 7, 1861 in Haworth, Yorkshire, England. Brontë outlives not only his wife (by 40 years) but all six of his children.


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Birth of Neil Shawcross, Post-Impressionist Artist

Neil Shawcross MBE, RHA, HRUA, Post-Impressionist artist, is born in Kearsley, Lancashire, England, on March 15, 1940. He has been a resident of Northern Ireland since 1962.

Shawcross studies at Bolton College of Art from 1955 to 1958, and Lancaster College of Art from 1958 to 1960, before moving to Belfast in 1962 to take up a part-time lecturer’s post at the Belfast College of Art, becoming full-time in 1968. He continues to lecture there until his retirement in 2004.

Primarily a portrait painter, his subjects include Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, novelist Francis Stuart (for the Ulster Museum), former Lord Mayor of Belfast David Cook (for Belfast City Council), footballer Derek Dougan and fellow artists Colin Middleton and Terry Frost. He also paints the figure and still life, taking a self-consciously childlike approach to composition and colour. His work also include printmaking, and he has designed stained glass for the Ulster Museum and St. Colman’s Church, Lambeg, County Antrim.

Shawcross’s academic career includes a residency at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, Virginia in 1987, a residency at Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont in 1991, and a visiting assistant professorship at Pennsylvania State University in 1993.

Shawcross has exhibited nationally, with one-man shows in London, Manchester, Dublin and Belfast, and internationally in Hong Kong and the United States, and his work is found in many private and corporate collections.

Shawcross is elected an Associate of the Royal Ulster Academy of Art in 1975, and is made a full Academician in 1977. He wins the Academy’s Conor Award in 1975, its gold medal in 1978, 1982, 1987, 1994, 1997 and 2001, and its James Adam Prize in 1998. He is also a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). He is awarded the Gallaher Portrait Prize in 1966.

Shawcross is conferred an honorary doctorate by Queen’s University Belfast in 2007. He is appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to arts in Northern Ireland.

In 2010, the Merrion Hotel, Dublin, hosts a private collection of the works of Shawcross. In 2015, he exhibits a collection of six foot tall book covers inspired by original Penguin paperbacks at the National Opera House in Wexford, County Wexford. In 2018, he donates to Belfast City Council a collection of 36 paintings dedicated to ‘Writers of Belfast’ in a show of appreciation to his adopted home city. A major retrospective of his works are exhibited at the F. E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio, Banbridge, County Down, in the same year.

Shawcross is a Patron of the charity YouthAction Northern Ireland. He lives in Hillsborough, County Down, Northern Ireland.


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John Mitchel Re-elected to Parliament; Dies Eight Days Later

After being barred as an undischarged felon from taking his seat as elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Tipperary, John Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, is re-elected on March 12, 1875. He dies eight days later.

Mitchel is born in Camnish, near Dungiven, County Derry on November 3, 1815, the son of a Presbyterian minister. At the age of four, he is sent to a classical school, run by an old minister named Moor, nicknamed “Gospel Moor” by the students. He reads books from a very early age. When a little over five years old, he is introduced to Latin grammar by his teacher and makes quick progress. In 1830, not yet 15 years old, he enters Trinity College, Dublin and obtains a law degree in 1834. In the spring of 1836 he meets Jane Verner, the only daughter of Captain James Verner. Though both families are opposed to the relationship, they become engaged in the autumn and are married on February 3, 1837 by the Rev. David Babington in Drumcree Church, the parish church of Drumcree.

Mitchel works in a law office in Banbridge, County Down, where he eventually comes into conflict with the local Orange Order. He meets Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy during visits to Dublin. He joins the Young Ireland movement and begins to write for The Nation. Deeply affected by the misery and death caused by the Great Famine, he becomes convinced that nothing will ever come of the constitutional efforts to gain Irish freedom. He then forms his own paper, United Irishmen, to advocate passive resistance by Ireland’s starving masses.

In May 1848, the British tire of Mitchel’s open defiance. Ever the legal innovators in Ireland, they invent a crime especially for the Young Irelanders – felony-treason. They arrest him for violating this new law and close down his paper. A rigged jury convicts him, and he is deported first to Bermuda and then to Australia. However, in June 1853, he escapes to the United States.

Mitchel works as a journalist in New York City and then moves to the South. When the American Civil War erupts, he is a strong supporter of the Southern cause, seeing parallels with the position of the Irish. His family fully backs his commitment to the Southern cause. He loses two sons in the war, one at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and another at the Battle of Fort Sumter in 1864, and another son loses an arm. His outspoken support of the Confederacy causes him to be jailed for a time at Fort Monroe, where one of his fellow prisoners is Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In 1874, the British allow Mitchel to return to Ireland and in 1875 he is elected in a by-election to be a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom representing the Tipperary constituency. However his election is invalidated on the grounds that he is a convicted felon. He contests the seat again in the resulting by-election and is again elected, this time with an increased vote.

Unfortunately, Mitchel, one of the staunchest enemies to English rule of Ireland in history, dies eight days later in Newry on March 20, 1875, and is buried there. Thirty-eight years later, his grandson, John Purroy Mitchel, is elected Mayor of New York City.


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1985 Newry Mortar Attack

On February 28, 1985, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launches a heavy mortar attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at Corry Square in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland. The attack kills nine RUC officers and injures almost 40 others, the highest death toll ever suffered by the RUC. Afterwards, a major building scheme is begun to give police and military bases better protection from such attacks.

In the early 1970s, after the onset of the Troubles, the Provisional IRA launches a campaign aimed at forcing the British to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

The IRA, particularly its South Armagh Brigade, has repeatedly attacked the British Army and RUC with home-made mortars, but with limited success. Between 1973 and early 1978 a total of 71 mortar attacks are recorded, but none cause direct British Army or RUC deaths. There are only two deadly mortar attacks before 1985. The first is on March 19, 1979, when Private Peter Woolmore of the Queen’s Regiment is killed in a mortar attack on Newtownhamilton British Army base. The second is on November 12, 1983, when a RUC officer is killed and several hurt in a mortar attack on Carrickmore RUC base.

The attack is jointly planned by members of the South Armagh Brigade and an IRA unit in Newry. The homemade mortar launcher, dubbed the ‘Mark 10,’ is bolted onto the back of a Ford lorry that had been hijacked in Crossmaglen.

Shortly after 6:30 PM on February 28, nine shells are launched from the lorry, which had been parked on Monaghan Street, about 250 yards from the base. At least one 50-lb. shell lands on a portacabin containing a canteen, where many officers are having their evening tea break. Nine police officers are killed and 37 people are hurt, including 25 civilian police employees, the highest death toll inflicted on the RUC in its history. The nine dead officers range in age from 19 to 41, seven male and two female, seven Protestants and two Catholics. Another shell hits the observation tower, while the rest land inside and outside the perimeter of the base.

The day is dubbed “Bloody Thursday” by the British press. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher calls the attack “barbaric,” while Ireland’s Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, says it is “cruel and cynical,” and pledges the help of the Irish security forces to catch those responsible. Although not involved in the attack, Newry IRA member Eamon Collins is arrested shortly afterwards and interrogated. After five days of questioning, Collins breaks under interrogation and turns supergrass, leading to more than a dozen arrests of other IRA members. The attack prompts calls from unionist politicians to “increase security,” and the British government launches a multi-million pound programme of construction to protect bases from similar attacks. This involves installing reinforced roofs and building blast-deflecting walls around the base of buildings.

After the successful attack in Newry, the IRA carries out a further nine mortar attacks in 1985. On September 4, an RUC training centre in Enniskillen is attacked. Thirty cadets narrowly escape death due to poor intelligence-gathering by the IRA unit responsible. The cadets are expected to be in bed sleeping, but are instead eating breakfast when the bombs land. In November 1986, the IRA launches another attack on the RUC base in Newry, but the bombs fall short of their target and land on houses. A four-year-old Catholic girl is badly wounded and another 38 people are hurt, prompting the IRA to admit that “this incident left us open to justified criticism.”

Beginning in the 1990s, operations at the Corry Square base are progressively shifted to a new facility on the outskirts of Newry. The base is closed in 2002, and a park occupies the site today.

(Pictured: Destroyed cars and remains of the Newry RUC Corry Square police Station in Catherine Street taken the day after the attack by the Provisional IRA using homemade mortar bombs)