seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Joe McDonnell, Irish Hunger Striker

joseph-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951. He dies after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

 


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Assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten

assassination-of-lord-mountbattenLord Louis Mountbatten is killed on August 27, 1979 when Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorists detonate a 50-pound bomb hidden on his fishing vessel, Shadow V. Mountbatten, a war hero, elder statesman, and second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is spending the day with his family in Donegal Bay off Ireland’s northwest coast when the bomb explodes. Three others are killed in the attack, including Mountbatten’s 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas. Later that day, an IRA bombing attack on land kills 18 British paratroopers in County Down, Northern Ireland in what becomes known as the Warrenpoint ambush.

The assassination of Mountbatten is the first blow struck against the British royal family by the IRA during its long terrorist campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland to the south. The attack hardens the hearts of many British against the IRA and convinces Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government to take a hardline stance against the terrorist organization.

Mountbatten, the son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria I, enters the Royal Navy in 1913, when he is in his early teens. He sees service during World War I and at the outbreak of World War II is commander of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla. His destroyer, the HMS Kelly, is sunk during the Battle of Crete early in the war. In 1941, he commands an aircraft carrier, and in 1942 he is named Chief of Combined Operations Headquarters. From this position, he is appointed Supreme Allied Commander for South East Asia Command in 1943 and successfully conducts the campaign against Japan that leads to the recapture of Burma.

In 1947, Mountbatten is appointed the last Viceroy of India, and he conducts the negotiations that lead to independence for India and Pakistan later that year. He holds various high naval posts in the 1950s and serves as chief of the United Kingdom Defense Staff and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Meanwhile, he is made Viscount Mountbatten of Burma and a first earl. He is the uncle of Philip Mountbatten and introduces Philip to the future Queen Elizabeth. He later encourages the marriage of the two distant cousins and becomes godfather and mentor to their first born, Charles, Prince of Wales.

Made Governor and then Lord-Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight in his retirement, Mountbatten is a respected and beloved member of the royal family. His assassination is perhaps the most shocking of all horrors inflicted by the IRA against the United Kingdom. In addition to his grandson Nicholas, 15-year-old boat hand Paul Maxwell and the Dowager Lady Brabourne, Nicholas’ grandmother, are also killed. Mountbatten’s grandson Timothy, Nicholas’ twin brother, is injured as is his daughter, Lady Brabourne, and the twins’ father, Lord Brabourne.

The IRA immediately claims responsibility for the attack, saying it detonated the bomb by remote control from the coast. It also takes responsibility for the same-day bombing attack against British troops in County Down, which claims eighteen lives.

IRA member Thomas McMahon is later arrested and convicted of preparing and planting the bomb that destroyed Mountbatten’s boat. A near-legend in the IRA, he is a leader of the IRA’s notorious South Armagh Brigade, which kills more than 100 British soldiers. He is one of the first IRA members to be sent to Libya to train with detonators and timing devices and is an expert in explosives. Authorities believe the Mountbatten assassination is the work of many people, but McMahon is the only individual convicted. Sentenced to life in prison, he is released in 1998 along with other IRA and Unionist terrorists under a controversial provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

(From: This Day In History: Mountbatten killed by IRA, by the editors of History.com, July 21, 2010, http://www.history.com)


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Birth of Otto Moses Jaffe, Lord Mayor of Belfast

otto-jaffeSir Otto Moses Jaffe, German-born British businessman who is twice elected Lord Mayor of Belfast, is born in Hamburg on August 13, 1846. He is the first non-Protestant to hold the office of Lord Mayor of Belfast.

Jaffe is born into a Jewish family, one of four boys and five girls born to Daniel Joseph and Frederiké Jaffe. In 1852, his parents bring their family to Belfast. His father, along with his older brothers, Martin, John and Alfred, set up a business exporting linen. He is educated at Mr. Tate’s school in Holywood, County Down, and later in Hamburg and Switzerland.

Jaffe marries Paula Hertz, daughter of Moritz Hertz from Braunschweig, on March 8, 1879. They have two sons, Arthur Daniel and William Edward Berthold Jaffe. Daniel Joseph Jaffé is his nephew, son of his brother Martin.

From 1867 to 1877 Jaffe lives and works in New York. In 1877, his brothers retire so he returns to Belfast to head the family business, The Jaffe Brothers, at Bedford Street. He builds it up to become the largest linen exporter in Ireland. He is a member of the Belfast Harbour Commission and becomes a naturalised citizen in 1888. In 1894, he successfully agitates for the reporting and destruction of shipwrecks in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Jaffe is a Justice of the Peace, a governor of the Royal Hospital, a member of the Irish Technical Education Board and a member of the Senate of Queen’s College, which later becomes Queen’s University Belfast. He is the German consul in Belfast. He is an active member of the committee which gets the Public Libraries Act extended to Belfast, leading to the first free library being established there. In 1910 he erects the Jaffe Spinning Mill on the Newtownards Road, also known as Strand Spinning. This provides work for 350 people, rising to 650 in 1914 when the company expands to make munitions. He is lavishly charitable and contributes to Queen’s College.

Jaffe takes a keen interest in the Jewish community of Belfast. He is life-president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation, which worships at the Great Victoria Street, Belfast synagogue. His father established it on July 7, 1871. Between 1871 and 1903 the congregation increases from fifty-five to over a thousand. He pays most of the £4,000 cost of building the synagogue in Annesley Street. He opens it in 1904 wearing his mayoral regalia. Three years later with his wife, they set up the Jaffe Public Elementary School on the Cliftonville Road.

Jaffe is a member of the Irish Unionist Party. He represents St. Anne’s Ward for the Belfast Corporation in 1894 and is elected Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1899. As mayor, he launchs an appeal for the dependants of soldiers fighting in the Second Boer War. On March 5, 1900, he is knighted at Dublin Castle by George Cadogan, 5th Earl Cadogan, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1901 he is High Sheriff of Belfast and in 1904 is again elected Lord Mayor.

The outbreak of war sees anti-German sentiment and when the RMS Lusitania passenger liner is torpedoed by a German U-boat of the coast of County Cork on May 7, 1915, resulting in the death of 1,000 people, anti-German feeling in Britain and Ireland rise to breaking point. Even though he is loyal to the Crown, and his eldest son Arthur and his nephew are serving in the British Army, Jaffe is accused of being a German spy. Society women refuse support for the Children’s Hospital so long as Jaffe and his wife remain on the board. He is “overwhelmed with pain and sorrow.”

After twenty-five years of service, Jaffe resigns his post as Alderman of Windsor Ward for Belfast City Council in June 1916 when he is almost 70 years of age and takes up residence in London, where he dies on April 29, 1929. Lady Jaffe is too ill to attend his funeral and she dies a few months later, in August 1929.


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Birth of Philosopher Francis Hutcheson

francis-hutchesonFrancis Hutcheson, Scotch-Irish philosopher and major exponent of the theory of the existence of a moral sense through which man can achieve right action, is born on August 8, 1694 in Saintfield, County Down, Ulster. He is remembered for his book A System of Moral Philosophy. He is an important influence on the works of several significant Enlightenment thinkers, including David Hume and Adam Smith.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Hutcheson is educated at Killyleagh in modern day Northern Ireland and studies philosophy, classics, and theology at the University of Glasgow (1710–1716). While a student, he works as tutor to William Boyd, 3rd Earl of Kilmarnock. Following his return to Ireland, he founds a private academy in Dublin in 1719 and teaches there for ten years. In 1729 he returns to Glasgow to succeed his old master, Gershom Carmichael, as Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, a position he holds until his death.

Hutcheson is licensed as a preacher in 1719 by Irish Presbyterians in Ulster, but in 1738 the Glasgow presbytery challenges his belief that people can have a knowledge of good and evil without, and prior to, a knowledge of God. His standing as a popular preacher is undiminished, however, and the celebrated Scottish philosopher David Hume seeks his opinion of the rough draft of the section “Of Human Morals” in Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.

Hutcheson’s ethical theory is propounded in his Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), in Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (1728) and Illustrations upon the Moral Sense (1728), and in the posthumous A System of Moral Philosophy (1755). In his view, besides his five external senses, man has a variety of internal senses, including a sense of beauty, of morality, of honour, and of the ridiculous. Of these, Hutcheson considers the moral sense to be the most important. He believes that it is implanted in man and pronounces instinctively and immediately on the character of actions and affections, approving those that are virtuous and disapproving those that are vicious. His moral criterion is whether or not an act tends to promote the general welfare of mankind. He thus anticipates the utilitarianism of the English thinker Jeremy Bentham, even to his use of the phrase “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Hutcheson is also influential as a logician and theorist of human knowledge.

Hutcheson spends time in Dublin, and dies while on a visit to the city on August 8, 1746, his fifty-second birthday. He is buried in the churchyard of Saint Mary’s, which is also the final resting place of his cousin William Bruce. Today Saint Mary’s is a public park located in what is now Wolfe Tone Street. He lies in what is now an unmarked grave in the Dublin he loved and where his best work was done.


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Death of Hunger Striker Kevin Lynch

kevin-lynchKevin Lynch, Irish republican hunger striker and member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), dies on August 1, 1981 at Maze Prison in County Down, Northern Ireland following 71 days on hunger strike.

Lynch is born on May 25, 1956 in Park near Dungiven, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, the youngest in a family of eight children born to Paddy and Bridie Lynch. His older brother, Frank, is an amateur boxer and he also participates in the sport as well as Gaelic football and hurling. He is a member of the winning Dungiven GAC team which wins the Féile na nGael Division 3 in Thurles, County Tipperary in 1971. In 1972 he captains the Derry Hurling team to an Under-16 All-Ireland title at Croke Park in Dublin by defeating the Armagh GAA club.

Lynch stands as a Anti H-Block candidate in the Waterford constituency during the June 1981 general election in the South and polls extremely well despite missing out on election.

Lynch is tried, convicted and sentenced to ten years for conspiracy to obtain arms, taking part in a punishment shooting and conspiring to take arms from the security forces. He is sent to the Maze Prison in County Down in December 1977. He becomes involved with the blanket protest and joins the 1981 hunger strike at the Maze on May 23, 1981. He dies at Maze Prison 71 days later on August 1, 1981.

The Dungiven hurling team is renamed Kevin Lynch’s Hurling Club in his honour following his death.


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Birth of John Miller Andrews, 2nd Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

john-miller-andrewsJohn Miller Andrews, the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, is born in Comber, County Down on July 17, 1871. He is the eldest child in the family of four sons and one daughter of Thomas Andrews, flax spinner, and his wife Eliza Pirrie, a sister of William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff. He is named after his maternal great-uncle, John Miller of Comber (1795–1883).

Andrews is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In business, Andrews is a landowner, a director of his family linen-bleaching company and of the Belfast Ropeworks. His younger brother, Thomas Andrews, who dies in the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, served as managing director of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Another brother, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, was Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

In 1902 Andrews marries Jessie, eldest daughter of Bolton stockbroker Joseph Ormrod at Rivington Unitarian Chapel, Rivington, near Chorley, Lancashire, England. They have one son and two daughters. His younger brother, Sir James, marries Jessie’s sister.

Andrews is elected as a member of parliament in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, sitting from 1921 until 1953 (for Down from 1921–29 and for Mid Down from 1929–1953). He is a founder member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, which he chairs, and is Minister of Labour from 1921 to 1937. He is Minister of Finance from 1937 to 1940, succeeding to the position on the death of Hugh MacDowell Pollock. Upon the death of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon in 1940, he becomes leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

In April 1943 backbench dissent forces Andrews from office. He is replaced as Prime Minister by Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough. He remains, however, the recognised leader of the UUP for a further three years. Five years later he becomes the Grand Master of the Orange Order. From 1949, he is the last parliamentary survivor of the original 1921 Northern Ireland Parliament, and as such is recognised as the Father of the House. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland not to have been granted a peerage. His predecessor and successor receive hereditary viscountcies, and later prime ministers are granted life peerages.

Throughout his life Andrews is deeply involved in the Orange Order. He holds the positions of Grand Master of County Down from 1941 and Grand Master of Ireland (1948–1954). In 1949 he is appointed Imperial Grand Master of the Grand Orange Council of the World.

Andrews is a committed and active member of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. He regularly attends Sunday worship, in the church built on land donated by his great-grandfather, James Andrews, in his hometown Comber. He serves on the Comber Congregational Committee from 1896 until his death on August 5, 1956, holding the position of Chairman from 1935 onwards. He is buried in the small graveyard adjoining the church.


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Birth of Gerald O’Donovan, Priest & Writer

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default qualityGerald O’Donovan, Irish priest and writer born Jeremiah Donovan, is born in Kilkeel, County Down  on July 15, 1871.

O’Donovan is the son of a pier builder. He attends Ardnaree College in Killala and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He leaves Maynooth after ordination for the Diocese of Clonfert in 1895 and is appointed as a Roman Catholic priest to Loughrea, County Galway between 1896 and 1904. He is an enthusiastic advocate of the Gaelic League and the Irish Cooperative Association, and promotes his views in articles and lectures. His literary friends include Lady Gregory, W. B. Yeats and George Moore. He is in charge of decorating St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea in 1901, the financing provided by O’Donovan’s close friend Edward Martyn. He quit Loughrea in 1904 after the arrival of a new bishop, Thomas O’Dea.

O’Donovan moves to London but, failing to find work as a priest, he leaves the Catholic priesthood in May 1908. He becomes a subwarden at Toynbee Hall in the East End in March 1910. In October that year, he marries Florence Emily Beryl Verschoyle (1886–1968), the daughter of an Irish Protestant colonel fifteen years his junior. They have three children, two daughters and a son.

In 1913, O’Donovan publishes his first and best known novel, Father Ralph, which draws in large part on his own life. Around this time he changes his first name from Jeremiah to Gerald. Another novel titled Waiting is published in 1914. He joins the war effort in 1915, and rises to become head of the Italian section at the Ministry of Information in 1918. There he meets his secretary and future lover, English novelist Rose Macaulay.

O’Donovan publishes a few more novels after the war: How They Did It (1920), Conquest (1920), Vocations (1921), and The Holy Tree (1922). The clandestine affair with Macaulay continues for nearly two decades. In 1939, the pair are on holiday in the Lake District when they meet with a motoring accident, which damages O’Donovan’s health. He dies of cancer in Albury, Surrey three years later, on July 26, 1942. His letters to Macaulay had been destroyed the previous year when her flat in Central London was bombed during the Blitz.

In her novel The Towers of Trebizond, Macaulay features a woman character (Laurie) torn between her attraction to Christianity and her adulterous love for a married man. This is considered to reflect the author’s relationship with O’Donovan.


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Birth of Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Lord Dufferin

Created with GIMPFrederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, British diplomat who is a distinguished Governor General of Canada and Viceroy and Governor-General of India and holder of Clandeboye Estate in Bangor, County Down, is born in Florence, Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Italy on June 21, 1826.

The son of Price Blackwood, 4th Baron Dufferin and Claneboye, Blackwood is educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford. In his youth he is a popular figure in the court of Queen Victoria, and becomes well known to the public after publishing a best-selling account of his travels in the North Atlantic.

Lord Dufferin’s long career in public service begins as a commissioner to Syria in 1860, where his skillful diplomacy maintains British interests while preventing France from instituting a client state in Lebanon. After his success in Syria, he serves in the Government of the United Kingdom as William Ewart Gladstone’s Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Under-Secretary of State for War. He is created Earl of Dufferin in 1871.

In 1872 Lord Dufferin becomes the third Governor General of Canada, bolstering imperial ties in the early years of the Dominion. After leaving Ottawa in 1878 at the end of his term, he returns to Great Britain to continue his diplomatic career. He serves as British ambassador to Imperial Russia from 1879 to 1881. In 1881 he becomes ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and deals with the problems raised by the British occupation of the Ottoman dependency of Egypt. In 1884 he reaches the pinnacle of his diplomatic career when he succeeds George Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon as Viceroy and Governor-General of India and placates the British community there, which had been antagonized by Ripon’s reforms.

By the annexation of Burma (Myanmar) in 1886, Lord Dufferin consolidates British territories. For his services he is made Marquess of Dufferin and Ava when, in 1888, he retires from India. He then spends three years (1889–91) as Britain’s ambassador to Italy and four years (1892–96) as ambassador to France. He retires in 1896.

Following his retirement from the diplomatic service, Lord Dufferin’s final years are marred by personal tragedy and a misguided attempt to secure his family’s financial position. In 1897, worried about the family financial situation, he is persuaded to become chairman of the London and Globe Finance Corporation, a mining promotion and holding company controlled by Whitaker Wright. It subsequently transpires that Wright is a consummate fraudster and the firm goes bankrupt, although Lord Dufferin is not guilty of any deception and his moral standing remains unaffected. Soon after the misfortune, his eldest son, Lord Ava, is killed in the Second Boer War and another son is badly wounded.

Following the death of his son and in poor health, Lord Dufferin returns to his country house at Clandeboye, near Bangor, County Down, and dies there on February 12, 1902.

Lord Dufferin’s biographer Richard Davenport-Hines says he was “imaginative, sympathetic, warm-hearted, and gloriously versatile.” He was an effective leader in Lebanon, Canada and India, averted war with Russia, and annexed Burma. He was careless with money but charming in high society on three continents.


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The Loughinisland Massacre

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 90The Loughinisland massacre takes place on June 18, 1994 in the small village of Loughinisland, County Down, Northern Ireland. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, burst into a pub with assault rifles and fire on the customers, killing six civilians and wounding five. The pub is targeted because it is frequented mainly by Catholics. The UVF claims the attack is retaliation for the killing of three UVF members by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) two days earlier.

About 24 people are gathered in The Heights Bar, also known as O’Toole’s Pub, watching the Republic of Ireland vs. Italy in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. It is thus sometimes referred to as the “World Cup massacre.”

At 10:10 PM, two UVF members wearing boilersuits and balaclavas walk into the bar. One shouts “Fenian bastards!” and opens fire on the crowd with a vz. 58 assault rifle, spraying the small room with more than sixty bullets. Six men are killed outright and five other people are wounded. Witnesses say the gunmen then run to a getaway car, “laughing.” One witness describes “bodies … lying piled on top of each other on the floor.” The dead were Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (52), Barney Green (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O’Hare (35) and Eamon Byrne (39), all Catholic civilians. O’Hare is the brother-in-law of Eamon Byrne and Green is one of the oldest people to be killed during the Troubles.

The UVF claims responsibility within hours of the attack. It claims that an Irish republican meeting was being held in the pub and that the shooting was retaliation for the INLA attack. Police say there is no evidence the pub had links to republican paramilitary activity and say the attack is purely sectarian. Journalist Peter Taylor writes in his book Loyalists that the attack may not have been sanctioned by the UVF leadership. Police intelligence indicates that the order to retaliate came from the UVF leadership and that its ‘Military Commander’ had supplied the rifle used. Police believe the attack was carried out by a local UVF unit under the command of a senior member who reported to the leadership in Belfast.

The attack receives international media coverage and is widely condemned. Among those who send messages of sympathy are Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II and United States President Bill Clinton. Local Protestant families visit their wounded neighbours in the hospital, expressing their shock and disgust.

There have been allegations that police (Royal Ulster Constabulary) double agents or informants in the UVF were linked to the massacre and that police protected those informers by destroying evidence and failing to carry out a proper investigation. At the request of the victims’ families, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland investigate the police. In 2011 the Ombudsman concludes that there were major failings in the police investigation, but no evidence that police colluded with the UVF. The Ombudsman does not investigate the role of informers and the report is branded a whitewash. The Ombudsman’s own investigators demand to be disassociated from it. The report is quashed, the Ombudsman replaced and a new inquiry ordered.

In 2016, a new Ombudsman report concludes that there had been collusion between the police and the UVF, and that the investigation was undermined by the wish to protect informers, but found no evidence police had foreknowledge of the attack. A documentary film about the massacre, No Stone Unturned, is released in 2017. It names the main suspects, one of whom is a member of the British Army, and claims that one of the killers was an informer.


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Resignation of John Miller Andrews, 2nd Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

john-miller-andrewsJohn Miller Andrews, the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, resigns on April 28, 1943 and is succeeded by Sir Basil Brooke, later Lord Brookeborough.

Andrews is born in Comber, County Down, on July 17, 1871, the eldest child in the family of four sons and one daughter of Thomas Andrews, flax spinner, and his wife Eliza Pirrie, a sister of William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff. He is named after his maternal great-uncle, John Miller of Comber (1795–1883). As a young man, with his parents and family, he is a committed and active member of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. He regularly attends Sunday worship in the church built on land donated by his great-grandfather James Andrews in his home town Comber.

Andrews is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In business, he is a landowner, a director of his family linen-bleaching company and of the Belfast Ropeworks. His younger brother, Thomas Andrews, who dies in the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, is managing director of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Another brother, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, is Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

In 1902 Andrews marries Jessie Ormrod, eldest daughter of Bolton stockbroker Joseph Ormrod at Rivington Unitarian Chapel, Rivington, near Chorley, Lancashire, England. They have one son and two daughters. His younger brother, Sir James, marries Jessie’s sister.

Andrews is elected as a member of parliament in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, sitting from 1921 until 1953 (for Down from 1921–1929 and for Mid Down from 1929–1953). He is a founder member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, which he chairs, and is Minister of Labour from 1921 to 1937. He is Minister of Finance from 1937 to 1940, succeeding to the position on the death of Hugh MacDowell Pollock. On the death of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, in 1940, he becomes leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

In April 1943 backbench dissent forces him from office. He is replaced as Prime Minister by Sir Basil Brooke. Andrews remains, however, the recognised leader of the UUP for three more years. Five years later he becomes the Grand Master of the Orange Order.  Throughout his life he is deeply involved in the Orange Order. He holds the positions of Grand Master of County Down from 1941 and Grand Master of Ireland (1948–1954). In 1949 he is appointed Imperial Grand Master of the Grand Orange Council of the World.

From 1949, he is the last parliamentary survivor of the original 1921 Northern Ireland Parliament, and as such is recognised as the Father of the House. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland not to have been granted a peerage. His predecessor and successor received hereditary viscountcies, and later prime ministers are granted life peerages.

Andrews serves on the Comber Congregational Committee from 1896 until his death, holding the position of Chairman from 1935 onward. He dies in Comber on August 5, 1956 and is buried in the small graveyard adjoining the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.