seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Peig Sayers, Author & Seanchaí

peig-sayersPeig Sayers, Irish author and seanchaí, is born in the townland of Vicarstown, Dunquin, County Kerry, on March 29, 1873. Seán Ó Súilleabháin, the former archivist for the Irish Folklore Commission, describes her as “one of the greatest woman storytellers of recent times.”

Sayers is born Máiréad (Margaret) Sayers, the youngest child of the family. She is called Peig after her mother, Margaret “Peig” Brosnan, from Castleisland. Her father Tomás Sayers is a renowned storyteller who passes on many of his tales to Peig. At age 12, she is taken out of school and goes to work as a servant for the Curran family in the nearby town of Dingle. She spends two years there before returning home due to illness.

She spends the next few years as a domestic servant working for members of the growing middle class produced by the Land War. She plans to join her best friend, Cáit Boland, in the United States, but Boland writes that she has had an accident and can not forward the cost of the fare. Peig moves to the Great Blasket Island after marrying Pádraig Ó Guithín, a fisherman and native of the island, on February 13, 1892. She and Pádraig have eleven children, of whom six survive.

The Norwegian scholar Carl Marstrander, who visits the island in 1907, urges Robin Flower of the British Museum to visit the Blaskets. Flower is keenly appreciative of Sayers’ stories and tales. He records them and brings them to the attention of the academic world.

In the 1930s, a Dublin teacher, Máire Ní Chinnéide, who is a regular visitor to the Blaskets, urges Sayers to tell her life story to her son Micheál. She is illiterate in the Irish language, although she receives her early schooling through the medium of English. She dictates her biography to Micheál. He then sends the manuscript pages to Máire Ní Chinnéide in Dublin, who edits them for publication. It is published in 1936.

Over several years beginning in 1938 she dictates 350 ancient legends, ghost stories, folk stories, and religious stories to Seosamh Ó Dálaigh of the Irish Folklore Commission.

Sayers continues to live on the island until 1942, when she leaves the Island and returns to her native Dunquin. She is moved to a hospital in Dingle, County Kerry where she dies on December 8, 1958. She is buried in the Dún Chaoin Burial Ground on the Dingle Peninsula. Her surviving children, except for her son Micheál, emigrate to the United States and live with their descendants in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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The Headford Ambush

headford-ambushThe Headford Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 21, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The battle lasts almost an hour and fourteen people are killed – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.

The guerrilla war in County Kerry escalates rapidly in the spring of 1921. The county is occupied by the British Army, Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans paramilitary police, as well as the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). For the previous several months they have been burning suspected Republicans’ property and shooting suspected IRA sympathisers. By early 1921, they have begun rounding up male inhabitants of nearby towns and villages and searching for IRA suspects.

On January 23, in response to the IRA’s assassination of RIC District Inspector Sullivan, 1,000 soldiers and armed police surround Ballymacelligott, arrest 240 men and march them to Tralee for questioning. British forces, especially the Auxiliaries, also carry out a number of reprisal shootings of local civilians. The IRA sets up full-time guerrilla units, known as flying columns, to avoid arrest and to assemble units capable of taking on British patrols. IRA GHQ in Dublin also sends an organizer, Andy Cooney, to Kerry to oversee the setting up of flying columns. On March 2, under Cooney’s direction, the 2nd Kerry Brigade sets up its own flying column under Dan Allman and Tom McEllistrim. On March 5, McEllistrim leads 20 volunteers from the column to a successful ambush at Clonbanin, in which they co-operate with Cork IRA units, killing four British soldiers including Brigadier General Hanway Robert Cumming. Buoyed by their success in Cork, the 2nd Kerry Brigade tries on a number of occasions to ambush British forces in Kerry itself.

On March 21, an IRA party of the 2nd Kerry Brigade is billeted about four miles from the Headford railway junction when they hear that British troops are returning by train from Kenmare to Tralee. As the train does not go directly to Tralee, the British have to change trains at Headford, making them vulnerable to ambush. Allman, commanding 30 volunteers, reaches the junction only 12 minutes before the train, which is carrying 30 soldiers of the 1st Royal Fusiliers. The railway staff just has time to flee before the train pulls into the platform, where its passengers have to change trains for Tralee. Alongside the soldiers, the train is packed with cattle and pig farmers on their way back from the market in Kenmare. Most of the civilians have already got off when the British soldiers begin to disembark. Allman himself tries to disarm a Fusilier but shoots him when he resists. This is the signal for the IRA to open fire on the British troops.

One of the first British casualties is Lieutenant CE Adams DCM, who is shot dead when he appears at the carriage door, as are several other soldiers who are standing in front of the engine. The surviving British troops open fire from the train while those who have got off scramble underneath it for cover. In the ensuing close-quarter firefight, conducted at a range of just 20 yards, three civilians and two IRA volunteers, including Allman, are killed. Two-thirds of the British force is estimated to have been killed or wounded. Most of those killed are hit in the initial firing. Afterwards, the IRA gunmen have no direct field of fire into the troops who are hidden under the train.

MacEllistrim calls on the survivors to surrender and when they refuse, the IRA begins to move in to finish off those who keep shooting by throwing hand grenades under the train. Just as they are doing so, another train pulls into the junction carrying another party of British troops. The IRA column has used most of its ammunition and is forced to retreat, escaping toward the hills in the south.

(Pictured: British soldiers searching a train in County Kerry, 1921)


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The 1947 Blizzard

blizzard-of-1947The worst blizzard in living memory hits Ireland on February 25, 1947. The penetrating Arctic winds had been blowing for several weeks. Munster and Leinster had been battling the snows since the middle of January.

On the evening of February 24, a major Arctic depression approaches the coast of Cork and Kerry and advances northeast across Ireland. By morning, Ireland is being pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century. The winter of 1946-1947 is the coldest and harshest winter in living memory. Temperatures rarely rise above freezing and the snows that have fallen across Ireland in January remain until the middle of March.

Worse still, all subsequent snowfall in February and March simply piles on top of all that has previously fallen. There is no shortage of snow that bitter winter. Of the fifty days between January 24 and March 17, it snows on thirty of them.

“The Blizzard” of February 25th is the greatest single snowfall on record and lasts for almost fifty consecutive hours. It smothers the entire island in a blanket of snow. Driven by persistent easterly gales, the snow drifts until every hollow, depression, arch and alleyway is filled and the Irish countryside becomes a vast ashen wasteland.

Everything on the frozen landscape is a sea of white. The freezing temperatures solidify the surface and it is to be an astonishing three weeks before the snows begins to melt.

(Pictured: Snow drifts on Main Street, Boyle, County Roscommon, February 1947)


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Palmerstown House Burned by the IRA

palmerstown-housePalmerstown House in Johnstown, County Kildare, the home of Dermot Bourke, 7th Earl of Mayo, is burned and destroyed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on January 29, 1923.

The destruction of country houses in Ireland is a phenomenon of the Irish revolutionary period (1919–1923), which sees at least 275 country houses deliberately burned down, blown up, or otherwise destroyed by the Irish Republican Army.

The vast majority of the houses, known in Ireland as Big Houses, belong to the Anglo-Irish aristocracy of the Protestant Ascendancy. The houses of some Roman Catholic unionists, suspected informers, and members or supporters of the new Irish Free State government are also targeted. Although the practice by the IRA of destroying country houses begins in the Irish War of Independence, most of the buildings are destroyed during the Irish Civil War (1922–23).

Attacks are planned and organised, and generally focused on Irish peers who have sat in the House of Lords, members of the Senate of the Irish Free State and former Irish Unionist Party politicians. The assault on the “Big Houses” is part of a wider campaign against Free State supporters as a reprisal for the executions policy of the Government.

At least 76 country houses are destroyed in the War of Independence as thirty “Big Houses” are burned in 1920 and another 46 in the first half of 1921, mostly in the conflict’s Munster heartland which includes counties Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, Clare and Limerick. It is believed that 199 country houses are destroyed during the Irish Civil War. Some houses are destroyed in the fighting of the early months of the war, but the campaign against them begins in earnest in late 1922.

In most cases, no one is injured during the destruction of the house. It is recorded that in several cases, members of the IRA help the targeted family to remove their possessions from the house before it is destroyed. When Dermot Bourke’s house is attacked on January 29, 1923, he describes the IRA guerrillas as being “excessively polite” and apologetic. Nonetheless, there are incidents of violence and deaths in such attacks. The Church of Ireland Gazette records numerous instances of Unionists and Loyalists being shot, burned out or otherwise forced from their homes during the early 1920s.

Today, most of the targeted buildings are in ruins or have been demolished. Some have been restored by their owners, albeit often smaller in size, or have been rebuilt and are now used for other purposes.


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Death of Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond

fitzgerald-coat-of-armsMaurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond, Irish nobleman in the Peerage of Ireland, Captain of Desmond Castle in Kinsale, so-called ruler of Munster, and for a short time Lord Justice of Ireland, dies at Dublin Castle on January 25, 1356.

FitzGerald is the second son of Thomas FitzMaurice FitzGerald, 2nd Baron Desmond by his wife Margaret. His father dies in 1296 when he is still a child. He succeeds his elder brother Thomas FitzGerald, 3rd Baron Desmond as 4th Baron Desmond in 1307, and also inherits great wealth and large estates.

By 1326 FitzGerald’s influence is such that there are rumours of a conspiracy to make him King of Ireland. Modern historians tend to dismiss the story, on the ground that the alleged conspirators were other magnates who were more interested in increasing their own power than aggrandising FitzGerald.

FitzGerald is created Earl of Desmond by Letters Patent dated at Gloucester, England, August 27, 1329, by which patent also the county palatine of Kerry is confirmed to him and his heirs male, to hold of the Crown by the service of one knight’s fee. This is part of a Crown policy of attempting to win the support of the magnates by conferring earldoms on them.

In January 1330 FitzGerald is summoned by Sir John Darcy, Lord Justice of Ireland, to fight armed Irish rebels, with a promise of the King’s pay. It is FitzGerald who introduces the practice of Coigne and Livery, the quartering of troops on the inhabitants of the district they are sent to protect.

Accepting the King’s proposal, in addition to dealing with Munster and Leinster, FitzGerald routs the O’Nolans and O’Murroughs and burns their lands in County Wicklow and forces them to give hostages. He recovers the castle of Ley from the O’Dempsies, and has a liberate of £100 sterling dated at Drogheda August 24, 1335, in return for the expense he has incurred in bringing his men-at-arms, hobelars, and foot-soldiers, from various parts of Munster to Drogheda, and there, with Lord Justice Darcy, disperses the King’s enemies.

In 1331 there are further rumours of an attempt to make him King. Although there seems to be no foundation for them, the Crown takes them seriously enough to imprison FitzGerald for several months. He is released when a number of fellow nobles stand surety for his good behaviour.

In 1339 FitzGerald is engaged against Irish rebels in County Kerry where it is said he slays 1,400 men, and takes Nicholas, Lord of Kerry, prisoner, keeping him confined until he dies as punishment for siding with the rebels against the Crown.

The same year FitzGerald is present in the parliament held in Dublin. He is summoned by Writ dated at Westminster July 10, 1344, with Maurice, Earl of Kildare, and others, to attend the King at Portsmouth “on the octaves of the nativity of the Virgin Mary,” with twenty men-at-arms and fifty hobelars, at his own expense, to assist in the war against Philip V of France.

FitzGerald, who has long been acting “with a certain disregard for the niceties of the law” now decides on open rebellion. In 1345 he presides at an assembly of Anglo-Irish magnates at Callan, County Kilkenny, ignores a summons to attend the Irish Parliament and attacks Nenagh. He is a formidable opponent, and for the next two years his defeat is the main preoccupation of the Crown. He surrenders on a promise that his life will be spared. He is imprisoned and his lands forfeited. He is allowed to go under guard to England to answer the charges against him.

By no means for the last time, the Crown evidently decides that it can not govern Ireland without the magnates’ support. In 1348 FitzGerald is released, and pardoned in 1349. His loyalty does not seem to have been in question during the last years of his life.

In July 1355 FitzGerald is appointed Lord Justice of Ireland for life, dying, however, the following January in Dublin Castle. He is interred in the Church of the Friars-Preachers in Tralee.


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Birth of Anglican Bishop Charles Graves

charles-gravesCharles Graves FRS, 19th-century Anglican Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe, is born at 12 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, on December 6, 1812. He serves as President of the Royal Irish Academy, Dean of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle and is a noted mathematician.

Graves is born to John Crosbie Graves (1776–1835), Chief Police Magistrate for Dublin, and Helena Perceval, the daughter and co-heiress of the Rev. Charles Perceval (1751–1795) of Bruhenny, County Cork. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he wins a scholarship in Classics, and in 1834 graduates BA as Senior Moderator in mathematics, getting his MA in 1838. He plays cricket for Trinity, and later in his life does much boating and fly-fishing. It is intended that he join the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Foot under his uncle, Major-General James William Graves (1774–1845), and in preparation he becomes an expert swordsman and rider.

After leaving Trinity College, Graves follows in the steps of his grandfather, Thomas Graves, who was appointed Dean of Ardfert in 1785 and Dean of Connor in 1802, and his great uncle, Richard Graves. He is appointed a fellow of Trinity College from 1836 to 1843 before taking the professorship of mathematics, a position he holds until 1862.

Graves is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1837 and subsequently holds various officerships, including President from 1861 to 1866. In 1860 he is appointed Dean of the Chapel Royal and, from 1864 to 1866, he is the Dean of Clonfert before being consecrated as Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe, a position he holds for 33 years until his death on July 17, 1899. He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1880 and receives the honorary degree of DCL from Oxford University in 1881.

In 1841 Graves publishes an original mathematical work and he embodies further discoveries in his lectures and in papers read before and published by the Royal Irish Academy. He is a colleague of Sir William Rowan Hamilton and, upon the latter’s death, Graves gives a presidential panegyric containing a valuable account both of Hamilton’s scientific labours and of his literary attainments.

Graves is very interested in Irish antiquarian subjects. He discovers the key to the ancient Irish Ogham script which appears as inscriptions on cromlechs and other stone monuments. He also prompts the government to publish the old Irish Brehon Laws, Early Irish law. His suggestion is adopted and he is appointed a member of the Commission to do this.

Graves’ official residence is The Palace at Limerick, but from the 1850s he takes the lease of Parknasilla House, County Kerry, as a summer residence. In 1892 he buys out the lease of the house and a further 114 acres of land that includes a few islands. In 1894 he sells it to Great Southern Hotels, who still own it to this day.


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Birth of Pat Spillane, Gaelic Footballer & Broadcaster

Patrick Gerard Spillane, retired Gaelic footballer and current sports broadcaster better known as Pat Spillane, is born in Templenoe, County Kerry, on December 1, 1955. His league and championship career with the Kerry GAA senior team spans seventeen years from 1974 to 1991. Spillane is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

Spillane is born into a strong Gaelic football family. His father, Tom, and his uncle, Jerome, both play with Kerry and win All-Ireland Junior Football Championship medals. His maternal uncles, Jackie, Dinny, Mickey, and Teddy Lyne, all win All-Ireland medals at various grades with Kerry throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

Spillane plays competitive Gaelic football as a boarder at St. Brendan’s College. Here he wins back-to-back Corn Uí Mhuirí medals, however, an All-Ireland medal remains elusive. He first appears for the Templenoe GAA club at underage levels, before winning a county novice championship medal in 1973. With the amalgamated Kenmare District team he wins two Kerry Senior Football Championship medals in 1974 and 1987. While studying at Thomond College he wins an All-Ireland Senior Club Football Championship medal in the club championship in 1978. He also wins one Munster Senior Club Football Championship medal and a Limerick Senior Football Championship medal.

Spillane makes his debut on the inter-county scene at the age of sixteen when he is picked on the Kerry minor team. He enjoys two championship seasons with the minor team, however, he is a Munster Minor Football Championship runner-up on both occasions. He subsequently joins the Kerry under-21 team, winning back-to-back All-Ireland Under-21 Football Championship medals in 1975 and 1976. By this stage he has also joined the Kerry senior team, making his debut during the 1973-74 league. Over the course of the next seventeen years, he wins eight All-Ireland Senior Football Championship medals, beginning with a lone triumph in 1975, a record-equalling four championships in-a-row from 1978 to 1981 and three championships in-a-row from 1984 to 1986. He also wins twelve Munster medals, two National Football League medals and is named Footballer of the Year in 1978 and 1986. He plays his last game for Kerry in August 1991. He is joined on the Kerry team by his two brothers, Mick and Tom, and together win a total of 19 All-Ireland medals, a record for a set of brothers.

After being chosen on the Munster GAA inter-provincial team for the first time in 1976, Spillane is an automatic choice on the starting fifteen for the following six years. During that time he wins four Railway Cup medals.

In retirement from playing Spillane combines his teaching career with a new position as a sports broadcaster. His media career begins with RTÉ in 1992, where he starts as a co-commentator before progressing to the role of studio analyst with the flagship programme The Sunday Game. He also enjoys a four-year tenure as host of the evening highlights edition of the programme. He also writes a weekly column for the Sunday World.

Even during his playing days Spillane comes to be recognised as one of the greatest players of all time. After fighting his way back from a potentially career-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury, he is named in the right wing-forward position on the Football Team of the Century in 1984. He is one of only two players from the modern era to be named on that team. He switches to the left-wing forward position when he is named on the Football Team of the Millennium in 1999. His collection of nine GAA GPA All Stars Awards is a record for a Gaelic footballer, while his tally of eight All-Ireland medals is also a record which he shares with fellow Kerry players Páidí Ó Sé, Mikey Sheehy, Denis “Ógie” Moran and Ger Power.