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Death of Richard Mulcahy, Fine Gael Politician & Army General

Richard James Mulcahy, Irish Fine Gael politician and army general, dies from natural causes in Dublin on December 16, 1971.

Mulcahy is born in Manor Street, Waterford, County Waterford, on May 10, 1886, the son of post office clerk Patrick Mulcahy and Elizabeth Slattery. He is educated at Mount Sion Christian Brothers School and later in Thurles, County Tipperary, where his father is the postmaster.

Mulcahy joins the Royal Mail (Post Office Engineering Dept.) in 1902, and works in Thurles, Bantry, Wexford and Dublin. He is a member of the Gaelic League and joins the Irish Volunteers at the time of their formation in 1913. He is also a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Mulcahy is second-in-command to Thomas Ashe in an encounter with the armed Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) at Ashbourne, County Meath, during the 1916 Easter Rising, one of the few stand-out victories won by republicans in that week, and generally credited to Mulcahy’s grasp of tactics. In his book on the Rising, Charles Townshend principally credits Mulcahy with the defeat of the RIC at Ashbourne, for conceiving and leading a flanking movement on the RIC column that had engaged with the Irish Volunteers. Arrested after the Rising, he is interned at Knutsford and at the Frongoch internment camp in Wales until his release on December 24, 1916.

On his release, Mulcahy immediately rejoins the republican movement and becomes commandant of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. He is elected to the First Dáil in the 1918 Irish general election for Dublin Clontarf. He is then named Minister for Defence in the new government and later Assistant Minister for Defence. In March 1918, he becomes Irish Republican Army (IRA) chief of staff, a position he holds until January 1922.

Mulcahy and Michael Collins are largely responsible for directing the military campaign against the British during the Irish War of Independence. During this period of upheaval in 1919, he marries Mary Josephine (Min) Ryan, sister of Kate and Phyllis Ryan, the successive wives of Seán T. O’Kelly. Her brother is James Ryan. O’Kelly and Ryan both later serve in Fianna Fáil governments.

Mulcahy supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. Archive film shows that Mulcahy, as Minister of Defence, is the Irish officer who raises the Irish tricolour at the first hand-over of a British barracks to the National Army in January 1922. He is defence minister in the Provisional Government on its creation and succeeds Collins, after the latter’s assassination, as Commander-in-Chief of the Provisional Government’s forces during the subsequent Irish Civil War.

Mulcahy earns notoriety through his order that anti-Treaty activists captured carrying arms are liable for execution. A total of 77 anti-Treaty prisoners are executed by the Provisional Government. He serves as Minister for Defence in the new Free State government from January 1924 until March 1924, but resigns in protest because of the sacking of the Army Council after criticism by the Executive Council over the handling of the “Army Mutiny,” when some National Army War of Independence officers almost revolt after he demobilises many of them at the end of the Irish Civil War. He re-enters the cabinet as Minister for Local Government and Public Health in 1927.

During Mulcahy’s period on the backbenches of Dáil Éireann his electoral record fluctuates. He is elected as TD for Dublin North-West at the 1921 and 1922 Irish general elections. He moves to Dublin City North for the election the following year, and is re-elected there in four further elections: June 1927, September 1927, 1932 and 1933.

Dublin City North is abolished for the 1937 Irish general election, at which Mulcahy is defeated in the new constituency of Dublin North-East. However, he secures election to Seanad Éireann as a Senator, the upper house of the Oireachtas, representing the Administrative Panel. The 2nd Seanad sat for less than two months, and at the 1938 Irish general election he was elected to the 10th Dáil as a TD for Dublin North-East. Defeated again in the 1943 Irish general election, he secured election to the 4th Seanad by the Labour Panel.

After the resignation of W. T. Cosgrave as Leader of Fine Gael in 1944, Mulcahy becomes party leader while still a member of the Seanad. Thomas F. O’Higgins is parliamentary leader of the party in the Dáil at the time and Leader of the Opposition. Facing his first general election as party leader, Mulcahy draws up a list of 13 young candidates to contest seats for Fine Gael. Of the eight who run, four are elected. He is returned again to the 12th Dáil as a TD for Tipperary at the 1944 Irish general election. While Fine Gael’s decline had been slowed, its future is still in doubt.

Following the 1948 Irish general election Mulcahy is elected for Tipperary South, but the dominant Fianna Fáil party finishes six seats short of a majority. However, it is 37 seats ahead of Fine Gael, and conventional wisdom suggests that Fianna Fáil is the only party that can possibly form a government. Just as negotiations get underway, however, Mulcahy realises that if Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the National Labour Party, Clann na Poblachta and Clann na Talmhan band together, they would have only one seat fewer than Fianna Fáil and, if they can get support from seven independents, they will be able to form a government. He plays a leading role in persuading the other parties to put aside their differences and join forces to consign the then Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Éamon de Valera, to the opposition benches.

Mulcahy initially seems set to become Taoiseach in a coalition government. However, he is not acceptable to Clann na Poblachta’s leader, Seán MacBride. Many Irish republicans had never forgiven him for his role in the Irish Civil War executions carried out under the Cosgrave government in the 1920s. Consequently, MacBride lets it be known that he and his party will not serve under Mulcahy. Without Clann na Poblachta, the other parties would have 57 seats between them — 17 seats short of a majority in the 147-seat Dáil. According to Mulcahy, the suggestion that another person serve as Taoiseach comes from Labour leader William Norton. He steps aside and encourages his party colleague John A. Costello, a former Attorney General of Ireland, to become the parliamentary leader of Fine Gael and the coalition’s candidate for Taoiseach. For the next decade, Costello serves as the party’s parliamentary leader while Mulcahy remained the nominal leader of the party.

Mulcahy goes on to serve as Minister for Education under Costello from 1948 until 1951. Another coalition government comes to power at the 1954 Irish general election, with Mulcahy once again stepping aside to become Minister for Education in the Second Inter-Party Government. The government falls in 1957, but he remains as Fine Gael leader until October 1959. In October the following year, he tells his Tipperary constituents that he does not intend to contest the next election.

Mulcahy dies from natural causes at the age of 85 in Dublin on December 16, 1971. He is buried in Littleton, County Tipperary.


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Birth of Criostóir Mac Aonghusa, Teacher, Author, & Campaigner for Irish Language

Criostóir Mac Aonghusa, teacher, author, critic, and campaigner for the Irish language, is born on December 13, 1905, in Gort an Ghabhainn, Banagher, King’s County (now County Offaly), son of Francis McGuiness (surname thus on his birth certificate), farmer, and his wife, Rosanna (née Egan). He is educated at La Sainte Foi, Banagher, Reachra national school, Shannonbridge, and Naas CBS. He qualifies as a primary school teacher from De La Salle Training College, Waterford, in 1926 and has the distinction of being the first person to sit all exams through the medium of Irish. He graduates BA at University College Galway (UCG) in 1933 and his further education includes a diploma in Spanish literature from University of Barcelona and an MA on the Irish scholar Tomás Ó Máille.

Mac Aonghusa’s teaching career begins in 1926 when he becomes headmaster on Inis Treabhair, County Galway, spending fourteen months there. Afterwards he transfers to Gort Mór, Rosmuc, County Galway, where he continues teaching until 1962. He remains an active member of Cumann na Múinteoirí Náisiúnta throughout his life. Between 1962 and 1972 he is employed as an ad-hoc examiner at the civil service commission. An active member of Fianna Fáil, he helps to organise the party in County Galway in the 1920s and 1930s, and is elected a member of Galway County Council in 1934.

Mac Aonghusa is a prominent advocate of the Irish language and together with his close friend Máirtín Ó Cadhain and another Connemara schoolteacher, Seosamh Mac Mathúna, founds Cumann na Gaeltachta to agitate for the civil rights of the Gaeltacht communities and of Irish-speakers in general. He is one of the main campaigners for the establishment of the Rath Carn Gaeltacht in County Meath and forms part of the delegation that meets Éamon de Valera on November 11, 1932 and receives from him a promise to provide land in County Meath for that purpose. The Gaeltacht is established in 1935. Mac Aonghusa continues to support the project throughout his life and is involved in further campaigns relating to the area, including the recognition of Rath Carn’s Gaeltacht status. He is also an active member of Conradh na Gaeilge in the 1940s and is later involved in the campaign for the establishment of an Irish-language television broadcasting service.

Mac Aonghusa is a prolific writer and begins publishing short stories and articles from 1926 onward. His contributions appear in An tÉireannach, An Phoblacht, The Irish Tribune, An Stoc, and Ar Aghaidh. From 1948, he is a regular contributor to Feasta and his essays and reviews on Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s works appear in Comhar. He is a member of several literary organisations, including Cumann na Scríbhneoirí and the Galway Literary Society. His first book, An Cladóir agus scéalta eile, appears in 1952. Between 1963 and 1972 he is a contributor to The Irish Press and works also as a literary journalist. An essay on Pádraic Ó Conaire earns him a prize from Acadamh Liteartha na hÉireann.

Mac Aonghusa speaks a number of European languages including German, Spanish, French, Romanian, and Greek and travels widely throughout Europe. In the early 1970s he lives in Russia, and a collection of essays entitled Ó Rosmuc go Rostov is published in 1972. For health reasons he lives in Málaga, Spain, from the middle of the 1970s until 1987. While there, RTÉ produces a documentary on his life entitled Ó Ros Muc go Malaga.

Mac Aonghusa dies on April 9, 1991, in Portiuncula General Hospital, Ballinasloe, County Galway, and is interred in Clonmacnoise. In 1930 he marries Mairéad Ní Lupain, a nurse from Annaghvane in Connemara, and has four children, Proinsias (1933), Micheál (1937), Róisín (1939), and Máirín (1944). The couple separates in the 1940s. Proinsias follows in his father’s footsteps as a writer and journalist and becomes president of Conradh na Gaeilge and chairman of Bord na Gaeilge.

(From: “Mac Aonghusa, Criostóir” by Lesa Ní Mhunghaile, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009)


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William Conolly Resigns as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons

William Conolly, Irish politician, Commissioner of Revenue, lawyer and landowner also known as Speaker Conolly, resigns as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons on October 13, 1729, on grounds of ill health. Sir Ralph Gore is elected unanimously in his place. His name is spelled Conolly rather than the more familiar Connolly, derived ultimately from the Gaelic surname “Ó Conghalaigh.”

Conolly is born on April 9, 1662, in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, the son of an inn-keeper, Patrick Conolly. His father is a native of County Monaghan, and a descendant of the Ó Conghalaigh clan of Airgíalla, who settles in County Donegal, embraces the Anglican Church, and has children William, Patrick, Hugh, Phelim and Thady. His father sets aside enough money that he is able to send Conolly to Dublin to study law. He qualifies as an attorney in 1685, aged twenty-three.

Conolly practises as a lawyer in Dublin and in 1694 he marries Katherine Conyngham, daughter of General Sir Albert Conyngham. The Conynghams are an Ulster Scots family who are originally from Mountcharles in County Donegal. The family later settles at Slane Castle in County Meath in the 1780s, where the Conynghams still reside. They have no children, and on Katherine’s death in 1752 the estates are inherited by William James Conolly, his nephew by his brother Patrick.

Conolly makes his fortune from land transfers, following the confiscations by the Crown of lands belonging to supporters of King James II, in the wake of the Glorious Revolution and the accession of William III and Mary II in 1688–91, known as the “Williamite War in Ireland.” About 600,000 Irish acres are confiscated to be sold to pay for the costs of the war, nearly 5% of the land area of Ireland. Conolly is the largest individual buyer, in particular buying 3,300 acres in County Meath that had been assigned to the Earl of Albemarle.

Conolly builds the first winged Palladian house in Ireland, Castletown House in Celbridge, County Kildare, starting in 1722, and specifies that every part of it has to be made from Irish materials. His Dublin townhouse is on Capel Street, then the most fashionable part of the city. He also commissions the former Customs House (now the site of the Clarence Hotel) and the Irish Houses of Parliament, the world’s first building specifically designed as a bicameral parliament.

Conolly is the most important of the “Undertakers,” the managers of Government business in the Irish House of Commons, in the early 18th century. He is associated with the moderate faction of Whigs and is opposed by the Brodrick faction from Cork. He is a Member of Parliament for Donegal Borough from 1692 to 1703 and subsequently for Londonderry County until his death in 1729. In 1703 and 1713, he is also elected for Newtown Limavady and in 1727 for Ballyshannon, but chooses each time not to sit.

Conolly is Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and a Commissioner of the Revenue from 1715 to his death in 1729. He is re-elected as Speaker of the House of Commons in the first session of George II‘s parliament and continues to serve until he collapses in the Commons on September 26, 1729. He is eventually persuaded to resign the Speaker’s chair on October 13, and he dies at his house in Capel Street, Dublin, on October 30. He is buried in Celbridge following a spectacular public funeral, which sees the beginnings of the custom of mourners wearing linen scarves to promote the Irish linen industry.

On his death, the Archbishop of Armagh, Hugh Boulter, estimates Conolly’s income in 1729 at £17,000 p.a. His widow Katherine continues to live in style at Castletown until her death in 1752. She builds the Wonderful Barn and the Conolly Folly in the 1740s. Then their estates pass briefly to William’s nephew William junior, and then on to his great-nephew Thomas Conolly M.P., known as “Squire Tom,” who is married to Lady Louisa Conolly.

A pub in Celbridge, The Speaker’s Bar, is named in his memory. There is also a pub in Firhouse, Dublin, called The Speaker Conolly named after him.


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Birth of Poet Francis Edward Ledwidge

Francis Edward Ledwidge, Irish poet sometimes known as the “poet of the blackbirds,” is born on August 19, 1887 to a poor family in Slane, County Meath. He is later also known as a World War I war poet.

Ledwidge starts writing at an early age, and is first published in a local newspaper at the age of fourteen. Finding work as a labourer and miner, he is also a trade union activist and a keen patriot and nationalist, associated with Sinn Féin. He becomes friendly with a local landowner, the writer Lord Dunsany, who gives him a workspace in the library of Dunsany Castle and introduces him to literary figures including William Butler Yeats and Katharine Tynan, with whom he has a long-term correspondence. He is elected to a local authority post and helps organise the local branch of the Irish Volunteers, while Dunsany edits and helps him secure publication for a first volume of his poetry.

Having sided with the faction of the Irish Volunteers which oppose participation in the war, he enlists in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in October 1914, and continues to write poetry on assignment, sending work to Lord Dunsany and to family and other friends. The poems he writes on active service reveal his pride at being a soldier, as he believes, in the service of Ireland. He often wonders whether he would find a soldier’s death.

On July 31, 1917, a group from Ledwidge’s battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers are road-laying in preparation for an assault during the Third Battle of Ypres, near the village of Boezinge, Ypres Salient, Belgium.

According to Irish author and lecturer Alice Curtayne, “Ledwidge and his comrades had been toiling since the early morning at road-making. The army’s first need was men; their second, guns; their third roads. These latter consisted mainly of heavy beech planks bolted together, which could be rapidly laid down. No advance could be supported in that sodden land without a sufficiency of these communications tracks, six or seven feet wide. Supplies were conveyed by pack mules over the wooden paths. Survivors concur in placing the road work done by B Company that day one mile northeast of Hellfire Corner, so called because it was very exposed to German shelling. There was a violent rainstorm in the afternoon, shrouding the region in a gray monochrome. Sullenly, the enemy’s long-range guns continued to fling their shells far behind the lines. Road-work could not be suspended, however, as the tracks were in use as fast as they were laid down. Tea was issued to the men and, drenched to the skin, they stopped to swallow it. A shell exploded beside Ledwidge and he was instantly killed.”

A Roman Catholic military chaplain, Father Devas, is the first on the scene. That night, Father Devas writes in his diary, “Crowds at Holy Communion. Arranged for service but washed out by rain and fatigues. Walk in rain with dogs. Ledwidge killed, blown to bits; at Confession yesterday and Mass and Holy Communion this morning. R.I.P.”

Ledwidge is first buried at Carrefour de Rose, and later re-interred in the nearby Artillery Wood Military Cemetery, at Boezinge, where the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, who was killed in action on the same day, also lies buried.

Dunsany arranges for the publication of more of Ledwidge’s poems, and a collected edition in 1919. Further poems, from the archives at Dunsany Castle and some material held by family, are later published by Ledwdige’s biographer, Alice Curtayne, and by one of the Ledwidge memorial societies. Ledwidge is selected as one of twelve prominent war poets for the exhibition Anthem for Doomed Youth at the Imperial War Museum in London in 2002, and memorialised at an event in Inchicore, Dublin, in 2017, with his work set to music by Anúna. A museum of his life and work is opened in his birthplace cottage in 1982. Some of his manuscripts are held in the National Library of Ireland and more in the archives of Dunsany Castle.


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The Great Portlaoise Escape

Nineteen republican prisoners blast their way out of Portlaoise Prison in County Laois on August 18, 1974.

The escape is a timely reminder of the determination, tenacity and ingenuity with which Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers throughout the country fight against British rule in Ireland. It is also a reminder to the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government in Leinster House that their collaboration with the British and their attempts to defeat republicanism will not be an easy task.

The determination of republicans to escape from Portlaoise is demonstrated by the escape. In May 1974, an underground escape was planned but the 80-foot tunnel was uncovered and the prisoners’ hopes were dashed. However, almost immediately plans swung into place for a more daring escape operation.

A member of the Escape Committee spots a weakness in the jail security in the area of the prison where the laundry house is situated. The laundry leads to an outside stairway and down into the courtyard, where the Governor’s House and Warders’ Mess are located.

The prisoners discover that they can gain access to the laundry area quite easily. It is a doorway at the top of the courtyard which leads out onto the streets of Portlaoise town itself that give the prisoners hope that their plan will work. However, the Escape Committee decides that they need explosives to get through this gate and send word outside to this effect. The IRA on the outside, agreeing that the plan is “viable,” send in the materials and the plan is on.

The date for the escape is set for August 18, 1974 and planning proceeds inside the prison. The prisoners set themselves to work making prison guard uniforms. The idea is that when the escapees are running through the courtyard, the troops on the roof of the jail will not be able to distinguish between the escapees and the real guards and so will not open fire. This pre-planning proves to be a brilliant ploy as it gives those escaping vital seconds to clear the courtyard and make good their escape.

On the Friday before the plan is to proceed, a number of republicans are arrested in Portlaoise. This seems a bad omen and raises questions as to whether the authorities are suspicious that an escape is planned. However, the Escape Committee and those involved in the operation decide to press ahead with the plan anyway.

Sunday, August 18 duly arrives. According to prisoners who are in Portlaoise Prison at the time, no one can eat anything that day as the tension is unbearable. At 12:30 p.m., the designated time to put the plan into action, arrives and Liam Brown approaches the guard at the gate of the lower landing and asks to be let in. This is the signal for the first team of escapees to rush forward and get the key to the laundry. The guard is quickly overpowered and gives up the key with little resistance.

With this first stage of the plan successfully completed, the escapees open the door to the stairwell and rush through to the courtyard, followed by up to 25 other prisoners. As the prisoners race to the top of the yard to place the bomb at the outside gate, the soldiers on the roof are confused by the uniforms and cannot open fire.

The bomb then explodes, blasting the door to pieces. As the prisoners make the final dash for freedom, the soldiers fire warning shots over the heads of the fleeing republicans. Some of the prisoners drop to the ground fearing the worst but as the guards race from their mess they call on the soldiers to stop firing.

Those who are captured are brought into the Wing again and the governor demands a head count. The prisoners, however, refuse to comply, adding to the confusion and thwarting the prison authorities’ attempts to identify the escapees. It is only after the guards threaten to send in the riot squad several hours later that the prisoners allow a head count to be taken. When they realise that 19 men had escaped, the joy the prisoner experience is immense as they thought only 14 had got away.

In an attempt to capture the escapees, the Dublin Government launches a statewide search operation. Every outhouse in County Wexford is searched. The Irish Naval Service is even called in and put on the alert. The searches go on for over a week but to no avail. The nineteen men had gotten clean away.

Those who escape are Liam Brown, Paddy Devenny and Micky Nolan from Belfast; Tom McFeely and Ian Milne from County Derry; Thomas McGinty and Eddie Gallagher from County Donegal; Patrick Thornberry, Kevin McAllister and Martin McAllister from County Armagh; Francis Hughes and Kevin Mallon from County Tyrone; Oliver McKiernan from County Fermanagh; Bernard Hegarty and Sam O’Hare from County Louth; Michael Kinsella and Seán Kinsella from County Monaghan; Seán Morris from County Meath; and Tony Weldon from Dublin.

(From: “30 years on: The Great Portlaoise Escape,” An Phoblacht, http://www.anphoblacht.com, August 26, 2004)


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Death of Francis Lenny, Roman Catholic Bishop

Francis Lenny, Irish Roman Catholic bishop in the last third of the 20th century, dies in Mullavilly, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on July 16, 1978.

Lenny is born in Cookstown, County Tyrone, on September 27, 1928. He is educated at St. Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh, and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Armagh on June 21, 1953. Pursuing his studies in ancient classes and canon law in Maynooth and the Dunboyne Institute, in July 1955 he is named secretary to Cardinal John D’Alton, Primate of Ireland, and upon his death in 1963, proceeds in the same position with his successor, Cardinal William Conway.

Lenny is appointed parish priest in Mullavilly in 1972. Less than two years later he is named coadjutor bishop of Armagh, receiving his episcopal consecration with the titular see of Rotdon from Cardinal Conway on June 16, 1974. Financial secretary to the Bishops’ Financial and General Purposes Committee, upon Conway’s death, he becomes vicar capitular of the archdiocese until Tomás Ó Fiaich is named his successor.

Lenny is a well known canonist and it is he who transfers a major relic of Saint Oliver Plunkett from Downside Abbey to Ireland in 1975, and is presently preserved in Oldcastle, County Meath, Plunkett’s birthplace.

A man of great charity and deep disposition, Lenny experiences great opposition from members of the Protestant community of Mullavilly, refusing to leave the village despite threats he receives. His bungalow is maliciously set on fire and he dies at the early age of forty nine on July 16, 1978, the fourth anniversary of his episcopal consecration, from injuries received complicated by a heart attack. Dressed in chasuble and mitre, he is laid to rest in a simple solid oak coffin following the celebration of a Funeral Mass celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, presided by Archbishop Ó Fiaich which sees the participation of thousands.


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Execution of Oliver Plunkett, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh

Oliver Plunkett (Irish: Oilibhéar Pluincéid), Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland who is the last victim of the Popish Plot, is executed in Tyburn, London, England, on July 1, 1681. He is beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, thus becoming the first new Irish saint in almost seven hundred years.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625 (earlier biographers give his date of birth as November 1, 1629, but 1625 has been the consensus since the 1930s) in Loughcrew, County Meath, to well-to-do parents with Hiberno-Norman ancestors. A grandson of James Plunket, 8th Baron Killeen (c. 1542-1595), he is related by birth to a number of landed families, such as the recently ennobled Earls of Roscommon, as well as the long-established Earls of Fingall, Lords Louth, and Lords Dunsany. Until his sixteenth year, his education is entrusted to his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St. Mary’s, Dublin, and brother of Luke Plunket, 1st Earl of Fingall, who later becomes successively Bishop of Ardagh and of Meath.

As an aspirant to the priesthood, Plunkett sets out for Rome in 1647, under the care of Father Pierfrancesco Scarampi of the Roman Oratory. At this time the Irish Confederate Wars are raging in Ireland. These are essentially conflicts between native Irish Catholics, English and Irish Anglicans and Nonconformists. Scarampi is the Papal envoy to the Catholic movement known as the Confederation of Ireland. Many of Plunkett’s relatives are involved in this organisation.

Plunkett is admitted to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome and proves to be an able pupil. He is ordained a priest in 1654, and deputed by the Irish bishops to act as their representative in Rome. Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53) had defeated the Catholic cause in Ireland. In the aftermath the public practice of Catholicism is banned and Catholic clergy are executed. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years. He petitions to remain in Rome and, in 1657, becomes a professor of theology. Throughout the period of the Commonwealth and the first years of Charles II‘s reign, he successfully pleads the cause of the Irish Catholic Church, and also serves as theological professor at the College of Propaganda Fide. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on July 9, 1669 he is appointed Archbishop of Armagh, the Irish primatial see, and is consecrated on November 30 at Ghent by the Bishop of Ghent, Eugeen-Albert, count d’Allamont. He eventually sets foot on Irish soil again on March 7, 1670, as the Stuart Restoration of 1660 had begun on a basis of toleration. The pallium is granted him in the Consistory of July 28, 1670.

After arriving back in Ireland, Plunkett tackles drunkenness among the clergy, writing, “Let us remove this defect from an Irish priest, and he will be a saint.” The Penal Laws had been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670. A year later 150 students attend the college, no fewer than 40 of whom are Protestant, making this college the first integrated school in Ireland. His ministry is a successful one and he is said to have confirmed 48,000 Catholics over a four-year period. The government in Dublin, especially under the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde (the Protestant son of Catholic parents), extend a generous measure of toleration to the Catholic hierarchy until the mid-1670s.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett does not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college is closed and demolished. He goes into hiding, travelling only in disguise, and refuses a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile. For the next few years he is largely left in peace since the Dublin government, except when put under pressure from the English government in London, prefer to leave the Catholic bishops alone.

In 1678 the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates, leads to further anti-Catholic action. Archbishop of Dublin Peter Talbot is arrested, and Plunkett again goes into hiding. Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, he refuses to leave his flock. He is arrested in Dublin on December 6, 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, where he gives absolution to the dying Talbot. He is tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. Though this is unproven, some in government circles are worried about the possibility that a repetition of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 is being planned and, in any case, this is a convenient excuse for proceeding against Plunkett.

Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and is condemned to death. Numerous pleas for mercy are made but Charles II, although himself a reputed crypto-Catholic, thinks it too politically dangerous to spare Plunkett.

Plunkett is hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Catholic martyr to die in England. His body is initially buried in two tin boxes, next to five Jesuits who had died previously, in the courtyard of St. Giles in the Fields church. The remains are exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. The head is brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh, and eventually to Drogheda where since June 29, 1921 it has rested in St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. Most of the body is brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe. On the occasion of his canonization in 1975 his casket is opened and some parts of his body given to the St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda.


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Death of Poet James Clarence Mangan

James Clarence Mangan (Irish: Séamus Ó Mangáin), Irish poet, weakened by poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, dies of cholera on June 20, 1849.

Mangan is born on May 1, 1803 in Dublin. His poetry fits into a variety of literary traditions. Most obviously, and frequently, his work is read alongside such nationalist political authors as John Mitchel, as they appear in The Nation, The Vindicator and the United Irishman newspapers or as a manifestation of the 19th-century Irish Cultural Revival. He is also frequently read as a Romantic poet.

Mangan is the son of James Mangan, a former hedge school teacher and native of Shanagolden, County Limerick, and Catherine Smith from Kiltale, County Meath. Following his marriage to Smith, James Mangan takes over a grocery business in Dublin owned by the Smith family, eventually becoming bankrupt as a result. Mangan describes his father as having “a princely soul but no prudence,” and attributes his family’s bankruptcy to his father’s suspect business speculations and tendency to throw expensive parties. Thanks to poor record keeping, inconsistent biographies, and his own semi-fictional and sensationalized autobiographical accounts, his early years are the subject of much speculation. However, despite the popular image of him as a long-suffering, poor poet, there is reason to believe that his early years are spent in middle class comfort.

Mangan is educated at a Jesuit school where he learns Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian. He attends three schools before the age of fifteen. Obliged to find a job in order to support his family, he then becomes a lawyer’s clerk, and is later an employee of the Ordnance Survey and an assistant in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Mangan’s first verses are published in 1818. From 1820 he adopts the middle name Clarence. In 1830 he begins producing translations – generally free interpretations rather than strict transliterations – from German, a language he had taught himself. Of interest are his translations of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. From 1834 his contributions begin appearing in the Dublin University Magazine. In 1840 he begins producing translations from Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Irish. He is also known for literary hoaxes as some of his “translations” are in fact works of his own, like Twenty Golden Years Ago, attributed to a certain Selber.

Mangan is friends with the patriotic journalists Thomas Davis and John Mitchel, who ultimately writes his biography. His poems are published in their newspaper The Nation.

Although Mangan’s early poetry is often apolitical, after the Great Famine he begins writing patriotic poems, including influential works such as Dark Rosaleen, a translation of “Róisín Dubh,” and A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century.

Mangan’s best known poems include Dark Rosaleen, Siberia, Nameless One, A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century, The Funerals, To the Ruins of Donegal Castle, Pleasant Prospects for the Land-eaters and Woman of Three Cows. He writes a brief autobiography, on the advice of his friend Charles Patrick Meehan, which ends mid-sentence. This is apparently written in the last months of his life, since he mentions his narrative poem of the Italian Gasparo Bandollo, which is published in the Dublin University Magazine in May 1849.

Mangan is a lonely and often difficult man who suffers from mood swings, depression and irrational fears, and becomes a heavy drinker and opium user. His appearance grows eccentric, and he is described by the artist WF Wakeman as frequently wearing “a huge pair of green spectacles,” padded shirts to hide his malnourished figure and a hat which “resembled those which broomstick-riding witches are usually represented with.” On June 20, 1849, weakened by poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, he succumbs to cholera at the age of 46. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Memorial bust of James Mangan in St. Stephen’s Green, sculpted by Oliver Sheppard)


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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 John Cowley, Actor & Animal Welfare Activist

John Ultan Cowley, actor and animal welfare activist, dies on February 13, 1998, in Navan, County Meath. He is best known for his role as pater familias, Tom Riordan, in the long-running RTÉ Television drama series, The Riordans.

Cowley is born September 8, 1923 in Ardbraccan, Navan, County Meath, the third child of Patrick Cowley, a small farmer, and his wife Margaret. Educated at the local national school, he leaves at the age of thirteen to work on the family farm. He also works with a horse and cart drawing stones from a local quarry. He is an enthusiastic amateur actor and learns his trade in the fit-ups of the forties and fifties. Moving to England, he gets parts in television shows such as Z-Cars and No Hiding Place. During the 1950s and 60s, he is also very active in theatre, and has a long association with the Globe theatre company in Dún Laoghaire, which he joins in 1956. He also plays in the Abbey, Gate and Olympia theatres, travels Europe in 1960–61 with John Millington Synge‘s The Playboy of the Western World, and stars in the early Hugh Leonard play I Loved You Last Summer.

Cowley is best known for his portrayal of the bluff countryman Tom Riordan in RTÉ’s rural drama, The Riordans. First airing on January 4, 1965, it runs until May 28, 1979. One of RTÉ’s most successful programmes, it has a huge audience and a considerable social impact through its treatment of controversial topics such as divorce, contraception, and mixed marriages. When it ends in 1979 Cowley is bitterly disappointed and accuses RTÉ of throwing him on the scrap heap. After this he continues to work in theatre and has occasional appearances on screen, including a part in Jim Sheridan‘s The Field (1991) and the British espionage television series, The Avengers.

Cowley also writes poetry and a play, A Fool and His Money. His other hobbies include a passion for history (particularly the 1798 period), hurling, Gaelic football, boxing, and swimming. A patron and a founder member of the Irish Council Against Blood Sports in 1967, he is a leading opponent of hare coursing, popularising the cause through an appearance on The Late Late Show in 1967.

In 1953 Cowley marries Annie D’Alton, an actor who later appears with him in The Riordans, two years after the death of her first husband, the dramatist Louis D’Alton. They have one son.

Cowley dies in Navan on February 13, 1998. His wife precedes him in death in March 1983.