seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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Birth of Jim Lynagh, Member of the East Tyrone Brigade, Provisional IRA

Jim Lynagh, member of the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), one of twelve children, is born on the Tully Estate, a housing estate in the townland of Killygowan on the southern edge of Monaghan, County Monaghan, on April 13, 1956.

Lynagh joins the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the early 1970s. In December 1973 he is badly injured in a premature bomb explosion, arrested, and spends five years in the Maze Prison. While imprisoned, he studies and becomes a great admirer of Mao Zedong. After his release from prison in 1979 he is elected as a Sinn Féin councillor for Monaghan, and holds this position until he is killed.

After his release from prison Lynagh becomes active in the IRA again, active with the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He quickly becomes a unit commander and gradually builds up his ruthless reputation. After a series of Ulster loyalist attacks against Irish nationalist politicians in late 1980 and early 1981, he is suspected of involvement in an attack on the Stronge estate near Middletown, County Armagh, where the IRA murdered the retired Ulster Unionist Party Stormont speaker, Sir Norman Stronge, and his son James, a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer, before burning down their home, Tynan Abbey, and shooting their way out through a police cordon.

Lynagh is known as “The Executioner” by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He is arrested and interrogated many times by the Garda Síochána in County Monaghan but is never charged. During this period he devises a Maoist military strategy, aimed at escalating the war against the British state in Northern Ireland. The plan envisages the destruction of police stations and British Army military bases in parts of Northern Ireland to create “liberated” areas that will be thereby rendered under the domination of the IRA. In 1984 he starts co-operating with Pádraig McKearney who shares his views. The strategy begins materialising with the destruction of an RUC police station in Ballygawley in December 1985 which kills two police officers, and in The Birches in August 1986.

Lynagh is killed by the British Army’s Special Air Service on May 8, 1987 during an attack on the isolated rural part-time police station at the small County Armagh village of Loughgall, the third such attack that he had taken part in. During the incident the IRA detonates a 200-lb. bomb, and attacks the station with automatic weapons, and in the process are ambushed by the British Army which is lying in wait for them, having been forewarned of the IRA operation. All eight of the IRA attacking force are killed in the exchange of fire, the British forces involved incurring no fatalities. The incident subsequently becomes known as the Loughgall ambush.

At the time of his death, Lynagh is living in a flat on Dublin Street in Monaghan. He is buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery (Latlurcan Cemetery) in Monaghan. During his funeral, as his coffin is carried through the village of Emyvale, Irish Garda Síochána officers are attacked by the crowd of mourners after they pursue three gunmen who had fired a volley over his coffin.


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Birth of Máirín Cregan, Nationalist, Playwright, & Novelist

Máirín Cregan, Irish nationalist who is involved in the 1916 Easter Rising and Irish War of Independence, is born in Killorglin, County Kerry, on March 27, 1891. She later makes her name writing for children, as well as writing plays and novels for adults.

Mary Ellen Cregan is born to Morgan Cregan and Ellen O’Shea. Her father is a stonemason from Limerick. The family are strong believers in the Gaelic revival movement and Cregan herself learns the Irish language and performs songs at Gaelic League concerts. Although she goes to primary school locally, she goes away to secondary school to St. Louis Convent in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. After finishing school, she becomes a teacher, working in Goresbridge, County Kilkenny from 1911 to 1914.

In September 1914 Cregan goes to Dublin to study music in the Leinster School of Music, under Madame Coslett Heller. It is while she is in Dublin that she becomes friends with the Ryan family, who are strong nationalists as well as interested in the Gaelic League and Sinn Féin. She begins to sing for concerts which are fundraisers for the Irish Volunteers. The last concert is just two weeks before the Easter Rising.

During Easter week Cregan is sent to Tralee with “automatics and ammunition” by Seán Mac Diarmada. While she is carrying a violin case of munitions, she is also carrying details for the wireless technology needed for communicating with the SS Aud, the boat which is carrying more weapons for the rebellion. The communications with the SS Aud goes wrong when the car carrying the Volunteers goes off a pier and the occupants are drowned. She is still in the area to assist with the surviving Volunteer, who unfortunately knows nothing of the details for the SS Aud. She is not easily able to get back to Dublin, because owing to the Rising the city is cut off. By the time she gets back, her friends have been arrested.

When Cregan is going to school in Dublin she is also working in a school in Rathmines. Like many of the teachers, she loses her job after the rising because of her connection to the rebels. However, she is able to get new positions over the next few years in both Ballyshannon and Portstewart until she marries. In Ballyshannon she experiences the early expressions of support and sympathy, but Portstewart is a Unionist enclave with many houses flying union flags on polling day in 1918.

Cregan is a member of Cumann na mBan and with them is active during the Irish War of Independence. She is given a medal for her participation. On July 23, 1919 she marries Dr. James Ryan in Athenry, County Galway. His entire family had been deeply involved in the Easter Rising, as well as the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. They have three children, Eoin, who becomes a Senator, Nuala (Colgan) and Seamus.

The family is initially based in Wexford during the War. The house is often raided when the British soldiers are looking for her husband and Cregan herself is arrested in February 1921 for refusing to put up martial law posters. Later the family sells the house and remains mobile while she works for the Sinn Féin government and her husband is in prison. It is during this time that she works as a courier to the continent and to London. After the war, they purchase Kindlestown House in Delgany, County Wicklow, where they remain for the rest of their lives.

Cregan works as a journalist for The Irish Press and The Sunday Press. Her political awareness and involvement means that her work there is on political articles.

Cregan’s first book for children is Old John and gains her considerable international success and attention. Sean Eoin is also published in Irish, and is illustrated by Jack Butler Yeats. Her work is also aired on the BBC and RTÉ. Rathina wins the Downey Award in the United States in 1943. She also writes two plays: Hunger strike (1933), based on experience of her husband’s involvement in such a strike, which is broadcast on Radio Éireann on May 5, 1936, and Curlew’s call (1940).

Cregan dies on November 9, 1975 in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, and is buried in Redford cemetery near her home in County Wicklow.

(Pictured: Máirín Cregan and her husband, Dr. James Ryan)


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Birth of Anew McMaster, Anglo-Irish Stage Actor

Anew McMaster, Anglo-Irish stage actor, is born in Birkenhead, England, on December 24, 1891. During his nearly 45 year acting career he tours Ireland, Britain, Australia and the United States. For almost 35 years he tours as actor-manager of his own theatrical company performing the works of Shakespeare and other playwrights.

McMaster is born as Andrew McMaster, the son of Liverpool-born Andrew McMaster (1855–1940), a master stevedore, and Alice Maude née Thompson (1865–1895). A number of sources make the erroneous claims, based on details supplied by McMaster himself, that he is born in 1893 or 1894 or even 1895 in County Monaghan in Ireland but, according to the Birth Register and the 1901 United Kingdom Census, he is actually born in 1891 in Birkenhead, England. Like his future brother-in-law Micheál Mac Liammóir, who is born in London as Alfred Willmore but claims to have been born in Cork to Gaelic-speaking parents, McMaster reinvents himself as Irish and claims for himself the town of Monaghan as his birthplace, and Warrenpoint, County Down, as the scene of his earliest memories.

At the age of nineteen McMaster gives up a career in banking to pursue one on the stage. He moves to Ireland and tours the country with the O’Brien-Ireland theatrical company from 1910 to 1914. Success quickly follows with his appearance as Jack O’Hara in Paddy the Next Best Thing at the Savoy Theatre (1920). From 1921 he tours Australia in this and other plays, and in 1925 forms his own company, the McMaster Intimate Theatre Company, a ‘fit-up‘ company to tour in the works of Shakespeare, mainly in Ireland but also in Britain and Australia, touring with his theatrical company until 1959. One of the last actor-managers “of the old school – and an epitome of the type,” on occasions he persuades a ‘big name’ to act with his company as a draw for audiences. Frank Benson (1928), Sara Allgood (1929) and Mrs. Patrick Campbell appear with him.

In 1933 at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon McMaster appears as Hamlet opposite Esme Church as Gertrude, Coriolanus, Macduff in Macbeth, Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing, Prince Escalus in Romeo and Juliet, and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. His greatest roles are as Othello and as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, to which he adds King Lear in 1952. Just before World War II he and his company appear at the Chiswick Empire in a Shakespeare season. He tours the United States as James Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill‘s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1956. Having ‘a great organ voice,’ Harold Pinter, who acts in his company in Ireland from 1951 to 1953 and calls him ‘perhaps the greatest actor-manager of his time,’ later describes McMaster as ‘evasive, proud, affectionate, shrewd, merry.’ In his brief biography Mac (1968), Pinter recalls, “Mac gave about a half dozen magnificent performances of Othello while I was with him… At his best he was the finest Othello I have see. [He] stood dead in the centre of the role, and the great sweeping symphonic playing would begin, the rare tension and release within him, the arrest, the swoop, the savagery, the majesty and repose.”

McMaster’s only film role is an uncredited appearance as the Judge in Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960).

In 1924 McMaster marries the actress and designer Marjorie Willmore (1894–1970), the sister of Micheál Mac Liammóir. They have two children, the actors John Christopher McMaster (1925–1995) and Mary-Rose McMaster (1926–2018).

Anew McMaster dies at the age of 70 at his home in Dublin on August 24, 1962. He is buried with his wife in Deans Grange Cemetery in County Dublin.

McMaster trains a generation of actors who tour with his company and go on to achieve success as actors. These include Pauline Flanagan, Milo O’Shea, T. P. McKenna, Kenneth Haigh, Henry Woolf, Harold Pinter, Donal Donnelly and Patrick Magee. It is while they are touring with McMaster’s company that the actor and dramatist Micheál Mac Liammóir and the actor and producer Hilton Edwards first meet and begin their lifelong partnership.

McMaster’s biography, A Life Remembered: A Memoir of Anew McMaster by his daughter Mary-Rose McMaster, is published in 2017. Harold Pinter also publishes a short biography, Mac, in 1968.


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The Derryard Checkpoint Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks a British Army permanent vehicle checkpoint complex manned by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) near the Northern IrelandRepublic of Ireland border at Derryard, north of Rosslea, County Fermanagh, on December 13, 1989.

According to journalist Ed Moloney, the IRA Army Council, suspecting a great deal of infiltration by double agents at the grassroots level of the IRA, decide to form an experimental flying column (rather than the usual active service unit) to mount a large-scale operation against a permanent vehicle checkpoint along the border. It hopes that this will prevent any information leak that might result in another fiasco like the Loughgall Ambush of 1987.

Moloney maintains that the planning is in the charge of Thomas Murphy, alleged leader of the South Armagh Brigade, and that the raid is to be led by East Tyrone Brigade member Michael “Pete” Ryan. Journalist Ian Bruce instead claims that the IRA unit is led by an Irish citizen who had served in the Parachute Regiment, citing intelligence sources. The column is made up of about 20 experienced IRA volunteers from throughout Northern Ireland, eleven of whom are to carry out the attack itself. Bruce reports that IRA members from County Monaghan, supported by local Fermanagh militants, carry out the raid.

The target is a permanent vehicle checkpoint at Derryard. Described as a “mini base,” it includes an accommodation block and defensive sangars. It is manned by eight soldiers of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers and a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. The eleven IRA members are driven to the checkpoint in the back of a makeshift Bedford armoured dumper truck. They are armed with 7.62mm AK-47s, 5.56mm ArmaLite AR-18s, two 12.7mm DShK heavy machine-guns, RPG-7s, different kinds of grenades, and a LPO-50 flamethrower. The heavy machine guns and the flamethrower are mounted on a tripod on the lorry bed. To assure widespread destruction, the column plan to detonate a van bomb after the initial assault.

The attack takes place shortly after 4:00 PM. IRA members seal off roads leading to the checkpoint in an attempt to prevent civilians from getting caught up in the attack. The truck is driven from the border and halted at the checkpoint. As Private James Houston begins to check the back of the truck, the IRA open fire with assault rifles and throw grenades into the compound. Two RPG-7s are fired at the observation sangar while the flamethrower stream is directed at the command sangar. Heavy shooting continues as the truck reverses and smashes through the gates of the compound. At least three IRA volunteers dismount inside the checkpoint and spray the portacabins with gunfire and the flamethrower’s fire stream, while throwing grenades and nail bombs. The defenders are forced to seek shelter in sangars, from where they fire into their own base. A farmer some distance away sees an orange ball of flames and hears gunfire ‘raking the fields.’ As the truck drives out of the now wrecked compound, a red transit van loaded with a 400-lb. (182 kg) bomb is driven inside and set to detonate once the IRA unit has made its escape. However, only the booster charge explodes.

The attack is finally repulsed by a four-men Borderers section from the checkpoint that is patrolling nearby, with the support of a Westland Wessex helicopter. The patrol fires more than 100 rounds at the IRA unit. The Wessex receives gunfire and is forced to take evasive action. The IRA column, at risk of being surrounded, flee toward the border in the armoured truck. It is found abandoned at the border with a 460-lb. (210 kg) bomb on board.

Two soldiers are killed in the attack: Private James Houston (22) from England and Lance-Corporal Michael Patterson (21) from Scotland. Corporal Whitelaw is badly wounded by shrapnel and later airlifted for treatment. Another soldier suffers minor injuries.

There is outrage in Westminster and among unionists, as a supposedly well-defended border post has been overrun by the IRA and two soldiers killed. On the other hand, according to Moloney, there is also some disappointment among republicans. Despite the positive propaganda effect, the quick and strong reaction from the outpost’s defenders convince some high-ranking IRA members that the Army Council has been infiltrated by a mole.

KOSB officers and security sources believe that the IRA unit involved was not locally recruited, putting the blame instead on IRA members from Clogher, County Tyrone and South Monaghan in the Republic. The same sources say that the attack was executed “in true backside-or-bust Para style.”

After the action of Derryard, the British Army in Northern ireland are issued the French designed Luchaire 40mm rifle grenade, fitted on the muzzle of the SA80 rifle. This gives the troops a lightweight armour piercing capability to deal with the threat imposed by improvised armoured vehicles. Permanent checkpoints along the border are also fitted with general-purpose machine guns. From 1990 until the end of the IRA campaign in 1997, there are a number of further bloodless, small-scale attacks against permanent vehicle checkpoints along this part of the border using automatic weapons, particularly in County Fermanagh and against a military outpost at Aughnacloy, County Tyrone.

Two soldiers, Corporal Robert Duncan and Lance Corporal Ian Harvey, are bestowed the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), while Lance-Corporal Patterson receives a posthumous mention in dispatches for his actions during the attack. The checkpoint is dismantled in March 1991, as part of a major border security re-arrangement codenamed Operation Mutilate.

(Pictured: Republican memorial at Carragunt bridge, on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, often crossed by Provisional IRA forces during the Troubles to attack British targets inside County Fermanagh)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Birth of Thomas Heazle Parke, Physician, British Army Officer & Author

Thomas Heazle Parke FRSGS, Irish physician, British Army officer and author who is known for his work as a doctor on the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, is born at Clogher House in Kilmore, County Roscommon on November 27, 1857.

Parke is brought up in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim. He attends the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in Dublin, graduating in 1878. He becomes a registered medical practitioner in February 1879, working as a dispensary medical officer in Ballybay, County Monaghan, and then as a surgeon in Bath, Somerset, England.

Parke joins the British Army Medical Services (AMS) in February 1881 as a surgeon, first serving in Egypt during the final stages of the ʻUrabi revolt in 1882. As a senior medical officer at a field hospital near Cairo, he is responsible for treating battle casualties as well as the deadly cholera epidemic that afflicts 20% of British troops stationed there. In late 1883, he returns to Ireland, where he is stationed at Dundalk with the 16th The Queen’s Lancers. He arrives in Egypt once again in 1884 as a part of the Nile Expedition sent in relief of General Charles Gordon, who is besieged in Khartoum by Mahdists in neighbouring Sudan. The expedition arrives too late and Gordon is killed. Parke later negatively recounts this experience in an 1892 journal article titled How General Gordon Was Really Lost. Following the expedition, he spends the next few years stationed in Alexandria, where he notably introduces fox hunting to Egypt, becoming master of the Alexandria Hunt Club.

In January 1887, while in Alexandria, Parke is invited by Edmund Musgrave Barttelot to accompany him on the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. The expedition is led by Henry Morton Stanley, and journeys through the African wilderness in relief of Emin Pasha, an Egyptian administrator who had been cut off by Mahdist forces following the Siege of Khartoum. He is initially rejected by Stanley upon his arrival in Alexandria, but is invited by telegram a day later to join the expedition in Cairo. On February 25, 1887, the expedition sets off from Zanzibar for the Congo.

The expedition lasts for three years and faces great difficulty, with the expedition of 812 men suffering from poor logistical planning and leadership. The rainforest is much larger than Stanley expected, leading much of the party to face starvation and disease. The expedition has to resort to looting native villages for food, escalating the conflict between the two groups. Parke, for his part, saves the lives of many in the party, including Stanley, who suffers from acute abdominal pain and a bout of sepsis. Stanley describes Parke’s care as “ever striving, patient, cheerful and gentle…most assiduous in his application to my needs, and gentle as a woman in his ministrations.” Parke also treats Arthur Jephson for fever, and nurses Robert H. Nelson through starvation. Furthermore, after a conflict with the natives, he has to save William Grant Stairs by orally sucking the poison out of an arrow wound.

During the expedition, Parke purchases from an Arab slaver a Mangbetu Pigmy girl, who serves as his nurse and servant for over a year.

After returning to Ireland, Parke receives an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and is awarded gold medals from the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal Geographical Society. He publishes several books, including My Personal Experiences in Equatorial Africa (1891) and A Guide to Health in Africa.

In August 1893, Parke visits William Beauclerk, 10th Duke of St. Albans in Ardrishaig, Scotland. He dies during that visit on August 11, 1893, presumably due to a seizure. His coffin is brought back to Ireland, where he receives a military funeral as it passes from the Dublin docks to Broadstone railway station. He is buried near his birthplace in Drumsna, County Roscommon.

A bronze statue of Parke stands on Merrion Street in Dublin, outside the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History. He is also commemorated by a bust in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

(Pictured: Photograph of Thomas Heazle Parke by Eglington & Co., Wellcome Collection gallery)


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The Battle of Clontibret

The Battle of Clontibret is fought in County Monaghan in May 1595 during the Nine Years’ War, between the crown forces of England‘s Queen Elizabeth I and the Irish army of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. It ends in victory for Tyrone on May 27, 1595, and is the first severe setback suffered by the English during the war.

The Nine Years War begins with a conflict over English efforts to maintain a string of garrisons along the southern border of Tyrone’s territory in Ulster. The Irish leader promptly besieges the English garrison at Monaghan Castle, and Sir Henry Bagenal, commander of the English forces, marches out to its relief on May 25 from Dundalk, via Newry. His army is made up of 1,750 troops, including some veterans and certain companies newly arrived from the Spanish campaign in Brittany, but there are many recruits in the ranks. Bagenal’s men are predominantly infantry, armed with muskets and pikes. There is also a small number of horsemen raised in the Pale.

The Battle of Clontibret is essentially a two day running battle, as Bagenal’s column is ambushed on its way to and from the castle at Monaghan town. The Irish fight sharply along the roads about Crossdall, around 4 miles from Monaghan, firing on the English column with calivers from the surrounding woodland. With the loss of 12 dead and 30 wounded the English reach the castle, which is re-supplied and reinforced with one company. Bagenal has misgivings about his supply of powder and lead, much of which had been used on the way, and can afford little for the garrison before he starts back.

Two days later, on May 27, Bagenal sets out for Newry in a column, but by another route, past the townland of Clontibret. The route lay through drumlin country, which abounds with hills, bogs and woods, making it ideal for an ambush. The column comes under fire from the outset, and then falls into a major ambush at a pass near Clontibret. Tyrone’s army, about 4,000 strong, consists of contingents from the O’Neill, MacMahon and Maguire clans, as well as Scottish mercenaries. The Irish also deploy a greatly enlarged force of cavalry and caliver-men. To Bagenal’s puzzlement, the caliver-men are turned out in red coats and acquitted themselves with expertise. Fire from the flanks is heavy, and many English troops are killed or wounded while the Irish cavalry plays around the fringes. Tyrone himself is almost killed in hand-to-hand combat with a Palesman named Seagrave, who leads a cavalry charge on the Irish position. Seagrave has his arm chopped off by Tyrone’s standard bearer O’Cahan, and is killed by Tyrone with a dagger thrust to the groin. Bagenal’s column is slowed to a crawl and, as night falls in the wilderness, the commander calls his men to a halt and camps at the hilltop of Ballymacowen. It seems that hundreds are missing, and there is fear that the Irish will renew the attack under cover of darkness. There is no further attack and, a little after first light, reinforcements from Newry arrive to relieve the column.

According to intelligence received in the days following, Tyrone’s failure to follow up is caused by a lack of powder, ironic given the state of Bagenal’s own supplies. The overall sense in government is of disquiet, and a bad job is made of hushing up the casualty figures. This gives fuel to the rumours of a severe defeat, and many people set greater store on the numbers put about by confederate supporters.

Sir Ralph Lane, the muster-master-general, informs the queen’s principal secretary, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, that “more men were hurt and killed in that late service than was convenient to declare.” The casualty figures for both sides vary depending on sources. Bagenal admits only 31 killed and 109 wounded on the second day of fighting, but his losses are almost certainly higher. The Irish annals claimed up to 700 English killed. Estimates of the confederate losses vary between 100 to 400 killed. Three years later, Bagenal leads an army into another ambush by Tyrone, at the Battle of the Yellow Ford. The English general is killed and his troops are routed with heavy losses.

(From: “Battle of Clontibret,” wikia.org, https://military.wikia.org | Pictured: The marker stone on the northern edge of the battlefield commemorating the Irish victory at Clontibret, 1595)


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Birth of Basil Kelly, Northern Irish Barrister, Judge & Politician

Sir John William Basil Kelly, Northern Irish barrister, judge and politician, is born in County Monaghan on May 10, 1920. He rises from poverty to become the last Attorney General of Northern Ireland and then one of the province’s most respected High Court judges. For 22 years he successfully conducts many of the most serious terrorist trials.

A farmer’s son, Kelly is raised amid the horror of the Irish Civil War. The family is burned out when he is five and, penniless, goes north to take a worker’s house near the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Even though they are Protestant the Kellys are met with a cold welcome. To counter that, his mother starts a bakery while the he and his father sell the hot rolls to the area pubs.

Kelly initially attends a shipyard workers’ school, sometimes without shoes, and then goes on to Methodist College Belfast, where only boys prepared to work hard are welcome. His mother, who had taught him to play the piano by marking out the keyboard on the kitchen table, is so cross when she hears that he has been playing football in the street that she tells the headmaster that he does not have enough homework.

On a visit to an elder sister at Trinity College, Dublin, Kelly is so impressed by her smoking and her painted nails that he decides to follow her to the university, where he reads legal science. After being called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1944, he has the usual slow start, traveling up to 100 miles to earn a five-guinea fee. However, aided by a photographic memory and the patronage of Catholic solicitors, he gradually builds up a large practice, concentrating on crime and workers’ compensation while earning a reputation as the finest cross-examiner in the province.

Kelly first makes a mark by his successful defence of an aircraftman accused of killing a judge’s daughter. The man is found guilty but insane, though the complications involved bring it back to court 20 years later. After appointment as Queen’s Counsel in 1958 he skillfully conducts two cases which go to the House of Lords. One involves the liability of a drunken psychopath, the other the question of automatism where a person, acting like a sleepwalker, does not know what he is doing.

In the hope of speeding his way to the Bench, Kelly is elected to the House of Commons of Northern Ireland as Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) member for Mid Down in 1964. His capacity for hard work leads to his being appointed Attorney General four years later.

In March 1972, the entire Government of Northern Ireland resigns and the Parliament of Northern Ireland is prorogued. As a result, Kelly ceases to be Attorney General. The office of Attorney General for Northern Ireland is transferred to the Attorney General for England and Wales and he is the last person to serve as Stormont’s Attorney General.

In 1973, Kelly is appointed as a judge of the High Court of Northern Ireland, and then as a Lord Justice of Appeal of Northern Ireland in 1984, when he is also knighted and appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. On the bench he proves a model of fairness and courtesy with a mastery of facts, but his role often puts him in danger.

A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gang once targets him with a bomb-laden milk van, intending to drive it through his gates. But the police are alerted and immediately take him to Stormont, where he lives for the next two months.

For a year Kelly presides alone over a non-jury Diplock court, protected by armed police and wearing a bulletproof vest before writing his judgment under Special Air Service (SAS) guard in England. He convicts dozens of people on “supergrass” evidence, though there are subsequently doubts about the informant and some of his judgments are overturned.

One of the accused, Kevin Mulgrew, is sentenced to 963 years in prison, with Kelly telling him, “I do not expect that any words of mine will ever raise in you a twinge of remorse.” While the IRA grumbles about the jail terms he dispenses, and he is often portrayed as an unthinking legal hardliner by Sinn Féin, he is a more subtle figure and is often merciful towards those caught up in events or those whom he considers too young for prison.

Kelly retires in 1995 and moves to England, where he dies at the age of 88 at his home in Berkshire on December 5, 2008 following a short illness. He is survived by his wife, Pamela Colmer.

(From: “Basil Kelly,” Independent.ie (www.independent.ie), January 4, 2009)


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Death of Charles Leslie, Jacobite Propagandist & Non-Juror

Charles Leslie, former Church of Ireland priest who becomes a leading Jacobite propagandist after the 1688 Glorious Revolution, dies in Glaslough, County Monaghan on April 13, 1722. One of a small number of Irish Protestants to actively support the Stuarts after 1688, he is best remembered today for his role in publicising the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe.

Leslie is born on July 27, 1650 in Dublin, the sixth son and one of eight surviving children of John Leslie (1571-1671) and Katherine Conyngham (or Cunningham), daughter of Dr. Alexander Cunningham, Dean of Raphoe. He is allegedly named after the executed Charles I and educated at Enniskillen school and Trinity College, Dublin. After his father dies in 1671, he studies law in London before changing career and being ordained as an Anglican priest in 1681. Shortly afterwards, he returns to the family estate at Glaslough in County Monaghan and marries Jane Griffith. They have a daughter, Vinigar Jane, who appears to have died young and two sons, Robert (1683-1744) and Henry who are also Jacobites and spend time in exile.

Leslie is appointed assistant curate for the Church of Ireland parish of Donagh but as most of his parish is Roman Catholic or Presbyterian, he has few duties. His father had been chaplain to Charles I and a key supporter of Caroline religious reforms, first in Scotland, then in Ireland as Bishop of Raphoe in 1633, while the estate at Glaslough was granted by Charles II in 1660 as a reward for his service. With this background, Leslie is a firm supporter of the Stuart dynasty, although deeply hostile to Catholicism and soon becomes involved in political and theological disputes.

When the Catholic James II becomes King in 1685, his brother-in-law Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, is appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In July 1686, Leslie’s legal training results in Clarendon making him chancellor of Connor cathedral and later Justice of the Peace. Clarendon’s authority is overshadowed by his Catholic deputy Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, who begins undermining legal restrictions on Catholics embodied in the Test Act. Clarendon employs Leslie’s polemical skills to oppose the appointment of Catholics to public office but he is recalled in 1687. When James is deposed by the Glorious Revolution in December 1688, Leslie is in the Isle of Wight.

Shortly afterwards, Leslie becomes Clarendon’s personal chaplain and like his patron refuses to take the oath of allegiance to William III and Mary II. Like other Non-Jurors, he is deprived of his Church offices and becomes instead one of the most prominent Jacobite and Tory propagandists. This includes a long dispute with his Trinity College contemporary William King, who supports the Revolution. Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, later names him ‘the violentest Jacobite’ active in England during these years.

Much of Leslie’s early writing focuses on Scotland, where the 1690 Settlement ends Episcopacy and restores a Presbyterian kirk. He uses this to inspire concern about William’s intentions towards the Church of England. Ironically, his modern fame now rests primarily on a pamphlet written in 1695, called Gallienus Redivivus, or Murther will out, &c. Being a true Account of the De Witting of Glencoe, Gaffney. The focus of this is William’s alleged complicity in the 1672 death of Dutch Republican leader Johan de Witt, with other crimes including Glencoe included as secondary charges. During the Jacobite rising of 1745, Charles Stuart orders Leslie’s pamphlet and the 1695 Parliamentary minutes of the investigation to be reprinted in the Edinburgh Caledonian Mercury.

During the 1690s, Leslie serves as a messenger between James’ court in exile at Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Non-Juror community in England, including the Non-Juror bishops Jeremy Collier, Thomas Ken and George Hickes. He defends Collier and two other Non-Juror priests when they become involved in a furor over the execution of Sir John Friend and Sir William Parkyns for their role in the 1696 Jacobite plot to assassinate William. Immediately prior to the execution, the clergymen declare the two absolved of their sins, effectively declaring the correctness of their actions, while also performing a rite not recognised by the Church of England.

In 1702, the accession of Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, causes a resurgence in Jacobite activity and in 1704, Leslie begins a weekly periodical initially called The Observator, later The Rehearsal of Observator and finally The Rehearsal. Although his Tory readership shares his High Church principles, he is primarily a Jacobite and violently opposes the common practice of ‘occasional conformity.’ The Rehearsal is forced to close in 1709 and he falls out with his former allies, including Henry Sacheverell whose trial helped the Tories win a landslide victory in the 1710 British general election.

Despite his Tory allies now being in government, a warrant is issued for Leslie’s arrest for his tract The Good Old Cause, or, Lying in Truth. In 1711 he escapes to Paris, where James Francis Edward Stuart has succeeded his father as the Stuart heir in 1701. He continues to write polemics and act as a Jacobite agent. However, after the failed Jacobite rising of 1715, France withdraws support for the Stuarts who are forced to leave France, eventually being invited to settle in Rome by Pope Benedict XIV. The Spanish-sponsored 1719 Rising in Scotland is judged to have done more damage to the Jacobite cause than otherwise, one of its leaders concluding “it bid fair to ruin the King’s Interest and faithful subjects in these parts.”

Despite these failures, Leslie remains a dedicated Jacobite but his lifelong antipathy towards Catholicism makes living in Rome as a Papal pensionary difficult, while hopes of converting James to Anglicanism fades due to his devout personal Catholicism. He returns to Paris in 1717 and in 1719 publishes a two folio-volume edition of his Theological Works. It is later claimed these placed him ‘very high in the list of controversial authors, the ingenuity of the arguments being equalled only by the keenest and pertinacity with which they are pursued.’ He invites friends and supporters to subscribe to these and by 1721, over 500 members of the House of Lords and House of Commons have pledged a total of £750. Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland finally allows him to return home, with the stipulation he cease his political activities.

Charles Leslie dies at Glaslough on April 13, 1722. His grandchildren include Charles Leslie MP, whose son in turn is John Leslie, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh.

(Pictured: Charles Leslie, mezzotint by Unknown artist, National Portrait Gallery, NPG D5066)