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


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Birth of Angelo Fusco, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Angelo Fusco, former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escapes during his 1981 trial for killing a Special Air Service (SAS) officer in 1980, is born in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, on September 2, 1956.

Fusco is born to a family with an Italian background who owns a fish and chip shop. He joins the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and is part of a four-man active service unit (ASU), along with Joe Doherty and Paul Magee, which operates in the late 1970s and early 1980s nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 heavy machine gun.

On April 9, 1980, the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing one constable and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the SAS arrive in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit their car the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder, killing him instantly. He is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene, and after a brief siege the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.

The trial of Fusco and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, with them facing charges including three counts of murder. On June 10 Fusco and seven other prisoners, including Joe Doherty and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Jail. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight are wearing officer’s uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves towards the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint, and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving towards the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire, and the prisoners returned fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Fusco is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Fusco escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland before being arrested in January 1982, and is sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the escape and firearms offences under extra-jurisdictional legislation. A further three years are added to his sentence in 1986 after he attempts to escape from Portlaoise Prison, and he is released in January 1992. Upon his release, he is immediately served with extradition papers from the British government for his return to the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland to serve his sentence for the murder conviction. The extradition is granted by a District Court but Fusco appeals, and in 1995 he wins a legal victory when a judge at the High Court in Dublin rules it would be “unjust, oppressive and invidious” to order his extradition due to the time lag involved. Fusco settles in Tralee with his wife and three children until February 1998, when the Supreme Court of Ireland brings an end to the six-year legal battle by ordering his extradition, but he has already fled on bail and a warrant is issued for his arrest.

Fusco is arrested at a Garda checkpoint in Castleisland, County Kerry, on January 3, 2000. The following day he is being escorted back to Northern Ireland to be handed over to the RUC, when his handover is halted by a successful court appeal by Sinn Féin. The arrest and abortive return of Fusco undermines the Northern Ireland peace process, with Unionist politicians including Ken Maginnis criticising the extradition being halted. Republicans are critical of Fusco’s arrest, with leading Sinn Féin member Martin Ferris stating, “The Irish government should immediately move to rescind the warrant against Angelo Fusco. The action will cause great anger and resentment within the nationalist community,” and graffiti in one republican area reads “Extradite Bloody Sunday war criminals, not Fusco.” On January 6 Fusco is refused bail and remanded to prison in Castlerea, County Roscommon, to await a legal review of his extradition, prompting scuffles outside the court between police and Sinn Féin supporters.

Fusco is freed on bail on March 21 pending the outcome of his legal challenge, and in November 2000 the Irish government informs the High Court that it is no longer seeking to return him to Northern Ireland. This follows a statement from Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson saying that “it is clearly anomalous to pursue the extradition of people who appear to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement scheme, and who would, on making a successful application to the Sentence Review Commissioners, have little if any of their original prison sentence to serve.” After the court hearing Fusco states, “I’m relieved it’s over,” and that he will continue to live in Tralee with his family and work for Sinn Féin.

In December 2000 Fusco and three other IRA members, including two other members of the M60 gang, are granted a royal prerogative of mercy which allows them to return to Northern Ireland without fear of prosecution.


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Birth of Monsignor James Horan

James Horan is born in Partry, County Mayo, on May 5, 1911. He is a parish priest of Knock, County Mayo. He is most widely known for his successful campaign to bring an airport to Knock, his work on Knock basilica, and is also credited for inviting Pope John Paul II to visit Knock Shrine in 1979.

Educated at St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam, Horan trains for the priesthood in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is ordained in 1936, and his first post is in Glasgow, where he remains for three years. Having served as chaplain on an ocean liner and briefly in Ballyglunin, County Galway, he becomes curate in Tooreen, a small townland close to Ballyhaunis, County Mayo. While there, he organises the construction of a dance hall, which becomes a popular local amenity. He secures financing for the project by collecting £8,000 on a tour of American cities. After also serving in Cloonfad, County Roscommon, he is transferred to Knock in 1963, where he becomes parish priest in 1967. He is troubled by the struggles of daily life and mass emigration in the west of Ireland and he works to improve the living standards of the local community.

While stationed at Knock, Horan oversees the building of a new church for Knock Shrine, which is dedicated in 1976. The shrine is the stated goal of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979. The pope travels to Knock as part of a state visit to Ireland, marking the centenary of the famous Knock apparitions. Horan works with Judy Coyne to organise the papal visit. He is responsible for the refurbishment of the church grounds, along with the construction of a huge church, with a capacity of 15,000. This newly constructed church is given the status of basilica by the pope. The day after the papal visit, Horan begins his campaign to build an international airport in Barnacuige, a small village near Charlestown, County Mayo.

Critics regard the idea of an airport on a “foggy, boggy site” in Mayo as unrealistic, but funding is approved by then Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who performs the official opening in May 1986, five years after work commenced. Although Horan had secured IR£10,000,000 in funding from Haughey, following the Fianna Fáil party’s defeat in the general election of 1982, his funding is cut, with the airport unfinished. He raises the IR£4,000,000 shortfall by holding a “Jumbo Draw.” This large lottery succeeds in raising the required revenue, but only after a painstaking tour of several countries, including Australia and the United States. This takes its toll on the ageing Horan and leads to his death shortly after the completion of the airport. The airport is originally known as Horan International Airport, but is now officially referred to as Ireland West Airport Knock.

Horan dies on August 1, 1986 while on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, just a few months after the official opening of the airport. His remains are flown into Knock, the first funeral to fly into the airport he had campaigned for. He is buried in the grounds of the Knock Basilica. His life and work are chronicled in a musical written by Terry Reilly and local broadcaster Tommy Marren, entitled A Wing and a Prayer. It premières in The Royal Theatre in Castlebar, County Mayo, on November 25, 2010.


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Birth of Pádraig McKearney, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Pádraig Oliver McKearney, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) paramilitary volunteer, is born on December 18, 1954.

McKearney is raised in Moy, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, in a staunchly Irish republican family. Both his grandfathers had fought in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence, his maternal grandfather in south County Roscommon and his paternal grandfather in east County Tyrone. He is educated at local Catholic schools in Collegeland, County Armagh, and Moy, and later goes to St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon.

McKearney joins the Provisional IRA and is first arrested in 1972 on charges of blowing up the post office in Moy. He spends six weeks on remand, but is released due to insufficient evidence. In December 1973 he is arrested again and later sentenced to seven years for possession of a rifle. He is imprisoned in Long Kesh Detention Centre and later in Magilligan Prison. During this time, a younger brother, Seán, also an IRA paramilitary, is killed on May 13, 1974. He is released in 1977 but is sentenced to 14 years in August 1980 after being caught by the British Army with a loaded Sten gun along with fellow IRA member Gerard O’Callaghan. That same year an older brother, Tommy McKearney, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier who worked as a postman in 1977, nearly dies on hunger strike after refusing food for 53 days. Another brother, Kevin, and an uncle, Jack McKearney, are both murdered by Loyalist paramilitaries in revenge attacks upon the family.

On September 25, 1983 McKearney takes part in the Maze Prison escape along with 37 other prisoners. At the beginning of 1984 he rejoins IRA activity in his native East Tyrone with the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He advocates the commencement of the “third phase” of the armed struggle, the ‘strategic defensive,’ in which the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Ulster Defence Regiment and British Army would be denied all support in selected areas following repeated attacks on their bases. In 1985 Patrick Kelly becomes commander of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade and it is under his leadership that this strategy is pursued. Remote Royal Ulster Constabulary bases are attacked and destroyed, and building contractors who try to repair them are targeted and sometimes murdered, as occurs with the attack on the Ballygawley barracks in December 1985, which results in the death of two policemen, and The Birches police station in August 1986.

McKearney is shot dead by the British Army on May 8, 1987 during an IRA attack that he is taking part in upon Loughgall police station, which also claims the lives of seven other IRA members. His body is buried at his hometown of Moy.


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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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Death of Arthur French, Member of Parliament

Arthur French, Irish Whig politician, patriot, orator, opportunist and hunter, dies on November 24, 1820.

French belongs to the long-established French family of Frenchpark, County Roscommon, who are substantial landowners who also make money in the wine trade. He is the eldest son of Arthur French MP and Alicia Magenis, daughter of Richard Magenis of Dublin and sister of Richard Magenis. He marries Margaret Costello, daughter of Edmond Costello of Edmondstown, County Mayo, and has nine children, including Arthur French, 1st Baron de Freyne, John, 2nd Baron and Charles, 3rd Baron.

In 1783, French is elected a Member of Parliament (MP) for Roscommon County in the Irish House of Commons. After the Act of Union 1800 he represents Roscommon in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. He is alleged to have been offered an Earldom if he would support the union of Ireland with Great Britain but refuses the honour. Later he also refuses a Barony with no strings attached, although in time three of his sons would hold the title Baron de Freyne. The Crown is frequently irritated by his demands for offices and favours for his brothers and sons, although such behaviour is entirely typical of an Irish politician at the time.

A critic of the policy of collective fines as a deterrent to the illicit distillation of poteen, French incurs the wrath of Chief Secretary for Ireland Robert Peel who calls him “an Abominable fellow,” but his enormous popularity in Roscommon means that he cannot be ignored. He also criticizes the continuation of martial law in Ireland.

By 1817 French is complaining of ill-health. He dies on November 24, 1820. One report at the time states that he had died “from excessive fox hunting.”


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Death of Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire, Archbishop of Tuam

Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire, Irish Franciscan and theologian, founder of St. Anthony’s College, Leuven, and Archbishop of Tuam, dies in Madrid, Spain on November 18, 1629.

Ó Maolchonaire is born in the townland of Figh, civil parish of Tibohine, barony of Frenchpark, County Roscommon. His father and mother are Fíthil and Onóra Ó Maolchonaire. Two other sons survive to adulthood, Maoilechlainn and Firbisigh. They belong to a well-known family of historians and poets. He is brought up in the family profession.

Ó Maolchonaire studies for the priesthood at Salamanca, entering the Irish college founded in 1592. He first studies the liberal arts and philosophy. In 1593 he translates into Irish a short Castilian catechism by Jerónimo de Ripalda SJ. The original is a simple catechetical work written in Aristotelian master-pupil dialogue. According to Mícheál Mac Craith, Ó Maolchonaire’s translation pointedly refers to the Irish as Eirinnach rather than Gaedheal.

After five years at the Salamanca Irish college, Ó Maolchonaire leaves to join the Franciscan province of Santiago. Aodh Mac Cathmhaoil is among his classmates in the Salamanca Franciscan friary. They and nine of their peers in the Santiago province are later raised to the episcopacy, an unprecedented development in the history of the order.

At the height of the Nine Years’ War, Ó Maolchonaire sails to Ireland where he serves as a confessor and preacher to troops under the command of Hugh O’Neill and Hugh Roe O’Donnell. In 1601, they request a bishopric for Ó Maolchonaire “in recognition of his diligence, commending his sound judgment on Irish affairs.” After the disaster of Kinsale in 1601, he accompanies O’Donnell to Spain as his confessor and adviser, hoping to see a renewal of Spanish military intervention in Ireland.

In 1602, Ó Maolchonaire attempts to get approval for O’Donnell to meet Philip III in person but they are kept at arm’s length by the Spanish court. During this time, they also drafted an official complaint against the Jesuit superiors of the Irish college at Salamanca over presumed discrimination in favour of Old English students at the expense of students from Connacht and Ulster.

While waiting for a response to his repeated calls for military support in Ireland, O’Donnell becomes seriously ill and dies at Simancas, being assisted on his deathbed by Ó Maolconaire. In keeping with his patronage of the order of friars minor in Donegal, O’Donnell is buried in the Franciscan habit. Ó Maolchonaire accompanies the remains to their last resting place in the Franciscan church at Valladolid. He continues to press for military support after O’Donnell’s death. He participates in an abandoned maritime expedition which reaches Achill Sound in 1603 but never lands in Ireland. He subsequently assists the Spanish councils of state and war to stem the flow of Irish military migrants and their dependents in Spain.

As adviser to Puñonrostro, the king’s appointee as protector of Irish exiles in Spain, Ó Maolchonaire helps to secure funds for widows, orphans and clerics. Trained as a chronicler and genealogist, he sponsors the entry of Irish soldiers into Spanish military orders and successfully calls for the promotion of Henry O’Neill, second eldest son of the earl of Tyrone, as colonel of Irish infantry units in Flanders, the O’Neill tercio in 1604.

In 1606, the Franciscan general chapter is held in Toledo where Ó Maolchonaire is selected as minister-provincial of the Irish friars minor. The most notable act of his tenure as provincial is the founding of a new Irish Franciscan college at Leuven in the Habsburg Netherlands. A year before his appointment, he begins his efforts in earnest with an appeal to the Spanish king. The loss of five Franciscan houses during the Nine Years’ War makes a new foundation essential. In response, Philip III instructs Albert VII, Archduke of Austria, to provide a perpetual grant for a new college in the university town of Leuven. Ó Maolchonaire’s part in founding the college clearly influences the Catholic pastoral mission to Ireland during the seventeenth century. The first and most active Irish printing press on the continent is long in operation at Leuven.

After Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell leave Ireland in 1607, Ó Maolconaire accompanies them from Douai to Rome as interpreter and advisor. Christopher St. Laurence, baron of Howth, implicates him in a plot to seize Dublin Castle and raises a new rebellion just before the Flight of the Earls. In recognition of his losses, Philip III and Paul V offer O’Neill the concession of Ó Maolchonaire’s promotion to the archbishopric of Tuam. On Sunday, May 3, 1609, he is consecrated archbishop by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini in the centre of Rome at the Chiesa Santo Spirito in Sassia. He remains in Rome until his appointment as archbishop of Tuam before returning to Madrid on behalf of Hugh O’Neill.

In response to the 1613–15 Parliament of Ireland, Ó Maolchonaire writes from Valladolid a remonstrance to the Catholic members of the parliament, rebuking them for assenting to the bill of attainder that confiscated the estates of O’Neill, O’Donnell and their adherents. As Archbishop of Tuam, he never takes possession of his episcopal see, governing through vicars general. He continues to live in Madrid and Leuven, as is the case with many Irish clergy at the time. Like his fellow-Franciscan, Luke Wadding, and Peter Lombard, Archbishop of Armagh, he serves as a key intermediary and his influence in Irish matters is considerable. In 1626, a year after Charles I declared war on Spain, he makes the case for an invasion of Ireland under the joint leadership of the earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell.

Ó Maolconaire dies at the Franciscan friary of San Francisco el Grande in Madrid on November 18, 1629. In 1654, two Irish friars bring his remains back to St. Anthony’s College in Leuven where he is buried near the high altar in the collegiate chapel.


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Birth of Seamus O’Donovan, IRA Volunteer & Nazi Collaborator

James O’Donovan, a leading volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Nazi collaborator also known as Séamus or Jim O’Donovan, is born on November 3, 1896 in County Roscommon. He is best known for his contacts with the Abwehr military intelligence of Nazi Germany.

O’Donovan is an explosives expert and reputedly invents the “Irish War Flour” (named after the flour sacks in which it was smuggled into Dublin aboard ships) and “Irish Cheddar” devices. He subsequently becomes IRA Director of Chemicals in 1921. During the Irish War of Independence he is imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison and Kilmainham Gaol and later interned in Newbridge, County Kildare.

In addition to fighting in the Irish War of Independence, O’Donovan fights on the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War. In 1930 he becomes manager at Electricity Supply Board (ESB) headquarters in Dublin.

In August 1938, at the request of IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell, O’Donovan writes the S-Plan, a bombing campaign targeting the United Kingdom. In his unpublished memoirs he writes that he “conducted the entire training of cadre units, was responsible for all but locally-derived intelligence, carried out small pieces of research and, in general, controlled the whole explosives and munitions end” of S-Plan. During this time he and Russell are the only GHQ members of the old IRA still in the organisation.

As “Agent V-Held”, O’Donovan visits Germany three times in 1939 on behalf of the IRA. On February 28 he negotiates an arms and radio equipment delivery at the Abwehrstelle in Hamburg. On April 26 he concludes a new arms deal with the Abwehrstelle and establishes, with the help of a Breton, a secret courier connection to Ireland via France. On August 23, he receives the last instructions for the event of war.

On February 9, 1940, Abwehr II agent Ernst Weber-Drohl lands at Killala Bay, County Sligo aboard U-37. He is equipped with a ‘Ufa’ transmitter, cash, and instructions for O’Donovan, who by this time is the chief IRA contact for Abwehr I/II. The transmitter is lost upon landing, but when Weber-Drohl reaches O’Donovan at Shankill, Killiney, County Dublin, he is able to deliver new transmission codes, $14,450 in cash, and a message from “Pfalzgraf Section” asking that the IRA concentrate its S-Plan attacks on military rather than civilian targets.

O’Donovan becomes increasingly enamoured of Nazi ideology during this time, and visits Germany three times. In 1942 he writes an article arguing that Ireland’s future lay in an alliance with a victorious Germany and attacks Britain and the United States for being “centres of Freemasonry, international financial control and Jewry.” Even long after the pact with the Germans falls apart, he continues to express his sympathy for the Nazi regime. His son, Gerard O’Donovan, recalls that every Saturday night a visitor would come to the family home and send messages to Germany.

In 1940, O’Donovan is involved in setting up Córas na Poblachta, a minor Irish republican political party which proves unsuccessful.

O’Donovan dies in Dublin on June 4, 1979.


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Birth of James Matthew Dillon, Fine Gael Politician

James Matthew Dillon, Fine Gael politician who serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and 1954 to 1957, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.

Dillon is the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and Elizabeth Mathew. He is educated at Mount St. Benedict’s, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King’s Inns. He qualifies as a barrister and is called to the Bar of Ireland in 1931. He studies business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field’s in Chicago he returns to Ireland where he becomes manager of the family business known as Monica Duff’s in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937, Dillon serves as a TD for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. He plays a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and becomes a key member of the party in later years. He remains as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. He becomes deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

Dillon temporarily resigns from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supports the government’s decision to stay out of the war, he urges the government to side with the Allies. A passionate anti-Nazi, he describes the Nazi creed as “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zeal against Adolf Hitler draws him the ire of the German Minister to Ireland Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.” Even Éamon de Valera, then Taoiseach, is not spared the fierceness of Dillon’s rhetoric. When the Taoiseach ridicules his stark support for the Allies, noting this means he has to adopt a Pro-British stance, Dillon defiantly retorts, “My ancestors fought for Ireland down the centuries on the continent of Europe while yours were banging banjos and bartering budgies in the backstreets of Barcelona.”

In 1942, while holidaying in Carna, County Galway, Dillon meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that the pair are married. He is 40 and Maura is 22 years of age.

Dillon is one of the independents who supports the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and is appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, he is responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money is spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increases.

Dillon rejoins Fine Gael in 1953. He becomes Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959, he becomes leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He becomes president of the party in 1960. In 1965, Fine Gael loses the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties win 69 seats to Fianna Fáil’s 72. Had the other parties won four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stands down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

On Northern Ireland, while Dillon stands against Partition, he equally opposes any “armed solution” or militant nationalist policy, stating, “We have got to win, not only the barren acres of Ulster, but the hearts of the people who live in it.”

Dillon is a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and is noted for his high standard of oratory. He remains a TD until 1969, when he retires from politics. He dies in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.


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Death of John Blake Dillon, Founding Member of Young Ireland

John Blake Dillon, Irish writer and politician who is one of the founding members of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Killiney, County Dublin on September 15, 1866.

Dillon is born on May 5, 1814 in the town of Ballaghaderreen, on the border of counties Mayo and Roscommon. He is a son of Anne Blake and her husband Luke Dillon (d. 1826), who had been a land agent for his cousin Patrick Dillon, 11th Earl of Roscommon. His niece is Anne Deane, who helps to raise his family after his death.

Dillon is educated at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, leaving after only two years there, having decided that he is not meant for the priesthood. He later studies law at Trinity College, Dublin, and in London, before being called to the Irish Bar. It is during his time at Trinity College that he first meets and befriends Thomas Davis.

While working for The Morning Register newspaper Dillon meets Charles Gavan Duffy, with whom he and Davis found The Nation in 1842, which is dedicated to promoting Irish nationalism and all three men become important members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association, which advocates the repeal of the Act of Union 1800 between Great Britain and Ireland.

The young wing of the party, of which they are key members with William Smith O’Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher, come to be known as Young Ireland and advocate the threat of force to achieve repeal of the Act of Union. This is in contrast to the committed pacifism of O’Connell’s “Old Ireland” wing. This posturing eventually leads to the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 where a countryside devastated by the Great Famine fails to rise up and support the rebels.

According to fellow Irish nationalist, Justin McCarthy, “…it has been said of him that while he strongly discouraged the idea of armed rebellion, and had no faith in the possibility of Ireland’s succeeding by any movement of insurrection, yet when Smith O’Brien risked Ireland’s chances in the open field, he cast his lot with his leader and stood by his side in Tipperary.”

After the failure of Young Ireland’s uprising, Dillon flees Ireland, escaping first to France and, eventually, to the United States, where he serves the New York Bar.

Dillon returns to Ireland on amnesty in 1855 and in 1865 is elected as a Member of Parliament for Tipperary. By now he advocates a Federal union of Britain and Ireland and denounces the violent methods advocated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood or Fenian movement.

Dillon dies of cholera on September 15, 1866 in Killiney, County Dublin, at the age of 52, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Dillon is the father of John Dillon and grandfather of James Dillon.


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The Battle of Curlew Pass

The Battle of Curlew Pass is fought on August 15, 1599, during the campaign of the Earl of Essex in the Nine Years’ War, between an English force under Sir Conyers Clifford and a rebel Irish force led by Hugh Roe O’Donnell. The English are ambushed and routed while marching through a pass in the Curlew Mountains, near the town of Boyle, in northwestern Ireland. The English forces suffer heavy casualties. Losses by allied Irish forces are not recorded but are probably minimal.

In April 1599, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, lands in Ireland with over 17,000 troops and cavalry to put down the rebellion of Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell, which has spread from Ulster to all Ireland. To this end, he supports an Irish enemy of O’Donnell’s, Sir Donogh O’Connor (O’Connor Sligo), encouraging him to repossess those territories of his in Sligo that O’Donnell has occupied. Sligo Town is an excellent advance base, with Ballyshannon 20 miles to the northeast commanding an important river-ford at the principal western passage into O’Donnell’s country in Ulster. English military advisers have long urged the government councils in Dublin and London to capture these strategic points. O’Connor’s brother-in-law, Tibbot ne Long Bourke, is appointed joint-commander with an English captain of a force sailing from Galway, and O’Connor is expected to receive them in Sligo. However, O’Donnell quickly besieges O’Connor at Collooney Castle with over 2,000 men in an effort to starve him out, and Essex is put on the back foot. Essex has no option but to support the besieged O’Connor, one of the few Gaelic chieftains the Crown can rely upon for support. He orders the experienced Sir Conyers Clifford, who is based in Athlone, to relieve the castle with 1,500 English infantry and 200 cavalry. It is hoped that the operation would also distract the chief rebel, O’Neill, and afford the crown an opportunity to march into his Ulster territory across its southeastern border.

O’Donnell leaves 300 men at Collooney Castle under his cousin, Niall Garbh O’Donnell, and sends another 600 to Sligo town to prevent the landing of English reinforcements under Tibbot ne Long Bourke. He then marches to Dunavaragh with 1,500 of his men, where he is joined by additional forces under local chieftains Conor MacDermott and Brian Óg na Samhthach Ó Ruairc. The Irish then carefully prepare an ambush site in the Curlew Mountains, along the English line of march. O’Donnell has trees felled and placed along the road to impede their progress. When he gets word of the English passing through Boyle, O’Donnell positions his men. Musketeers, archers and javelin men are placed in the woods alongside the road to harass the English. The main body of Irish infantry, armed with pikes and axes, are placed out of sight behind the ridge of the mountain.

In hot harvest weather, Clifford’s force marches from Athlone through Roscommon, Tulsk and Boyle. At 4:00 PM on August 15, they reach the foot of the Curlew Mountains, which have to be crossed before Sligo can be approached. The expedition is poorly supplied, and Clifford’s men are tired and hungry, and probably in no fit state to continue. But Clifford has received false intelligence that the pass is undefended, and he therefore chooses to seize the opportunity and march across, promising his troops plenty of beef in the evening. This means that his men miss out on the rest that had been planned for them in Boyle, whereas the Irish are well fed and prepared.

The English come under gunfire, arrow and javelin attack as soon as they reach the first of O’Donnell’s barricades, between Boyle and Ballinafad. The barricade is immediately abandoned by the Irish but as the English moved past and proceed up the hill they sustain further casualties. The road consists of “stones of six or seven foot broad, lying above ground, with plashes of bog between them,” and is lined with woodland on one side. The further the English advance, the more intensive the rebels’ fire becomes, and some English soldiers begin to lose their nerve and slip away. Eventually, there is a firefight, lasting about 90 minutes, at the end of which the English vanguard has run out of gunpowder. The commander of the vanguard, Alexander Radcliffe, can no longer control his troops. They wheel about in a panic and collide with the main column, which breaks and flees. The commander leads a charge with his remaining pikemen but is shot dead. With the English ranks in disarray, the main body of Irish infantry, which has concealed itself on the reverse slope of the hill, closes in and fights hand to hand. Clifford tries to regain control over his men, but appears overcome by his circumstances. He manages to rally himself and is killed by a pike-thrust as he rushes the enemy. The English are routed, but the situation is prevented from becoming a complete disaster for them when the commander of the horse, Sir Griffin Markham, charges uphill and temporarily drives the rebels back.

Though the actions of the English cavalry allows many of their foot soldiers to escape, Clifford’s men are pursued as far as the town of Boyle, where they find shelter in Boyle Abbey. About 500 English are killed in the battle. Irish losses are not recorded, but are probably small, having been firing from prepared positions and then routing a disorganised and demoralised enemy.

Clifford’s head is cut off and delivered to O’Donnell, who has remained nearby but without taking part in the fight. While the head is brought to Collooney Castle to intimidate its defenders, the trunk is carried by MacDermott to the monastery of Lough Key, where he hopes to use it to ransom his own prisoners. At last, the trunk is given a decent burial in the monastery.

O’Connor Sligo surrenders the castle shortly afterwards and reluctantly joins with the rebels. After the victory, there is a noticeable increase in the rate of desertion by Irish troops from the ranks of Essex’s army, and the earl orders that the surviving troops be divided up as fit only to hold walls.

The battle is a classic Gaelic Irish ambush, similar to the Battle of Glenmalure in 1580 or the Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, the victory is put down to the intercession of the Blessed Mary, rather than to arms. But Clifford had been overconfident, a trait in him that Essex once warned against, and it is clear that English military commanders are choosing to learn the hard way about the increased effectiveness of Irish rebel forces. Queen Elizabeth I‘s principal secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, rates this defeat (and the simultaneous defeat of Sir Henry Harrington in the Battle of Deputy’s Pass in County Wicklow) as the two heaviest blows ever suffered by the English in Ireland, and seeks to lay the blame indirectly on Essex. It leaves O’Donnell and O’Neill free from any threat from the Connacht side, and renders a land-based attack through Armagh highly improbable, a factor that weighs with Essex as he marches northward later in the year and enters a truce with O’Neill.

In August 1602, the Curlew Pass is the scene of the last victory won by the rebels during the war, when a panicking English force is again routed and suffers significant losses. This time the rebels are led by Rory O’Donnell who commands 400 musketeers.

Today the battlefield at Curlew Pass is overlooked by an impressionistic sculpture by Maurice Harron called “The Gaelic Chieftain”, unveiled in 1999.