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


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The Warrenpoint Ambush

The Warrenpoint ambush, also known as the Narrow Water ambush, the Warrenpoint massacre or the Narrow Water massacre, is a guerrilla attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on August 27, 1979. The IRA’s South Armagh Brigade ambushes a British Army convoy with two large roadside bombs on the A2 road at Narrow Water Castle, just outside Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

The road and castle are on the northern bank of the Newry River, which marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Republic’s side of the river, the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth, is an ideal spot from which to launch an ambush. It is thickly wooded, which gives cover to the ambushers, and the river border prevents British forces from giving chase.

On the afternoon of August 27, a British Army convoy of one Land Rover and two four-ton lorries carrying soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment is driving from Ballykinlar Barracks to Newry. The British Army is aware of the dangers of using the stretch of road along the Newry River and often declares it out of bounds. However, they sometimes use it to avoid setting a pattern. At 4:40 p.m., as the convoy is driving past Narrow Water Castle, an 800-pound fertiliser bomb, hidden among bales of straw on a parked flatbed trailer, is detonated by remote control by IRA members watching from across the border in County Louth. The explosion catches the last lorry in the convoy, hurling it onto its side and instantly killing six paratroopers, whose bodies are scattered across the road. There are only two survivors amongst the soldiers traveling in the lorry, both of whom receive serious injuries. The lorry’s driver, Anthony Wood (19), is one of those killed. All that remains of his body is his pelvis, welded to the seat by the fierce heat of the blast.

According to the soldiers, immediately after the blast they are targeted by rifle fire from the woods on the Cooley Peninsula on the other side of the border, with this view supported by two part-time firefighters assisting the wounded. Shortly afterwards, the two IRA members arrested by the Garda Síochána and suspected of being behind the ambush, are found to have traces of gunsmoke residue on their hands and on the motorbike they are riding. The IRA’s first statement on the incident, however, denies that any shots had been fired at the troops, and according to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) researchers, the soldiers might have mistaken the sound of ammunition cooking off for enemy gunfire. Nevertheless, at the official inquiry the soldiers declare on oath that they had been fired on.

The surviving paratroopers radio for urgent assistance, and reinforcements are dispatched to the scene by road. A rapid reaction unit is sent by Gazelle helicopter, consisting of Lieutenant Colonel David Blair, commanding officer of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, his signaler Lance Corporal Victor MacLeod, and army medics. Another helicopter, a Wessex, lands to pick up the wounded. Colonel Blair assumes command once at the site.

William Hudson, a 29-year-old from London, is killed by the British Army and his cousin Barry Hudson, a 25-year-old native of Dingle, is wounded when shots are fired across the Newry River into the Republic of Ireland about 3 km from the village of Omeath, County Louth.

The pair are partners in ‘Hudson Amusements’ and had been operating their amusements in Omeath for the duration of the Omeath Gala. When the first explosion is heard across the Lough, the pair go down to the shore to see what is unfolding. The pair makes their way to Narrow Water on the southern side of the border to get a better view of what is happening on the northern side. Barry Hudson is shot in the arm and as he falls to the ground he sees his cousin, who is the son of a coachman at Buckingham Palace, fall to the ground, shot in the head. He dies almost immediately.

The IRA had been studying how the British Army behaves after a bombing and correctly predicts that they would set up an incident command point (ICP) at the stone gateway on the other side of the road. At 5:12 p.m., thirty-two minutes after the first explosion, another 800-pound bomb hidden in milk pails explodes at the gateway, destroying it and hurling lumps of granite through the air. It detonates as the Wessex helicopter is taking off carrying wounded soldiers. The helicopter is damaged by the blast but does not crash.

The second explosion kills twelve soldiers, ten from the Parachute Regiment and the two from the Queen’s Own Highlanders. Lieutenant Colonel Blair is the second Lieutenant Colonel to be killed in the Troubles up until then, following Lieutenant Colonel Corden-Lloyd of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets in 1978. Only one of Colonel Blair’s epaulettes remains to identify him as his body had been vaporised in the blast. The epaulette is taken from the scene by Brigadier David Thorne to a security briefing with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to “illustrate the human factor” of the attack. Mike Jackson, then a major in the Parachute Regiment, is at the scene soon after the second explosion and later describes seeing human remains scattered over the road, in the water and hanging from the trees. He is asked to identify the face of his friend, Major Peter Fursman, still recognisable after it had been ripped from his head by the explosion and recovered from the water by divers from the Royal Engineers.

Press photographer Peter Molloy, who arrives at the scene after the first explosion, comes close to being shot by an angry paratrooper who sees him taking photographs of the dead and dying instead of offering to help the wounded. The soldier is tackled by his comrades. Molloy says, “I was shouted at and called all sorts of things but I understood why. I had trespassed on the worst day of these fellas’ lives and taken pictures of it.”

The Warrenpoint ambush is a victory for the IRA. It is the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles and the Parachute Regiment’s biggest loss since World War II, with sixteen paratroopers killed. General Sir James Glover, Commander of British forces in Northern Ireland, later says it was “arguably the most successful and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign.” The ambush happens on the same day that Lord Mountbatten, a prominent member of the British royal family, is killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, along with three others.

Republicans portray the attack as retaliation for Bloody Sunday in 1972 when the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 unarmed civilians during a protest march in Derry. Graffiti appears in republican areas declaring “13 gone and not forgotten, we got 18 and Mountbatten.” The day after the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint attacks, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by shooting dead a Catholic man, John Patrick Hardy (43), at his home in Belfast‘s New Lodge estate. Hardy is targeted in the mistaken belief that he is an IRA member.

Very shortly after the ambush, IRA volunteers Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan are arrested by the Gardaí. They are stopped while riding a motorbike on a road opposite Narrow Water Castle. They are later released on bail due to lack of evidence. Burns dies in 1988 when a bomb he is handling explodes prematurely. In 1998, former IRA member Eamon Collins claims that Burns had been one of those who carried out the Warrenpoint ambush. No one has ever been criminally charged.

According to Toby Harnden, the attack “drove a wedge” between the Army and the RUC. Lieutenant General Sir Timothy Creasey, General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, suggests to Margaret Thatcher that internment should be brought back and that liaison with the Gardaí should be left in the hands of the military. Sir Kenneth Newman, the RUC Chief Constable, claims instead that the British Army practice, since 1975, of supplying their garrisons in south County Armagh by helicopter gives too much freedom of movement to the IRA. One result is the appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield to a new position of Co-ordinator of Security Intelligence in Northern Ireland. His role is to co-ordinate intelligence between the military, MI5 and the RUC. Another is the expansion of the RUC by 1,000 members. Tim Pat Coogan asserts that the deaths of the 18 soldiers hastens the move to Ulsterisation.

Lieutenant Colonel Blair is remembered on a memorial at Radley College, Oxfordshire.


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Birth of Ophthalmologist Arthur Jacob

Arthur Jacob, Irish ophthalmologist, is born on June 13, 1790, at Knockfin, near Maryborough, Queens County (now Portlaoise, County Laois). He is known for founding several hospitals, a medical school, and a medical journal. He contributes to science and academia through his 41-year term as Professor of Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and as the first Irish ocular pathologist. He is elected President of RCSI in 1837 and 1864.

Jacob is the second son of John Jacob, M.D. (1754–1827), surgeon to the Queen’s County infirmary, Maryborough, by his wife Grace (1765–1835), only child of Jerome Alley of Donoughmore. He studies medicine with his father and at Dr. Steevens’s Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, under Abraham Colles. Having graduated M.D. at the University of Edinburgh in 1814, he sets out on a walking tour through the United Kingdom, crossing the English Channel at Dover, and continuing his walk from Calais to Paris.

Jacob studies at Paris until Napoleon‘s return from Elba. He subsequently pursues his studies in London under Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, Sir Astley Cooper, and Sir W. Lawrence. In 1819 he returns to Dublin, and becomes demonstrator of anatomy under Dr. James Macartney at Trinity College Dublin. Here his anatomical researches gain for him a reputation, and he collects a museum, which Macartney afterwards sells to the University of Cambridge.

On leaving Macartney, Jacob joins with Robert James Graves and others in founding the Park Street School of Medicine. In 1826 he is elected Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), and holds the chair until 1869. He is elected President of RCSI in 1837 and 1864. He founds an Ophthalmic Hospital in Pitt (now Balfe) Street in 1829 and in 1832, in conjunction with Charles Benson and others, he founds the Baggot Street Hospital, Baggot Street, and later practices there after the opening of a dedicated eye ward. His younger rival, Sir William Wilde, subsequently founds the competing St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital in Lincoln Place (beside Trinity College) in 1844.

In 1839, with Dr. Henry Maunsell, Jacob starts the Dublin Medical Press, a weekly journal of medical science, and edits forty-two volumes from 1839 to 1859, in order “to diffuse useful knowledge… to instil honourable principles, and foster kind feelings in the breast of the student” among other desirable aims. He also contributes to the Dublin Journal of Medical Science. He takes an active part in founding the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund Society of Ireland and the Irish Medical Association.

At the age of seventy-five Jacob retires from the active pursuit of his profession. His fame rests on his anatomical and ophthalmological discoveries.

In December 1860 a medal bearing Jacob’s likeness is struck and presented to him, and his portrait, bust, and library are later placed in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He dies at Newbarnes, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England, on September 21, 1874. He is buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

In 1819 Jacob announces the discovery, which he had made in 1816, of a previously unknown membrane of the eye, in a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The membrane has been known since as membrana Jacobi and forms the retina. Apart from his discovery of the membrana Jacobi, he describes Jacob’s ulcer, and revives cataract surgery through the cornea with a curved needle, Jacob’s needle. To the Cyclopædia of Anatomy he contributes an article on the eye, and to the Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine treatises on Ophthalmia and Amaurosis.

In 1824 Jacob marries Sarah, daughter of Coote Carroll, of Ballymote, County Sligo. The marriage produces five sons. She dies on January 6, 1839.

(Pictured: Photograph of a marble bust of Arthur Jacob on the main staircase of the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, Dublin, Ireland)


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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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Birth of Dermot Healy, Novelist, Playwright, Poet & Short Story Writer

Dermot Healy, Irish novelist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Finnea, County Westmeath, on November 9, 1947. A member of Aosdána, he is also part of its governing body, the Toscaireacht. He is described variously as a “master,” a “Celtic Hemingway” and as “Ireland’s finest living novelist.”

Healy is the son of a Guard. As a child the family moves to Cavan, where he attends the local secondary school. In his late teens he moves to London and works in a succession of jobs, including barman, security man and as a labourer. He later returns to Ireland, settling in Ballyconnell, County Sligo, a small settlement on the Atlantic coast.

Often overlooked due to his relatively low public profile, Healy’s work is admired by his Irish literary predecessors, peers and successors alike, many of whom idolise him. Among the writers to have spoken highly of him are Seamus Heaney, Eugene McCabe, Roddy Doyle, Patrick McCabe and Anne Enright.

Healy’s work is influenced by an eclectic range of writers from around the world, including Anna Akhmatova, John Arden, Isaac Babel, Matsuo Bashō, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Angela Carter, J. M. Coetzee, Emily Dickinson, Maria Edgeworth, T. S. Eliot, Hermann Hesse, Nâzım Hikmet, Aidan Higgins, Miroslav Holub, Eugène Ionesco, Franz Kafka, Mary Lavin, Federico García Lorca, Guy de Maupassant, Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound, William Shakespeare and Robert Louis Stevenson. Healy writes in a shed and is fascinated by etymology. However, on being a writer, he is quoted as saying, “I know writing is what I do but I still don’t see myself as one.”

Healy is longlisted for the Booker Prize with his novel A Goats Song. He wins the Hennessy Literary Award (1974 and 1976), the Tom-Gallon Trust Award (1983), and the Encore Award (1995). In 2011, he is shortlisted for the Poetry Now Award for his 2010 poetry collection, A Fool’s Errand. Long Time, No See is nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award, the world’s most valuable literary award for a single work in the English language, by libraries in Russia and Norway.

Healy dies at his home in Ballyconnell on June 29, 2014, while awaiting an ambulance after suddenly being taken ill. He is laid to rest at Carrigans Cemetery following funeral mass by Fr. Michael Donnelly at St. Patrick’s Church in Maugherow.


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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 Joan O’Hara, Actress of Stage, Film & Television

Joan O’Hara, Irish stage, film and television actress, is born in Rosses Point, County Sligo, on October 10, 1930. She is one of Ireland’s most popular actresses and is, at the time of her death, recognisable to television viewers as Eunice Dunstan, a gossip in Fair City on RTÉ One.

O’Hara is born and raised in Rosses Point, the daughter of Major John Charles O’Hara, an officer in the British Corps of Royal Engineers and his wife, Mai (née Kirwan). One of her sisters, Mary (born 1935), is a soprano/harpist. Her brother Dermot (born 1934) now lives with his family in Canada. She attends the same Ursuline convent school as fellow actress and friend Pauline Flanagan.

O’Hara lives most of her life in Monkstown, County Dublin, with a stay in London, with her husband, the poet and architect Francis J. Barry. The couple has four children: Siubhan, Jane, Guy, and Sebastian, an author/playwright, whose works include The Steward of Christendom, and the Booker-shortlisted novels A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture. She is also a year-round sea-swimmer.

O’Hara is a member of the renowned Abbey Players and performs in many plays in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, including those by Seán O’Casey, Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats. She appears as Maurya in the 1988 film The Dawning. She appears in a number of other films, including Ron Howard‘s Far and Away, Da, Footfalls, Home is the Hero and just before her death, How About You. In this her final film, she stars with Vanessa Redgrave and her friend Brenda Fricker. The strength of her performance and bravery in carrying it out is acknowledged by the cast and crew in a standing ovation.

More recently, O’Hara is best known for appearing in the popular Irish television soap opera Fair City, broadcast on RTÉ One. She joins the soap in 1994, portraying the character Eunice Dunstan until her death in 2007. Thus she is described as both one of Ireland’s most popular actresses and as one of the finest actors of her generation on her death. She admires in particular Samuel Beckett, Federico García Lorca and Ingmar Bergman. While she takes a no-nonsense approach to her craft, famously giving the advice that when in doubt, one should relate to the fireplace, she is educated at the Abbey School of Acting and has a deep appreciation and knowledge of theoretical approaches to acting and is an admirer of the European and American avant-garde. As actor Alan Stanford said after her death, “She had the most amazing energy. She was in the truest sense one of the last of the greats.”

Joan O’Hara Barry (she keeps her maiden name as her stage name) dies in Dublin on July 23, 2007 of complications from heart disease, aged 76. Her death is announced on RTÉ News the following day.


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Death of Red Hugh O’Donnell

Hugh Roe O’Donnell (Aodh Rua ÓDomhnaill), sixteenth century Irish nobleman also known as Red Hugh O’Donnell, dies at Simancas Castle in Valladolid, Spain, on September 10, 1602. Evidence suggests he might have been poisoned by an English spy.

O’Donnell is born on October 30, 1572 in Lifford (which is in present-day County Donegal) and is the son of Hugh McManus O’Donnell, the Gaelic Lord of Tyrconnell, a territory which takes in most of the present-day county of Donegal except for the Inishowen peninsula. His mother, Aodh MacManus’ second wife, is the formidable and extremely well connected Scottish lady, Fionnuala Nic Dhomhnaill, known to history as the Iníon Dubh or The Dark Daughter. A daughter of James Mac Donald she had been raised at the Scottish court.

In 1587, at the age of fifteen, O’Donnell marries Rose O’Neill, the daughter of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, a nephew of Turlough Luineach O’Neill who is recognised by the Irish as The O’Neill. He is, therefore, a bridge between two traditional enemies, the O’Donnell’s and the O’Neills.

The English Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir John Perrot, recognises the importance of the young O’Donnell prince and decides to secure him as a hostage thus giving him power over the O’Donnell clan and preventing them from forming a treaty with the O’Neills. In 1587, when he is sixteen, O’Donnell and two friends, a MacSweeney and an O’Gallagher, are persuaded to board a ship at Rathmullan which has been disguised as a Spanish wine barque. Once onboard they are carried off to Dublin Castle as prisoners. The O’Donnell’s offer to pay a large ransom and the Iníon Dubh also gives up 25 Spaniards rescued from the Armada. The English agree to this but as soon as the Spaniards are handed over they are beheaded. The agreement is not kept.

Perrot has his hostage but a most reluctant one. The young man continuously seeks ways to escape. His first opportunity comes at Christmas in 1590 when a rope is smuggled in to the prince. He escapes and flees into the Wicklow Mountains. He seeks shelter with Phelim O’Toole who has him returned to the English as he fears the anger of the infamous Perrot.

A year later, at Christmas in 1591, O’Donnell makes his second attempt at escape, this time by crawling through the Dublin Castle sewers. With him are Henry and Art O’Neill, two sons of Shane O’Neill (Shane the Proud). This time the escapees make their way to the Glenmalure stronghold of Fiach McHugh O’Byrne. Unfortunately, the winter is very severe and Art O’ Neill dies from exposure just as the O’Byrne rescue party finds them. Both Red Hugh and Henry O’Neill suffer severe frostbite but are safely returned to Ulster.

While O’Donnell is held prisoner by the English, his father becomes senile. In 1592, when O’Donnell is sufficiently recovered, he is inaugurated as the O’Donnell and England, for her treachery, has an avowed and implacable enemy.

O’Donnell aids the Maguires of Fermanagh against the English and when his father-in-law, Hugh O’Neill, initiates the Nine Years’ War by leading his clan against the English at the Battle of Clontibret (1595) and Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598), O’Donnell is at his side.

In 1595 O’Donnell ambushes an English force in the Curlew Mountains, killing 500 of them including their commander. However, the tide is turning against the Irish now. England is flooding the country with armies and many of the leading Gaelic families are beginning to make deals with them.

In 1601 the Spanish land in Kinsale and the English besiege them. O’Neill and O’Donnell march south from Ulster and Ballymote Castle in Sligo in an attempt to break the siege. This turns into a debacle causing the Irish to scatter and the Spanish to surrender. O’Neill marches back north and O’Donnell is sent to Spain to ask for more troops from Phillip III. In Spain, he is treated like a royal. He petitions aid from the King who gives him a promise of another Spanish force.

As a year passes and O’Donnell does not receive any news from Philip III of Spain, he leaves again for Valladolid but he dies on September 10, 1602 while en route. He is attended on his death-bed by Archbishop of Tuam Fláithrí Ó Maolchonaire and two friars from Donegal named Father Muiris mac Donnchadh Ulltach Ó Duinnshléibhe and Father Muiris mac Seaán Ulltach Ó Duinnshléibhe. The Anglo-Irish double-agent, James “Spanish” Blake, is alleged to have poisoned O’Donnell.

It is, however, unlikely that O’Donnell is poisoned. A more probable cause of death is the tapeworm that Simancas documents of the time state to be the cause of his demise. His Last Will and Testament, written in his dying moments with his loyal retinue, is an extremely evocative and moving document. One original is preserved in Simancas and the other in the Chancellery archive in Valladolid.

O’Donnell is buried in the chapter of the Franciscan monastery in Valladolid. Though the building is demolished in 1837, the exact location of the tomb may have been discovered following a Spanish archaeological dig in May 2020.

O’Donnell is succeeded as chieftain of his clan and prince of Tyrconnell by his brother Rory.

(Pictured: Statue of Gaelic Chieftain Red Hugh O’Donnell in County Donegal)


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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.


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Birth of Joss Lynam, Civil Engineer & Mountaineer

Joss Lynam, Irish civil engineer who is well known as a mountaineer, hillwalker, orienteer, writer and sports administrator, is born James Perry O’Flaherty Lynam in London on June 29, 1924. He is one of Ireland’s most influential figures in outdoor activities.

Lynam is born to Irish parents Edward and Martha (née Perry), both Galway natives. He and his older sister, Biddy, are both raised in London where his father works as curator of maps in the British Museum. This is where he is first introduced to orienteering and cartography. The family frequently returns to the west coast of Ireland to holiday. Here he finds his love for mountaineering and climbs his first mountain, Knocknarea in County Sligo, with his aunt.

At 18, Lynam joins the British Army and trains as an officer. He is deployed to India in 1944 under the Corps of Royal Engineers where he spends the remainder of World War II. While there, he participates in his first of many Himalayan expeditions, climbing Kolahoi Peak. When he returns in 1947, he immediately moves to Dublin and enrolls in Trinity College Dublin, after encouragement from his parents, where he begins to study engineering. He graduates and receives his degree with Upper Second Class (2.1) Honours.

Lynam is a civil engineer by profession but devotes most of his life developing the sport of mountaineering in Ireland. He climbs extensively in Ireland, Great Britain, the Alps and in India. He is leader, or deputy leader, of expeditions to Greenland, the Andes, Kashmir, Tian Shan, Garhwal, Tibet and India, including the 1987 expedition to Changtse, that is the forerunner to the successful first Irish ascent of Mount Everest in 1993.

With his involvement in developing adventure sport in Ireland Lynam is active in promoting access and developing waymarked trails. He is involved in the creation and administration of the Federation of Mountaineering Clubs in Ireland (now Mountaineering Ireland), the Association for Adventure Sports, Bord Oiliúint Sléibhte (Irish Mountain Training Board), Tiglin (National Outdoor Training Centre), Outdoor Education Ireland, and Cospóir (now Sport Ireland) and the National Waymarked Ways Advisory Committee (part of Sport Ireland).

Lynam is a founder member of the Irish Mountaineering Club (IMC) serving as president from 1982-1984. He is also a founder member of both the Irish Orienteers and Three Rock Orienteering club. He is president of the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme‘s expeditions commission in the 1990s.

Lynam writes and edits many guide books on walking and climbing in Ireland and helps create and is editor of The Mountain Log (the journal of Mountaineering Ireland).

In 2001, Lynam is awarded an honorary degree from Trinity College Dublin in acknowledgment of his volunteer work and remarkable achievements. He celebrates his 80th birthday by climbing the Paradise Lost Route and then goes on to abseil down Winder’s Slab for his 82nd birthday, both routes in Dalkey Quarry. Both climbs are to raise funds for cancer research, as he had been undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Disease.

As a result of a short illness, which is being treated at St. Vincent’s University Hospital Dublin, Lynam dies on the January 9, 2011, aged 86. His funeral is held in the Church of St. Therésè, Mount Merrion, Dublin and then continues to Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium.

After Lynam’s death, his two daughters, Clodagh and Ruth, donate his papers to his alma mater, Trinity College Dublin. These papers cover a vast range of topics such as his life and career, family, childhood, experience of war, his involvement with different mountaineering clubs, and his many writings. The collection also contains photos and slides that he captures himself of landscapes and mountaineering, and consists of maps that are collected by him and his father. There is so much material in the collection that it takes a year for the collection to be catalogued by an archivist.

Lynam’s ashes are scattered by his daughters over the Knocknarea Mountain on the February 12, 2011, being the first mountain he climbed. The Lynam Lecture is introduced in 2011 by Mountaineering Ireland in his memory and his achievements in climbing, hillwalking and mountaineering in Ireland and around the world. Every December the Lynam Lecture is held by leading national and international mountaineers and discusses the development and future of mountaineering in Ireland. Past speakers include Ines Papert, Frank Nugent and Paddy O’Leary.


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Death of Leland Bardwell, Poet, Novelist & Playwright

Constan Olive Leland Bardwell, Irish poet, novelist, and playwright, dies at the age of 94 on June 28, 2016 in Sligo, County Sligo.

Bardwell is born Leland Hone in India on February 25, 1922 to Irish parents William Hone and Mary Collise, and moves to Ireland at the age of two. Her father’s family are of the Anglo-Irish Hone family. She grows up in Leixlip, County Kildare. She is educated at Alexandra School and later at the University of London.

Bardwell realises from childhood that a writing life is inevitable. In her memoirs she records: “Since the age of six writing had been not an ambition but a condition.” However, there are years of editorial rejections before she blossoms into a writer of the poetry, short stories for radio, plays and autobiographical novels that flowed, due in part to the encouragement of the coterie assembled there, from her basement flat in Dublin.

Bardwell’s five volumes of acclaimed poetry are The Mad Cyclist (1970), The Fly and the Bed Bug (1984), Dostoevsky’s Grace (1991), her “new and selected” The White Beach (1998) and The Noise of Masonry Settling (2005).

Bardwell is considered an important poet by her contemporaries. On the publication of her fourth collection of poetry, The White Beach, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin states, “it is good to see her work of the decades collected – it has inspired many Irish poets, male and female, and should be much more widely known,” adding that her work is “witty, full of sharp intimate honesty, full of truth and surprises.”

In 1975, along with Pearse Hutchinson, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, and Macdara Woods, she co-founds the long running literary magazine Cyphers.

Bardwell’s novel Girl on a Bicycle, originally published in 1977, is republished by Irish publisher Liberties Press in 2009.

Bardwell lives in Sligo and is a member of Aosdána. She dies in Sligo on June 28, 2016. One of her children is the composer John McLachlan.

(Photo by Pat Boran)