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


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Birth of William Francis Butler, Army Officer & Writer

william-francis-butlerWilliam Francis Butler, 19th-century British Army officer, writer, and adventurer, is born on October 31, 1838 at Ballyslatteen, Golden, County Tipperary.

Butler is the son of Richard and Ellen Butler. The great famine of 1847 and scenes of suffering and eviction are amongst his earliest recollections. He is educated chiefly by the Jesuits at Tullabeg College.

Butler enters the army as an ensign of the 69th Regiment of Foot at Fermoy Barracks in 1858, becoming captain in 1872 and major in 1874. He takes part with distinction in the Red River expedition (1870–71) and the Ashanti operations of 1873–1874 under Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley and receives the Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1874.

On June 11, 1877, Butler marries Elizabeth Thompson, an accomplished painter of battle scenes, notably The Roll Call (1874), Quatre Bras (1875), Rorke’s Drift (1881), The Camel Corps (1891), and The Dawn of Waterloo (1895). They have six children. His daughter, Elizabeth Butler, marries Lt.-Col. Randolph Albert Fitzhardinge Kingscote (1867-1940) on July 24, 1903.

Butler again serves with General Wolseley in the Anglo-Zulu War, the Battle of Tell El Kebir (after which he is made an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria) and the Sudan in 1884–1886, being employed as colonel on the staff in 1885 and brigadier general in 1885–1886. In the latter year, he is made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. He serves as brigadier general on the staff in Egypt until 1892 when he is promoted to major general and stationed at Aldershot, subsequent to which he is given command of the South-Eastern District in March 1896.

In 1898 Butler succeeds General William Howley Goodenough as commander-in-chief in South Africa, with the local rank of lieutenant general. For a short period (December 1898 – February 1899), during the absence of Sir Alfred Milner in England, he acts as high commissioner, and as such, and subsequently in his military capacity, he expresses views on the subject of the probabilities of war which are not approved by the home government. He is consequently ordered home to command the Western District, and holds this post until 1905. He also holds the Aldershot Command for a brief period from 1900 to 1901. He is promoted to lieutenant general in 1900 and continues to serve, finally leaving the King‘s service in 1905.

In October 1905, having reached the age limit of sixty-seven, Butler is placed on the retired list. The few years of life which remain to him he spends at Bansha Castle in Ireland, devoted chiefly to the cause of education. He is a frequent lecturer both in Dublin and the provinces on historical, social, and economic questions. He is known as a Home Ruler and an admirer of Charles Stewart Parnell. He is a member of the Senate of the National University of Ireland, and a commissioner of the Board of National Education. In June 1906, he is appointed Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, and in 1909 he is made a member of the Privy Council of Ireland.

William Butler dies at Bansha Castle in Bansha, County Tipperary, on June 10, 1910 and is buried at the cemetery of Killaldriffe, a few miles distant and not far from his ancestral home.

Butler had long been known as a descriptive writer, since his publication of The Great Lone Land (1872) and other works and he was the biographer (1899) of Sir George Pomeroy Colley. He had started work on his autobiography a few years before his death but died before it was completed. His youngest daughter, Eileen, Viscountess Gormanston, completes the work and has it published in 1911.

(Pictured: William Francis Butler, Source: Archives of Manitoba, Personalities – Butler, W. F. 1, N10492)


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Birth of Charles Bianconi, Italo-Irish Entrepreneur

charles-bianconiCharles Bianconi, Italo-Irish passenger car entrepreneur, is born Carlo Bianconi in Tregolo, Costa Masnaga, Italy on September 24, 1786.

Bianconi moves from an area poised to fall to Napoleon and travels to Ireland in 1802, by way of England, just four years after the Irish Rebellion of 1798. At the time, British fear of continental invasion results in an acute sense of insecurity and additional restrictions on the admission of foreigners. He is christened Carlo but anglicises his name to Charles when he arrives in Ireland.

Bianconi works as an engraver and printseller in Dublin, near Essex Street, under his sponsor, Andrea Faroni, when he is 16. In 1806 he sets up an engraving and print shop in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, moving to Clonmel in 1815.

Bianconi eventually becomes famous for his innovations in transport and is twice elected mayor of Clonmel.

Bianconi is the founder of public transportation in Ireland, at a time preceding railways. He establishes regular horse-drawn carriage services on various routes from about 1815 onward. These are known as “Bianconi coaches” and the first service, Clonmel to Cahir, takes five to eight hours by boat but only two hours by Bianconi’s carriage. Travel on one of his carriages cost one penny farthing a mile.

Bianconi also establishes a series of inns, the Bianconi Inns, some of which still exist in Piltown, County Kilkenny and Killorglin, County Kerry.

In 1832 Bianconi marries Eliza Hayes, the daughter of a wealthy Dublin stockbroker. They have three children – Charles Thomas Bianconi, Catherine Henrietta Bianconi and Mary Anne Bianconi, who marries Morgan O’Connell and is the mother of his grandson John O’Connell Bianconi.

Bianconi’s transport services continue into the 1850s and later, by which time there are a number of railway services in the country. The Bianconi coaches continue to be well-patronised, by offering connections from various termini, one of the first and few examples of an integrated transport system in Ireland. By 1865 Bianconi’s annual income was about £35,000.

Charles Bianconi dies on September 22, 1875 at Longfield House, Boherlahan, County Tipperary. Having donated land to the parish of Boherlahan for the construction of a parish church, he wishes to be buried on the Church grounds. He, and his family, are buried in a side chapel, separate from the parish church in Boherlahan, approximately 5 miles from Cashel, County Tipperary.


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Birth of Michael Cusack, Founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association

michael-cusackMichael Cusack, teacher and founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, is born to Irish speaking parents on September 20, 1847 in the parish of Carran on the eastern fringe of the Burren, County Clare during the Great Famine.

Cusack becomes a national school teacher, and after teaching in various parts of Ireland becomes a professor in 1874 at Blackrock College, then known as the French College. In 1877, he establishes his own Civil Service Academy, Cusack’s Academy, in Dublin which proves successful in preparing pupils for the civil service examinations.

A romantic nationalist, Cusack is also “reputed” to have been associated with the Fenian movement. He is active in the Gaelic revival as a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language which is founded in 1876, and later the Conradh na Gaeilge who in 1879 breaks away from the Society. Also in 1879, he meets Pat Nally, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a leading nationalist and athlete. He finds that Nally’s views on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics are the same as his. He recalls how both Nally and himself while walking through the Phoenix Park in Dublin seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depressed them that they agreed it was time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of [their] race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to ‘artisans’ in Dublin the following April.

On November 1, 1884, Cusack, together with Maurice Davin of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, call a meeting in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel, Thurles, County Tipperary, and found the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Davin is elected president and Cusack becomes its first secretary. Later, Archbishop Thomas William Croke (May 28, 1824 – July 22, 1902), Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell become patrons. Cusack also becomes involved in the Irish language movement, founding The Celtic Times, a weekly newspaper which focuses on “native games” and Irish culture.

Michael Cusack dies in Dublin at the age of 59 on November 27, 1906.


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Death of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork

richard-boyle-1st-earl-of-corkRichard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, English-born politician who serves as Lord Treasurer of the Kingdom of Ireland and is also known as the Great Earl of Cork, dies on September 15, 1643 in Youghal, County Cork. He is an important figure in the continuing English colonisation of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries, as he acquires large tracts of land in plantations in Munster in southern Ireland.

Boyle is born at Canterbury, Kent, England on October 3, 1566, the second son of Roger Boyle, a descendant of an ancient landed Herefordshire family, and of Joan, daughter of John Naylor. He goes to The King’s School, Canterbury, at the same time as Christopher Marlowe. His university education begins at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England, in 1583. After this he studies law at the Middle Temple in London and becomes a clerk to Sir Roger Manwood, who is then Chief Baron of the Exchequer.

Boyle goes to Ireland in 1588. He becomes deputy Escheator under Ireland’s Escheator General John Crofton and uses his office to enrich himself, only to lose his property in the Munster rebellion in 1598. Returning to England, he is imprisoned on charges of embezzlement arising from his activities in Ireland. He is acquitted by a royal court, however, and in 1600 Elizabeth I of England appoints him clerk of the council of Munster.

Two years later, Boyle purchases Sir Walter Raleigh’s estates in the Irish counties of Cork, Waterford, and Tipperary. By employing settlers imported from England, he develops his lands and founds ironworks and other industries. The enormous wealth he accumulates brings him honours and political influence. Created Earl of Cork in 1620, he is appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1629 and Lord High Treasurer in 1631. Nevertheless, soon after Sir Thomas Wentworth (afterward Earl of Strafford) goes to Ireland as lord deputy in 1633, Boyle is fined heavily for possessing defective titles to some of his estates. Thereafter his political influence declines.

Boyle dies at Youghal on September 15, 1643, having been chased off his lands in the Irish Rebellion of 1641. His sons, however, recover the family estates after the suppression of the rebellion.

Boyle’s first wife, Joan Apsley, the daughter and co-heiress of William Apsley of Limerick, whom he marries on November 6, 1595, dies at Mallow, County Cork on December 14, 1599 during childbirth. By his second wife, Catherine Fenton, daughter of Sir Geoffrey Fenton, he has eight daughters and seven sons, including the renowned chemist Robert Boyle and the statesman-dramatist Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery.


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Birth of Dan Breen, IRA Volunteer & Fianna Fáil Politician

Irish republican Dan Breen (1967)Daniel “Dan” Breen, volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, is born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary, on August 11, 1894. In later years, he is a Fianna Fáil politician.

Breen’s father dies when he is six, leaving the family very poor. He is educated locally before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.

Breen is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21, 1919, the day the First Dáil meets in Dublin, Breen takes part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush. The ambush party of eight men, led by Seán Treacy, attacks two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who are escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, are fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen’s head, which is later increased to £10,000. He quickly establishes himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army. He is known for his courage. On May 13, 1919 he helps rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who is wounded, remembers how the battalion is “vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins” and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church. After the fight, Treacy, Séumas Robinson, and Breen meet Michael Collins in Dublin, where they are told to make themselves scarce although they do not necessarily agree.

Breen and Sean Treacy shoot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escape, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen is shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction is to make Tipperary a “Special Military Area,” with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorises entrerprising attacks on barracks. The British policy forces Breen and Treacy to retreat to Dublin. They join Michael Collins’ Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, and Dublin becomes the centre of the war.

Breen is present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage is killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount John French. The IRA hides behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles drives past. They have been instructed to ignore the first car but this contains their target, Lord French. Their roadblock fails as a policeman removes the horse and cart intended to stop the car.

Breen utterly rejects the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which makes him, like many others, angry and embittered. In the June 1922 elections Breen is nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but is not elected.

Breen is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who support the Treaty. He is arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spends two months there before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days, prompting his release.

Breen writes a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924. He represents Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken. He is defeated in the June 1927 general election and travels to the United States where he opens a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returns to Ireland and regains his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year’s general election. During World War II he is said to hold largely pro-Axis views. He represents his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.

Breen dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969 and is buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral is the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assemble in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.

Breen is the subject of a 2007 biography Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.


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The Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848

young-irelander-rebellion-1848The Young Irelander Rebellion, a failed Irish nationalist uprising against the British led by the Young Ireland movement, takes place on July 29, 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, County Tipperary. The rebellion is part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that affect most of Europe. It is sometimes called the Famine Rebellion (since it takes place during the Great Famine) or the Battle of Ballingarry.

In 1846, William Smith O’Brien, alongside John Mitchel, form the Irish Confederation with the Young Ireland movement which is dedicated to direct action against the British. Two short years later they are already calling for open rebellion, despite the fact that Ireland is now in the third year of the devastating famine which is leaving millions of the country’s people in brutal starvation.

Just a year after Black ‘47, the worst year of the Great Famine, the Young Ireland movement is hoping to uprise and overthrow the British but with the starving Irish just struggling to stay alive, dying or emigrating in their thousands, their revolutionary talk does little to act as a call to arms for the average Irish person.

Whereas the mistreatment of the Irish people by the British had rightly led to an increased radicalism in Irish nationalist movement, without the general Irish population able to think of anything other than staying alive, it seems doomed to failure, especially after the arrest of Mitchel before the rebellion is even started. He is convicted of sedition and transported to a penal colony in Australia before the revolt begins, a move that leads to an increased furor to revolt among the leaders that remain.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien launches his rebellion. After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, a Royal Irish Constabulary unit takes refuge in a house and holds those inside as hostages.

It was evident to the rebels that the position of the police is almost impregnable. When a party of the Cashel police are seen arriving over Boulea Hill, the rebels attempt to stop them even though they are low on ammunition. The police continue to advance, firing up the road. It becomes clear that the police in the house are about to be reinforced and rescued. The rebels then fade away, effectively terminating both the era of Young Ireland and Repeal, but the consequences of their actions follow them for many years. This event is colloquially known as “The Battle of Widow McCormack’s cabbage plot.”

In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. On June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia). In 1854, after five years in Van Diemen’s Land, O’Brien is released on the condition he never return to the United Kingdom. He settled in Brussels.

(Pictured: The attack on the Widow McCormack’s house on Boulagh Common, Ballingarry, County Tipperary)


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Birth of Fenian John O’Leary

john-o-learyJohn O’Leary, Irish republican and a leading Fenian, is born on July 23, 1830 in Tipperary, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned in England during the nineteenth century for his involvement in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

O’Leary, born a Catholic, is educated at the local Protestant grammar school, The Abbey School, and later the Catholic Carlow College. He identifies with the views advocated by Thomas Davis and meets James Stephens in 1846.

He begins his studies in law at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1847, where, through the Grattan Club, he associates with Charles Gavan Duffy, James Fintan Lalor and Thomas Francis Meagher.

After the failure of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, O’Leary attempts to rescue the Young Ireland leaders from Clonmel Gaol, and is himself imprisoned for a week from September 8, 1849. He takes part in a further attempted uprising in Cashel on September 16, 1849, but this proves abortive.

O’Leary abandons his study of law at Trinity College because he is unwilling to take the oath of allegiance required of a barrister. He enrolls at Queen’s College, Cork in 1850, to study medicine, later moving to Queen’s College, Galway, then on to further studies at Meath Hospital in Dublin, in Paris and in London. In 1855, he visits Paris, where he becomes acquainted with Kevin Izod O’Doherty, John Martin and the American painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. He subsequently becomes financial manager of the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and is joint editor of the IRB paper The Irish People.

On September 16, 1865, O’Leary is arrested and later tried on charges of high treason, eventually reduced to “treason felony.” He is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude, of which five years are spent in English prisons, prior to his release and exile in January 1871. During his exile, he lives mainly in Paris, also visiting the United States, remains active in the IRB and its associated organisations, and writes many letters to newspapers and journals.

On the expiration of his 20-year prison term and therefore of the conditions associated with his release in 1885, O’Leary returns to Ireland. He and his sister, the poet Ellen O’Leary, both become important figures within Dublin cultural and nationalist circles, which include William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Rose Kavanagh, Rosa Mulholland, George Sigerson, and Katharine Tynan. He also functions as an elder statesman of the separatist movement, being active in the Young Ireland Society, and acts as president of the Irish Transvaal Committee, which supports the Boer side in the Second Boer War.

John O’Leary dies at his residence in Dublin on the evening of March 16, 1907. He is referred to famously by W.B. Yeats in his poem September 1913: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

(Pictured: Painting of John O’Leary, a favorite subject of John Butler Yeats (1904). The National Gallery of Ireland owns three oil portraits of O’Leary.)