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


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John Mitchel Re-elected to Parliament; Dies Eight Days Later

After being barred as an undischarged felon from taking his seat as elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Tipperary, John Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, is re-elected on March 12, 1875. He dies eight days later.

Mitchel is born in Camnish, near Dungiven, County Derry on November 3, 1815, the son of a Presbyterian minister. At the age of four, he is sent to a classical school, run by an old minister named Moor, nicknamed “Gospel Moor” by the students. He reads books from a very early age. When a little over five years old, he is introduced to Latin grammar by his teacher and makes quick progress. In 1830, not yet 15 years old, he enters Trinity College, Dublin and obtains a law degree in 1834. In the spring of 1836 he meets Jane Verner, the only daughter of Captain James Verner. Though both families are opposed to the relationship, they become engaged in the autumn and are married on February 3, 1837 by the Rev. David Babington in Drumcree Church, the parish church of Drumcree.

Mitchel works in a law office in Banbridge, County Down, where he eventually comes into conflict with the local Orange Order. He meets Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy during visits to Dublin. He joins the Young Ireland movement and begins to write for The Nation. Deeply affected by the misery and death caused by the Great Famine, he becomes convinced that nothing will ever come of the constitutional efforts to gain Irish freedom. He then forms his own paper, United Irishmen, to advocate passive resistance by Ireland’s starving masses.

In May 1848, the British tire of Mitchel’s open defiance. Ever the legal innovators in Ireland, they invent a crime especially for the Young Irelanders – felony-treason. They arrest him for violating this new law and close down his paper. A rigged jury convicts him, and he is deported first to Bermuda and then to Australia. However, in June 1853, he escapes to the United States.

Mitchel works as a journalist in New York City and then moves to the South. When the American Civil War erupts, he is a strong supporter of the Southern cause, seeing parallels with the position of the Irish. His family fully backs his commitment to the Southern cause. He loses two sons in the war, one at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and another at the Battle of Fort Sumter in 1864, and another son loses an arm. His outspoken support of the Confederacy causes him to be jailed for a time at Fort Monroe, where one of his fellow prisoners is Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In 1874, the British allow Mitchel to return to Ireland and in 1875 he is elected in a by-election to be a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom representing the Tipperary constituency. However his election is invalidated on the grounds that he is a convicted felon. He contests the seat again in the resulting by-election and is again elected, this time with an increased vote.

Unfortunately, Mitchel, one of the staunchest enemies to English rule of Ireland in history, dies eight days later in Newry on March 20, 1875, and is buried there. Thirty-eight years later, his grandson, John Purroy Mitchel, is elected Mayor of New York City.


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People’s Democracy March Ambush at Burntollet Bridge

On January 4, 1969, during the first stages of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the civil rights group People’s Democracy is attacked at Burntollet Bridge on the final day of a four-day march from Belfast to Derry by 200 loyalists and off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers armed with iron bars, bricks, and bottles.

The People’s Democracy organizes the four-day march from Belfast to Derry, starting on January 1, 1969. The march is to be the acid test of the government’s intentions. Either the government will face up to the extreme right of its own Unionist Party and protect the march from the ‘harassing and hindering,’ or it will be exposed as impotent in the face of sectarian thuggery, and Westminster will be forced to intervene, re-opening the whole Irish question for the first time in 50 years. The march is modelled on the Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965, which had exposed the racist thuggery of America’s Deep South and forced the United States government into major reforms.

The departure on New Year’s Day 1969 of approximately 40 People’s Democracy supporters on the march to Derry is marked by a protest in Belfast by loyalists under the direction of Major Ronald Bunting, a close associate of Rev. Ian Paisley. It is the loyalist’s intention to harass the march along its entire journey.

On the first day of the march, the group makes its way unhindered towards Antrim. Just outside Antrim the marchers run into a police barricade, behind which several hundred loyalists are gathered, led by Major Bunting. The RUC refuses to remove the blockade and after a lengthy delay, and minor scuffles, the marchers are driven in police tenders to Whitehall Community Centre where they spend an unsettled night interrupted by a bomb threat.

The next day, the marchers set off for Randalstown but again find their way blocked by Major Bunting and a crowd of loyalists. Once again the RUC refuses to remove the loyalist protesters and the marchers are eventually transported to Toome by car. The marchers are welcomed at Toome and after taking lunch in the village they set out for Maghera. After 30 minutes the march is again halted and then rerouted away from the loyalist village of Knockloughlin. After two miles, loyalist protestors led by Major Bunting again halt the march. Another stand off ensues and, as locals gather to support the marchers, the RUC’s County Inspector Kerr asks the loyalists to stand aside, which they do. The marchers then make their way towards Maghera, where loyalists have gathered to await their arrival. On hearing of this ‘reception’ committee, which is armed with clubs and sticks, the marchers decide to bypass the village and spend the night at Bracaghreilly. That night Maghera witnesses considerable violence from frustrated loyalists.

On January 3, the third day of the march, the marchers set out for Dungiven and encounter little opposition. After lunch in Dungiven they travel on to Feeny. A mile outside Dungiven the marchers are halted by the RUC with reports of a loyalist protest further along the road. A civil rights supporter then arrives along the road that is allegedly blocked and reports no obstructions ahead. The marchers decide to breach police lines and encounter no protest ahead. After reaching Feeny the marchers move on to Claudy, where they receive a friendly reception and settle down for the night. That night a loyalist attack on the hall in which the marchers are staying is repulsed by locals.

The same night in Derry, a rally by Ian Paisley in the Guildhall leads to serious disorder. While those inside the hall are listening to Major Bunting call for loyalists to gather the next day at Burntollet, a crowd of nationalists gather outside the building in protest. During clashes as the rally disperses, Major Bunting’s car is destroyed. Later that night stockpiles of bottles and stones are left by loyalists in the fields at Burntollet.

On the morning of January 4, the marchers, who now number approximately 500, set out on the last league of their journey to Derry. Just before reaching Burntollet District Inspector Harrison stops the march in order to investigate reports of loyalists ahead. Harrison, together with County Inspector Kerr, speak of 50 loyalists ahead and claim to be confident that there is no danger. With the RUC leading the way the marchers advance. In the field overlooking the road the marchers observe approximately 300 loyalists, identified by white armbands and armed with cudgels. They come under a bombardment of missiles. Marchers seek to escape the bombardment by speeding up the road but there is to be no escape as they immediately encounter a second contingent of loyalists blocking their escape.

As many marchers flee into the fields they are pursued by attackers and the RUC makes no attempt to intervene. Others are thrown into the nearby River Faughan. As what is left of the marchers continue on to Derry, they are also attacked twice in Derry’s Waterside before receiving a rousing welcome in Guildhall Square.

That night clashes occur between the RUC and local people and the first “Free Derry” is born. At 2:00 AM members of the RUC attack the Bogside, running amok in the Lecky Road and St. Columbs Wells districts. Windows are broken, residents are assaulted and sectarian abuse is directed at the people of the Bogside. The reaction to this ‘invasion’ ranges from the painting of the Free Derry legend to the formation of vigilante squads in the area, based at the Foyle Harps Hall in the Brandywell and Rossville Hall in the Bogside. The barricades remain up for a number of days and relations between the community in the Bogside and the RUC, which has never been particularly good, grows steadily worse.

These events, together with the steady increase of conflict between local youths and the RUC as the year progress, is to lay the foundations for the resistance that is to take place during the Battle of the Bogside.

(From: “People’s Democracy march, January 4, 1969” by Jude Collins, http://www.judecollins.com, January 4, 2016)


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Birth of Cara Dillon, Irish Folk Singer

Cara Elizabeth Dillon, Irish folk singer, is born in Dungiven, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on July 21, 1975.

Dillon comes from an area steeped in Irish traditional music. Since she was a schoolgirl she has sung and performed. She learns local folk songs from teachers and workshops held in the town. She can also play the fiddle and whistles. At the age of 14 she wins the All-Ireland Singing Trophy at Fleadh Cheoil.

In 1991 Dillon forms a band called Óige (an Irish word meaning ‘youth’) with school friends Murrough and Ruadhrai O’Kane, bringing her take on Irish traditional songs to Ireland, Scotland and further afield. During this time she also performs with big names such as De Dannan and Phil Coulter. Óige records two albums with Dillon, a studio and a live album. Inspiration is recorded in 1992 to sell at concerts in Europe. The live album, simply called Live, is recorded at a concert in Glasgow on August 15, 1993.

Dillon leaves Óige in 1995 and joins the folk supergroup Equation, replacing Kate Rusby, and signs a record deal with Warner Music Group. She leaves Equation with original band member Sam Lakeman because of musical differences and together they immediately signed a separate deal with the same label as a duo named Polar Star. In 2001, she releases her first solo album, Cara Dillon, which features traditional songs and two original Dillon/Lakeman compositions. The album is an unexpected hit in the folk world, with Dillon receiving four nominations at the 2002 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Lakeman and Dillon marry in December 2002.

Dillon’s second album, Sweet Liberty (2003), enters the Irish Albums Chart and UK Independent Albums Chart. In 2004, she receives the Meteor Irish Music Award for Best Irish Female. Her third album, After the Morning, is released in 2006. The album’s opening track “Never in a Million Years” gains BBC Radio 2 airplay, while other tracks feature the Czech Philharmonic orchestra and Paul Brady. Also in 2006, she sings at the opening of the Ryder Cup in Ireland.

In 2009, Dillon releases her fourth album, the award-winning Hill of Thieves. The record marks a return to Dillon’s traditional roots with a purer production and arrangement style. The titular track “Hill of Thieves,” a Dillon\Lakeman original, is voted by BBC listeners as one of the “Top 10” original songs to have come out of Northern Ireland. In 2012, she performs two concerts with the Ulster Orchestra.

Dillon’s fifth solo album, A Thousand Hearts, is released in 2014. Prior to the album’s release, she discovers that her music enjoys a dedicated following in China, where her first album is featured in English curriculums. She has since embarked on several popular Chinese tours. As of 2017, she continues to tour regularly and work with her husband, who backs her on piano and guitar. Her most recent release is the album, Wanderer (2017).

Dillon is the sister of fellow folk singer Mary Dillon, formerly of Déanta. Dillon and Lakeman live in Frome, Somerset, England with their three children, twin sons born in 2006 and a daughter born in 2010.


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Birth of John Mitchel, Nationalist Activist & Journalist

John Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, is born in Camnish, near Dungiven, County Derry on November 3, 1815.

Mitchel is the son of a Presbyterian minister. At the age of four, he is sent to a classical school, run by an old minister named Moor, nicknamed “Gospel Moor” by the students. He reads books from a very early age. When a little over five years old, he is introduced to Latin grammar by his teacher and makes quick progress. In 1830, not yet 15 years old, he enters Trinity College, Dublin and obtains a law degree in 1834.

In the spring of 1836 Mitchel meets Jane Verner, the only daughter of Captain James Verner. Though both families are opposed to the relationship, they become engaged in the autumn and are married on February 3, 1837 by the Rev. David Babington in Drumcree Church, the parish church of Drumcree.

Mitchel works in a law office in Banbridge, County Down, where he eventually comes into conflict with the local Orange Order. He meets Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy during visits to Dublin. He joins the Young Ireland movement and begins to write for The Nation. Deeply affected by the misery and death caused by the Great Famine, he becomes convinced that nothing will ever come of the constitutional efforts to gain Irish freedom. He then forms his own paper, United Irishmen, to advocate passive resistance by Ireland’s starving masses.

In May 1848, the British tire of Mitchel’s open defiance. Ever the legal innovators in Ireland, they invent a crime especially for the Young Irelanders – felony-treason. They arrest him for violating this new law and close down his paper. A rigged jury convicts him, and he is deported first to Bermuda and then to Australia. However, in June 1853, he escapes to the United States.

Mitchel works as a journalist in New York City and then moves to the South. When the American Civil War erupts, he is a strong supporter of the Southern cause, seeing parallels with the position of the Irish. His family fully backs his commitment to the Southern cause. He loses two sons in the war, one at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and another at the Battle of Fort Sumter in 1864, and another son loses an arm. His outspoken support of the Confederacy causes him to be jailed for a time at Fort Monroe, where one of his fellow prisoners is Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In 1874, the British allow Mitchel to return to Ireland and in 1875 he is elected in a by-election to be a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom representing the Tipperary constituency. However his election is invalidated on the grounds that he is a convicted felon. He contests the seat again in the resulting by-election and is again elected, this time with an increased vote.

Unfortunately, Mitchel, one of the staunchest enemies to English rule of Ireland in history, dies in Newry on March 20, 1875, and is buried there. Thirty-eight years later, his grandson, John Purroy Mitchel, is elected Mayor of New York City.


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Death of Hunger Striker Kevin Lynch

kevin-lynchKevin Lynch, Irish republican hunger striker and member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), dies on August 1, 1981 at Maze Prison in County Down, Northern Ireland following 71 days on hunger strike.

Lynch is born on May 25, 1956 in Park near Dungiven, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, the youngest in a family of eight children born to Paddy and Bridie Lynch. His older brother, Frank, is an amateur boxer and he also participates in the sport as well as Gaelic football and hurling. He is a member of the winning Dungiven GAC team which wins the Féile na nGael Division 3 in Thurles, County Tipperary in 1971. In 1972 he captains the Derry Hurling team to an Under-16 All-Ireland title at Croke Park in Dublin by defeating the Armagh GAA club.

Lynch stands as a Anti H-Block candidate in the Waterford constituency during the June 1981 general election in the South and polls extremely well despite missing out on election.

Lynch is tried, convicted and sentenced to ten years for conspiracy to obtain arms, taking part in a punishment shooting and conspiring to take arms from the security forces. He is sent to the Maze Prison in County Down in December 1977. He becomes involved with the blanket protest and joins the 1981 hunger strike at the Maze on May 23, 1981. He dies at Maze Prison 71 days later on August 1, 1981.

The Dungiven hurling team is renamed Kevin Lynch’s Hurling Club in his honour following his death.


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Publication of the First Issue of “The United Irishman”

john-mitchelJohn Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, publishes the first issue of The United Irishman on February 12, 1848.

Mitchel is one of the great propagandists of his day, although the causes he espouses often place him on the wrong side, he is loved and loathed in equal measure. He is one of the few Irishmen to have incurred the wrath of the British government and of the Federal administration of the United States.

Mitchel is born near Dungiven, County Derry in what is now Northern Ireland on November 3, 1815. The son of a Presbyterian clergyman, he creates his own pulpit in a series of journalistic enterprises in Dublin, Tennessee, Virginia and New York.

Mostly raised in Newry, County Down, Mitchel’s first political association is with the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s and the famous The Nation newspaper, founded by Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon in 1842. But long before the abortive Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 he has moved on, finding the editorial policies of The Nation rather too bland for his tastes.

Inflamed by the suffering he witnesses on a trip to Galway, it is Mitchel, more than any other writer or politician, who shapes the nationalist perception of an Gorta Mór (Great Famine):

“I could see, in front of the cottages, little children leaning against a fence when the sun shone out for they could not stand, their limbs fleshless, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled, and of a pale, greenish hue… I saw Trevelyan’s claw in the vitals of those children: his red tape would draw them to death: in his government laboratory he had prepared for them the typhus poison.”

Responding to such writing, Ireland simmers, angry and ready for rebellion. Fearful of Mitchel’s power, London’s Punch magazine emphasises his international standing by portraying him as an Irish monkey challenging the Great British Lion. The Times thunders against him. When Mitchel produces his own republican newspaper, The United Irishman, which, in its inaugural edition, claims that “the world was weary of Old Ireland and also of Young Ireland” thus attacking both Daniel O’Connell and his younger antagonists with the same broadsword. He aims to be an equal opportunities offender and succeeds admirably.

The United Irishman sells out and is shut down by the British authorities after a mere sixteen issues. In order to silence Mitchel, to rob him of his heroic status and his possible martyrdom, the British government passes the Treason Felony Act 1848, which seeks to treat treason as a common crime. He is later tried before an elegantly and efficiently packed jury, found guilty of treason-felony, and deported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The result is one of the greatest works of Irish political history, The Jail Journal, in which Mitchel writes about his own experience of deportation and advocates a far more militaristic approach to Ireland’s “English problem” than would have been popular heretofore.

Mitchel is acclaimed by Patrick Pearse, who declares The Jail Journal to be “the last of the four gospels of the new testament of Irish nationality, the last and the fieriest and the most sublime.” Éamon de Valera reveres Mitchel, and when in 1943 he imagines Ireland as “the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit,” he too is delving into The Jail Journal for his inspiration.

(From: #OTD in 1848 – John Mitchel Publishes First United Irishman, Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland)


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Birth of Kevin Lynch, Irish Republican Hunger Striker

kevin-lynchKevin Lynch, Irish republican hunger striker and member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), is born on May 25, 1956 in Park near Dungiven, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

Lynch is the youngest in a family of eight children born to Paddy and Bridie Lynch. His older brother, Frank, is an amateur boxer and he also participates in the sport as well as Gaelic football and hurling. He is a member of the winning Dungiven GAC team which wins the Féile na nGael Division 3 in Thurles, County Tipperary in 1971. In 1972 he captains the Derry Hurling team to an Under-16 All-Ireland title at Croke Park in Dublin by defeating the Armagh GAA club.

Lynch is tried, convicted and sentenced to ten years for stealing shotguns, taking part in a punishment shooting and conspiring to take arms from the security forces. He is sent to the Maze Prison in County Down, Northern Ireland in December 1977. He becomes involved with the blanket protest and joins the 1981 hunger strike at the Maze on May 23, 1981. Kevin Lynch dies at Maze Prison 71 days later on August 1, 1981.

The Dungiven hurling team is renamed Kevin Lynch’s Hurling Club in his honour after his death.


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Death of Francis McCloskey, First Fatality of “The Troubles”

the-troublesFrancis McCloskey, a 67-year old Catholic civilian, dies on July 14, 1969, one day after being hit on the head with a baton by an officer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during street disturbances in Dungiven, County Derry. McCloskey is sometimes considered to be the first fatality of The Troubles.

McCloskey is found unconscious on July 13 near the Dungiven Orange Hall following a police baton charge against a crowd who had been throwing stones at the hall. Witnesses later say they had seen police beating a figure with batons in the doorway where McCloskey is found, although police claim he had been unconscious before the baton charge and may have been hit with a stone.

The Troubles is the common name for the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that begins in the late 1960s and is deemed by most to end with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Although the Troubles mainly take place in Northern Ireland, violence spills over at times into parts of the Republic of Ireland, England, and mainland Europe.

The conflict is primarily political, but it also has an ethnic or sectarian dimension, although it is not a religious conflict. A key issue is the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Unionists and loyalists, who are mostly Protestants and consider themselves British, generally want Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Irish nationalists and republicans, who are mostly Catholic and consider themselves Irish, generally want it to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland. The conflict begins amid a campaign to end discrimination against the Catholic/nationalist minority by the Protestant/unionist government and police force in 1968. The campaign is met with violence, eventually leading to the deployment of British troops and subsequent warfare.

The main participants in the Troubles are republican paramilitaries such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), and political activists and politicians. The security forces of the Republic of Ireland play a smaller role. More than 3,500 people are killed in the conflict, of whom 52% were civilians, 32% are members of the British security forces, and 16% are members of paramilitary groups. There has been sporadic violence since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, including a campaign by anti-ceasefire republicans.