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

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Death of War Correspondent William Howard Russell

william-howard-russellSir William Howard Russell, an Irish reporter with The Times and considered to be one of the first modern war correspondents, dies in London, England on February 11, 1907.

Russell is born in Tallaght, County Dublin on March 28, 1820. As a young reporter, he reports on the First Schleswig War, a brief military conflict between Prussian and Danish troops in Denmark in 1850.

Initially sent by editor John Delane to Malta to cover British support for the Ottoman Empire against Russia in 1854, Russell despises the term “war correspondent” but his coverage of the conflict brings him international renown, and Florence Nightingale later credits her entry into wartime nursing to his reports. The Crimean medical care, shelter and protection of all ranks by Mary Seacole is also publicised by Russell and by other contemporary journalists, rescuing her from bankruptcy.

His dispatches are hugely significant as for the first time the public can read about the reality of warfare. Shocked and outraged, the public’s backlash from his reports leads the Government to re-evaluate the treatment of troops and leads to Florence Nightingale’s involvement in revolutionising battlefield treatment.

On September 20, 1854, Russell covers the battle above the Alma River, writing his missive the following day in an account book seized from a Russian corpse. The story, written in the form of a letter to Delane, is supportive of the British troops and pays particular attention to the battlefield surgeons’ “humane barbarity” and the lack of ambulance care for wounded troops. He later covers the Siege of Sevastopol where he coins the phrase “thin red line” in referring to British troops at Balaclava.

Following Russell’s reports of the appalling conditions suffered by the Allied troops conducting the siege, including an outbreak of cholera, Samuel Morton Peto and his partners build the Grand Crimean Central Railway, which is a major factor leading to the success of the siege.

Russell spends December 1854 in Constantinople on holiday, returning in early 1855. He leaves Crimea in December 1855 to be replaced by the Constantinople correspondent of The Times.

In 1856 Russell is sent to Moscow to describe the coronation of Tsar Alexander II and in the following year is sent to India where he witnesses the final re-capture of Lucknow.

In 1861 Russell goes to Washington, D.C., returning to England in 1863. In July 1865 he sails on the SS Great Eastern to document the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable and writes a book about the voyage with color illustrations by Robert Dudley. He publishes diaries of his time in India, the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, where he describes the warm welcome given him by English-speaking Prussian generals such as Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal.

Russell retires as a battlefield correspondent in 1882 and founds the Army and Navy Gazette. He is knighted in May 1895 and is appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) by King Edward VII on August 11, 1902.

Sir William Howard Russell dies on Februry 11, 1907 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.


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Birth of Edward Martyn, Playwright & Activist

edward-martynEdward Martyn, Irish playwright and early republican political and cultural activist, is born in County Galway on January 30, 1859. He serves as the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908.

Martyn is the elder son of John Martyn of Tullira Castle, Ardrahan and Annie Mary Josephine (née Smyth) of Masonbrook, Loughrea, both of County Galway. He is educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and Wimbledon College, London, both Jesuit schools, after which he enters Christ Church, Oxford in 1877, but leaves without taking a degree in 1879. His only sibling, John, dies in 1883.

Martyn begins writing fiction and plays in the 1880s. While his own output is undistinguished, he acquires a well-earned reputation as a noted connoisseur of music, both European classical and Irish traditional. He is a fine musician in his own right, giving memorable performances for guests on an organ he has installed at Tullira. He uses his wealth to benefit Irish culture.

Martyn is reportedly pivotal in introducing William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory to each other in 1896. The three found the Irish Literary Theatre, for whom Martyn writes his best and most popular plays, The Heather Field and A Tale of a Town. He covers the costs of the company’s first three seasons, which proves crucial to establishing the company and the future of the Abbey Theatre. He later parts ways with Yeats and Gregory, something he later regrets, but remains on warm terms with Lady Gregory until the end of his life.

Martyn is a cousin and friend to George Moore (1852–1933). The two make frequent trips all over Europe, where Moore influences Martyn’s views on modern art, which result in the latter purchasing several works by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Kitagawa Utamaro, all later donated to the National Gallery of Ireland. Moore does not share Martyn’s fenian ideas nor espousal of violent means to achieve national sovereignty. Their different political opinions eventually drive their friendship apart.

Martyn is descended from Richard Óge Martyn, a leading Irish Confederate, and Oliver Óge Martyn, a Jacobite who fights in the Williamite War in Ireland. Yet by his lifetime, the family are unionists. Martyn’s outlook begins to change in the 1880s after studying Irish history, as well as living through the events of the Irish Land War. He comes out as an Irish republican when he famously refuses to allow “God Save The Queen” to be sung after a dinner party at Tullira. By this stage he is involved with the political work of Maude Gonne and Arthur Griffith, and is a vocal opponent of the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1897. He also protests the visit by Edward VII in 1903, this time as chairman of the People’s Protection Committee. He is the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908. In 1908 he resigns from the party and politics in general to concentrate on writing and his other activities.

He is on close personal terms with Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Mary Plunkett and Patrick Pearse, and deeply mourns their executions in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. A parish hall and church that he founded at Labane, near Tullira, are burned by the Black and Tans. He supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

Martyn dies at Tullira on December 5, 1923 after years of ill health. Friends and family are shocked at a provision in his will that directs that his body be donated for the use of medical science and, after dissection, be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The Palestrina Choir sings at his graveside. He bequeaths his papers to the Carmelites of Clarendon Street in Dublin, who subsequently misplace and lose them. Portraits of Martyn exist by, among others, John Butler Yeats and Sarah Purser. On his death the senior line of the Martyn family dies out. His property is inherited by his cousins, the Smyths of Masonbrook and Lord Hemphill. Tullira is sold by the latter forty years later changing ownership several times since.