seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon & First Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon PC PC (NI) DL, prominent Irish unionist politician, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1921 until his death in 1940, is born at Sydenham, Belfast, on January 8, 1871.

Craig is the seventh of nine children of James Craig (1828–1900), a wealthy whiskey distiller who had entered the firm of Dunville & Co. as a clerk and by age 40 is a millionaire and a partner in the firm. Craig Snr. owns a large house called Craigavon, overlooking Belfast Lough. His mother, Eleanor Gilmore Browne, is the daughter of Robert Browne, a prosperous man who owned property in Belfast and a farm outside Lisburn. Craig is educated at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, Scotland. After school he begins work as a stockbroker, eventually opening his own firm in Belfast.

Craig enlists in the 3rd (Militia) battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles on January 17, 1900 to serve in the Second Boer War. He is seconded to the Imperial Yeomanry, a cavalry force created for service during the war, as a lieutenant in the 13th battalion on February 24, 1900, and leaves Liverpool for South Africa on the SS Cymric in March 1900. After arrival he is soon sent to the front and is taken prisoner in May 1900, but released by the Boers because of a perforated colon. On his recovery he becomes deputy assistant director of the Imperial Military Railways, showing the qualities of organisation that are to mark his involvement in both British and Ulster politics. In June 1901 he is sent home suffering from dysentery, and by the time he is fit for service again the war is over. He is promoted to captain in the 3rd Royal Irish Rifles on September 20, 1902, while still seconded to South Africa.

On his return to Ireland, having received a £100,000 legacy from his father’s will, Craig turns to politics, serving as Member of the British Parliament for East Down from 1906 to 1918. From 1918 to 1921 he represents Mid Down, and serves in the British government as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Pensions (1919–20) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1920–21).

Craig rallies Ulster loyalist opposition to Irish Home Rule in Ulster before World War I, organising the paramilitary Ulster Volunteers (UVF) and buying arms from Imperial Germany. The UVF becomes the nucleus of the 36th (Ulster) Division during World War I. He succeeds Edward Carson as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in February 1921.

In the 1921 Northern Ireland general election, the first ever, Craig is elected to the newly created House of Commons of Northern Ireland as one of the members for Down.

On June 7, 1921, Craig is appointed the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The House of Commons of Northern Ireland assembles for the first time later that day.

Craig is made a baronet in 1918, and in 1927 is created Viscount Craigavon, of Stormont in the County of Down. He is also the recipient of honorary degrees from Queen’s University Belfast (1922) and the University of Oxford (1926).

Craig had made his career in British as well as Northern Irish politics but his premiership shows little sign of his earlier close acquaintance with the British political world. He becomes intensely parochial, and suffers from his loss of intimacy with British politicians in 1938, when the British government concludes agreements with Dublin to end the Anglo-Irish trade war between the two countries. He never tries to persuade Westminster to protect Northern Ireland‘s industries, especially the linen industry, which is central to its economy. He is anxious not to provoke Westminster, given the precarious state of Northern Ireland’s position. In April 1939, and again in May 1940 during World War II, he calls for conscription to be introduced in Northern Ireland (which the British government, fearing a backlash from nationalists, refuses). He also calls for Winston Churchill to invade Ireland using Scottish and Welsh troops in order to seize the valuable ports and install a Governor-General at Dublin.

While still prime minister, Craig dies peacefully at his home at Glencraig, County Down at the age of 69 on November 24, 1940. He is buried on the Stormont Estate on December 5, 1940, and is succeeded as the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Minister of Finance, J. M. Andrews.

(Pictured: James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, bromide print by Olive Edis, National Portrait Gallery, London)


Leave a comment

The Beginning of the Battle of the Somme

On July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, twenty thousand soldiers of the British Army are killed and forty thousand are wounded. The 36th (Ulster) Division suffers heavy casualties.

The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, is a battle of the World War I fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It takes place between July 1 and November 18, 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle is intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and is the largest battle of World War I on the Western Front. More than 3 million men fight in this battle and one million men are wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

The French and British commit themselves to an offensive on the Somme during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise, in December 1915. The Allies agree upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916, by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. Initial plans call for the French army to undertake the main part of the Somme offensive, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). When the Imperial German Army begins the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on February 21, 1916, French commanders divert many of the divisions intended for the Somme and the “supporting” attack by the British becomes the principal effort.

The first day on the Somme, July 1, sees a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which is forced out of its first position by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank and by the Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the AlbertBapaume road. The first day on the Somme is, in terms of casualties, also the worst day in the history of the British army, which suffers 57,470 casualties. These occur mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack is defeated and few British troops reach the German front line. The British troops on the Somme comprise a mixture of the remains of the pre-war standing army, the Territorial Force, and Kitchener’s Army, a force of volunteer recruits including many Pals Battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations.

The battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces have penetrated 6 miles into German-occupied territory, taking more ground than in any of their offensives since the First Battle of the Marne in 1914. The Anglo-French armies fail to capture Péronne and halt three miles from Bapaume, where the German armies maintain their positions over the winter. British attacks in the Ancre valley resume in January 1917 and force the Germans into local withdrawals to reserve lines in February, before the scheduled retirement to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) begins in March.

Debate continues over the necessity, significance and effect of the battle. David Frum opines that a century later, “‘the Somme’ remains the most harrowing place-name” in the history of the British Commonwealth.