seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Melesina Chenevix Trench, Writer, Poet & Diarist

Melesina Trench (née Chenevix), Irish writer, poet and diarist, dies in Malvern, Worcestershire, England, on May 27, 1827. During her lifetime she is known more for her beauty than her writing. It is not until her son, Richard Chenevix Trench, publishes her diaries posthumously in 1861 that her work receives notice.

Chenevix is born in Dublin on March 22, 1768, to Philip Chenevix and Mary Elizabeth Gervais. She is orphaned before her fourth birthday and is brought up by her paternal grandfather, Richard Chenevix (1698–1779), the Anglican Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. The family is of Huguenot extraction.

After the death of Richard Chenevix, Chenevix goes to live with her other grandfather, the Archdeacon Gervais. On October 31, 1786, she marries Colonel Richard St. George, who dies only four years later in Portugal, leaving one son, Charles Manners St. George, who becomes a diplomat.

Between 1799 and 1800, Melesina travels around Europe, especially Germany. It is during these travels that she meets Lord Horatio Nelson, Lady Hamilton and the cream of European society, including Antoine de Rivarol, Lucien Bonaparte, and John Quincy Adams while living in Germany. She later recounts anecdotes of these meetings in her memoirs.

On March 3, 1803 in Paris she marries her second husband, Richard Trench, who is the sixth son of Frederick Trench and brother of Frederick Trench, 1st Baron Ashtown.

After the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens, Richard Trench is detained in France by Napoleon‘s armies, and in August 1805 Melesina takes it upon herself to petition Napoleon in person and pleads for her husband’s release. Her husband is released in 1807 and the couple settles at Elm Lodge in Bursledon, Hampshire, England.

Their son, Francis Chenevix Trench, is born in 1805. In 1807, when they are on holiday in Dublin, their son Richard Chenevix Trench is born. He goes on to be the Archbishop of Dublin, renowned poet and contemporary of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Her only daughter dies a few years later at the age of four.

Trench corresponds with, amongst others, Mary Leadbeater, with whom she works to improve the lot of the peasantry at her estate at Ballybarney. She dies at the age of 59 in Malvern, Worcestershire on May 27, 1827.

Melesina Trench’s diaries and letters are compiled posthumously by Richard Chenevix Trench as The remains of the late Mrs. Richard Trench in 1861 with an engraving of her taken from a painting by George Romney. Another oil painting, The Evening Star by Sir Thomas Lawrence, has her as a subject, and she is reproduced in portrait miniatures – one in Paris by Jean-Baptiste Isabey and another by Hamilton that is copied by the engraver Francis Engleheart.

Copies of a number of her works are held at Chawton House Library.

(Pictured: “Melesina Chenevix, Mrs. George, later Mrs. Trench,” attributed to George Romney (British, 1734–1802), oil on canvas)


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Birth of Andrew Cooney, Irish Republican & Medical Doctor

Andrew Cooney, Irish republican and medical doctor, is born on April 22, 1897 in Ballyphillip, Nenagh, County Tipperary.

Cooney is the second of three children of John Cooney and Mary Ann Cooney (née Gleeson), middling farmers. While his grandfather, Patrick Cooney, from nearby Garrykennedy, is reputed to have been a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and an Irish National Land League activist, his father does not have any inclination towards radical politics. He is educated at Lissenhall national school and St. Joseph’s CBS, Nenagh. In October 1916, he commences studies in medicine at University College Dublin (UCD) just as the Irish War of Independence is getting underway. He plays briefly with the College’s hurling club.

In 1917, Cooney joins the Third Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). A year later he is jailed for two months in Mountjoy Prison and Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast, for illegal drilling. Joining the IRB at the end of 1918, he assists in the December 1918 election by protecting candidates and acts as a guard at sittings of the First Dáil. On June 26, 1920 he plays a major role in the attack on Borrisokane Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks. He takes part in the Bloody Sunday operations of November 21, 1920, at 28 Upper Pembroke Street where a number of British agents are killed, and attends Croke Park afterwards. He then goes on the run as a full-time Volunteer and serves with the Dublin Brigade active service unit (ASU).

After the Anglo-Irish truce of July 1921, Cooney is appointed Officer Commanding (O/C) of the 1st Kerry Brigade, IRA, reorganising it and forming a flying column. Opposing the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, he does not immediately break with GHQ, who sends him to organise the 1st Eastern Division. Later in January 1922, the Chief of Staff, Eoin O’Duffy, asks him to become O/C of the 3rd Eastern Division, but later rescinds the appointment. In March 1922 he is appointed O/C of the 1st Eastern Division of the anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.

That same year he is captured by Free State forces and interned in Mountjoy Prison, where he becomes O/C of the prisoners in C Wing. He accepts responsibility for an attempted escape bid on October 10, 1922, in which a fellow prisoner, Peadar Breslin, is killed and another man is wounded. After sojourns in Newbridge and Arbour Hill Prison, he is moved with the other leaders to Kilmainham Gaol, where he spends forty-one days on hunger strike. Removed to Harepark Camp, the Curragh, on January 1, 1924, he is among the last to be released on May 29, 1924.

Cooney succeeds Frank Aiken as Chief of Staff of the IRA on November 18, 1925. Central to the reorganisation scheme he puts in place is the need to secure American funds for the IRA and to combat Frank Aiken’s fundraising work in the United States since December 1925 on behalf of the embryo Fianna Fáil organisation. Receiving permission on April 21, 1926, he departs on a fund-raising trip to the United States, but returns to Ireland in October. He resigns as chief of staff in favour of Maurice Twomey, but retains his position as chairman of the IRA executive until November 21, 1927, when he obtains leave to complete his medical studies.

After internship in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, Cooney finds temporary employment in London, but remains in touch with GHQ. On September 27, 1929, he marries the German-educated Frances (‘Frank’) Brady, daughter of a wealthy Belfast linen family and former Cumann na mBan activist and hunger-striker. The marriage is not a success. Failing to secure employment due to police harassment and the loyalty test then in force, he and his wife are obliged to emigrate to London, where he practises as a GP, still maintaining his IRA links. Their only child, Seán, is born there in 1931. He returns to Ireland in August 1932, after Fianna Fáil’s accession to power.

An intimate friend of Maurice Twomey, who is still Chief of Staff, Cooney remains in the upper echelons of the IRA and attends its conventions. Signifying his standing in republican circles, he is chosen to unveil, inter alia, the Fenian memorial in Glasnevin Cemetery and the Seán Treacy plaque in Talbot Street, Dublin, and is a regular speaker at commemorations. In March 1940, he attempts to intercede with Éamon de Valera on behalf of hunger-striking republicans, and is later arrested, but released.

After the discovery of a German spy ring in the hospitals commission’s subsidiary, the Dublin Hospitals Bureau, Cooney is forced to resign in April 1942 on refusing to take a loyalty pledge to the state. He returns to private practice. He becomes active in the unsuccessful campaign to save Charlie Kerins, Chief of Staff, from being hanged in 1944. In anticipation of emigrating, he finally resigns from the IRA in 1944, though military and police surveillance continue until March 1945.

In August 1945, Cooney joins the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, working with displaced persons in the American zone in Germany, and gains rapid promotion. After joining the International Refugee Organisation (UNRRA’s successor) on July 1, 1947, he becomes the chief medical officer of an area including the American sector of Berlin and containing 150,000 displaced persons. He later holds a similar post in Bavaria.

Appointed a part-time member of the hospitals commission by the inter-party government in September 1949 and in severe financial straits, Cooney emigrates alone to the United States on December 2, 1950, and never returns. While employed in a tuberculosis sanatorium in New Jersey, he obtains by examination his licence to practise medicine in Maryland on January 14, 1954. Admitted a member of the American College of Chest Physicians, again by examination, on November 23, 1954, he secures, at the age of 57, his first ever permanent post in medicine, in a similar hospital in Pikesville, Maryland. His republican activities continue through Clan na Gael during his U.S. years, and he is a frequent speaker at commemorative events.

Cooney suffers a stroke in December 1961 that confines him to a wheelchair. He dies at the age of 71 on August 4, 1968, at Carroll County General Hospital, Carroll County, Maryland. He is buried in Youghalarra, Nenagh, County Tipperary.

(Pictured: Liam Lynch with some of his Divisional Staff and Officers of the Brigades, including the 1st Southern Division, who attend as delegates to the Army Convention at the Mansion House, Dublin, on April 9, 1922. Cooney is first on the right in the 3rd row back.)


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The Beginning of the Belfast Blitz

A Luftwaffe bomb kills thirteen people in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on the night of April 7, 1941. Ultimately, the city is devastated by air raids. Seven hundred people are killed and 400 seriously injured in what becomes known as the Belfast Blitz. The Blitz consists of four German air raids on strategic targets in Belfast, in April and May 1941 during World War II.

There had been a number of small bombings, probably by planes that missed their targets over the River Clyde in Glasgow or the cities of North West England. On March 24, 1941, John MacDermott, Minister for Public Security, writes to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, John Andrews, expressing his concerns that Belfast is so poorly protected. “Up to now we have escaped attack. So had Clydeside until recently. Clydeside got its blitz during the period of the last moon. There [is] ground for thinking that the … enemy could not easily reach Belfast in force except during a period of moonlight. The period of the next moon from say the 7th to the 16th of April may well bring our turn.” MacDermott is proved right.

The first deliberate raid takes place on the night of April 7. It targets the docks. Neighbouring residential areas are also hit. Six Heinkel He 111 bombers, from Kampfgruppe 26, flying at 7,000 feet, drop incendiaries, high explosive and parachute mines. By British mainland blitz standards, casualties are light. Thirteen die, including a soldier killed when an anti-aircraft gun at the Balmoral show-grounds misfires. The most significant loss is a 4.5-acre factory floor for manufacturing the fuselages of Short Stirling bombers. The Royal Air Force (RAF) announces that Squadron Leader J.W.C. Simpson shot down one of the Heinkels over Downpatrick. The Luftwaffe crews return to their base in Northern France and report that Belfast’s defences are “inferior in quality, scanty and insufficient.” This raid overall causes relatively little damage, but a lot is revealed about Belfast’s inadequate defences.

On Easter Tuesday, April 15, 1941, spectators watching a football match at Windsor Park notice a lone Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 aircraft circling overhead. That evening over 150 bombers leave their bases in northern France and the Netherlands and head for Belfast. There are Heinkel He 111s, Junkers Ju 88s and Dornier Do 17s. At 10:40 p.m. the air-raid sirens sound. Accounts differ as to when flares are dropped to light up the city. The first attack is against the city’s waterworks, which had been attacked in the previous raid. High explosives are dropped. Initially it is thought that the Germans had mistaken this reservoir for the harbour and shipyards, where many ships, including HMS Ark Royal are being repaired. However, that attack is not an error. Three vessels nearing completion at Harland & Wolff are hit as is its power station. Wave after wave of bombers drop their incendiaries, high explosives and landmines. When incendiaries are dropped, the city burns as water pressure is too low for effective firefighting. There is no opposition. In the mistaken belief that they might damage RAF fighters, the anti-aircraft batteries cease firing. But the RAF does not respond. The bombs continued to fall until 5:00 a.m.

Outside of London, with some 900 dead, this is the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Blitz. A stray bomber attacks Derry, killing fifteeen. Another attacks Bangor, County Down, killing five. By 4:00 a.m. the entire city seems to be in flames. At 4:15 a.m., John MacDermott, the Minister of Public Security, manages to contact Minister of Agriculture Basil Brooke seeking permission to seek help from the Irish government. Brooke notes in his diary, “I gave him authority as it is obviously a question of expediency.” Since 1:45 a.m. all telephones have been cut. Fortunately, the railway telegraphy link between Belfast and Dublin is still operational. The telegram is sent at 4:35 a.m. asking the Irish Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, for assistance.

By 6:00 a.m., within two hours of the request for assistance, 71 firemen with 13 fire tenders from Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin, and Dún Laoghaire are on their way to cross the Irish border to assist their Belfast colleagues. In each station volunteers are requested, as it is beyond their normal duties. In every instance, all step forward. They remain in Belfast for three days, until they are sent back by the Northern Ireland government. By then 250 firemen from Clydeside have arrived.

Taoiseach Éamon de Valera formally protests to Berlin. Frank Aiken, the Irish Minister for the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures, is in Boston, Massachusetts, at the time. He gives an interview saying, “the people of Belfast are Irish people too.”

There is a second massive air raid on Belfast on Sunday, May 4-5, 1941, three weeks after the Easter Tuesday raid. Around 1:00 a.m., Luftwaffe bombers fly over the city, concentrating their attack on the Harbour Estate and Queen’s Island. Nearby residential areas in east Belfast are also hit when “203 metric tonnes of high explosive bombs, 80 land mines attached to parachutes, and 800 firebomb canisters containing 96,000 incendiary bombs” are dropped. Over 150 people die in what becomes known as the “Fire Blitz.” Casualties are lower than at Easter, partly because the sirens sound at 11:45 p.m. while the Luftwaffe attack more cautiously from a greater height. St. George’s Church in High Street is damaged by fire. Again, the Irish emergency services cross the border, this time without waiting for an invitation.

(Pictured: Rescue workers search through the rubble of Eglington Street in Belfast, Northern Ireland, after a German Luftwaffe air raid, May 7, 1941)


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Birth of Seóirse Bodley, Composer & Associate Professor of Music at UCD

Seóirse Bodley, Irish composer and former associate professor of music at University College Dublin (UCD), is born George Pascal Bodley in Dublin on April 4, 1933. In 2008, he is the first composer to become a Saoi of Aosdána. He is widely regarded as one of the most important composers of twentieth-century art music in Ireland, having been “integral to Irish musical life since the second half of the twentieth century, not just as a composer, but also as a teacher, arranger, accompanist, adjudicator, broadcaster, and conductor.”

Bodley’s father is George James Bodley (1879–1956), an employee in the Dublin office of the London Midland & Scottish Railway Company, and later of the Ports and Docks Board. His mother, Mary (née Gough, 1891–1977), works for the Guinness Brewery. He attends schools in the Dublin suburbs of Phibsborough and Glasnevin before he moves at the age of nine to an Irish-speaking Christian Brothers school at Parnell Square. He later studies at the School of Commerce in Rathmines, where he obtains his Leaving Certificate.

Music is encouraged in his parents’ home, and Bodley receives initial lessons on the mandolin from his father and on the piano from his mother. He studies the piano, harmony and counterpoint at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and obtains a Licentiate in piano from Trinity College London (TCL). From the age of 13, he also enrolls for a time at the Brendan Smith Academy of Acting. While he is still at school, he receives his first lessons in composition privately from the Dublin-based German choral conductor Hans Waldemar Rosen (1904–94), which continues, on and off, until 1956. From his student days he performs as an accompanist to singers and takes part in chamber music performances. An important element in his musical education is the twice-weekly free concerts given by the Radio Éireann Symphony Orchestra in the Phoenix Hall, Dame Court, where he has the opportunity to hear leading Irish and international performers and conductors presenting both classics and modern repertory.

From 1952 Bodley studies for a Bachelor of Music degree from University College Dublin, mainly with Anthony Hughes. He obtains the degree in 1955. From 1957 to 1959 he studies composition (with Johann Nepomuk David) and conducting at the Württembergische Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart, Germany, and a year later he obtains a Doctorate in Music from UCD. He also takes classes in conducting with Hans Müller-Kray and Karl Maria Zwißler, and in piano with Alfred Kreutz. He returns to Germany several times in the early 1960s to participate in courses at the Darmstädter Ferienkurse, which significantly expands his knowledge of avant-garde techniques.

From 1959 until his retirement in 1998, Bodley lectures at the university’s music department, becoming associate professor in 1984. During the 1960s, he is conductor of the Culwick Choral Society.

Bodley’s development as a composer sees several distinct phases. In the 1970s he merges avant-garde styles with elements from Irish traditional music and becomes a figure of national importance. He receives several prestigious commissions for large-scale works, such as Symphony No. 3 (1981), written for the opening of the National Concert Hall.

In 1982 Bodley becomes a founder-member of Aosdána and President Mary McAleese confers the distinction of Saoi on him in November 2008. McAleese says that Bodley “has helped us to recast what it means to be an artist in Ireland.”


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Birth of Myles Byrne, United Irishman & French Army Officer

Myles Byrne, United Irishman, French army officer and author, is born into a Catholic farming family in the townland of Ballylusk, near Monaseed, County Wexford, on March 20, 1780.

At the age of 17, Byrne is asked to join the government Yeomanry. He chooses instead to join the Society of United Irishmen. In defiance of the British Crown and the Protestant Ascendancy the oath-bound movement is determined to achieve an independent and representative government for Ireland. He participates in preparations in Wexford for the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and, at the age of 18, fights at the Battle of Tubberneering on June 4 and, in command of a division of pikemen, in the Battle of Arklow on June 9, in which the rebel leader Father Michael Murphy is killed. In the face of a general rout, he leads a rebel charge in the Battle of Vinegar Hill on June 21.

Keeping command of a small band, Byrne seizes Goresbridge on June 23 but has to deplore the murder of several prisoners and other atrocities committed by his men in revenge for the torture and executions that had been visited upon the peasantry by the yeomanry and government militia. After further skirmishes he joins Joseph Holt and Michael Dwyer in taking to the Wicklow Mountains to continue a guerrilla resistance.

After Holt accepts transportation to Australia in November, Byrne, assisted by his sister, escapes to Dublin. He recalls of his sister, “If I had not remarked a long scar on her neck, she would not have mentioned anything herself. A yeoman … threatened to cut her throat with his sabre if she did not tell instantly the place in which I was hiding. The cowardly villain, no doubt, would have put his threat in execution had not some of his comrades interfered to prevent him.”

In the winter of 1802-03, Byrne enters into the plans of Robert Emmet and Anne Devlin for a renewed uprising. In his Memoirs he describes a meeting he arranged between Robert Emmet and the Wexford rebel leader Thomas Cloney at Harold’s Cross Green, Dublin, just prior to Emmet’s Rebellion, “I can never forget the impression this meeting made on me at the time – to see two heroic patriots, equally devoted to poor Ireland, discussing the best means of obtaining her freedom.”

In July 1803, the plans unravel when Anne Devlin’s cousin, Michael Dwyer, still holding out in Wicklow, recognises that there are neither the promised arms nor convincing proof of an intended French landing. In the north Thomas Russell and James Hope find no enthusiasm for a renewal of the struggle in what in 1798 are the strongest United Irish and Catholic Defender districts.

In Dublin, with their preparations revealed by an accidental explosion of a rebel arms depot, Emmet proceeds with a plan to seize the centres of government. The rising, for which for Byrne turns out with Emmet and Malachy Delaney in gold-trimmed green uniforms, is broken up after a brief confrontation in Thomas Street.

Two days after the fight in Thomas Street, Byrne meets with the fugitive Emmet and agrees to go to Paris to procure French assistance. But in Paris he finds Napoleon‘s attentions focused elsewhere. The First Consul uses a cessation of hostilities with Britain to pursue a very different venture, the re-enslavement of Haiti.

Byrne is commissioned as a captain in Napoleon’s Irish Legion. But at a time when he is convinced that “all Catholic Ireland” is “ready to rise the moment a rallying point was offered,” the Irish exiles cannot deflect the First Consul from other priorities. Rather than in Ireland, with his diminishing Irish contingent, he is to see action in the Low Countries, Germany and Spain.

Byrne rises to the rank of brigadier general and is awarded the Legion of Honour in 1813. Following the Bourbon Restoration, with fellow legionnaire John Allen, he narrowly avoids deportation as a foreign Bonapartist. An introduction to the Prince de Broglie, then vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies, and two audiences with the Minister of War, Marshal Henri Clarke, the Duke of Feltre, contribute to the latter’s decision to quash the deportation order. In August 1817 Byrne is naturalised as a French citizen.

For much of the next decade Byrne finds himself effectively retired on half pay. Returned to active military service in 1828, he distinguishes himself in the French expedition to Morea during the Greek War of Independence. He retires in 1835 with the rank of Chef de Bataillion.

In the 1840s, Byrne is Paris correspondent for The Nation in Dublin, the Young Irelander newspaper that does much to rehabilitate the memory of the United Irishmen.

In his last years Byrne writes his Memoirs, which are an account of his participation in the Irish Rebellion and his time in the Irish Legion of Napoleon. These are first published in three volumes in 1863, but there have been many subsequent reprints. Against the portrayal of 1798 as a series of disjointed, unconnected risings, his memoirs present the United Irishmen as a cohesive revolutionary organisation whose aim of a democratic, secular, republic had captured the allegiance of a great mass of the Irish people.

Byrne dies at his house in the rue Montaigne (now rue Jean Mermoz, 8th arrondissement, near Champs-Élysées), Paris on January 24, 1862, and is buried in Montmartre Cemetery. His grave there is marked by a Celtic Cross, however this headstone appears to be a 1950s replacement for an earlier one.

(Pictured: Miles Byrne (1780-1862), United Irishman. Photograph taken by an unknown photographer in Paris in February 1859. The photograph now resides in Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of the President of Ireland, in Dublin.)


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The Corporals Killings

British Army corporals Derek Wood and David Howes are killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 19, 1988, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in what becomes known as the corporals killings. The soldiers, wearing civilian clothes, both armed with Browning Hi-Power pistols and in a silver Volkswagen Passat hatchback, drive into the funeral procession for IRA member Kevin Brady.

The Brady funeral is making its way along the Andersonstown Road toward Milltown Cemetery when the corporals’ car appears from the opposite direction. The car drives straight towards the front of the funeral, which is headed by several black taxis. It drives past a Sinn Féin steward who signals it to turn. Mourners at the funeral say they believed they were under attack from Ulster loyalists, as three days earlier, loyalist Michael Stone had attacked an IRA funeral and killed three people. The car then mounts a pavement, scattering mourners, and turns into a small side road. When this road is blocked, it then reverses at speed, ending up within the funeral procession. Corporal Wood attempts to drive the car out of the procession but his exit route is blocked by a black taxi.

An angry crowd surrounds the car, smashes the windows and attempts to drag the soldiers out. Wood produces a Browning Hi-Power 9mm handgun. He climbs partly out of a window and fires a shot in the air, which briefly scatters the crowd. The crowd then surges back, with some of them attacking the car with a wheel-brace and a stepladder snatched from a photographer. The corporals are eventually pulled from the car and punched and kicked to the ground.

The attack is witnessed by the media and passersby. Journalist Mary Holland recalls seeing one of the men being dragged past a group of journalists. “He didn’t cry out; just looked at us with terrified eyes, as though we were all enemies in a foreign country who wouldn’t have understood what language he was speaking if he called out for help.”

The men are taken to nearby Casement Park sports ground, just opposite. Here they are beaten, stripped to their underpants and socks, and searched by a small group of men. The BBC and The Independent write that the men were “tortured.” A search reveals that the men are British soldiers. Their captors find a military ID on Howes which is marked “Herford,” the site of a British military base in Germany, but it is believed they misread it as “Hereford,” the headquarters of the Special Air Service (SAS).

Redemptorist priest Father Alec Reid, who plays a significant part in the peace process leading to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, intervenes and attempts to save the soldiers, and asks people to call an ambulance. “I got down between the two of them and I had my arm around this one and I was holding this one up by the shoulder….They were so disciplined, they just lay there totally still and I decided to myself they were soldiers. There was a helicopter circling overhead and I don’t know why they didn’t do something, radio to the police or soldiers to come up, because there were these two of their own soldiers.”

One of the captors warns Father Reid not to interfere and orders two men to take him away.

The two soldiers are placed in a taxi and driven fewer than 200 yards to a waste ground near Penny Lane (South Link), just off the main Andersonstown Road. There they are taken out of the vehicle and shot dead. Wood is shot six times and Howes is shot five times. Each also has multiple injuries to other parts of their bodies. The perpetrators quickly leave the scene. Father Reid hears the shots and rushes to the waste ground. He believes one of the soldiers is still breathing and attempts to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Upon realizing that the soldiers are dead, he gives them the last rites. According to photographer David Cairns, although photographers have their films taken by the IRA, he is able to keep his by quickly leaving the area after taking a photograph of Reid kneeling beside the almost naked body of Howes, administering the last rites. Cairns’ photograph is later named one of the best pictures of the past 50 years by Life magazine.

The whole incident is filmed by a British Army helicopter hovering overhead. An unnamed soldier of the Royal Scots says his eight-man patrol is nearby and sees the attack on the corporals’ car but are told not to intervene. Soldiers and police arrive on the scene three minutes after the corporals had been shot. A British Army spokesman says the army did not respond immediately because they needed time to assess the situation and were wary of being ambushed by the IRA. The large funeral procession also prevents them getting to the scene quickly.

Shortly after, the IRA releases a statement:

“The Belfast Brigade, IRA, claims responsibility for the execution of two SAS members who launched an attack on the funeral cortege of our comrade volunteer Kevin Brady. The SAS unit was initially apprehended by the people lining the route in the belief that armed loyalists were attacking them and they were removed from the immediate vicinity. Our volunteers forcibly removed the two men from the crowd and, after clearly ascertaining their identities from equipment and documentation, we executed them.”

Two men, Alex Murphy and Harry Maguire, are sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, but are released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Several other men receive lesser sentences for their part in the corporals killings.

(Pictured: Catholic priest Father Alec Reid administers the last rights to Corporal David Howes, one of two British soldiers brutally beaten and murdered in Belfast)


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The Execution of IRA Member George Plant

George Plant, member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is executed by the Irish Government on March 5, 1942.

Plant is born into a Church of Ireland farming family in Fethard, County Tipperary, on January 5, 1904, the second eldest child and son in a family of six children. His parents are John William Albert Plant, a farmer, and Catherine Hayden.

One Sunday in 1916, George and his older brother Jimmy are arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) after being seen speaking to two well-known republicans, Seán Hayes and Dan Breen. In custody the two brothers are beaten and mistreated resulting in a hatred of the RIC. He serves with the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and with the Anti-Treaty IRA in the Irish Civil War.

In 1923, George and Jimmy leave Ireland for Canada and the United States but continue as active IRA members. In 1929 they return to Ireland and carry out a bank raid in Tipperary on behalf of the IRA. They are arrested two days later at the family farm and subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison. They are released in a general amnesty after the Fianna Fáil and Éamon de Valera election victory in 1932. He is a strong supporter of Seán Russell. In 1939 following the outbreak of World War II, known in Ireland as The Emergency, de Valera is determined to maintain Irish neutrality and is not going to allow the IRA to jeopardize this. The IRA links with Germany and campaign in Britain are severely straining Anglo-Irish relations so emergency legislation is introduced.

Russell, the IRA Chief of Staff, dies in August 1940 after taking ill on board a U-boat and Stephen Hayes from County Wexford becomes IRA Chief of Staff. In late August 1940 an address on Lansdowne Road, Dublin, is raided by the Garda Síochána. Among the men arrested is Michael Devereux, a 24-year-old married truck driver from County Wexford who is also Quartermaster of the IRAs Wexford Brigade. He is released after three days without charge. Shortly afterwards Gardaí in County Wexford find an IRA arms dump. Many in the IRA suspect that Devereux had turned informer, so Stephen Hayes orders Devereux’s execution. George Plant and another man, Michael Walsh from County Kilkenny, are ordered to carry out the order. Devereux meets Plant and Walsh who tell Devereux that Tom Cullimore, the Wexford Brigade’s OC is blamed for the arms dump and that they have shot him. They order Devereux to drive them to an IRA safe house at Grangemockler in south County Tipperary. Devereux, believing he is the prime suspect in a murder, stays willingly at the safe house. A week later, on September 27, 1940, Devereux is invited to go for a walk with Plant and Paddy Davern, the owner of the safe house. Somewhere along the walk Plant accuses Devereux of being an informer and shoots him dead. Plant is arrested nine weeks later on suspicion of IRA membership and brought before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin. On February 10, 1941 Radio Éireann broadcasts a radio appeal for Michael Devereux on behalf of his wife.

In September 1941, Stephen Hayes is accused of being an informer by a group of Northern IRA members led by Seán McCaughey. He manages to escape to a garda station. Shortly afterwards a large force of Garda Síochána and Irish Army descend on the area around the Davern farmhouse where they find Devereux’s car buried under an onion bed and eventually discover Devereux’s body, a year to the day after his death. Two weeks later, Plant, already in prison on IRA membership charges, is charged with Devereux’s murder. A trial is held with a senior IRA officer, Joseph O’Connor, also charged with Devereux’s murder. The first trial collapses after two days when Paddy Davern and Micheal Walsh, two of the prosecution witnesses, refuse to give evidence. This result leads to the court issuing a nolle prosequi order which should have meant the end of the affair, however both men are rearrested and recharged with the same offence, under Emergency Order 41f. Minister for Justice Gerald Boland transfers the case to a Special Military Court with army officers acting as judges. In addition to Plant, Paddy Davern and Michael Walsh are also now charged with Devereux’s murder. The second trial begins at Collins Barracks, Dublin in February 1942 with Seán MacBride, a former IRA Chief of Staff and future government minister as the defendant’s barrister. Davern states his original statement was given at gunpoint but under the new order even statements given under duress are admissible. The court only has two sentencing options – death or acquittal. Joseph O’Connor is acquitted and despite MacBride’s best efforts the other three are sentenced to death. Davern and Walsh have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, and are both released in 1946.

Just one week after sentence is passed, Plant is executed on March 5, 1942, in Portlaoise Prison by a six-man firing squad drawn from the Irish Army. Much bitterness is caused by the treatment of Plant’s relatives. Neither his wife or mother or infant son are allowed to visit him in the week before his execution. Censorship ensures there is little mention in the newspapers, so his family only learns of his execution from a brief radio broadcast shortly before they receive a telegram. He is buried in the grounds of Portlaoise Prison, but is reinterred in 1948, when he is buried with full IRA military honours in his local church St. Johnstown in County Tipperary, and a Celtic cross is erected over his grave.

Plant’s wife moves to the United States where she remarries. His brother Jimmy dies in London in 1978. The Plant’s family farm is now part of the Coolmore Estate.


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Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, Nuncio to Ireland, Returns to Rome

Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, an Italian Roman Catholic archbishop in the mid-seventeenth century, returns to Rome on February 23, 1649, after spending just over three years in Ireland supporting Catholics with arms, money, and diplomacy.

Rinuccini is born in Rome on September 15, 1592. He is educated by the Jesuits in Rome and studies law at the Universities of Bologna and Perugia. In due course, he is ordained a priest, having at the age of twenty-two obtained his doctor’s degree from the University of Pisa. He is named a camariere (chamberlain) by Pope Gregory XV and in 1625 becomes Archbishop of Fermo. In 1631 he carefully refuses an offer to be made Archbishop of Florence.

On September 15, 1644, a new pope, Pope Innocent X, is elected. He decides to step up the help for the Irish Catholic Confederates. He sends Rinuccini as nuncio to Ireland to replace the envoy Friar Pierfrancesco Scarampi, who had been sent to Ireland by his predecessor, Pope Urban VIII, in 1643.

Rinuccini departs France from Saint-Martin-de-Ré near La Rochelle on October 18, 1645, on the frigate San Pietro and arrives in Kenmare, County Kerry, on October 21, 1645, with a retinue of twenty-six Italians, several Irish officers, and the Confederation’s secretary, Richard Bellings. He proceeds to Kilkenny, the Confederate capital, where Richard Butler, 3rd Viscount Mountgarret, the president of the Confederation, receives him at the castle. He speaks Latin to Montgarret, but all the official business of the Confederates is done in English. He asserts in his discourse that the object of his mission is to sustain the King, but above all to help the Catholic people of Ireland in securing the free and public exercise of their religion, and the restoration of the churches and church property to the Catholic Church.

Rinuccini had sent ahead arms and ammunition: 1,000 braces of pistols, 4,000 cartridge belts, 2,000 swords, 500 muskets and 20,000 pounds of gunpowder. He arrives twelve days later with a further two thousand muskets and cartridge-belts, four thousand swords, four hundred braces of pistols, two thousand pike-heads, and twenty thousand pounds of gunpowder, fully equipped soldiers and sailors and 150,658 livres tournois to finance the Irish Catholic war effort. These supplies give him a huge input into the Confederate’s internal politics because he doles out the money and arms for specific military projects, rather than handing them over to the Confederate government, or Supreme Council.

Rinuccini hopes that by doing so he can influence the Confederates’ strategic policy away from making a deal with Charles I and the Royalists in the English Civil War and towards the foundation of an independent Catholic-ruled Ireland. In particular, he wants to ensure that churches and lands taken in the rebellion would remain in Catholic hands. This is consistent with what happened in Catholic-controlled areas during the Thirty Years’ War in Germany. His mission can be seen as part of the Counter-Reformation in Europe. He also has unrealistic hopes of using Ireland as a base to re-establish Catholicism in England. However, apart from some military successes such as the Battle of Benburb on June 5, 1646, the main result of his efforts is to aggravate the infighting between factions within the Confederates.

The Confederates’ Supreme Council is dominated by wealthy landed magnates, predominantly of “Old English” origin, who are anxious to come to a deal with the Stuart monarchy that will guarantee them their land ownership, full civil rights for Catholics, and toleration of Catholicism. They form the moderate faction, which is opposed by those within the Confederation, who want better terms, including self-government for Ireland, a reversal of the land confiscations of the plantations of Ireland and establishment of Catholicism as the state religion. A particularly sore point in the negotiations with the English Royalists is the insistence of some Irish Catholics on keeping in Catholic hands the churches taken in the war. Rinuccini accepts the assurances of the Supreme Council that such concerns will be addressed in the peace treaty negotiated with James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, negotiated in 1646, now known as the First Ormond Peace.

However, when the terms are published, they grant only the private practice of Catholicism. Alleging that he had been deliberately deceived, Rinuccini publicly backs the militant faction, which includes most of the Catholic clergy and some Irish military commanders such as Owen Roe O’Neill. On the other side there are the Franciscans Pierre Marchant, and later Raymond Caron. In 1646, when the Supreme Council tries to get the Ormond Peace ratified, Rinuccini excommunicates them and helps to get the Treaty voted down in the Confederate General Assembly. The Assembly has the members of the Supreme Council arrested for treason and elects a new Supreme Council.

However, the following year, the Confederates’ attempts to drive the remaining English (mainly Parliamentarian) armies from Ireland meets with disaster at the battles of Dungan’s Hill on August 8, 1647 and Knocknanuss on November 13, 1647. As a result, the chastened Confederates hastily conclude a new deal with the English Royalists to try to prevent a Parliamentarian conquest of Ireland in 1648. Although the terms of this second deal are better than those of the first one, Rinuccini again tries to overturn the treaty. However, on this occasion, the Catholic clergy are split on whether to accept the deal, as are the Confederate military commanders and the General Assembly. Ultimately, the treaty is accepted by the Confederacy, which then dissolves itself and joins a Royalist coalition. Rinuccini backs Owen Roe O’Neill, who used his Ulster army to fight against his former comrades who had accepted the deal. He tries in vain to repeat his success of 1646 by excommunicating those who support the peace. However, the Irish bishops are split on the issue and so his authority is diluted. Militarily, Owen Roe O’Neill is unable to reverse the political balance.

Despairing of the Catholic cause in Ireland, Rinnuccini leaves the country on February 23, 1649, embarking at Galway on the ship that had brought him to Ireland, the frigate San Pietro. In the same year, Oliver Cromwell leads a Parliamentarian re-conquest of the country, after which Catholicism is thoroughly repressed. Roman Catholic worship is banned, Irish Catholic-owned land is widely confiscated east of the River Shannon, and captured Catholic clergy are executed.

Rinuccini returns to Rome, where he writes an extensive account of his time in Ireland, the Commentarius Rinuccinanus. His account blames personal vainglory and tribal divisions for the Catholic disunity in Ireland. In particular, he blames the Old English for the eventual Catholic defeat. The Gaelic Irish, he writes, despite being less civilised, are more sincere Catholics.

Rinuccini returns to his diocese in Fermo in June 1650 and dies there on December 13, 1653.


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Birth of Jerome de Bromhead, Composer & Classical Guitarist

Jerome de Bromhead, Irish composer, classical guitarist, and member of Aosdána, is born in Waterford, County Waterford, on December 2, 1945.

De Bromhead studies with A. J. Potter and James Wilson at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, with further studies with Seóirse Bodley in 1975 and Franco Donatoni in 1978. He holds an M.A. in music, art history and English from Trinity College Dublin. As a guitarist, he studies with Elspeth Henry (1967–68) and at the Guitar Centre, London (1969).

De Bromhead’s compositions include works for solo guitar as well as orchestral, choral and chamber music. His Symphony No. 1 (1986) represents Ireland at the International Rostrum of Composers at UNESCO‘s headquarters in Paris. He describes his style as “neither a Postmodernist nor a deaf-as-a-postmodernist. Above all I am suspicious of anything that seems like dogma.”

De Bromhead’s harpsichord piece Flux (1981) is performed at the ISCM World Music Days in Germany in 1987 and is now published by Tonos Verlag of Darmstadt.

According to guitarist John Feeley, de Bromhead’s solo guitar composition Gemini (1970) is “a sophisticated work, both technically and compositionally. It has the dynamism of youth, with a sense of freshness and it projects an attractive, driving energy […] It is an effective concert work, which speaks well on the instrument and is particularly gratifying for the performer.”

De Bromhead works at RTÉ as a television news director and announcer, as well as a senior music producer for radio, until a serious accident forces him to retire in 1996. He currently lives in Dublin.

The Contemporary Music Centre (www.cmc.ie) provides scores and sample recordings of a selection of de Bromhead’s works, available here.


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Death of Cornelius Ryan, Irish American Journalist & Author

Cornelius Ryan, Irish American journalist and author mainly known for his writings on popular military history, dies in Manhattan on November 23, 1974. He is especially known for his World War II books The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day (1959), The Last Battle (1966), and A Bridge Too Far (1974).

Ryan is born in Dublin on June 5, 1920. He is educated at Synge Street CBS, Portobello, Dublin. He is an altar boy at St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street and studies the violin at the Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. He is a boy scout in the 52nd Troop of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and travels on their pilgrimage to Rome on the liner RMS Lancastria in 1934. He moves to London in 1940 and becomes a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph in 1941.

Ryan initially covers the air war in Europe, flying along on fourteen bombing missions with the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). He then joins General George S. Patton‘s Third Army and covers its actions until the end of the European war. He transfers to the Pacific theater in 1945 and then to Jerusalem in 1946.

Ryan emigrates to the United States in 1947 to work for Time, where he reports on the postwar tests of atomic weapons carried out by the United States in the Pacific. He then reports for Time on the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. This is followed by work for other magazines, including Collier’s Weekly and Reader’s Digest.

Ryan marries Kathryn Morgan, a novelist, and becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1951.

On a trip to Normandy in 1949 Ryan becomes interested in telling a more complete story of Operation Overlord than has been produced to date. He begins compiling information and conducting over 1,000 interviews as he gathers stories from both the Allies and the Germans, as well as the French civilians.

In 1956 Ryan begins to write down his World War II notes for The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day, which tells the story of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, published three years later in 1959. It is an instant success, and he assists in the writing of the screenplay for the 1962 film of the same name. Darryl F. Zanuck pays the author U.S.$175,000 for the screen rights to the book.

Ryan’s 1957 book One Minute to Ditch! is about the successful ocean ditching of a Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. He had written an article about the ditching for Collier’s in their December 21, 1956, issue and then expanded it into the book.

Ryan’s next work is The Last Battle (1966), about the Battle of Berlin. The book contains detailed accounts from all perspectives: civilian, American, British, Russian and German. It deals with the fraught military and political situation in the spring of 1945, when the forces of the western allies and the Soviet Union contend for the chance to liberate Berlin and to carve up the remains of Germany.

This work was followed by A Bridge Too Far (1974), which tells the story of Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated assault by allied airborne forces on the Netherlands culminating in the Battle of Arnhem. It is made into a major 1977 film of the same name.

Ryan is awarded the French Legion of Honour and an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Ohio University, where the Cornelius Ryan Collection is housed in the Alden Library. He is diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1970 and struggles to finish A Bridge Too Far during his illness. He dies in Manhattan on November 23, 1974, while on tour promoting the book, only two months after publication. He is buried in the Ridgebury Cemetery in northern Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Four years after his death, Ryan’s struggle with prostate cancer is detailed in A Private Battle, written by his widow, from notes he had secretly left behind for that purpose.