seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Clerkenwell Explosion

The Clerkenwell explosion, also known as the Clerkenwell Outrage, is a bombing that takes place in London on December 13, 1867. The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), nicknamed the “Fenians“, explode a bomb to try to free one of their members being held on remand at Clerkenwell Prison. The explosion damages nearby houses, kills 12 people and causes 120 injuries. None of the prisoners escape.

The whole of Ireland has been under British rule since the end of the Nine Years’ War in 1603. The Irish Republican Brotherhood is founded on March 17, 1858 with the aim of establishing an independent democratic republic in Ireland, and the Fenian Brotherhood, ostensibly the American wing of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is founded in New York City in 1859.

On November 20, 1867, Ricard O’Sullivan Burke and his companion Joseph Casey are arrested in Woburn Square in London. Burke had purchased weapons for the Fenians in Birmingham. Burke is charged with treason and Casey with assaulting a constable. They are remanded in custody pending trial, and imprisoned at the Middlesex House of Detention, also known as Clerkenwell Prison.

Burke’s IRB colleagues try to free him on Thursday, December 12, without success. They try to blow a hole in the prison wall while the prisoners are exercising in the prison yard but their bomb fails to explode. They try again at about 3:45 PM the following day, December 13, using a barrel of gunpowder concealed on a costermonger‘s barrow. The explosion demolishes a 60-foot section of the wall, but no one escapes. The prison authorities had been forewarned and the prisoners were exercised earlier in the day, so they are locked in their cells when the bomb explodes. The blast also damages several nearby tenement houses on Corporation Lane on the opposite side of the road, killing 12 people and causing many injuries, with estimates ranging from around 30 to over 120.

Charges are laid against eight, but two turn Queen’s evidence. Michael Barrett and five others are tried at the Old Bailey in April 1868. Lord Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn and Baron George Bramwell preside with a jury. The prosecution is led by the Attorney General Sir John Karslake and the Solicitor General Sir William Baliol Brett supported by Hardinge Giffard QC and two junior counsel. Defence barristers included Montagu Williams and Edward Clarke.

Barrett, a native of County Fermanagh, protests his innocence, and some witnesses testify that he was in Scotland on December 13, but another identifies him as being present at the scene. Two defendants are acquitted on the instructions of the presiding judges in the course of the trial, leaving four before the jury. Following deliberations, three of the defendants are acquitted, but Barrett is convicted of murder on April 27 and sentenced to death. Barrett is hanged by William Calcraft on the morning of Tuesday, May 26, 1868 outside Newgate Prison. He is the last man to be publicly hanged in England, with the practice being ended from May 29, 1868 by the Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868.

The trial of Burke and Casey, and a third defendant, Henry Shaw, begains on April 28, all charged with treason. The prosecution claims that Burke had been involved in finding arms for the Fenians in Birmingham in late 1865 and early 1866, where he was using the name “Edward C Winslow.” The case against Casey is ultimately withdrawn, but Burke and Shaw are found guilty of treason on April 30 and sentenced to 15 years and 7 years of penal servitude respectively.

The bombing enrages the British public, souring relations between England and Ireland and causing a panic over the Fenian threat. The radical, Charles Bradlaugh, condemns the incident in his newspaper, the National Reformer, as an act “calculated to destroy all sympathy, and to evoke the opposition of all classes.” The Metropolitan Police form a Special Irish Branch at Scotland Yard in March 1883, initially as a small section of the Criminal Investigation Department, to monitor Fenian activity.

In April 1867, the supreme council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood condemns the Clerkenwell Outrage as a “dreadful and deplorable event,” but the organisation returns to bombings in Britain in 1881 to 1885, with the Fenian dynamite campaign.

(Pictured: The House of Detention in Clerkenwell after the bombing as seen from within the prison yard)


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The Trial & Conviction of Theobald Wolfe Tone

Theobald Wolfe Tone, a leading Irish revolutionary figure and one of the founding members of the Society of United Irishmen, is tried and convicted of treason by a court-martial in Dublin on November 10, 1798 and sentenced to be hanged.

When the Irish Rebellion of 1798 breaks out in Ireland, Wolfe Tone urges the French Directory to send effective assistance to the Irish rebels. All that can be promised is a number of raids to descend simultaneously around the Irish coast. One of these raids under General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert succeeds in landing a force near Killala, County Mayo, and gains some success in Connacht (particularly at Castlebar) before it is subdued by General Gerard Lake and Charles Cornwallis. Wolfe Tone’s brother Matthew is captured, tried by court-martial and hanged. A second raid, accompanied by James Napper Tandy, comes to a disastrous end on the coast of County Donegal.

Wolfe Tone takes part in a third raid, under Admiral Jean-Baptiste-François Bompart, with General Jean Hardy in command of a force of 2,800 men. He certainly knows before departing that the odds against them are incredibly long. Most of the United Irish organization has already spent itself in Wexford, Ulster, and other places. There is one slim reed of hope for success – the news from Hubert, who is sweeping the British before him in Mayo with his 1,000 Frenchmen and Irish rebel allies. Wolfe Tone once said he would accompany any French force to Ireland even if it were only a corporal’s guard, so he sails off with Hardy’s Frenchmen aboard the Hoche.

They are intercepted by a large British fleet at Buncrana on Lough Swilly on October 12, 1798. Escape aboard one of the small, fast ships is Wolfe Tone’s only hope to avoid a hangman’s noose but he refuses to transfer from the large, slow Hoche, which has little choice but certain sinking or capture. He refuses offers by Napoleon Bonaparte and other French officers of escape in a frigate before the Battle of Tory Island. “Shall it be said,” he asks them, “that I fled while the French were fighting the battle of my country?”

The Hoche withstands an attack by five British ships for several hours, with Wolfe Tone commanding one of her batteries. Inevitably the masts and rigging of the Hoche are shot away and she strikes her colors. Wolfe Tone is dressed in a French adjutant general‘s uniform, but there is little chance of him avoiding detection with so many former acquaintances among the British. He is thrown into chains taken prisoner when the Hoche surrenders.

When the prisoners are landed at Letterkenny Port a fortnight later, Sir George Hill recognises Wolfe Tone in the French adjutant general’s uniform in Lord Cavan’s privy-quarters at Letterkenny. At his trial by court-martial in Dublin on November 8, 1798, Wolfe Tone makes a speech avowing his determined hostility to England and his intention “by frank and open war to procure the separation of the countries.” Recognising that the court is certain to convict him, he asks that “the court should adjudge me to die the death of a soldier, and that I may be shot.” His request to be shot is denied.

On November 10, 1798, Wolfe Tone is found guilty and sentenced to be hanged on November 12. Before this sentence is carried out, either he attempts suicide by slitting his throat or British soldiers torture and mortally wound him. Military surgeon Benjamin Lentaigne treats him just hours before he is due to be hanged. The story goes that he is initially saved when the wound is sealed with a bandage, and he is told if he tries to talk the wound will open and he will bleed to death.

A pamphlet published in Latin by Dr. Lentaigne some years after Wolfe Tone’s official “suicide” refers to an unusual neck wound suffered by an unnamed patient which indicates that “a bullet passed through his throat.” This leads to speculation that Wolfe Tone may have been shot.

Theobald Wolfe Tone dies on November 19, 1798 at the age of 35 in Provost’s Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born. He is buried in Bodenstown Graveyard in County Kildare, near his birthplace at Sallins, and his grave is in the care of the National Graves Association.

(Pictured: “Capture Of Wolfe Tone Date 1798,” a drawing by Mary Evans Picture Library, the UK’s leading source for historical images)


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The Dunlavin Green Executions

dunlavin-green-monumentThe Dunlavin Green executions, the summary execution of 36 suspected rebel prisoners in County Wicklow by the British military shortly after the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, take place on May 26, 1798. There are several accounts of the events, recorded at differing times and differing in detail.

The British government had begun raising yeomanry forces from the local Irish population in 1796. The force, composed of both Catholics and Protestants, was raised to help defend against a possible French invasion of Ireland and to aid in the policing of the country. The Society of United Irishmen have long threatened a rebellion in Ireland, which finally occurs in late May 1798. Major uprisings of the rebellion only occur in Ulster, Wicklow and Wexford, a county in the province of Leinster. For several months prior to May 1798, Wicklow and many other areas of the country have been subject to martial law which had been imposed in an effort to prevent the long threatened rebellion.

The campaign extends against the military itself as some corps of yeomen and militia, especially those with Catholic members, are suspected as United Irish infiltrators who have joined to get training and arms. Several days after the outbreak of the rebellion, the yeomanry and militia at Dunlavin are called out on parade and informed by their commanding officer that he has information on the identities of those in the corps who are affiliated with the United Irishmen among them. The British do not actually have such information, but twenty-eight fall for their bluff and come forward in hopes of receiving clemency.

Those who come forward are immediately arrested and imprisoned while several are subjected to flogging in an effort to extract information about the rebels plans and organization. Those who are outed as affiliates of the United Irishmen are imprisoned in the Market House of Dunlavin, while the British officers decide what to do with them.

The following day, Captain William Ryves of the Rathsallagh yeomanry has his horse shot from under him by rebels while on patrol. Ryves rides to Dunlavin the next day and brings eight suspected rebels imprisoned by his corps with him. There he meets with Captain Saunders of the Saunders-grove yeomanry. It is decided that their prisoners, a total of 36 men, should be put to death. On May 26, Market Day, the 36 are taken to the green, lined up and shot in front of the townspeople, including, in some cases, their own families.

The firing squad returns to the Market House where others are flogged or hanged. Before the bodies of the shot men are removed, soldiers’ wives loot them of valuables. The bodies are either removed for burial by their families or interred in a common grave at Tournant cemetery. One man survives, despite grievous wounds, and lives to “an advanced age.” Two more men, either hanging or about to be, are saved by the intervention of a “respectable Protestant” and escape.

One loyalist account details the events leading up to the execution differently. According to this account, Captain Ryves, a yeomanry commander at Dunlavin, receives word that a large number of rebels are set to attack Dunlavin and he observes that many Protestant houses have been set on fire in the surrounding countryside. Under the circumstances, he expects that the rebels’ intention is a pogrom of Protestants and loyalists in the town and its environs. A foray by the troops into the countryside fails and the garrison’s officers are aware that they are outnumbered by the prisoners held in the Market House.

The executions appear to have been motivated by simple revenge and intimidation, rather than fear of the prisoners and the ongoing rebellion. Though the public exhibition may have been designed to intimidate and discourage rebels in the immediate area from taking to the field, news of the executions, as well as those at Carnew spread rapidly and play a part in the rapid mobilization of rebels in northern County Wexford over the next few days.

The story of Dunlavin Green is quickly commemorated in the famous balladDunlavin Green,” which tells the story from the view of a sympathetic local eyewitness. In 1998, a commemorative stone was installed in St. Nicholas of Myra Roman Catholic church, adjacent to the green.


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The Execution of Joe Brady

joe-bradyJoe Brady is hanged at Kilmainham Gaol in Kilmainham, Dublin on May 14, 1883 for the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Four others are also executed for the murders.

Brady is a member of the Irish National Invincibles, usually known as the Invincibles, a splinter group of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. This group of assassins is active in Dublin between late 1881 and 1883, with an intent to kill the authorities in Dublin Castle.

After numerous attempts on his life, Chief Secretary for Ireland William Edward “Buckshot” Forster resigns in protest of the Kilmainham Treaty. The Invincibles settle on a plan to kill the Permanent Under Secretary Thomas Henry Burke at the Irish Office. The newly installed Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, is walking in Phoenix Park with Burke on Saturday, May 6, 1882, the day of his arrival in Ireland, when the assassins strike.

The first assassination in the park is committed by Brady, who attacks Burke with a 12-inch knife, followed in short order by Tim Kelly, who knifes Cavendish. Both men use surgical knives. The British press expresses outrage and demands that the “Phoenix Park Murderers” be brought to justice.

A large number of suspects are arrested. By playing one suspect against another, Superintendent Mallon of G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police gets several of them to reveal what they know. The Invincibles’ leader, James Carey, and Michael Kavanagh agree to testify against the others. Carey is ultimately given passage to South Africa but is shot on board the Melrose Castle by Patrick O’Donnell. O’Donnell is brought back to England and hanged in December 1883.

Brady, Michael Fagan, Thomas Caffrey, Dan Curley and Tim Kelly are hanged by William Marwood in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin beginning with Brady’s execution on May 14 and and continuing until June 4. Others are sentenced to long prison terms.

No member of the founding executive, however, is ever brought to trial by the British government. John Walsh, Patrick Egan, John Sheridan, Frank Byrne, and Patrick Tynan are welcomed in the United States, where sentiment toward the murders is less severe, although not celebratory.

Brady by all accounts was a mountain of a man. The Times writes following his execution: “He was brought up as a stonemason of herculean strength, his occupation developing the muscular power of his arms, which told with such terrible effect when he drove the knives into the bodies of Lord Cavendish and his secretary T. H. Burke.”

Kilmainham Gaol contains the graves of the Invincibles convicted and executed for the Phoenix park stabbings.


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Birth of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Canadian Politician

Thomas D’Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, Irish Canadian politician, Catholic spokesman, journalist, poet, and a Father of Canadian Confederation, is born on April 13, 1825 in Carlingford, County Louth.

McGee grows up a Catholic Irishman who hates the British rule of Ireland and works for a peasant revolution to overthrow British rule and secure Irish independence. He escapes arrest and flees to the United States in 1848, where he reverses his political beliefs. He becomes disgusted with American republicanism and democracy, and becomes intensely conservative in his politics and in his religious support for the Pope.

McGee moves to Canada in 1857 and works hard to convince the Irish Catholics to cooperate with the Protestant British in forming a Confederation that will make for a strong Canada in close alliance with Britain. His fervor for Confederation garners him the title “Canada’s first nationalist.” He fights the Fenians in Canada, who are Irish Catholics who hate the British and resemble his younger self politically. McGee succeeds in helping create the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

On April 7, 1868, McGee, having participated in a parliamentary debate that goes on past midnight, walks back to the boarding house where he is staying. McGee is opening the door to Trotter’s Boarding House in Ottawa when he is shot by someone waiting for him on the inside. Several people run to the scene, however there is no sign of the assassin. It is later determined that McGee is assassinated with a shot from a handgun by Patrick J. Whelan. He is to date the only Canadian victim of political assassination at the federal level.

McGee is given a state funeral in Ottawa and interred in a crypt at the Cimetière Notre Dame des Neiges in Montreal. His funeral procession in Montreal draws an estimated crowd of 80,000 out of a total city population of 105,000.

Patrick J. Whelan, a Fenian sympathiser and a Catholic, is accused, tried, convicted, and hanged for the crime on February 11, 1869, in Ottawa. The jury is decisively swayed by the forensic evidence that Whelan’s gun had been fired shortly before the killing, together with the circumstantial evidence that he had threatened and stalked McGee. Historian David Wilson points out that forensic tests conducted in 1972 show that the fatal bullet is compatible with both the gun and the bullets that Whelan owned. Wilson concludes, “The balance of probabilities suggests that Whelan either shot McGee, or was part of a hit-squad, but there is still room for reasonable doubt as to whether he was the man who actually pulled the trigger.”

The government of Canada’s Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building stands near the site of the assassination. The case is dramatised in the Canadian play Blood on the Moon by Ottawa actor/playwright Pierre F. Brault. The assassination of McGee is also a major component of Away, a novel about Irish immigration to Canada by Canadian novelist Jane Urquhart.


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Hanging of Peter Barnes & James Richards

peter-barnes-and-james-mccormackIrish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers Peter Barnes and James Richards are hanged in Winston Green Prison in Birmingham, England on February 7, 1940 for their involvement in a bombing in Coventry the previous year which killed five people.

Barnes and Richards (also known as James McCormack) are members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and participate in the August 25, 1939 Coventry bombing which kills five people. Although they both admit to constructing the bomb, which is intended to be used to destroy a power station, they claim not to be involved in planting the bomb.

Seán MacBride, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and Irish barrister, attempts to secure their release claiming they are being illegally held without a writ of habeas corpus. However, both are charged with murder on December 12 along with Brigid O’Hara and Joseph and Mary Hewitt. All five plead not guilty before the court at Birmingham Assizes.

Brigid O’Hara issues statements between August 28 and September 4 to Scotland Yard and Birmingham City Police denying any knowledge of the bombings and later provides evidence for the prosecution. Found guilty of murder on December 15, Barnes and Richards are hanged at Winston Green Prison in Birmingham on February 7, 1940. Their remains are returned to Dublin in 1969.

The reinterment in Mullingar, County Westmeath is attended by an estimated 15,000 people. Mass is said in Irish in the Cathedral before the funeral to Ballyglass Cemetery. Among those attending are three brothers of Peter Barnes and a sister and brother of McCormack.

The trial and execution results in a public outcry in Ireland against Neville Chamberlain and the British Government as Peadar O’Donnell and other prominent Irish writers sign a petition campaigning for leniency towards the condemned men.


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Birth of Samuel Haughton, Scientist, Mathematician & Doctor

samuel-haughtonSamuel Haughton, scientist, mathematician, and doctor, is born in Carlow, County Carlow on December 21, 1821. He is “famous” for calculating the drop required to kill a hanged man instantly.

Haughton is the son of James Haughton. His father, the son of a Quaker, but himself a Unitarian, is an active philanthropist, a strong supporter of Father Theobald Mathew, a vegetarian, and an anti-slavery worker and writer.

Haughton has a distinguished career at Trinity College, Dublin and in 1844 he is elected a fellow. Working on mathematical models under James MacCullagh, he is awarded in 1848 the Cunningham Medal by the Royal Irish Academy. In 1847 he has his ordination to the priesthood but he is not someone who preaches. He is appointed as professor of geology at Trinity College in 1851 and holds the position for thirty years. He begins to study medicine in 1859. He earns his MD degree in 1862 from the University of Dublin.

Haughton becomes registrar of the Medical School. He focuses on improving the status of the school and representing the university on the General Medical Council from 1878 to 1896. In 1858 he is elected fellow of the Royal Society. He gains honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. At Trinity College Dublin he moves the first-ever motion at the Academic Council to admit women to the University on March 10, 1880. Through his work as Professor of Geology and his involvement with the Royal Zoological Society, he has witnessed the enthusiasm and contribution of women in the natural sciences. Although thwarted by opponents on the Council he continues to campaign for the admission of women to TCD until his death in 1897. It is 1902 before his motion is finally passed, five years after his death.

In 1866, Haughton develops the original equations for hanging as a humane method of execution, whereby the neck is broken at the time of the drop, so that the condemned person does not slowly strangle to death. “On hanging considered from a Mechanical and Physiological point of view” is published in the London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, Vol. 32 No. 213 (July 1866), calling for a drop energy of 2,240 ft-lbs. From 1886 to 1888, he serves as a member of the Capital Sentences Committee, the report of which suggests an Official Table of Drops based on 1,260 ft-lbs of energy.

Haughton writes papers on many subjects for journals in London and Dublin. His topics include the laws of equilibrium, the motion of solid and fluid bodies, sun-heat, radiation, climates and tides. His papers cover the granites of Leinster and Donegal and the cleavage and joint-planes of the Old Red Sandstone of Waterford.

Haughton is president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1886 to 1891, and secretary of the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland for twenty years. In 1880 he gives the Croonian Lecture on animal mechanics to the Royal Society.

Haughton is also involved in the Dublin and Kingstown Railway company, in which he looks after the building of the first locomotives. It is the first railway company in the world to build its own locomotives.

Samuel Haughton dies on October 31, 1897 and is buried in the Church of the Holy Cross Cemetery in Killeshin, County Laois.


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Execution of the Manchester Martyrs

manchester-martyrs-monumentFenians William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien, known as the Manchester Martyrs, are publicly hanged for the murder of a police officer in Manchester, England on November 23, 1867, during an incident that becomes known as the Manchester Outrages.

The three are members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, also known as the Fenians, an organisation dedicated to ending British rule in Ireland, and are among a group of 30–40 Fenians who attack a horse-drawn police van transporting two arrested leaders of the Brotherhood, Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy, to Belle Vue Gaol. Police Sergeant Charles Brett, traveling inside with the keys, is shot and killed as the attackers attempt to force the van open by blowing the lock. Kelly and Deasy are released after another prisoner in the van takes the keys from Brett’s body and passes them to the group outside through a ventilation grill. The pair escape and make their way to safety in the United States. They are never recaptured, despite an extensive search.

Two others are also charged and found guilty of Brett’s murder, Thomas Maguire and Edward O’Meagher Condon, but their death sentences are overturned — O’Meagher Condon’s through the intercession of the United States government as he is an American citizen, and Maguire’s because the evidence given against him is considered unsatisfactory. Allen, Larkin, and O’Brien are publicly hanged on a temporary structure built on the wall of Salford Gaol on November 23, 1867, in front of a crowd of 8,000–10,000 people.

The bodies of the three men are buried in the New Bailey Prison graveyard, from which they are transferred to Strangeways Prison cemetery when New Bailey Prison is closed in 1868. In 1991 their remains are cremated and reinterred at Blackley Cemetery in Manchester.

Brett is the first Manchester City Police officer to be killed on duty, and he is memorialised in a monument in St. Ann’s Church. Allen, Larkin, and O’Brien are also memorialised, both in Manchester, where the Irish community makes up more than 10 percent of the population, and in Ireland, where they are regarded by many as inspirational heroes.

(Pictured: Manchester Martyrs monument, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin)


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The Siege of Smerwick

smerwick-massacre-memorialFollowing a three-day siege, the English Army beheads over 600 Papal soldiers and civilians at Dún an Óir, County Kerry on November 10, 1580.

On November 5, a naval force led by Admiral Sir William Wynter arrives at Smerwick Harbour, replenishing the supplies of Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, who is camped at Dingle, and landing eight artillery pieces. On November 7, Lord Grey de Wilton lays siege to the Smerwick garrison. The invading forces are geographically isolated on the tip of the narrow Dingle Peninsula, cut off by Mount Brandon, one of the highest mountains in Ireland, on one side and the much larger English force on the other. The English forces begin the artillery barrage on Dún an Óir on the morning of the November 8, which rapidly breaks down the improvised defences of the fort.

After a three-day siege, the commander Sebastiano di San Giuseppe surrenders on November 10. Accounts vary on whether they had been granted quarter. Grey de Wilton orders the summary executions, sparing only the commanders. Grey has also heard that the main Irish rebel army of 4,000 are somewhere in the hills to his east, looking to be rearmed and supplied by Di San Giuseppe, and they might in turn surround his army but this army never appears.

According to Grey de Wilton’s account, contained in a despatch to Queen Elizabeth I dated November 11, 1580, he rejects an approach made by the besieged Spanish and Italian forces to agree to terms of a conditional surrender in which they would cede the fort and leave. Lord Grey de Wilton claims that he insisted that they surrender without preconditions and put themselves at his mercy, and that he subsequently rejects a request for a ceasefire. An agreement is finally made for an unconditional surrender the next morning, with hostages being taken by English forces to ensure compliance. The following morning, an English force enters the fort to secure and guard armaments and supplies.

Local historian Margaret Anna Cusack notes in 1871 that there is a degree of controversy about Lord Grey de Wilton’s version of events to Elizabeth, and identifies three other contemporary accounts, by O’Daly, O’Sullivan Beare and Russell, which contradict it. According to these versions, Grey de Wilton promises the garrison their lives in return for their surrender, a promise which he breaks. Like Grey himself, none of these commentators can be described as neutral, as they are all either serving the state or opposed to it. Cusack’s interpretation of the events cannot be described as unbiased, given her position as a Catholic nun and fervent Irish nationalist at the time.

According to Cusack, the few that are spared suffer a worse fate. They are offered life if they renounce their Catholic faith. On refusal, their arms and legs are broken in three places by an ironsmith. They are left in agony for a day and night and then hanged.

According to the folklore of the area, the execution of the captives takes two days, with many of the captives being beheaded in a field known locally in Irish as Gort a Ghearradh (the Field of the Cutting). Their bodies are later thrown into the sea. Archaeologists have not yet discovered human remains at the site, although a nearby field is known as Gort na gCeann (the Field of the Heads) and local folklore recalls the massacre.

(Pictured: A memorial to the victims of the massacre at Dún an Óir)


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Birth of Henry Joy McCracken, Irish Republican

henry-joy-mccrackenHenry Joy McCracken, Irish Republican and industrialist, is born in Belfast on August 31, 1767. He is a founding member of the Society of the United Irishmen.

McCracken is born into two of the city’s most prominent Presbyterian industrial families. He was the son of a shipowner, Captain John McCracken and Ann Joy, daughter of Francis Joy, of French Huguenot descent. The Joy family made their money in linen manufacture and founded the Belfast News Letter. He is the older brother of political activist and social reformer Mary Ann McCracken, with whom he shares an interest in Irish traditional culture.

In 1792, McCracken helps organise the Belfast Harp Festival which gathers aged harpists from around Ireland, and helps preserve the Irish airs by having them transcribed by Edward Bunting. Bunting, who lodges in the McCracken’s Rosemary Lane home, is a classically trained musician.

McCracken becomes interested in republican politics from an early age and along with other Protestants forms the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795 which quickly makes him a target of the authorities. He regularly travels throughout the country using his business as a cover for organising other United Irish societies, but is arrested in October 1796 and imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. While imprisoned with other leaders of the United Irishmen, he falls seriously ill and is released on bail in December 1797.

Following the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in Leinster in May 1798, the County Antrim organisation meets on 3 June to decide on their response. The meeting ends inconclusively with a vote to wait for French aid being passed by a narrow margin. A new meeting of delegates is held in Templepatrick on June 5 where McCracken is elected general for Antrim and he quickly begins planning military operations.

McCracken formulates a plan for all small towns in Antrim to be seized after which rebels will converge upon Antrim town on June 7 where the county’s magistrates are to hold a crisis meeting. Although the plan meets initial success and McCracken leads the rebels in the attack on Antrim, the Catholic Defenders group whom he expects assistance from are conspicuous by their absence. The mainly Ulster Scots rebels led by McCracken are defeated by the English forces and his army melts away.

Although McCracken initially escapes with James Hope, James Orr, and James Dickey and is supported in his month long period of hiding by his sister Mary Ann, a chance encounter with men who recognize him from his cotton business leads to his arrest. He is offered clemency if he testifies against other United Irishmen leaders but he refuses to turn on his compatriots.

McCracken is court martialed and hanged at Corn Market, Belfast, on land his grandfather had donated to the city, on July 17, 1798. According to historian Guy Beiner, his corpse is spared the indignity of decapitation in order not to provoke renewed agitation. He is buried in the Parish Church of St. George in Belfast, but a few years later the grave is demolished.

McCracken’s remains are believed to have been re-interred by Francis Joseph Bigger in 1909 at Clifton Street Cemetery, Belfast, alongside his sister Mary Ann. His illegitimate daughter Maria, whose mother is speculated to have been Mary Bodell, is raised by her aunt Mary Ann McCracken.