seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Otto Moses Jaffe, Lord Mayor of Belfast

otto-jaffeSir Otto Moses Jaffe, German-born British businessman who is twice elected Lord Mayor of Belfast, is born in Hamburg on August 13, 1846. He is the first non-Protestant to hold the office of Lord Mayor of Belfast.

Jaffe is born into a Jewish family, one of four boys and five girls born to Daniel Joseph and Frederiké Jaffe. In 1852, his parents bring their family to Belfast. His father, along with his older brothers, Martin, John and Alfred, set up a business exporting linen. He is educated at Mr. Tate’s school in Holywood, County Down, and later in Hamburg and Switzerland.

Jaffe marries Paula Hertz, daughter of Moritz Hertz from Braunschweig, on March 8, 1879. They have two sons, Arthur Daniel and William Edward Berthold Jaffe. Daniel Joseph Jaffé is his nephew, son of his brother Martin.

From 1867 to 1877 Jaffe lives and works in New York. In 1877, his brothers retire so he returns to Belfast to head the family business, The Jaffe Brothers, at Bedford Street. He builds it up to become the largest linen exporter in Ireland. He is a member of the Belfast Harbour Commission and becomes a naturalised citizen in 1888. In 1894, he successfully agitates for the reporting and destruction of shipwrecks in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Jaffe is a Justice of the Peace, a governor of the Royal Hospital, a member of the Irish Technical Education Board and a member of the Senate of Queen’s College, which later becomes Queen’s University Belfast. He is the German consul in Belfast. He is an active member of the committee which gets the Public Libraries Act extended to Belfast, leading to the first free library being established there. In 1910 he erects the Jaffe Spinning Mill on the Newtownards Road, also known as Strand Spinning. This provides work for 350 people, rising to 650 in 1914 when the company expands to make munitions. He is lavishly charitable and contributes to Queen’s College.

Jaffe takes a keen interest in the Jewish community of Belfast. He is life-president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation, which worships at the Great Victoria Street, Belfast synagogue. His father established it on July 7, 1871. Between 1871 and 1903 the congregation increases from fifty-five to over a thousand. He pays most of the £4,000 cost of building the synagogue in Annesley Street. He opens it in 1904 wearing his mayoral regalia. Three years later with his wife, they set up the Jaffe Public Elementary School on the Cliftonville Road.

Jaffe is a member of the Irish Unionist Party. He represents St. Anne’s Ward for the Belfast Corporation in 1894 and is elected Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1899. As mayor, he launchs an appeal for the dependants of soldiers fighting in the Second Boer War. On March 5, 1900, he is knighted at Dublin Castle by George Cadogan, 5th Earl Cadogan, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1901 he is High Sheriff of Belfast and in 1904 is again elected Lord Mayor.

The outbreak of war sees anti-German sentiment and when the RMS Lusitania passenger liner is torpedoed by a German U-boat of the coast of County Cork on May 7, 1915, resulting in the death of 1,000 people, anti-German feeling in Britain and Ireland rise to breaking point. Even though he is loyal to the Crown, and his eldest son Arthur and his nephew are serving in the British Army, Jaffe is accused of being a German spy. Society women refuse support for the Children’s Hospital so long as Jaffe and his wife remain on the board. He is “overwhelmed with pain and sorrow.”

After twenty-five years of service, Jaffe resigns his post as Alderman of Windsor Ward for Belfast City Council in June 1916 when he is almost 70 years of age and takes up residence in London, where he dies on April 29, 1929. Lady Jaffe is too ill to attend his funeral and she dies a few months later, in August 1929.


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Royals Visit St. Malachy’s Church in Belfast

royals-visit-st-malachys-church-belfastCharles, Prince of Wales, and the Duchess of Cornwall fly into George Best Belfast City Airport on February 4, 2011 for a one-day visit to Northern Ireland. The primary focus of their visit is to view a £3.5 million restoration project at St. Malachy’s Church in Belfast.

First Minister Peter Robinson, who greets Prince Charles on the doorstep of the building, is quoted as saying “Northern Ireland has entered a new era. It is the first time in recent history that we have had a royal in a Roman Catholic Church here.” Robinson adds, “So it is a good start. It should send of an indication that respect, understanding and tolerance is growing in Northern Ireland.”

St. Malachy’s Church was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1941, but in 2006 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Down and Connor embarked on a project to restore its original features. Robinson says, “It has been set out very well and has held on to the architecture of the original.”

Prince Charles also presides over the first inter-faith meeting of members of the four main churches, organised by the local branch of The Prince’s Regeneration Trust.

The Northern Ireland Trustee Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle says, “It’s a hugely exciting event. Not only does it celebrate the fantastic restoration of St. Malachy’s Church, but equally it is very significant because we brought together a group of very senior church figures to begin the discussion of unlocking the potential of redundant churches.”

The Royal couple also visits the Palace Barracks, Holywood for a medal presentation. They meet the soldiers of 2nd Battalion, Mercian Regiment who are preparing for service in Afghanistan.

(Pictured: First Minister Peter Robinson greets the Prince of Wales on the doorstep of St. Malachy’s Church; From a BBC article “Royal visit to St Malachy’s Church is historic,” February 4, 2011)


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Birth of Henry Harrison, Politician & Writer

henry-harrisonCaptain Henry Harrison, nationalist politician and writer, is born in Holywood, County Down on December 17, 1867.

A Protestant nationalist, Harrison is the son of Henry Harrison and Letitia Tennent, the daughter of Robert James Tennent, who had been Liberal Party MP for Belfast from 1847 to 1852. Later, when widowed, she marries the author Hartley Withers.

Harrison goes to Westminster School and then to Balliol College, Oxford. While there he develops an admiration for Charles Stewart Parnell and becomes secretary of the Oxford University Home Rule League. At this time, the Land War is in progress and in 1889 he goes to Ireland to visit the scene of the evictions in Gweedore, County Donegal. He becomes involved in physical confrontations with the Royal Irish Constabulary and as a result becomes a Nationalist celebrity overnight. The following May, Parnell offers the vacant parliamentary seat of Mid Tipperary to Harrison, who leaves Oxford at age 22, to take it up, unopposed.

Only six months later, following the divorce case involving Katharine O’Shea, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Parnell’s leadership. Harrison strongly supports Parnell, acts as his bodyguard and aide-de-camp, and after Parnell’s death devotes himself to the service of his widow Katharine. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce case from that which had appeared in the press, and this is to form the seed of his later books.

At the 1892 United Kingdom general election, Harrison does not defend Mid-Tipperary. He stands at West Limerick as a Parnellite instead, but comes nowhere near winning the seat. In the 1895 United Kingdom general election, he stands at North Sligo, polling better but again far short of winning. In 1895 he marries Maie Byrne, an American, with whom he has a son. He comes to prominence briefly again in 1903 when, in spite of his lack of legal training, he successfully conducts his own case in a court action all the way to the House of Lords.

Otherwise, however, Harrison disappears from public view until his war service with the Royal Irish Regiment when he serves on the Western Front with distinction in the New British Army formed for World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and being awarded the Military Cross (MC). He organises patrols in “No Man’s Land” so successfully that he is appointed special patrol officer to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is invalided out and becomes a recruiting officer in Ireland. He is appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1919 New Year Honours.

Harrison then makes a return to Irish politics, working with Sir Horace Plunkett as Secretary of the Irish Dominion League, an organisation campaigning for dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire. He is a lifelong opponent of Irish partition. He is Irish correspondent of The Economist from 1922 to 1927 and owner-editor of Irish Truth from 1924 to 1927.

Harrison’s two books defending Parnell are published in 1931 and 1938. They have had a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair. F. S. L. Lyons comments that he “did more than anyone else to uncover what seems to have been the true facts” about the Parnell-O’Shea liaison. The second book, Parnell, Joseph Chamberlain and Mr Garvin, is written in response to J. L. Garvin‘s biography of Joseph Chamberlain, which had ignored his first book, Parnell Vindicated: The Lifting of the Veil. Later, he successfully repulses an attempt in the official history of The Times to rehabilitate that newspaper’s role in using forged letters to attack Parnell in the late 1880s. In 1952 he forces The Times to publish a four-page correction written by him as an appendix to the fourth volume of the history.

During the difficult years of the Anglo-Irish Trade War over the land purchase annuities, declaration of the Republic, Irish neutrality during World War II, and departure from the Commonwealth, Harrison works to promote good relations between Britain and Ireland. He publishes various books and pamphlets on the issues in dispute and writes numerous letters to The Times. He also founds, with General Sir Hubert Gough, the Commonwealth Irish Association in 1942.

At the time of his death on February 20, 1954, Harrison is the last survivor of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Parnell, and as a member of the pre-1918 Irish Parliamentary Party, he seems to have been outlived only by John Patrick Hayden, who dies a few months after him in 1954 and by Patrick Whitty and John Lymbrick Esmonde who are only MPs for a very short time during World War I. He is buried in Holywood, County Down.


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Passport Requests Increase Following UK Brexit Vote

irish-passportAccording to statistics released by the Department of Foreign Affairs on August 6, 2016, in the first full month since the United Kingdom‘s decision to leave the European Union, applications for Irish passports from people living in Great Britain increase by 73% and by 63% from those in Northern Ireland over the same period the previous year.

In July 2015 there are 4,242 applications submitted by people in Great Britain compared to 7,321 in July 2016. Meanwhile 6,638 passport requests are submitted from Northern Ireland.

Within in a day of the Brexit vote there is a surge in online interest in Irish passports and moving to Ireland. While the UK as a whole votes to leave the EU in the referendum, Northern Ireland votes to remain by a majority of 56 percent to 44 percent. The Department of Foreign Affairs says there is “an increase in queries in respect of entitlements to Irish passports” the very next day. The year on year figures for January show a 20 percent increase in applications prior to the vote.

Google Trends says UK searches for “getting an Irish passport” jump more than 100% after the Brexit result comes through. And while the data analysts do not reveal the exact number of searches for information on the Republic of Ireland‘s citizenship rules, they say most interest is shown in Northern Ireland with the normally unionist heartland of Holywood, County Down, taking top spot.

Sinn Féin repeatedly says that Northern Ireland must not be “dragged out of Europe.” Up to this point the British government dismisses calls from its representatives and others for a border poll in Irish unity.


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Birth of William Drennan, Physician, Poet & Political Radical

william-drennanWilliam Drennan, physician, poet and political radical, is born on May 23, 1754 in Belfast. He is one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen and is known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as “the emerald isle” in his poem When Erin first rose.

Drennan is son the son of Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696–1768), minister of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Thomas Drennan is an educated man from the University of Glasgow and is ordained to the congregation of Holywood, County Down in 1731. Drennan is heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions serve as the foundation for his own radical political ideas. His sister, Martha, marries fellow future United Irishman Samuel McTier in 1773.

In 1769 Drennan follows in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he becomes interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduates in arts and then in 1773 he commences the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he sets up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with being one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. He also writes much poetry, coining the phrase “Emerald Isle” and is the founder and editor of a literary periodical, Belfast Magazine. He moves to Newry in 1783 but eventually moves to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly becomes involved in nationalist circles.

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, Drennan is an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joins the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon becomes a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly becomes dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founds the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

Drennan writes many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and is arrested in 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that is a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he is eventually acquitted, he gradually withdraws from the United Irishmen but continues to campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

On February 8, 1800, Drennan marries Sarah Swanwick, “an English lady of some wealth” from Shropshire. They have one daughter and four sons.

Drennan settles in Belfast in 1807. In 1810 he co-founds the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of a United Irishman executed by the British. Despite his links with revolutionary republicans, he gradually becomes alienated from the post-Union nationalism of the period. His abiding concern for Liberalism and post union realities make him contemplate his political ideas anew.

Drennan dies on February 5, 1820. He directs that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

Drennan’s son, John Swanwick Drennan, is a noted poet who, along with his brother William Drennan, write a biography of him for Richard Davis Webb‘s A Compendium of Irish Biography. Through his daughter Sarah, who marries John Andrews of a prominent family of flax merchants, he has several notable descendants, including William Drennan Andrews, judge of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Thomas Andrews who drew up the plans for the RMS Titanic and was aboard and drowned when she sank, and Thomas Drennan, performance artist known primarily for his seminal work ‘Journey to the Centre of Drennan.’


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Birth of Sir Charles Brett, Solicitor & Journalist

long-shadows-cast-beforeSir Charles Edward Bainbridge Brett, Northern Irish solicitor, journalist, author and founding member, and first chairman, of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS), is born in Holywood, County Down, on October 30, 1928. He is known to many simply as Charlie Brett.

Brett is born into a long line of solicitors, the family firm being L’Estrange and Brett, based in Belfast. He is a partner there from 1954 until 1994. He is educated at Rugby School and New College, Oxford, where he is President of the Poetry Society and a friend of Dylan Thomas and attends lectures by Lord Clark.

Between 1949 and 1950 he works in France as a journalist with the Continental Daily Mail, where he is said to have mixed in anarchist and Trotskyite circles.

In 1956, the Earl of Antrim invites Brett to join the Northern Ireland Committee of the National Trust. On finding there are no books written to prepare himself for this, he resolves to write the necessary volumes. In 1957 he becomes the first chairman of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, founded alongside, amongst others Lady Dunleath. Brett serves as chairman for ten years and then as President from 1979 until his death.

With the National Trust he puts his legal skill to use in order to establish a public footpath along the cliffs of the North Coast of Ulster. He also sits on the board of the Irish Architectural Archive in Dublin.

In 1971, he is appointed to the board of the newly created Northern Ireland Housing Executive. He serves as Chairman for five years from 1979, during which time 50,000 dwellings are built. He is asked to compile a list of historic buildings in Jersey in 1975. In 1986, Brett becomes the first chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, established to encourage investment in Ireland.

Brett is also involved in Northern Irish politics, being chairman of the Northern Ireland Labour Party for a time. In 1981 he receives a CBE, this is followed by a Knighthood in 1990.

Brett dies on December 19, 2005. His church memorial is located along those of his family in the Comber Church of Ireland Parish Church of St. Mary, in Comber, North County Down.