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


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Execution of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Stafford

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Stafford and Lord Deputy of Ireland, is beheaded on Tower Hill near the Tower of London on May 12, 1641.

Wentworth, is born in London on April 13, 1593, the eldest surviving son of Sir William Wentworth, a Yorkshire landowner. Educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and at the Inner Temple, he is knighted by James I in 1611. His marriage to Lady Margaret Clifford, daughter of the impoverished Francis Clifford, 4th Earl of Cumberland, establishes a link with an ancient and noble family still influential in the north.

Wentworth represents Yorkshire in the parliaments of 1614 and 1621 and Pontefract in 1624. His wife dies childless in 1622, and in February 1625 he marries Arabella Holles, daughter of John Holles, 1st Earl of Clare, a peer out of favour at court who brings Wentworth into touch with the critics of the King’s expensive and inefficient policy of war against Spain and, from 1627, against France. Along with other critics of the court he is prevented from sitting in the Parliament of 1626, and later in the year he refuses to subscribe to the forced loan imposed to pay for the war, and is for some time under arrest. Despite his record of opposition to the King’s policy, he is approached by the crown — anxious to strengthen its position in the north — with the offer of a barony in 1628. He is appointed lord president of the Council of the North and in 1629 is given a seat on the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.

Wentworth’s return to the service of the court, coming so soon after his vehement opposition to it in Parliament, startles even some of his closest friends. His conduct is no doubt partly inspired by personal ambition, though he has logical reasons for his change of front since in the summer of 1628 the King gradually abandons his war policy.

On the Privy Council Wentworth seems to advocate the paternalist government that distinguishes the early years of the King’s personal rule. As President of the Council of the North he quells all defiance of his authority and makes many enemies by his insistence on the honour due to him as the King’s representative, but his administration is on the whole just and efficient. In 1631 he is deeply distressed by the death of his much-loved wife, though he provokes scandalous rumours not long afterward by secretly marrying Elizabeth Rodes, the young daughter of a neighbouring squire, in October 1632.

The King meanwhile has appointed Wentworth Lord Deputy of Ireland. Taking up his office in the summer of 1633, he immediately sets himself to consolidate the royal authority, break the power of the dominant clique of “new English” landowners, extend English settlement, improve methods of agriculture, increase the productivity of the land, and stimulate industry and trade. His ultimate goal is to assimilate Irish law and customs to the English system and to make a prosperous Protestant Ireland into a source of revenue to the English crown.

Wentworth continues his effective and firm-handed administration of Ireland until 1639, when he is recalled to England by King Charles I. The King needs advice and support in handling a Scottish revolt precipitated by an ill-conceived attempt to enforce episcopacy on the Scots. He is created Earl of Strafford in 1640 and is expected to resolve the crisis. But his policy of making war on Scotland proves disastrous for both himself and the King. The English Parliament, called especially to vote money for the war, prove recalcitrant, and Strafford, in command of the English army, fails to prevent the Scots from overrunning the northern counties. The King, unable to pay his own troops or to buy off the Scots, is compelled by joint English and Scottish action to call a new Parliament in November 1640.

Wentworth is the chief target of attack from both nations. He is advised to leave the country, but the King relies on his help and assures him that he should not suffer in life or fortune. Detained by illness, he reaches Westminster on November 10 with the intention of impeaching the King’s opponents in Parliament for treasonable correspondence with the Scots. The leader of the House of Commons, John Pym, acts first by impeaching Wentworth before he can take his seat in the House of Lords.

Wentworth’s trial begins in March 1641. The basic accusation is that of subverting the laws and is supported by a charge that he had offered to bring over the Irish army to subdue the King’s opponents in England. More detailed charges rest on his administration in Ireland and the north. He conducts his defense with great skill, and it looks at one point as though he might be acquitted. Pym therefore introduces a bill of attainder. The Commons passes it by a large majority. The Lords, intimidated by popular rioting, pass it as well, but by a much smaller majority.

While an angry mob surges around Whitehall, Wentworth writes to the King releasing him from his promise of protection, and Charles, afraid for the safety of the Queen, gives his consent to the bill. He is executed before a crowd estimated, probably with some exaggeration, at 300,000 on May 12, 1641 (as this number is roughly the population of London at the time, the crowd is likely to have been a good deal smaller). In his last speech he once more professes his faith in “the joint and individual prosperity of the king and his people,” for which, in his view, he has always worked.

Wentworth remains an enigmatic figure in English history: ambitious, greedy for power and wealth, ruthless, and sometimes dishonest, but with a vision of benevolent authoritarian government and efficient administration to which he often gave persuasive expression. He made innumerable enemies, but his few close friends were deeply attached to him. In the last weeks of his life his dignity, eloquence, and loyalty to the King made a deep impression even on some of his enemies.


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Birth of Sir James Comyn, Irish-born English High Court Judge

Sir James Peter Comyn, Irish-born barrister and English High Court judge, is born at Beaufield House, Stillorgan, County Dublin on March 8, 1921. Considered by many to be “the finest all-round advocate at the English bar”, he is appointed to the High Court of Justice in 1978, serving on the bench until his retirement in 1985.

Comyn is the son of Nationalist barrister James Comyn KC and of Mary Comyn. Through his father he is the nephew of the barrister Michael Comyn KC. Both his father and uncle had been political and legal advisers to Éamon de Valera, who at one point uses Beaufield House as a safe house. However, the Comyn brothers have a falling out with de Valera shortly before he comes to power in 1932, and Michael Comyn is passed over as Attorney General of the Irish Free State. As a result, James Comyn, who is then attending Belvedere College in Dublin, is sent by his father to attend The Oratory School in England. He spends six months as a trainee at The Irish Times under the editor R. M. “Bertie” Smyllie, but abandons journalism after a joke he added to an obituary is printed in the paper, leading to his demotion to the racing department.

Comyn then matriculates at New College, Oxford, where he reads law, graduating with Second Class Honours. In 1940, he defeats Roy Jenkins for the presidency of the Oxford Union, winning by four votes. After suffering the first of several breakdowns through his life, he briefly works for the BBC‘s Empire Service during World War II.

Comyn is called to the English bar by the Inner Temple in 1942, the Irish bar in 1947, and the Hong Kong bar in 1969. In 1944, he begins his pupillage with Edward Holroyd Pearce KC, later a law lord, and joins his chambers at Fountain Court. He practises in London and on the Western circuit, supplementing his earnings by teaching banking, a subject of which he knows nothing. On one occasion, he rises in Lambeth County court to cross-examine a female defendant in an eviction case. Just as he begins by saying “Madam,” the defendant opens her bag, takes out a dead cat, and throws it at him. The judge’s reaction is to tell the defendant, “Madam, if you do that again, I’ll commit you.” Comyn wins the case.

Comyn takes silk in 1961, and acquires a large practice as a senior, appearing in many high-profile cases. In 1964, he wins damages for libel for the former safe-breaker Alfred George Hinds against a Scotland Yard inspector by convincing the jury that Hinds is in fact innocent. In 1970, he successfully defends the Labour MP Will Owen, who is accused of providing information to the Czechoslovak intelligence services. In 1975, he defeats the government’s attempt to obtain an injunction against the publication of the diaries of former minister Richard Crossman.

Comyn is Recorder of Andover between 1964 and 1971 (honorary life recorder from 1972), commissioner of assize for the Western Circuit in 1971, and a Recorder of the Crown Court between 1972 and 1977. He is elected a bencher of the Inner Temple in 1968, and serves as chairman of the Bar council from 1973 to 1974.

Having refused a previous invitation by Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone to join the bench, Comyn is again nominated by Elwyn Jones, Baron Elwyn-Jones, in 1977, and is appointed a High Court judge in 1978, receiving the customary knighthood upon his appointment. Initially assigned to the Family Division, he does not take to the work and is reassigned to the Queen’s Bench Division in 1979. He has a reputation for leniency in sentencing, first acquired as Recorder of Andover. In 1980–81, he presides over an unsuccessful libel action by a member of the Unification Church, colloquially known as the Moonies, against the Daily Mail, the longest libel trial in England up to that time. His Irish background makes him the target of Irish Republican Army (IRA) action, and in 1981 the Provisional IRA burns his house in Tara.

Recurring bouts of depression lead to Comyn’s early retirement, on grounds of ill health, in 1985. In retirement, he divides his time between England and Ireland, whose citizenship he has retained. He writes a number of books, including memoirs, light verse, and books on famous trials. He also breeds Friesian cattle. He dies in Navan, County Meath on January 5, 1997 at age 75.


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Death of Historian Richard Bagwell

richard-bagwell-ireland-under-the-tudorsRichard Bagwell, noted historian of the Stuart and Tudor periods in Ireland and a political commentator with strong Unionist convictions, dies on December 4, 1918 at Marlfield, Clonmel, County Tipperary. He is the eldest son of John Bagwell, M.P. for Clonmel from 1857 to 1874. His son John Philip Bagwell follows the family tradition in politics becoming a Senator in the government of the Irish Free State in 1923.

Bagwell is educated at Harrow School and the University of Oxford in England and is called to the Bar, being admitted to Inner Temple in 1866. He serves as a special local government commissioner (1898–1908) and as a commissioner of national education (1905–18).

As a historian of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Ireland, Bagwell works for nearly sixty years to produce his two three-volume works, Ireland under the Tudors (1885–90) and Ireland under the Stuarts (1909–16), using manuscript sources throughout. He is the first to treat this period in a systematic and scholarly fashion. For this solid work he is made Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) and honoured by the University of Dublin and the University of Oxford in 1918. He also writes the historical entry on “Ireland” for the Encyclopædia Britannica (Chicago 1911).

A one-time liberal, Bagwell is a founder member (1885) of the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union, renamed the Irish Unionist Alliance (IUA) in 1891. A “diehard” unionist, he is one of the most prominent and respected southern unionists. A tireless political publicist, he is an assiduous letter-writer to the newspapers, a didactic pamphleteer, and a regular speaker at political meetings throughout Ireland. He opposes the majority report of the Irish Convention (1917) and is one of the original signatories of the “Call to unionists” that splits the IUA.

Bagwell serves as a Commissioner on National Education between 1905 and 1918 and a member of the Patriotic Union (Southern Unionists). He holds the position of High Sheriff of Tipperary in 1869. He is a Justice of the Peace for County Tipperary, and later for County Waterford, and holds the office of Deputy Lieutenant of Tipperary. He is also Special Local Government Commissioner between 1898 and 1903 and President of the Borstal Association of Ireland.

Bagwell marries Harriet Philippa Joscelyn, fourth daughter of P. J. Newton of Dunleckney Manor, County Carlow, on January 9, 1873. The couple has one son, John Philip Bagwell, and three daughters, Emily Georgiana, Margaret and Lilla Minnie.

Richard Bagwell dies one hundred years ago today on December 4, 1918 at Marlfield, having suffered from gout for many years.


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Birth of Geoffrey Henry Cecil Bing, Barrister & Politician

geoffrey-henry-cecil-bingGeoffrey Henry Cecil Bing, British barrister and politician who serves as the Labour Party Member of Parliament for Hornchurch from 1945 to 1955, is born on July 24, 1909 at Craigavad near Belfast in what is now Northern Ireland.

Bing is educated at Rockport School and Tonbridge School before going on to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he reads history. He graduates with a second-class degree in 1931, before attending Princeton University, where he is a Jane Eliza Procter Visiting Fellow between 1932 and 1933. He is called to the bar from the Inner Temple in 1934.

Always a radical and a member of the socialist left, Bing is active in the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and the National Council for Civil Liberties. During the Spanish Civil War, he joins the International Brigades as a journalist, barely avoiding capture at Bilbao. He is also an early anti-Nazi.

During World War II, Bing serves in the Royal Corps of Signals, attaining the rank of major. A 1943 experiment with parachutes at the GSO2 Airborne Forces Development Centre leaves him disfigured and he bears the scars for many years.

At the 1945 general election, Bing stands for Labour in Hornchurch, winning the seat. He is re-elected in 1950 and 1951, serving until 1955. He serves briefly as a junior whip in 1945-1946 but this is widely thought to have been the unintended result of confusion on the part of Clement Attlee, who confuses him for another Labour MP of a similar name.

On the backbenches, Bing is, according to his Times obituary, “the unrestrained leader of a small group of radicals, never fully trusted by their colleagues and known as ‘Bing Boys.'” He takes a particular interest in the cases of Timothy Evans and John Christie, and he supports the campaign to overturn the conviction of Evans, which is ultimately successful. He supports Communist China and takes a keen interest in Northern Ireland, the brewers’ monopoly and parliamentary procedure.

Bing also builds a practice in West Africa. He becomes close to Kwame Nkrumah, the first post-colonial president of Ghana and is appointed Ghana’s attorney-general, a post he holds until 1961. When Nkrumah is ousted in 1966, Bing is arrested and ill-treated, before being sent home some months later. His memoir of Nkrumah’s Ghana, Reap the Whirlwind, is published in 1968.

Geoffrey Henry Cecil Bing dies in London on April 24, 1977 at the age of 67.


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Death of Poet & Revolutionary Denny Lane

Denny Lane, author, poet and member of the revolutionary Young Ireland party, dies in Cork, County Cork, on November 29, 1895.

Lane is born in Riverstown, near Glanmire in County Cork, on December 4, 1818. Although a Catholic, Lane graduates from the mainly Protestant Trinity College, Dublin, where he joins the College Historical Society, becomes a friend of Charles Gavan Duffy and Thomas Davis. He is called to the bar from Inner Temple, but soon becomes involved in the political activities surrounding Daniel O’Connell, joining the Repeal Association.

The young men become increasingly impatient with the slow pace of O’Connell’s repeal campaign and soon begin to contemplate armed insurrection. Davis, along with John Dillon and Charles Duffy, found The Nation, the newspaper of the movement in 1842. In its pages the idea of total separation from England is soon openly suggested, and Lane becomes one of the paper’s contributors. He contributes articles and later poems to the paper, his best known poems being Carrig Dhoun and Kate of Araglen which are written under the pen name “Domhnall na Glanna” or “Domhnall Gleannach.”

Finally, in 1846, the issue of physical force split the Young Irelanders from O’Connell’s Repeal Association. Lane supports the split. Davis, Lane, and small group of their friends soon become known by the name which has survived to this day: the Young Ireland Party.

Lane and his college classmate Michael Joseph Barry are the most prominent Young Irelanders in Cork, and are interned in Cork City Gaol after the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. Lane spends four months in prison. After his release, he returns to Cork and does not appear to have much political involvement thereafter.

Lane takes over his father’s distillery in Cork and later starts several industrial businesses near the city, with mixed success. He takes an interest in technology and industrial innovation. He is on the boards of the Macroom Railway Company and the Blackrock and Passage Railway Company, and also involved in Cork’s School of Art, School of Music, and Literary & Scientific and Historical & Archaeological societies. He stands for Parliament in the 1876 Cork City by-election, but the Home Rule vote is split with John Daly, so that unionist William Goulding is elected.

(Pictured: An 1889 bust of Denny Lane sculpted by John Lawlor)