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


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Birth of Isaac Butt, Barrister & Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Isaac_Butt.jpgIsaac Butt, barrister and politician, is born in Glenfin, County Donegal on September 6, 1813. If not the originator of the term Home Rule, he is the first to make it an effective political slogan. He is the founder (1870) and first chief of the Home Government Association and president (1873–77) of the Home Rule League of Great Britain, but he is superseded in 1878 as head of the Home Rule movement by the younger and more forceful Charles Stewart Parnell.

Butt is the son of a Church of Ireland rector and is descended from the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, through the Ramsays. He receives his secondary school education at The Royal School in Raphoe, County Donegal, and at Midleton College in County Cork, before going to Trinity College Dublin at the age of fifteen, where he is elected a Scholar. While there he co-founds the Dublin University Magazine and edits it for four years. For much of his life he is a member of the Irish Conservative Party. He becomes Whately Chair of Political Economy at Trinity in 1836 and holds that position until 1841.

Butt is called to the Irish bar in 1838 and the English bar in 1859. Intermittently from 1852 he represents, successively, one English and two Irish constituencies in the House of Commons. In 1848 he undertakes the defense of the Young Ireland leaders, who are charged with high treason for their abortive insurrection that year. From 1865 to 1869 he is the principal defense counsel for the imprisoned leaders of the Fenians (Irish Republican, or Revolutionary, Brotherhood).

Despite his legal work for the Fenians, Butt, who is basically a conservative, fears the consequences of a successful Fenian revolt. Disillusioned, however, by the British government’s failure to relieve the Irish Great Famine of the late 1840s, he becomes convinced that a native parliament is required for Irish land reform and other needs. In May 1870 he calls for an Irish Parliament subordinate to the imperial Parliament at Westminster, and later that year he forms the Home Government Association. From 1871 he quickens the Irish nationalist agitation in the House of Commons but gradually loses his leadership, partly because he disapproves of Parnell’s tactics of obstructing routine parliamentary business.

Butt amasses debts and pursues romances. It is said that at meetings he is occasionally heckled by women with whom he had fathered children. He is also involved in a financial scandal when it is revealed that he had taken money from several Indian princes to represent their interests in parliament.

Isaac Butt dies on May 5, 1879 in Clonskeagh in Dublin. His remains are brought by train to Stranorlar, County Donegal, where he is buried in a corner of the Church of Ireland cemetery beneath a tree by which he used to sit and dream as a boy. His grave has been restored and the memorial now includes a wreath.

Despite his chaotic lifestyle and political limitations, Butt is capable of inspiring deep personal loyalty. Some of his friends, such as John Butler Yeats and the future Catholic Bishop of Limerick, Edward Thomas O’Dwyer, retain a lasting hostility towards Parnell for his role in Butt’s downfall.

In May 2010 the Church of Ireland parishes of Stranorlar, Meenglass and Kilteevogue instigate an annual memorial Service and Lecture in Butt’s honour, inviting members of the professions of law, politics and journalism to reflect aspects of his life. Speakers have included Dr. Joe Mulholland, Senator David Norris, Dr. Chris McGimpsey and Prof. Brian Walker.

(Pictured: Isaac Butt, portrait by John Butler Yeats)

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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 Michael Collins, Revolutionary Leader & Politician

Michael Collins, soldier and politician who was a leading figure in the struggle for, and achievement of Irish independence in the early 20th century, is born near Clonakilty, County Cork, on October 16, 1890.

Michael Collins is born to a successful farmer, Michael John Collins, and Mary Anne O’Brien. When the couple marries, she is twenty-three years old and he is sixty. The couple have eight children, with Michael being the youngest.

Raised in a beautiful but remote part of southwest Ireland, Collins is educated at local primary schools. At the Lisavair National School, Collins is inspired by his teacher, Denis Lyons, a member of a secret organization, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), whose aim is to gain Ireland’s independence from Great Britain. Collins is also influenced by the stories of local men who had taken part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, a conflict that sparks a feud between the Irish Protestants and Catholics. From these stories Collins learns of Irish pride, rebellion, executions, and the general harsh treatment imposed on his country by the British.

In 1906 Collins goes to London to enter the civil service as a postal clerk. For ten years Collins lives in London, where he becomes active in various Irish organizations, including the Gaelic League, a society that promotes the use of the Irish language. Also during this time, Collins is influenced by the writings of Arthur Griffith, an Irish nationalist who founded the Irish political party Sinn Féin. In 1909 Collins himself becomes a member of the IRB, and later becomes the IRB treasurer for the South of England.

Collins returns to Ireland in 1916 to take part in the Easter Rising, a rebellion against British rule. After the rebellion is crushed, Collins is interned in North Wales along with most of the other rebels from the IRB. When the internees are released in December 1916, he goes to Dublin, where his sharp intelligence and dynamic energy soon secure him a leadership position in the reviving revolutionary movement.

After their victory in the general election of December 1918, the revolutionaries establish an Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann, in January 1919. The Dáil officially announces an Irish Republic and sets up an executive to take over the government of the country. British attempts to crush the Republican movement are met with guerrilla warfare from the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Collins plays the most important role in this struggle. As director of intelligence of the IRA, he cripples the British intelligence system in Ireland and replaces it with an effective Irish network. At the same time he performs other important military functions, heads the IRB, and, as minister of finance in the Republican government, successfully raises and hands out large sums of money on behalf of the rebel cause. Despite constant efforts, the British are unable to capture Collins or stop his work. The “Big Fellow” becomes an idolized and near-legendary figure in Ireland, and he wins a reputation in Britain and abroad for ruthlessness, resourcefulness, and daring.

After the truce of July 1921, Collins reluctantly agrees to Irish president Éamon de Valera‘s request to serve on the peace-making talks headed by Arthur Griffith. During the autumn negotiations in London, the British government firmly rejects any settlement that involves recognition of the republic. Instead its representatives offer Dominion status for Ireland with the right of exclusion for loyalist Northern Ireland. Collins decides to accept these terms, in the belief that rejection would mean renewal of the war and quick defeat for Ireland, and that the proposed treaty will soon lead to unity and complete freedom for his country. Using these arguments, he and Griffith persuade their side to sign the treaty on December 6, 1921, and Dáil Éireann to approve it on January 7, 1922.

De Valera and many Republicans refuse to accept the agreement, however, believing that it means a betrayal of the republic and a continued domination by Britain. As the British evacuate southern Ireland, Collins and Griffith do their best to maintain order and enforce the treaty signed with the British. They find their efforts frustrated by the opposition of an armed Republican minority. Collins seeks desperately to satisfy the forces that oppose the treaty without abandoning the treaty altogether, but he finds it impossible to make a workable compromise.

In late June 1922, after the population had supported the settlement in an election, Collins agrees to use force against the opposition. This action sparks a civil war, a bitter conflict in which the forces of the infant Irish Free State eventually overcome the extreme Republicans in May 1923. However, Collins does not live to see the end of the war. He is killed in an ambush in West Cork on August 22, 1922, just ten days after the death of Arthur Griffith.

Much of Collins’s success as a revolutionary leader is due mainly to his realism and extraordinary efficiency. He also possesses an amazing vision and humanity in his character, however, which appeals to friend and foe alike. The treaty that costs him his life does not end the argument, as he had hoped, but it does make possible the peaceful gaining of full political freedom for most of Ireland.


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Execution of the Sheares Brothers

Brothers John and Henry Sheares, both Irish lawyers and members of the Society of United Irishmen, are executed in Dublin on July 14, 1798 during the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

The Sheares brothers are the sons of Henry Sheares, a liberal banker from County Cork who also sits in the Irish Parliament for the Borough of Clonakilty. Henry attends Trinity College, Dublin, buys an officer’s commission and then studies as a lawyer, being called to the bar as a barrister in 1790. John qualifies as a barrister in 1788.

In 1792 the brothers go to Paris and are swept away by the popular enthusiasms of the French Revolution. They meet leaders such as Jacques Pierre Brissot and Jean-Marie Roland, both of whom are to be executed in 1793. In particular they witness the introduction of the guillotine, on which 1,400 are to die in 1792. On the boat from France to England they meet Daniel O’Connell, then a student, who is disgusted by the increasingly bloodthirsty nature of the revolution. O’Connell remains an advocate of non-violence thereafter.

The brothers join the United Irish movement upon their return to Dublin in January 1793, when it is still legal, and John begins to write articles for the Press, a nationalist paper. However, France declares war on Britain, and by extension on Ireland, in February 1793. The Society’s initial aims of securing Catholic emancipation and universal suffrage are unsuccessful, amounting to the administration’s 1793 Relief Act. Its stance becomes more radical, and in turn the Irish administration fears a group inspired by France, banning it in 1794.

The Sheares brothers principally organise the movement in Cork, while continuing with their legal careers. A Mr. Conway, one of their keenest members in Cork, informs the administration of their activities. During 1793 the brothers also join the Dublin Society of the United Irishmen, where another spy, Thomas Collins, passes on their names. Their other two less famous brothers enlist in the British army and are killed in action. On the arrest of most of the United Irish “Directory” members in March 1798, John is chosen as a replacement on the approach to the outbreak of rebellion. His main act at this point is to decide on the date – May 23.

The Directory fatally stays in Dublin, where the United Irish have less support. Already quietly betrayed by Conway and Collins, John also befriends Captain Warnesford Armstrong from County Down, who claims to be a busy member of the party there. John never verifies this, and Armstrong informs the authorities of the brothers’ whereabouts, also appearing as a witness in the ensuing trial. They are arrested on May 21 and indicted on June 26.

Inevitably the brothers are tried on July 12, as the rebellion is at its height, and are hanged, drawn and quartered two days later outside Newgate Prison. Their lawyer is John Philpot Curran who, with Sir Jonah Barrington, obtain a stay of execution in the hope that Henry will recant, but the brothers are already dead. They are buried at Dublin’s St. Michan’s Church. Visitors are brought to their coffins on a tour of St. Michan’s vaults.

(Pictured: The coffins of the Sheares brothers in the crypt of St. Michan’s Church)


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Death of Daniel O’Connell in Genoa, Italy

daniel-oconnellDaniel O’Connell, lawyer who becomes the first great 19th-century Irish nationalist leader and is known as “The Liberator,” dies in Genoa, Italy on May 15, 1847. Throughout his life, he campaigns for Catholic emancipation, including the right for Catholics to sit in the Westminster Parliament and the repeal of the Act of Union which combines Great Britain and Ireland.

Compelled to leave the Roman Catholic college at Douai, France, when the French Revolution breaks out, O’Connell goes to London to study law, and in 1798 he is called to the Irish bar. His forensic skill enables him to use the courts as nationalist forums. Although he has joined the Society of United Irishmen, a revolutionary society, as early as 1797, he refuses to participate in the Irish Rebellion of the following year. When the Act of Union takes effect on January 1, 1801 and abolishes the Irish Parliament, he insists that the British Parliament repeal the anti-Catholic laws in order to justify its claim to represent the people of Ireland. From 1813 he opposes various Catholic relief proposals because the government, with the acquiescence of the papacy, has the right to veto nominations to Catholic bishoprics in Great Britain and Ireland. Although permanent political organizations of Catholics are illegal, O’Connell sets up a nationwide series of mass meetings to petition for Catholic emancipation.

On May 12, 1823, O’Connell and Richard Lalor Sheil found the Catholic Association, which quickly attracts the support of the Irish priesthood and of lawyers and other educated Catholic laymen and which eventually comprises so many members that the government can not suppress it. In 1826, when it is reorganized as the New Catholic Association, it causes the defeat of several parliamentary candidates sponsored by large landowners. In County Clare in July 1828, O’Connell himself, although as a Catholic ineligible to sit in the House of Commons, defeats a man who tries to support both the British government and Catholic emancipation. This result impresses on the British prime minister, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, the need for making a major concession to the Irish Catholics. Following the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, O’Connell, after going through the formality of an uncontested reelection, takes his seat at Westminster.

In April 1835, he helps to overthrow Sir Robert Peel’s Conservative ministry. In the same year, he enters into the “Lichfield House compact,” whereby he promises the Whig Party leaders a period of “perfect calm” in Ireland while the government enacts reform measures. O’Connell and his Irish adherents, known collectively as “O’Connell’s tail,” then aid in keeping the weak Whig administration of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, in office from 1835 to 1841. By 1839, however, O’Connell realizes that the Whigs will do little more than the Conservatives for Ireland, and in 1840 he founds the Repeal Association to dissolve the Anglo-Irish legislative union. A series of mass meetings in all parts of Ireland culminate in O’Connell’s arrest for seditious conspiracy, but he is released on appeal in September 1844 after three months’ imprisonment. Afterward his health fails rapidly and the nationalist leadership falls to the radical Young Ireland group.

O’Connell dies at the age of 71 of cerebral softening in 1847 in Genoa, Italy, while on a pilgrimage to Rome. His time in prison has seriously weakened him, and the appallingly cold weather he has to endure on his journey is probably the final blow. According to his dying wish, his heart is buried at Sant’Agata dei Goti, then the chapel of the Irish College, in Rome and the remainder of his body in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, beneath a round tower.


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Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, Arrested

STC146752The personal rule of Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, is brought to an end on February 27, 1495, when he is arrested in Dublin by the Lord deputy Sir Edward Poynings and sent to the Tower of London to await trial for treason.

FitzGerald is Ireland’s premier peer and serves as Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1477 to 1494 and again from 1496 to 1513. His power is so great that he is called “the uncrowned King of Ireland.”

Gerald FitzGerald is appointed Lord Deputy in 1477, but is replaced by Lord Grey of Codnor on the supposition that an Englishman can do a better job. The Lords of the Pale set up a breakaway Parliament in protest, and Edward IV is forced to re-install FitzGerald. He inherits the title of Earl of Kildare in 1478.

FitzGerald manages to keep his position after the York dynasty in England is toppled and Henry VII becomes king, but FitzGerald blatantly disobeys King Henry on several occasions. He supports the pretender to the throne of England and the Lordship of Ireland, Lambert Simnel. However, Henry needs FitzGerald to rule in Ireland but, at the same time, he cannot control him. Simnel’s attempt to seize the throne ends in disaster at the Battle of Stoke Field and many of his supporters are killed. Henry, now secure on his throne, can afford to be merciful and pardons both Simnel and Kildare. Kildare is shrewd enough not to commit himself to the cause of the later pretender, Perkin Warbeck, despite Henry’s caustic comment that the Irish nobility would crown an ape to secure power for themselves.

FitzGerald presides over a period of near independence from English rule between 1477 and 1494. This independence is brought to an end on February 27, 1495 when his enemies in Ireland seize power and Lord deputy Sir Edward Poynings has him sent to London as a traitor. With FitzGerald’s absence, the way is cleared to end the independence of the Irish Parliament. Poynings directs the Irish Parliament, which is sitting in the town of Drogheda, to pass legislation making it subordinate to the English Parliament in Westminster. This marks the end of medieval Ireland and the commencement of the period of Tudor rule.

FitzGerald suffers another blow when his wife Alison dies soon after his arrest. He is tried in 1496, and uses the trial to convince Henry VII that the ruling factions in Ireland are “false knaves.” Henry immediately appoints him as Lord Deputy of Ireland and allows him to marry Elizabeth St. John, a distant cousin of the King. FitzGerald returns to Ireland in triumph.

He rules Ireland with an iron fist. He suppresses a rebellion in the city of Cork in 1500 by hanging the city’s mayor. He raises up an army against rebels in Connacht in 1504, defeating them at the Battle of Knockdoe. In 1512, after entering O’Neill of Clandeboye’s territory, capturing him and taking the castle of Belfast, FitzGerald proceeds through to utterly ravage the Bissett family’s lordship of the coastal Glens of Antrim.

The following year, while on an expedition against the O’Carrolls, he is mortally wounded while watering his horse in Kilkea. He is conveyed back to Kildare where he dies on or around September 3, 1513.