seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of American-Irish Writer Morgan Llywelyn

morgan-llywelynMorgan Llywelyn, American-Irish historical fantasy, historical fiction, and historical non-fiction writer, is born Sally Snyder in New York City on December 3, 1937. Her fiction has received several awards and has sold more than 40 million copies, and she herself is recipient of the 1999 Exceptional Celtic Woman of the Year Award from Celtic Women International.

In her teens, Llywelyn moves to the Dallas area, where she develops a love of horses. By the age of 16, she is competing in professional horse shows across the United States. By age 18, she models for Neiman Marcus and Arthur Murray. After 15 years of experience as a horse trainer and instructor, she tries out for and narrowly misses making the 1976 United States Olympic Team in Dressage. She is instead shortlisted, missing the cut off score by .05 percent.

With her mother’s encouragement and a successfully published article on horse training, she refocuses her efforts in tracing the Llywelyn family history and eventually makes a career out of writing historical novels that allow the exploration of her Celtic roots. In reference to this career change, Llywelyn has this to say:

“I have a strong strain of Welsh on my mother’s side, which does indeed go back to Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. And Llywelyn the Great! (We have the proven genealogy from the College of Heralds.) She was very proud of her royal Welsh connection. That is why she was so interested in genealogy in the first place, and inspired me to get involved as well … leading in turn to “The Wind from Hastings.” But both my parents were predominantly Irish – my father totally so – and I spent half the years of my childhood here. So I have always been much more interested in Ireland and its history and legends.”

Llywelyn has received several awards for her works. She receives the Novel of the Year Award from the National League of American Pen Women for her novel, The Horse Goddess, as well as the Woman of the Year Award from the Irish-American Heritage Committee for Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish. The latter award is presented to her by Ed Koch, then-mayor of New York City.

Although Llywelyn’s grandparents have their roots in Ireland, it is only after the death of her parents and her husband in 1985 that she relocates to Ireland. Llywelyn now lives outside Dublin and has become an Irish citizen.

In 1990, Llywelyn begins her focus on writing books geared for younger readers. These works start with Brian Boru: Emperor of the Irish, for which she wins an Irish Children’s Book Trust Bisto Award in 1991, and includes other titles, such as Strongbow: The Story of Richard and Aoife, for which she wins a Bisto Award in the Historical Fiction category, 1993 and the Reading Association of Ireland Award, 1993, and Star Dancer which departs from her usual Celtic topic and is centered on her experiences with Dressage. Further works include The Vikings in Ireland, an exploration of when the Norsemen arrived in Ireland and Pirate Queen, a younger reader’s version of the story of Grace O’Malley, told through letters from Granuaile to her beloved son.

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The Rathlin Island Massacre

bruces-castle-ruinsThe Rathlin Island massacre takes place on Rathlin Island, off the coast of what is now Northern Ireland, on July 26, 1575. More than 600 Scots and Irish are killed.

Rathlin Island is used as a sanctuary because of its natural defences and rocky shores. In earlier times, when the wind blows from the west it is almost impossible to land a boat. It is also respected as a hiding place, as it is the one-time abode of Saint Columba. Installing themselves in Rathlin Castle (also known as Bruce’s Castle), the MacDonnells of Antrim make Rathlin their base for resistance to the Enterprise of Ulster. Their military leader, Sorley Boy MacDonnell (Scottish Gaelic: Somhairle Buidhe Mac Domhnaill) and other Scots have thought it prudent to send their wives, children, elderly, and sick to Rathlin Island for safety.

Acting on the instructions of Sir Henry Sidney and the Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys take the castle by storm. Drake uses two cannons to batter the castle and when the walls give in, Norreys orders direct attack on July 25, and the Garrison surrenders. Norreys sets the terms of surrender, whereupon the constable, his family, and one of the hostages are given safe passage and all other defending soldiers are killed. On July 26, 1575, Norreys’ forces hunt the old, sick, very young and women who are hiding in the caves. Despite the surrender, they kill all the 200 defenders and more than 400 civilian men, women and children. Sir Francis Drake is also charged with the task of preventing any Scottish reinforcement vessels from reaching the island.

The entire family of Sorley Boy MacDonnell perishes in the massacre. Essex, who orders the killings, boasts in a letter to Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s secretary and spymaster, that Sorley Boy MacDonnell watched the massacre from the mainland helplessly and was “like to run mad from sorrow.”

Norreys stays on the island and tries to rebuild the walls of the castle so that the English might use the structure as a fortress. As Drake is not paid to defend the island, he departs with his ships. Norreys realises that it is not possible to defend the island without intercepting Scottish galleys and he returns to Carrickfergus in September 1575.

(Pictured: the ruins of Rathlin Castle)


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The Founding of Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin, a left-wing Irish republican political party active in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is founded on November 28, 1905, when, at the first annual Convention of the National Council, Arthur Griffith outlines the Sinn Féin policy, “to establish in Ireland’s capital a national legislature endowed with the moral authority of the Irish nation.”

The phrase “Sinn Féin” is Irish for “ourselves” or “we ourselves,” although it is frequently mistranslated as “ourselves alone.” The meaning of the name itself is an assertion of Irish national sovereignty and self-determination; i.e., the Irish people governing themselves, rather than being part of a political union with Great Britain under the Westminster Parliament.

Around the time of 1969–1970, owing to the split in the republican movement, there are two groups calling themselves Sinn Féin, one under Tomás Mac Giolla, the other under Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. The latter becomes known as Sinn Féin (Kevin Street) or Provisional Sinn Féin, and the former becomes known as Sinn Féin (Gardiner Place) or Official Sinn Féin. The “Officials” drop all mention of Sinn Féin from their name in 1982, instead calling itself the Workers’ Party of Ireland. The Provisionals are now generally known as Sinn Féin. Supporters of Republican Sinn Féin, which comes from a 1986 split, still use the term “Provisional Sinn Féin” to refer to the party led by Gerry Adams.

Sinn Féin is a major party in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is the largest nationalist party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the second-largest overall. It has four ministerial posts in the most recent power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive. It holds seven of Northern Ireland’s eighteen seats, the second largest bloc after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), at Westminster, where it follows a policy of abstentionism, refusing to attend parliament or vote on bills. It is the third-largest party in the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland. As Ireland’s dominant parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are both centre-right, Sinn Féin is the largest left-wing party in Ireland.

Sinn Féin members have also been referred to as Shinners, a term intended as a pejorative.