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


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First Balloon Crossing of the Irish Sea

william-windham-sadlerWilliam Windham Sadler makes the first balloon crossing of the Irish Sea, from Dublin to Anglesey, on July 22, 1817.

Sadler is born near Dublin on October 17, 1796, the son by a second wife of James Sadler, one of the earliest British balloonists. The elder Sadler makes his first ascent on May 5, 1785, in company with William Windham, the politician, who subsequently consents to stand godfather to his son. In October 1811 he makes a rapid flight from Birmingham to Boston, Lincolnshire, in less than four hours. Less successful is his attempt to cross the Irish Sea on October 1, 1812, when he ascends from the lawn of the Belvedere House, Dublin, receiving his flag from the Duchess of Richmond. In spite of a tear in the balloon fabric, which he partially repairs with his neckcloth, he nearly succeeds in crossing the Channel. However, when over Anglesey a strong southerly current carries him out to sea, and he has a most perilous escape, being rescued by a fishing craft, which ran its bowsprit through the balloon. He is not deterred from making other ascents, and his name is long familiar in connection with ballooning. George III takes a special interest in his ascents.

The younger Sadler is brought up as an engineer, acquires a good practical knowledge of chemistry, and enters the service of the first Liverpool gas company. He gives up his employment there for professional aërostation, with which, upon his marriage in 1819, he combines the management of an extensive bathing establishment at Liverpool.

Sadler’s most notable feat is performed in 1817, when, with a view to carrying his father’s adventure of 1812 to a successful issue, he ascends from the Portobello barracks at Dublin on June 22. He rises to a great height, obtains the proper westerly current, and manages to keep the balloon in it across the St. George’s Channel. In mid-channel he writes, “I enjoyed at a glance the opposite shores of Ireland and Wales, and the entire circumference of Man.” Having started at 1:20 PM, Sadler alights a mile south of Holyhead at 6:45 PM.

On September 29, 1824 Sadler makes his thirty-first ascent at Bolton. He prepares to descend at dusk near Blackburn, but the wind dashes his car against a lofty chimney, and he is hurled to the ground, sustaining injuries of which he dies at 8:00 on the following morning. He is buried at Christchurch in Liverpool, where he was very popular. He well deserves the title of ‘intrepid’ bestowed on his father by Erasmus Darwin, but he did little to advance a scientific knowledge of aërostation by making systematic observations.

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The Battle of Clontarf

battle-of-clontarfThe Battle of Clontarf takes place on Good Friday, April 23, 1014, at Clontarf, near Dublin, on the east coast of Ireland. The battle is the culmination of two centuries of strife, treachery, failed alliances and treaties that pits the forces of Brian Boru, high king of Ireland, against a Norse-Irish alliance comprised of the forces of Sigtrygg Silkbeard, king of Dublin, Máel Mórda mac Murchada, king of Leinster, and a Viking contingent led by Sigurd of Orkney and Brodir of Mann.

The first Norsemen, also known as Vikings, arrive in Ireland some two centuries earlier, initially plundering the gold, chalices, crosses, and manuscripts of the monasteries and the corn harvests of the settled communities. Gradually they establish Viking settlements around Ireland and engage in trade and commerce.

There is, however, significant opposition to their presence in Ireland, not least in Munster where King Brian Boru has defeated their armies on several occasions. Brian’s aim is to unite all the warring Celtic kingdoms under one rule and one High King.

In 1013, Máel Mórda, the king of Leinster goes into revolt after inter-marriage alliances with Brian have broken down, and joins forces with the Vikings. Together, they initially attack the kingdom of Mael Sechlainn of Meath who summons the help of King Brian. Brian sets off toward Dublin with 4,900 troops. Opposing them are Máel Mórda’s army of 4,000 Leinster men allied to 3,000 Viking warriors.

Although but a small segment of the battle is fought close to the seafront at Clontarf, the historic encounter of Good Friday 1014 enters the annals as the Battle of Clontarf. This is largely because some 2,000 Vikings had landed in longboats at Clontarf by sunrise on the morning of April 23.

As the two opposing armies face one another, the Vikings and the Leinster men are lined across the sloping plains bounded by the sea and the River Tolka, while King Brian’s army occupies the rising ground near Tomar’s Wood in Phibsboro.

The most ferocious part of the battle is fought at the “Battle of the Fishing Weir,” which approximates to the site of the former D.W.D. Whiskey Distillery on Richmond Road. Historic accounts of the battle also refer to the “savage encounters” fought on the “Bloody Fields of Marino” and what is today Phibsboro and Cross Guns.

The result of the bloodiest day in ancient Ireland is a rout for King Brian, although some 4,000 of his troops are killed on the battlefield. In contrast some 6,000 Leinster men and Vikings are slaughtered including every single Viking leader. King Brian’s army drives the fleeing Vikings back towards the sea at Clontarf.

Although Brian has won the greatest victory of his long career, he does not live long to enjoy it. As he kneels praying in his tent near Cross Guns, the Isle of Man Viking Leader, Brodir, who is hiding in the adjacent woods, runs into his tent and kills the 84-year-old Brian with his axe. Brodir is later captured and slaughtered by Ulf the Quarrelsome, the younger brother of King Brian.

The Battle of Clontarf is the watershed of all the hatred, division, and rivalries that have consumed Ireland for centuries. A period of relative peace follows where the Celtic chieftains and the Vikings live together in a spirit of harmony with the emphasis on greater integration, cooperation, and commerce.