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


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Death of Abraham Colles, Professor & President of the RCSI

Abraham Colles, Professor of Anatomy, Surgery and Physiology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the President of RCSI in 1802 and 1830, dies on November 16, 1843. A prestigious Colles Medal & Travelling Fellowship in Surgery is awarded competitively annually to an Irish surgical trainee embarking on higher specialist training abroad before returning to establish practice in Ireland.

Descended from a Worcestershire family, some of whom had sat in Parliament, Colles is born to William Colles and Mary Anne Bates of Woodbroak, County Wexford, on July 23, 1773. The family lives near Millmount, a townland near Kilkenny, County Kilkenny, where his father owns and manages his inheritance which is the extensive Black Quarry that produces the famous Kilkenny black marble. His father dies when he is 6 years old, but his mother takes over the management of the quarry and manages to give her children a good education. While at Kilkenny College, a flood destroys a local physician’s house. He finds an anatomy book belonging to the doctor in a field and returns it to him. Sensing the young man’s interest in medicine, the physician lets him keep the book.

Colles goes on to enroll in Trinity College Dublin in 1790 and is indentured to Philip Woodroffe, studying at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, The Foundlings’ Hospital and the House of Industry hospitals. He receives the Licentiate Diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1795 and goes on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, receiving his MD degree in 1797. Afterward, he lives in London for a short period, working with the famous surgeon Sir Astley Cooper in his dissections of the inguinal region.

Following his return to Dublin, in 1799, Colles is elected to the staff at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital where he serves for the next 42 years. In October 1803, he is appointed Surgeon to Cork-street Fever Hospital, and subsequently becomes Consulting Surgeon to the Rotunda Hospital, City of Dublin Hospital, and Victoria Lying-in Hospital. He is a well-regarded surgeon and is elected as president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in 1802 at the age of 28 years, subsequently also serving as president in 1830. In 1804, he is appointed Professor of Anatomy, Physiology, and Surgery at RCSI.

In 1811, Colles writes an important treatise on surgical anatomy and some terms he introduces have survived in surgical nomenclature until today. He is remembered as a skillful surgeon and for his 1814 paper On the Fracture of the Carpal Extremity of the Radius. This injury continues to be known as Colles’ fracture. This paper, describing distal radial fractures, is far ahead of its time, being published decades before X-rays come into use. He also describes the membranous layer of subcutaneous tissue of the perineum, which comes to be known as Colles’ fascia. He also extensively studies the inguinal ligament, which is sometimes called Colles’ ligament. He is regarded as the first surgeon to successfully ligate the subclavian artery.

In 1837, Colles writes “Practical observations on the venereal disease, and on the use of mercury” in which he introduces the hypothesis of maternal immunity of a syphilitic infant when the mother has not shown signs of the disease. His principal textbook is the two-volume Lectures on the theory and practice of surgery. His writings are important, though not voluminous. Some of his papers are collected and edited by his son, William Colles, and published in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science. Selections from the works of Abraham Colles, chiefly relative to the venereal disease and the use of mercury, comprise Volume XOII. of the Library of the New Sydenham Society, published in 1881. They are edited and annotated by one of the most distinguished Fellows of the RCSI, Robert McDonnell. His Lectures on Surgery are edited by Simon McCoy, and published in 1850. In tribute to his distinguished career, he is awarded a baronetcy in 1839, which he refuses.

Upon Colles’s retirement as Professor of Surgery, the Members of RCSI pass a resolution which includes “We have also to assure you that it is the unanimous feeling of the College, that the exemplary and efficient manner in which you have filled this chair for thirty-two years, has been a principal cause of the success and consequent high character of the School of Surgery in this country.”

Colles dies on November 16, 1843, from gout. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

In 1807, Colles marries Sophia Cope. His son William follows in his footsteps, being elected to the Chair of Anatomy in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1863. Another of his sons, Henry, marries Elizabeth Mayne, a niece of Robert James Graves. His grandson is the eminent music critic and lexicographer H. C. Colles. His granddaughter Frances marries the judge Lord Ashbourne and her sister Anna marries his colleague Sir Edmund Thomas Bewley.


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The Irish Rebellion of 1641

Rory O’Moore and Sir Phelim Roe O’Neill initiate a major revolt in Armagh on October 23, 1641. The Irish Rebellion of 1641 results in the deaths of at least 4,000 Protestants with Catholics massacred in reprisals over the ensuing six months.

The Rebellion comes about because of the resentment felt by the Irish Catholics, both Gael and Old English, in regards to the loss of their lands to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland.

Irish Catholics are frightened by reports that the Covenanter army in Scotland is considering an invasion of Ireland in order to eradicate the Catholic religion. At the same time, there is also a threat of invasion by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans who are at war against King Charles I. It is hoped that the King would redress the complaints of the Catholics and halt or even reverse the policy of plantation. It is not an act of rebellion against the Royal domain.

The uprising is lead by Rory O’ Moore from Leix, with Sir Phelim Roe O’ Neill and his brother Turlough of Tyrone, the Maguires of Fermanagh, the Magennis, O’ Reilly and the MacMahons. They plan to begin the rebellion on October 23, 1641 with attacks on Dublin and various other British strongholds throughout the country. However, their plans are betrayed to the British by a native Irish convert to Protestantism, Owen O’ Connolly.

As a result of this betrayal, Dublin does not fall. However, the rebellion proceeds in the north with the towns of Dungannon, Newry, and Castleblayney, along with the fort at Charlemont falling to the rebels.

Most of the province of Ulster comes under the control of the rebel leaders. The rebel army, consisting of 30,000 men, has been instructed to take no life except in battle, to arrest the gentry and to spare the Scottish planters as they are considered kindred. For a week after the rebellion, these instructions are adhered to but many of the rebels have lost their lands to the Protestant planters and they want revenge. They attack farms and settlements, killing and turning many people away, robbing and stripping them of all their goods.

Sir Phelim O’ Neill has been himself thought to have ordered the murder of Protestants in Tyrone and Armagh. It is believed that about 12,000 people are slaughtered although contemporary reports put the death toll as much higher. It is thought that up to 30% of the Ulster planters lost their lives while 10% is the figure for the whole of Ireland.

As the rebellion progresses in Ulster there are uprisings in Leinster by November and thereafter throughout the whole of Ireland. In Munster, where many English settlers are planted, the rebels do not shed much blood but they do turn out these settlers, many of whom flee back to England.

In 1642 the Old English form an alliance with the Gaelic Lords at the Assembly of Killkenny. This alliance causes the rebellion to escalate into the Irish Confederate Wars which continue until Cromwell’s invasion and subjugation of Ireland (1649-53).

In 1642 the Scottish Covenanters invade the North and they, in turn, take to killing Catholics in revenge for the deaths of Protestants. The Covenanter Clan Campbell of Argyll takes the opportunity to attack and slaughter the Catholic Rathlin Islanders who belong to ancient enemies, Clan Mac Donald. The Covenanters also slaughter the approximately 3,000 Catholics on Islandmagee. Catholic prisoners and traders in Newry are murdered.

This ruthless slaughtering of civilians, by both sides, is only brought under control when Owen Roe O’ Neill arrives back from exile in France to take control of the Confederate army and, with Major General Robert Monroe in charge of the Covenanter Army, continues the war under the code of conduct that they had both learned on the Continent. However, the effects of the rebellion last to the present day, especially in Ulster where sectarian divide remains strong during The Troubles.

(Pictured: Depiction of the massacre of Ulster Protestants during the 1641 rebellion, The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)


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Birth of Lord Edward FitzGerald

Lord Edward FitzGerald, Irish aristocrat who abandoned his prospects as a distinguished veteran of British service in the American Revolutionary War, and as an Irish Parliamentarian, to embrace the cause of an independent Irish republic, is born at Carton House, near Dublin, on October 15, 1763.

FitzGerald is the fifth son of James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster, and the Lady Emily Lennox, daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond. In 1773 his father dies and his mother soon afterwards marries William Ogilvie, who had been the tutor for him and his siblings. He spends most of his childhood in Frescati House at Blackrock, Dublin, where he is tutored by Ogilvie in a manner chiefly directed to the acquisition of knowledge that will fit him for a military career.

FitzGerald joins the British Army in 1779 and then becomes aide-de-camp on the staff of Lord Rawdon in the Southern theatre of the American Revolutionary War. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781, his life being saved by an escaped slave named Tony Small. He commissions a portrait of Small by John Roberts in 1786. He frees Small and employs him to the end of his life. He is evacuated from Charleston, South Carolina in 1782 when the British forces abandon the city.

In 1783 FitzGerald visits the West Indies before returning to Ireland, where his brother, William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, has procured Edward’s election to the Irish Parliament as an MP for Athy, a seat he holds until 1790. In Parliament he acts with the small Opposition Irish Patriot Party group led by Henry Grattan, but takes no prominent part in debate. In the spring of 1786 he takes the then unusual step for a young nobleman of entering the Military College, Woolwich, after which he makes a tour through Spain in 1787. Dejected by unrequited love for his cousin Georgina Lennox, he sails for New Brunswick to join the 54th Regiment with the rank of Major.

In April 1789, guided by compass, FitzGerald traverses the country with a brother officer from Fredericton, New Brunswick to Quebec, falling in with Indians by the way, with whom he fraternizes. He accomplishes the journey in twenty-six days, and establishes a shorter practicable route than that hitherto followed. The route crosses the extremely rugged and heavily forested northern part of the present state of Maine. In a subsequent expedition he is formally adopted at Detroit by the Bear clan of the Mohawk with the name “Eghnidal,” and makes his way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, whence he returns to England.

Finding that his brother has procured his election for Kildare County, a seat he holds from 1790 to 1798, and desiring to maintain political independence, FitzGerald refuses the command of an expedition against Cádiz offered him by William Pitt the Younger, and devotes himself for the next few years to the pleasures of society and to his parliamentary duties. He is on terms of intimacy with his first cousin Charles Fox, with Richard Sheridan and other leading Whigs. According to Thomas Moore, FitzGerald is only one of numerous suitors of Sheridan’s first wife, Elizabeth, whose attentions are received with favour. She conceives a child by him, a baby girl who is born on March 30, 1792.

His Whig connections, together with his transatlantic experiences, predisposed FitzGerald to sympathize with the doctrines of the French Revolution, which he embraces enthusiastically when he visits Paris in October 1792. He lodges with Thomas Paine and listens to the debates in the Convention. While in Paris, he becomes enamoured of a young girl named Pamela whom he chances to see at the theatre, and who has a striking likeness to Elizabeth Sheridan. On December 27, 1792, he and Pamela are married at Tournai, one of the witnesses being Louis Philippe, afterwards King of the French. In January 1793 the couple reaches Dublin.

Ireland is by then seething with dissent which is finding a focus in the increasingly popular and revolutionary Society of the United Irishmen, which has been forced underground by the outbreak of war between France and Britain in 1793. FitzGerald, fresh from the gallery of the Convention in Paris, returns to his seat in the Irish Parliament and immediately springs to their defence. Within a week of his return he is ordered into custody and required to apologise at the bar of the House of Commons for violently denouncing in the House a Government proclamation which Grattan had approved for the suppression of the United-Irish attempt to revive the Irish Volunteer movement with a “National Guard.” However, it is not until 1796 that he joins the United Irishmen, who by now have given up as hopeless the path of constitutional reform and whose aim, after the recall of Lord FitzWilliam in 1795, is nothing less than the establishment of an independent Irish republic.

In May 1796 Theobald Wolfe Tone is in Paris endeavouring to obtain French assistance for an insurrection in Ireland. In the same month, FitzGerald and his friend Arthur O’Connor proceed to Hamburg, where they open negotiations with the Directory through Reinhard, French minister to the Hanseatic towns. The Duke of York, meeting Pamela at Devonshire House on her way through London with her husband, tells her that his plans are known and advises that he should not go abroad. The proceedings of the conspirators at Hamburg are made known to the government in London by an informer, Samuel Turner. The result of the Hamburg negotiations is Louis Lazare Hoche‘s abortive expedition to Bantry Bay in December 1796.

In September 1797 the Government learns from the informer Leonard McNally that FitzGerald is among those directing the conspiracy of the United Irishmen, which is now quickly maturing. Thomas Reynolds, converted from a conspirator to an informer, keeps the authorities posted in what is going on, though lack of evidence produced in court delays the arrest of the ringleaders. But on March 12, 1798 Reynolds’ information leads to the seizure of a number of conspirators at the house of Oliver Bond. FitzGerald, warned by Reynolds, is not among them.

As a fellow member of the Ascendancy class, the Government are anxious to make an exception for FitzGerald, avoiding the embarrassing and dangerous consequences of his subversive activities. They communicate their willingness to spare him from the normal fate meted out to traitors. FitzGerald however refuses to desert others who cannot escape, and whom he has himself led into danger. On March 30 the government proclamation of martial law authorising the military to act as they see fit to crush the United Irishmen leads to a campaign of vicious brutality in several parts of the country.

FitzGerald’s social position makes him the most important United Irish leader still at liberty. On May 9 a reward of £1,000 is offered by Dublin Castle for his apprehension. Since the arrests at Bond’s house, he has been in hiding. The date for the rising is finally fixed for May 23 and FitzGerald awaits the day hidden by Mary Moore above her family’s inn in Thomas Street, Dublin.

Tipped off that the house is going to be raided, Moore turns to Francis Magan, a Catholic barrister and trusted sympathiser, who agrees to hide Fitzgerald. Making its way to Magan’s house on May 18, Fitzgerald’s party is challenged by Major Henry Sirr and a company of Dumbarton Fencibles. Moore escapes with Fitzgerald and takes him back to Thomas Street to the house of Nicholas Murphy.

Moore explains to Magan what had happened and, unbeknownst to her, Magan informs Dublin Castle. The Moore house is raided that day. Mary, running to warn the Leinster Directory meeting nearby in James’s Gate, receives a bayonet cut across the shoulders. That same evening Sirr storms Murphy’s house where FitzGerald is in bed suffering from a fever. Alerted by the commotion, he jumps out of bed and, ignoring the pleas of the arresting officers to surrender peacefully, he stabs one and mortally wounds the other with a dagger in a desperate attempt to escape. He is secured only after Major Sirr shoots him in the shoulder.

FitzGerald is conveyed to New Prison, Dublin where he is denied proper medical treatment. After a brief detention in Dublin Castle he is taken to Newgate Prison, Dublin where his wound, which has become infected, becomes mortally inflamed. His wife, whom the government probably has enough evidence to convict of treason, has fled the country, never to see her husband again, but FitzGerald’s brother Henry and his aunt Lady Louisa Conolly are allowed to see him in his last moments. He dies at the age of 34 on June 4, 1798, as the rebellion rages outside. He is buried the next day in the cemetery of St. Werburgh’s Church, Dublin. An Act of Attainder confiscating his property is passed as 38 Geo. 3 c. 77, but is eventually repealed in 1819.

There are Lord Edward Streets named in FitzGerald’s honour in many places in Ireland, such as Dublin, Limerick, Sligo, Kilkenny, Ballina, Ballymote, and Ballycullenbeg in County Laois. The County Roscommon GAA club Tulsk Lord Edward’s and the Geraldines P. Moran’s GAA club in Cornelscourt, Dublin, are named after him.


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Birth of Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory

Vice Admiral Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory, KG, PC, PC (Ire), Irish soldier and politician, is born on July 8, 1634 at Kilkenny Castle. He is the eldest son of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, and Elizabeth Preston. He predeceases his father and therefore never becomes duke.

When Butler is born, his father is then the 12th Earl of Ormond but is raised to marquess and duke. His family, the Butler dynasty, is Old English and descends from Theobald Walter, who had been appointed Chief Butler of Ireland by King Henry II in 1177. His mother is a second cousin once removed of his father as she is a granddaughter of Black Tom, 10th Earl of Ormond. Her father, however, is Scottish, Richard Preston, 1st Earl of Desmond, a favourite of James I. Both parents are Protestants. They married on Christmas Day 1629.

Butler is one of ten siblings, eight brothers and two sisters, but five of the sons die in childhood. As the eldest living son, he is the heir apparent and is styled with the corresponding courtesy title, which at first is Viscount Thurles but changed to Earl of Ossory when his father becomes marquess in 1642. His early years are spent in Ireland until 1647 when he accompanies his father to England. In 1648 his father renews his support for the royalist cause and he and his son have to flee to France, arriving in Caen in February 1648. Lady Ormond also moves to Caen, where she arrives on June 23, 1648 with his siblings.

Butler is an accomplished athlete and a good scholar. Having come to London in 1652 he is rightly suspected of sympathising with the exiled royalists, and in 1655 is jailed by Oliver Cromwell. After his release about a year later he goes into exile to the Netherlands where Charles II has his exile court at the time.

On November 17, 1659, while in exile, Butler marries Emilia van Nassau, the second daughter of Louis of Nassau, Lord of De Lek and Beverweerd. They have eleven children, including two sons: James (1665–1745), who becomes the 2nd Duke of Ormonde in 1688; Charles (1671–1758), who becomes the de jure 3rd Duke of Ormonde following his elder brother’s attainder in 1715; Elizabeth (died 1717), who marries William Stanley, 9th Earl of Derby in 1673; Amelia (died 1760), who inherits the estates of her brother Charles and never marries; and Henrietta (died 1724), who marries Henry de Nassau d’Auverquerque, 1st Earl of Grantham.

Butler accompanies Charles II back to England in 1660. In 1661 he becomes a member of both the English and the Irish houses of commons, representing in the former Bristol and Dublin University in the latter.

In 1662 Butler is called to the Irish House of Lords under a writ of acceleration as the Earl of Ossory. His father holds the title “5th Earl of Ossory” as one of his subsidiary titles. The acceleration makes Thomas Butler the 6th Earl of Ossory. This is the only substantive title he ever holds, as he predeceases his father and therefore never succeeds to his father’s titles. His eldest son, however, would later become the 2nd Duke of Ormond and the 7th Earl of Ossory.

Butler holds several military appointments: lieutenant-general of the army in Ireland (appointed in 1665); created an English peer as Lord Butler (in 1666); Lord of the Bedchamber to Charles II (appointed in 1660), a post he holds until his death.

In 1665 a fortunate accident allows Butler to take part in the Battle of Lowestoft against the Dutch, and in May 1672, being now in command of a ship, he fights against the same enemies in the Battle of Solebay, serving with great distinction on both occasions. He is partly responsible for this latter struggle, as on March 12, 1672, before war is declared, he attacks the Dutch Smyrna fleet, an action which he greatly regrets later in life. While visiting France in 1672 he rejects the liberal offers made by Louis XIV to induce him to enter the service of France, and returning to England he adds to his high reputation by his conduct during the Battle of Texel in August 1673. From 1677 until 1679, he serves alongside his father as a Lord of the Admiralty.

Butler is intimate with William, Prince of Orange, and in 1677 he joins the allied army in the Netherlands, commanding the British contingent and winning great fame at the siege of Mons in 1678. He acts as deputy for his father, who is Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and in parliament he defends Ormond’s Irish administration with great vigour. In 1680 he is appointed governor of English Tangier, but his death prevents him from taking up his new duties.

Butler dies on July 30, 1680 at Arlington House in London. He is buried provisionally in Westminster Abbey on July 31, 1680. The ceremony of burial is performed belatedly on November 13, 1680. Some say Butler’s body is later taken to Ireland and reburied in the family vault in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. James, his eldest son, succeeds him as the 7th Earl of Ossory and in 1688 becomes the 2nd Duke of Ormond.

One of Butler’s most intimate friends is John Evelyn, who eulogises him in his Diary.

(Pictured: “Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory” by Peter Lely, painting, circa 1678, National Portrait Gallery)


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The Battle of Benburb

The Battle of Benburb takes place on June 5, 1646 during the Irish Confederate Wars, the Irish theatre of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It is fought between the Irish Confederation under Owen Roe O’Neill, and a Scottish Covenanter and Anglo-Irish army under Robert Monro. The battle ends in a decisive victory for the Irish Confederates and ends Scottish hopes of conquering Ireland and imposing their own religious settlement there.

The Scots Covenanters land an army in Ulster in 1642 to protect the Scottish settlers there from the massacres that follow the Irish Rebellion of 1641. They land at Carrickfergus and link up with Sir Robert Stewart and the Laggan Army of Protestant settlers from County Donegal in northwest Ulster. The Covenanters clear northeastern Ulster of Irish rebels by 1643 but are unable to advance south of mid-Ulster, which is held by Owen Roe O’Neill, the general of the Irish Confederate Ulster army.

In 1646, Monro leads a force composed of Scottish Covenanter regiments and Ulster settlers armies into Confederate-held territory. According to some accounts, this is the first step in a drive to take the Confederates’ capital at Kilkenny. Other sources say it is only a major raid. The combined force is about 6,000 strong. Monro has ten regiments of infantry, of whom six are Scottish and four are English or Anglo-Irish, and 600 Ulster Protestant cavalry. Stewart and the Laggan Army are slated to join Monro’s force in the attack, however, on the day of the battle the Laggan Army is in Clogher, nearly 30 kilometres away. O’Neill, who is a very cautious general, had previously avoided fighting pitched battles. However, he has just been supplied by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, with muskets, ammunition and money with which to pay his soldiers’ wages. This allows him to put over 5,000 men into the field, an army slightly smaller than his enemy’s. The Covenanters have six cannon, whereas the Confederates have none.

Monro assumes that O’Neill will try to avoid his army and has his soldiers march 24 kilometres to intercept the Irish force at Benburb, in modern south County Tyrone. Gerard Hayes-McCoy writes, “many of them must have been close to exhaustion before the battle began.” Monro’s men draw up with their backs to the River Blackwater, facing O’Neill’s troops who are positioned on a rise.

The battle begins with Monro’s artillery firing on the Irish position, but without causing many casualties. Monro’s cavalry then charges the Irish infantry, but are unable to break the Confederates’ pike and musket formation. When this attack fails, O’Neill orders his infantry to advance, pushing the Monro’s forces back into a loop of the river by the push of pike. It is noted that the Irish pikes have longer shafts and narrower heads than those of their opponents, meaning that they outreach them and are “better to pierce.” At this point, the fatigue of Monro’s troops is apparent as they are gradually pushed back until their formation collapses in on itself. The Confederate infantry then breaks Monro’s disordered formation with a musket volley at point-blank range and falls in amongst them with swords and scians (Irish long knives). Monro and his cavalry flee the scene, as, shortly after, does his infantry. A great many of them are cut down or drowned in the ensuing pursuit. Monro’s losses are estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 men, killed or wounded. The Irish casualties are estimated to be 300.

O’Neill’s victory means that the Covenanters are no longer a threat to the Confederates, but they remain encamped around Carrickfergus for the rest of the war. O’Neill does not follow up his victory but takes his army south to intervene in the politics of the Irish Confederation. In particular, he wants to make sure that the treaty the Supreme Council of the Confederates has signed with the English Royalists will not be ratified.

The battle is commemorated in the ballad “The Battle of Benburb.”


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Death of Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, Recluse of Llangollen

Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, daughter of the 16th Earl of Ormonde and recluse of Llangollen, dies on June 2, 1829.

Butler is born in Cambrai, France, the youngest daughter of Walter Butler, 16th Earl of Ormonde, of Garryricken, County Tipperary, and his wife, Ellen (née Morres), of Latargh, County Tipperary. Her family are members of the old Catholic gentry, and her father is the sole lineal representative of James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde. In 1740 her family returns to the Garryricken estate, where she spends part of her childhood. She is educated by the English Benedictine nuns of the convent of Our Lady of Consolation in Cambrai, where her Jacobite grand-aunt is a pensioner. Reared in the liberal and anti-clerical environment at Cambrai, she is open about her opposition to Irish Catholicism. She is also well read in literature.

By the time Butler returns to Ireland, her brother John has claimed the family titles and is recognised as 17th Earl of Ormonde. Though he never uses the title, his sisters are recognised as the daughters of an earl. As the family is impoverished, and she is not disposed to marriage, a decade is passed in unhappiness. Then in 1768 the thirteen-year-old Sarah Ponsonby arrives in Kilkenny to attend a local school. Following her visit to the Butler home at Kilkenny Castle, and despite the difference in age, the two form an immediate friendship and correspond secretly, having discovered their mutual interest in the arts and Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘s ideal of pastoral retirement.

Ponsonby, on finishing school, is sent to live with relatives at the nearby Woodstock Estate, and there is subject to the uninvited attention of a middle-aged guardian. Butler is discontented with her life and the prospects of her family’s wish to send her back to Cambrai, so the two plan to leave their difficulties behind and settle in England. In their first attempt to flee in March 1778, they leave for Waterford disguised as men and wielding pistols, but their families manage to catch up with them. Butler is then sent to the home of her brother-in-law Thomas ‘Monarch’ Kavanagh of Borris, County Carlow, but makes a second, successful attempt and runs away to find Ponsonby at the Woodstock Estate. Her persistence wins out when both families finally capitulate and accept their plans to live together.

The two set out for Wales in May 1778 and, after an extensive tour of Wales and Shropshire, eventually settle in Llangollen Vale, where they rent a cottage which is renamed Plas Newydd. They are accompanied by Mary Carryl, a former servant of the Woodstock household, who remains in their service until her death in 1809. Having made a deliberate decision to retire from the world, they spend the greater part of their days corresponding with friends, reading, building up a large library and making alterations to Plas Newydd, which takes on a fashionable Gothic look. Their garden, landscaped under their direction, becomes a popular attraction for visitors. Butler meticulously records their daily routine in a series of journals, some of which are now lost.

Their seclusion, eccentricities, semi-masculine dress and short-cropped powdered hair gain them notoriety, and it becomes fashionable to call on them. Their numerous and illustrious visitors include Hester Lynch Piozzi, Charles and Erasmus Darwin, Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Gloucester and Josiah Wedgwood. In 1792 they entertain Pamela Sims, later that year to become the wife of Lord Edward FitzGerald, and her mother Madame de Genlis. Following the arrest of Edward FitzGerald in 1798, Pamela and her suite flee to London and on May 27 pass through Llangollen, where the events in Dublin are already known. On hearing that Pamela FitzGerald is staying in the local inn, Butler and Ponsonby invite her to call in. However, when Pamela wishes to stay for the day, their apprehension of Jacobinism leads them to persuade her “principally for her own sake and a little for [our] own to proceed as fast and as incognito as possible for London.”

Both Anna Seward and William Wordsworth, who stay at Plas Newydd, write poems celebrating their friendship, and Lord Byron sends them a copy of The corsair. Owing to her support of the Bourbons, Butler is sent the Croix St. Louis, which she wears about her neck. Their celebrity does have its drawbacks: an article in the General Evening Post of July 24, 1790, entitled ‘Extraordinary female affection’, suggests indirectly that their relationship is unnatural. Butler is particularly angered by this publicity and appeals to Edmund Burke for legal advice. Their retirement is also continually dogged by financial difficulties. They live mainly off their respective allowances and Butler’s royal pension, granted through the influence of Lady Frances Douglas, but spend beyond their means and are often in debt. To add to their problems, Butler receives no mention in her father’s will. However, the Gothic eccentricities of their cottage, which they succeed over time in purchasing, and garden attract even the interest of Queen Charlotte.

Though it is claimed that neither woman spent a night away from Plas Newydd, in January 1786 they stay with their friends the Barretts of Oswestry, and that September they visit Sir Henry Bridgeman of Weston Park, near Staffordshire. In June 1797 they take their only holiday, at the coastal resort of Barmouth. Despite their isolation they are well informed about international events and society gossip. The Irish serjeant-at-law Charles Kendal Bushe recalls how they gave him all the news of Dublin, London, Cheltenham, and Paris. In later years Butler’s eyesight deteriorates, preventing her from keeping her journal. She is secretly painted as an old woman with Ponsonby by Lady Mary Leighton and sketched by Lady Henrietta Delamere. A distinctive, anonymous silhouette shows the two generously proportioned women in traditional riding habits (National Portrait Gallery, London).

Butler dies on June 2, 1829, and is buried alongside Mary Carryl at St. Collen’s Church in Llangollen. Sarah Ponsonby is subsequently buried with them.

(From: “Butler, Lady (Charlotte) Eleanor” by Frances Clarke, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Liam Tobin, Irish Army Officer & IRA Intelligence Officer

Liam Tobin, officer in the Irish Army and the instigator of the Irish Army Mutiny in March 1924, dies in Dublin on April 30, 1963. During the Irish War of Independence, he serves as an Irish Republican Army (IRA) intelligence officer for Michael CollinsSquad.

Tobin is born William Joseph Tobin at 13 Great Georges Street in Cork, County Cork, on November 15, 1895, the eldest son of Mary Agnes (nee Butler) and David Tobin, a hardware clerk. He has two younger siblings, Katherine and Nicholas Augustine Tobin, also born in Cork. His family moves to John Street in Kilkenny and then to Dublin. He goes to school in Kilkenny and is an apprentice in a hardware shop at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. As a participant in the Rising he fights in the Four Courts garrison under Edward Daly. He is arrested, court martialed, and sentenced to death but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. He is a prisoner in Kilmainham, Mountjoy, Lewes, Dartmoor, Broadmoor and Pentonville prisons. He is released in June 1917.

In early 1919 Tobin becomes Collins’ chief executive in the Intelligence Directorate handling the many spies in Dublin Castle, including double agent David Neligan. Nancy O’Brien works for Under-Secretary for Ireland James Macmahon, decoding messages sent from London. Each day between 2:30 and 3:30 she passes any information acquired to either Tobin, Joseph McGrath, or Desmond FitzGerald. Tobin is involved in planning the assassinations of British soldiers, informants, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and operatives of MI5. He constructs detailed profiles of everyone remotely connected to the British government, often using Who’s Who, The Morning Post, and The Times, a newspaper that describes him as “one of the most formidable of [the] Twelve Apostles.”

In October 1921, Tobin travels with the Irish Treaty Delegation as part of Collins’ personal staff.

Tim Pat Coogan and James Mackay have examined Tobin’s involvement in the assassination of British Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. Wilson’s public tirades about Collins is evidence of mutual personal dislike between the two men. In May 1922 Collins tells Tobin “We’ll kill a member of that bunch” to the news of “bloody pogroms” in Belfast. Wilson is intimately involved with the Ulster loyalist cause, including the Curragh Mutiny and the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Just before the shooting, Coogan places Tobin in London. He meets courier Peig Ni Braonain at Euston Station collecting a document that has been sent from Dublin. Returning to Dublin before the incident, he is jubilant when he tells defence minister Richard Mulcahy about Wilson’s death. Mulcahy is appalled and threatens to resign.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Tobin is appointed deputy director of intelligence in the new state and assigned to the Criminal Investigation Department based at Oriel House. However Collins soon replaces him with Joseph McGrath. Tobin is placed on the Army Council and is Director of Intelligence from September 1922 until his appointment as Senior Aide-de-Camp to the new GovernorGeneral of the Irish Free State, Tim Healy, in November 1922. The position provides an apartment in Viceregal Lodge.

In October 1922, Tobin’s brother Nicholas, a Free State captain, is accidentally shot dead by his own troops during the raid and capture of a bomb making factory at number 8 Gardiner’s Place, Dublin.

Tobin believes in the stepping stone doctrine which sees the Treaty as a stage towards full independence. With the outbreak of the Irish Civil War he remains loyal to Collins and takes the Pro-Treaty side. He leads in the fight against the Anti-Treaty IRA in the south. Disillusioned with the continuing hostilities and in the aftermath of the death of Collins, he forms an association called the IRA Organisation (IRAO) or “Old Irish Republican Army” to distinguish themselves from the anti-treaty insurgents.

Richard Mulcahy, the new Irish defence minister, proposes to reduce the army from 55,000 to 18,000 men in the immediate post- Civil-War period. Tobin knows his own position is to be affected and shares the perception that the Irish Army treats former British officers better than former IRA officers. On March 7, 1924, Tobin, together with Colonel Charlie Dalton, sends an ultimatum to President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State W. T. Cosgrave demanding an end to the army demobilisation. The immediate response is an order for the arrest of the two men on a charge of mutiny. The cabinet, already wary of the Irish Army, orders an inquiry and appoints Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to the army command.

On March 18, the mutineers assemble with hostile intent at a Dublin pub. An order is made to arrest the mutineers and the cabinet demands the resignation of the army council. The generals resign, affirming the subservience of the military to the civilian government of the new state.

In later years, Tobin rebuilds relations with his Civil War foes and joins Éamon de Valera‘s Anti-Treaty Fianna Fáil party. He joins up with Joseph McGrath to form the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in the 1930s. Many other former army comrades find work in this lottery. He leaves the Sweep in 1938. After World War II, he becomes Superintendent of the Oireachtas for the Irish Dáil.

On October 14, 1929, Tobin marries Monica “Mona” Higgins at the Church of the Holy Family, Aughrim Street, Dublin. They have two daughters, Máire and Anne Tobin. Following the death of his father, David, in 1956, Tobin’s health declines, resulting in his death in Dublin on April 30, 1963.

Tobin is portrayed by actor Brendan Gleeson in Neil Jordan‘s biopic Michael Collins.


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Death of Sir Thomas de Rokeby, Justiciar of Ireland

Sir Thomas de Rokeby, a soldier and senior Crown official in fourteenth-century England and Ireland, who serves as Justiciar of Ireland, dies on April 23, 1357. He is appointed to that office to restore law and order to Ireland, and has considerable early success in this task, but he is recalled to England after the military situation deteriorates. He is later re-appointed Justiciar, and returns to Ireland to take up office, but dies soon afterwards.

The Rokebys are a prominent landowning family from Mortham in North Yorkshire. He is probably the son of Thomas de Rokeby, who dies in 1318. His nephew, also named Thomas, the son of his brother Robert, is closely associated with him in his later years and the elder Thomas is often called “l’oncle” to distinguish him from his nephew.

Rokeby first comes to public attention in 1327 when, after his return from prison in Scotland, he receives the thanks of the new King Edward III for being the squire who had first pointed out the approach of the Scots army during the invasion of the previous July. As a reward he is knighted and given lands worth £100 a year. He sees action against the Scots regularly between 1336 and 1342 and has charge of Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle while they are held by the English. He is High Sheriff of Yorkshire from 1342 to 1349. He is one of the English commanders at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346, and it is said, “gave the Scots such a draught as they did not care to taste again.” He is then entrusted with bringing King David II of Scotland as a captive to London, and he receives further grants of land as a reward for his good services.

In 1349 Rokeby is appointed Justiciar of Ireland, and given a large armed retinue to accompany him, as it is recognised by the English Crown that “Ireland is not in good plight or good peace.” While there is some surprise at the appointment of an old soldier to such a sensitive political position, the more informed view is that Rokeby is well suited to the task of enforcing justice by military force. He arrives in December and makes a quick circuit of the south of Ireland, mainly to keep watch on the powerful but troublesome magnate Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond.

Rokeby is praised by his contemporaries for his regard for justice and his zeal in checking extortion by Crown officials. He undertakes a general overhaul of the Irish administration, aimed particularly at the detection and prevention of corruption and the removal of incompetent officials. Arguably he shows excessive zeal in arresting and imprisoning the Lord High Treasurer of Ireland, Robert de Emeldon, a man who enjoys the King’s personal regard. Admittedly the charges against Emeldon are very serious, including rape, robbery and manslaughter, but the King, out of regard for their long friendship and Emeldon’s record of good service to the Crown in Ireland, had already pardoned Emeldon for killing one Ralph de Byrton, a knight, in 1336. Emeldon is once more pardoned and quickly released.

In November 1351 Rokeby holds a Great Council at Kilkenny. It deals partly with the problem of official corruption already mentioned, partly with the problem of defence of the Pale, and partly with the question of intermarriage and other close contacts between the Anglo-Irish and the Old Irish. Otway-Ruthven notes that little of the legislation is new, apart from the application to Ireland of the English Statute of Labourers of 1351, and that much of it is repeated in the better-known Statutes of Kilkenny of 1366.

In 1353 the Clan MacCarthy of Muskerry, the dominant clan in central County Cork, who had until then been loyal to the English Crown, rebels. Rokeby shows considerable skill in crushing the uprising and succeeds in replacing the rebellious head of the clan, Dermot MacCarthy, with his more compliant cousin Cormac. Cormac’s descendants gain great wealth, extensive lands and the title Earl of Clancarty.

This promising state of good order does not last long. A rebellion by the O’Byrne Clan of Wicklow in 1354 is followed by a general uprising headed by the MacMurrough-Kavanagh dynasty. Although Muirchearteach MacMurrough-Kavanagh, the self-styled King of Leinster, is captured and executed, Rokeby suffers several military defeats. He is unable to suppress the O’Byrnes’ rebellion, and other risings take place in Tipperary, Kildare and Ulster.

Rokeby, now an ageing and discouraged man, is recalled in 1355. His replacement, rather surprisingly, is that Earl of Desmond whom it had been one of his main tasks to keep in check. Desmond dies a year later on July 26, 1356. Rokeby is reappointed Justiciar, and returns to Ireland, only to die soon afterwards on April 23, 1357 at Kilkea Castle.

Rokeby is married and his wife is named Juliana, but little else is known of her. They have no children, and his estates pass to his nephew, the younger Thomas.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sir Thomas de Rokeby, painting by Godfried Schalcken)


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Murder of Vincent Patrick Fovargue

Vincent Patrick Fovargue, a company officer in the Dublin brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, is shot dead at a golf course near London, England by the IRA on April 2, 1921. The IRA accuses him of being a British spy.

Fovargue is born on August 22, 1900 at 2 Rutland Place, Clontarf, Dublin, to Robert Fovargue, an engineer/fitter, and Elizabeth (Lillie) Larkin.

An intelligence officer with the 4th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA in the Ranelagh area, he is captured by the British Army in Dublin. Under interrogation, he allegedly leaks information that results in the arrest of the other members of his unit a few days later. In return for this information, the Intelligence Corps allegedly allow him to escape during a staged ambush in Dublin’s South Circular Road.

This attempted ruse however does not go unnoticed by Michael Collins‘ informants in the Crown’s security forces. On the night of the escape, Detective Constable David Neligan of the Dublin Metropolitan Police‘s “G” Division is on duty in Dublin Castle when he is passed a telephone message on a police form. The message, issued by the British Military Headquarters, states that a “Sinn Féin” suspect named Fovargue had escaped from three Intelligence Corps officers in a car while en route to prison. It gives a description of his appearance and asks that the British Army be notified in the event of his recapture by the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Joe Kinsella is the I/O of the 4th Battalion. He is temporarily transferred to take care of munitions under Seán Russell for a few weeks and Fovargue is put in his place. In Kinsella’s statement to the BMH, he writes:

“From the outset I personally did not place a lot of trust in him, because on the morning that he took over from me he appeared to me, to be too inquisitive about the movements of Michael Collins and the GHQ staff generally. He wanted to know where they could be located at any time. He said that he had big things in view, and that it would be to the advantage of the movement generally if he was in a position to get in touch with the principal men with the least possible delay. From his attitude I there and then formed the opinion, rightly or wrongly, that he was inclined to overstep his position. I did not feel too happy about him and I discussed him with Sean Dowling. It transpired that my impressions of this man were correct. I told him of two meeting places of Intelligence staff, one of Company Intelligence held at Rathmines Road and one of Brigade Intelligence held at Saville Place. A short time after giving him this information both these places were raided…I was now confirmed in my suspicions that Fovargue was giving away information. He was later shot in England by the IRA.”

Neligan is not fooled by this either, as he explains:

“Now if they had said that this man (who was completely unknown to both of us) had escaped from one I.O. it might have sounded reasonable enough. But to tell us that an unarmed man had escaped out of a motor-car in the presence of three presumably armed men was imposing a strain on our credulity. Both of us thought this story too good to be true.”

The two men retype the message and pass it to Collins the following day. Meanwhile, Fovargue has been sent to England where he adopts the alias of Richard Staunton. Fovargue has in fact been sent to England by Intelligence Corps Colonel Ormonde Winter to infiltrate the IRA in Britain.

Sean Kavanagh, a Kilkenny IRA man, claims that Fovargue is put in a cell with him in Kilmainham in 1921 in order to try to extract information from him.

On April 2, 1921, a boy walking on the golf links of the Ashford Manor Golf Club in Ashford, Middlesex discovers the body of Fovargue, who had been shot through the chest. Discovered near the corpse is a small piece of paper on which had been scribbled in blue pencil the words “Let spies and traitors beware – IRA.”

In the Neil Jordan film Michael Collins, Fovargue’s assassination is depicted onscreen. Fovargue is tracked down while working out at the golf course, allowed to say the Act of Contrition, and then fatally shot by Liam Tobin (Brendan Gleeson).


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Death of T. P. Gill, Member of the Irish Parliamentary Party

Thomas Patrick (T. P.) Gill, a prominent member of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) in the late 19th and early 20th century, dies on January 19, 1931. He is a Member of Parliament (MP) in the British House of Commons representing the South Louth constituency unopposed from 1885 to 1892. His uncle Peter is an unsuccessful election candidate in 1868 in County Tipperary.

Gill is born on October 25, 1858, in Ballygraigue, Nenagh, County Tipperary, the first of four sons of Robert Gill, a civil engineer who is assistant county surveyor, and Mary (née Clampett), daughter of a woolen merchant, James Clampett of Mount Kennett, County Limerick. He attends St. Joseph’s CBS Nenagh, St. John’s College, Kilkenny, and Trinity College Dublin becoming a journalist, firstly as editor of the Catholic World magazine of New York, and an associate editor of the North American Review (1883–85). He marries Annie Fennell of Dublin in 1882 and they have two sons, Donat and Roy, and a daughter Finola.

Gill is a friend and political ally of Charles Stewart Parnell. After the death of Parnell he remains with the Irish Parliamentary Party. He works with Horace Plunkett in developing the Irish co-operative movement. He is member and honorary secretary to the 1895 Recess Committee which leads to the formation of both the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI), forerunner of the Irish Department of Agriculture, and the Vocational Education Committee (VEC). His key work for the Recess Committee is research into the state aid to agriculture in France and Denmark. In February 1900, he is appointed Secretary of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland. In 1907, he is appointed Chairman of the Departmental Committee on Irish Forestry. He also serves on a number of governmental committees concerning agriculture and agricultural production. He is President of the Irish Technical Instruction Association from 1925 to 1929.

A raconteur with, in the words of R. A. Anderson, ‘a queer charm about him,’ Gill moves in Dublin literary circles, and in his retirement he makes a translation of Louis Paul-Dubois’ Le drame irlandais et l’Irlande nouvelle (1927), published posthumously as The Irish struggle and its results (1934).

Gill is an uncle of former Workers’ Party of Ireland president and Dublin West TD Tomás Mac Giolla.

Gill dies in a Dublin hospital on January 19, 1931. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland.

(Pictured: “Portrait of T.P. Gill, Journalist, Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction,” oil on canvas by Sarah Purser, 1898, National Gallery of Ireland)