seamus dubhghaill

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


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Bloody Sunday 1887 in London

Bloody Sunday takes place in London on November 13, 1887, when a march against unemployment and coercion in Ireland, as well as demanding the release of Member of Parliament (MP) William O’Brien, is attacked by the Metropolitan Police Service and the British Army. The demonstration is organised by the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and the Irish National League. Violent clashes take place between the police and demonstrators, many “armed with iron bars, knives, pokers and gas pipes.” A contemporary report notes that 400 are arrested and 75 persons are badly injured, including many police, two policemen being stabbed and one protester bayonetted.

William Ewart Gladstone‘s espousal of the cause of Irish home rule has split the Liberal Party and makes it easy for the Conservatives to gain a majority in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. The period from 1885 to 1906 is one of Tory dominance, with short intermissions. Coercion Acts are the answer of British governments perturbed by rural unrest in Ireland, and they involve various degrees of suspension of civil rights. Although one purpose of the November 13 demonstration is to protest about the handling of the Irish situation by the Conservative government of Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, it has a much wider context.

The Long Depression, starting in 1873 and lasting almost to the end of the century, creates difficult social conditions in Britain, similar to the economic problems that drive rural agitation in Ireland. Falling food prices create rural unemployment, which results in both emigration and internal migration. Workers move to the towns and cities in thousands, eroding employment, wages and working conditions. By November 1887, unemployed workers’ demonstrations from the East End of London have been building up for more than two years. There have already been clashes with the police and with the members of upper class clubs. Trafalgar Square is seen symbolically as the point at which the working-class East End meets the upper-class West End of London, a focus of class conflict and an obvious flashpoint.

This attracts the attention of the small but growing socialist movement – the Marxists of both the Social Democratic Federation and Socialist League, and the reformist socialists of the Fabian Society. Police and government attempts to suppress or divert the demonstrations also bring in the radical wing of the Liberal Party and free speech activists from the National Secular Society.

Some 30,000 persons encircle Trafalgar Square as at least 10,000 protesters march in from several different directions, led by Elizabeth Reynolds, John Burns, William Morris, Annie Besant and Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, who are primarily leaders of the Social Democratic Federation. Also marching are the Fabian playwright George Bernard Shaw and Charlotte Wilson. Two thousand police and 400 troops are deployed to halt the demonstration. Burns and Cunninghame Graham are arrested and imprisoned for six weeks. Annie Besant, who is a Marxist, Fabian and secularist, speaks at the rally and offers herself for arrest, but the police decline to do so. Of the 400 arrested, 50 are detained in custody.

In the fighting, many rioters are injured by police truncheons and under the hooves of police horses. There are both infantry and cavalry present. Although the infantry are marched into position with bayonets fixed, they are not ordered to open fire and the cavalry are not ordered to draw their swords.

The following Sunday, November 20, sees another demonstration and more casualties. According to a report in the partisan Socialist Review, among them is a young clerk named Alfred Linnell, who is run down by a police horse, dying in hospital a fortnight later from complications of a shattered thigh.

The funeral of Linnell on December 18 provides another focus for the unemployed and Irish movements. William Morris, leader of the Socialist League, gives the main speech and advocates a holy war to prevent London from being turned into a huge prison. A smaller but similar event marks the burial of another of those killed, W. B. Curner, which takes place in January. The release of those imprisoned is celebrated on February 20, 1888, with a large public meeting. Henry Hyndman, leader of the SDF, violently denounces the Liberal Party and the Radicals who are present.

(Pictured: Bloody Sunday, 1887. This engraving from The Illustrated London News depicts a policeman being clubbed by a demonstrator as he wrests a banner from a female protester.)

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Death of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

jeremiah-odonovan-rossaJeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Irish Fenian leader and prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, dies suddenly in Staten Island, New York, on June 29, 1915.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is born Jeremiah O’Donovan at Reenascreena, Rosscarbery, County Cork, on September 10, 1831. Rossa becomes a shopkeeper in Skibbereen where, in 1856, he establishes the Phoenix National and Literary Society, the aim of which is “the liberation of Ireland by force of arms.” This organisation later merges with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), founded two years later in Dublin.

In December 1858, Roosa is arrested and jailed without trial until July 1859. He is charged with plotting a Fenian rising in 1865, put on trial for high treason, and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to previous convictions. He serves his time in Pentonville, Portland, and Chatham prisons in England.

In an 1869 by-election, Roosa is returned to the British House of Commons for the Tipperary constituency, defeating the Liberal Catholic Denis Caulfield Heron by 1054 to 898 votes. The election is declared invalid because Rossa is an imprisoned felon.

After giving an understanding that he will not return to Ireland, Rossa is released as part of the Fenian Amnesty of 1870. Boarding the S.S. Cuba, he leaves for the United States with his friend John Devoy and three other exiles. Together they were dubbed “The Cuba Five.”

Rossa takes up residence in New York City, where he joins Clan na Gael and the Fenian Brotherhood. He organises the first ever bombings by Irish republicans of English cities in what is called the “dynamite campaign.” The campaign lasts through the 1880s and makes him infamous in Britain. The British government demands his extradition from America but without success.

In 1885, Rossa is shot outside his office near Broadway by an Englishwoman, Yseult Dudley, but his wounds are not life-threatening. He is allowed to visit Ireland in 1894, and again in 1904. On the latter visit, he is made a “Freeman of the City of Cork.”

Rossa is seriously ill in his later years, and is finally confined to a hospital bed in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Staten Island, where he dies at the age of 83 on June 29, 1915. His body is returned to Ireland for burial and a hero’s welcome. The funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery on August 1, 1915 is a huge affair, garnering substantial publicity for the Irish Volunteers and the IRB at time when a rebellion, later to emerge as the Easter Rising, is being actively planned. The graveside oration given by Patrick Pearse remains one of the most famous speeches of the Irish independence movement stirring his audience to a call to arms.


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The Phoenix Park Murders

phoenix-park-murdersLord Frederick Cavendish, newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, and Thomas Henry Burke, the Permanent Undersecretary, are fatally stabbed in Phoenix Park, Dublin, on May 6, 1882 in what becomes known as the Phoenix Park Murders.

Cavendish, who is married to Lucy Cavendish, the niece of British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, and has worked as Gladstone’s personal secretary, arrives in Ireland on the day he is murdered. Cavendish and Burke are attacked as they walk to the Viceregal Lodge, which is the out-of-season residence of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Thomas Myles, resident surgeon at nearby Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, is summoned to render medical assistance to the victims. The then Lord Lieutenant, Lord Spencer, describes suddenly hearing screams, before witnessing a man running to the Lodge grounds shouting “Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke are killed.” Responsibility for the assassinations is claimed by a small hitherto unheard-of Republican organisation called the Irish National Invincibles.

The hunt for the perpetrators is led by Superintendent John Mallon, a Catholic man from Armagh. Mallon has a pretty shrewd idea of who has committed the crime and suspects a number of former Fenian activists. A large number of suspects are arrested and kept in prison by claiming they are connected with other crimes. By playing one suspect against another, Mallon gets several of them to reveal what they know.

James Carey, leader of The Invincibles, Michael Kavanagh, and Joe Hanlon agree to testify against the others. Joe Brady, Michael Fagan, Thomas Caffrey, Dan Curley, and Tim Kelly are convicted of the murders and all are hanged by William Marwood in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin between May 14 and June 9, 1883. Others, convicted as accessories to the crime, are sentenced to long prison terms. The getaway driver, James Fitzharris, is acquitted of murder but is retried as an accessory and convicted.

Only the case of Tim Kelly gives any real difficulty as he is only nineteen and generally said to look much younger. By referring to him as “a child” his defence counsel creates enough unease for two juries to disagree. He is found guilty only after an unprecedented third trial.

Charles Stewart Parnell makes a speech condemning the murders in 1882, which increases his already huge popularity in both Britain and Ireland. He has just enabled some reforms under the Kilmainham Treaty four days prior to the murders. Parnell’s reputation increases in Ireland, being seen as a more moderate reformer who would never excuse such tactics.

However, Parnell’s policy of allying his party to Gladstone’s Liberal Party in 1886 to enable Home Rule is also ultimately defeated by the murders. Gladstone’s Minister, Lord Hartington, is the elder brother of Lord Frederick Cavendish. Infuriated by the manner of his brother’s early death, Hartington splits with Gladstone on the Home Rule bills of 1886 and 1893 and leads the breakaway Liberal Unionist Association which allies itself to Lord Salisbury‘s conservative governments. In the ensuing 1886 general election, the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists sweep the board. This delays Home Rule by twenty-eight years, when the Third Irish Home Rule Bill is passed in 1914 but never effected.

In March 1887, The Times prints letters purportedly from Parnell claiming sympathy with the murderers and that his public denunciation of them was insincere. It emerges that the letters are forgeries written by journalist Richard Pigott. Parnell is personally vindicated by the Parnell Commission in 1888–89.