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


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Birth of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon

Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, PC, FRS, FGS, British Whig politician who serves as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1835 to 1839, is born on February 8, 1790, into a notable Anglo-Irish family which owns large estates in Munster.

Spring Rice is one of the three children of Stephen Edward Rice, of Mount Trenchard House, and Catherine Spring, daughter and heiress of Thomas Spring of Ballycrispin and Castlemaine, County Kerry, a descendant of the Suffolk Spring family. He is a great grandson of Sir Stephen Rice, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer and a leading Jacobite Sir Maurice FitzGerald, 14th Knight of Kerry. His grandfather, Edward, converted the family from Roman Catholicism to the Anglican Church of Ireland, to save his estate from passing in gavelkind.

Spring Rice is educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and later studies law at Lincoln’s Inn, but is not called to the Bar. His family is politically well-connected, both in Ireland and Great Britain, and he is encouraged to stand for Parliament by his father-in-law, Lord Limerick.

Spring Rice first stands for election in Limerick City in 1818 but is defeated by the Tory incumbent, John Vereker, by 300 votes. He wins the seat in 1820 and enters the House of Commons. He positions himself as a moderate unionist reformer who opposes the radical nationalist politics of Daniel O’Connell, and becomes known for his expertise on Irish and economic affairs. In 1824 he leads the committee which establishes the Ordnance Survey in Ireland.

Spring Rice’s fluent debating style in the Commons brings him to the attention of leading Whigs and he comes under the patronage of the Marquess of Lansdowne. As a result, he is made Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department under George Canning and Lord Goderich in 1827, with responsibility for Irish affairs. This requires him to accept deferral of Catholic emancipation, a policy which he strongly supports. He then serves as joint Secretary to the Treasury from 1830 to 1834 under Lord Grey. Following the Reform Act 1832, he is elected to represent Cambridge from 1832 to 1839. In June 1834, Grey appoints him Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, with a seat in the cabinet, a post he retains when Lord Melbourne becomes Prime Minister in July. A strong and vocal unionist throughout his life, he leads the Parliamentary opposition to Daniel O’Connell’s 1834 attempt to repeal the Acts of Union 1800. In a six-hour speech in the House of Commons on April 23, 1834, he suggests that Ireland should be renamed “West Britain.” In the Commons, he also champions causes such as the worldwide abolition of slavery and the introduction of state-supported education.

The Whig government falls in November 1834, after which Spring Rice attempts to be elected Speaker of the House of Commons in early 1835. When the Whigs return to power under Melbourne in April 1835, he is made Chancellor of the Exchequer. As Chancellor, he has to deal with crop failures, a depression and rebellion in North America, all of which create large deficits and put considerable strain on the government. His Church Rate Bill of 1837 is quickly abandoned and his attempt to revise the charter of the Bank of Ireland ends in humiliation. Unhappy as Chancellor, he again tries to be elected as Speaker, but fails. He is a dogmatic figure, described by Lord Melbourne as “too much given to details and possessed of no broad views.” Upon his departure from office in 1839, he has become a scapegoat for the government’s many problems. That same year he is raised to the peerage as Baron Monteagle of Brandon, in the County of Kerry, a title intended earlier for his ancestor Sir Stephen Rice. He is also Comptroller General of the Exchequer from 1835 to 1865, despite Lord Howick‘s initial opposition to the maintenance of the office. He differs from the government regarding the exchequer control over the treasury, and the abolition of the old exchequer is already determined upon when he dies.

From 1839 Spring Rice largely retires from public life, although he occasionally speaks in the House of Lords on matters generally relating to government finance and Ireland. He vehemently opposes John Russell, 1st Earl Russell‘s policy regarding the Irish famine, giving a speech in the Lords in which he says the government had “degraded our people, and you, English, now shrink from your responsibilities.”

In addition to his political career, Spring Rice is a commissioner of the state paper office, a trustee of the National Gallery and a member of the senate of the University of London and of the Queen’s University of Ireland. Between 1845 and 1847, he is President of the Royal Statistical Society. In addition, he is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. In May 1832 he becomes a member of James Mill‘s Political Economy Club.

Spring Rice is well regarded in Limerick, where he is seen as a compassionate landlord and a good politician. An advocate of traditional Whiggism, he strongly believes in ensuring society is protected from conflict between the upper and lower classes. Although a pious Anglican, his support for Catholic emancipation wins him the favour of many Irishmen, most of whom are Roman Catholic. He leads the campaign for better county government in Ireland at a time when many Irish nationalists are indifferent to the cause. During the Great Famine of the 1840s, he responds to the plight of his tenants with benevolence. The ameliorative measures he implements on his estates almost bankrupts the family and only the dowry from his second marriage saves his financial situation. A monument in honour of him still stands in the People’s Park in Limerick.

Even so, Spring Rice’s reputation in Ireland is not entirely favourable. In a book regarding assisted emigration from Ireland, a process in which a landlord pays for their tenants’ passage to the United States or Australia, Moran suggests that Spring Rice was engaged in the practice. In 1838, he is recorded as having “helped” a boat load of his tenants depart for North America, thereby allowing himself the use of their land. However, he is also recorded as being in support of state-assisted emigration across the British Isles, suggesting that his motivation is not necessarily selfish.

Spring Rice dies at the age of 76 on February 17, 1866. Mount Monteagle in Antarctica and Monteagle County in New South Wales are named in his honour.

(Pictured: Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon (1790-1866), contemporary portrait by George Richmond (1809-1896))


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Death of Painter William Dermod O’Brien

William Dermod O’Brien, Irish painter commonly known as Dermod O’Brien, dies in Dublin on October 3, 1945. Most of his paintings are landscapes and portraits. His work is part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

O’Brien is born on June 10, 1865 at Mount Trenchard House near Foynes in County Limerick, the son of Edward William O’Brien and Hon. Mary Spring Rice, granddaughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. For a time after his mother’s death, he is raised by his aunt Charlotte Grace O’Brien, along with his sisters, Nelly and Lucy. His father subsequently remarries in 1880. He is educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge.

O’Brien marries Mabel Emmeline Smyly, daughter of Sir Philip Crampton Smyly, on March 8, 1902. Together they have five children. His son Brendan, a surgeon in Dublin, marries artist Kitty Wilmer O’Brien. His daughter Rosaleen Brigid becomes an artist, also known as Brigid Ganly after her marriage to Andrew Ganly. Another artistic relative is Geraldine O’Brien.

Unlike many of his Irish contemporaries, after graduating from Cambridge O’Brien does not study art in Dublin, opting instead to travel to Paris, where he studies the paintings at the Louvre. In 1887, he visits galleries in Italy and then enrolls at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. At the Academy he is a fellow student of Walter Osborne. He leaves Antwerp in 1891 and returns to Paris, where he studies at Académie Julian. He relocates to London in 1893 and then Dublin in 1901.

O’Brien is designated an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1906, a member in 1907, and is later president between 1910 and 1945. He is made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1912.

O’Brien holds the office of High Sheriff of County Limerick in 1916 and serves as Deputy Lieutenant of County Limerick. He serves in the Artists Rifles during World War I.

(Pictured: Dermod O’Brien by Howard Coster, print, late 1930s, given to the National Portrait Gallery, London by the estate of Howard Coster, 1978)


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Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)