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


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Birth of Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne

robert-blair-paddy-mayneRobert Blair “Paddy” Mayne, British Army soldier, solicitor, Ireland rugby union international, amateur boxer, and a founding member of the Special Air Service (SAS), is born in Newtownards, County Down on January 11, 1915.

Mayne attends school at Regent House School, a school for students age 4 to 18. While at Regent he discovers his skill and love for the game of rugby. He also enjoys cricket and golf and becomes a marksman with the rifle club. He goes on to Queen’s University Belfast to study law. At university he takes up boxing and becomes the Irish Universities Heavyweight Champion in August 1936. He also wins the Scrabo Golf Club President’s cup in 1937. He graduates from Queen’s University in 1939.

During 1938, Mayne travels to Africa on the 1938 British Lions Tour to South Africa. He plays on a team that tours around Africa playing other local clubs. While traveling, it is discovered that Mayne has a wild side and on various occasions finds himself in trouble. His “go to” is to trash the hotel rooms of his teammates. The team includes some of the best players from around Ireland and Britain.

In 1939, with outbreak of World War II, Mayne joins the Supplementary Reserves in Newtownards and receives a commission in the Royal Artillery. He serves in several units in Ireland and England, generally with light and heavy anti-aircraft units. He volunteers for the No. 11 (Scottish) Commando unit which is sent to the Middle East. There he sees action during the Syria-Lebanon campaign. Specifically during the Battle of the Litani River, he draws attention from Captain David Stirling who is forming the new Special Air Service (SAS). Sterling recruits Mayne for the new SAS while he is in jail for striking his commanding officer.

From November 1941 to the end of 1942, Mayne is involved in several raids behind enemy lines with the SAS. He uses jeeps to go to various Axis bases and begin blowing up planes and fuel dumps. It is claimed that he personally destroyed 100 planes during these missions. In addition to serving in the Middle East, he serves as well in Sicily, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and France. In most of these locations he works with the resistance behind the enemy lines. In France he helps to train the French Resistance.

By the end of the war, Mayne has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and has also received the British Army’s Distinguished Service Order with three bars, which means he received the award four times. After the war he joins the British Antarctic Survey in the Falkland Islands. He returns home to Newtownards when back issues, which started while he was serving in the Middle East, become more difficult for him.

Mayne is initiated into Eklektikos Lodge No. 542 in Newtownards in 1945. He is a very enthusiastic mason and joins a second lodge in Newtownards, Friendship Lodge No. 447. On the evening of December 13, 1955, he attends a meeting of Friendship Lodge and then joins some of his masonic brothers at a local bar. At about 4:00 AM on December 14, he is found dead in his Riley RM roadster in Mill Street, Newtownards, having reportedly collided with a farmer’s vehicle.

At his funeral hundreds of mourners turn out to pay their respects and to see him interred in a family plot in the town’s old Movilla Abbey graveyard. After his death his masonic jewel is preserved for many years by an old school friend before it is presented to Newtownards Borough Council where it is displayed in the Mayoral Chamber of the Council Offices.

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Death of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Anglo-Irish soldier and statesman who was one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain, dies on September 14, 1852. His defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 puts him in the first rank of Britain’s military heroes.

Wellesley is born in Dublin, into the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. He is commissioned as an ensign in the British Army in 1787, serving in Ireland as aide-de-camp to two successive Lords Lieutenant of Ireland. He is also elected as a Member of Parliament in the Irish House of Commons. He is a colonel by 1796, and sees action in the Netherlands and in India, where he fights in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War at the Siege of Seringapatam. He is appointed governor of Seringapatam and Mysore in 1799 and, as a newly appointed major-general, wins a decisive victory over the Maratha Confederacy at the Battle of Assaye in 1803.

Wellesley rises to prominence as a general during the Peninsular War of the Napoleonic Wars, and is promoted to the rank of field marshal after leading the allied forces to victory against the First French Empire at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Following Napoleon’s exile in 1814, he serves as the ambassador to France and is granted a dukedom. During the Hundred Days in 1815, he commands the allied army which, together with a Prussian army under Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, defeats Napoleon at Waterloo. Wellesley’s battle record is exemplary and he ultimately participates in some 60 battles during the course of his military career.

Wellesley is famous for his adaptive defensive style of warfare, resulting in several victories against numerically superior forces while minimising his own losses. He is regarded as one of the greatest defensive commanders of all time, and many of his tactics and battle plans are still studied in military academies around the world.

After the end of his active military career, Wellesley returns to politics. He is British prime minister as part of the Tory party from 1828 to 1830, and for a little less than a month in 1834. He oversees the passage of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, but opposes the Reform Act 1832. He continues as one of the leading figures in the House of Lords until his retirement and remains Commander-in-Chief of the British Army until his death.

Wellesley dies at Walmer Castle in Deal, Kent, his residence as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, on September 14, 1852. He is found to be unwell on that morning and is aided from his military campaign bed, the same one he used throughout his historic military career, and seated in his chair where he dies. His death is recorded as being due to the aftereffects of a stroke culminating in a series of seizures.

Although in life Wellesley hates travelling by rail, his body is taken by train to London, where he is given a state funeral, one of only a handful of British subjects to be honoured in that way, and the last heraldic state funeral to be held in Britain. The funeral takes place on November 18, 1852. He is buried in a sarcophagus of luxulyanite in St. Paul’s Cathedral next to Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson.


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Death of Samuel Nielson, Society of United Irishmen Founder Member

Samuel Neilson, one of the founder members of the Society of United Irishmen and the founder of its newspaper the Northern Star, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York on August 29, 1803.

Neilson is born in Ballyroney, County Down, the son of Presbyterian minister Alexander, and Agnes Neilson. He is educated locally. He is the second son in a family of eight sons and five daughters. At the age of 16, he is apprenticed to his elder brother, John, in the business of woollen drapery in Belfast. Eight years later he establishes his own business.

Despite his commercial success, Neilson is naturally drawn to politics and is early on a member of the reformist Irish Volunteers movement. In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, he suggests to Henry Joy McCracken the idea of a political society of Irishmen of every religious persuasion. He establishes the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. The following year he launches the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star, which effectively throws away his fortune. As its editor he is a high-profile target for the authorities and is prosecuted for libel several times, being twice imprisoned between 1796 and 1798.

Along with several other state prisoners, Neilson is released in February 1798 following several petitions by influential friends, on grounds of bad health. Upon release he immediately involves himself in the United Irishmen aligning with the radicals among the leadership who are pressing for immediate rebellion and oppose the moderates who wish to wait for French assistance before acting.

The United Irishmen are however, severely penetrated by informants who keep Dublin Castle abreast of their plans and discussions. In March 1798, information of a meeting of the United Irish executive at the house of Oliver Bond leads to the arrest of most of the leadership, leaving Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald as the only figures of national importance still at liberty. They decide to press ahead as soon as possible and settled on May 23 as the date for the rebellion to begin.

As the date looms closer, the authorities go into overdrive to sweep up the rump leadership and on May 18 Lord Edward is betrayed in his hiding place and critically wounded while resisting capture. Neilson, now with responsibility for finalising plans for the looming rebellion, decides that Fitzgerald is too valuable to do without, and decides to try and rescue him from Newgate Prison in Dublin. Wary of confiding his plans too early for fear of betrayal, Neilson goes on a reconnaissance of the prison but is spotted by chance by one of his former jailers and after a fierce struggle, he is overpowered and dragged into the prison.

Neilson is indicted for high treason and held in Kilmainham Gaol with other state prisoners for the duration of the doomed rebellion outside. After the execution of Oliver Bond, and the brothers John and Henry Sheares, Neilson and the remaining prisoners agree to provide the authorities with details of the organisation of the United Irishmen, plans for the rebellion, etc. in return for exile.

Following the suppression of the rebellion, Neilson is transferred to Fort George in Inverness-shire, Scotland, and in 1802 he is deported to the Netherlands. From there he makes his way to the United States, arriving in December 1802, and settling in Poughkeepsie, New York.  He has little time to enjoy his liberty  before his  sudden death on August 29, 1803 of yellow fever, or possibly a stroke.

Nielson is not idle during his short life in America as he completes plans to start a new evening newspaper in Poughkeepsie and also has plans in the works to establish a version of the Society of United Irishmen in the United States. Since his death, his remains have been moved to three different cemeteries before coming to rest in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in 1880.

(Photograph: (c) National Museums Northern Ireland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)


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Death of Artist Augustus Joseph Nicholas Burke

augustus-nicholas-burkeAugustus Joseph Nicholas Burke, artist and a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), dies on December 28, 1891, at 22 Via La Marmora, Florence, Italy.

Burke is born on July 28, 1838, into the Galway Burkes of Glinsk and is the sixth son of William Burke of Knocknagur, Tuam, County Galway. He is born at Waterslade House in the town. One of his brothers is Theobald Hubert Burke, 13th Baronet of Glinsk, while another brother is Thomas Henry Burke, Permanent Under Secretary at the Irish Office.

Burke shows an early interest in drawing, displaying a love for depicting the people and land of Connemara. His career in the arts is initiated at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He exhibits at the Royal Academy and the Royal Hibernian Academy, where he is also Professor of Painting, from 1863 until his death. From 1870 to 1872 he resides in the Netherlands where he illustrates a handful of Dutch scenes. One of the earliest Irish artists to travel to Brittany, Burke exhibits fifteen Breton scenes at the Royal Hibernian Academy between 1876 and 1878. He paints further in his native Ireland, as well as Scotland and England. The 1880s bring Burke to Walberswick in Suffolk to an artist’s colony created by Philip Wilson Steer. A student of Burke, Walter Osborne, paints with him here.

Burke, overcome with grief by his brother Thomas’ murder during the Phoenix Park Murders in 1882, leaves the Royal Hibernian Academy and his position as Professor of Painting. He moves with the remaining members of his family first to England and then to Italy.

Two of Burke’s most famous paintings, Connemara Girl and A Connemara Landscape, hang at the National Gallery of Ireland. His work is relatively rare, mainly because the contents of his studio are destroyed during the fire that engulfs the Abbey Street buildings of the RHA in 1916. Furthermore, many of the paintings lay hidden in a cellar for over ninety years until their recent discovery.


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The Siege of Limerick

cittie-of-limerickSiege of Limerick commences on August 9, 1690 when William of Orange and his army of 25,000 men reach Limerick and occupy Ireton’s fort and Cromwell’s fort outside the city. His siege cannons are still making their way from Dublin with a light escort so all he has available is his field artillery. The siege train is intercepted by Patrick Sarsfield’s cavalry at Ballyneety in County Limerick and destroyed, along with the Williamites‘ siege guns and ammunition. This forces William to wait another ten days before he can start bombarding Limerick in earnest while another siege train is brought up from Waterford.

By this time it is late August. Winter is approaching and William wants to finish the war in Ireland so he can return to the Netherlands and proceed with the main business of the War of the Grand Alliance against the French. For this reason, he decides on an all out assault on Limerick.

His siege guns blast a breach in the walls of the “Irish town” section of the city and William launches his assault on August 27. The breach is stormed by Danish grenadiers but the Jacobite’s French officer Boisseleau has built an earthwork or coupure inside the walls and has erected barricades in the streets, impeding the attackers. The Danish grenadiers, and the eight regiments who follow them into the breach, suffer terribly from musketry and cannon fire at point blank range. Jacobite soldiers without arms and the civilian population, including women, line the walls and throw stones and bottles at the attackers. A regiment of Jacobite dragoons also make a sortie and attack the Williamites in the breach from the outside. After three and a half hours of fighting, William finally calls off the assault.

William’s men suffer about 3,000 casualties, including many of their best Dutch, Danish, German, and Huguenot troops. The Jacobites lose only 400 men in the battle. Due to the worsening weather, William calls off the siege and puts his troops into winter quarters, where another 2,000 of them die of disease. William himself leaves Ireland shortly afterwards, returning to London. He subsequently leaves London to take command of Allied forces fighting in Flanders, and leaves Godert de Ginkell to command in Ireland. The following year Ginkell wins a significant victory at the Battle of Aughrim.

Limerick is to remain a Jacobite stronghold until it surrenders after another Williamite siege the following year. Following the loss of this last major stronghold, Patrick Sarsfield leads the army into exile in the Flight of the Wild Geese to the Continent, where they continue to serve the cause of James II and his successors.