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


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The First Dungannon Convention

bank-of-ireland-college-greenThe first Dungannon Convention of the Ulster Volunteers on February 15, 1782 calls for an independent Irish parliament. This is the parliament that Henry Grattan also campaigns for and later becomes known as “Grattan’s parliament.”

The Irish Volunteers are a part-time military force whose original purpose is to guard against invasion and to preserve law and order when regular troops are being sent to America during the American Revolutionary War. Members are mainly drawn from the Protestant urban and rural middle classes and the movement soon begins to take on a political importance.

The first corps of Volunteers is formed in Belfast and the movement spreads rapidly across Ireland. By 1782 there are 40,000 enlisted in the Volunteers, half of them in Ulster. Strongly influenced by American ideas, though loyal to the Crown, the Volunteers demand greater legislative freedom for the Dublin Parliament.

The Dungannon Convention is a key moment in the eventual granting of legislative independence to Ireland.

At the time, all proposed Irish legislation has to be submitted to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom for its approval under the great seal of England before being passed by the Parliament of Ireland. English Acts emphasise the complete dependence of the Irish parliament on its English counterpart and English Houses claim and exercise the power to legislate directly for Ireland, even without the agreement of the parliament in Dublin.

The Ulster Volunteers, who assemble in Dungannon, County Tyrone, demand change. Prior to this, the Volunteers received the thanks of the Irish parliament for their stance but in the House of Commons, the British had ‘won over’ a majority of that assembly, which led to a resistance of further concessions. Thus, the 315 volunteers in Ulster at the Dungannon convention promised “to root out corruption and court influence from the legislative body,” and “to deliberate on the present alarming situation of public affairs.”

The Convention is held in a church and is conducted in a very civil manner. The Volunteers agree, almost unanimously, to resolutions declaring the right of Ireland to legislative and judicial independence, as well as free trade. A week later, Grattan, in a great speech, moves an address of the Commons to His Majesty, asserting the same principles but his motion is defeated. So too is another motion by Henry Flood, declaring the legislative independence of the Irish Parliament.

However the British soon realise they can resist the agitation no longer. It is through ranks of Volunteers drawn up outside the parliament house in Dublin that Grattan passes on April 16, 1782, amidst unparalleled popular enthusiasm, to move a declaration of the independence of the Irish parliament. After a month of negotiations, legislative independence is granted to Ireland.

(Pictured: The original Irish Parliament Building which now houses the Bank of Ireland, College Green, opposite the main entrance to Trinity College, Dublin)

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Laying of the Foundation Stone of Parliament House

parliament-houseThe foundation stone of Parliament House in College Green is laid on February 3, 1729 by Thomas Wyndham, 1st Baron Wyndham, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Parliament House is initially home to the Parliament of Ireland and later houses the Bank of Ireland. It is the world’s first purpose-built bicameral parliament house. The current parliament building is Leinster House.

The building is home to the two Houses of Parliament, serving as the seat of both chambers, the House of Lords and House of Commons, of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Ireland for most of the 18th century until that parliament is abolished by the Acts of Union 1800, when Ireland becomes part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

In the 17th century, parliament settles at Chichester House, a town house in Hoggen Green (later College Green) formerly owned by Sir George Carew, Lord President of Munster and Lord High Treasurer of Ireland, which had been built on the site of a nunnery disbanded by King Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. Carew’s house, named Chichester House after its later owner Sir Arthur Chichester, is a building of sufficient importance to have become the temporary home of the Kingdom of Ireland’s law courts during the Michaelmas law term in 1605. Most famously, the legal documentation facilitating the Plantation of Ulster is signed there on November 16, 1612.

Chichester House is in a dilapidated state, allegedly haunted and unfit for official use. In 1727 parliament votes to spend £6,000 on a new building on the site. It is to be the world’s first purpose-built two-chamber parliament building.

The then ancient Palace of Westminster, the seat of the English before 1707 and, later, British Parliament, is a converted building. The House of Commons‘s odd seating arrangements are due to the chamber’s previous existence as a chapel. Hence MPs face each other from former pews.

The design of the new building, one of two purpose-built Irish parliamentary buildings (along with Parliament Buildings, Stormont), is entrusted to an architect, Edward Lovett Pearce, who is a member of parliament and a protégé of the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, William Conolly of Castletown House. During construction, Parliament moves into the Blue Coat Hospital on Dublin‘s Northside.

The original, domed House of Commons chamber is destroyed by fire in the 1790s, and a less elaborate new chamber, without a dome, is rebuilt in the same location and opened in 1796, four years before the Parliament’s ultimate abolition.

Pearce’s designs come to be studied and copied both at home and abroad. The Viceregal Apartments in Dublin Castle imitate his top-lit corridors. The British Museum in Bloomsbury in London copies his colonnaded main entrance. His impact reaches Washington, D.C., where his building, and in particular his octagonal House of Commons chamber, is studied as plans are made for the United States Capitol building. While the shape of the chamber is not replicated, some of its decorative motifs are, with the ceiling structure in the Old Senate Chamber and old House of Representatives chamber (now the National Statuary Hall) bearing a striking resemblance to Pearce’s ceiling in the House of Commons.

(Pictured: Architectural drawing of the front of Parliament House by Peter Mazell based on the drawing by Rowland Omer, 1767)


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Birth of Sir John Parnell, 2nd Baronet

john-parnellSir John Parnell, 2nd Baronet, an Anglo-Irish Member of Parliament, is born on December 25, 1744.

A Church of Ireland landowner, his family had originally migrated to Ireland from Congleton in Cheshire. Although not from an Irish Roman Catholic background, Parnell, the only son of Sir John Parnell, 1st Baronet, is renowned in Irish history for his efforts to bring about a more emancipated country. He is the great-grandfather of Charles Stewart Parnell, known as the uncrowned king of Ireland and best known for opposing the Acts of Union 1800 between the two kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland.

From a line of politically astute ancestors who had moved to Ireland in the 17th century, Parnell rises to the highest positions in Irish politics as Commissioner of the Revenue (1780), Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland (1787), and Lord of the Treasury (1793).

Parnell first serves in the Parliament of Ireland as one of the members for Bangor, from 1767 to 1768. He later sits for Queen’s County from 1783 until the Union with Great Britain creates the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. After the Union, he gains a seat in the Parliament of the United Kingdom for a short time as member for Queen’s County, but dies suddenly in London in December 1801.

Henry Grattan describes Parnell as “an honest, straightforward, independent man, possessed of considerable ability and much public spirit; as Chancellor of the Exchequer he was not deficient, and he served his country by his plan to reduce the interest of money. He was amiable in private, mild in disposition, but firm in mind and purpose. His conduct at the Union did him honour, and proved how warmly he was attached to the interests of his country, and on this account he was dismissed.”

(Pictured: Oil painting on canvas, The Right Hon. Sir John Parnell, 2nd Bt (1744–1801) by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (Lucca 1708 – Rome 1787))


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The Birth of John Toland, Philosopher & Freethinker

john-tolandJohn Toland, Irish rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, is born in Ardagh on the Inishowen peninsula, a predominantly Catholic and Irish-speaking region in northwestern Ireland, on November 30, 1670. He writes numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment.

Very little is known of Toland’s early life. His parents are unknown. He later writes that he had been baptised Janus Junius, a play on his name that recalls both the Roman two-faced god Janus and Lucius Junius Brutus, reputed founder of the Roman Republic. According to his biographer, Pierre des Maizeaux, he adopts the name John as a schoolboy with the encouragement of his school teacher.

Having formally converted from Catholicism to Protestantism at the age of 16, Toland gets a scholarship to study theology at the University of Glasgow. In 1690, at age 19, the University of Edinburgh confers a master’s degree on him. He then gets a scholarship to spend two years studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and subsequently nearly two years at the University of Oxford in England (1694–95). The Leiden scholarship is provided by wealthy English Dissenters who hope Toland will go on to become a minister for Dissenters.

In Toland’s first and best known book, Christianity not Mysterious (1696), he argues that the divine revelation of the Bible contains no true mysteries. Rather, all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles. For this argument he is prosecuted by a grand jury in London. As he is a subject of the Kingdom of Ireland, members of the Parliament of Ireland propose that he should be burned at the stake. In his absence three copies of the book are burned by the public hangman in Dublin as the content is contrary to the core doctrines of the Church of Ireland. Toland bitterly compares the Protestant legislators to “Popish Inquisitors who performed that Execution on the Book, when they could not seize the Author, whom they had destined to the Flames.”

After his departure from Oxford, Toland resides in London for most of the rest of his life, but is also a somewhat frequent visitor to Continental Europe, particularly Germany and the Netherlands. He lives on the Continent from 1707 to 1710.

John Toland dies in Putney on March 10, 1722. Just before he dies, he composes his own epitaph: “He was an assertor of liberty, a lover of all sorts of learning … but no man’s follower or dependent. Nor could frowns or fortune bend him to decline from the ways he had chosen.” The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica says of him that at his death in London at age 51 “he died… as he had lived, in great poverty, in the midst of his books, with his pen in his hand.”

Very shortly after his death a lengthy biography of Toland is written by Pierre des Maizeaux.

(Pictured: The only known image of John Toland)


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The Whiteboys

the-whiteboysThe Whiteboys, a secret Irish agrarian organisation in 18th-century Ireland which uses violent tactics to defend tenant farmer land rights for subsistence farming, is created on October 1, 1761. Their name derives from the white smocks the members wear in their nightly raids. They seek to address rack-rents, tithe collection, excessive priests’ dues, evictions and other oppressive acts. As a result they target landlords and tithe collectors. Over time, Whiteboyism becomes a general term for rural violence connected to secret societies. Because of this generalisation, the historical record for the Whiteboys as a specific organisation is unclear. There are three major outbreaks of Whiteboyism: 1761–64, 1770–76 and 1784–86.

Between 1735 and 1760 there is an increase in land used for grazing and beef cattle, in part because pasture land is exempt from tithes. The landlords, having let their lands far above their value, on condition of allowing the tenants the use of certain commons, now enclose the commons, but do not lessen the rent. As more landlords and farmers switch to raising cattle, labourers and small tenant farmers are forced off the land. The Whiteboys develop as a secret oath-bound society among the peasantry. Whiteboy disturbances had occurred prior to 1761 but were largely restricted to isolated areas and local grievances, so that the response of local authorities had been limited.

Their operations are chiefly in the counties of Waterford, Cork, Limerick, and Tipperary. This combination is not political. It is not directed against the government, but against the local landlords. Members of different religious affiliations take part.

The first major outbreak occurs in County Limerick in November 1761 and quickly spreads to counties Tipperary, Cork, and Waterford. A great deal of organisation and planning seems to have gone into the outbreak, including the holding of regular assemblies. Initial activities are limited to specific grievances and the tactics used non-violent, such as the levelling of ditches that closed off common grazing land, although cattle hamstringing is often practised as the demand for beef prompts large landowners to initiate the process of enclosure. As their numbers increase, the scope of Whiteboy activities begins to widen, and proclamations are clandestinely posted stipulating demands such as that rent not be paid, that land with expired leases not be rented until it has lain fallow for three years, and that no one pay or collect tithes demanded by the Anglican Church. Threatening letters are also sent to debt collectors, landlords, and occupants of land gained from eviction, demanding that they give up their farms.

March 1762 sees a further escalation of Whiteboy activities, with marches in military array preceded by the music of bagpipes or the sounding of horns. At Cappoquin they fire guns and march by the military barracks playing the Jacobite tune “The lad with the white cockade.” These processions are often preceded by notices saying that Queen Sive and her children will make a procession through part of her domain and demand that the townspeople illuminate their houses and provide their horses, ready saddled, for their use. More militant activities often follow such processions with unlit houses in Lismore attacked, prisoners released in an attack on Tallow jail and similar shows of strength in Youghal.

The events of March 1762, however, prompt a more determined response, and a considerable military force under Charles Moore, 1st Marquess of Drogheda is sent to Munster to crush the Whiteboys.

On April 2, 1762 a force of 50 militia men and 40 soldiers set out for Tallow. By mid-April at least 150 suspected Whiteboys have been arrested. Clogheen in County Tipperary bears the initial brunt of this assault as the local parish priest, Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, had earlier spoken out against tithes and collected funds for the defence of parishioners charged with rioting. An unknown number of “insurgents” are reported killed in the “pacification exercise” and Fr. Sheehy is unsuccessfully indicted for sedition several times before eventually being found guilty of a charge of accessory to murder, and hanged, drawn and quartered in Clonmel in March 1766.

In the cities, suspected Whiteboy sympathisers are arrested and in Cork, citizens form an association of about 2,000 strong which offer rewards of £300 for capture of the chief Whiteboy and £50 for the first five sub-chiefs arrested. They often accompany the military on their rampages. The leading Catholics in Cork also offer similar rewards of £200 and £40 respectively.

Acts passed by the Parliament of Ireland (to 1800) and Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (from 1801) to empower the authorities to combat Whiteboyism are commonly called “Whiteboy Acts.”


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The Battle of Dungan’s Hill

battle-of-dungans-hillThe Battle of Dungan’s Hill takes place in County Meath on August 8, 1647. It is fought between the armies of Confederate Ireland and the Parliament of England during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The battle takes place near the modern village of Summerhill and along the present main road between Trim and Kilcock.

By 1647, The Irish Catholic Confederation controls all of Ireland except for Parliamentarian enclaves around Dublin and Cork and a Scottish outpost in Ulster. The previous year they had rejected a treaty with the English Royalists in favour of eliminating the remaining British forces in Ireland.

In August 1647, the Confederate Leinster army under Thomas Preston is attempting to take Dublin from the English Parliamentarian garrison under Michael Jones, when it is intercepted by the Roundheads and forced to give battle. Jones had marched to Trim to relieve the Parliamentarian outpost there at Trim Castle. Preston, who had been shadowing Jones’ movements, attempts to march on Dublin before Jones’ army returns there, but covers only 12 of the 40 miles before being caught at Dungan’s Hill, where the Confederate forces have to form up for battle.

From a Parliamentarian point of view, victory in this battle is presented to them by the incompetence of the Irish commander. Preston is a veteran of the Thirty Years’ War, where he had been a commander of the Spanish garrison at Leuven, but has no experience in open warfare or handling cavalry. Jones, by contrast, had been a cavalry officer in the English Civil War. As a result, Preston tries to move his cavalry along a narrow covered lane where they are trapped and subjected to enemy fire without being able to respond. Even worse, Preston has placed a large number of his troops in wheat fields over seven feet tall. As a result these troops are unable to see the Parliamentarians until it is too late. With the Confederate army spread out and in confusion, Jones’ troops fall in amongst them causing the demoralised Irish cavalry to flee the field, leaving the remainder of Preston’s infantry unsupported.

The Confederate army’s infantry are primarily equipped with pikes and heavy muskets and trained to stand in tercios in the Spanish manner. This means they are difficult to break, but also highly immobile, without cavalry to cover their cumbersome formation when it moves. What is worse, Preston has positioned them in a large walled field, so that when their cavalry has run away, the Parliamentarians can surround and trap them. Some of the Irish infantry, Scottish Highlanders brought to Ireland by Alasdair Mac Colla, manage to charge and break through Jones’ men and escape into a nearby bog, where the English cavalry could not follow. Preston and 2,000 to 3,000 of his regular infantry manage to follow the Highlanders to safety, but the remainder are trapped.

What happens next is disputed. The Irish infantry manages to hold off several assaults on their position, before trying to follow their comrades into the safety of the bog. This makes them lose their formation and the Parliamentarians get in amongst them and then surround them in the bogland. Parliamentarian accounts simply say that the Irish force is then destroyed. Irish accounts, however, claim that the Confederate troops surrender and are then massacred. One account, by a Catholic friar named O Meallain, says that the corpses of the Irish foot soldiers are found with their hands tied. A recent study suggests that the Irishmen probably tried to surrender, but that, according to the conventions of 17th century warfare, this had to be accepted before it entitled them to safety. In this case, it was not accepted and the infantrymen were butchered.

Around 3,000 Confederate troops and a small number of Parliamentarians die at Dungan’s Hill. One of the English regimental commanders, Colonel Anthony Hungerford, is shot in the mouth, a wound that invalids him out of the English Army. Most of the dead are Irish infantrymen killed in the last stage of the battle. Those prisoners who are taken are mainly officers, whom the Parliamentarians can either ransom or exchange for prisoners of their own. Richard Talbot, a junior cavalry officer but later Earl of Tyrconnell and Lord Deputy of Ireland, is among the Confederate prisoners.

In the immediate aftermath of the battle, Owen Roe O’Neill‘s Ulster Army marches through the pass of Portlester Mill to mount an effective rearguard action, routing Jones’ advanced brigade and enabling the survivors of the Leinster army to escape. Jones, fearing O’Neills army, does not continue the pursuit and returns to Dublin. O’Neill and his Ulstermen return four months later to bury the dead Confederates.


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John de Wogan Ceases to be Justiciar of Ireland

picton-castleSir John de Wogan, Cambro-Norman judge styled lord of Picton, ceases to be Justiciar of Ireland on August 6, 1312 although remaining nominally justiciar until April 1313. He serves as Justiciar of Ireland from 1295 to 1313.

There are several dubious theories about Wogan’s ancestry, and uncertainty exists about his wives, sons, and other relations. He comes from Picton Castle in Pembrokeshire and is a vassal of William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke. He comes to have lands in Pembrokeshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Wiltshire, and Oxfordshire. He represents de Valence at an Irish court case in 1275, and in 1280 he is steward of Wexford, Valence’s Irish liberty. He is an eyre in England from 1281 to 1284, and returns to Ireland in 1285. In 1290 he is a referee with Hugh de Cressingham in a dispute between Queen Eleanor and de Valence and his wife.

In December 1295 Wogan takes office as justiciar and organises a two-year truce between the feuding Burkes and Geraldines. In 1296 he organises a force with Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, Theobald Butler, and John FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Kildare, to assist Edward I in the First War of Scottish Independence. The king entertains them at Roxburgh Castle in May. After his return to Ireland, Wogan “kept everything so quiet that we hear of no trouble in a great while.” The Parliament of Ireland he summons in 1297 is for long compared to the English “Model Parliament” of 1295, though historical opinion now places less importance on it.

In February 1308, under orders from the new king Edward II, Wogan suppresses the Knights Templar in Ireland. In June 1308 his forces are defeated by the O’Tooles and O’Byrnes, who are harrying The Pale from the Wicklow Mountains. From September 1308 to May 1309 Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall is in Ireland as “king’s lieutenant,” a new position outranking the justiciar, and he has more success against the Gaels. Wogan leaves Ireland in August 1312 although remaining nominally justiciar until April 1313.

Either the same John Wogan or his son of the same name returns to Ireland in 1316 as advisor to Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, who counters Edward Bruce‘s invasion of Ireland.

John de Wogan dies in 1321 and is buried in St. David’s Cathedral, initially in a chapel he had endowed, later in Edward Vaughan‘s chapel.