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


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The Soloheadbeg Ambush

The Soloheadbeg ambush takes place on January 21, 1919, when members of the Irish Volunteers, which becomes the Irish Republican Army (IRA) later that year, ambush Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers who are escorting a consignment of gelignite explosives at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. Two RIC officers are killed and their weapons and the explosives are seized. As it happens on the same day that the revolutionary Irish parliament first meets and declares Ireland’s independence, it is often seen as the first engagement of the Irish War of Independence.

In April 1916, during World War I, Irish republicans launch an uprising against British rule in Ireland, called the Easter Rising. They proclaim an Irish Republic. After a week of heavy fighting, mostly in Dublin, the rising is put down by British forces. About 3,500 people are taken prisoner by the British, many of whom had played no part in the Rising. Most of the Rising’s leaders are executed. The rising, the British response, and the British attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland, leads to an even greater public support for Irish republicanism.

In the 1918 Irish general election, the Irish republican party Sinn Féin wins a landslide victory in Ireland, gaining 73 out of 105 seats in the British Parliament. However, in its election manifesto, the party has vowed to set up a separate government in Ireland rather than sit in the British Parliament. At a meeting in Dublin on January 21, 1919, Sinn Féin establishes an independent parliament called Dáil Éireann and declares independence from the United Kingdom.

That same day, an ambush is carried out by Irish Volunteers from the 3rd Tipperary Brigade. It involves Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Seán Hogan, Séumas Robinson, Tadhg Crowe, Patrick McCormack, Patrick O’Dwyer and Michael Ryan. Robinson is the commander of the group that carries out the attack and Treacy coordinates the planning of the attack. The unit involved acts on its own initiative as had they had to wait for a response, even if it is affirmative, it might come too late.

In December 1918, they receive information that there are plans to move a consignment of gelignite from Tipperary British Army barracks to the Soloheadbeg quarry. They begin plans to intercept the consignment and Dan Breen’s brother Lars, who works at the quarry, receives information that the consignment is to be moved around January 16, 1919. They anticipate that there would be between two and six armed escorts, and they discuss different plans. If the escort is small, they believe they can overpower the RIC officers without firing a shot. Gags and ropes are hidden in the quarry, so that should officers surrender they can be bound and gagged. The planning for the ambush takes place in the ‘Tin Hut,’ a deserted semi-derelict house at Greenane.

Each day from January 16 to 21, the men chosen for the ambush take up their positions from early in the morning to late afternoon and then spend the night at the deserted house. Seven of the Volunteers are armed with revolvers while Treacy is armed with a small automatic rifle. On a rainy January 21, around noon, Patrick O’Dwyer sees the transport leaving the barracks. The consignment of 160 lbs. of gelignite is on a horse-drawn cart, led by two council men and guarded by two RIC officers armed with carbine rifles. O’Dwyer cycles quickly to where the ambush party is waiting and informs them. Robinson and O’Dwyer hide about 20 yards in front of the main ambush party of six, in case they rush through the main ambush position.

When the transport reaches the position where the main ambush party is hiding, masked Volunteers step out in front of them with their guns drawn and call on the RIC to surrender. The officers can see at least three of the ambushers. One officer gets down behind the cart and the other apparently fumbles with his rifle. According to the Volunteers, the officers raise their rifles to fire at them but the rifles do not fire. The Volunteers immediately fire at the officers, and it is believed that Treacy fires the first shot. Both officers, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, native Roman Catholics, are killed. MacDonnell (50) of Belmullet, County Mayo, is a widower with five children. O’Connell is unmarried and a native of Coachford, County Cork.

As planned, Hogan, Breen and Treacy take the horse and cart with the explosives and speed off. Tadhg Crowe and Patrick O’Dwyer take the guns and ammunition from the dead officers, while Robinson, McCormack and Ryan guard the two council workers, Ned Godfrey and Patrick Flynn, before releasing them once the gelignite is far enough away. Initially the explosives are hidden in a field in Greenane. They are moved several times and are later divided up between the battalions of the brigade.

The ambush is later seen as the beginning of the Irish War of Independence. The British government declares South Tipperary a Special Military Area under the Defence of the Realm Act two days later. There is strong condemnation from the Catholic Church in Ireland. The parish priest of Tipperary calls the dead officers “martyrs to duty.”

A meeting of the Executive of the Irish Volunteers takes place shortly thereafter. On January 31, An t-Óglach, the official publication of the Irish Volunteers, states that the formation of Dáil Éireann “justifies Irish Volunteers in treating the armed forces of the enemy – whether soldiers or policemen – exactly as a National Army would treat the members of an invading army.”

In February 1919 at a Brigade meeting in Nodstown, Tipperary, Brigade officers draft a proclamation, signed by Séumas Robinson as OC, ordering all British military and police forces out of South Tipperary and, should they stay they will be held to have “forfeited their lives.” GHQ refuses to sanction the proclamation and demands it not be publicly displayed. Despite this it is still posted in several places in Tipperary.

In order to avoid capture, Breen, Treacy, Hogan and the other participants are forced to stay on the move for the following months, often hiding in the barns and attics of sympathisers.

A monument (pictured) has been erected at the site of the ambush, and each year a ceremony of remembrance is held there.


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Birth of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon & First Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon PC PC (NI) DL, prominent Irish unionist politician, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1921 until his death in 1940, is born at Sydenham, Belfast, on January 8, 1871.

Craig is the seventh of nine children of James Craig (1828–1900), a wealthy whiskey distiller who had entered the firm of Dunville & Co. as a clerk and by age 40 is a millionaire and a partner in the firm. Craig Snr. owns a large house called Craigavon, overlooking Belfast Lough. His mother, Eleanor Gilmore Browne, is the daughter of Robert Browne, a prosperous man who owned property in Belfast and a farm outside Lisburn. Craig is educated at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, Scotland. After school he begins work as a stockbroker, eventually opening his own firm in Belfast.

Craig enlists in the 3rd (Militia) battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles on January 17, 1900 to serve in the Second Boer War. He is seconded to the Imperial Yeomanry, a cavalry force created for service during the war, as a lieutenant in the 13th battalion on February 24, 1900, and leaves Liverpool for South Africa on the SS Cymric in March 1900. After arrival he is soon sent to the front and is taken prisoner in May 1900, but released by the Boers because of a perforated colon. On his recovery he becomes deputy assistant director of the Imperial Military Railways, showing the qualities of organisation that are to mark his involvement in both British and Ulster politics. In June 1901 he is sent home suffering from dysentery, and by the time he is fit for service again the war is over. He is promoted to captain in the 3rd Royal Irish Rifles on September 20, 1902, while still seconded to South Africa.

On his return to Ireland, having received a £100,000 legacy from his father’s will, Craig turns to politics, serving as Member of the British Parliament for East Down from 1906 to 1918. From 1918 to 1921 he represents Mid Down, and serves in the British government as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Pensions (1919–20) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1920–21).

Craig rallies Ulster loyalist opposition to Irish Home Rule in Ulster before World War I, organising the paramilitary Ulster Volunteers (UVF) and buying arms from Imperial Germany. The UVF becomes the nucleus of the 36th (Ulster) Division during World War I. He succeeds Edward Carson as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in February 1921.

In the 1921 Northern Ireland general election, the first ever, Craig is elected to the newly created House of Commons of Northern Ireland as one of the members for Down.

On June 7, 1921, Craig is appointed the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The House of Commons of Northern Ireland assembles for the first time later that day.

Craig is made a baronet in 1918, and in 1927 is created Viscount Craigavon, of Stormont in the County of Down. He is also the recipient of honorary degrees from Queen’s University Belfast (1922) and the University of Oxford (1926).

Craig had made his career in British as well as Northern Irish politics but his premiership shows little sign of his earlier close acquaintance with the British political world. He becomes intensely parochial, and suffers from his loss of intimacy with British politicians in 1938, when the British government concludes agreements with Dublin to end the Anglo-Irish trade war between the two countries. He never tries to persuade Westminster to protect Northern Ireland‘s industries, especially the linen industry, which is central to its economy. He is anxious not to provoke Westminster, given the precarious state of Northern Ireland’s position. In April 1939, and again in May 1940 during World War II, he calls for conscription to be introduced in Northern Ireland (which the British government, fearing a backlash from nationalists, refuses). He also calls for Winston Churchill to invade Ireland using Scottish and Welsh troops in order to seize the valuable ports and install a Governor-General at Dublin.

While still prime minister, Craig dies peacefully at his home at Glencraig, County Down at the age of 69 on November 24, 1940. He is buried on the Stormont Estate on December 5, 1940, and is succeeded as the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Minister of Finance, J. M. Andrews.

(Pictured: James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, bromide print by Olive Edis, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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Death of Richard Montgomery, General of the Continental Army

Richard Montgomery, Irish-born major general of the Continental Army, is killed at the Battle of Quebec on December 31, 1776 during the American Revolutionary War.

Montgomery is born into a wealthy family in Swords, Dublin, on December 2, 1738. He attends Trinity College Dublin before dropping out to become a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the British Army. He serves with distinction during the Seven Years’ War, more commonly known as the French and Indian War, and is promoted several times, finally attaining the rank of captain before the end of the war. He is released from duty due to his health and returns to Great Britain to recover. In Britain, he discusses politics and affiliates with the Whigs political party in Parliament, who later supports American independence. When his health finally recovers, he resigns his commission from the British Army and moves to New York, settling into the life of a farmer. On July 24, 1773, he marries Janet Livingston, who is from an anti-British patriot family. He continues to cement his beliefs and begins to identify as an “American” rather than a “Briton.”

Eventually, Montgomery’s political beliefs turn into political action. In May 1775, he is elected as one of the ten deputies to represent Dutchess County in the New York Provincial Congress and is chosen to organize the militias and defenses of New York. After George Washington is chosen to be the commander of the Continental Army in June of the same year, the New York Provincial Congress is asked to choose two people for the rank major general and brigadier general for service in the new army. Philip Schuyler is appointed to the rank of major general. Montgomery protests the promotion, arguing that Schuyler does not have enough combat experience to be an effective leader. Later, the New York Provincial Congress appoints Montgomery as brigadier general because of his military experience. General Washington personally appoints the reluctant Montgomery to be Schuyler’s second in command. This move is just in time as Schuyler falls ill during at the start of the invasion of Canada, thus giving Montgomery control of the campaign.

Once in command, Montgomery begins a successful campaign in Canada as General Benedict Arnold is marching through the wilderness of modern-day Maine to meet him in Quebec. He captures numerous strongpoints and eventually the city of Montreal falls to the Patriots. His numerous victories and kind treatment of British prisoners take a toll on the Patriot militias under his command, who demand rest and the same provisions given to the British prisoners. The commanding general is reluctant to lead his soldiers, who he has seen as undisciplined. It takes a personal letter from General Washington to reassure him that there is insubordination and lack of discipline all throughout the Continental Army and that resignation is not the answer. Nevertheless, he continues to Quebec to meet Arnold and his army.

When Montgomery and his men arrive outside Quebec, his force consists of some 300 men compared to Arnold’s 1,000 men. Now a major general, he establishes siege lines around the city of Quebec and demands the surrender of the defenders within. The terms of surrender are rejected numerous times, leaving him and Arnold with no other choice but to assault the city. He hopes that snow will hide the movement of his troops, thus, he plans on waiting for snowfall in order to attack. General Arnold, however, is worried about his men. A December 31 enlistment expiration is looming, that could drastically reduce the size of the assaulting force. Montgomery discovers waiting for the right time is not an option and coordinates an attack for the early hours of December 31, 1775. That morning, Montgomery leads a group of his men toward the interior of Quebec. With sword drawn and lantern out, the Patriots advance toward a blockhouse where the British and Canadian defenders notice this movement and let loose a volley of grapeshot and muskets, which instantly kills Montgomery and the men close to him.

Montgomery’s body is discovered after the failed attacks by the Continentals. The British defenders of Quebec bring his body to General Guy Carleton, who orders it be buried with respect and dignity. He is laid to rest in Quebec on January 4, 1776. News of his death causes widespread mourning, both in America and in the British Isles. Many Patriots elevate his status to a hero and martyr for independence and the American cause, while British members of parliament, especially the Whigs, use his death to mark the failures in the British response to the insurrection in their colonies. In July 1818 his remains are reinterred in New York.

(From: “Richard Montgemery,” American Battlefield Trust, http://www.battlefields.org)


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Death of Henry Ireton, General in the Parliamentarian Army

Henry Ireton, an English general in the Parliamentarian army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell, dies in Limerick, County Limerick on November 26, 1651.

Ireton is the eldest son of a German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and is baptised in St. Mary’s Church on November 3, 1611. He becomes a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1626, graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in 1629, and enters the Middle Temple the same year.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War, Ireton joins the Parliamentary army, commanding a cavalry force in the indecisive Battle of Edgehill in October 1642, and at the Battle of Gainsborough in July 1643. In 1643 he meets and befriends Oliver Cromwell, then a colonel in the army of eastern England. Cromwell appoints him deputy governor of the Isle of Ely in 1644, and he fights at the Parliamentary victories in the Battle of Marston Moor (July 1644), and the Battle of Naseby (June 1645). In the summer of 1646 he marries Cromwell’s eldest daughter, Bridget. The marriage brings Ireton’s career into parallel with Cromwell’s.

Although Ireton’s military record is distinguished, he earns his fame in politics. Elected to Parliament in 1645, he looks on while a conflict develops between the Independents in the army and the Presbyterians who control the House of Commons. In 1647 he presents his “Heads of the Proposals,” a constitutional scheme calling for division of political power among army, Parliament, and king and advocating religious tolerance for Anglicans and Puritans. These proposals for a constitutional monarchy are rejected by the king. At the same time they are attacked by the Levellers, a group that calls for manhood suffrage and an unfettered liberty of conscience in matters of religion.

Ireton then turns against the king. When the Independents in the army triumph over Parliament during the second phase of the Civil War, his “Remonstrance of the Army” provides the ideological foundation for the assault on the monarchy. He helps to bring Charles I to trial and is one of the signatories of the king’s death warrant. From 1649 to 1651 he prosecutes the government’s cause against Roman Catholic rebels in Ireland, becoming Lord Deputy of Ireland and acting commander in chief in 1650.

In early June 1650, Ireton mounts a counter-guerrilla expedition into the Wicklow Mountains to secure his lines of supply for the Siege of Waterford in southeast Ireland. Thomas Preston surrenders Waterford after a three-month siege. Ireton then advances to Limerick by October, but has to call off the siege due to cold and bad weather. He returns to Limerick in June 1651 and besieges the city for five months until it surrenders in October 1651. At the same time, parliamentarian forces conduct the Siege of Galway, and he rides to inspect the command of Charles Coote, who is blockading that city. The physical strain of his command takes hold and he falls ill.

After the capture of Limerick, Ireton has dignitaries of Limerick hanged for their defence of the city, including Alderman Thomas Stritch, Bishop Terence O’Brien, and an English Royalist officer, Colonel Fennell. He also wants the Irish commander, Hugh Dubh O’Neill hanged, but Edmund Ludlow cancels the order after Ireton’s death.

Ireton falls ill of the plague that is raging through the town, and dies on November 26, 1651. His loss reportedly “struck a great sadness into Cromwell” and he is considered a great loss to the administration. At his funeral in Westminster Abbey, John Watson and others wear new tabards that replace the royal arms with the new arms of the commonwealth.

On January 30, 1661, following the Restoration of the English monarchy of 1660, Charles II has Ireton’s corpse exhumed from Westminster and mutilated in a posthumous execution, along with those of Cromwell and John Bradshaw, in retribution for signing his father’s death warrant. The date is symbolic, being the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I.

(Pictured: Painting of Henry Ireton, circa 1650, National Portrait Gallery: NPG 3301)


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Death of Arthur French, Member of Parliament

Arthur French, Irish Whig politician, patriot, orator, opportunist and hunter, dies on November 24, 1820.

French belongs to the long-established French family of Frenchpark, County Roscommon, who are substantial landowners who also make money in the wine trade. He is the eldest son of Arthur French MP and Alicia Magenis, daughter of Richard Magenis of Dublin and sister of Richard Magenis. He marries Margaret Costello, daughter of Edmond Costello of Edmondstown, County Mayo, and has nine children, including Arthur French, 1st Baron de Freyne, John, 2nd Baron and Charles, 3rd Baron.

In 1783, French is elected a Member of Parliament (MP) for Roscommon County in the Irish House of Commons. After the Act of Union 1800 he represents Roscommon in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. He is alleged to have been offered an Earldom if he would support the union of Ireland with Great Britain but refuses the honour. Later he also refuses a Barony with no strings attached, although in time three of his sons would hold the title Baron de Freyne. The Crown is frequently irritated by his demands for offices and favours for his brothers and sons, although such behaviour is entirely typical of an Irish politician at the time.

A critic of the policy of collective fines as a deterrent to the illicit distillation of poteen, French incurs the wrath of Chief Secretary for Ireland Robert Peel who calls him “an Abominable fellow,” but his enormous popularity in Roscommon means that he cannot be ignored. He also criticizes the continuation of martial law in Ireland.

By 1817 French is complaining of ill-health. He dies on November 24, 1820. One report at the time states that he had died “from excessive fox hunting.”


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Birth of William Sharman Crawford, Irish Politician

William Sharman Crawford, Irish politician with liberal and radical views, is born William Sharman on September 3, 1780 in at Moira Castle in County Down.

Sharman is the eldest son of Colonel William Sharman, for many years a member of the Parliament of Ireland for Lisburn, who dies in 1803 leaving him large estates. In 1805 he marries a wealthy heiress, Mabel Fridiswid Crawford, whose surname and arms he adds to his own.

Sharman Crawford supports Catholic Emancipation and the rights of tenants. He is also a member of the landed gentry. He is High Sheriff of Down for 1811. He is a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom for Dundalk in 1835–37 and for Rochdale in 1841–52. He greatly increases the prosperity of the tenants on his large estates by extending and confirming the Ulster custom of tenant-right. The main objective of his long parliamentary career is to give legal effect to this right and extend it to other parts of Ireland.

In 1848 with James MacKnight, editor of the liberal Londonderry Standard, Sharman Crawford forms the Ulster Tenant Right Association which is supported by a group of radical Presbyterian ministers. He also supports MacKnight in forming, with Charles Gavan Duffy, editor of the Young Ireland newspaper The Nation, the all-Ireland Tenant Right League.

Sharman Crawford is the father of James Sharman Crawford, member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom for Down, (1874-78), Arthur Sharman Crawford, unsuccessful candidate for Down in 1884 and John Sharman Crawford, unsuccessful candidate for Down in 1880. His daughter is Mabel Sharman Crawford, adventurer, feminist and writer.

Sharman Crawford dies unexpectedly and peacefully at Crawfordsburn, County Down on October 17, 1861. He is buried in the family vault at Kilmore, County Down, where there is a monumental inscription. A great stone obelisk is erected in his memory on a hill at Rademon Estate, near Crossgar, County Down.


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Death of Arthur Griffith, Founder of Sinn Féin

Arthur Joseph Griffith, writer, newspaper editor and politician who founded the political party Sinn Féin, dies suddenly in Dublin on August 12, 1922. He leads the Irish delegation at the negotiations that produce the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, and serves as President of Dáil Éireann from January 1922 until his death.

Griffith, a Roman Catholic, is born at 61 Upper Dominick Street, Dublin on March 31, 1871, of distant Welsh lineage. He is educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. He works for a time as a printer before joining the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge), which is aimed at promoting the restoration of the Irish language.

After a short spell in South Africa, Griffith founds and edits the Irish nationalist newspaper The United Irishman in 1899. In 1904, he writes The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland, which advocates the withdrawal of Irish members from the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the setting up of the institutions of government at home, a policy that becomes known as Sinn Féin (ourselves). On November 28, 1905, he presents “The Sinn Féin Policy” at the first annual Convention of the National Council. The occasion is marked as the founding date of the Sinn Féin party. Although the organization is still small at the time, Griffith takes over as president of Sinn Féin in 1911.

Griffith is arrested following the Easter Rising of 1916, despite not having taken any part in it. On his release, he works to build up Sinn Féin, which wins a string of by-election victories. At the party’s Ardfheis (annual convention) in October 1917, Sinn Féin becomes an unambiguously republican party, and Griffith resigns the presidency in favour of the 1916 leader Éamon de Valera, becoming vice-president instead. Griffith is elected as a member of parliament (MP) for East Cavan in a by-election in June 1918, and is re-elected in the 1918 Irish general election, when Sinn Féin wins a huge electoral victory over the Irish Parliamentary Party and, refusing to take their seats at Westminster, set up their own constituent assembly, Dáil Éireann.

In the Dáil, Griffith serves as Minister for Home Affairs from 1919 to 1921, and Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1921 to 1922. In September 1921, he is appointed chairman of the Irish delegation to negotiate a treaty with the British government. After months of negotiations, he and the other four delegates sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which creates the Irish Free State, but not as a republic. This leads to a split in the Dáil. After the Treaty is narrowly approved by the Dáil, de Valera resigns as president and Griffith is elected in his place. The split leads to the Irish Civil War.

Griffith enters St. Vincent’s Nursing Home, Leeson Street, Dublin, during the first week of August 1922, following an acute attack of tonsillitis. He is confined to his room by his doctors, who had observed signs of what they thought might be a subarachnoid hemorrhage. It is difficult to keep him quiet and he resumes his daily work in the government building. When about to leave for his office shortly before 10:00 AM on August 12, 1922, he pauses to retie his shoelace and falls down unconscious. He regains consciousness, but collapses again with blood coming from his mouth. Three doctors render assistance, but to no avail. Father John Lee of the Marist Fathers administers extreme unction, and Griffith expires as the priest recites the concluding prayer. The cause of death, intracerebral hemorrhage, is also reported as being due to heart failure. He dies at the age of 51, ten days before Michael Collins‘s assassination in County Cork and two months after the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery four days later.


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Birth of Anne Wellesley, Countess of Mornington

Anne Wellesley, Countess of Mornington (née Hill-Trevor), Anglo-Irish aristocrat, is born on June 23, 1742. She is the wife of Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington, and mother of the victor of the Battle of Waterloo, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

Wellesley is born the Hon. Anne Hill-Trevor, the eldest daughter of the banker Arthur Hill-Trevor, 1st Viscount Dungannon, and his wife Anne Stafford. She is a friend of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, the famous Ladies of Llangollen.

Wellesley marries Garrett Wesley, the Earl of Mornington, in 1759. The marriage is said to be a happy one. They have nine children together, with seven of them surviving to adulthood:

Lord Mornington dies on May 22, 1781, leaving Wellesley and their eldest son Richard, who is 21 years old at the time, to raise the rest of the family. She dislikes Arthur when he is young. She says that he is “food for powder and nothing more” and constantly worries about his future. In 1785, she goes to Brussels to live, as a way to economise. She takes Arthur with her and sends him to the Royal Academy of Equitation at Angers, in Anjou, after she returns to Britain in 1786. She is granted a pension of £600 in 1813 by Parliament after Arthur’s success in the Peninsular War.

Wellesley’s husband’s titles are in the Irish peerage, entitling him to sit in the Irish House of Lords, which disbands following the Acts of Union 1800 with Great Britain. Four of her five sons who survive to adulthood earn titles in Peerage of the United Kingdom, entitling them to sit in the United Kingdom House of Lords, while the fifth, Gerald Valerian, becomes a bishop, giving him precedence comparable to a peer.

Wellesley dies at the age of 89 on September 10, 1831.

(Pictured: Portrait of Anne Wellesley, Countess of Mornington, the mother of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, 1839, from the Welsh Portrait Collection at the National Library of Wales)


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Death of Michael Davitt, Founder of the Irish National Land League

Michael Davitt, Irish republican and agrarian agitator, dies in Elphis Hospital in Dublin from blood poisoning on May 30, 1906. He is the founder of the Irish National Land League, which organizes resistance to absentee landlordism and seeks to relieve the poverty of the tenant farmers by securing fixity of tenure, fair rent, and free sale of the tenant’s interest.

Davitt is born in Strade, County Mayo, on March 25, 1846, the son of an evicted tenant farmer. Following their eviction, the family emigrates to England. In 1856, at the age of 10, he starts work in a cotton mill, where he loses an arm in a machinery accident a year later. As is typical for the era, he does not receive any compensation.

In 1865, Davitt joins the revolutionary Fenian Brotherhood, an international secret society that seeks to secure political freedom for Ireland. He becomes secretary of its Irish analogue, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), in 1868. Arrested in Paddington Station in London for sending firearms to Ireland on May 14, 1870, he is sentenced to 15 years in Dartmoor Prison and there lays plans to link Charles Stewart Parnell’s constitutional reform with Fenian activism to achieve political-agrarian agitation.

Paroled from prison in 1877, Davitt rejoins the IRB and goes to the United States, where the Fenian movement originated. There he is deeply influenced by Henry George’s ideas about the relationship between land monopoly and poverty.

Back in Ireland, using funds raised by John Devoy and Clan na Gael in the United States, Davitt wins Parnell’s cooperation in organizing the Irish National Land League in 1879, which leads, however, to his expulsion from the supreme council of the IRB in 1880. He is also imprisoned for seditious speeches in 1881 and 1883. He is elected to Parliament representing North Meath in the 1892 United Kingdom general election, but his election is overturned on petition because he had been supported by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. He stands unopposed for North East Cork at a by-election in February 1893, making his maiden speech in favour of the Home Rule Bill in April, which passes the House of Commons but is defeated in the House of Lords in September.

Because of his public championing of Henry George’s theories of land reform, Parnell repudiates him. Davitt actively defends the Nationalists before the Parnell Commission, which meets between 1887 and 1889. When the Irish party splits in 1890 over Parnell’s involvement in Capt. William Henry O’Shea’s divorce case, Davitt is among the first to oppose Parnell’s continuance as leader. He is elected again, for South Mayo in 1895, but resigns in 1899 in protest against the Second Boer War.

Davitt dies in Elphis Hospital, Dublin on May 30, 1906, at the age of 60, from blood poisoning. The fact that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland attends his funeral is a public indication of the dramatic political journey this former Fenian prisoner has taken. There is no plan for public funeral, and hence Davitt’s body is brought quietly to the Carmelite Friary, Clarendon Street, Dublin. However, the next day over 20,000 people file past his coffin. His remains are taken by train to Foxford, County Mayo, and buried in the grounds of Strade Abbey at Strade, near his place of birth.

Davitt’s book, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (1904), is a valuable record of his time.


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Formation of the Sinn Féin League

The nationalist groups, Cumann na nGaedheal and the Dungannon Clubs, combine to form the Sinn Féin League on April 21, 1907.

The ideas that lead to Sinn Féin are first propounded by the United Irishman newspaper and its editor, Arthur Griffith. An article by Griffith in that paper in March 1900 calls for the creation of an association to bring together the disparate Irish nationalist groups of the time and, as a result, Cumann na nGaedheal is formed at the end of 1900. Griffith first puts forward his proposal for the abstention of Irish members of parliament (MP) from the Parliament of the United Kingdom at the 1902 Cumann na nGaedheal convention. A second organisation, the National Council, is formed in 1903 by Maud Gonne and others, including Griffith, on the occasion of the visit of King Edward VII to Dublin. Its purpose is to lobby Dublin Corporation to refrain from presenting an address to the king. The motion to present an address is duly defeated, but the National Council remains in existence as a pressure group with the aim of increasing nationalist representation on local councils.

Griffith elaborates his policy in a series of articles in the United Irishman in 1904, which outline how the policy of withdrawing from the imperial parliament and passive resistance had been successfully followed in Hungary, leading to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and the creation of a dual monarchy, and proposes that Irish MPs should follow the same course. These are published later that year in a booklet entitled The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland. Also in 1904, Mary Ellen Butler, a friend of Griffith and cousin of Ulster Unionist Party leader Edward Carson, remarks in a conversation that his ideas are “the policy of Sinn Féin, in fact” and Griffith enthusiastically adopts the term. The phrase Sinn Féin (‘Ourselves’ or ‘We Ourselves’) had been in use since the 1880s as an expression of separatist thinking, and was used as a slogan by the Gaelic League in the 1890s.

The first annual convention of the National Council on November 28, 1905 is notable for two things: the decision, by a majority vote (with Griffith dissenting), to open branches and organise on a national basis; and the presentation by Griffith of his ‘Hungarian’ policy, which is now called the Sinn Féin policy. This meeting is usually taken as the date of the foundation of the Sinn Féin party. In the meantime, a third organisation, the Dungannon Clubs, named after the Dungannon Convention of 1782, has been formed in Belfast by Bulmer Hobson, and it also considers itself to be part of ‘the Sinn Féin movement.’

By 1907, there is pressure on the three organisations to unite — especially from the United States, where John Devoy offers funding, but only to a unified party. The pressure increases when Charles Dolan, the Irish Parliamentary Party MP for North Leitrim, announces his intention to resign his seat and contest it on a Sinn Féin platform. On April 21, 1907, Cumann na nGaedheal and the Dungannon Clubs merge as the ‘Sinn Féin League.’ Negotiations continue until August when, at the National Council annual convention, the League and the National Council merge on terms favourable to Griffith. The resulting party is named Sinn Féin, and its foundation is backdated to the National Council convention of November 1905.

In the 1908 North Leitrim by-election, Sinn Féin secures 27% of the vote. Thereafter, both support and membership fall. Attendance is poor at the 1910 Ard Fheis, and there is difficulty finding members willing to take seats on the executive. While some local councillors are elected running under the party banner in the 1911 local elections, by 1915 the party is, in the words of one of Griffith’s colleagues, “on the rocks,” and so insolvent financially that it cannot pay the rent on its headquarters in Harcourt Street in Dublin.

Following the Easter Rising in 1916, Sinn Féin grows in membership, with a reorganisation at its Ard Fheis in 1917. Its split in 1922 in response to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which leads to the Irish Civil War leads to the origins of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two parties which have since dominated Irish politics. Another split in the remaining Sinn Féin organisation in the early years of the Troubles in 1970 leads to the Sinn Féin of today, which is a republican, left-wing nationalist and secular party.

(Pictured: Arthur Griffith, founder (1905) and third president (1911-17) of Sinn Féin)