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


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Birth of William Drennan, Physician, Poet & Political Radical

william-drennanWilliam Drennan, physician, poet and political radical, is born on May 23, 1754 in Belfast. He is one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen and is known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as “the emerald isle” in his poem When Erin first rose.

Drennan is son the son of Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696–1768), minister of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Thomas Drennan is an educated man from the University of Glasgow and is ordained to the congregation of Holywood, County Down in 1731. Drennan is heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions serve as the foundation for his own radical political ideas. His sister, Martha, marries fellow future United Irishman Samuel McTier in 1773.

In 1769 Drennan follows in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he becomes interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduates in arts and then in 1773 he commences the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he sets up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with being one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. He also writes much poetry, coining the phrase “Emerald Isle” and is the founder and editor of a literary periodical, Belfast Magazine. He moves to Newry in 1783 but eventually moves to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly becomes involved in nationalist circles.

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, Drennan is an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joins the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon becomes a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly becomes dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founds the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

Drennan writes many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and is arrested in 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that is a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he is eventually acquitted, he gradually withdraws from the United Irishmen but continues to campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

On February 8, 1800, Drennan marries Sarah Swanwick, “an English lady of some wealth” from Shropshire. They have one daughter and four sons.

Drennan settles in Belfast in 1807. In 1810 he co-founds the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of a United Irishman executed by the British. Despite his links with revolutionary republicans, he gradually becomes alienated from the post-Union nationalism of the period. His abiding concern for Liberalism and post union realities make him contemplate his political ideas anew.

Drennan dies on February 5, 1820. He directs that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

Drennan’s son, John Swanwick Drennan, is a noted poet who, along with his brother William Drennan, write a biography of him for Richard Davis Webb‘s A Compendium of Irish Biography. Through his daughter Sarah, who marries John Andrews of a prominent family of flax merchants, he has several notable descendants, including William Drennan Andrews, judge of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Thomas Andrews who drew up the plans for the RMS Titanic and was aboard and drowned when she sank, and Thomas Drennan, performance artist known primarily for his seminal work ‘Journey to the Centre of Drennan.’

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Terence O’Neill Resigns as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Captain_Terence_O%27Neill.jpgTerence Marne O’Neill, the fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, resigns on April 28, 1969. He is succeeded by James Chichester-Clark.

O’Neill is born on September 10, 1914 in London. Having served in the Irish Guards, he comes to live in Northern Ireland in 1945. He is returned unopposed for the Stormont seat of Bannside in November 1946 for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and ten years later reaches cabinet rank. When Lord Brookeborough retires as prime minister in March 1963, O’Neill succeeds as the apostle of technocratic modernization who could see off the Northern Ireland Labour Party. In community relations O’Neill is unprecedentedly liberal, visiting Catholic schools and, more dramatically, meeting with the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, Seán Lemass, at Stormont on January 14, 1964. O’Neill hopes to encourage Catholic acceptance of the state, but he more quickly aggravates suspicious unionist and loyalist opinion.

The eruption of the civil rights movement of 1968 multiplies pressures for substantive reform from the British government. O’Neill impresses on his cabinet colleagues the necessity of concessions. On November 22 he unveils a program of reforms, notably the closing down of the gerrymandered Londonderry Corporation. However, the local government’s rate-based franchise is for the time untouched. In a television broadcast on December 9, 1968, O’Neill warns that Northern Ireland stands at the crossroads. He calls for an end to street demonstrations but also promises meaningful reforms. There is a massive response from the public, but attitudes polarize again when a radical civil rights march from Belfast to Derry is attacked by loyalists at Burntollet Bridge on January 4, 1969.

O’Neill’s failure to preserve governmental authority by repression or concession leads to discontent in his party. In an attempt to regain the initiative and remake the Ulster Unionist Party, he calls for an election on February 24, 1969. He refuses to campaign for official unionist candidates opposed to his leadership and lends his support to Independent candidates who vow to support him personally. Breaking with unionist convention, O’Neill openly canvasses for Catholic votes. Such strategic innovations fail to produce a clear victory, however, and a phalanx of anti-O’Neill unionists are returned. There is little evidence that O’Neill’s re-branded unionism has succeeded in attracting Catholic votes.

From O’Neill’s point of view, the election results are inconclusive. He is humiliated by his near-defeat in his own constituency of Bannside by Ian Paisley and resigns as leader of the UUP and as Prime Minister on April 28, 1969 after a series of bomb explosions on Belfast’s water supply by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) bring his personal political crisis to a head. Before leaving, he secures “one person, one vote” in place of the ratepayers’ franchise in local elections as well as the succession of the relatively loyal James Chichester-Clarke.

O’Neill retires from Stormont politics in January 1970 when he resigns his seat, having become the Father of the House in the previous year. On January 23, 1970, he is created a life peer as Baron O’Neill of the Maine, of Ahoghill in the County of Antrim. The Maine is a river which flows near Ahoghill.

O’Neill spends his last years at Lisle Court, Lymington, Hampshire, although he continues to speak on the problems of Northern Ireland in the House of Lords where he sits as a crossbencher. His Reform Policies are largely forgotten by British Unionists and Irish Nationalists in Ulster, however he is remembered by historians for his efforts to reform the discrimination and sectarianism within the Province during the 1960s. In retirement he is also a trustee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trusts.

Terence O’Neill dies at his home of cancer on June 12, 1990.


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The Arnon Street Massacre

arnon-street-massacreThe Arnon Street Massacre takes place on April 1, 1922 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Six Catholic civilians, three in Arnon Street, are shot dead. It is believed that members of either the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) or the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) are responsible, acting in retaliation for the killing of an RIC officer by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Although the Irish War of Independence officially ends in July 1921, the Irish Republican Army’s conflict with British and unionist forces continues in Northern Ireland and escalates in the first half of 1922. The Ulster IRA, with the tacit but covert assistance of Michael Collins, head of the new Irish Free State, continues to wage a guerrilla war in Northern Ireland. According to historian Alan Parkinson, despite “the IRA having some short term successes … the main effect of this intensive campaign was to unleash a terrible backlash on the Catholic population in Belfast.” Only a week before the Arnon Street incident, policemen – either Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) or Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) – kill six Catholic civilians in the McMahon murders.

On the evening of April 1, RIC constable George Turner is patrolling the Old Lodge Road when he is killed by a sniper.

About ten police officers in Brown Square Barracks, upon hearing of Turner’s murder, take a Lancia armoured car and begin touring nationalist areas. When they dismount their vehicle, witnesses hear them shouting “Cut the guts out of them for the murder of Turner.” Their first victim is John McRory who lives on Stanhope Street, just across the road from where Constable Turner had been shot. The police break into his house and shoot him dead in his kitchen. In Park Street, Bernard McKenna, father of seven, is killed while lying in bed. Finally, the police arrived at Arnon Street.

William Spallen, who lives at 16 Arnon Street, has just returned from the funeral of his wife who had also been killed in the conflict. His 12-year-old grandson, Gerald Tumelty, witnesses his death. “Two men came into the room, one was in the uniform of a policeman. They asked my grandfather his name and he said William Spallen. The man in plain clothes fired three shots at him. When I cried out he said ‘lie down or I will put a bullet into you.'” Tumelty says the killers then take £20 that his grandfather had to pay for his wife’s funeral.

The attackers then use a sledgehammer to break into the house next door, where they find Joseph Walsh in bed with his seven-year-old son Michael and his two-year-old daughter Bridget. Joseph Walsh is bludgeoned to death with the sledgehammer while Michael Walsh is shot and dies from his wounds the next day. Another son, Frank, is shot in the thigh but survives. Later that evening another Catholic, John Mallon, is shot dead in Skegoneill Avenue.

The unionist press, the Belfast Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph, condemn the killings but do not identify the killers as police. The Dublin-based Irish Independent writes that “never even in the worst state of terror in the west and south has the state of affairs which now prevails in the Northern capital been experienced.” Michael Collins sends an angry telegram to Northern Ireland Prime Minister James Craig, demanding a joint inquiry into the killings. No such inquiry is set up.

As with the McMahon killings one week earlier, it is strongly suspected that an RIC Detective Inspector, Nixon, operating out of the Brown Street Police barracks, had organised the attack. Nixon and several other policemen fail to turn up at roll call at the barracks immediately after the killings.


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Death of Erskine Hamilton Childers, 4th President of Ireland

Erskine Hamilton Childers, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as the 4th President of Ireland, dies on November 17, 1974. He also serves as Tánaiste and Minister for Health from 1969 to 1973, Minister for Transport and Power from 1959 to 1969, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1951 to 1954 and 1966 to 1969. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1938 to 1973.

Childers is born on December 11, 1905, in the Embankment Gardens, London, to a Protestant family originally from Glendalough, County Wicklow. He is educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, and the University of Cambridge. In 1922, when Childers is sixteen, his father, Robert Erskine Childers, is executed by the new Irish Free State on politically inspired charges of gun-possession. After attending his father’s funeral, Childers returns to Gresham’s, then two years later he goes on to Trinity College, Cambridge.

After finishing his education, Childers works for a period in a tourism board in Paris. In 1931, Éamon de Valera invites him to work for his recently founded newspaper, The Irish Press, where Childers becomes advertising manager. He becomes a naturalised Irish citizen in 1938. That same year, he is first elected as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Athlone–Longford. He remains in the Dáil Éireann until 1973, when he resigns to become President.

Childers joins the cabinet in 1951 as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in the de Valera government. He then serves as Minister for Lands in de Valera’s 1957–59 cabinet, as Minister for Transport and Power under Seán Lemass, and, successively, as Transport Minister, Posts and Telegraphs Minister, and Health Minister under Jack Lynch. He becomes Tánaiste in 1969.

Fine Gael TD Tom O’Higgins, who had almost won the 1966 presidential election, is widely expected to win the 1973 election when he is again the Fine Gael nominee. Childers is nominated by Fianna Fáil at the behest of de Valera, who pressures Jack Lynch in the selection of the presidential candidate. He is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proves enormous, and in a political upset, Childers is elected the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973, defeating O’Higgins by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers quickly gains a reputation as a vibrant, extremely hard-working president, and becomes highly popular and respected. However, he has a strained relationship with the incumbent government, led by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael. Childers had campaigned on a platform of making the presidency more open and hands-on, which Cosgrave views as a threat to his own agenda as head of government. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Garret FitzGerald.

Though frustrated about the lack of power he has in the office, Childers’ daughter Nessa believes that he plays an important behind-the-scenes role in easing the Northern Ireland conflict, reporting that former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O’Neill meets secretly with her father at Áras an Uachtaráin on at least one occasion.

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desired, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing. On November 17, 1974, just after making a speech to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin, Childers suffers a heart attack. He dies the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin is attended by world leaders including the Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Opposition, and presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


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Death of Frederick Hugh Crawford, Ulster Loyalist

Colonel Frederick Hugh Crawford, staunch Ulster loyalist and officer in the British Army, dies on November 5, 1952. He is most notable for organising the Larne gun-running which secures guns and ammunition for the Ulster Volunteers in 1914, making him a hero for Northern Ireland‘s unionists.

Crawford is born in Belfast on August 21, 1861 into a Methodist family of Ulster Scots roots. He attends Methodist College Belfast and University College London.

Crawford works as an engineer for White Star Line in the 1880s, before returning from Australia in 1892. In 1894 he enlists with the Mid Ulster Artillery regiment of the British Army, before being transferred to the Donegal Artillery, with which he serves during the Boer Wars, earning himself the rank of major.

In 1898, Crawford is appointed governor of Campbell College in Belfast. In 1911 he becomes a member of the Ulster Unionist Council. On September 28, 1912 he is in charge of the 2,500 well dressed stewards and marshals that escort Edward Carson and the Ulster unionist leadership from the Ulster Hall in Belfast to the City Hall for the signing of the Ulster Covenant, which he is alleged to sign in his own blood. With the formation of the Ulster Volunteers in 1913, he is made their Director of Ordnance.

In World War I Crawford is officer commanding of the Royal Army Service Corps, and is awarded the Royal Humane Society‘s Bronze Medal for saving life. He also becomes a Justice of the Peace for Belfast.

Crawford in regards to Irish Home Rule is strongly partisan and backs armed resistance in opposing it, being contemptuous of those who use political bluffing. In 1910 the Ulster Unionist Council plans for the creation of an army to oppose Home Rule, and approaches Crawford to act as their agent in securing weapons and ammunition. He tries several times to smuggle arms into Ulster, however vigilant customs officials seize many of them at the docks. Despite this, the meticulously planned and audacious Larne gun-running of April 1914, devised and carried out by Crawford, is successful in bringing in enough arms to equip the Ulster Volunteers.

By the 1920s Crawford remains as stoic in his belief’s remarking in a letter in 1920 that “I am ashamed to call myself an Irishman. Thank God I am not one. I am an Ulsterman, a very different breed.” In 1921 he attempts to create an organisation called the Ulster Brotherhood, the aims of which are to uphold the Protestant religion, political and religious freedom as well as use by all means to “destroy and wipe out the Sinn Féin conspiracy of murder, assassination and outrage.” However, this organisation only lasts completely unofficially for a few months after failing to gain acceptance with the political authorities. Also in 1921 he is included in the Royal Honours List and granted a CBE. In 1934 he writes his memoirs, entitled Guns for Ulster.

Frederick Hugh Crawford dies November 5, 1952, and is buried in the City Cemetery, Falls Road, Belfast. Upon news of his death he is described by the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir Basil Brooke, as being “as a fearless fighter in the historic fight to keep Ulster British.”

(Pictured: Colonel Crawford is shown second from the left in this loyalist mural in East Belfast’s Ballymacarrett Road)