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


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Birth of James Molyneaux, Northern Irish Politician

james-molyneauxJames Henry Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead, Northern Irish unionist politician and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) from 1979 to 1995, is born in Killead, County Antrim on August 27, 1920. He is a leading member and sometime Vice-President of the Conservative Monday Club. An Orangeman, he is also Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution from 1971 to 1995. He is an unrelenting though peaceful supporter of the Protestant cause during the factional conflict that divides Northern Ireland from the 1960s until the early 21st century.

Molyneaux is educated at nearby Aldergrove School. Although he is raised an Anglican, as a child he briefly attends a local Catholic primary school. He leaves school at age 15 and works on his father’s poultry farm. When a Catholic church near his home is burned down by Ulster loyalist arsonists in the late 1990s, he helps to raise funds for its rebuilding.

In World War II Molyneaux serves in the Royal Air Force between 1941 and 1946. He participates in the D-Day landings in FranceFrance and in the liberation of the Belsen-Belsen concentration camp, and occasionally gives interviews about what he sees there. On April 1, 1947, he is promoted to flying officer.

After demobilization Molyneaux establishes a printing business with his uncle, and in 1946 he joins the UUP. He is first elected to local government in 1964 and enters Parliament six years later. He staunchly opposes all power-sharing deals, notably the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, which gives Dublin an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland and paves the way for devolution.

Molyneaux lacks the firebrand public image of his longtime rival Ian Paisley, who in 1971 breaks with the UUP to form the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). He never acquiesces to the Good Friday Agreement, which calls for the devolution of Northern Ireland’s government from London to Belfast, however, unlike Paisley and David Trimble, who in 1997 succeeds Molyneaux as the UUP leader and in April 1998 signs the devolution accord.

On retiring as UUP leader, Molyneaux is knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1996. The following year, after standing down as an MP at the 1997 general election, he is created a life peer on June 10, 1997 as Baron Molyneaux of Killead, of Killead in the County of Antrim.

James Molyneaux dies at the age of 94 in Antrim, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on March 9, 2015, Commonwealth Day.

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Operation Demetrius

long-kesh-internment-campOperation Demetrius, a British Army operation in Northern Ireland begins on August 9, 1971, during the Troubles. The operation involves the mass arrest and internment (imprisonment without trial) of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is waging a campaign for a united Ireland against the British state.

Operation Demetrius, proposed by the Government of Northern Ireland and approved by the Government of the United Kingdom, begins throughout Northern Ireland in the early morning hours of Monday, August 9 and progresses in two parts:

  1. Arrest and movement of the detainees to one of three regional holding centers: Girdwood Barracks in Belfast, Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler, County Down, or HM Prison Magilligan near LimavadyCounty Londonderry.
  2. The process of identification and questioning, leading either to release of the detainee or movement into detention at HM Prison Crumlin Road or aboard HMS Maidstone, a prison ship in Belfast Harbour.

The operation sparks four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers are killed. All of those arrested are Irish nationalists, the vast majority of them Catholic. Due to faulty intelligence, many have no links with the IRA. Ulster loyalist paramilitaries are also carrying out acts of violence, which are mainly directed against Catholics and Irish nationalists, but no loyalists are included in the sweep.

The introduction of internment, the way the arrests are carried out, and the abuse of those arrested, lead to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence. Amid the violence, about 7,000 people flee or are forced out of their homes. The interrogation techniques used on some of the internees are described by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1976 as torture, but the superior court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), rules on appeal in 1978 that, although the techniques are “inhuman and degrading”, they do not, in this instance, constitute torture. It is later revealed that the British government had withheld information from the ECHR and that the policy had been authorized by British government ministers. In December 2014, in light of the new evidence, the Irish government asks the ECHR to revise its 1978 judgement. The ECHR declines the request in 2018.

The backlash against internment contributes to the decision of the British Government under Prime Minister Edward Heath to suspend the Northern Ireland Government and replace it with direct rule from Westminster, under the authority of a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This takes place in 1972.

Following the suspension of the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament, internment is continued by the direct rule administration until December 5, 1975. During this time 1,981 people are interned, 1,874 are nationalist while 107 are loyalist. The first loyalist internees are detained in February 1973.

(Pictured: The entrance to Compound 19, one of the sections of Long Kesh internment camp)


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Birth of Alfred Harmsworth, Newspaper Publisher

alfred-harmsworthAlfred Charles William Harmsworth, Viscount Northcliffe, one of the most successful newspaper publishers in the history of the British press and a founder of popular modern journalism, is born on July 15, 1865 in Chapelizod, near Dublin.

After an impoverished childhood and a few attempts at making a quick fortune, young Harmsworth embarks on freelance journalism as a contributor to popular papers, rises to editorial positions, and starts a paper called Answers to Correspondents. After some difficulty in securing financial backing, he begins publication, soon shortening the name to Answers. As the paper gains public favour, he is joined by his brother Harold, whose financial ability and capacity for attracting advertising, combined with Alfred’s genius for sensing the public taste, make it a success. Answers is followed by many other inexpensive popular periodicals, chief among them Comic Cuts and Forget-Me-Not, for the new reading public of women. These form the basis for what becomes Amalgamated Press, the largest periodical-publishing empire in the world.

In 1894 Harmsworth enters the newspaper field, purchasing the nearly bankrupt London Evening News and transforming it into a popular newspaper with brief news reports, a daily story, and a column for women. Within a year circulation grows to 160,000 copies, and profits are substantial. Conceiving the idea of a chain of halfpenny morning papers in the provinces, he purchases two papers in Glasgow, Scotland, and merges them into the Glasgow Daily Record. He then decides to experiment with a popular national daily in London. The Daily Mail, first published on May 4, 1896, is a sensational success. Announced as “the penny newspaper for one halfpenny” and “the busy man’s daily journal,” it is exactly suited to the new reading public. All news stories and feature articles are kept short, and articles of interest to women, political and social gossip, and a serial story are made regular features. With its first issue, the Daily Mail establishes a world record in daily newspaper circulation, a lead it never loses during Harmsworth’s lifetime.

Next Harmsworth purchases the Weekly Dispatch when it is nearly bankrupt and transforms it into the Sunday Dispatch, the biggest-selling Sunday newspaper in the country. In 1903 he founds the Daily Mirror, which successfully exploits a new market as a picture paper, with a circulation rivaling that of the Daily Mail. He saves The Observer from extinction in 1905, the year in which he is made Baron Northcliffe. In 1908 he reaches the pinnacle of his career by securing control of The Times, which he transforms from a 19th-century relic into a modern newspaper.

Northcliffe’s contributions to the British effort in World War I begin with his early exposure in the Daily Mail of the British army’s shell shortage. His criticisms of Lord Kitchener arouse intense resentment in some quarters, but he also presses for the creation of a separate Ministry of Munitions and for the formation in 1915 of a wartime coalition government. For his service as head of the British war mission in the United States in 1917, he is created a viscount. He acts as the British government’s director of propaganda aimed at Germany and other enemy countries in 1918. By this time Northcliffe’s press empire appears to hold such power over public opinion that he tries unsuccessfully to influence the composition of Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s cabinet. Always unpredictable, he becomes the victim of a megalomania that damages his judgment and leads to the breakdown that precedes his death.

Harmsworth’s health declines during 1921 due mainly to a streptococcal infection. He goes on a world tour to revive himself, but it fails to do so. He dies of endocarditis in a hut on the roof of his London house on August 14, 1922, leaving three months’ pay to each of his six thousand employees. The viscountcy, barony, and baronetcy of Northcliffe become extinct upon his death. His body is buried at East Finchley Cemetery in North London.

Northcliffe’s success as a publisher rests on his instinctive understanding of the new reading public that had been created by compulsory education. Though he wants political power, the effect of his newspapers upon public affairs is generally considered to have been smaller than he believed. His influence lay rather in changing the direction of much of the press away from its traditional informative and interpretative role to that of the commercial exploiter and entertainer of mass publics.


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Birth of Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson

henry-hughes-wilsonField Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson, 1st Baronet, GCB, DSO, one of the most senior British Army staff officers of World War I and briefly an Irish unionist politician, is born at Currygrane in Ballinalee, County Longford on May 5, 1864.

Wilson attends Marlborough public school between September 1877 and Easter 1880, before leaving for a crammer to prepare for the Army.

Wilson serves as Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley, and then as Director of Military Operations at the War Office, in which post he plays a vital role in drawing up plans to deploy an Expeditionary Force to France in the event of war. During these years he acquires a reputation as a political intriguer for his role in agitating for the introduction of conscription and in the Curragh incident of 1914, when he encourages senior officers to resign rather than move against the Ulster Volunteers.

As Sub Chief of Staff to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), Wilson is John French‘s most important adviser during the 1914 campaign, but his poor relations with Douglas Haig and William Robertson see him sidelined from top decision-making in the middle years of the war. He plays an important role in Anglo-French military relations in 1915 and, after his only experience of field command as a corps commander in 1916, again as an ally of the controversial French General Robert Nivelle in early 1917. Later in 1917 he is informal military advisor to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and then British Permanent Military Representative at the Supreme War Council at Versailles.

In 1918 Wilson serves as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the professional head of the British Army. He continues to hold this position after the war, a time when the Army is being sharply reduced in size whilst attempting to contain industrial unrest in the UK and nationalist unrest in Mesopotamia, Iraq and Egypt. He also plays an important role in the Irish War of Independence.

After retiring from the army Wilson serves briefly as a Member of Parliament, and also as security advisor to the Government of Northern Ireland. He is assassinated on his own doorstep by two Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen on June 22, 1922 while returning home from unveiling the Great Eastern Railway War Memorial at Liverpool Street station.


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The Suicide of Reverend William Jackson

william-jacksonThe Reverend William Jackson, noted Irish preacher, journalist, playwright, radical, and spy, commits suicide on April 30, 1795 after being found guilty of high treason.

Jackson was born in Newtownards, County Down, in 1737. Much is unclear about his early life. He studies at Oxford and became an Anglican curate. In the 1760s, he moves to London, where he preaches at the Tavistock Chapel and St. Mary-le-Strand. Although he gains some popularity as a preacher, he remains unbeneficed and eventually turns to journalism to support himself.

In 1766, Jackson becomes the editor of The Public Ledger. Under his editorship, the London paper becomes increasingly strident and oppositional in its politics. He is forced to flee to France in April 1777 to avoid a trial for libel that the popular actor and playwright Samuel Foote had initiated. He does not have to stay long in exile because Foote dies on October 21 of that same year.

After Foote’s death, Jackson returns to England. He resumes his political activities by publishing The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America in 1783, with a dedication to the opposition leader, William Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland. But the following year, he is secretly hired by the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, to support the government in The Morning Post. Publishing anonymously, he attacks his former allies with his usual vehemence until he is discovered and is soundly damned for his apostasy and finds himself generally excluded from English politics.

Jackson’s next appearance in the public results in yet another scandal. In 1787 he joins forces with “Gentleman” John Palmer. Their goal is to build a new theatre in London. Jackson and Palmer persuade investors to sink more than eighteen thousand pounds into the construction of the Royalty Theatre. However, while there is no law against building a theatre in London, there is a law against operating one without the Lord Chamberlain‘s authorisation. Jackson and Palmer have no such authorisation so the theatre is shut down after just one night. The duped investors initiated legal action. Jackson again flees to France, where he arrives on the eve of revolution.

During his stay in Paris, Jackson is swept up in the revolutionary fervour and becomes involved with the radical British expatriate set there. Swept up in the general arrest of British subjects in 1793, he is released from prison on the strength of his radical commitments. Upon his release, he becomes inspector of horses for Meaux and later in 1793 is commissioned as a spy for the French. Nicholas Madgett, an Irishman who works in the Marine Ministry, recruits Jackson to go to England and Ireland to assess the public’s inclination towards armed revolution.

Jackson arrives in London in early 1794 and becomes reacquainted with John Cockayne, a lawyer he had met two decades earlier. He reveals his mission to Cockayne, who promptly reveals it to the Prime Minister out of fear of being tried for treason himself. When Jackson leaves London for Dublin, he is accompanied by Cockayne. In Ireland they meet with several radical leaders of the Society of United Irishmen, including Theobald Wolfe Tone, James Reynolds and Archibald Hamilton Rowan. Hamilton Rowan, in particular, is tempted by Jackson’s talk of French assistance, and persuades Tone to write up a report for the French, indicating Irish willingness to rise up. Jackson makes the fatal mistake of placing Tone’s report and other letters in the public mail, where they are seized by the authorities. This seizure leads to Jackson’s arrest on April 28, 1794.

Jackson remains in prison for a year before his trial takes place. The delays are at his request, allowing him time to assemble a defence and procure witnesses. During his imprisonment, he writes his last work, Observations in Answer to Mr. Paine’s Age of Reason (1795). His trial takes place in Dublin on April 23, 1795, and he is found guilty. One week later, on the morning of his sentencing hearing Jackson steps into the dock looking terribly ill. As his lawyers make drawn out speeches, hoping to avoid judgment on the technicality of an improperly filed indictment, Jackson’s condition steadily worsens. The judges order that a chair be provided for him and ask that a doctor attend him. He then collapses and dies. An autopsy finds that Jackson had ingested a large quantity of a “metallic poison.” This is likely administered by his second wife, but the inquest pointedly refuses to assign blame.

The effect of Jackson’s suicide is that he had not actually been pronounced guilty of treason by the court, and so his family can inherit his goods and a pension.


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The Widgery Report Is Released

john-passmore-widgeryJohn Passmore Widgery, Baron Widgery, English judge who serves as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales from 1971 to 1980, issues his report exonerating “Bloody Sunday” troops on April 19, 1972.

Widgery receives promotion to the Court of Appeal in 1968. He has barely gotten used to his new position when Lord Parker of Waddington, who had been Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales since 1958, announces his retirement. There is no obvious successor and Widgery is the most junior of the possible appointees. The Lord Chancellor, Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone, chooses Widgery largely on the basis of his administrative abilities. On April 20, 1971 he is created a life peer taking the title Baron Widgery, of South Molton in the County of Devon.

Shortly after taking over, Widgery is handed the politically sensitive job of conducting an inquiry into the events of January 30, 1972 in Derry, where troops from 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment had murdered 13 civil rights marchers, commonly referred to as Bloody Sunday. A 14th person dies shortly after Widgery’s appointment. He hears testimony from the paratroopers, who claim they had been shot at, while the marchers insist that no one from the march was armed. Widgery produces a report that takes the British Army‘s side. He placed the main blame for the deaths on the march organisers for creating a dangerous situation where a confrontation was inevitable. His strongest criticism of the Army is that the “firing bordered on the reckless.”

The Widgery Report is accepted by the British government and Northern Ireland‘s unionists but is immediately denounced by Irish nationalist politicians, and people in the Bogside and Creggan areas are disgusted by his findings. The British Government had acquired some goodwill because of its suspension of the Stormont Parliament, but that disappears when Widgery’s conclusions are published. The grievance with Widgery’s findings lingers and the issue remains live as the Northern Ireland peace process advances in the 1990s.

In January 1998, on the eve of the 26th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Prime Minister Tony Blair announces a new inquiry, criticising the rushed process in which Widgery failed to take evidence from those wounded and did not personally read eyewitness accounts. The resulting Bloody Sunday Inquiry lasts 12 years before the Saville Report is published on June 15, 2010. It demolishes the Widgery Report, finding that soldiers lied about their actions and falsely claimed to have been attacked.

Prime Minister David Cameron, on behalf of the United Kingdom, formally apologises for the “unjustified and unjustifiable” events of Bloody Sunday. As a result of the Saville Report, even observers who are natural supporters of the British Army now regard Widgery as discredited. The conservative historian and commentator Max Hastings describes the Widgery report as “a shameless cover-up.”


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The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 Receives Royal Assent

coat-of-arms-of-the-united-kingdomThe Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, the culmination of the process of Catholic emancipation throughout the United Kingdom, receives royal assent on April 13, 1829. In Ireland it repeals the Test Act 1673 and the remaining Penal Laws which had been in force since the passing of the Disenfranchising Act of the Parliament of Ireland of 1728. Its passage follows a vigorous campaign that threatens insurrection led by Irish lawyer Daniel O’Connell. The British leaders, starting with the Prime MinisterArthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,  and his top aide Robert Peel, although personally opposed, give in to avoid civil strife. Ireland is quiet after the passage.

In 1778, English Catholics are relieved of the restrictions on land inheritance and purchase. A savage reaction to these concessions produces the Gordon Riots of 1780, and the whole history of Catholic Emancipation is one of struggle against great resistance. In 1791 the Roman Catholic Relief Act repeals most of the disabilities in Great Britain, provided Catholics take an oath of loyalty. In 1793 the army, the navy, the universities, and the judiciary are opened to Catholics, although seats in Parliament and some offices are still denied. These reforms are sponsored by William Pitt the Younger, who hopes thereby to split the alliance of Irish Catholics and Protestants. But Pitt’s attempt to secure a general repeal of the Penal Laws is thwarted by George III. Pope Pius VII consents to a royal veto on episcopal nominations if the Penal Laws are repealed, but the move fails. In Ireland the repeal of Poynings’ Law in 1782 is followed by an act (1792) of the Irish Parliament relaxing the marriage and education laws and an act (1793) allowing Catholics to vote and hold most offices.

The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 permits members of the Catholic Church to sit in the parliament at Westminster and to hold all but a handful of public offices. O’Connell had won a seat in a by-election for Clare in 1828 against an Anglican. Under the then extant penal law, O’Connell as a Catholic, is forbidden to take his seat in Parliament. Peel, the Home Secretary, until then is called “Orange Peel” because he always supports the Orange (anti-Catholic) position. Peel now concludes, “Though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger.” Fearing a revolution in Ireland, Peel draws up the Catholic Relief Bill and guides it through the House of Commons. To overcome the vehement opposition of both the House of Lords and King George IV, the Duke of Wellington works tirelessly to ensure passage in the House of Lords, and threatens to resign as Prime Minister if the King does not give Royal Assent.

With the Universities Tests Act 1871, which opens the universities to Roman Catholics, Catholic Emancipation in the United Kingdom is virtually complete.