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


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Birth of Thomas Steele, Engineer & Political Activist

Thomas (Tom) Steele, engineer and political activist, is born on November 3, 1788 at Derrymore, County Clare, the son of William Steele, gentleman, and Catherine Steele (née Bridgeman).

In July 1805 Steele enters Trinity College Dublin, graduating BA in the spring of 1810. He then studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he graduates MA in 1820, becoming an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the same year. In 1821 he inherits Cullane House, near Craggaunowen, County Clare, on the death of his uncle. Of an enthusiastic and adventurous nature, in 1823 he decides to support the cause of the liberals in Spain who had rebelled against the autocratic rule of Ferdinand VII in 1820. Mortgaging the house and lands at Cullane, he purchases a large quantity of arms and ships them to Spain on board the ship Iris. Commissioned in the Legion Estrenjera of the liberal army, he distinguishes himself in the Battle of Trocadero and the defence of Madrid. He later publishes an account of his experiences, Notes on the war in Spain (London, 1824).

Returning from Spain with his fortunes ruined, Steele begins experiments with underwater diving apparatus, patenting “Steele’s improved diving-bell” in 1825. In the same year he becomes a partner in the Vigo Bay Co., which attempts to recover gold and silver bullion from Spanish ships which sank in Vigo Bay in 1702. After extensive diving operations using Steele’s diving-bell, the company is wound up at an acrimonious meeting of shareholders in September 1826. Despite claims by some of the shareholders that bullion had been found, the scheme is a total failure.

Steele is involved in the Catholic Association and, a close friend of Daniel O’Connell, is active in the emancipation campaign although himself a protestant. In 1828 he seconds O’Connell’s nomination for Clare in the general election of that year. Appointed by O’Connell as ‘Head Pacificator,’ he tours the country collecting weapons and discouraging the rural population from engaging in faction fighting. There is a certain irony in this appointment, as Steele’s own volatile temper is well known. A noted duelist, he fights an inconclusive duel in 1829 with William Smith O’Brien, who had opposed O’Connell’s second candidature for County Clare. In 1828 he is a founder of the Limerick Independent Club.

An associate of the diving pioneers John and Charles Deane, Steele dives on the wreck of the Intrinsic, off the Clare coast in January 1836, using their new diving helmet. He then begins developing equipment to provide underwater illumination, and in 1840 dives with the Deane brothers off Plymouth on the wreck of Henry VIII‘s ship, the Mary Rose. Yet he is in serious financial difficulties, which are not helped by some of his more eccentric building projects. It is said of him that “he seemed utterly incapable of rationally estimating the value of money in his own case.” He begins renovating, at great expense, a ruined castle that stands on his land at Cullane. He also later has a large standing stone, known as the ‘Umbilicus Hiberniae’ (‘Navel of Ireland’), removed from Birr, King’s County (now County Offaly), and taken to his house. At Cullane it is set up as an altar and used for mass whenever O’Connell or members of the Catholic Association visit. It is not returned to Birr until 1974.

Known as “Honest Tom Steele,” Steele is deeply devoted to O’Connell, and is one of his key lieutenants during the repeal campaigns of the 1830s and 1840s. He takes his title and responsibilities as O’Connell’s “Head Pacificator” so seriously and generally expresses himself with such long-winded pomposity that he becomes something of a figure of fun for opponents of O’Connell and for many of the younger men in the Repeal Association. Tried on conspiracy charges after the prohibition of the Clontarf monster meeting, he is one of the six “traversers” imprisoned with O’Connell in Richmond jail from May to September 1844. Strongly supporting O’Connell’s repudiation of physical force, he chairs and takes a prominent part in the peace resolution debates of July 1846 in which the Young Ireland group walks out of the Repeal Association.

After the death of O’Connell on May 15, 1847, Steele falls into a deep depression and, financially ruined, jumps from Waterloo Bridge in London on April 19, 1848. Pulled from the river by a Thames boatman, he survives for a number of weeks. Former political opponents, including Lord Brougham, offer financial help but he refuses. He dies on June 15, 1848, and his remains are taken to Dublin, where he is waked at Conciliation Hall, the headquarters of the Repeal Association, on Burgh Quay. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, beside O’Connell’s tomb. He appears as one of the figures on the O’Connell memorial in O’Connell Street, Dublin.

Steele never marries, but harbours an unrequited passion for a Miss Eileen Crowe of Ennis, County Clare, and is often to be seen standing on a large rock, which comes to be known as “Steele’s Rock,” on the banks of the River Fergus in Ennis as he tries to catch a glimpse of Miss Crowe, who lives across the river.

(From: “Steele, Thomas (Tom)” by David Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: (L to R) Thomas Steele, Daniel O’Connell and O’Gorman Mahon by Joseph Patrick Haverty)


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Birth of William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

William Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, is born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, on October 17, 1803.

O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to The Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.

(Pictured: Portrait of William Smith O’Brien by George Francis Mulvany, National Gallery of Ireland)


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Birth of John Martin, Irish Nationalist Activist

John Martin, Irish nationalist activist, is born on September 8, 1812, into a landed Presbyterian family, the son of Samuel and Jane (née Harshaw) Martin, in Newry, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland. He shifts from early militant support for Young Ireland and the Repeal Association, to non-violent alternatives such as support for tenant farmers’ rights and eventually as the first Home Rule MP, for Meath (1871–75).

Martin first meets John Mitchel while attending Dr. Henderson’s private school in Newry. He receives an Arts degree at Trinity College Dublin in 1832 and proceeds to study medicine, but has to abandon this in 1835 when his uncle dies and he has to return to manage the family landholding.

In 1847 Martin is moved by the Great Famine to join Mitchel in the Repeal Association but subsequently leaves it with Mitchel. He contributes to Mitchel’s journal, United Irishman, and then following Mitchel’s arrest on May 27, 1848, he continues with his own anti-British journal, The Irish Felon, and establishes “The Felon Club.” This leads to a warrant for his arrest, and he turns himself in on July 8, 1848. He is sentenced on August 18, 1848 to ten years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.

Martin arrives on the Elphinstone with Kevin Izod O’Doherty in Hobart, Tasmania, in November 1849. He accepts a “ticket of leave” which allows him to live in relative freedom at Bothwell, provided he promises not to escape.

While in Tasmania, Martin continues to meet in secret with his fellow exiles Kevin Izod O’Doherty, Thomas Francis Meagher, William Smith O’Brien, and John Mitchel. He and Mitchel live together before the arrival of Mitchel’s wife, Jenny. He chooses not to join Mitchel when Mitchel revokes his ticket of leave and escapes. Instead he remains in Tasmania until he is granted a “conditional pardon” in 1854. This allows him to leave for Paris, and he returns to Ireland on being granted a full pardon in 1856.

On return to Ireland Martin becomes a national organiser for the Tenant Right League. He begins to write for The Nation in 1860. He forms the National League with others in January 1864 – it is mainly an educational organisation but Fenians disrupt its meetings. He remains in contact with Mitchel in Paris through 1866. He opposes the Fenians’ support of armed violence, yet, together with Alexander Martin Sullivan in December 1867, he heads the symbolic funeral march honouring the Manchester Martyrs as it follows the MacManus route to Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. He is briefly arrested for these activities but the charges are dropped.

Martin is in the United States in December 1869 when he is nominated by Isaac Butt and his nationalists as the Irish nationalist Home Rule candidate to oppose Reginald Greville-Nugent, who is supported by the Catholic clergy, in the Longford by-election. Greville-Nugent initially wins the vote but the result is nullified by Judge Fitzgerald on the grounds that voters had been illegally influenced in the non-secret voting process. In the May 1870 re-run, Butt’s second candidate, Edward Robert King-Harman, like Martin a Protestant landlord, is also defeated, but this time legally.

Contradictions and factionalism are symptomatic of the struggle for influence and leadership at the time between the waning Church of Ireland and the rising Irish Catholic Church. Hence a secular Protestant land-owning, non-violent elite reformist nationalist who desires Home Rule like Martin, can find himself both sympathetic to and at odds with a militant organisation like the Fenians with their Jacobin– and American-influenced ideas of revolutionary republicanism and different social roots. Until Charles Stewart Parnell, the Isaac Butt-originated Home Rule forces could not obtain the support of the Catholic Church under the anti-Fenian Cardinal Paul Cullen or manage to achieve more than short-term tactical alliances with Fenians, leading to a split and uncoordinated opposition to British rule. Protestants such as Martin and John Mitchel, with their early political roots in Young Ireland, are, whatever their political ideals, not part of the majority Catholic mainstream, which consists largely of tenants rather than landlords.

In the January 1871 by-election, Martin is elected by a margin of 2–1 to the seat of Meath in the British parliament as the first Home Rule MP, representing first Isaac Butt’s Home Government Association and from November 1873 the Home Rule League. This is unusual for a Protestant in a Catholic constituency, and is a measure of the popular esteem Martin is held in. He retains his seat in the 1874 United Kingdom general election as one of 60 Home Rule members. He is commonly known as “Honest John Martin.” In parliament he speaks strongly for Home Rule for Ireland and opposes Coercion Bills.

Martin dies in Newry, County Down, on March 29, 1875, homeless and in relative poverty, having forgiven tenant fees during preceding years of inflation and low farm prices. His parliamentary seat of County Meath is taken up by Charles Stewart Parnell.

Martin marries Henrietta Mitchel, the youngest sister of John Mitchel, on November 25, 1868, after twenty years of courtship. She shares her husband’s politics, and after his death campaigns for home rule believing this to be a continuation of the Young Ireland mandate. After the split in the party, she sides with Charles Stewart Parnell. She dies at her home in Dublin on July 11, 1913, and is buried in Newry.


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Birth of Charles Patrick Meehan, Priest & Historian

Charles Patrick Meehan, priest and historian, is born on July 12, 1812 at 141 Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street), Dublin.

Meehan’s father, a native of Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, is a prosperous farmer at Ballymahon, County Longford. He receives his early education in a hedge school and from a local curate at Ballymahon. In 1828 he enters the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, where he is a brilliant student, acquiring fluency in several languages. As a child he had loved to listen to stories of the Flight of the Earls and the Flight of the Wild Geese, and during his time in Rome he discovers the neglected graves of Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell in the church of San Pietro in Montorio. He begins his lifelong research on the seventeenth century by locating and transcribing hitherto unstudied documents held in Roman repositories. Ordained in 1835, he is appointed curate at Rathdrum, County Wicklow in August and five months later is transferred to the parish of Saints Michael and John, Dublin. He is an excellent preacher and a strong advocate of temperance, and zealously discharges his parish duties.

A supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the repeal movement, Meehan is particularly attracted by the ideals of Young Ireland, and becomes friendly with the principal writers of The Nation, especially Charles Gavan Duffy and James Clarence Mangan. He is Mangan’s confessor, and attends his deathbed in 1849. The Young Irelanders often meet in his presbytery in Lower Exchange Street. From 1842 he contributes occasional verse and translations to The Nation using the pseudonym ‘Clericus’ and the initials ‘C. P. M.’ He defends the Young Irelanders from accusations of irreligion. During the debates on physical force in Conciliation Hall in July 1846 he supports the Young Ireland position and is shouted down by O’Connellites.

He secedes with the Young Irelanders from the Repeal Association and becomes a member of their Irish Confederation on its foundation in January 1847. Later that year he becomes president of the St. Patrick’s Confederate Club, and delivers lectures to it on Irish history. A strong believer in the importance of history in creating national pride and awareness, he contributes The Confederation of Kilkenny (1846) and a translation of Daniel O’Daly, The Geraldines, their Rise, Increase and Ruin (1847) to The Nation‘s Library of Ireland historical series. He publishes a translation, with a valuable introduction and notes, of John Lynch‘s Latin life of Francis Kirwan, bishop of Killala 1645–61, as Portrait of a Christian Bishop (1848). In 1848 he resigns his presidency of the St. Patrick’s Confederate Club in the hope of becoming librarian or professor of modern languages at Queen’s College Galway, but is unsuccessful.

For the rest of his life Meehan devotes himself to parish work and historical research, occasionally publishing articles and poems in the Hibernian Magazine and Irish Catholic Magazine. He also edits six volumes of the second series of James Duffy‘s Duffy’s Hibernian Magazine (1862–65). Having acquired a vast store of anecdotes and curious information from his researches, he is an interesting companion who loves the company of poets and scholars and forms friendships with many young nationalist writers, including Denis Florence MacCarthy, John Keegan Casey and John Francis O’Donnell.

Most of Meehan’s research is devoted to Irish history, but he occasionally tackles other subjects, such as his translation from the Italian of Vincenzo Marchese’s Lives of the most eminent sculptors and architects of the order of St Dominic (2 vols, 1852). Although his work is marked by a strong sympathy for Catholicism and Irish nationalism, he is among the more scholarly historians associated with the Young Ireland movement. He is elected Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) in February 1865. Gavan Duffy lauds his efforts and ranks him with the great patriotic clerical scholars of the past who had devoted their lives to the study of Irish history.

Meehan repeatedly takes the opportunity to amend and expand his published works, producing revised editions of The Geraldines (as The Geraldines, their Rise, Increase and Ruin (reprinted 1878)), Confederation of Kilkenny (1882), and Lynch’s Life of Kirwan (1884). His other important publications are The Fate and Fortunes of the Earls of Tyrone (Hugh O’Neill) and Tyrconnel (Rory O’Donel), their flight from Ireland and death in exile (1868), and Rise and Fall of the Irish Franciscan Monasteries and Memoirs of the Irish Hierarchy in the Seventeenth Century (1870). He edits the essays of the Young Irelanders in The Spirit of the Nation (1882) and publishes editions of the poetry of Mangan in The Poets and Poetry of Munster (1883), with an important biographical memoir. His last scholarly work is to re-edit Literary Remains of the United Irishmen (1887) to include material left in manuscript by Richard R. Madden.

A small man, Meehan always wears a monocle attached to a silk ribbon, a tall silk hat, and a stout blackthorn stick. He suffers badly from indigestion for most of his life, and this aggravates a testy personality and a waspish tongue. He regularly falls out with friends, and few parishioners are foolhardy enough to brave his confessional. He retains strong anti-English views all his life. In the 1880s he encounters the young Arthur Griffith pulling down a union flag from a lamppost in Dublin, and astounds the boy by congratulating rather than chastising him. His Young Ireland nationalism and irascible personality ensure that he never progresses beyond the position of curate in his forty-five years at Saints Michael and John. Here, he works alongside Fr. James Healy, a renowned wit, and the two men delight in trading caustic remarks. Healy is present at Meehan’s deathbed and admits to brushing away a tear – the only thing, he remarks, that had been brushed in that room for many years.

Meehan dies on March 14, 1890 at his presbytery in Dublin, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. He is survived by two brothers, one of whom is also a priest. He is commemorated by a mural tablet erected by his parishioners in the church of Saints Michael and John.

(From: “Meehan, Charles Patrick” by James Quinn and Linde Lunney, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of John Blake Dillon, Founding Member of Young Ireland

John Blake Dillon, Irish writer and politician who is one of the founding members of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Killiney, County Dublin on September 15, 1866.

Dillon is born on May 5, 1814 in the town of Ballaghaderreen, on the border of counties Mayo and Roscommon. He is a son of Anne Blake and her husband Luke Dillon (d. 1826), who had been a land agent for his cousin Patrick Dillon, 11th Earl of Roscommon. His niece is Anne Deane, who helps to raise his family after his death.

Dillon is educated at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, leaving after only two years there, having decided that he is not meant for the priesthood. He later studies law at Trinity College, Dublin, and in London, before being called to the Irish Bar. It is during his time at Trinity College that he first meets and befriends Thomas Davis.

While working for The Morning Register newspaper Dillon meets Charles Gavan Duffy, with whom he and Davis found The Nation in 1842, which is dedicated to promoting Irish nationalism and all three men become important members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association, which advocates the repeal of the Act of Union 1800 between Great Britain and Ireland.

The young wing of the party, of which they are key members with William Smith O’Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher, come to be known as Young Ireland and advocate the threat of force to achieve repeal of the Act of Union. This is in contrast to the committed pacifism of O’Connell’s “Old Ireland” wing. This posturing eventually leads to the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 where a countryside devastated by the Great Famine fails to rise up and support the rebels.

According to fellow Irish nationalist, Justin McCarthy, “…it has been said of him that while he strongly discouraged the idea of armed rebellion, and had no faith in the possibility of Ireland’s succeeding by any movement of insurrection, yet when Smith O’Brien risked Ireland’s chances in the open field, he cast his lot with his leader and stood by his side in Tipperary.”

After the failure of Young Ireland’s uprising, Dillon flees Ireland, escaping first to France and, eventually, to the United States, where he serves the New York Bar.

Dillon returns to Ireland on amnesty in 1855 and in 1865 is elected as a Member of Parliament for Tipperary. By now he advocates a Federal union of Britain and Ireland and denounces the violent methods advocated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood or Fenian movement.

Dillon dies of cholera on September 15, 1866 in Killiney, County Dublin, at the age of 52, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Dillon is the father of John Dillon and grandfather of James Dillon.


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Death of William Walsh, Archbishop of Dublin

William Joseph Walsh, archbishop and nationalist, dies in Dublin on April 9, 1921. He serves as the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin from July 3, 1885 until his death.

Walsh is born at 11 Essex Quay in Dublin, the only child of Ralph and Mary Perce Walsh. His father is a watchmaker and jeweler. He inherits his sympathy for Irish nationalism and independence from his father, who has the boy enrolled in the Repeal Association before he is two years old. He is educated locally at Mr. Fitzpatrick’s School on Peter St. and at St. Laurence O’Toole Seminary School, Harcourt Street, Dublin. In 1856, he goes to the Catholic University of Ireland and three years later to St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth where he becomes Professor of Theology in 1867. He is appointed vice-president of Maynooth in 1878 and president in 1880. A poor preacher, he makes the press his pulpit, making a name for himself in the areas of land law and education.

Walsh is ordained into the priesthood on May 22, 1866. He is appointed Archbishop of Dublin on July 3, 1885 followed by his consecration on August 2, 1885. He serves in this position until his death in 1921 and is succeeded by Edward Joseph Byrne.

The Land issue divides the Irish hierarchy. Walsh supports agrarian reform on behalf of the rural population. He is openly sympathetic to Irish nationalism, and an advocate of both Home Rule and agrarian land reform. It is his support for this movement, led by Michael Davitt, which leads the Vatican to honour Michael Logue in Armagh with the dignity of Cardinal in 1893 rather than Walsh in Dublin.

Walsh serves on the Senate of the Royal University of Ireland (1883–84) and as part of the Commission of National Education (1885–1901). He is appointed Chancellor of the newly founded National University of Ireland in 1908, a position he holds until his death, after which he is succeeded by Éamon de Valera.

Walsh has been described as “the greatest archbishop of Dublin since Laurence O’Toole (Lorcán Ua Tuathail). Walsh Road in Drumcondra, Dublin is named after him.


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Birth of James Patrick Mahon, Journalist, Barrister & Parliamentarian

Charles James Patrick Mahon, Irish nationalist journalist, barrister, parliamentarian and international mercenary, is born into a prominent Roman Catholic family in Ennis, County Clare, on March 17, 1800.

Mahon, the eldest of four children, is the son of Patrick Mahon of New Park, who took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and Barbara, a considerable heiress and the only daughter of James O’Gorman of Ennis. He studies at Clongowes Wood College, where he is one of the earliest pupils, and at Trinity College Dublin, where he takes his BA in 1822 and his MA in law in 1832. Following his father’s death in 1821, he inherits half the family property and becomes a magistrate for Clare.

In 1830, Mahon marries Christina, the daughter of John O’Brien of Dublin. She is an heiress and has property valued at £60,000 in her own right, which gives him the resources to seek election to parliament. The couple spends little time together, and she dies apart from him in Paris in 1877. They have one son who dies in 1883.

In 1826, Mahon joins the newly formed Catholic Association. He encourages fellow member Daniel O’Connell to stand for election at the 1828 Clare by-election. O’Connell’s election, in which Mahon plays a large role, persuades the British Government to pass the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which finalises the process of Catholic Emancipation and permitted Roman Catholics to sit in the British Parliament.

As a result, when Mahon is elected for Clare at the 1830 United Kingdom general election, he is entitled to take his seat. However, during the election campaign he quarrels with O’Connell, and after his election he is unseated for bribery. He is subsequently acquitted, and stands again at the 1831 United Kingdom general election, but is defeated by two O’Connell-backed candidates, one of whom is his old schoolfriend Maurice O’Connell, Daniel O’Connell’s son. He gives up on politics, becomes deputy lieutenant of Clare, and captain of the local militia.

Mahon becomes a barrister in 1834, but the following year, he leaves for Paris. There he associates with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, becoming a favourite at Louis Philippe‘s court and working as a journalist. He travels the world, spending time in both Africa, where he befriends Ferdinand de Lesseps, engineer of the Suez Canal, and South America, before returning to Ireland in 1846.

At the 1847 United Kingdom general election, Mahon is elected for Ennis, and declares himself a Whig in favour of Irish Repeal. However, he opposes the Young Irelanders, and narrowly loses his seat at the 1852 United Kingdom general election.

Following his defeat in the 1852 election, Mahon returns to Paris, then travels on to Saint Petersburg, where he serves in the Imperial Bodyguard. During this period, he journeys through lands from Finland to Siberia. He then travels across China, India and Arabia. His finances largely exhausted, he serves as a mercenary in the Ottoman and Austrian armies before returning to England in 1858. Late that year, he leaves for South America, where he attempts to finance the construction of a canal through Central America.

After exploits abroad Mahon returns to Ireland in 1871 and is a founding member of the Home Rule League. Nearly ruined by his ventures, he even ends up at the Old Bailey as a consequence of his dealings, but is acquitted. He is defeated in Ennis at the 1874 United Kingdom general election, and also at the 1877 Clare by-election. Finally, he wins the 1879 Clare by-election and holds the seat at the 1880 United Kingdom general election.

Mahon is a close associate of Charles Stewart Parnell, who he successfully nominates for the leadership of the League in 1880, but is dropped in 1885 as a party candidate because of his age and his tendency to vote with the Liberal Party in Parliament. He is also embroiled in a court case disputing the will of his son.

Parnell personally ensures Mahon is a candidate at the 1887 County Carlow by-election, which he wins at the age of 87 as a Liberal. By this point, he is the oldest MP in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. He dies at his home in South Kensington, London on June 15, 1891 while still in office.

Mahon had served alongside William O’Shea as an MP, and the two were close friends. He introduced him and Katharine O’Shea, his wife, to Parnell. After Parnell is named in the O’Sheas’ divorce case in 1890, Mahon splits with Parnell, siding with the Irish National Federation. However, Parnell attends Mahon’s funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery a few months later.

(Pictured: Caricature of James Patrick Mahon by Sir Leslie Matthew Ward under the pseudonym “Spy” published in Vanity Fair in 1885)


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Birth of John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam

John MacHale, Irish Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam and Irish nationalist, is born in Tubbernavine, near Lahardane, County Mayo on March 6, 1791.

MacHale’s parents are Patrick and Mary Mulkieran MacHale. He is so feeble at birth that he is baptised at home by Father Andrew Conroy. By the time he is five years of age, he begins attending a hedge school. Three important events happen during his childhood: the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the landing at Killala of French troops, whom the boy, hidden in a stacked sheaf of flax, watches marching through a mountain pass to Castlebar, and a few months later the brutal hanging of Father Conroy on a false charge of high treason.

Being destined for the priesthood, at the age of thirteen, the he is sent to a school at Castlebar to learn Latin, Greek, and English grammar. In his sixteenth year the Bishop of Killala gives him a busarship at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. At the age of 24, he is ordained a priest by Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin. In 1825, Pope Leo XII appoints him titular bishop of Maronia, and coadjutor bishop to Dr. Thomas Waldron, Bishop of Killala.

With his friend and ally, Daniel O’Connell, MacHale takes a prominent part in the important question of Catholic emancipation, impeaching in unmeasured terms the severities of the former penal code, which had branded Catholics with the stamp of inferiority. During 1826 his zeal is omnipresent. He calls on the Government to remember how the Act of Union in 1800 was carried by William Pitt the Younger on the distinct assurance and implied promise that Catholic emancipation, which had been denied by the Irish Parliament, should be granted by the Parliament of the Empire.

Oliver Kelly, Archbishop of Tuam, dies in 1834, and the clergy selects MacHale as one of three candidates, to the annoyance of the Government who despatches agents to induce Pope Gregory XVI not to nominate him to the vacant see. Disregarding their request, the pope appoints MacHale Archbishop of Tuam. He is the first prelate since the Reformation who has received his entire education in Ireland. The corrupt practices of general parliamentary elections and the Tithe War cause frequent rioting and bloodshed, and are the subjects of denunciation by the new archbishop, until the passing of a Tithes bill in 1838. He also leads the opposition to the Protestant Second Reformation, which is being pursued by evangelical clergy in the Church of Ireland, including the Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Thomas Plunket.

The repeal of the Acts of Union 1800, advocated by O’Connell, enlists MacHale’s ardent sympathy and he assists the Liberator in many ways, and remits subscriptions from his priests for this purpose. In his zeal for the cause of the Catholic religion and of Ireland, so long down-trodden, but not in the 1830s, he frequently incurs from his opponents the charge of intemperate language, something not altogether undeserved. In his anxiety to reform abuses and to secure the welfare of Ireland, by an uncompromising and impetuous zeal, he makes many bitter and unrelenting enemies, particularly British ministers and their supporters.

The Great Famine of 1846–47 affects his diocese more than any. In the first year he announces in a sermon that the famine is a divine punishment on his flock for their sins. Then by 1846 he warns the Government as to the state of Ireland, reproaches them for their dilatoriness, and holds up the uselessness of relief works. From England as well as other parts of the world, cargoes of food are sent to the starving Irish. Bread and soup are distributed from the archbishop’s kitchen. Donations sent to him are acknowledged, accounted for, and disbursed by his clergy among the victims.

The death of O’Connell in 1847 is a setback to MacHale as are the subsequent disagreements within the Repeal Association. He strongly advises against the violence of Young Ireland. Over the next 30 years he becomes involved in political matters, particularly those involving the church. Toward the end of his life he becomes less active in politics.

MacHale attends the First Vatican Council in 1869. He believes that the favourable moment has not arrived for an immediate definition of the dogma of papal infallibility. Better to leave it a matter of faith, not written down, and consequently he speaks and votes in the council against its promulgation. Once the dogma had been defined, he declares the dogma of infallibility “to be true Catholic doctrine, which he believed as he believed the Apostles’ Creed“. In 1877, to the disappointment of the archbishop who desires that his nephew should be his co-adjutor, Dr. John McEvilly, Bishop of Galway, is elected by the clergy of the archdiocese, and is commanded by Pope Leo XIII after some delay, to assume his post. He had opposed this election as far as possible, but submits to the papal order.

Every Sunday MacHale preaches a sermon in Irish at the cathedral, and during his diocesan visitations he always addresses the people in their native tongue, which is still largely used in his diocese. On journeys he usually converses in Irish with his attendant chaplain, and has to use it to address people of Tuam or the beggars who greet him whenever he goes out. He preaches his last Irish sermon after his Sunday Mass, April 1881. He dies in Tuam seven months later, on November 7, 1881.

A marble statue perpetuates his memory on the grounds of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Tuam. MacHale Park in Castlebar, County Mayo and Archbishop McHale College in Tuam are named after him. In his birthplace the Parish of Addergoole, the local GAA Club, Lahardane MacHales, is named in his honour. The Dunmore GAA team, Dunmore MacHales, is also named after him.


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First Issue of “The Irish People” Printed in Dublin

The Irish People, a nationalist weekly newspaper supportive of the Fenian movement, is first printed in Dublin on November 28, 1863. It is suppressed by the British Government in 1865.

Other republican newspapers namely, the United Irishman, The Irish Tribune, The Irish Felon, and then the Repeal Association-supporting paper, The Nation, are suppressed in 1848 after their writers, Young Irelanders and members of the Irish Confederation, are accused of promoting sedition. James Stephens is a Young Irelander and part of the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 that follows the closures of these newspapers. He flees to France after the rebellion’s failure. In 1856, he returns to Ireland and makes connections with former rebels. Two years later, he founds the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

In 1863, Stephens tells friends he is to start a newspaper. With funds through John O’Mahony, founder of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, he sets up an office at 12 Parliament Street. John O’Leary becomes the editor, with Thomas Luby, Charles Kickham, and Denis Mulcahy as editorial staff and Luby as a proprietor. Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is the business manager and James O’Connor his assistant and bookkeeper. The newspaper is printed by John Haltigan. Most of the articles are written by O’Leary and Kickham. The first issue comes out on Saturday, November 28, 1863. Its sympathies are clear. A front-page advertisement offers to ship old copies of the United Irishman and The Irish Felon to any address in the UK and editorial content is critical of the political status quo. Superintendent Daniel Ryan of G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which is largely concerned with Fenianism, notes the new publication’s birth and comments on its low circulation.

Plans for a rising in Ireland, hatched in the United States, are found at Kingstown station in July 1865 in an envelope containing a £500 New York bankers’ draft payable to Stephens’ brother-in-law. This is handed over to Dublin Castle and the link proves to be decisive for what follows. Later, a letter to the Tipperary IRB calling for a nationalist uprising is found by Pierce Nagle, a police informer working for The Irish People. Nagle had visited British officials while in New York in 1864 and offers his services after being upset by Stephens’ manner. After Nagle provides the information, the offices of The Irish People are raided on September 15. The last issue comes out the following day.

The paper is suppressed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, John Wodehouse. Luby, O’Leary, O’Donovan Rossa and O’Connor are arrested and held at Richmond Bridewell prison. Stephens and Kickham join them a month later. Stephens escapes from prison on November 24. A Special Commission is opened on November 27 and forty-one people are charged are ultimately charged. Luby, O’Leary, O’Connor, O’Donovan Rossa and Kickham are charged with the most serious crime of treason felony, first used against the republicans of 1848. Evidence used for the prosecution includes the letter found by Nagel and his testimony about Fenian connections, articles from The Irish People as far back as the first issue, in which Irish Catholic judges including one of the presiding judges, the current Attorney-General for Ireland and Privy Councillor William Keogh, had been strongly criticised, and a devastating secret document from 1864 written by Stephens and entrusted to Luby granting Luby, O’Leary and Kickham executive powers over the IRB. Kickham is unaware of the document. The conflicts of interest, also with the other judge, John David FitzGerald, who is involved in the defendants’ arrest, are highlighted by the defending counsel, former Tory MP Isaac Butt. Also noted is the striking, if not unusual, jury packing, an act where in a mostly-Catholic land, some of the juries involved are entirely Protestant.

Luby, O’Leary and O’Connor receive sentences of twenty years. O’Donovan Rossa is sentenced to life imprisonment because of his previous convictions. The frail Kickham, lifelong near-blind and deaf, gets twelve years. Judge Keogh praises his intellect and expresses sympathy with his plight, despite having refused his request for a writ of corpus to bring Luby and Charles Underwood O’Connell to his trial concerning his ignorance of the “executive document,” as Luby had already begun his sentence in Pentonville Prison.

(Pictured: The masthead of the first issue of The Irish People | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license)


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Birth of Morgan O’Connell, Soldier & Politician

Morgan O’Connell, soldier, politician and son of the Irish Nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator of Ireland, is born in Dublin on October 31, 1804. He serves in the Irish South American legion and the Imperial Austrian Army. He is MP for Meath from 1832 until 1840 and afterwards assistant-registrar of deeds for Ireland from 1840 until 1868.

O’Connell, one of seven children (and the second of four sons) of Daniel and Mary O’Connell, is born at 30 Merrion Square, Dublin. His brothers Maurice, John and Daniel are also MPs.

In 1819, self-styled General John Devereux comes to Dublin to enlist military aid for Simón Bolívar‘s army to liberate Venezuela from Spanish rule. He succeeds in forming an Irish Legion, to be part of Bolivar’s British Legions. O’Connell, encouraged by his father, is one of the officers who purchases a commission in it even though he is only 15 years old. The enterprise is mismanaged; there is no commissariat organisation on board the ships, and a part of the force die on the voyage. The remainder are disembarked on the Spanish Main at Margarita Island, where many deaths take place from starvation eight days after the Irish mutineers leave for Jamaica.

Bolivar, who had noted his pleasure at the departure of “these vile mercenaries,” is too astute a diplomat to offend the son of his Irish counterpart. O’Connell is accorded the appropriate privileges of his rank, and toasts are drunk to the health of his father, the “most enlightened man in all Europe.” A portion of the expedition, under Francis O’ Connor, effects an alliance with Bolivar, and to the energy of these allies the republican successes are chiefly due.

Bolivar makes sure that the untrained Irish lad stays out of danger. “I have numberless hardships to go through,” said Bolivar, “which I would not bring him into, for the character of his father is well known to me.” But ceremonial duties soon bore the restless young Irishman. After a year at Bolivar’s headquarters Morgan leaves for Ireland.

If South America did not satisfy O’Connell’s taste for adventure, he has more than his fill on the return journey. He survives a bout of tropical fever and is shipwrecked twice in succession, ending up stranded in Cuba. A schooner captain, who turns out to be a long-lost Irish cousin, rescues him. After the captain is killed in a fight with his boatswain, he hitches a ride to Jamaica on a Danish ship commanded by a skipper from Cork. From Jamaica, another Irish officer offers Morgan passage home.

Arriving in January 1822, O’Connell is greeted by his proud father as a prodigal son returned. His South American adventure, declares Daniel O’Connell, has made a man of Morgan. Otherwise, said O’Connell, “it would have been difficult to tame him down to the sobriety of business.” After his return to Ireland, he again seeks foreign service in the Austrian army.

On December 19, 1832 O’Connell enters parliament in the Liberal interest, as one of the members for Meath, and continues to represent that constituency until January 1840, when he is appointed first assistant-registrar of deeds for Ireland, at a salary of £1,200 a year, a position he holds until 1868. In politics he is never in perfect accord with his father, and his retirement from parliament is probably caused by his inability to accept the Repeal movement.

During his parliamentary career O’Connell fights a duel with Lord William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley, a captain in the British Army, at Chalk Farm, on May 4, 1835. A challenge had been sent by Alvanley to O’Connell’s father, who, in accordance with a vow he had made after shooting John D’Esterre, declines the meeting. The younger O’Connell thereupon takes up the challenge on his father’s account. Two shots each are exchanged, but no one is hurt. Afterwards, in December 1835, he receives a challenge from Benjamin Disraeli, in consequence of an attack made on Disraeli by O’Connell’s father. He declines to meet Disraeli.

On July 23, 1840, O’Connell marries Kate Mary, youngest daughter of Michael Balfe of South Park, County Roscommon.

Morgan O’Connell dies at 12 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, on January 20, 1885. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on January 23.

(Pictured: Morgan O’Connell, oil on canvas, artist unknown, c. 1819/20)