seamus dubhghaill

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


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Earliest Verifiable Viking Invasion of Ireland

The earliest verifiable date of a Viking invasion of Ireland is September 9, 872, in Dunrally in what is now County Laois.

The Vikings conduct extensive raids in Ireland and found many towns, including Dublin, Limerick, Wexford, Waterford, Wicklow, Arklow and Leixlip. Literature, crafts, and decorative styles in Ireland and Britain reflect Scandinavian culture. Vikings trade at Irish markets in Dublin. Excavations find imported fabrics from England, Byzantium, Persia, and Central Asia. Dublin becomes so crowded by the 11th century that houses are built outside the town walls.

The Vikings pillage monasteries on Ireland’s west coast in 795, and then spread out to cover the rest of the coastline. The north and east of the island are most affected. During the first 40 years, the raids are conducted by small, mobile Viking groups. From 830 on, the groups consist of large fleets of Viking ships. From 840, the Vikings begin establishing permanent bases at the coasts. Dublin is the most significant settlement in the long term. The Irish become accustomed to the Viking presence and culture. In some cases they become allies and also intermarry.

In 832, a Viking fleet of about 120 ships under Turgesius invades kingdoms on Ireland’s northern and eastern coasts. Some believe that the increased number of invaders coincides with Scandinavian leaders’ desires to control the profitable raids on the western shores of Ireland. During the mid-830s, raids begin to push deeper into Ireland. Navigable waterways make this deeper penetration possible. After 840, the Vikings have several bases in strategic locations throughout Ireland.

In 838, a small Viking fleet enters the River Liffey in eastern Ireland, probably led by the chieftain Saxolb, who is killed later that year. The Vikings set up a base, which the Irish call longphorts. This longphort would eventually become Dublin. After this interaction, the Irish experience Viking forces for about 40 years. The Vikings also establish longphorts in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford. The Vikings are driven out of Ireland for a short period around 900, but return to Waterford in 914 to found what would become Ireland’s first city. The other longphorts are soon re-occupied and developed into cities and towns.

The last major Irish battle involving Vikings is the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, in which a large force from the pan-Viking world and their Irish allies oppose Brian Boru, then the High King of Ireland and his forces, a small contingent of which are Viking defectors. The battle is fought in what is the now Dublin suburb of Clontarf on Good Friday of that year. Boru, the Irish High King has allowed the Viking King of Dublin, Sigtrygg Silkbeard, one year to prepare for his coming assault. Silkbeard responds by offering the bed of his mother to several Viking lords from Scandinavia, Ireland and Britain. The savage mêlée between the heavily mailed Norse and the unarmoured, yet undaunted Gaels ends in a rout of the Vikings and their Irish allies. Careful accounts are taken by both sides during the battle, and thus many famous warriors seek each other out for personal combat and glory. High King Brian, who is nearly eighty, does not personally engage in the battle but retires to his tent where he spends the day in quiet prayer.

The Viking Brodir of Man chances upon Brian’s tent as he flees the field. He and a few followers seize the opportunity, and surprise the High King, killing the aged Brian before being captured. Brian’s foster son Ulf the Quarrelsome later tracks down and dispatches Brodir by disembowelment. The battle is fairly matched for most of the day and each side has great respect for the prowess of the other, however, in the end, the Irish forces the Norse to return to the sea. Many of the fleeing Vikings are drowned in the surf due to their heavy mail coats as they struggled for the safety of their longships. Others are pursued and slain further inland.

After the battle, Viking power is broken in Ireland forever, though many settled Norse remain in the cities and prosper greatly with the Irish through trade. With Brian dead, Ireland returns to the fractured kingdom it had once been, but is now cleared of further Viking predation.

(Pictured: Guest from Overseas, Nicholas Roerich, 1901)

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Construction Begins on the Royal Canal

royal-canal-old-mill-dublinConstruction begins on the Royal Canal on October 24, 1789. The canal is originally built for freight and passenger transportation from the River Liffey in Dublin to Longford.

In 1755, Thomas Williams and John Cooley make a survey to find a suitable route for a man-made waterway across north Leinster from Dublin to the River Shannon. They originally plan to use a series of rivers and lakes, including the Boyne, Blackwater, Deel, Yellow, Camlin, and Inny and Lough Derravaragh.

Work commences in 1789 and lasts 27 years before finally reaching the River Shannon in 1817, at a total cost of £1,421,954. Construction is unexpectedly expensive and the project is riven with problems. In 1794 the Royal Canal Company is declared bankrupt. The Duke of Leinster, a board member, insists that the new waterway take in his local town of Maynooth. The builders have to deviate from the planned route and necessitate the construction of a ‘deep sinking’ between Blanchardstown and Clonsilla. The diversion also calls for the building of the Ryewater Aqueduct, at Leixlip.

royal-canal-kinnegadThe canal passes through Maynooth, Kilcock, Enfield, Mullingar and Ballymahon has a spur to Longford. The total length of the main navigation is 145 kilometres (90 miles), and the system has 46 locks. There is one main feeder, from Lough Owel, which enters the canal at Mullingar.

In 200 years it has been maintained by eight successive agencies – the Royal Canal Company, the Commissioners of Inland Navigation, the New Royal Canal Company, Midland Great Western Railway Company, Great Southern Railways, CIÉ, and the Office of Public Works.

The canal falls into disrepair in the late 20th century, but much of the canal has since been restored for navigation. The length of the canal to the River Shannon is reopened on October 1, 2010, but the final spur branch of the canal to Longford Town remains closed.

(Pictured: Royal Canal as it enters Dublin city centre (left) and Royal Canal in rural County Westmeath north of Kinnegad (right)


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Samuel Beckett Awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature

samuel-beckettSamuel Barclay Beckett, Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 23, 1969. Beckett lives in Paris for most of his adult life and writes in both English and French. He is widely regarded as among the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1984.

Beckett’s work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human existence, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humour, and becomes increasingly minimalist in his later career. He is considered one of the last modernist writers, and one of the key figures in what Martin Esslin calls the “Theatre of the Absurd.” Waiting for Godot is generally regarded as his best-known play.

In October 1969 while on holiday in Tunis with his wife Suzanne, Beckett hears that he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Anticipating that her intensely private husband would be saddled with fame from that moment on, Suzanne calls the award a “catastrophe.” In true ascetic fashion, he gives away all of the prize money. While Beckett does not devote much time to interviews, he sometimes meets the artists, scholars, and admirers who seek him out in the anonymous lobby of the Hotel PLM St. Jacques in Paris near his Montparnasse home. Although Beckett is an intensely private man, a review of the second volume of his letters by Roy Foster in the December 15, 2011 issue of The New Republic reveals Beckett to be not only unexpectedly amiable but frequently prepared to talk about his work and the process behind it.

Confined to a nursing home and suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease, Beckett dies on 22 December 22, 1989, just five months after the passing of Suzanne. The two are interred together in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris and share a simple granite gravestone that follows Beckett’s directive that it should be “any colour, so long as it’s grey.”

Of all the English-language modernists, Beckett’s work represents the most sustained attack on the realist tradition. He opens up the possibility of theatre and fiction that dispense with conventional plot and the unities of time and place in order to focus on essential components of the human condition.

On December 10, 2009, a new bridge across the River Liffey in Dublin is opened and named the Samuel Beckett Bridge in his honour. Reminiscent of a harp on its side, it is designed by the celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the James Joyce Bridge further upstream. The newest ship of the Irish Naval Service, the LÉ Samuel Beckett (P61), is named for Beckett. An Ulster History Circle blue plaque in his memory is located at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.


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Reopening of General Post Office, Dublin

general-post-officeThe restored General Post Office, Dublin, which had been destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising, is opened by President W. T. Cosgrave on July 11, 1929.

The General Post Office (GPO), is the headquarters of the Irish postal service. The offices are first located at College Green, but in August 1814, construction of a purpose-built headquarters begins. The building on Sackville Street is completed in January 1818 at a cost of £50,000.

According to An Post “The statues on the roof are of Hibernia, a classical representation in female form of the island of Ireland, with Fidelity to one side and Mercury, the messenger of the gods, to the other.”

Five members of the Provisional GovernmentPatrick Pearse, James Connolly, Tom Clarke, Seán MacDiarmada, and Joseph Plunkett — are located at the GPO during the Easter Rising in a 350-strong garrison which also includes Cumann na mBan and Irish Citizen Army members. James Connolly is in charge of the defence of the GPO and directs operations. The GPO garrison barricades surrounding streets and occupies adjoining buildings.

On Monday afternoon the garrison repulses a cavalry attack while, with the breakdown of law and order, many of the stores in Sackville Street are looted. From Wednesday, the GPO and other buildings in Sackville Street come under artillery fire, mostly from the Helga gunboat at anchor in the River Liffey. Connolly believes the British will not use artillery in city areas. By Friday night the GPO is on fire, at which point it is evacuated.

At a Dublin Corporation meeting in 1884 a motion is called to change the name of Sackville Street to O’Connell Street. After forty years of argument, it is changed to O’Connell Street in May 1924.


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Viking Settlement That Becomes Dublin is Founded

founding-of-dublinA Viking settlement that would later become the city of Dublin is founded on the banks of the River Liffey on July 10, 988.

The first documented history of Dublin begins with the Viking raids in the 8th and 9th century. These lead to the establishment of a settlement on the south side of the mouth of the Liffey, named Dubh Linn (Black Pool) after the dark tidal pool where the River Poddle enters the Liffey which is where the Danes first moor their boats.

The Vikings, or Ostmen as they call themselves, rule Dublin for almost three centuries, although they are expelled in 902 only to return in 917 and notwithstanding their defeat by the Irish High King Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. From that date, the Norse are a minor political force in Ireland, firmly opting for a commercial life. Viking rule of Dublin ends completely in 1171 when the city is captured by King Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster, with the aid of Anglo-Norman mercenaries. An attempt is made by the last Norse King of Dublin, Ascall mac Ragnaill, to recapture the city with an army he raises among his relations in the Scottish Highlands, where he is forced to flee after the city is taken, but the attempted reconquest fails and Ascall is killed.

Dublin becomes the centre of English power in Ireland after the Norman invasion of the southern half of Ireland (Munster and Leinster) in 1169-1171, replacing Tara in Meath, seat of the Gaelic High Kings of Ireland, as the focal point of Ireland’s polity. On May 15, 1192 Dublin’s first written Charter of Liberties is granted by John, Lord of Ireland, and is addressed to all his “French, English, Irish and Welsh subjects and friends.” On June 15, 1229, his son Henry grants the citizens the right to elect a Mayor who is to be assisted by two provosts. By 1400, however, many of the Anglo-Norman conquerors are absorbed into the Gaelic culture, adopting the Irish language and customs, leaving only a small area of Leinster around Dublin, known as the Pale, under direct English control.


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Birth of Irish Politician Henry Grattan

henry-grattanHenry Grattan, Irish politician and member of the Irish House of Commons, who campaigns for legislative freedom for the Irish Parliament in the late 18th century, is born at Fishamble Street in Dublin on July 3, 1746.

Grattan is baptised at the church of St. John the Evangelist in Dublin. He attends Drogheda Grammar School and then goes on to become a distinguished student at Trinity College, Dublin, where he begins a lifelong study of classical literature, and is especially interested in the great orators of antiquity.

After studying at the King’s Inns, Dublin, and being called to the Irish bar in 1772, he never seriously practises law but is drawn to politics, influenced by his friend Henry Flood. He enters the Irish Parliament for Charlemont in 1775, sponsored by Lord Charlemont, just as Flood has damaged his credibility by accepting office. Grattan quickly supersedes Flood in the leadership of the national party, not least because his oratorical powers are unsurpassed among his contemporaries.

Grattan’s movement gains momentum as more and more Irish people come to sympathize with the North American colonists in their war for independence from Great Britain. By 1779, he is powerful enough to persuade the British government to remove most of its restraints on Irish trade, and in April 1780 he formally demands the repeal of Poynings’ Law, which has made all legislation passed by the Irish Parliament subject to approval by the British Parliament. Two years later the British relinquish their right to legislate for Ireland and frees the Irish Parliament from subservience to the English Privy Council. Despite these successes, Grattan soon faces rivalry from Flood, who bitterly criticizes Grattan for failing to demand that the British Parliament completely renounce all claims to control of Irish legislation. Flood succeeds in undermining Grattan’s popularity, but by 1784 Flood himself has lost much of his following.

From 1782 to 1797 Grattan makes limited progress in his struggle to reform the composition of the Irish Parliament and to win voting rights for Ireland’s Roman Catholics. The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 bolsters his cause by infusing democratic ideas into Ireland, but the subsequent growth of a radical Irish movement for Catholic emancipation provokes repressive measures by the British. Grattan is caught between the two sides. Ill and discouraged, he retires from Parliament in May 1797 and is in England when the Irish radicals stage an unsuccessful rebellion in 1798.

Grattan returns to Parliament for five months in 1800 and wages a vigorous but fruitless campaign against Prime Minister William Pitt’s plans for the legislative union of the Irish and British parliaments. In 1805, Grattan is elected to the British House of Commons, where for the last 15 years of his life he fights for Catholic emancipation.

In 1920, after crossing from Ireland to London while in poor health to bring forward the Irish question once more, he becomes seriously ill. On his death-bed he speaks generously of Castlereagh, and with warm eulogy of his former rival, Flood. Henry Grattan dies on June 6, 1820, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. His statue is in the Outer Lobby of the Palace of Westminster.

The building housing the faculty of Law and Government at Dublin City University has been named in his honour. Grattan Bridge crossing the River Liffey between Parliament Street on the south side of Dublin and Capel Street on the north side is also named in his honour.


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The Beginning of the 1916 Easter Rising

proclamation-of-independenceThe Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, begins in Dublin 100 years ago today and lasts for six days. The Rising, organised by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is launched to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom is heavily engaged in World War I. It is the most significant uprising in Ireland since the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the first armed action of the Irish revolutionary period.

Shortly before midday, members of the Irish Volunteers, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse and joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 women of Cumann na mBan, seize key locations in Dublin and proclaim an Irish Republic. The rebels’ plan is to hold Dublin city centre, a large, oval-shaped area bounded by the Grand Canal to the south and the Royal Canal to the north, with the River Liffey running through the middle.

The rebels march to the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, and occupy the building and hoist two republican flags. Pearse stands outside and reads the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Elsewhere in Dublin, some of the headquarters battalion under Michael Mallin occupy St. Stephen’s Green, where they dig trenches and barricade the surrounding roads. The 1st battalion, under Edward “Ned” Daly, occupy the Four Courts and surrounding buildings, while a company under Seán Heuston occupies the Mendicity Institution across the River Liffey from the Four Courts. The 2nd battalion, under Thomas MacDonagh, occupies Jacob’s Biscuit Factory. The 3rd battalion, under Éamon de Valera, occupy Boland’s Mill and surrounding buildings. The 4th battalion, under Éamonn Ceannt, occupy the South Dublin Union and the distillery on Marrowbone Lane. From each of these garrisons, small units of rebels establish outposts in the surrounding area.

There are isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, with attacks on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Ashbourne, County Meath and in County Galway, and the seizure of the town of Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Due to a last-minute countermand issued on Saturday, April 22, by Volunteer leader Eoin MacNeill, the number of rebels who mobilise is much lower than expected.

The British Army brings in thousands of reinforcements as well as artillery and a gunboat. There is fierce street fighting on the routes into the city centre, where the rebels put up stiff resistance, slowing the British advance and inflicting heavy casualties. Elsewhere in Dublin, the fighting mainly consists of sniping and long-range gun battles. The main rebel positions are gradually surrounded and bombarded with artillery.

With much greater numbers and heavier weapons, the British Army suppresses the Rising, and Pearse agrees to an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April 29. Almost 500 people are killed during Easter Week. About 54% are civilians, 30% are British military and police, and 16% are Irish rebels. More than 2,600 are wounded. Many of the civilians are killed as a result of the British using artillery and heavy machine guns, or mistaking civilians for rebels. Others are caught in the crossfire in a crowded city. The shelling and the fires leave parts of inner city Dublin in ruins.

After the surrender the country remains under martial law. About 3,500 people are taken prisoner by the British, many of whom have played no part in the Rising, with 1,800 of them being sent to internment camps or prisons in Britain. Most of the leaders of the Rising are executed following courts-martial. The Rising brings physical force republicanism back to the forefront of Irish politics, which for nearly 50 years has been dominated by constitutional nationalism. It, and the British reaction to it, leads to increased popular support for Irish independence. In December 1918, republicans, represented by the reconstituted Sinn Féin party, win a landslide victory in the general election to the British Parliament. They do not take their seats, but instead convene the First Dáil and declare the independence of the Irish Republic, which ultimately leads to the Irish War of Independence.