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


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Death of Tom Kettle, Economist, Journalist, Politician & Soldier

thomas-michael-kettleThomas Michael “Tom” Kettle, Irish economist, journalist, barrister, writer, war poet, soldier and Home Rule politician, dies on September 9, 1916 during the World War I Battle of the Somme in France.

Kettle is born on February 9, 1880 in Malahide or Artane, Dublin, the seventh of twelve children of Andrew J. Kettle (1833–1916), a leading Irish nationalist politician, progressive farmer, agrarian agitator and founding member of the Irish National Land League, and his wife, Margaret (née McCourt). One of his brothers is the industrial pioneer Laurence Kettle. He is influenced considerably through his father’s political activities.

Like his brothers, Kettle is educated at the Christian BrothersO’Connell School at Richmond Street, Dublin, where he excels. In 1894 he goes to study with the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare, known as a wit and a good debater. He enjoys athletics, cricket and cycling and attains honours in English and French when leaving. He enters University College Dublin in 1897.

As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Kettle is Member of Parliament (MP) for East Tyrone from 1906 to 1910 at Westminster. He is a much admired old comrade of James Joyce, who considers him to be his best friend in Ireland, as well as the likes of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Oliver St. John Gogarty and Robert Wilson Lynd. He joins the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914 enlists for service in the British Army.

Kettle is killed in action with ‘B’ Company of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in an attack on German lines on September 9, 1916, near the village of Ginchy during the Somme Offensive in France. During the advance he is felled when the Dublin Fusiliers are “struck with a tempest of fire,” and having risen from the initial blow, he is struck again and killed outright. His body is buried in a battlefield grave by the Welsh Guards, but the location of the grave is subsequently lost. His name is etched on the monumental arched gateway for the missing of the Somme at Thiepval.

Kettle is one of the leading figures of the generation who, at the turn of the twentieth century, give new intellectual life to Irish party politics, and to the constitutional movement towards All-Ireland Home Rule. A gifted speaker with an incisive mind and devastating wit, his death is regarded as a great loss to Ireland’s political and intellectual life.

As G. K. Chesterton surmises, “Thomas Michael Kettle was perhaps the greatest example of that greatness of spirit which was so ill rewarded on both sides of the channel […] He was a wit, a scholar, an orator, a man ambitious in all the arts of peace; and he fell fighting the barbarians because he was too good a European to use the barbarians against England, as England a hundred years before has used the barbarians against Ireland.”


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The Battle of Colenso

battle-of-colensoOn December 15, 1899, Irish units of the Boer army face the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers, and the 6th (Inniskillings) Dragoons in the battle of Colenso, the third and final battle fought during the Black Week of the Second Boer War. It is fought between British and Boer forces from the independent South African Republic and Orange Free State in and around Colenso, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Inadequate preparation and reconnaissance and uninspired leadership lead to a British defeat.

Early on the morning of December 15, Major General Arthur Henry Seton Hart-Synnot, commander of the 5th (Irish) Infantry Brigade, gives his men half an hour’s parade ground drill, then leads them in close column towards the Bridle Drift. However, his locally recruited guide, who speaks no English, leads the brigade towards the wrong ford, the Punt Drift at the end of a loop in the river. Louis Botha, commander of the Boers on this front, orders his men to hold their fire until the British attempt to cross the river. However Hart-Synnot’s brigade, jammed into the loop of the river, is too good a target to miss and the Boers open fire. Hart-Synnot’s brigade suffers over 500 casualties before they can be extricated. The battalions repeatedly try to extend to the left and locate the Bridle Drift. On each occasion, Hart-Synnot recalls them and sends them back into the loop.

Meanwhile, as Major-General Henry J. T. Hildyard moves his 2nd Infantry Brigade towards Colenso, the two batteries of field guns under Colonel Charles James Long forge ahead of him and deploy in the open well within rifle range of the nearest Boers. Once again, this is too tempting a target, and the Boers open fire. The British gunners fight on, even though suffering heavy casualties, but ammunition cannot be brought to them and they are eventually forced to take shelter in a dry stream bed behind the guns. The bullock-drawn naval guns have not been able to keep up with the field pieces, but are able to come into action 1,500 metres from the Boer trenches.

General Sir Redvers Buller, who has also heard that his light horse are pinned down at the foot of the hill known as Hlangwane south of the river and unable to advance, decides to call the battle off at this point, even though Hildyard’s men, advancing in open order, have just occupied Colenso. He goes forward, being slightly wounded himself, and calls for volunteers to recover Long’s guns. Two teams approach them, hook up and bring away two weapons. A second attempt to recover the rest of guns fails when horses and volunteers are shot down by Boer rifle fire.

During the afternoon, the British fall back to their camp, leaving ten guns, many wounded gunners and some of Hildyard’s men behind to be captured during the night. Although Buller had committed few of his reserves, he reasons that a full day under a boiling sun would have sapped their morale and strength. Major General Neville Lyttelton (4th Infantry Brigade) commits some of his troops to help Hart’s brigade withdraw, but the cautious Major General Geoffrey Barton (6th Infantry Brigade) refuses to support Lord Dundonald‘s or Hildyard’s hard-pressed troops.

Buller’s army loses 143 killed, 756 wounded and 220 captured. Boer casualties are eight killed and 30 wounded.

After the battle of Colenso, four soldiers are awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry that can be awarded to British forces. All crossed an exposed area of intense Boer fire and rescued two of the twelve guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries when their crews had become casualties or were driven from their weapons. They are Captain Walter Norris Congreve, Captain Harry Norton Schofield, Corporal George Edward Nurse and Lieutenant Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts, son of Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, who died of his wounds two days later.

(Pictured: Boers capturing the British guns at the Battle of Colenso on December 15, 1899 in the Boer War. Picture by Fritz Neumann.)


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Birth of The Most Reverend John Bernard

john-henry-bernardJohn Henry Bernard, scholar, Archbishop of Dublin, and provost of Trinity College Dublin, is born in Raniganj, India on July 27, 1860.

Bernard graduates with a BA in mathematics from Trinity College Dublin in 1880, is elected a Fellow there in 1884, and is later a member of the council of the university, where he holds the office of King’s Lecturer of Divinity from 1888 to 1902.

Bernard is appointed treasurer of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, by the Dean Henry Jellett in 1897. On Jellett´s death, in December 1901, Bernard becomes a favorite to succeed him as Dean, a position to which he is elected by the chapter of the cathedral on February 6, 1902. He serves as such until 1911, when he is appointed Bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin. In 1915 he is appointed Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, serving until 1919.

A prolific scholar, in many fields, including Church history, theology and philosophy, Bernard is the president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1916 to 1921 and Provost of Trinity College Dublin from 1919 to 1927. He is a member of the Board of National Education in Ireland, in which capacity he serves as examiner of mathematics in the 1880s. He is regarded as an unrepentant Unionist, representing their interests as a delegate to the 1917–18 Irish Convention.

Bernard marries his cousin Maude Nannie Bernard in 1885. They have two sons and two daughters. In April 1915 his son, Lieutenant Robert Bernard of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, is killed in action during the Gallipoli campaign. He is commemorated at V Beach Cemetery by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

John Bernard dies in Dublin on August 29, 1927.


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Birth of Playwright St. John Greer Ervine

st-john-greer-ervineSt. John Greer Ervine, unionist playwright, author, critic, and manager of the Abbey Theatre from 1915 to 1916, is born in Ballymacarrett, Belfast on December 28, 1883. He is considered to be the founding father of modern Northern Irish drama.

Although accepted to study at Trinity College, Dublin, circumstances force Ervine to leave school at the age of 15 to begin working in an insurance office.

Two years later, Ervine immigrates to London, where he discovers a love for the theatre. He begins his writing career with Mixed Marriage (1911), an Ulster tragedy, and produces three plays between 1911 and 1915. In 1915, after a meeting with William Butler Yeats in London, he becomes the director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It is however, not a happy appointment as his personality and politics clash with the management of the theatre.

Ervine then joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and fights in Flanders, losing a leg in the conflict. Returning home, he feels increasingly alienated by nationalism and more attracted to the unionism of his family background. He becomes a vehement detractor of the south, describing Ireland in a letter to George Bernard Shaw as brimming with “bleating Celtic Twilighters, sex-starved Daughters of the Gael, gangsters and gombeen men.”

Ervine is a distinctively Ulster orientated writer, focusing on a naturalistic portrayal of rural and urban life. His most famous and popular work amongst his Northern Irish audience is Boyd’s Shop (1936), which becomes one of the Ulster Group Theatre’s stalwart productions. The play is a classic of the homely yet sincere Ulster genre and centres around the struggles of the folk that Ervine grew up with in his grandmother’s shop on the Albertbridge Road. Ervine creates in Boyd’s Shop a template for Ulster theatre that is to dominate until the advent of Samuel Thompson‘s Over the Bridge.

Ervine’s reactionary unionism and anti-southern hatred becomes more pronounced as he ages and eclipses his more subtle characteristics and abilities as a writer. Although many of his novels and plays are at times clouded by his prejudices, they are also very often capable of tremendous feeling and humanity showing he is a writer of note.

St. John Greer Ervine dies at the age of 87 in London on January 24, 1971.


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The Flight of the Wild Geese

flight-of-the-wild-geesePatrick Sarsfield sails to France on December 22, 1691, leading 19,000 of his countrymen to enter the French service in the first phase of the military denuding of Ireland known as the Flight of the Wild Geese, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on October 3, 1691, following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland.

More broadly, the term “Wild Geese” is used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who leave to serve in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, or even, poetically, Irish soldiers in British armies as late as World War I.

Irish recruitment for continental armies dries up after it is made illegal in 1745. In 1732 Sir Charles Wogan indicates in a letter to Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, that 120,000 Irishmen have been killed and wounded in foreign service “within these forty years.” Swift later replies, “I cannot but highly esteem those gentlemen of Ireland who, with all the disadvantages of being exiles and strangers, have been able to distinguish themselves by their valour and conduct in so many parts of Europe, I think, above all other nations.”

It was some time before the British armed forces begin to tap into Irish Catholic manpower. In the late eighteenth century, the Penal Laws are gradually relaxed and in the 1790s the laws prohibiting Catholics bearing arms are abolished.

Thereafter, the British begin recruiting Irish regiments for the Crown Forces – including such famous units as the Connaught Rangers. Several more Irish units are created in the 19th century. By 1914 specifically Irish infantry regiments in the British Army comprise the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Connaught Rangers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers. With the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 five of the above regiments are disbanded, with most of the remainder undergoing a series of amalgamations between 1968 and 2006. The United Kingdom still retains three Irish regiments: the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, and the London Irish Rifles.

Sarsfield is honored to this day in the crest of County Limerick. The Flight of the Wild Geese is remembered in the poetic words…“War-battered dogs are we, Fighters in every clime, Fillers of trench and of grave, Mockers, bemocked by time. War-dogs, hungry and grey, Gnawing a naked bone, Fighters in every clime, Every cause but our own.”

(Pictured: ‘Irish Troops Leaving Limerick’, 1692, (Cassell Petter & Galpin, London, Paris & New York, c1880), Artist Unknown)