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


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Death of Aeneas Coffey, Inventor & Distiller

Aeneas Coffey, Irish inventor and distiller, dies in England on November 26, 1852. He is born in Calais, France, to Irish parents in 1780. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and enters the excise service around 1799–1800 as a gauger. He marries Susanna Logie in 1808, and they have a son, also named Aeneas, who may have been their only child.

According to British customs and excise records, Coffey is a remarkable man with widespread interests and multiple talents who rises quickly through the excise service ranks. He is appointed sub-commissioner of Inland Excise and Taxes for the district of Drogheda in 1813. He is appointed Surveyor of Excise for Clonmel and Wicklow in 1815. In 1816 he is promoted to the same post at Cork. By 1818 he is Acting Inspector General of Excise for the whole of Ireland and within two years is promoted to Inspector General of Excise in Dublin.

Coffey is a strong, determined upholder of the law, but aware of its shortcomings. He survives many nasty skirmishes with illegal distillers and smugglers, particularly in County Donegal in Ulster and in the west of Ireland, where moonshining is most rife. On several occasions he proposes to the government simple, pragmatic solutions to rules and regulations which have hampered legal distillers. Not all of his ideas are accepted. Between 1820 and 1824 he submits reports and gives evidence to Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry on many aspects of distilling, including formalising the different spellings of Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky. His 1822 report is solidly backed by the Irish distillers. He believes in making it viable to distill legally, and illegal distilling might largely disappear.

He assists the government in the drafting of the 1823 Excise Act which makes it easier to distill legally. It sanctions the distilling of whiskey in return for a licence fee of £10, and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit. It also provides for the appointment of a single Board of Excise, under Treasury control, for the whole of the United Kingdom, replacing the separate excise boards for England, Scotland and Ireland. The 1823 Excise Act also provides for not more than four assistant commissioners of excise to transact current business in Scotland and Ireland, under the control of the board in London. Coffey resigns from government excise service at his own request in 1824.

Between his Dublin education and his work as an excise officer, Coffey has ample opportunity to observe the design and workings of whiskey stills, as Ireland is the world’s leading producer of whiskey in the 19th century, and Dublin is at the center of that global industry. This is how Coffey becomes familiar with a design differing from the traditional copper pot alembic still commonly used in Ireland, the continuous, or column, still. First patented by a Cork County distillery in 1822, the column still remains a relatively inefficient piece of equipment, although it points the way towards a cheaper and more productive way to distill alcohol. It is that last point that captures Coffey’s imagination. He makes his own modifications to existing column still designs, so as to allow a greater portion of the vapors to re-circulate into the still instead of moving into the receiver with the spirit. The result is more efficient, producing a lighter spirit at higher alcohol content. Coffey patents his design in 1830, and it becomes the basis for every column still used ever since.

On his retirement from service, Coffey goes into the Irish distilling business. For a short time he runs the Dodder Bank Distillery, Dublin and Dock Distillery in Grand Canal Street, Dublin, before setting up on his own as Aeneas Coffey Whiskey Company in 1830. The development of the Coffey still makes distillation of his own whiskey much more economical.

Nothing is known of the final years and last resting place of Aeneas Coffey. His only son, also called Aeneas Coffey, emigrates to South Africa and manages a distillery. He marries but his wife dies childless. He returns to England and spends his final years near London.

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Birth of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett

Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Anglo-Irish agricultural reformer, pioneer of agricultural cooperatives, Unionist Member of Parliament (MP), supporter of Home Rule, Irish Senator and author, is born on October 24, 1854.

Plunkett is the third son of Admiral the 16th Baron of Dunsany, of Dunsany Castle, Dunsany, near Dunshaughlin, County Meath, and the Honourable Anne Constance Dutton, daughter of John Dutton, 2nd Baron Sherborne. He is educated at Eton College and University College, Oxford, of which he becomes an honorary fellow in 1909.

Threatened by lung trouble in 1879, Plunkett goes to the United States and spends ten years as a cattle rancher in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. He returns to Ireland in 1889 and devotes himself to the agricultural cooperative movement, first organizing creameries and then, in 1894, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, a forerunner of similar societies in England, Wales, and Scotland. A moderate Unionist member of Parliament for South County Dublin from 1892 to 1900, he becomes vice president (1899–1907) of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, which he has been instrumental in creating.

Plunkett’s later experience convinces him of the need for the independence of an Ireland without partition inside the Commonwealth, and he fights strongly for this goal, as chairman of the Irish Convention (1917–18) and, in 1919, as founder of the Irish Dominion League and of the Plunkett Foundation for Cooperative Studies, an agricultural research and information centre. He is appointed to the first Senate of the Irish Free State (1922–23). His house in Dublin is bombed and burned during in the Irish Civil War and he lives in England thereafter. In 1924 the Plunkett Foundation also moves to England. In 1924 he presides over a conference in London on agricultural co-operation in the British Commonwealth and in 1925 he visits South Africa to help the movement there.

Plunkett is made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1902 and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1903. His writings include Ireland in the New Century (1904) and The Rural Life Problem of the United States (1910).

Sir Horace Plunkett dies at Weybridge, Surrey, England on March 26, 1932.


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U2 & New Voices of Freedom at Madison Square Garden

Irish rock band U2 is joined by the New Voices of Freedom choir onstage at Madison Square Garden in New York City for a performance of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on September 28, 1987.

Dennis Bell, director of New York gospel choir The New Voices of Freedom, records a demo of a gospel version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” While in Glasgow, Scotland in late July during U2’s Joshua Tree Tour, Rob Partridge of Island Records plays the demo for the band. In late September, U2 rehearses with Bell’s choir in a Harlem church, and a few days later they perform the song together at U2’s Madison Square Garden concert.

Footage of the rehearsal is featured in the rockumentary Rattle and Hum, while the Madison Square Garden performance appears on the Rattle and Hum album, the band’s sixth studio album. After the church rehearsal, U2 walks around the Harlem neighbourhood where they come across blues duo Satan and Adam playing on the street. A 40-second clip of them playing their composition “Freedom for My People” appears on both the movie and the album.


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Death of Samuel Nielson, Society of United Irishmen Founder Member

Samuel Neilson, one of the founder members of the Society of United Irishmen and the founder of its newspaper the Northern Star, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York on August 29, 1803.

Neilson is born in Ballyroney, County Down, the son of Presbyterian minister Alexander, and Agnes Neilson. He is educated locally. He is the second son in a family of eight sons and five daughters. At the age of 16, he is apprenticed to his elder brother, John, in the business of woollen drapery in Belfast. Eight years later he establishes his own business.

Despite his commercial success, Neilson is naturally drawn to politics and is early on a member of the reformist Irish Volunteers movement. In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, he suggests to Henry Joy McCracken the idea of a political society of Irishmen of every religious persuasion. He establishes the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. The following year he launches the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star, which effectively throws away his fortune. As its editor he is a high-profile target for the authorities and is prosecuted for libel several times, being twice imprisoned between 1796 and 1798.

Along with several other state prisoners, Neilson is released in February 1798 following several petitions by influential friends, on grounds of bad health. Upon release he immediately involves himself in the United Irishmen aligning with the radicals among the leadership who are pressing for immediate rebellion and oppose the moderates who wish to wait for French assistance before acting.

The United Irishmen are however, severely penetrated by informants who keep Dublin Castle abreast of their plans and discussions. In March 1798, information of a meeting of the United Irish executive at the house of Oliver Bond leads to the arrest of most of the leadership, leaving Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald as the only figures of national importance still at liberty. They decide to press ahead as soon as possible and settled on May 23 as the date for the rebellion to begin.

As the date looms closer, the authorities go into overdrive to sweep up the rump leadership and on May 18 Lord Edward is betrayed in his hiding place and critically wounded while resisting capture. Neilson, now with responsibility for finalising plans for the looming rebellion, decides that Fitzgerald is too valuable to do without, and decides to try and rescue him from Newgate Prison in Dublin. Wary of confiding his plans too early for fear of betrayal, Neilson goes on a reconnaissance of the prison but is spotted by chance by one of his former jailers and after a fierce struggle, he is overpowered and dragged into the prison.

Neilson is indicted for high treason and held in Kilmainham Gaol with other state prisoners for the duration of the doomed rebellion outside. After the execution of Oliver Bond, and the brothers John and Henry Sheares, Neilson and the remaining prisoners agree to provide the authorities with details of the organisation of the United Irishmen, plans for the rebellion, etc. in return for exile.

Following the suppression of the rebellion, Neilson is transferred to Fort George in Inverness-shire, Scotland, and in 1802 he is deported to the Netherlands. From there he makes his way to the United States, arriving in December 1802, and settling in Poughkeepsie, New York.  He has little time to enjoy his liberty  before his  sudden death on August 29, 1803 of yellow fever, or possibly a stroke.

Nielson is not idle during his short life in America as he completes plans to start a new evening newspaper in Poughkeepsie and also has plans in the works to establish a version of the Society of United Irishmen in the United States. Since his death, his remains have been moved to three different cemeteries before coming to rest in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in 1880.

(Photograph: (c) National Museums Northern Ireland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)


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Death of James Napper Tandy, Irish Revolutionary

James Napper Tandy, Irish revolutionary and member of the Society of United Irishmen, dies in Bordeaux, France on August 24, 1803.

A Dublin Protestant and the son of an ironmonger, Tandy is baptised in St. Audoen’s Church on February 16, 1739. He attends the Quaker boarding school in Ballitore, County Kildare. He starts life as a small tradesman. Turning to politics, he becomes a member of Dublin Corporation and is popular for his denunciation of municipal corruption and his proposal of a boycott of English goods in Ireland in retaliation for the restrictions imposed by the government on Irish commerce.

Tandy and John Binns persuade Dublin Corporation to condemn by resolution William Pitt the Younger‘s amended commercial resolutions in 1785. He becomes a member of the Whig club founded by Henry Grattan, and he actively co-operates with Theobald Wolfe Tone in founding the Society of United Irishmen in 1791, of which he becomes the first secretary.

Sympathy with the French Revolution is rapidly spreading in Ireland. A meeting of some 6,000 people in Belfast vote a congratulatory address to the French nation in July 1791. In the following year, Tandy takes a leading part in organising a new military association in Ireland modelled after the French National Guard. Tandy also, with the purpose of bringing about a fusion between the Defenders and the United Irishmen, took the oath of the Defenders, a Roman Catholic society whose agrarian and political violence had been increasing for several years.

Tandy is about to be tried in 1793 for distributing a seditious pamphlet in County Louth when the government discovers he has taken the oath of the Defenders. Being threatened with prosecution for this step, and also for libel, he takes refuge by changing his Dublin address often until he flees to the United States in 1795, where he remains until 1798. In February 1798 he goes to Paris, where a number of Irish refugees are assembled and planning rebellion in Ireland to be supported by a French invasion, but quarrelling among themselves over tactics.

Tandy accepts the offer of a corvette, the HMS Anacreon, from the French government and sails from Dunkirk accompanied by a few United Irishmen, a small force of men and a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition for distribution in Ireland. He arrives at the isle of Arranmore, off the coast of County Donegal, on September 16, 1798.

Tandy takes possession of the village of Rutland, where he hoists an Irish flag and issues a proclamation. He soon discovers that the French expedition of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert to aid the Irish rebellion has failed. He sails his vessel around the north of Scotland to avoid the British fleet. He reaches Bergen in safety having brought with him a British ship captured along the way. Tandy then made his way with three or four companions to the free port of Hamburg but a peremptory demand from the British government to detain the fugitives was acceded to despite a counter-threat from the French Directory. In 1799 HMS Xenophon, under Commander George Sayer, brings Tandy and some of his associates back to England as state prisoners.

On February 12, 1800, Tandy is put on trial at Dublin and is acquitted. He remains in prison in Lifford Gaol in County Donegal until April 1801, when he is tried for the treasonable landing on Rutland Island. He pleads guilty and is sentenced to death although he is reprieved and allowed to go to France.

In France, where his release is regarded as a French diplomatic victory, he is received, in March 1802, as a person of distinction. When he dies on August 24, 1803 in Bordeaux, his funeral is attended by the military and an immense number of civilians. James Napper Tandy is buried in his family’s burial crypt, St. Mary’s churchyard, Julianstown, County Meath. His fame is perpetuated in the Irish ballad The Wearing of the Green.


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Birth of James Connolly, Republican & Socialist Leader

James Connolly, Irish republican and socialist leader, is born to Irish-born parents in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 5, 1868. He spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life.

Connolly has an education up to the age of about ten in the local Catholic primary school. He then leaves and works in labouring jobs. Due to economic difficulties, he joins the British Army at age 14, falsifying his age and giving his name as Reid. He serves in Ireland with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Regiment for nearly seven years, during a turbulent period in rural areas known as the Land War.

Connolly develops a deep hatred for the British Army that lasts his entire life. Upon hearing that his regiment is being transferred to India, he deserts. He meets a young woman by the name of Lillie Reynolds and they marry in April 1890, settling in Edinburgh. There, Connolly begins to get involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, but with a young family to support, he needs a way to provide for them. He briefly establishes a cobbler‘s shop in 1895, but this fails after a few months.

By 1892 Connolly is involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, acting as its secretary from 1895. During this time, he becomes involved with the Independent Labour Party which Keir Hardie had formed in 1893.

Connolly and his family move to Dublin, where he takes up the position of full-time secretary for the Dublin Socialist Club. At his instigation, the club quickly evolved into the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). The ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of pivotal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism.

While active as a socialist in Great Britain, Connolly is the founding editor of The Socialist newspaper and is among the founders of the Socialist Labour Party which splits from the Social Democratic Federation in 1903.

A combination of frustration with the progress of the ISRP and economic necessity causes Connolly to emigrate to the United States in September 1903. While in America he was a member of the Socialist Labor Party of America (1906), the Socialist Party of America (1909) and the Industrial Workers of the World, and founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York, 1907.

On his return to Ireland in 1910 he is right-hand man to fellow-syndicalist James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. In 1913, in response to the Great Dublin Lockout, he, along with an ex-British officer, Jack White, found the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), an armed and well-trained body of labour men whose aim is to defend workers and strikers, particularly from the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. He also founds the Irish Labour Party as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress in 1912 and is a member of its National Executive.

When the Easter Rising begins on April 24, 1916, Connolly is Commandant of the Dublin Brigade. As the Dublin Brigade has the most substantial role in the rising, he is de facto commander-in-chief. His leadership in the Easter Rising is considered formidable. Michael Collins says of Connolly that he “would have followed him through hell.”

Connolly is sentenced to death by firing squad for his part in the rising. On May 12, 1916 he is taken by military ambulance to Royal Hospital Kilmainham, across the road from Kilmainham Gaol, and from there taken to the gaol, where he is to be executed.

Connolly has been so badly injured from the fighting that he is unable to stand before the firing squad. He is carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher. Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he is tied to a chair and then shot.

His body, along with those of the other leaders, is put in a mass grave without a coffin. The executions of the rebel leaders deeply angers the majority of the Irish population, most of whom had shown no support during the rebellion. It is Connolly’s execution that causes the most controversy. The executions are not well received, even throughout Britain, and draw unwanted attention from the United States, which the British Government is seeking to bring into the war in Europe. Prime Minister H. H. Asquith orders that no more executions are to take place, an exception being that of Roger Casement as he has not yet been tried.


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Death of Arkle, the Greatest Irish Steeplechaser

Arkle, the greatest Irish steeplechaser of all time, dies at the early age of thirteen on May 31, 1970. A bay gelding by Archive out of Bright Cherry, Arkle is the grandson of the unbeaten flat racehorse and prepotent sire Nearco.

Arkle is born at Ballymacoll Stud, County Meath, by Mrs. Mary Alison Baker of Malahow House, near Naul, County Dublin. He is named after the mountain Arkle in Sutherland, Scotland that borders the Duchess of Westminster’s Sutherland estate. Owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, he is trained by Tom Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan in County Meath, and ridden during his steeplechasing career by Pat Taaffe.

At 212, his Timeform rating is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser. Only Flyingbolt, also trained by Dreaper, has a rating anywhere near his at 210. Next on their ratings are Sprinter Sacre on 192 and then Kauto Star and Mill House on 191. Despite his career being cut short by injury, Arkle wins three Cheltenham Gold Cups, the Blue Riband of steeplechasing, and a host of other top prizes.

In December 1966, Arkle races in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse but strikes the guard rail with a hoof when jumping the open ditch, which results in a fractured pedal bone. Despite this injury, he completes the race and finishes second. He is in plaster for four months and, though he makes a good enough recovery to go back into training, he never runs again. He is retired and ridden as a hack by his owner and then succumbs to what has been variously described as advanced arthritis or possibly brucellosis and is put down at the early age of thirteen.

Arkle becomes a national legend in Ireland. His strength is jokingly claimed to come from drinking Guinness twice a day. At one point, the slogan Arkle for President is written on a wall in Dublin. The horse is often referred to simply as “Himself,” and the story goes that he receives items of fan mail addressed to “Himself, Ireland.”

The government-owned Irish National Stud, at Tully, Kildare, County Kildare, has the skeleton of Arkle on display in its museum. A 1.1 scale bronze statue in his memory was erected in Ashbourne, County Meath on April 19, 2014.