seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Boxing Champion “Rinty” Monaghan

John Joseph “Rinty” Monaghan, world flyweight boxing champion from Belfast, is born on August 21, 1918. He becomes famous in the post-war period, eventually rising to become undisputed world champion and a hero to many people in his home city.

Born in Lancaster Street in north Belfast, Monaghan attends St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers’ School in Donegall Street. A noted fighter at boys’ level, he entereds the paid ranks in his mid-teens. After a short period of wartime service, he resumes his career and his burgeoning reputation draws huge crowds from all parts of Belfast. In particular, bouts at Belfast’s King’s Hall are the highlight with that venue normally packed to the rafters.

In October 1947, the National Boxing Association world crown becomes Monaghan’s after outpointing American Salvador “Dado” Marino at Harringay Stadium for the vacant title. The mantle of undisputed champion of the world rests on his shoulders after he defeats the tough Scottish fighter Jackie Paterson on March 23, 1948. Paterson is to prove one of his major adversaries.

By the time that a long-standing chest complaint forces his retirement as champion in 1950, Monaghan’s trophy cabinet contains the British, European, Commonwealth and World crowns. Of the 66 official bouts he fights during his illustrious career, he wins 51, draws 6 and loses 9. He endears himself to his supporters after his fights by singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” to the King’s Hall audience, which joins in the singing.

A part-time cabaret artist, Monaghan tours western Europe during World War II with other notables of the period including Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields and George Formby, and later forms his own band.

Monaghan’s nickname “Rinty” comes from his fondness for dogs. According to his daughter Martha, he brought home injured dogs so often that his grandmother called him Rin Tin Tin, after the film dog, and shortened it to Rinty.

Monaghan marries Frances Thompson in 1938 and moves to nearby Sailortown. He has three daughters, Martha, Rosetta and Collette, and one son, Sean. In later life he has a variety of jobs but remains true to his working-class roots and stays in Belfast. He dies at his home in Little Corporation St. on March 3, 1984, at the relatively young age of 65. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.

To mark the influence of this “home-town hero”, the Ulster History Circle and Belfast City Council provide a plaque in Monaghan’s honour at the King’s Hall that is unveiled, in the presence of many of his family circle and friends, on May 3, 2007.

Belfast City Council erects a statue to Monaghan at Cathedral Gardens on August 20, 2015. The 10-foot high bronze statue on a granite plinth is designed by Alan Beattie Herriot and features Monaghan holding a microphone and singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”


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Execution of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Stafford

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Stafford and Lord Deputy of Ireland, is beheaded on Tower Hill near the Tower of London on May 12, 1641.

Wentworth, is born in London on April 13, 1593, the eldest surviving son of Sir William Wentworth, a Yorkshire landowner. Educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and at the Inner Temple, he is knighted by James I in 1611. His marriage to Lady Margaret Clifford, daughter of the impoverished Francis Clifford, 4th Earl of Cumberland, establishes a link with an ancient and noble family still influential in the north.

Wentworth represents Yorkshire in the parliaments of 1614 and 1621 and Pontefract in 1624. His wife dies childless in 1622, and in February 1625 he marries Arabella Holles, daughter of John Holles, 1st Earl of Clare, a peer out of favour at court who brings Wentworth into touch with the critics of the King’s expensive and inefficient policy of war against Spain and, from 1627, against France. Along with other critics of the court he is prevented from sitting in the Parliament of 1626, and later in the year he refuses to subscribe to the forced loan imposed to pay for the war, and is for some time under arrest. Despite his record of opposition to the King’s policy, he is approached by the crown — anxious to strengthen its position in the north — with the offer of a barony in 1628. He is appointed lord president of the Council of the North and in 1629 is given a seat on the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.

Wentworth’s return to the service of the court, coming so soon after his vehement opposition to it in Parliament, startles even some of his closest friends. His conduct is no doubt partly inspired by personal ambition, though he has logical reasons for his change of front since in the summer of 1628 the King gradually abandons his war policy.

On the Privy Council Wentworth seems to advocate the paternalist government that distinguishes the early years of the King’s personal rule. As President of the Council of the North he quells all defiance of his authority and makes many enemies by his insistence on the honour due to him as the King’s representative, but his administration is on the whole just and efficient. In 1631 he is deeply distressed by the death of his much-loved wife, though he provokes scandalous rumours not long afterward by secretly marrying Elizabeth Rodes, the young daughter of a neighbouring squire, in October 1632.

The King meanwhile has appointed Wentworth Lord Deputy of Ireland. Taking up his office in the summer of 1633, he immediately sets himself to consolidate the royal authority, break the power of the dominant clique of “new English” landowners, extend English settlement, improve methods of agriculture, increase the productivity of the land, and stimulate industry and trade. His ultimate goal is to assimilate Irish law and customs to the English system and to make a prosperous Protestant Ireland into a source of revenue to the English crown.

Wentworth continues his effective and firm-handed administration of Ireland until 1639, when he is recalled to England by King Charles I. The King needs advice and support in handling a Scottish revolt precipitated by an ill-conceived attempt to enforce episcopacy on the Scots. He is created Earl of Strafford in 1640 and is expected to resolve the crisis. But his policy of making war on Scotland proves disastrous for both himself and the King. The English Parliament, called especially to vote money for the war, prove recalcitrant, and Strafford, in command of the English army, fails to prevent the Scots from overrunning the northern counties. The King, unable to pay his own troops or to buy off the Scots, is compelled by joint English and Scottish action to call a new Parliament in November 1640.

Wentworth is the chief target of attack from both nations. He is advised to leave the country, but the King relies on his help and assures him that he should not suffer in life or fortune. Detained by illness, he reaches Westminster on November 10 with the intention of impeaching the King’s opponents in Parliament for treasonable correspondence with the Scots. The leader of the House of Commons, John Pym, acts first by impeaching Wentworth before he can take his seat in the House of Lords.

Wentworth’s trial begins in March 1641. The basic accusation is that of subverting the laws and is supported by a charge that he had offered to bring over the Irish army to subdue the King’s opponents in England. More detailed charges rest on his administration in Ireland and the north. He conducts his defense with great skill, and it looks at one point as though he might be acquitted. Pym therefore introduces a bill of attainder. The Commons passes it by a large majority. The Lords, intimidated by popular rioting, pass it as well, but by a much smaller majority.

While an angry mob surges around Whitehall, Wentworth writes to the King releasing him from his promise of protection, and Charles, afraid for the safety of the Queen, gives his consent to the bill. He is executed before a crowd estimated, probably with some exaggeration, at 300,000 on May 12, 1641 (as this number is roughly the population of London at the time, the crowd is likely to have been a good deal smaller). In his last speech he once more professes his faith in “the joint and individual prosperity of the king and his people,” for which, in his view, he has always worked.

Wentworth remains an enigmatic figure in English history: ambitious, greedy for power and wealth, ruthless, and sometimes dishonest, but with a vision of benevolent authoritarian government and efficient administration to which he often gave persuasive expression. He made innumerable enemies, but his few close friends were deeply attached to him. In the last weeks of his life his dignity, eloquence, and loyalty to the King made a deep impression even on some of his enemies.


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Death of Isabella Tod, Women’s Rights Activist

Isabella Maria Susan Tod, Irish women’s rights activist, dies at her home at 71 Botanic Avenue in Belfast on December 8, 1896. She is a formidable lady who uses her political skills to great advantage in order to further many causes.

Tod is born on May 18, 1836 in Edinburgh into a well known Irish Presbyterian family, her uncle being the Rev. Hope Masterton Waddell, one of the earliest Irish Presbyterian missionaries who served with the Scottish Missionary Society in Jamaica and whose great grandfather is the Rev. Charles Masterton, one of the most distinguished minsters of the General Synod of Ulster who ministers at Connor and Rosemary Street, Belfast. She is very proud of her Presbyterian heritage and of her Scottish ancestry.

The daughter of James Banks Tod, an Edinburgh merchant, Tod spends her early years in Edinburgh. She is educated at home by her mother, Maria Isabella Waddell, who comes from County Monaghan. The family moves to Belfast in the 1850s following the death of her father. She and her mother join Elmwood Presbyterian Church. Her Presbyterian background no doubt contributes to her radical views on social issues and women’s rights. She earns her living from writing and journalism, contributing, for example, to the Dublin University Magazine, an independent literary, cultural and political magazine, and to the Banner of Ulster, a Presbyterian newspaper.

Tod becomes one of the leading pioneers in the fight to improve the position of women. She is the only woman called to give evidence to a Select Committee of Enquiry on the reform of the married women’s property law in 1868 and serves on the executive of the Married Women’s Property Committee in London from 1873 to 1874. She successfully campaigns for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866 and 1869 which enacted that a woman suspected of being a prostitute could be arrested and forced to undergo medical examination for venereal disease. She sees this legislation as an infringement of a woman’s civil liberties.

Tod is also a strong supporter of the temperance movement and, along with her friend Margaret Byers, forms the Belfast Women’s Temperance Association in 1874. Perhaps she is best known for her tireless campaign to extend the educational provision for middle-class women. For example, in 1878 she organises a delegation to London to put pressure on the Government to include girls in the Intermediate Education Act of 1878. The Ladies’ Collegiate School in Belfast, Alexandra College in Dublin and the Belfast Ladies Institute owe their existence largely to her. She writes a paper entitled “An Advanced Education for Girls in the Upper and Middle Classes” which is presented in 1867 at a meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and is among the pamphlets held in the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland library.

Tod is also an active campaigner for women’s right to vote, embarking on her first campaign in 1872 and addressing meetings in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Coleraine and Londonderry. Following a meeting in Dublin a suffrage committee is established that later becomes the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Society and in 1873 she forms the North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society. She extends her meetings to London, Glasgow and Edinburgh and is a frequent visitor to London to lobby politicians during the parliamentary session.

Tod is very much a staunch opponent of Home Rule, establishing a branch of the London-based Women’s Liberal Federation in Belfast and the Liberal Women’s Unionist Association. She sees unionism as the way to progress. “I knew that all the social work in which I had taken so prominent a part for 20 years was in danger and most of it could not exist a day under a petty legislature of the character which would be inevitable,” she says. “What we dread is the complete dislocation of all society, especially in regard to commercial affairs and organised freedom of action.”

Tod suffers from ill-health in her later days and dies in Belfast of pulmonary illness on December 8, 1896. She is buried in Balmoral Cemetery in South Belfast.


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The Rathlin Island Massacre

bruces-castle-ruinsThe Rathlin Island massacre takes place on Rathlin Island, off the coast of what is now Northern Ireland, on July 26, 1575. More than 600 Scots and Irish are killed.

Rathlin Island is used as a sanctuary because of its natural defences and rocky shores. In earlier times, when the wind blows from the west it is almost impossible to land a boat. It is also respected as a hiding place, as it is the one-time abode of Saint Columba. Installing themselves in Rathlin Castle (also known as Bruce’s Castle), the MacDonnells of Antrim make Rathlin their base for resistance to the Enterprise of Ulster. Their military leader, Sorley Boy MacDonnell (Scottish Gaelic: Somhairle Buidhe Mac Domhnaill) and other Scots have thought it prudent to send their wives, children, elderly, and sick to Rathlin Island for safety.

Acting on the instructions of Sir Henry Sidney and the Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys take the castle by storm. Drake uses two cannons to batter the castle and when the walls give in, Norreys orders direct attack on July 25, and the Garrison surrenders. Norreys sets the terms of surrender, whereupon the constable, his family, and one of the hostages are given safe passage and all other defending soldiers are killed. On July 26, 1575, Norreys’ forces hunt the old, sick, very young and women who are hiding in the caves. Despite the surrender, they kill all the 200 defenders and more than 400 civilian men, women and children. Sir Francis Drake is also charged with the task of preventing any Scottish reinforcement vessels from reaching the island.

The entire family of Sorley Boy MacDonnell perishes in the massacre. Essex, who orders the killings, boasts in a letter to Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s secretary and spymaster, that Sorley Boy MacDonnell watched the massacre from the mainland helplessly and was “like to run mad from sorrow.”

Norreys stays on the island and tries to rebuild the walls of the castle so that the English might use the structure as a fortress. As Drake is not paid to defend the island, he departs with his ships. Norreys realises that it is not possible to defend the island without intercepting Scottish galleys and he returns to Carrickfergus in September 1575.

(Pictured: the ruins of Rathlin Castle)