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


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Death of Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener

Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener, Irish-born senior British Army officer and colonial administrator, drowns in the sinking of the HMS Hampshire west of Orkney, Scotland, on June 5, 1916. He wins notoriety for his imperial campaigns, especially his scorched earth policy against the Boers, his expansion of Lord Robertsinternment camps during the Second Boer War and his central role in the early part of World War I.

Kitchener is born in Ballylongford near Listowel, County Kerry, son of army officer Henry Horatio Kitchener and Frances Anne Chevallier, daughter of John Chevallier, a priest, of Aspall Hall, and his third wife, Elizabeth. The family moves to Switzerland when he is young, where he is educated at Montreux, then at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He joins a French field ambulance unit in the Franco-Prussian War but is returned to England after he comes down with pneumonia.

Kitchener is credited in 1898 for winning the Battle of Omdurman and securing control of the Sudan for which he is made Baron Kitchener of Khartoum. As Chief of Staff (1900–1902) in the Second Boer War he plays a key role in Lord Roberts’ conquest of the Boer Republics, then succeeds Roberts as commander-in-chief, by which time Boer forces have taken to guerrilla warfare and British forces imprison Boer civilians in concentration camps. His term as Commander-in-Chief (1902–09) of the Army in India sees him quarrel with another eminent proconsul, the Viceroy Lord Curzon, who eventually resigns. He then returns to Egypt as British Agent and Consul General.

In 1914, at the start of World War I, Kitchener becomes Secretary of State for War, a Cabinet Minister. One of the few to foresee a long war, lasting for at least three years, and with the authority to act effectively on that perception, he organises the largest volunteer army that Britain had ever seen, and oversees a significant expansion of materials production to fight on the Western Front. Despite having warned of the difficulty of provisioning for a long war, he is blamed for the shortage of shells in the spring of 1915, one of the events leading to the formation of a coalition government, and is stripped of his control over munitions and strategy.

On June 5, 1916, Kitchener is making his way to Russia on HMS Hampshire to attend negotiations with Tsar Nicholas II. At the last minute, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe changes the HMS Hampshire‘s route on the basis of a misreading of the weather forecast and ignoring (or not being aware of) recent intelligence and sightings of German U-boat activity in the vicinity of the amended route. Shortly before 7:30 PM the same day, steaming for the Russian port of Arkhangelsk during a Force 9 gale, HMS Hampshire strikes a mine laid by the newly launched German U-boat U-75 and sinks 1.5 miles west of the Orkney. Only twelve men survive. Amongst the dead are Kitchener and all ten members of his entourage. He is seen standing on the quarterdeck during the approximately twenty minutes that it takes the ship to sink. His body is never recovered.


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Death of Michael Davitt, Founder of the Irish National Land League

Michael Davitt, Irish republican and agrarian agitator, dies in Elphis Hospital in Dublin from blood poisoning on May 30, 1906. He is the founder of the Irish National Land League, which organizes resistance to absentee landlordism and seeks to relieve the poverty of the tenant farmers by securing fixity of tenure, fair rent, and free sale of the tenant’s interest.

Davitt is born in Strade, County Mayo, on March 25, 1846, the son of an evicted tenant farmer. Following their eviction, the family emigrates to England. In 1856, at the age of 10, he starts work in a cotton mill, where he loses an arm in a machinery accident a year later. As is typical for the era, he does not receive any compensation.

In 1865, Davitt joins the revolutionary Fenian Brotherhood, an international secret society that seeks to secure political freedom for Ireland. He becomes secretary of its Irish analogue, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), in 1868. Arrested in Paddington Station in London for sending firearms to Ireland on May 14, 1870, he is sentenced to 15 years in Dartmoor Prison and there lays plans to link Charles Stewart Parnell’s constitutional reform with Fenian activism to achieve political-agrarian agitation.

Paroled from prison in 1877, Davitt rejoins the IRB and goes to the United States, where the Fenian movement originated. There he is deeply influenced by Henry George’s ideas about the relationship between land monopoly and poverty.

Back in Ireland, using funds raised by John Devoy and Clan na Gael in the United States, Davitt wins Parnell’s cooperation in organizing the Irish National Land League in 1879, which leads, however, to his expulsion from the supreme council of the IRB in 1880. He is also imprisoned for seditious speeches in 1881 and 1883. He is elected to Parliament representing North Meath in the 1892 United Kingdom general election, but his election is overturned on petition because he had been supported by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. He stands unopposed for North East Cork at a by-election in February 1893, making his maiden speech in favour of the Home Rule Bill in April, which passes the House of Commons but is defeated in the House of Lords in September.

Because of his public championing of Henry George’s theories of land reform, Parnell repudiates him. Davitt actively defends the Nationalists before the Parnell Commission, which meets between 1887 and 1889. When the Irish party splits in 1890 over Parnell’s involvement in Capt. William Henry O’Shea’s divorce case, Davitt is among the first to oppose Parnell’s continuance as leader. He is elected again, for South Mayo in 1895, but resigns in 1899 in protest against the Second Boer War.

Davitt dies in Elphis Hospital, Dublin on May 30, 1906, at the age of 60, from blood poisoning. The fact that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland attends his funeral is a public indication of the dramatic political journey this former Fenian prisoner has taken. There is no plan for public funeral, and hence Davitt’s body is brought quietly to the Carmelite Friary, Clarendon Street, Dublin. However, the next day over 20,000 people file past his coffin. His remains are taken by train to Foxford, County Mayo, and buried in the grounds of Strade Abbey at Strade, near his place of birth.

Davitt’s book, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (1904), is a valuable record of his time.


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Birth of Otto Moses Jaffe, Lord Mayor of Belfast

otto-jaffeSir Otto Moses Jaffe, German-born British businessman who is twice elected Lord Mayor of Belfast, is born in Hamburg on August 13, 1846. He is the first non-Protestant to hold the office of Lord Mayor of Belfast.

Jaffe is born into a Jewish family, one of four boys and five girls born to Daniel Joseph and Frederiké Jaffe. In 1852, his parents bring their family to Belfast. His father, along with his older brothers, Martin, John and Alfred, set up a business exporting linen. He is educated at Mr. Tate’s school in Holywood, County Down, and later in Hamburg and Switzerland.

Jaffe marries Paula Hertz, daughter of Moritz Hertz from Braunschweig, on March 8, 1879. They have two sons, Arthur Daniel and William Edward Berthold Jaffe. Daniel Joseph Jaffé is his nephew, son of his brother Martin.

From 1867 to 1877 Jaffe lives and works in New York. In 1877, his brothers retire so he returns to Belfast to head the family business, The Jaffe Brothers, at Bedford Street. He builds it up to become the largest linen exporter in Ireland. He is a member of the Belfast Harbour Commission and becomes a naturalised citizen in 1888. In 1894, he successfully agitates for the reporting and destruction of shipwrecks in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Jaffe is a Justice of the Peace, a governor of the Royal Hospital, a member of the Irish Technical Education Board and a member of the Senate of Queen’s College, which later becomes Queen’s University Belfast. He is the German consul in Belfast. He is an active member of the committee which gets the Public Libraries Act extended to Belfast, leading to the first free library being established there. In 1910 he erects the Jaffe Spinning Mill on the Newtownards Road, also known as Strand Spinning. This provides work for 350 people, rising to 650 in 1914 when the company expands to make munitions. He is lavishly charitable and contributes to Queen’s College.

Jaffe takes a keen interest in the Jewish community of Belfast. He is life-president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation, which worships at the Great Victoria Street, Belfast synagogue. His father established it on July 7, 1871. Between 1871 and 1903 the congregation increases from fifty-five to over a thousand. He pays most of the £4,000 cost of building the synagogue in Annesley Street. He opens it in 1904 wearing his mayoral regalia. Three years later with his wife, they set up the Jaffe Public Elementary School on the Cliftonville Road.

Jaffe is a member of the Irish Unionist Party. He represents St. Anne’s Ward for the Belfast Corporation in 1894 and is elected Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1899. As mayor, he launchs an appeal for the dependants of soldiers fighting in the Second Boer War. On March 5, 1900, he is knighted at Dublin Castle by George Cadogan, 5th Earl Cadogan, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1901 he is High Sheriff of Belfast and in 1904 is again elected Lord Mayor.

The outbreak of war sees anti-German sentiment and when the RMS Lusitania passenger liner is torpedoed by a German U-boat of the coast of County Cork on May 7, 1915, resulting in the death of 1,000 people, anti-German feeling in Britain and Ireland rise to breaking point. Even though he is loyal to the Crown, and his eldest son Arthur and his nephew are serving in the British Army, Jaffe is accused of being a German spy. Society women refuse support for the Children’s Hospital so long as Jaffe and his wife remain on the board. He is “overwhelmed with pain and sorrow.”

After twenty-five years of service, Jaffe resigns his post as Alderman of Windsor Ward for Belfast City Council in June 1916 when he is almost 70 years of age and takes up residence in London, where he dies on April 29, 1929. Lady Jaffe is too ill to attend his funeral and she dies a few months later, in August 1929.


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Birth of Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Lord Dufferin

Created with GIMPFrederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, British diplomat who is a distinguished Governor General of Canada and Viceroy and Governor-General of India and holder of Clandeboye Estate in Bangor, County Down, is born in Florence, Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Italy on June 21, 1826.

The son of Price Blackwood, 4th Baron Dufferin and Claneboye, Blackwood is educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford. In his youth he is a popular figure in the court of Queen Victoria, and becomes well known to the public after publishing a best-selling account of his travels in the North Atlantic.

Lord Dufferin’s long career in public service begins as a commissioner to Syria in 1860, where his skillful diplomacy maintains British interests while preventing France from instituting a client state in Lebanon. After his success in Syria, he serves in the Government of the United Kingdom as William Ewart Gladstone’s Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Under-Secretary of State for War. He is created Earl of Dufferin in 1871.

In 1872 Lord Dufferin becomes the third Governor General of Canada, bolstering imperial ties in the early years of the Dominion. After leaving Ottawa in 1878 at the end of his term, he returns to Great Britain to continue his diplomatic career. He serves as British ambassador to Imperial Russia from 1879 to 1881. In 1881 he becomes ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and deals with the problems raised by the British occupation of the Ottoman dependency of Egypt. In 1884 he reaches the pinnacle of his diplomatic career when he succeeds George Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon as Viceroy and Governor-General of India and placates the British community there, which had been antagonized by Ripon’s reforms.

By the annexation of Burma (Myanmar) in 1886, Lord Dufferin consolidates British territories. For his services he is made Marquess of Dufferin and Ava when, in 1888, he retires from India. He then spends three years (1889–91) as Britain’s ambassador to Italy and four years (1892–96) as ambassador to France. He retires in 1896.

Following his retirement from the diplomatic service, Lord Dufferin’s final years are marred by personal tragedy and a misguided attempt to secure his family’s financial position. In 1897, worried about the family financial situation, he is persuaded to become chairman of the London and Globe Finance Corporation, a mining promotion and holding company controlled by Whitaker Wright. It subsequently transpires that Wright is a consummate fraudster and the firm goes bankrupt, although Lord Dufferin is not guilty of any deception and his moral standing remains unaffected. Soon after the misfortune, his eldest son, Lord Ava, is killed in the Second Boer War and another son is badly wounded.

Following the death of his son and in poor health, Lord Dufferin returns to his country house at Clandeboye, near Bangor, County Down, and dies there on February 12, 1902.

Lord Dufferin’s biographer Richard Davenport-Hines says he was “imaginative, sympathetic, warm-hearted, and gloriously versatile.” He was an effective leader in Lebanon, Canada and India, averted war with Russia, and annexed Burma. He was careless with money but charming in high society on three continents.


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First Production of the Irish Literary Theatre

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 75The first production of the Irish Literary Theatre, The Countess Cathleen, is performed on May 8, 1899. Like many of William Butler Yeats’ plays, it is inspired by Irish folklore. In a time of famine, demons sent by Satan come to Ireland to buy the souls of the starving people. The saintly Cathleen disposes of her vast estates and wealth in order to feed the peasants, yet the demons thwart her at every turn. At last, she sacrifices her own soul to save those of the poor.

Yeats, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn publish a “Manifesto for Irish Literary Theatre” in 1897, in which they proclaim their intention of establishing a national theatre for Ireland. The Irish Literary Theatre is founded by Yeats, Lady Gregory, Martyn and George Moore in Dublin in 1899. It proposes to give performances in Dublin of Irish plays by Irish authors.

In 1899 Lady Gregory secures a temporary licence for a play to be given at the Antient Concert Rooms in Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) in Dublin, and so enables the Irish Literary Theatre to give its first production. The play chosen is The Countess Cathleen by Yeats. It is done by a very efficient London company that includes May Whitty (Dame May Webster) and Ben Webster. The next production given is Martyn’s play The Heather Field.

In the following year the Irish Literary Theatre produces three plays at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin: Maeve by Edward Martyn, The Last Feast of Fianna by Alice Milligan and The Bending of the Bough by George Moore. The Bending of the Bough is staged during the Second Boer War which begins on October 11, 1899.

The Irish Literary Theatre project lasts until 1901, when it collapses due to lack of funding.

The use of non-Irish actors in these productions is perceived to be a failure, and a new group of Irish players is put together by the brothers William and Frank Fay, among others. These go on to form the Irish National Theatre Society, which leads to the founding of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1904.


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Birth of Robert Tressell, Irish Writer

robert-tressellRobert Noonan, Irish writer born Robert Croker and best known by the pen name Robert Tressell, is born in Dublin on April 17, 1870. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.

Noonan is the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, a senior member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. He is baptised and raised a Roman Catholic by his mother Mary Noonan. His father, who is not Catholic, has his own family, but attempts to provide for Robert until his death in 1875.

By 1875 Noonan is living in London. When he is sixteen, he shows signs of a radical political consciousness. He leaves his family declaring he “would not live on the family income derived largely from absentee landlordism.” It is around this time he changes his surname to his mother’s maiden name.

In 1890, Noonan is a sign writer living in Queen’s Road, Everton, Liverpool. On June 10, 1890 he appears at Liverpool County Intermediate Sessions court at County Sessions House, Islington, Liverpool on charges of housebreaking and larceny. He is found guilty and given a six-month prison sentence.

By 1891, Noonan has moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he is a painter and decorator. He marries in 1891, but the marriage is an unhappy one, with his wife having numerous affairs after the birth of their daughter, Kathleen. They divorce in 1895 and Noonan acquires all the property, including their house in an affluent suburb of Cape Town.

Noonan and his daughter move to Johannesburg, where he secures a well-paying job with a construction company. It is here that he learns the ways of the industry he would later write about in his novel, although Noonan’s actual circumstances vary greatly from the proletarian characters of the book. After becoming Secretary of the Transvaal Federated Building Trades Council, he is able to send his daughter to an exclusive convent school and also to employ a black manservant called Sixpence.

In 1897, Noonan leads a successful protest against the employment of black skilled labour. During 1898, he becomes a member of the Transvaal Executive Committee of the Centennial of 1798 Association, which commemorates the revolutionary nationalist Society of United Irishmen. As a 1798 Association member, he helps form the Irish Brigades, an anti-British force that fights alongside the Boers in the Second Boer War. At this point, accounts of his life differ. Some assert he takes up arms and is interned by the British until the end of the war, when he returns to Britain. Others say he leaves South Africa just before hostilities began in October 1899.

In any event, around the turn of the century, Noonan ends up in Hastings, Sussex. Here, he finds work as a sign writer, but at much lower wages and in far poorer conditions than he had experienced in South Africa. He has to take part-time jobs in addition to his full-time position.

Influenced by the Marxist-influenced ideas of designer and socialist William Morris, he joins the Social Democratic Federation in 1906. The next year, after a dispute with his employer, he loses his job. Despite the demand for his skills, his health begins to deteriorate and he eventually develops tuberculosis. Unemployed and unable to remain politically active, he starts writing, something he hopes will earn enough money to keep him from the workhouse.

He writes under the pen name Robert Tressell as he fears the socialist views expressed in the book will have him blacklisted. He completes The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists in 1910, but the 1,600-page hand-written manuscript is rejected by three publishing houses. The rejections severely depress him, and his daughter has to save the manuscript from being burned.

Unhappy with his life in Britain, Noonan decides that he and Kathleen should emigrate to Canada. However, he only reaches Liverpool when he is admitted to the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, where he dies of pulmonary tuberculosis on February 3, 1911, at the age of 40. He is buried in a pauper’s grave at Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, later known as Walton Park Cemetery. The location of the grave is not rediscovered until 1970. Twelve other people are buried in the same plot. The plot is now marked although the land is no longer used as a cemetery and is now used by Rice Lane City Farm.

Kathleen mentions her father’s novel to a friend, writer Jessie Pope, who recommends it to her publisher. In April 1914, the publisher purchases the rights to the book for £25, and it appears in Britain, Canada and the United States later that year, in the Soviet Union in 1920, and in Germany in 1925. The version as originally published is heavily abridged by Pope, with much of the socialist ideology removed.

The original manuscript is subsequently located by F. C. Ball and, after he raises funds to acquire and reassemble the original version, an unabridged edition is published in 1955.


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Death of Artist Margretta “Gretta” Bowen

greta-bowen-children-in-the-parkMargretta Bowen, self-taught Irish artist best known as Gretta Bowen, dies in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 8 1981. She starts painting late in life, around 1950, after her sons Arthur and George Campbell are already established as artists.

Born in Dublin in January 1880, Bowen lives most of her life in Belfast. She is married to Matthew Campbell, a veteran of the Second Boer War. They have three sons, Arthur, George and Stanley, who all go on to be highly talented artists, with George becoming particularly successful. After her husband death in 1925 she runs a laundrette and takes in lodgers to make ends meet.

Bowen comes to art late in her life. A few weeks before her seventieth birthday she finds paints left behind by her son Arthur and begins to experiment, apparently inspired to some extent by her sons. She uses her maiden name to apparently avoid any obvious connection with them.

Bowen clearly attracts notice early on despite her late start. In 1959, just five years after she takes up painting, she is given a solo exhibition by the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts, which continues to support her work when it subsequently becomes the Arts Council of Great Britain. An extensive and admiring review appears in The Times.

Bowen’s work is shown at the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and the Oireachtas. She also holds one-person exhibitions at the Hendriks Gallery, the Bell Gallery and the Tom Caldwell Gallery. In 1979, at the age of 99, her works gain international fame. She exhibits at the first International Exhibition of Naïve Art in London.

Bowen dies at the age of 101 in Belfast on April 8, 1981.


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Birth of John Barry, Victoria Cross Recipient

john-barry-vcJohn Barry is born on February 1, 1873 in St. Mary’s Parish, Kilkenny, County Kilkenny. He is by birth an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Little is known of Barry’s early life prior to his enlistment with the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army. Shortly after his enlistment, he finds himself sailing to South Africa for the outbreak of the Second Boer War, a conflict which ultimately leads to the award of the Victoria Cross, albeit tragically posthumously.

During the night attack on Monument Hill on January 7-8, 1901, Private Barry, although surrounded and threatened by the Boers at the time, smashes the breach of the Maxim gun, thus rendering it useless to its captors. It is in doing this splendid act for his country that he meets his death.

Barry dies of wounds received during his VC action at Monument Hill, South Africa. At the time, no posthumous awards of the VC can be made. However, as so often in the history of the Victoria Cross it is an individual, the mother of Alfred Atkinson, that brings about a decisive move to investigate those servicemen who would have been recommended for the award of the VC if they had not died beforehand. The outcome of the War Office investigation results in an announcement being published in The London Gazette on August 8, 1902. In fact, Barry’s family had already received his medal via registered post on April 30, 1902.

Barry is buried in Belfast Cemetery, east of Johannesburg, South Africa. His medals are sold at auction on September 22, 2000 and purchased at a hammer price of £85,000 by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery in the Imperial War Museum, London.


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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 Fenian John O’Leary

john-o-learyJohn O’Leary, Irish republican and a leading Fenian, is born on July 23, 1830 in Tipperary, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned in England during the nineteenth century for his involvement in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

O’Leary, born a Catholic, is educated at the local Protestant grammar school, The Abbey School, and later the Catholic Carlow College. He identifies with the views advocated by Thomas Davis and meets James Stephens in 1846.

He begins his studies in law at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1847, where, through the Grattan Club, he associates with Charles Gavan Duffy, James Fintan Lalor and Thomas Francis Meagher.

After the failure of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, O’Leary attempts to rescue the Young Ireland leaders from Clonmel Gaol, and is himself imprisoned for a week from September 8, 1849. He takes part in a further attempted uprising in Cashel on September 16, 1849, but this proves abortive.

O’Leary abandons his study of law at Trinity College because he is unwilling to take the oath of allegiance required of a barrister. He enrolls at Queen’s College, Cork in 1850, to study medicine, later moving to Queen’s College, Galway, then on to further studies at Meath Hospital in Dublin, in Paris and in London. In 1855, he visits Paris, where he becomes acquainted with Kevin Izod O’Doherty, John Martin and the American painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. He subsequently becomes financial manager of the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and is joint editor of the IRB paper The Irish People.

On September 16, 1865, O’Leary is arrested and later tried on charges of high treason, eventually reduced to “treason felony.” He is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude, of which five years are spent in English prisons, prior to his release and exile in January 1871. During his exile, he lives mainly in Paris, also visiting the United States, remains active in the IRB and its associated organisations, and writes many letters to newspapers and journals.

On the expiration of his 20-year prison term and therefore of the conditions associated with his release in 1885, O’Leary returns to Ireland. He and his sister, the poet Ellen O’Leary, both become important figures within Dublin cultural and nationalist circles, which include William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Rose Kavanagh, Rosa Mulholland, George Sigerson, and Katharine Tynan. He also functions as an elder statesman of the separatist movement, being active in the Young Ireland Society, and acts as president of the Irish Transvaal Committee, which supports the Boer side in the Second Boer War.

John O’Leary dies at his residence in Dublin on the evening of March 16, 1907. He is referred to famously by W.B. Yeats in his poem September 1913: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

(Pictured: Painting of John O’Leary, a favorite subject of John Butler Yeats (1904). The National Gallery of Ireland owns three oil portraits of O’Leary.)