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


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Birth of James Patrick Mahon, Journalist, Barrister & Parliamentarian

Charles James Patrick Mahon, Irish nationalist journalist, barrister, parliamentarian and international mercenary, is born into a prominent Roman Catholic family in Ennis, County Clare, on March 17, 1800.

Mahon, the eldest of four children, is the son of Patrick Mahon of New Park, who took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and Barbara, a considerable heiress and the only daughter of James O’Gorman of Ennis. He studies at Clongowes Wood College, where he is one of the earliest pupils, and at Trinity College Dublin, where he takes his BA in 1822 and his MA in law in 1832. Following his father’s death in 1821, he inherits half the family property and becomes a magistrate for Clare.

In 1830, Mahon marries Christina, the daughter of John O’Brien of Dublin. She is an heiress and has property valued at £60,000 in her own right, which gives him the resources to seek election to parliament. The couple spends little time together, and she dies apart from him in Paris in 1877. They have one son who dies in 1883.

In 1826, Mahon joins the newly formed Catholic Association. He encourages fellow member Daniel O’Connell to stand for election at the 1828 Clare by-election. O’Connell’s election, in which Mahon plays a large role, persuades the British Government to pass the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which finalises the process of Catholic Emancipation and permitted Roman Catholics to sit in the British Parliament.

As a result, when Mahon is elected for Clare at the 1830 United Kingdom general election, he is entitled to take his seat. However, during the election campaign he quarrels with O’Connell, and after his election he is unseated for bribery. He is subsequently acquitted, and stands again at the 1831 United Kingdom general election, but is defeated by two O’Connell-backed candidates, one of whom is his old schoolfriend Maurice O’Connell, Daniel O’Connell’s son. He gives up on politics, becomes deputy lieutenant of Clare, and captain of the local militia.

Mahon becomes a barrister in 1834, but the following year, he leaves for Paris. There he associates with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, becoming a favourite at Louis Philippe‘s court and working as a journalist. He travels the world, spending time in both Africa, where he befriends Ferdinand de Lesseps, engineer of the Suez Canal, and South America, before returning to Ireland in 1846.

At the 1847 United Kingdom general election, Mahon is elected for Ennis, and declares himself a Whig in favour of Irish Repeal. However, he opposes the Young Irelanders, and narrowly loses his seat at the 1852 United Kingdom general election.

Following his defeat in the 1852 election, Mahon returns to Paris, then travels on to Saint Petersburg, where he serves in the Imperial Bodyguard. During this period, he journeys through lands from Finland to Siberia. He then travels across China, India and Arabia. His finances largely exhausted, he serves as a mercenary in the Ottoman and Austrian armies before returning to England in 1858. Late that year, he leaves for South America, where he attempts to finance the construction of a canal through Central America.

After exploits abroad Mahon returns to Ireland in 1871 and is a founding member of the Home Rule League. Nearly ruined by his ventures, he even ends up at the Old Bailey as a consequence of his dealings, but is acquitted. He is defeated in Ennis at the 1874 United Kingdom general election, and also at the 1877 Clare by-election. Finally, he wins the 1879 Clare by-election and holds the seat at the 1880 United Kingdom general election.

Mahon is a close associate of Charles Stewart Parnell, who he successfully nominates for the leadership of the League in 1880, but is dropped in 1885 as a party candidate because of his age and his tendency to vote with the Liberal Party in Parliament. He is also embroiled in a court case disputing the will of his son.

Parnell personally ensures Mahon is a candidate at the 1887 County Carlow by-election, which he wins at the age of 87 as a Liberal. By this point, he is the oldest MP in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. He dies at his home in South Kensington, London on June 15, 1891 while still in office.

Mahon had served alongside William O’Shea as an MP, and the two were close friends. He introduced him and Katharine O’Shea, his wife, to Parnell. After Parnell is named in the O’Sheas’ divorce case in 1890, Mahon splits with Parnell, siding with the Irish National Federation. However, Parnell attends Mahon’s funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery a few months later.

(Pictured: Caricature of James Patrick Mahon by Sir Leslie Matthew Ward under the pseudonym “Spy” published in Vanity Fair in 1885)


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Execution of Major Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith

geoffrey-lee-compton-smithMajor Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith (DSO) of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is captured and executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 30, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Compton-Smith was born in 1889 in South Kensington, London. After finishing school, he decides not to follow the family tradition of studying law. He actually wants to become an artist, but his father insists that he join the army. He studies at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and during World War I his regiment is sent to France. In 1917 he is wounded at the Battle of Arras, but he continues to fight on. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In 1919 he is sent to serve in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence.

In 1919 Compton-Smith is commander of the British Army base at Ballyvonane, near Buttevant, but he is also an intelligence officer. As an officer he also sometimes presides over courts martial. In January 1921, for instance, three IRA volunteers are tried by him for involvement in the ambush at Shinanagh, near Charleville, and he sentences them each to six months.

February 1921 is a bad time for the IRA in County Cork. They suffer major losses at the ambushes at Clonmult and Mourne Abbey, and several volunteers are taken prisoner, four of whom are sentenced to death. The IRA believes that these death sentences might be commuted if a British officer is held as a hostage. This leads to the capture of Compton-Smith. On April 16, 1921 he travels to Blarney, supposedly on a sketching trip but actually to meet a nurse in Victoria Barracks with whom he is having an affair. The IRA has spies in Victoria Barracks who likely tip off the IRA that Compton-Smith is coming to Blarney. A squad led by Frank Busteed easily capture him after he gets off the train.

Busteed then meets with Jackie O’Leary, the IRA battalion commander. It is decided that Donoughmore is the perfect place to keep a hostage, because parts of the parish are remote and the IRA is strong there.

On April 18, under the cover of darkness, Compton-Smith is transferred by car to Knockane House, an abandoned big house in Donoughmore. The following night he is moved again, this time by pony and trap, to Barrahaurin, a remote townland in the Boggeragh Mountains. He is kept there for the last eleven days of his life, on the small farm of Jack and Mary Moynihan. He is held prisoner in a shed, always under guard. Every evening he is brought into the house, where he eats and stays at the fireside. He and his guards have conversations about history and politics.

The four IRA prisoners are executed on April 28, 1921. On April 30, O’Leary informs Compton-Smith that he is going to be executed. He then writes a final letter to his wife. He tells her that he will die with her name on his lips and her face before his eyes and that he will “die like an Englishman and a soldier.” He also writes a letter to his regiment and one to Lt. General Strickland.

After finishing his letters, Compton-Smith is led up into Barrahaurin bog behind the Moynihan house, to a place where his grave had already been dug, and is given a final cigarette. In his witness statement Maurice Brew writes, “When removed to the place of execution he placed his cigarette case in his breast pocket of his tunic … He then lighted a cigarette and said that when he dropped the cigarette it could be taken as a signal by the execution squad to open fire.”

It is not until late May, following the discovery of the cache of letters in a Dublin raid, that the Compton-Smith family is informed of his death. His father, William, then starts a campaign to find his son’s body. He wrote letters to MPs and to the British Army, seeking information and help. He also writes to Erskine Childers but gets no reply. He offers a reward of £500 for information, but only The Irish Times agrees to print his advertisement.

In November 1921 a cousin of Compton-Smith’s wife, Gladys, meets Michael Collins in London and asks him for help in finding the body. Correspondence between Collins and the Compton-Smith family suggests that Collins is trying to help in 1922, but he fails to get any results before he is assassinated at Béal na Bláth later that same year.

On March 3, 1926 Compton-Smith’s grave is discovered by the Gardaí. The newspapers report that the remains, because of the conditions of the bog, “were not so badly decomposed as to render identification impossible.” The body is brought to Collins Barracks in Cork. On March 5 the Gardaí send a telegram to the Compton-Smiths, informing them that the body has been located.

The reburial of Compton-Smith is carried out with great dignity on March 19, 1926. The Irish Army escorts the coffin from Collins Barracks to Penrose Quay, where British forces from Spike Island take the coffin on board a boat. While the boat travels down the River Lee, the Irish Army’s guard of honour presents arms and sounds the “Last Post.” The British then bring the coffin to Carlisle Fort, near Whitegate, where it was buried in the in the British Military Cemetery with full military honours.


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Birth of Figurative Painter Francis Bacon

francis-baconFrancis Bacon, Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, emotionally charged and raw imagery, is born in Dublin on October 28, 1909.

Bacon is best known for his depictions of popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends. His abstracted figures are typically isolated in geometrical cage like spaces, set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. Bacon says that he sees images “in series,” and his work typically focuses on a single subject for sustained periods, often in triptych or diptych formats. His output can be broadly described as sequences or variations on a single motif, beginning with the 1930s Pablo Picasso-informed Furies, moving on to the 1940s male heads isolated in rooms or geometric structures, the 1950s screaming popes, and the mid-to-late 1950s animals and lone figures, the 1960s portraits of friends, the nihilistic 1970s self-portraits, and the cooler more technical 1980s late works.

Bacon takes up painting in his late 30s, having drifted as an interior decorator, bon vivant and gambler. He says that his artistic career was delayed because he spent too long looking for subject matter that could sustain his interest. His breakthrough comes with the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which seals his reputation as a uniquely bleak chronicler of the human condition. From the mid-1960s he mainly produces portraits of friends and drinking companions, either as single or triptych panels. Following the 1971 suicide of his lover, George Dyer, his art becomes more sombre, inward-looking and preoccupied with the passage of time and death. The climax of this later period is marked by masterpieces, including Study for Self-Portrait (1982) and Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych, 1985–86.

Despite his bleak existentialist outlook, solidified in the public mind through his articulate and vivid series of interviews with David Sylvester, Bacon in person is highly engaging and charismatic, articulate, well-read and unapologetically gay. He is a prolific artist, but nonetheless spends many of the evenings of his middle age eating, drinking and gambling in London‘s Soho with like-minded friends such as Lucian Freud, John Deakin, Muriel Belcher, Henrietta Moraes, Daniel Farson, Tom Baker, and Jeffrey Bernard.

After Dyer’s suicide he largely distances himself from this circle, and while his social life is still active and his passion for gambling and drinking continues, he settles into a platonic and somewhat fatherly relationship with his eventual heir, John Edwards. The art critic Robert Hughes describes him as “the most implacable, lyric artist in late 20th-century England, perhaps in all the world” and along with Willem de Kooning as “the most important painter of the disquieting human figure in the 50’s of the 20th century.” Bacon is the subject of two Tate retrospectives and a major showing in 1971 at the Grand Palais.

While on holiday in Madrid in 1992, Francis Bacon is admitted to the Handmaids of Maria, a private clinic, where he is cared for by Sister Mercedes. His chronic asthma, which has plagued him all his life, has developed into a respiratory condition and he is unable to talk or breathe very well. He dies of a heart attack on April 28, 1992, after attempts to resuscitate him fail.

Bacon bequeaths his estate, then valued at £11 million, to John Edwards and Brian Clark, executors. In 1998 the director of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin secures the donation of the contents of Bacon’s chaotic studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington. The contents of his studio are moved and reconstructed in the gallery. Most of his works remain in the Hugh Lane in Dublin today.

Since his death his reputation and market value have grown steadily, and his work is among the most acclaimed, expensive and sought-after. In the late 1990s a number of major works, previously assumed destroyed, including early 1950s popes and 1960s portraits, reemerge to set record prices at auction. In 2013 his Three Studies of Lucian Freud sets the world record as the most expensive piece of art sold at auction.


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Opening of The Museum of Science and Art, Dublin

national-museum-of-irelandThe Museum of Science and Art, Dublin on Kildare Street opens on August 29, 1890. The museum is founded on August 14, 1877 by act of Parliament. The decision to establish a state-run museum arises from requests by the Royal Dublin Society for continued government funding for its expanding museum activities.

A number of developments lead to the Science and Art Museums Act of 1877, which has the effect of transferring the buildings and collections of the Royal Dublin Society to state ownership. The collections are further enhanced by the transfer of other notable collections from institutions such as the Royal Irish Academy and Trinity College Dublin.

The Museum is the responsibility of the Department of Science and Art, which is also responsible for the South Kensington museums in London. State support for the institution is manifested in the construction of the new building on Kildare Street. It is built in the Victorian Palladian style and has been compared with the Altes Museum in Berlin, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the 1820s. Neoclassical influences can be seen in the colonnaded entrance and the domed rotunda, which rises to a height of 20 metres, and is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome.

The new museum houses coins, medals and significant Irish antiquities from the Royal Irish Academy including the Tara Brooch and Ardagh Chalice, ethnographical collections with material from Captain James Cooke‘s voyages from Trinity College Dublin, and the collections of the Geological Survey of Ireland.

These are joined by material from the decorative arts and ethnographical collections of the Royal Dublin Society along with their Irish collections of antiquities, minerals and plants. The old Royal Dublin Society museum on the Merrion Street side of Leinster House, erected with government assistance and opened in 1856, is devoted to natural history. It is dominated by zoology throughout much of its subsequent history and has an annex devoted to geology.

The building on Kildare Street is designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and is used to show contemporary Irish, British and Continental craftsmanship in its construction. State involvement in the running of the Museum allows for steady funding and a connection with other state museums in London and Edinburgh which is of considerable benefit. The collections grow with material acquired through purchase, public donation and shares of significant collections acquired by the state and dispersed by the London museums.

Catalogues are prepared by leading experts in various disciplines and printed in the Museum’s own press. In 1900 control passes to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction and in 1908 its name is changed from “The Dublin Museum of Science and Art” to the “National Museum of Science and Art.” The name of the institution is changed again in 1921 to the “National Museum of Ireland.”


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Death of Figurative Painter Francis Bacon

francis-baconFrancis Bacon, Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, emotionally charged and raw imagery, dies of a heart attack while on holiday in Madrid, Spain on April 28, 1992.

Bacon is born in Dublin on October 28, 1909. He is best known for his depictions of popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends. His abstracted figures are typically isolated in geometrical cage like spaces, set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. Bacon says that he sees images “in series,” and his work typically focuses on a single subject for sustained periods, often in triptych or diptych formats. His output can be broadly described as sequences or variations on a single motif, beginning with the 1930s Pablo Picasso-informed Furies, moving on to the 1940s male heads isolated in rooms or geometric structures, the 1950s screaming popes, and the mid-to-late 1950s animals and lone figures, the 1960s portraits of friends, the nihilistic 1970s self-portraits, and the cooler more technical 1980s late works.

Bacon takes up painting in his late 30s, having drifted as an interior decorator, bon vivant and gambler. He says that his artistic career was delayed because he spent too long looking for subject matter that could sustain his interest. His breakthrough comes with the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which seals his reputation as a uniquely bleak chronicler of the human condition. From the mid-1960s he mainly produces portraits of friends and drinking companions, either as single or triptych panels. Following the 1971 suicide of his lover, George Dyer, his art becomes more sombre, inward-looking and preoccupied with the passage of time and death. The climax of this later period is marked by masterpieces, including Study for Self-Portrait (1982) and Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych, 1985–86.

Despite his bleak existentialist outlook, solidified in the public mind through his articulate and vivid series of interviews with David Sylvester, Bacon in person is highly engaging and charismatic, articulate, well-read and unapologetically gay. He is a prolific artist, but nonetheless spends many of the evenings of his middle age eating, drinking and gambling in London‘s Soho with like-minded friends such as Lucian Freud, John Deakin, Muriel Belcher, Henrietta Moraes, Daniel Farson, Tom Baker, and Jeffrey Bernard.

After Dyer’s suicide he largely distances himself from this circle, and while his social life is still active and his passion for gambling and drinking continues, he settles into a platonic and somewhat fatherly relationship with his eventual heir, John Edwards. The art critic Robert Hughes describes him as “the most implacable, lyric artist in late 20th-century England, perhaps in all the world” and along with Willem de Kooning as “the most important painter of the disquieting human figure in the 50’s of the 20th century.” Bacon is the subject of two Tate retrospectives and a major showing in 1971 at the Grand Palais.

While on holiday in Madrid in 1992, Francis Bacon is admitted to the Handmaids of Maria, a private clinic, where he is cared for by Sister Mercedes. His chronic asthma, which has plagued him all his life, has developed into a respiratory condition and he is unable to talk or breathe very well. He dies of a heart attack on April 28, 1992, after attempts to resuscitate him fail.

Bacon bequeaths his estate, then valued at £11 million, to John Edwards and Brian Clark, executors. In 1998 the director of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin secures the donation of the contents of Bacon’s chaotic studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington. The contents of his studio are moved and reconstructed in the gallery. Most of his works remain in the Hugh Lane in Dublin today.

Since his death his reputation and market value have grown steadily, and his work is among the most acclaimed, expensive and sought-after. In the late 1990s a number of major works, previously assumed destroyed, including early 1950s popes and 1960s portraits, reemerge to set record prices at auction. In 2013 his Three Studies of Lucian Freud sets the world record as the most expensive piece of art sold at auction.