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


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The Navigation Act 1651

The Navigation Act 1651 is passed on October 9, 1651, by the Rump Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. It authorises the Commonwealth of England to regulate trade within the colonies. It reinforces a long-standing principle of government policy that English trade should be carried in English vessels. The Act is a reaction to the failure of the English diplomatic mission led by Oliver St. John and Walter Strickland to The Hague seeking a political union of the Commonwealth with the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, after the States of Holland had made some cautious overtures to Cromwell to counter the monarchical aspirations of stadtholder William II, Prince of Orange.

The stadtholder dies suddenly, however, and the States are now embarrassed by Cromwell taking the idea too seriously. The English propose the joint conquest of all remaining Spanish and Portuguese possessions. England would take America and the Dutch would take Africa and Asia. But the Dutch have just ended their war with Spain and already taken over most Portuguese colonies in Asia, so they see little advantage in this grandiose scheme and propose a free trade agreement as an alternative to a full political union. This again is unacceptable to the British, who would be unable to compete on such a level playing field, and is seen by them as a deliberate affront.

The Act bans foreign ships from transporting goods from outside Europe to England or its colonies, and bans third-party countries’ ships from transporting goods from a country elsewhere in Europe to England. These rules specifically target the Dutch, who control much of Europe’s international trade and even much of England’s coastal shipping. It excludes the Dutch from essentially all trade with England, as the Dutch economy is competitive with, not complementary to the English, and the two countries therefore exchange few commodities. This Anglo-Dutch trade, however, constitutes only a small fraction of total Dutch trade flows.

The Act is often mentioned as a major cause of the First Anglo-Dutch War, though it is only part of a larger British policy to engage in war after the negotiations have failed. The English naval victories in 1653 (the Battle of Portland, the Battle of the Gabbard and the Battle of Scheveningen) show the supremacy of the Commonwealth navy in home waters. However, farther afield the Dutch predominate and are able to close down English commerce in the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Both countries hold each other in a stifling embrace.

The Treaty of Westminster (1654) ends the impasse. The Dutch fail to have the Act repealed or amended, but it seems to have had relatively little influence on their trade. The Act offers England only limited solace. It cannot limit the deterioration of England’s overseas trading position, except in the cases where England herself is the principal consumer, such as the Canary Islands wine trade and the trade in Puglian olive oil. In the trade with the West Indies, the Dutch keep up a flourishing “smuggling” trade, thanks to the preference of English planters for Dutch import goods and the better deal the Dutch offer in the sugar trade. The Dutch colony of New Netherland offers a loophole through intercolonial trade wide enough to drive a shipload of Virginia tobacco through.

The 1651 Act, like other laws of the Commonwealth period, is declared void on the Restoration of Charles II of England, having been passed by “usurping powers.” Parliament therefore passes new legislation. This is generally referred to as the “Navigation Acts,” and, with some amendments, remains in force for nearly two centuries.

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Birth of Ronnie Drew, Singer & Folk Musician

Joseph Ronald “Ronnie” Drew, singer, folk musician and actor who achieves international fame during a fifty-year career recording with The Dubliners, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, on September 16, 1934. He is most recognised for his lead vocals on the single “Seven Drunken Nights” and “The Irish Rover” both charting in the U.K. top 10. He is recognisable for his long beard and his voice, which is once described by Nathan Joseph as being “like the sound of coal being crushed under a door.”

Drew is educated at CBS Eblana. Despite his aversion to education, he is considered the most intelligent in his class by schoolfriend and future Irish film censor, Sheamus Smith. Drew also sings as a boy soprano before his voice breaks.

In the 1950s, Drew moves to Spain to teach English and learn Spanish and flamenco guitar. His interest in folk music begins at the age of nineteen. When he returns to Ireland, he performs in the Gate Theatre with John Molloy and soon goes into the music business full-time, after holding a number of short-term jobs.

In 1962, he founds the Ronnie Drew Group with Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna and Ciarán Bourke. They soon change their name to The Dubliners, with John Sheahan joining shortly afterwards to form the definitive line-up, and quickly become one of the best known Irish folk groups. They play at first in O’Donoghue’s Pub in Merrion Row, Dublin where they are often accompanied by Mary Jordan on the spoons and vocalist Ann Mulqueen, a friend of McKenna’s. Mary Jordan’s mother, Peggy Jordan, introduces them to the Abbey Tavern in Howth, which becomes a regular Monday night venue for the emerging group. They also play across the road in the Royal Hotel, at all-night parties in Peggy’s large house in Kenilworth Square in Rathgar, and in John Molloy’s flat at Ely Place.

Drew leaves the Dubliners in 1974, goes to Norway in 1978 and records two songs with the Norwegian group Bergeners. He rejoins The Dubliners in 1979 and leaves for good in 1995, though he does reunite with the group in 2002 for a 40th anniversary celebration. He makes several television appearances with the group between 2002 and 2005.

From 1995 onwards, Drew pursues a solo career. He records with many artists, including Christy Moore, The Pogues, Antonio Breschi, Dropkick Murphys, Eleanor Shanley and others. He does a number of “one-man shows” consisting of stories about people such as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Seán O’Casey, as well as Drew singing their songs.

He fronts a campaign to encourage the use of Dublin’s light-rail infrastructure and, before that, the “My Dublin” ads for radio stations 98FM and FM104. He narrates a retelling of the great Irish Myths and Legends over a six CD set in 2006. He also narrates the stories of Oscar Wilde in his distinctive voice for a series released on CD by the News of the World newspaper. Both were re-released as CD box sets in 2010.

On August 22, 2006, Drew is honoured in a ceremony where his hand prints are added to the “Walk of Fame” outside Dublin‘s Gaiety Theatre.

In September 2006, Drew is reported to be in ill-health after being admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, to undergo tests for suspected throat cancer. On October 25, 2007, Drew, now bald and beardless, appears on Ryan Confidential on RTÉ 1 to give an interview about his role in The Dubliners, his life since leaving the band and being diagnosed with throat cancer. Later in 2007, he appears on The Late Late Show, where he speaks about the death of his wife and his ongoing treatment for cancer.

Ronnie Drew dies in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, on August 16, 2008, following his long illness. He is buried three days later in Redford Cemetery in Greystones.


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Death of Novelist & Playwright Kate O’Brien

Kathleen Mary Louise “Kate” O’Brien, novelist and playwright, dies in Canterbury, England, on August 13, 1974.

O’Brien is born in Limerick, County Limerick on December 3, 1897. Following the death of her mother when she is five years old, she becomes a boarder at Laurel Hill Convent. She graduates in English and French from the newly established University College Dublin, and she then moves to London, where she works as a teacher for a year.

In 1922–1923, O’Brien works as a governess in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, where she begins to write fiction. Upon her return to England, she works at the Manchester Guardian. After the success of her play Distinguished Villa in 1926, she takes to full-time writing and is awarded both the 1931 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Hawthornden Prize for her debut novel Without My Cloak. O’Brien is best known for her 1934 novel The Ante-Room, her 1941 novel The Land of Spices, and the 1946 novel That Lady.

Many of O’Brien’s books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that are new and radical at the time. Her 1936 novel, Mary Lavelle, is banned in Ireland and Spain, while The Land of Spices is banned in Ireland upon publication. In addition to novels, she writes plays, film scripts, short stories, essays, copious journalism, two biographical studies, and two very personal travelogues. Throughout her life, she feels a particular affinity with Spain. While her experiences in the Basque Country inspire Mary Lavelle, she also writes a life of the Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila, and she uses the relationship between the Spanish king Philip II and Maria de Mendoza to write the anti-fascist novel That Lady.

O’Brien writes a political travelogue, Farewell Spain, to gather support for the leftist cause in the Spanish Civil War, and it has been argued that she is close to anarchism in the 1930s. A feminist, her novels promote gender equality and are mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence. Several of her books include positive gay/lesbian characters. Her determination to encourage a greater understanding of sexual diversity makes her a pioneer in queer literary representation. She is very critical of conservatism in Ireland, and by spearheading a challenge to the Irish Censorship Act, she helps bring to an end the cultural restrictions of the 1930s and 40s in the country.

Kate O’Brien lives much of her life in England and died in Faversham, near Canterbury, on August 13, 1974.


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Richard Pigott Exposed as Forger of Phoenix Park Letters

richard-pigottRichard Pigott, an Irish journalist, is exposed as the forger of The Times Phoenix Park letters on February 10, 1889.

Pigott is born in 1835 in Ratoath, County Meath. As a young man he supports Irish nationalism and works for The Nation and The Tablet before acting as manager of The Irishman, a newspaper founded by Denis Holland. James O’Connor later claims Pigott embezzled funds from the paper and covered his tracks by not keeping written records. Pigott also works for the Irish National Land League, departing in 1883 after accusing its treasurer, Mr. Fagan, of being unable to account for £100,000 of its funds, and for keeping inadequate records. Nothing is done about his accusation, which is publicised in the newspapers, and he turns against the League, which is allied to several Irish nationalist groups including the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Charles Stewart Parnell.

In 1879 Pigott is proprietor of three newspapers, which he soon sells to the Irish Land League, of which Charles Stewart Parnell is president. Hitherto a violent Nationalist, from 1884 Pigott begins to vilify his former associates and to sell information to their political opponents. In an effort to destroy Parnell’s career, Pigott produces fake letters, which purports that Parnell had supported one of the Phoenix Park murders.

The Times purchases Pigott’s forgeries for £1,780 and publishes the most damning letter on April 18, 1887. Parnell immediately denounces it as “a villainous and barefaced forgery.” In February 1889, the Parnell Commission vindicates him by proving that the letters are forgeries. They include misspellings which Pigott has written elsewhere. A libel action instituted by Parnell also vindicates him and his parliamentary career survives the Pigott accusations.

The Commission eventually produces 37 volumes in evidence, covering not just the forgeries but also the surrounding violence that follows from the Plan of Campaign.

After admitting his forgeries to Henry Labouchère, Pigott flees to Spain, and shoots himself in a Madrid hotel room. Parnell then sues The Times for libel, and the newspaper pays him £5,000 in an out-of-court settlement, as well as considerably more in legal fees. When Parnell next enters the House of Commons, he receives a hero’s reception from his fellow Members of Parliament.

(Pictured: Pigott as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, March 1889)


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Birth of Kate O’Brien, Novelist and Playwright

kate-obrienKathleen Mary Louise “Kate” O’Brien, novelist and playwright, is born in Limerick City on December 3, 1897. She becomes best known for her 1934 novel The Ante-Room, her 1941 novel The Land of Spices, and the 1946 novel That Lady.

Following the death of her mother when she is five, O’Brien becomes a boarder at Laurel Hill Convent. She graduates in English and French from the newly established University College Dublin, and then moves to London, where she works as a teacher for a year.

In 1922–23, she works as a governess in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, where she begins to write fiction. Upon her return to England, O’Brien works at the Manchester Guardian. After the success of her play Distinguished Villa in 1926, she takes to full-time writing and is awarded both the 1931 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Hawthornden Prize for her debut novel Without My Cloak.

Many of her books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that are new and radical at the time. Her 1936 novel, Mary Lavelle, is banned in Ireland and Spain, while The Land of Spices is banned in Ireland upon publication. In addition to novels, she writes plays, film scripts, short stories, essays, copious journalism, two biographical studies, and two very personal travelogues.

Throughout her life, O’Brien feels a particular affinity with Spain. While her experiences in the Basque Country inspire Mary Lavelle, she also writes a life of the Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila, and she uses the relationship between the Spanish king Philip II and Maria de Mendoza to write the anti-fascist novel That Lady.

O’Brien writes a political travelogue, Farewell Spain, to gather support for the leftist cause in the Spanish Civil War, and it is believed that she is close to anarchism in the 1930s. A feminist, her novels promote gender equality and are mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence. With several of her books including positive gay/lesbian characters, O’Brien’s determination to encourage a greater understanding of sexual diversity makes her a pioneer in gay literary representation. She is very critical of conservatism in Ireland, and by spearheading a challenge to the Irish Censorship Act, she helps bring to an end the cultural restrictions of the 1930s and 1940s in the country. She lives much of her life in England and died in Faversham, near Canterbury, on August 13, 1974.

The Glucksman Library at the University of Limerick holds an important collection of O’Brien’s writings. The Limerick Literary Festival in honour of Kate O’Brien, formerly the Kate O’Brien Weekend, takes place in Limerick every year, attracting academic and non-academic audiences.


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The Battle of Moira

battle-of-moiraThe Battle of Moira, known archaically as the Battle of Magh Rath, is fought on June 24, 637, near the Woods of Killultagh, just outside the village of Moira in what becomes County Down. The battle pits the Gaelic High King of Ireland Domnall II against his foster son King Congal of Ulster, supported by his ally Domnall the Freckled (Domnall Brecc) of Dál Riata.

The battle is allegedly the largest battle ever fought on the island of Ireland, and results in the death of Congal and the retreat of Domnall Brecc. The battle is caused as a result of the invading Gaels spreading out from Galway Bay. The Gaels have fled France and Spain to escape the Roman invasion of those areas. The Gaels are later to be known as Irish but are not native to the island. The native people of Ulster have been pushed into an area the size of two counties in what is now Antrim and Down.

Congal first establishes his power base in Dál nAraidi, where he becomes King before being recognised as King of Ulster in 627. His ambitions soon come into conflict with Domnall II, who becomes High King of Ireland in 628. Ironically, Domnall II rises to such a position because Congal has defeated and killed the previous High King, Suibne Menn, in a previous battle.

Domnall continues to press the rivalry with Congal very quickly. In 629 the two kings engage each other at the Battle of Dún Ceithirn in what is now County Londonderry. On that occasion Congal is defeated and Domnall is left unchallenged as the High King.

Throughout the 630s, Domnall continues to wage war on his rivals in the Uí Néill clan. In 637, however, Congal once again rises to challenge the Ard Rí, and enlists the help of Dál Riata to do so. The two forces meet just east of Lough Neagh.

Little is known about the actual battle itself. The armies of both Domnall II and Congal are primarily made up of warriors native to Ireland. However, Domnall I of Dál Riata brings a more varied force to the fight. His army included Scots, Picts, Anglo-Saxons, and Britons (Welshmen). At least one side has a substantial cavalry force.

There is reason to believe that the battle might have lasted a week, at the end of which the defeated force flees towards the woods of Killultagh. The forces of Ulster and Dál Riata are defeated, with Domnall of Dál Riata forced to flee north to his kingdom’s holdings. Congall is killed in the course of the battle.

The scale of the battle is confirmed in the 19th century when the railway line in Moira is being constructed. Thousands of bodies of men and horses are excavated. When one considers that the survivors probably numbered quite considerably more, then the reputation of the scale of the battle becomes obvious.