seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Death of Theobald Wolfe Tone

theobald-wolfe-toneTheobald Wolfe Tone, Irish republican and rebel who sought to overthrow English rule in Ireland and who led a French military force to Ireland during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, dies at Provost’s Prison, Dublin on November 19, 1798 from a stab wound to his neck which he inflicted upon himself on November 12. His attempted suicide is the result of being refused a soldier’s execution by firing squad and being sentenced to death by hanging.

Wolfe Tone is born in Dublin on June 20, 1763. The son of a coach maker, he studies law and is called to the Irish bar in 1789 but soon gives up his practice. In October 1791 he helps found the Society of United Irishmen, initially a predominantly Protestant organization that works for parliamentary reforms, such as universal suffrage and Roman Catholic emancipation. In Dublin in 1792 he organizes a Roman Catholic convention of elected delegates that forces Parliament to pass the Catholic Relief Act of 1793. He himself, however, is anticlerical and hopes for a general revolt against religious creeds in Ireland as a sequel to the attainment of Irish political freedom.

By 1794 Wolfe Tone and his United Irishmen friends begin to seek armed aid from Revolutionary France to help overthrow English rule. After an initial effort fails, he goes to the United States and obtains letters of introduction from the French minister at Philadelphia to the Committee of Public Safety in Paris. In February 1796 he arrives in the French capital, presents his plan for a French invasion of Ireland, and is favourably received. The Directory then appoints one of the most brilliant young French generals, Lazare Hoche, to command the expedition and makes Tone an adjutant in the French army.

On December 16, 1796, Wolfe Tone sails from Brest with 43 ships and nearly 14,000 men. But the ships are badly handled and, after reaching the coast of west Cork and Kerry, are dispersed by a storm. He again brings an Irish invasion plan to Paris in October 1797, but the principal French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, takes little interest. When insurrection breaks out in Ireland in May 1798, Wolfe Tone can only obtain enough French forces to make small raids on different parts of the Irish coast. In September he enters Lough Swilly, Donegal, with 3,000 men and is captured there.

At his trial in Dublin on November 10, Wolfe Tone defiantly proclaims his undying hostility to England and his desire “in fair and open war to produce the separation of the two countries.” He is found guilty and is sentenced to be hanged. Early in the morning of November 12, 1798, the day he is to be hanged, he cuts his throat with a penknife and dies at the age of 35 in Provost’s Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born. He is buried in Bodenstown, County Kildare, near his birthplace, and his grave is in the care of the National Graves Association.

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Birth of Novelist Edith Anna Œnone Somerville

Edith Anna Œnone Somerville, Irish novelist who habitually signs herself as “E. Œ. Somerville,” is born on May 2, 1858 on the island of Corfu, then part of the United States of the Ionian Islands, a British protectorate where her father is stationed. She writes in collaboration with her cousin “Martin Ross” (Violet Martin) under the pseudonym “Somerville and Ross.” Together they publish a series of fourteen stories and novels, the most popular of which are The Real Charlotte, and The Experiences of an Irish R. M., published in 1899.

A year after her birth, her father retires to Drishane, Castletownshend, County Cork, where Somerville grows up. She receives her primary education at home, and then attends Alexandra College in Dublin. In 1884 she studies art in Paris, and then spends a term at the Westminster School of Art in Dean’s Yard, Westminster. At home, riding and painting are her absorbing interests.

In January 1886 she meets her cousin Violet Martin, and their literary partnership begins the following year. Their first book, An Irish Cousin, appears in 1889, under the names Geilles Herring (from the maiden name of her ancestor, the wife of Sir Walter de Somerville of Linton and Carnwath) and Martin Ross, though the pen names are dropped after the first edition. In 1898 Somerville goes to paint at the Etaples art colony, accompanied by Violet. There they profit from their stay by conceiving together the stories later gathered in Some Experiences of an Irish R. M., completed the following year. By the time Violet dies in 1915, they have published fourteen books together. Her cousin’s death stuns Somerville, who continues to write as “Somerville and Ross,” claiming that they keep in contact through spiritualist séances.

Somerville is a devoted sportswoman who in 1903 becomes master of the Carbery West Foxhounds. She is also active in the suffrage movement, corresponding with Dame Ethel Smyth. She is in London still recovering from the shock of Violet’s death when the Easter Rising of 1916 breaks out. On May 9, 1916 she writes a letter to The Times, blaming the British government for the state of affairs in Ireland. After that she tends towards Nationalism, and as an adept musician at parties, she specializes in Irish tunes and Nationalist songs.

She has exhibitions of her pictures in Dublin and in London between 1920 and 1938 and is active as an illustrator of children’s picture books and sporting picture books.

In 1936 her brother, Henry Boyle Townsend Somerville, a retired Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, is killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the family home of Castletownshend. She finishes his book “Will Mariner” after his death.

Edith Somerville dies at Castletownshend on October 8, 1949, at the age of 91. She is buried alongside Violet Florence Martin at Saint Barrahane’s Church, Castletownsend, County Cork.