seamus dubhghaill

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


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The First Dungannon Convention

bank-of-ireland-college-greenThe first Dungannon Convention of the Ulster Volunteers on February 15, 1782 calls for an independent Irish parliament. This is the parliament that Henry Grattan also campaigns for and later becomes known as “Grattan’s parliament.”

The Irish Volunteers are a part-time military force whose original purpose is to guard against invasion and to preserve law and order when regular troops are being sent to America during the American Revolutionary War. Members are mainly drawn from the Protestant urban and rural middle classes and the movement soon begins to take on a political importance.

The first corps of Volunteers is formed in Belfast and the movement spreads rapidly across Ireland. By 1782 there are 40,000 enlisted in the Volunteers, half of them in Ulster. Strongly influenced by American ideas, though loyal to the Crown, the Volunteers demand greater legislative freedom for the Dublin Parliament.

The Dungannon Convention is a key moment in the eventual granting of legislative independence to Ireland.

At the time, all proposed Irish legislation has to be submitted to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom for its approval under the great seal of England before being passed by the Parliament of Ireland. English Acts emphasise the complete dependence of the Irish parliament on its English counterpart and English Houses claim and exercise the power to legislate directly for Ireland, even without the agreement of the parliament in Dublin.

The Ulster Volunteers, who assemble in Dungannon, County Tyrone, demand change. Prior to this, the Volunteers received the thanks of the Irish parliament for their stance but in the House of Commons, the British had ‘won over’ a majority of that assembly, which led to a resistance of further concessions. Thus, the 315 volunteers in Ulster at the Dungannon convention promised “to root out corruption and court influence from the legislative body,” and “to deliberate on the present alarming situation of public affairs.”

The Convention is held in a church and is conducted in a very civil manner. The Volunteers agree, almost unanimously, to resolutions declaring the right of Ireland to legislative and judicial independence, as well as free trade. A week later, Grattan, in a great speech, moves an address of the Commons to His Majesty, asserting the same principles but his motion is defeated. So too is another motion by Henry Flood, declaring the legislative independence of the Irish Parliament.

However the British soon realise they can resist the agitation no longer. It is through ranks of Volunteers drawn up outside the parliament house in Dublin that Grattan passes on April 16, 1782, amidst unparalleled popular enthusiasm, to move a declaration of the independence of the Irish parliament. After a month of negotiations, legislative independence is granted to Ireland.

(Pictured: The original Irish Parliament Building which now houses the Bank of Ireland, College Green, opposite the main entrance to Trinity College, Dublin)

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The Clones Ambush

clones-train-station-11-22-1960On February 11, 1922, Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers stop a group of Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) constables on a train at Clones, County Monaghan, a short distance into Southern territory in an event recorded in history as the “Clones Ambush.” A gunfight begins in which one IRA officer and four USC constables are killed. The remaining USC constables are captured.

On January 22, the Ulster Gaelic Football Final is played in Derry. The previous evening six cars leave Monaghan to bring the Monaghan players to Derry, many of the members of the team being members of the IRA. They are stopped by a B Specials (Ulster Special Constabulary) check point at Dromore station. After a search the Specials discover weapons in the cars and arrest ten of the men. The IRA men are led by Dan Hogan O/C of the Fifth Northern Division. The men are taken to Omagh and interned.

The IRA waits impatiently for a chance at reprisal and on February 11, a group of Irish Republican Army volunteers attempt to ambush a party of Ulster Special Constabulary policemen travelling on a train through Clones. The volunteers enter a carriage of a train and order the Specials to put their hands up. IRA Commandant Matthew Fitzpatrick is shot and killed in the ensuing fight and five members of the Specials, Doherty, McMahon, McCullough, Lewis and McFarland are shot and killed. Several members of the Specials run down the track and cross the border into Fermanagh. The few remaining B Specials on the train decide to surrender and are arrested.

The IRA lifts the body of the Commandant Fitzpatrick and it is attended to by Monsignor E.C. Ward who gives him his Last Rites.

The Clones railway station is on the Dundalk and Enniskillen Railway. The Dundalk and Enniskillen Railway opens the station on June 26, 1858. The station closes on October 1, 1957.

(Photo: Clones Train Station, Co Monaghan, caught in mid-demolition by photographer James O’Dea on November 22, 1960)


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Birth of Historian George Benn

george-bennGeorge Benn, Irish historian of Belfast, is born in Tanderagee, County Armagh on January 1, 1801.

Benn’s grandfather, Jonn Benn, came from Cumberland about 1760 as engineer of the Newry Canal. His father, also John Benn (1767-1853), was proprietor of a brewery in Belfast. He is educated at the Belfast Academy, under Rev. Dr. Bruce and afterwards under Sheridan Knowles, then a teacher of English at Belfast. He enters the collegiate classes of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1816, being one of the original alumni, and takes gold medals in logic (1817) and moral philosophy (1818).

In 1819 the faculty prize is offered for the “best account of a parish.” Benn is the successful essayist, with the parish of Belfast as his theme. He also gains in 1821 the faculty prize (The Crusades), and Dr. Tennant’s gold medal (Sketch of Irish Authors in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries). His essay of 1819 attracts the attention of James M’Knight, LL.D., then editor of the Belfast News-Letter who offers to print and publish it. It is issued anonymously in an enlarged form in 1823, with three maps and sixteen engravings by J. Thomson. For so young a writer it is a work of uncommon judgment and research, exceedingly well written, with an eye for scenery and a taste for economics as well as for antiquities. It is not superseded by Benn’s later labours.

Benn, with his brother Edward (1798- 1874), engages in distilling near Downpatrick. Subsequently the brothers spend the prime of their days on an estate they purchase at Glenravel, near Ballymena. Here, in an unimproved district, they plant the hillsides, plough the moors, build good houses, and collect a valuable library. They endeavour to create a new industry by an experiment in the manufacture of potato spirit, but excise regulations in place at the time frustrate their object. The cost of the experiment, and the losses from potato disease, induce the brothers to undertake a business in Liverpool for some years. Returning to Glenravel, a casual circumstance leads to a rich discovery of iron ore in the Glenravel hills. The first specimen is smelted in 1851 under Edward Benn’s direction. In 1866 an agreement is made with James Fisher, of Barrow-in-Furness, to work the mineral beds. Hence comes a new and valuable addition to the commercial products of Ulster, which has since attained important proportions.

Meanwhile, Edward Benn is contributing antiquarian articles to various journals and forming a fine archaeological collection, now in the Ulster Museum. It his proposed to George to resume and complete the history of Belfast. He modestly indicates, as more fit for the task, William Pinkerton, who collects some materials, but dies in 1871 without having begun the history. Pinkerton’s papers are submitted to Benn for publication, but he finds employment of them impracticable, and states in his preface to his history, “It is all my own work from beginning to end.”

Benn returns to Belfast after his brother’s death in 1874, publishing A History of the Town of Belfast in 1877. A second volume appears in 1880. This supplementary volume, though the proof-sheets are “corrected by a kind friend,” the late John Carlisle, head of the English department in the Royal Academical Institution, bears evidence of the author’s affecting statement: “Before I had proceeded very far, my sight entirely failed.” Benn dies on January 8, 1882.

Edward and George Benn are members of the nonsubscribing presbyterian body, but wide in their sympathies and broad in their charities beyond the limits of their sect. Edward is the founder, and George the benefactor, of three hospitals in Belfast and their gifts to educational institutions are munificent.


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Birth of Playwright St. John Greer Ervine

st-john-greer-ervineSt. John Greer Ervine, unionist playwright, author, critic, and manager of the Abbey Theatre from 1915 to 1916, is born in Ballymacarrett, Belfast on December 28, 1883. He is considered to be the founding father of modern Northern Irish drama.

Although accepted to study at Trinity College, Dublin, circumstances force Ervine to leave school at the age of 15 to begin working in an insurance office.

Two years later, Ervine immigrates to London, where he discovers a love for the theatre. He begins his writing career with Mixed Marriage (1911), an Ulster tragedy, and produces three plays between 1911 and 1915. In 1915, after a meeting with William Butler Yeats in London, he becomes the director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It is however, not a happy appointment as his personality and politics clash with the management of the theatre.

Ervine then joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and fights in Flanders, losing a leg in the conflict. Returning home, he feels increasingly alienated by nationalism and more attracted to the unionism of his family background. He becomes a vehement detractor of the south, describing Ireland in a letter to George Bernard Shaw as brimming with “bleating Celtic Twilighters, sex-starved Daughters of the Gael, gangsters and gombeen men.”

Ervine is a distinctively Ulster orientated writer, focusing on a naturalistic portrayal of rural and urban life. His most famous and popular work amongst his Northern Irish audience is Boyd’s Shop (1936), which becomes one of the Ulster Group Theatre’s stalwart productions. The play is a classic of the homely yet sincere Ulster genre and centres around the struggles of the folk that Ervine grew up with in his grandmother’s shop on the Albertbridge Road. Ervine creates in Boyd’s Shop a template for Ulster theatre that is to dominate until the advent of Samuel Thompson‘s Over the Bridge.

Ervine’s reactionary unionism and anti-southern hatred becomes more pronounced as he ages and eclipses his more subtle characteristics and abilities as a writer. Although many of his novels and plays are at times clouded by his prejudices, they are also very often capable of tremendous feeling and humanity showing he is a writer of note.

St. John Greer Ervine dies at the age of 87 in London on January 24, 1971.


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Birth of Poet John Harold Hewitt

john-harold-hewittPoet John Harold Hewitt is born in Belfast on October 28, 1907. He is the most significant Belfast poet to emerge prior to the 1960s generation of Northern Irish poets that includes Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley.

After attending Agnes Street National School, Hewitt attends the Royal Belfast Academical Institution from 1919 to 1920 before moving to Methodist College Belfast, where he is a keen cricketer. In 1924, he starts an English degree at Queen’s University Belfast, obtaining a BA in 1930, which he follows by obtaining a teaching qualification from Stranmillis College, Belfast.

From November 1930 to 1957, Hewitt holds positions in the Belfast Museum & Art Gallery. His radical socialist ideals prove unacceptable to the Belfast Unionist establishment and he is passed over for promotion in 1953. Instead in 1957 he moves to Coventry, a city still rebuilding following its devastation during World War II. He is appointed Director of the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum where he works until retirement in 1972.

Hewitt is appointed the first writer-in-residence at Queen’s University Belfast in 1976. His collections includes The Day of the Corncrake (1969) and Out of My Time: Poems 1969 to 1974 (1974). He is also made a Freeman of the City of Belfast in 1983, and is awarded honorary doctorates at the University of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast.

Hewitt has an active political life, describing himself as “a man of the left,” and is involved in the British Labour Party, the Fabian Society and the Belfast Peace League. He is attracted to the Ulster dissenting tradition and is drawn to a concept of regional identity within the island of Ireland, describing his identity as Ulster, Irish, British and European. He officially opens the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre (BURC) Offices on May Day 1985.

John Hewitt dies in Belfast on June 22, 1987. His life and work are celebrated in two prominent ways – the annual John Hewitt International Summer School and, less conventionally, the John Hewitt Bar and Restaurant, a Belfast pub is named after him. The bar is named after him as he officially opens the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, which owns the establishment. It is a popular meeting place for local writers, musicians, journalists, students and artists. Both the Belfast Festival at Queen’s and the Belfast Film Festival use the venue to stage events.


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Sinking of the HMS Wasp

hms-waspHMS Wasp, a composite screw Banterer-class gunboat of the Royal Navy, is wrecked off Tory Island, County Donegal on September 22, 1884 with the loss of 52 lives. There are six survivors.

The Banterer class is designed by Nathaniel Barnaby, the Admiralty Director of Naval Construction. The keel of the HMS Wasp is laid at Barrow Iron Shipbuilding as yard number 71 and she is launched on October 5, 1880. She is commissioned on December 1, 1881 and is rigged with three masts, making her a barquentine-rigged vessel.

On her final voyage, HMS Wasp, under the command of Lieutenant J.D. Nicholls, is sailing from Westport, County Mayo, in the West of Ireland, to Moville in Inishowen, County Donegal, in Ulster, to pick up a party of police, bailiffs and court officials. These are to be transported to Inishtrahull, an island off Malin Head, to carry out evictions for non-payment of rents. Ironically, the ship had delivered urgently needed supplies of seed potatoes to the same islanders the previous year.

In the early morning of September 22, 1884, HMS Wasp is near Tory Island. The weather is cloudy with occasional squalls and rain showers. The commanding officer and most of the crew are in their bunks. The lieutenant navigating the ship is relatively unfamiliar with the area in which the ship is sailing. At 3:55 AM HMS Wasp runs aground on a reef. The initial shock breaks the hull of the ship and she begins to rapidly fill with water. The commander orders the ship’s boats lowered but HMS Wasp hits the reefs again, sinking so quickly that the boats cannot be launched. HMS Wasp sinks within fifteen minutes. Six crewmen manage to cling to one of the gunboat’s spars and they wash ashore on Tory Island and are found by islanders. The other 52 crew aboard drown.

A court martial is held for the survivors. The finding is that the cause of the wreck was a lack of care taken with the vessel’s navigation, but the survivors are all exonerated. The wreck is sold to the Cornish Salvage Co. in November 1910.


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The Battle of Connor

grave-of-king-edward-de-bruceThe Battle of Connor is fought on September 10, 1315, in the townland of Tannybrake just over a mile north of what is now the modern village of Connor, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is part of the Bruce campaign in Ireland.

Edward Bruce lands in Larne, in modern-day County Antrim, on May 26, 1315. In early June, Donall Ó Néill of Tyrone and some twelve fellow northern Kings and lords meet Bruce at Carrickfergus and swear fealty to him as King of Ireland. Bruce holds the town of Carrickfergus but is unable to take Carrickfergus Castle. His army continues to spread south, through the Moyry Pass to take Dundalk.

Outside the town of Dundalk, Bruce encounters an army led by John FitzThomas FitzGerald, 4th Lord of Offaly, his son-in-law Edmund Butler, Earl of Carrick and Maurice FitzGerald, 4th Baron Desmond. The Scottish push them back towards Dundalk and on June 29 lay waste to the town and its inhabitants.

By July 22 Edmund Butler, the Justiciar in Dublin, assembles an army from Munster and Leinster to join Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, to fight Bruce. De Burgh refuses to let the government troops into Ulster, fearing widespread damage to his land. Bruce is able to exploit their dispute and defeat them separately.

Bruce slowly retreats north, drawing de Burgh in pursuit. Bruce and his O’Neill allies sack Coleraine, destroying the bridge over the River Bann to delay pursuit. Edward sends word to Fedlim Ó Conchobair that he will support his position as king in Connacht if he withdraws. He sends the same message to rival claimant Ruaidri mac Cathal Ua Conchobair. Cathal immediately returns home, raises a rebellion and declares himself king. De Burgh’s Connacht allies under Felim then follow as Felim leaves to defend his throne. Bruce’s force then crosses the River Bann in boats and attacks. The Earl of Ulster withdraws to Connor.

The armies meet in Connor on September 10, 1315. The superior force of Bruce and his Irish allies defeat the depleted Ulster forces. The capture of Connor permits Bruce to re-supply his army for the coming winter from the stores the Earl of Ulster had assembled at Connor. Earl’s cousin, William de Burgh, is captured, as well as, other lords and their heirs. Most of his army retreats to Carrickfergus Castle, which the pursuing Scots put under siege. The Earl of Ulster manages to return to Connacht.

The government forces under Butler do not engage Bruce, allowing him to consolidate his hold in Ulster. His occupation of Ulster encourages risings in Meath and Connacht, further weakening de Burgh. Despite this, and another Scottish/Irish victory at the Battle of Skerries, the campaign is to be defeated at the Battle of Faughart.

(Pictured: Grave of King Edward Bruce, Faughart, County Louth)