seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits

The Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits takes place in County Fermanagh on August 7, 1594 when a force of English Army soldiers led by Sir Henry Duke is ambushed and defeated by an Irish force under Hugh Maguire and Cormac MacBaron O’Neill in the region of the fords of the Arney River on the approaches to Enniskillen.

The battle acquires its distinctive name due to the supplies of the Crown forces, largely hard biscuits, which are scattered and left floating in the river. The battle is an early exchange in the Nine Years’ War, and exposes the vulnerability of Crown forces to ambushes in the wilder parts of Ulster with its thick woods and bogs.

The relief force is under the joint command of Sir Henry Duke and Sir Edward Herbert, who have 600 infantrymen and 40 horses. Duke and Herbert believe this to be insufficient, and write to the Lord Deputy that “to go without a thousand men at the least or otherwise we shall dearly repent our going.” No reinforcements are forthcoming therefore the column sets north from Cavan on August 4. Burdened with supplies, the army is expected to take four days to march 29 miles north to Enniskillen. The night before the battle the English camp is pestered by Irish gunfire and incessant skirmishing which causes the English troops to be poorly rested when the set out on August 7 to relieve the beleaguered garrison. As the thin column starts to snake its way north, almost immediately it comes under attack on both flanks as Irish skirmishes hurl javelins, but this is not the main attack.

As the relief expedition approaches Enniskillen from the south, Maguire and Cormac MacBaron lay in wait for them on the Arney River. The Army’s cavalry scouts fail to detect the Irish laying in wait for them. The ground is boggy near the Arney ford, therefore they are forced to dismount. Consequently the infantry escorting the supply wagons for Enniskillen run straight into the ambush. Around eleven o’clock the head of the column approaches the ford. Without warning intense Irish gunfire tears into the lead English elements from concealed positions on the opposite bank. With the advance stalled, Maguire and MacBaron assail the rear of the column with the bulk of their forces. Wings of English shot deploy to skirmish with the Irish, but withering Irish fire pushes them back to their pike stands in the column.

The English rear falls into disorder causing the Irish pike and Scots mercenaries to charge, forcing them to flee pell mell onto the centre of the column. The English collapse continues as the column concertinaed towards the head of the army stalled at the ford. Fortunately the leading English pike has forced the crossing, pushing back the Irish shot, giving the English some room to reorder and regroup north of the river.

The English are engaged by Irish shot from the surrounding hills, but a counter-attack is stillborn when its leader, Captain Fuller, is killed. With most of the supplies abandoned at the river, Duke and Herbert decide their only option is to retreat. However, their retreat to the ford is met with renewed gunfire and the disintegrating army is compelled to cross on another ford an “arrow shot” upstream.

Luckily for Duke and Herbert’s men they are not pursued as most of the Irish have fallen to looting the baggage train which gives the battle its name, Béal-Átha-na-mBriosgadh or The Ford of the Biscuits.

The badly-mauled Crown forces retreat to Cavan. News of the defeats causes some alarm due to the small size of the peacetime Royal Irish Army, which is scattered in garrisons across the island. Although this can be supplemented by forces of loyal Gaelic chiefs, fresh troops need to be raised in England and sent across the Irish Sea to contain the developing northern rebellion. In addition a force of soldiers who have been serving in Brittany is brought to Ireland.

A second relief expedition, this time led by the Lord Deputy of Ireland William Russell, 1st Baron Russell of Thornhaugh, manages to reach Enniskillen and re-supply it. However Enniskillen does fall to the rebels in May of the following year and the garrison is massacred, despite having been promised their lives when they surrendered.

(Photo with permission by Dr.James O’Neill (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)


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Birth of Anglo-Irish Poet Richard Murphy

Richard Murphy, Anglo-Irish poet, is born on August 6, 1927 in County Mayo. He is a member of Aosdána and currently lives in Sri Lanka.

Murphy is born to an Anglo-Irish family at Milford House, near the Mayo-Galway border. His childhood in Ireland is documented in the film The Other Irish Travellers made by his niece, Fiona Murphy.

He spends much of his early childhood in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, where his father, William Lindsay Murphy, serves in the Colonial Service and is active as mayor of Colombo and Governor-General of the Bahamas, in succession to the Duke of Windsor. He first receives his education at Canterbury School and Wellington College, Berkshire. He wins a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, at 17, where he studies English under C.S. Lewis. He is later educated at the Sorbonne and, between 1953 and 1954, he runs a school in Crete. In his Archaeology of Love (1955), Murphy reflects on his experiences in England and the Continent.

In 1954, Murphy settles at Cleggan, a village on the coast of Galway where fishing has been abandoned after a famous sailing disaster. Several years later, in 1959, he purchases and renovates the Ave Maria, a traditional Galway hooker type boat, from Inishbofin fisherman, Michael Schofield, which he uses to ferry visitors to the island. Taking the first-hand accounts of survivors of the sailing disaster, he weaves the material into a long tour de force poem which closes his first collection Sailing to an Island, published in the early 1960s by Faber & Faber. In 1969, he purchases Ardoileán (High Island), a small island in the vicinity of Inishbofin.

Murphy enjoys commissions for his poems from the BBC which prompts him to start on his long book-length sequence The Battle of Aughrim. Ostensibly about the 18th century triumph of Dutch-led Protestant forces over the Irish and French Catholic forces, the poem deals obliquely not only with the brewing strife in Ulster of the 1960s, but also with the issues of the Vietnam War. Its episodic structure is highly influential on poetic sequences subsequently published by Montague and Heaney.

Since 1971 Murphy has been a poet-in-residence at nine American universities. He lives in Sri Lanka, having previously divided his time between Dublin and Durban, South Africa, where his daughter and her family reside. He is the maternal grandfather of YouTuber Caspar Lee. In 2002, a memoir of his life and times, The Kick, is published by Granta, constructed from detailed diaries kept over the course of five decades.


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Birth of Frank McGuinness, Playwright & Poet

Frank McGuinness, award-winning Irish playwright and poet, is born in Buncrana, a town located on the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal on July 29, 1953. As well as his own works, which include The Factory Girls, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me and Dolly West’s Kitchen, he is recognised for a “strong record of adapting literary classics, having translated the plays of Jean Racine, Sophocles, Henrik Ibsen, Federico García Lorca, and August Strindberg to critical acclaim.”

McGuinness is educated locally and at University College Dublin, where he studies Pure English and medieval studies to postgraduate level.

He first comes to prominence with his play The Factory Girls, but establishes his reputation with his play about World War I, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, which is staged in Dublin‘s Abbey Theatre and internationally. The play makes a name for him when it is performed at Hampstead Theatre, drawing comments about McGuinness’s Irish Catholic background. It wins numerous awards including the London Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright for McGuinness and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize. He has also written new versions of classic dramas, including works by Henrik Ibsen, Anton Chekhov, and Euripides, adapting the literal translations of others. In addition, he writes the screenplay for the film Dancing at Lughnasa, adapting the stage play by fellow Ulsterman Brian Friel.

McGuinness’s first poetry anthology, Booterstown, is published in 1994. Several of his poems have been recorded by Marianne Faithfull, including Electra, After the Ceasefire and The Wedding.

McGuinness previously lectured in Linguistics and Drama at the University of Ulster, Medieval Studies at University College, Dublin and English at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Then he is a writer-in-residence lecturing at University College Dublin before being appointed Professor of Creative Writing in the School of English, Drama and Film there in 2007.


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Birth of Mary McAleese, 8th President of Ireland

Mary Patricia McAleese, Irish Independent politician who serves as the 8th President of Ireland from November 1997 to November 2011, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on June 27, 1951. She is the second female president and is first elected in 1997 succeeding Mary Robinson, making McAleese the world’s first woman to succeed another as president. She is re-elected unopposed for a second term in office in 2004 and is the first President of Ireland to have come from either Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Born Mary Patricia Leneghan, McAleese is the eldest of nine children in a Roman Catholic family. Her family is forced to leave the area by loyalists when The Troubles break out. Educated at St. Dominic’s High School, she also spends some time when younger with the Poor Clares, Queen’s University Belfast, from which she graduates in 1973, and Trinity College, Dublin. She is called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1974, and remains a member of the Bar Council of Ireland. She opposes abortion and divorce.

In 1975, McAleese is appointed Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College, Dublin and in 1987, she returns to her Alma Mater, Queen’s, to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 1994, she becomes the first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University. She works as a barrister and also works as a journalist with RTÉ.

McAleese uses her time in office to address issues concerning justice, social equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation. She describes the theme of her Presidency as “Building Bridges.” This bridge-building materialises in her attempts to reach out to the unionist community in Northern Ireland. These steps include celebrating The Twelfth at Áras an Uachtaráin and she even incurs criticism from some of the Irish Catholic hierarchy by taking communion in a Church of Ireland cathedral in Dublin. Despite being a practising Roman Catholic, she holds liberal views regarding homosexuality and women priests. She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders and is ranked the 64th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. In spite of some minor controversies, McAleese remains popular and her Presidency is regarded as successful.

McAleese receives awards and honorary doctorates throughout her career. On May 3, 2007, she is awarded The American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. On October 31, 2007, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Otago, New Zealand. On May 19, 2009, she becomes the third living person to be awarded the freedom of Kilkenny, succeeding Brian Cody and Séamus Pattison. The ceremony, at which she is presented with two hurleys, takes place at Kilkenny Castle. On May 24, 2009, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. On May 22, 2010, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Fordham University, in the Bronx, New York City, where she delivers the commencement speech to the class of 2010. On November 8, she is awarded an honorary doctorate at University of Massachusetts Lowell in Lowell, Massachusetts.

On June 8, 2013, a ceremony is held to rename a bridge on the M1 motorway near Drogheda as the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge to honour McAleese’s contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.


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Birth of Dramatist George Shiels

George Shiels, Irish dramatist whose plays are a success both in his native Ulster and at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, is born in Ballymoney, County Antrim on June 24, 1881. His most famous plays are The Rugged Path, The Passing Day, and The New Gossoon.

Shiels is born to Robert Shiels and Eileen (née MacSweeney). He emigrates to Canada as a young man. While working on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1913, he is involved in a serious accident that leaves him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He returns to Ballymoney and starts a shipping company with his brother and also begins writing. Starting with poems and short stories, he soon progresses to plays, which he provides to the Ulster Literary Theatre under the pen name of George S. Morsheils.

Starting with Bedmates (1921), his plays begin to be regularly accepted by the Abbey Theatre for production. His 1930 work The New Gossoon is so well-received that the Abbey’s touring company, The Abbey Theatre Irish Players, bring the play to Broadway for limited runs three times, in 1932, 1934, and 1937. In 1940, a production of Shiels’ The Rugged Path sets an Abbey record by attracting a total audience of 25,000 people over eight weeks.

When his success as a playwright allows him, he leaves the shipping business and moves to Carnlough on the coast of County Antrim, where he lives from 1932 until his death on September 19, 1949.


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Birth of Artist William Conor

Artist William Conor is born on May 6, 1881 in the Old Lodge Road area of north Belfast, the son of a wrought-iron worker.

Celebrated for his warm and sympathetic portrayals of working-class life in Ulster, Conor studies at the Government School of Design in Belfast in the 1890s. His artistic talents are recognized at the early age of ten when a teacher of music, Louis Mantell, notices the merit of his chalk drawings and arranges for him to attend the College of Art.

Conor initially works as a commercial artist, before being commissioned during World War I by the British government to produce official records of soldiers and munitions workers.

Conor moves to London in 1920 and there meets and socialises with such artists as Sir John Lavery and Augustus John. He exhibits at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1921 and in Dublin at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) from 1918–1967, showing nearly 200 works.

Conor is one of the first Academicians when the Belfast Art Society becomes the Ulster Academy of Arts in 1930. He becomes an Associate RHA in 1938 and a full member in 1946. Exhibitions at the Victor Waddington Galleries are held in 1944 and 1948. In 1952 he is awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and in 1957 he is elected President of the Royal Ulster Academy, an office he holds until 1964.

More than 50 works of his in crayon and watercolour are in the permanent collections of the Ulster Museum.

(Pictured: Bronze statue of William Conor at Conor’s Corner, Shankill Road, Belfast)


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Founding of the Irish Rugby Football Union

irfuThe Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), the body managing rugby union in the island of Ireland, both Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is founded in Dublin on February 5, 1879. The IRFU has its head office at 10/12 Lansdowne Road and home ground at Aviva Stadium, where adult men’s Irish rugby union international matches are played. In addition, the Union also owns Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, Thomond Park in Limerick and a number of grounds in provincial areas that have been rented to clubs.

Initially, there are two unions, both founded in 1874. The Irish Football Union has jurisdiction over clubs in Leinster, Munster, and parts of Ulster. The Northern Football Union of Ireland controls the Belfast area. The IRFU is formed in 1879 as an amalgamation of these two organisations and branches of the new IRFU are formed in Leinster, Munster, and Ulster. The Connacht Branch is formed in 1900.

The IRFU is a founding member of the International Rugby Football Board, now known as World Rugby, in 1886 with Scotland and Wales. England refuses to join until 1890.

Following the political partition of Ireland into separate national states, Ireland, originally the Irish Free State then Éire, and Northern Ireland, a political division of the United Kingdom, the then Committee of the Irish Rugby Football Union decides that it will continue to administer its affairs on the basis of the full 32 Irish counties and the traditional four provinces of Ireland – Leinster (12 counties), Ulster (9 counties), Munster (6 counties), and Connacht (5 counties).

This leads to the unusual, but not unique, situation among international rugby union teams, where the Irish representative teams are drawn from players from two separate political, national territories. To maintain the unity of Irish rugby union and the linkages between North and South, the IRFU purchase a new ground in 1923 in the Ravenhill district of Belfast at a cost of £2,300. The last full International at Ravenhill involving Ireland for more than a half-century takes place in 1953–54 against Scotland who are victorious by 2 tries (6 points) to nil. Australia plays Romania in the 1999 World Cup at the ground. The next full International played at Ravenhill is the Rugby World Cup warm-up match against Italy in August 2007 due to the temporary closure of Lansdowne Road for reconstruction.

The four provincial branches of the IRFU first run cup competitions during the 1880s. Although these tournaments still take place every year, their significance has been diminished by the advent of an All-Ireland League of 48 Senior Clubs in 1990.

The four provincial teams have played an Interprovincial Championship since the 1920s and continue to be the focal point for players aspiring to the international level. These are Munster, Leinster, Ulster, and Connacht . All four provinces play at the senior level as members of the Guinness Pro12.

There are currently approximately 95,000 rugby players in total in Ireland. There are 56 clubs affiliated to the Ulster Branch, 71 to the Leinster Branch, 59 to the Munster Branch, and 19 to the Connacht Branch. In addition, there are 246 schools playing rugby: Ulster (107), Leinster (75), Munster (41) and Connacht (23).

The IRFU also has an Exiles Branch tasked with developing “Ireland-qualified” players (i.e., eligible to play internationally for Ireland through ancestry) living in England, Scotland, and Wales. Volunteers provide coaching, administration and development under the supervision of a paid development manager.