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


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Birth of Charles Williams, Journalist & War Correspondent

Charles Frederick Williams, Scottish-Irish writer, journalist, and war correspondent, is born in Coleraine, County Londonderry on May 4, 1838.

Williams is descended on his father’s side from the yeomen of Worcestershire who grew their orchards and tilled their land in the parishes of Tenbury and Mamble. His mother’s side descended from Scottish settlers who planted Ulster in 1610. He is educated at Belfast Academy in Belfast and at a Greenwich private school. Later on, he goes to the southern United States for health purposes and takes part in a filibustering expedition to Nicaragua, where he sees some hard fighting and reportedly earns the reputation of a blockade runner. He is separated from his party and is lost in the forest for six days. Fevered, he discovers a small boat and manages to return to the nearest British settlement. He serves in the London Irish Rifles with the rank of Sergeant.

Williams returns to England in 1859, where he becomes a volunteer, and a leader writer for the London Evening Herald. In October 1859, he begins a connection with The Standard which lasts until 1884. From 1860 until 1863, he works as a first editor for the Evening Standard and from 1882 until 1884, as editor of The Evening News.

Williams is best known for being a war correspondent. For The Standard, he is at the headquarters of the Armée de la Loire, a French army, during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He is also one of the first correspondents in Strasbourg, where the French forces are defeated. In the summer and autumn of 1877, he is a correspondent to Ahmed Muhtar Pasha who commands the Turkish forces in Armenia during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78). He remains constantly at the Turkish front, and his letters are the only continuous series that reaches England. In 1878, he publishes this series in a revised and extended form as The Armenian Campaign: A Diary of the Campaign on 1877, in Armenia and Koordistan, which is a large and accurate record of the war, even though it is pro-Turkish. From Armenia, he follows Muhtar Pasha to European Turkey and describes his defence of the lines of Constantinople against the Imperial Russian Army. He is with General Mikhail Skobelev at the headquarters of the Imperial Russian Army when the Treaty of San Stefano is signed in March 1878.

At the end of 1878, Williams is in Afghanistan reporting the war, and in 1879 publishes the Notes on the Operations in Lower Afghanistan, 1878–9, with Special Reference to Transport.

In the autumn of 1884, representing the Central News Agency of London, Williams joins the Nile Expedition, a British mission to relieve Major-General Charles George Gordon in Khartoum, Sudan. His is the first dispatch to tell of the loss of Gordon. While in Sudan, he quarrels with Henry H. S. Pearse of The Daily News, who later unsuccessfully sues him. After leaving The Standard in 1884, he works with the Morning Advertiser, but later works with the Daily Chronicle as a war correspondent. He is the only British correspondent to be with the Bulgarian Land Forces under Prince Alexander of Battenberg during the Serbo-Bulgarian War in November 1885. In the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, he is attached to the Greek forces in Thessaly. His last war reporting is on Herbert Kitchener‘s Sudanese campaign of 1898.

In 1887, Williams meets with United States General of the Army, General Philip Sheridan in Washington, D.C. to update the general on European affairs and the prospects of upcoming conflicts.

Williams tries to run as a Conservative Party candidate for the House of Commons representative of Leeds West, a borough in Leeds, West Yorkshire, during the 1885 United Kingdom general election. He fails to win the seat against Liberal candidate Herbert Gladstone. He serves as the Chairman of the London district of the Institute of Journalists from 1893 to 1894. He founds the London Press Club where he also serves as its President from 1896 to 1897.

Williams dies in Brixton, London on February 9, 1904 and is buried in Nunhead Cemetery in London. His funeral is well attended by the press as well as members of the military including Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood.

(Pictured: Portrait of Charles Frederick Williams, London President, The Institute of Journalists, from The Illustrated London News, September 30, 1893 issue)


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Introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Herbert Henry Asquith, a member of the Liberal Party, introduces the Third Home Rule Bill on April 11, 1912, which would provide self-government for Ireland, an apparent triumph for Nationalist leader John Redmond.

As a minority party after 1910 elections, the Liberal Party depends on the Irish vote, controlled by John Redmond. To gain Irish support for the budget and the parliament bill, Asquith promises Redmond that Irish Home Rule will be the highest priority. It proves much more complex and time-consuming than expected. Support for self-government for Ireland had been a tenet of the Liberal Party since 1886, but Asquith has not been as enthusiastic, stating in 1903 (while in opposition) that the party should never take office if that government would be dependent for survival on the support of the Irish Nationalist Party. After 1910, though, Irish Nationalist votes are essential to stay in power. Retaining Ireland in the Union is the declared intent of all parties, and the Nationalists, as part of the majority that keep Asquith in office, are entitled to seek enactment of their plans for Home Rule, and to expect Liberal and Labour support. The Conservatives, with die-hard support from the Protestant Orange Order of Ulster, are strongly opposed to Home Rule. The desire to retain a veto for the House of Lords on such bills has been an unbridgeable gap between the parties in the constitutional talks prior to the December 1910 United Kingdom general election.

The cabinet committee (excluding Asquith) that in 1911 plans the Third Home Rule Bill opposes any special status for Protestant Ulster within majority-Catholic Ireland. In 1913, Asquith writes to Winston Churchill, stating that the Prime Minister has always believed and stated that the price of Home Rule should be a special status for Ulster. In spite of this, the bill as introduced in April 1912 contains no such provision, and is meant to apply to all Ireland. Neither partition nor a special status for Ulster is likely to satisfy either side. The self-government offered by the bill is very limited, but Irish Nationalists, expecting Home Rule to come by gradual parliamentary steps, favours it. The Conservatives and Irish Unionists oppose it. Unionists begin preparing to get their way by force if necessary, prompting nationalist emulation. Though very much a minority, Irish Unionists are generally better financed and more organised.

Since the Parliament Act the Unionists can no longer block Home Rule in the House of Lords, but only delay Royal Assent by two years. Asquith decides to postpone any concessions to the Unionists until the bill’s third passage through the House of Commons, when he believes the Unionists will be desperate for a compromise. Biographer Roy Jenkins concludes that had Asquith tried for an earlier agreement, he would have had no luck, as many of his opponents wanted a fight and the opportunity to smash his government. Sir Edward Carson, MP for the University of Dublin and leader of the Irish Unionists in Parliament, threatens a revolt if Home Rule is enacted. The new Conservative leader, Bonar Law, campaigns in Parliament and in northern Ireland, warning Ulstermen against “Rome Rule,” that is, domination by the island’s Catholic majority. Many who oppose Home Rule feel that the Liberals have violated the Constitution by pushing through major constitutional change without a clear electoral mandate, with the House of Lords, formerly the “watchdog of the constitution,” not reformed as had been promised in the preamble of the 1911 Act and thus justified actions that in other circumstances might be treason.

The passions generated by the Irish question contrast with Asquith’s cool detachment, and he writes about the prospective partition of the county of Tyrone, which has a mixed population, deeming it “an impasse, with unspeakable consequences, upon a matter which to English eyes seems inconceivably small, and to Irish eyes immeasurably big.” As the House of Commons debate the Home Rule bill in late 1912 and early 1913, unionists in the north of Ireland mobilise, with talk of Carson declaring a Provisional Government and Ulster Volunteer Forces (UVF) built around the Orange Lodges, but in the cabinet, only Churchill views this with alarm.

These forces, insisting on their loyalty to the British Crown but increasingly well-armed with smuggled German weapons, prepare to do battle with the British Army, but Unionist leaders are confident that the army will not aid in forcing Home Rule on Ulster. As the Home Rule bill awaits its third passage through the House of Commons, the so-called Curragh incident occurs in March 1914. With deployment of troops into Ulster imminent and threatening language by Churchill and the Secretary of State for War, John Seely, around sixty army officers, led by Brigadier General Hubert Gough, announce that they would rather be dismissed from the service than obey. With unrest spreading to army officers in England, the Cabinet acts to placate the officers with a statement written by Asquith reiterating the duty of officers to obey lawful orders but claiming that the incident had been a misunderstanding. Seely then adds an unauthorised assurance, countersigned by Sir John French, the professional head of the army, that the government has no intention of using force against Ulster. Asquith repudiates the addition, and requires Seely and French to resign, taking on the War Office himself, retaining the additional responsibility until hostilities against Germany begin.

Within a month of the start of Asquith’s tenure at the War Office, the UVF lands a large cargo of guns and ammunition at Larne, but the Cabinet does not deem it prudent to arrest their leaders. On May 12, Asquith announces that he will secure Home Rule’s third passage through the House of Commons (accomplished on May 25), but that there will be an amending bill with it, making special provision for Ulster. But the House of Lords make changes to the amending bill unacceptable to Asquith, and with no way to invoke the Parliament Act on the amending bill, Asquith agrees to meet other leaders at an all-party conference on July 21 at Buckingham Palace, chaired by King George V. When no solution can be found, Asquith and his cabinet plans further concessions to the Unionists, but this does not occur as the crisis in Europe erupts into war.

In September 1914, after the outbreak of the conflict, Asquith announces that the Home Rule bill will go on the statute book as the Government of Ireland Act 1914 but will not go into force until after the war. He adds that in the interim a bill granting special status to Ulster will be considered. This solution satisfies neither side.

(Pictured: H.H. Asquith, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom)


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Introduction of the Special Powers Act 1922

The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is an Act introduced by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. The much larger group (nationalists) are mostly Roman Catholic, identified primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. The smaller group (unionists), concentrated primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identified primarily as British and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom. In the years before World War I, both groups establish armed militias intended to enforce their aims and protect their communities from the other side’s militias. The British government resolves to partition Ireland in an effort to alleviate unionists and nationalists, with the six most Protestant counties of Ulster forming Northern Ireland while the rest of Ireland achieves self-rule. This is accepted by most unionists as the best deal they are likely to get, but bitterly disappoints many nationalists, especially those who live in the six counties which become Northern Ireland. Many nationalists on both sides of the border feel that their country has been unjustly divided, and for many decades the Irish government claims that Northern Ireland is rightfully its territory.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Special Powers Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enable the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. The Minister of Home Affairs is empowered to make any regulation felt necessary to preserve law and order in Northern Ireland. Anyone who breaks these regulations can be sentenced to up to a year in prison with hard labour, and in the case of some crimes, whipping. A special summary jurisdiction is enabled to hear cases involving such crimes. The Minister of Home Affairs is also permitted to forbid the holding of inquests if he feels this is required to preserve order and peace.

The Schedule to the Act specifies actions which the government can take in order to preserve peace, although the body of the Act enables the government to take any steps at all which it thinks necessary. Actions specified in the Schedule include the closing of licensed premises, the banning in any area of meetings and parades in public places, the closing of roads, the taking of any land or property, and the destruction of any building. The Schedule also forbids the spreading by word of mouth or text any “reports or…statements intended or likely to cause disaffection to subjects of His Majesty.”

Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Special Powers Act is initially current for only one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent. According to John Whyte, this happens because, from 1925, nationalist MPs begin sitting in the Stormont parliament which they had initially boycotted. Unsurprisingly, they object strenuously to the renewal of the Act, and it is felt by the Ulster Unionist Party Minister of Home Affairs that it would be better to make the Act permanent than for Parliament annually to “wrangle” over it.

Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial, outlined in Paragraph 23 of the Schedule. In the period from May 1922 to December 1924, 700 republicans are interned under the Act.

Political violence declines dramatically by 1925, and the government gradually shifts its emphasis from broad measures designed to return civil order to the province to more preventative regulations aimed at suppressing the threat posed by republican aspirations. Regulations banning meetings and parades and restrictions on the flying of the Irish tricolour become more common. Between 1922 and 1950, the government bans nearly 100 parades and meetings, the vast majority of which are nationalist or republican. No loyalist gathering is ever directly banned under the Act, although a few are caught in blanket bans against parades or meetings in a particular area. From 1922 until 1972, 140 publications are banned, the vast majority of which express republican viewpoints.

After the troubles of the early 1920s has died down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s border campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of the Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the Provisional Irish Republican Army amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.

The Act encounters further controversy in the 1970s due to the deployment of the British Army in Northern Ireland and its role in maintaining order and similar policing-style duties. In 1972, the government is forced to amend the Act in order to legalise the detention of internees arrested by soldiers. Martin Meehan had been arrested after escaping from Crumlin Road Gaol and charged with escaping from lawful custody. At his trial he successfully argues that under the Special Powers Act a soldier has no power of arrest and, as such, he has the legal right to escape. He is awarded £800 in compensation for being illegally detained for twenty-three days.


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Death of Saint Gelasius of Armagh

Saint Gelasius of Armagh B (AC), also known as Giolla Iosa and Gioua-Mac-Liag, dies on March 27, 1174. The son of the Irish poet Diarmaid, Saint Gelasius (meaning `servant of Jesus’) is the learned abbot of Derry for sixteen years. He is consecrated Archbishop of Armagh c. 1137, when Saint Malachy resigns and serves as Primate of Ireland until 1174.

During his long episcopacy, Gelasius has to deal with the events before and after the Norman invasion, including the alleged Donation of Ireland by Pope Adrian IV to Henry II of England, Henry’s arrival in Ireland in 1171, and Pope Alexander III’s confirmation of everything granted by Adrian IV.

Gelasius reconstructs the Cathedral of Armagh and, in 1162, consecrates Saint Laurence O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin, although the invasion and settlement of Dublin by Norsemen means that the Christians of that see are looking more to Canterbury than Armagh. That same year, during the Synod of Clane in County Kildare, a uniform liturgy is ensured throughout Ireland by requiring that only Armagh-trained or Armagh-accredited teachers of divinity may teach in any school attached to the Irish Church.

Gelasius is an indefatigable prelate. He makes constant visitations throughout Ireland, reorganizes old monasteries, and convenes synods. He is said to be the first Irish bishop to whom the pallium is sent. Pope Eugene III’s papal legate, Cardinal Giovanni Paparoni, brings four pallia with him to the Synod of Kells in 1152 for the archbishops of Armagh, Cashel, Dublin, and Tuam. The records of this synod include the first mention of tithes in Irish annals, which Cardinal Paparoni proposes but none of the participants support. The matter of tithes and the Peter’s Pence is an important consideration in subsequent negotiations between Pope Adrian IV and Henry II of England.

Gelasius convenes another synod at Armagh in 1170 in the hope of finding some means to expel the Anglo-Normans, who had invaded the country the previous year, before they become too entrenched. In 1171, Henry II of England arrives, lavishly entertains the civic and ecclesiastic Irish leaders, and requests the convening of the Synod of Cashel, during which he presents a plan for improving the Church of Ireland. At this time there is no mention of any claim of Canterbury or the Donation. However, the eighth canon of the synod decrees that the Irish Church will celebrate the Divine Office according to the usage of the Church of England, which is still Catholic at the time.

The bishop of Armagh does not attend the Synod of Cashel. At the time he is occupied in a visitation of Connacht and Ulster in an attempt (in concert with the high king) to organize a defense of Ireland. He realizes that Henry II has duped many Irish princes by masking his true intentions.

The following year Henry II falls under interdict for his murder of Saint Thomas Becket. When news of HenryII’s penitential, bare-foot walk to the shrine of Saint Thomas and his plans for the `uplift’ of the Irish Church reaches Rome, Pope Alexander III confirms the Donation of Ireland made by Pope Adrian IV. Shortly thereafter the Church of Ireland became English, the School of Armagh is closed (c. 1188) and the last native bishop of Armagh until the Reformation dies in 1313.

(From: “Saints of the Day – Gelasius of Armagh” by Katherine I Rabenstein, CatholicSaints.Info (www.catholicsaints.info) | Pictured: Arms of the Archbishop of Armagh, in the Church of Ireland)


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Laying of the Trinity College Foundation Stone

The foundation stone of Trinity College is laid by the Lord Mayor of Dublin on March 13, 1592.

By 1590 English rule is, with the exception of Ulster, firmly secured throughout Ireland. The Catholic Gaels and Old English of Munster, Leinster, and Connacht have been more or less brought to heel, and Presidencies are established over each of them.

English law is dominant and Protestant English planters are laying claim to the lands seized from the Catholics. The present-day counties are already taking shape, land divisions modeled on the shires of Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth I feels that the time is right to bolster up English civility and in 1592 she grants the city of Dublin a charter to establish a university.

The university is to be named The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth, juxta Dublin. It has been commonly called Trinity College Dublin ever since.

The lands and buildings of the college are donated by the city corporation and are originally those of the Augustinian All Hallows Priory which had been suppressed in 1583. This property is situated about half a mile from the city walls.

The first Provost of the university is the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin Adam Loftus. A favorite of Elizabeth I, he had originally been brought over from England and appointed Dean of Armagh in 1565 but his tenure there was a short one as he fled the wrath of Shane (the Proud) O’ Neill the following year.

In Dublin Loftus is appointed the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and in 1567 he is appointed to the See of Dublin. He has opposition from the Lord Deputy of Ireland Sir John Perrot who had sought to have the university put to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. However, at this time Perrot is under suspicion for having verbally abused her majesty’s legitimacy and is to die in the Tower of London in September 1592.

Within two years of its foundation, Trinity College, consisting of a small square, is up and running with some fellows and a handful of students. Its raison d’etre is to provide a Protestant education and to consolidate the Tudor monarchy. Catholics and Dissenting Christians are not permitted entrance unless they convert to the Anglican faith. Those who do attend are the children of the New English and the children of Old English and native Irish who have abandoned their ancestors’ faith, for reasons of dogma or, as is more likely, in order to retain their lands and wealth.

Trinity is, over the next three centuries, to grow into a wealthy establishment. It receives appropriated properties and has annuities paid in from the government. In later years it is to be the the alma mater of many famous men. Sons of the Protestant Ascendency consider it their own during the 17th and 18th centuries but in the 20th century Trinity manages to adapt to the new Irish state with which it is fully involved in all aspects of Irish education and Irish life, and it is much loved by the Irish people.

(From: “The Founding of Trinity College Dublin 1592,” YourIrishCulture, http://www.yourirish.com)


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House of Lords Votes for the Acts of Union

The House of Lords votes on February 10, 1800 for the Acts of Union which sees Ireland lose its own parliament, direct rule is imposed on Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is created. The acts come into force on January 1, 1801, and the merged Parliament of the United Kingdom has its first meeting on January 22, 1801. Both acts remain in force, with amendments, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but have been repealed in the Republic of Ireland.

Before these Acts, Ireland had been in personal union with England since 1541, when the Parliament of Ireland had passed the Crown of Ireland Act 1542, proclaiming King Henry VIII of England to be King of Ireland. Since the 12th century, the King of England had been technical overlord of the Lordship of Ireland, a papal possession. Both the Kingdoms of Ireland and England later came into personal union with that of Scotland upon the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

In 1707, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland were united into a single kingdom: the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Irish Parliament at that time was subject to a number of restrictions that placed it subservient to the Parliament of England and, following the union of England and Scotland, the Parliament of Great Britain. Ireland, however, gained effective legislative independence from Great Britain through the Constitution of 1782.

By this time access to institutional power in Ireland was restricted to a small minority, the Anglo-Irish of the Protestant Ascendancy, and frustration at the lack of reform among the Catholic majority eventually led, along with other reasons, to the Irish Rebellion in 1798, involving a French invasion of Ireland and the seeking of complete independence from Great Britain. This rebellion was crushed with much bloodshed, and the subsequent drive for union between Great Britain and Ireland that passes in 1800 is motivated at least in part by the belief that the rebellion was caused as much by reactionary loyalist brutality as by the Society of United Irishmen.

Furthermore, Catholic emancipation is being discussed in Great Britain, and fears that a newly enfranchised Catholic majority will drastically change the character of the Irish government and parliament also contributes to a desire from London to merge the Parliaments.

Complementary acts have to be passed in the Parliament of Great Britain and in the Parliament of Ireland. The Parliament of Ireland had recently gained a large measure of legislative independence under the Constitution of 1782. Many members of the Irish Parliament jealously guard this autonomy and a motion for union is legally rejected in 1799.

Only Anglicans are permitted to become members of the Parliament of Ireland, though the great majority of the Irish population are Roman Catholic, with many Presbyterians in Ulster. In 1793 Roman Catholics regain the right to vote if they own or rent property worth £2 per acre. The Catholic hierarchy is strongly in favour of union, hoping for rapid emancipation and the right to sit as MPs, which is delayed after the passage of the acts until the passage of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829.

From the perspective of Great Britain, the union is desirable because of the uncertainty that followed the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the French Revolution of 1789. If Ireland adopted Catholic Emancipation, willingly or not, a Roman Catholic Parliament could break away from Britain and ally with the French. Also the Irish and British Parliaments, when creating a regency during King George III‘s “madness”, gave the Prince Regent different powers. These considerations lead Great Britain to decide to attempt merger of the two kingdoms and their Parliaments.

The final passage of the Act in the Irish Parliament is achieved with substantial majorities, in part according to contemporary documents through bribery, namely the awarding of peerages and honours to critics to get their votes. Whereas the first attempt had been defeated in the Irish House of Commons by 109 votes against to 104 for, the second vote in 1800 produces a result of 158 to 115.

In the first Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the members of the House of Commons are not elected afresh. By royal proclamation authorised by the Act, all the members of the last House of Commons from Great Britain take seats in the new House, and from Ireland 100 members are chosen from the last Irish House of Commons: two members from each of the 32 counties and from the two largest boroughs, and one from each of the next 31 boroughs (chosen by lot) and from the University of Dublin. The other 84 Irish parliamentary boroughs are disfranchised, all being pocket boroughs, whose patrons receive £15,000 compensation for the loss of what is considered their property.

(Pictured: Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1952 used by Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI)


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Death of William Drennan, Physician, Poet & Political Radical

William Drennan, physician, poet and political radical, dies on February 5, 1820 in Belfast. He is one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen and is known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as “the emerald isle” in his poem When Erin first rose.

Drennan is born on May 23, 1754 in Belfast, the son the son of Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696–1768), minister of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Thomas Drennan is an educated man from the University of Glasgow and is ordained to the congregation of Holywood, County Down in 1731. Drennan is heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions serve as the foundation for his own radical political ideas. His sister, Martha, marries fellow future United Irishman Samuel McTier in 1773.

In 1769 Drennan follows in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he becomes interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduates in arts and then in 1773 he commences the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he sets up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with being one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. He also writes much poetry, coining the phrase “Emerald Isle” and is the founder and editor of a literary periodical, Belfast Magazine. He moves to Newry in 1783 but eventually moves to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly becomes involved in nationalist circles.

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, Drennan is an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joins the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon becomes a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly becomes dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founds the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

Drennan writes many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and is arrested in 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that is a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he is eventually acquitted, he gradually withdraws from the United Irishmen but continues to campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

On February 8, 1800, Drennan marries Sarah Swanwick, “an English lady of some wealth” from Shropshire. They have one daughter and four sons.

Drennan settles in Belfast in 1807. In 1810 he co-founds the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of a United Irishman executed by the British. Despite his links with revolutionary republicans, he gradually becomes alienated from the post-Union nationalism of the period. His abiding concern for Liberalism and post union realities make him contemplate his political ideas anew.

Drennan dies in Belfast on February 5, 1820. He directs that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

Drennan’s son, John Swanwick Drennan, is a noted poet who, along with his brother William Drennan, write a biography of him for Richard Davis Webb‘s A Compendium of Irish Biography. Through his daughter Sarah, who marries John Andrews of a prominent family of flax merchants, he has several notable descendants, including William Drennan Andrews, judge of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Thomas Andrews who drew up the plans for the RMS Titanic and was aboard and drowned when she sank, and Thomas Drennan, performance artist known primarily for his seminal work ‘Journey to the Centre of Drennan.’


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Death of Edmund de Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March

Edmund de Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March and jure uxoris Earl of Ulster, is killed at Cork on December 27, 1381. His sudden death leaves the colony without effective leadership and prompts a military crisis.

Mortimer, the son of Roger Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March, by his wife Philippa, daughter of William Montagu, 1st Earl of Salisbury and Catherine Grandison, is born on February 1, 1352. An infant at the death of his father, as a ward of the crown he is placed by Edward III of England under the care of William of Wykeham and Richard FitzAlan, 3rd Earl of Arundel. The position of the young earl, powerful on account of his possessions and hereditary influence in the Welsh marches, is rendered still more important by his marriage on August 24, 1369 at the age of 17 to the 14-year-old Philippa, the only child of the late Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, the second son of Edward III.

Lionel’s late wife, Elizabeth, had been daughter and heiress of William Donn de Burgh, 3rd Earl of Ulster, and Lionel had himself been created Earl of Ulster before his marriage. Mortimer inherits the title Earl of Ulster on Lionel’s death. Therefore, the Earl of March not only represents one of the chief Anglo-Norman lordships in Ireland in right of his wife Philippa, but Philippa’s line is also the second most senior line of descent in the succession to the crown, after Edward the Black Prince and his son, King Richard II of England. John of Gaunt, younger brother of Prince Edward, had become the 1st Duke of Lancaster and thus the source of the House of Lancaster‘s claim to the throne.

This marriage has, therefore, far-reaching consequences in English history, ultimately giving rise to the claim of the House of York to the crown of England contested in the Wars of the Roses between the Yorks and the Lancasters; Edward IV being descended from the second adult son of Edward III as great-great-grandson of Philippa, countess of March, and in the male line from Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York and the fourth adult son of Edward III. Mortimer’s son, Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, becomes heir presumptive to the English crown during the reign of Richard II.

Mortimer, now styled Earl of March and Ulster, becomes Earl Marshal of England in 1369, and is employed in various diplomatic missions during the following years. He is a member of the committee appointed by the Peers to confer with the Commons in 1373, the first instance of such a joint conference since the institution of representative parliaments on the question of granting supplies for John of Gaunt’s war in France.

Mortimer participates in the opposition to Edward III and the court party, which grows in strength towards the end of the reign, taking the popular side and being prominent in the Good Parliament of 1376 among the lords who support the Prince of Wales and oppose the Court Party and John of Gaunt. The Speaker of the House of Commons in this parliament is Mortimer’s steward, Peter de la Mare, who firmly withstands John of Gaunt in stating the grievances of the Commons, in supporting the impeachment of several high court officials, and in procuring the banishment of the king’s mistress, Alice Perrers. Mortimer is a member of the administrative council appointed by the same parliament after the death of Edward, the Black Prince, to attend the king and advise him in all public affairs.

Following the end of the Good Parliament its acts are reversed by John of Gaunt, Mortimer’s steward is jailed, and he himself is ordered to inspect Calais and other remote royal castles as part of his duty as Marshal of England. He instead chooses to resign the post.

On the accession of Richard II in 1377, Mortimer becomes a member of the standing council of government; though as husband of the heir-presumptive to the crown he wisely refrains from claiming any actual administrative office. The richest and most powerful person in the realm is, however, the king’s uncle John of Gaunt, whose jealousy leads Mortimer to accept the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1379. He succeeds in asserting his authority in eastern Ulster, but fails to subdue the O’Neill dynasty farther west. Proceeding to Munster to put down the turbulent southern chieftains, he is killed at Cork on December 27, 1381. He is buried in Wigmore Abbey, of which he had been a benefactor, and where his wife Philippa is also interred.

(Pictured: Coat of Arms of the House of Mortimer)


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The Hearts of Steel Storm Belfast Barracks

The Hearts of Steel, also known as the Steelboys, an exclusively Protestant movement originating in County Antrim due to grievances about the sharp rise of rent and evictions, is involved in conflict in Ulster on December 23, 1770. Five hundred members of the Hearts of Steel force the release a prisoner in Belfast.

The Hearts of Steel arise in 1769 in opposition to unjust and exorbitant rents, chiefly exacted by middlemen, speculators or “forestallers,” who take lands from absentee landlords at greatly increased rents and make their own profit by doubling the rents on the poor tenants.

In 1770 in Templepatrick, County Antrim, a local landlord evicts tenants and replaces them with speculators who can outbid the locals for the land. At some point a local is arrested and charged with maiming cattle belonging to a merchant from Belfast, which spurs the farmers of Templepatrick to take up arms and march on Belfast to demand his release. The protestors surround the barracks and threaten to burn the house of Waddell Cunningham, who is one of the new speculators in Templepatrick. The soldiers in the barracks fire upon the protestors killing several and wounding others. The protestors eventually set fire to Cunningham’s house and as the fire threatens to spread and destroy the town of Belfast itself, the mayor decides to free the prisoner.

Further consternation is caused by the sharp increase of rents throughout Ulster. At the same time the leases expire for Lord Donegall‘s south County Antrim estate. While he keeps his rent at the old prices, he greatly increases their renewal fee. These coincide with several years of severe harvest failures which result in high bread prices. The result of this is that people are unable to support themselves or their families, being left in the utmost state of deprivation and destitution, with many evicted from their land for failure to pay.

The Hearts of Steel protests and uprisings quickly spread throughout the county and into counties Armagh, Down, and Londonderry, which are also subject to the Hearts of Oak protest movement with which it merges. One tactic of the protestors is the “houghing” of cattle, which involves laming cattle by cutting the leg tendons. They also force farmers to sell food at prices they set, and demand anyone letting out land to do so at the cost of 12 shillings per acre. Landlords are threatened that if they try to collect the cess from anyone that their houses will be destroyed.

The disturbances are so widespread in the affected counties that the Irish government passes legislation to severely punish the “wicked and disorderly persons.” By the later half of 1772 they send the army into Ulster to crush them. Men are hanged while many others are said to have drowned trying to flee across the sea to Scotland. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Townshend, privately blames the landlords and their actions for the disturbances and so issues a general pardon in November 1772.

(Pictured: The Hearts of Steel storming the barracks at Belfast, December 1770 | Linen Hall Library)


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Home of British PM Edward Heath Damaged by Bomb

The London home of the Conservative leader and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Edward Heath is damaged from the impact of a bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on December 22, 1974. The attack comes just hours before a Christmas ceasefire is due to come into effect. Heath is not at home at the time of the blast but arrives ten minutes later. His housekeeper, Mrs. Crawford, and her daughter are both in the house at the time but are not injured.

The 21-pound bomb breaks glass, smashes the front door and damages the front room. The only damage to anything valuable is to a painting done in the south of France by Sir Winston Churchill. No one initially admits carrying out the attack but the IRA is immediately suspected.

Witnesses describe seeing a man emerging from a Ford Cortina and throwing what is believed to have been the bomb onto the first floor balcony of the house. Two policemen and a patrol car chase the vehicle as it drives off. The Cortina crashes a few minutes later in Chelsea and several men flee from the vehicle.

The police are fearful that the explosion is a “come‐on” tactic where an initial smaller bomb is followed by a larger one after the first has attracted crowds. They seal off all streets around the house for several hours. Heath’s home is about half a mile from Harrods, in Knightsbridge, where a more powerful bomb had gone off the previous night as Christmas shoppers were being evacuated.

Heath tells waiting reporters that Prime Minister Harold Wilson had sent him a message which was “very much appreciated.” Addressed “Dear Ted,” Wilson says, “This attack will only strengthen our united resolve to bring these things to justice.”

Heath, who had been conducting a carol service at his hometown of Broadstairs, Kent, carrying an overnight bag is driven off by police to an undisclosed location after his arrival at home. He returns later to inspect the damage with bomb squad chief, Commander Robert Huntley.

Heath says the attack will not deter him from traveling to Ulster the following day for talks with security forces and Ulster political leaders as previously scheduled. As Leader of the Opposition, Heath has a Special Branch police bodyguard with him at all times. The house is under “short” police patrol which means there are extra cars and foot patrols in the area but not directly outside the building.