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


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Death of Aeneas Coffey, Inventor & Distiller

Aeneas Coffey, Irish inventor and distiller, dies in England on November 26, 1852. He is born in Calais, France, to Irish parents in 1780. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and enters the excise service around 1799–1800 as a gauger. He marries Susanna Logie in 1808, and they have a son, also named Aeneas, who may have been their only child.

According to British customs and excise records, Coffey is a remarkable man with widespread interests and multiple talents who rises quickly through the excise service ranks. He is appointed sub-commissioner of Inland Excise and Taxes for the district of Drogheda in 1813. He is appointed Surveyor of Excise for Clonmel and Wicklow in 1815. In 1816 he is promoted to the same post at Cork. By 1818 he is Acting Inspector General of Excise for the whole of Ireland and within two years is promoted to Inspector General of Excise in Dublin.

Coffey is a strong, determined upholder of the law, but aware of its shortcomings. He survives many nasty skirmishes with illegal distillers and smugglers, particularly in County Donegal in Ulster and in the west of Ireland, where moonshining is most rife. On several occasions he proposes to the government simple, pragmatic solutions to rules and regulations which have hampered legal distillers. Not all of his ideas are accepted. Between 1820 and 1824 he submits reports and gives evidence to Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry on many aspects of distilling, including formalising the different spellings of Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky. His 1822 report is solidly backed by the Irish distillers. He believes in making it viable to distill legally, and illegal distilling might largely disappear.

He assists the government in the drafting of the 1823 Excise Act which makes it easier to distill legally. It sanctions the distilling of whiskey in return for a licence fee of £10, and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit. It also provides for the appointment of a single Board of Excise, under Treasury control, for the whole of the United Kingdom, replacing the separate excise boards for England, Scotland and Ireland. The 1823 Excise Act also provides for not more than four assistant commissioners of excise to transact current business in Scotland and Ireland, under the control of the board in London. Coffey resigns from government excise service at his own request in 1824.

Between his Dublin education and his work as an excise officer, Coffey has ample opportunity to observe the design and workings of whiskey stills, as Ireland is the world’s leading producer of whiskey in the 19th century, and Dublin is at the center of that global industry. This is how Coffey becomes familiar with a design differing from the traditional copper pot alembic still commonly used in Ireland, the continuous, or column, still. First patented by a Cork County distillery in 1822, the column still remains a relatively inefficient piece of equipment, although it points the way towards a cheaper and more productive way to distill alcohol. It is that last point that captures Coffey’s imagination. He makes his own modifications to existing column still designs, so as to allow a greater portion of the vapors to re-circulate into the still instead of moving into the receiver with the spirit. The result is more efficient, producing a lighter spirit at higher alcohol content. Coffey patents his design in 1830, and it becomes the basis for every column still used ever since.

On his retirement from service, Coffey goes into the Irish distilling business. For a short time he runs the Dodder Bank Distillery, Dublin and Dock Distillery in Grand Canal Street, Dublin, before setting up on his own as Aeneas Coffey Whiskey Company in 1830. The development of the Coffey still makes distillation of his own whiskey much more economical.

Nothing is known of the final years and last resting place of Aeneas Coffey. His only son, also called Aeneas Coffey, emigrates to South Africa and manages a distillery. He marries but his wife dies childless. He returns to England and spends his final years near London.

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Formation of the Irish Citizen Army

The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) is formed on November 23, 1913, at the height of the Dublin Lockout. Its purpose is to enable the locked-out men to defend themselves in clashes with the Dublin Metropolitan Police and to counteract the demoralizing effects of unemployment by providing discipline, cohesion and purpose. The idea of forming a force apparently is first formally proposed in 1913 by Captain James Robert “Jack” White, an ex-army officer from County Antrim, who had been educated at Winchester College and Royal Military College, Sandhurst. During a speech in August, James Larkin had already suggested that the workers form a force. He publicly repeats this instruction on November 13. James Connolly likewise urges the men to train “as they are doing in Ulster.” Two weeks later drilling begins. According to the ICA constitution, its members are to “work for an Irish republic and for the emancipation of labour.” Larkin is anxious that those who enlist should not only espouse these principles but also be members of unions recognised by the Irish Trades Union Congress.

Despite competition from the Irish Volunteers, which launches on November 25, 1913, ICA membership quickly surpasses 1,000. However, after the dispute is over in January 1914 and the men return to work, the “army” all but disappears. But it is Connolly above all who, after his appointment as its commandant and as leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, rescues it from terminal decline and welds it into a potent force and potential weapon for his own use. He determines its structure, vets its officers and imposes a rigid discipline. He also demands an ideological commitment to revolution and the goal of an independent Irish socialist republic. The force’s guiding principle is that “the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested by right in the people of Ireland.” Its membership remains small but it is otherwise superior to the much larger Irish Volunteers in its unity of purpose, lack of factional and ideological division and in the quality of its training.

After the outbreak of World War I, Connolly has become increasingly committed to fomenting an insurrection in Ireland. This is reflected in his military preparations with the ICA. He uses its headquarters, Liberty Hall, as his base. Fearing he might act on his own, and recognising the merits of collaboration, the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council informs him of their own clandestine plans for a rising and an agreement is reached.

During Easter week of 1916, 219 ICA men fight alongside over 1,300 from the Irish Volunteers. As the appointed leader of both forces in Dublin, Connolly skillfully ensures that the ideological and social divisions and personality clashes, which have hitherto blighted their relationship, are largely overcome. ICA forces are mainly concentrated at the General Post Office (GPO), the College of Surgeons and Dublin’s City Hall. They win volunteer admiration for their professionalism, dedication, and ruthlessness. Two of their leaders are subsequently executed – Connolly and Michael Mallin, the ICA Chief of Staff. Constance Markievicz, Mallin`s second-in command, is reprieved. Others are imprisoned or interned. The ICA is not revived after the insurrection. The new leadership of the ITGWU focuses instead on building up the union, safeguarding members’ wages and improving working conditions.


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Death of Frederick Hugh Crawford, Ulster Loyalist

Colonel Frederick Hugh Crawford, staunch Ulster loyalist and officer in the British Army, dies on November 5, 1952. He is most notable for organising the Larne gun-running which secures guns and ammunition for the Ulster Volunteers in 1914, making him a hero for Northern Ireland‘s unionists.

Crawford is born in Belfast on August 21, 1861 into a Methodist family of Ulster Scots roots. He attends Methodist College Belfast and University College London.

Crawford works as an engineer for White Star Line in the 1880s, before returning from Australia in 1892. In 1894 he enlists with the Mid Ulster Artillery regiment of the British Army, before being transferred to the Donegal Artillery, with which he serves during the Boer Wars, earning himself the rank of major.

In 1898, Crawford is appointed governor of Campbell College in Belfast. In 1911 he becomes a member of the Ulster Unionist Council. On September 28, 1912 he is in charge of the 2,500 well dressed stewards and marshals that escort Edward Carson and the Ulster unionist leadership from the Ulster Hall in Belfast to the City Hall for the signing of the Ulster Covenant, which he is alleged to sign in his own blood. With the formation of the Ulster Volunteers in 1913, he is made their Director of Ordnance.

In World War I Crawford is officer commanding of the Royal Army Service Corps, and is awarded the Royal Humane Society‘s Bronze Medal for saving life. He also becomes a Justice of the Peace for Belfast.

Crawford in regards to Irish Home Rule is strongly partisan and backs armed resistance in opposing it, being contemptuous of those who use political bluffing. In 1910 the Ulster Unionist Council plans for the creation of an army to oppose Home Rule, and approaches Crawford to act as their agent in securing weapons and ammunition. He tries several times to smuggle arms into Ulster, however vigilant customs officials seize many of them at the docks. Despite this, the meticulously planned and audacious Larne gun-running of April 1914, devised and carried out by Crawford, is successful in bringing in enough arms to equip the Ulster Volunteers.

By the 1920s Crawford remains as stoic in his belief’s remarking in a letter in 1920 that “I am ashamed to call myself an Irishman. Thank God I am not one. I am an Ulsterman, a very different breed.” In 1921 he attempts to create an organisation called the Ulster Brotherhood, the aims of which are to uphold the Protestant religion, political and religious freedom as well as use by all means to “destroy and wipe out the Sinn Féin conspiracy of murder, assassination and outrage.” However, this organisation only lasts completely unofficially for a few months after failing to gain acceptance with the political authorities. Also in 1921 he is included in the Royal Honours List and granted a CBE. In 1934 he writes his memoirs, entitled Guns for Ulster.

Frederick Hugh Crawford dies November 5, 1952, and is buried in the City Cemetery, Falls Road, Belfast. Upon news of his death he is described by the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir Basil Brooke, as being “as a fearless fighter in the historic fight to keep Ulster British.”

(Pictured: Colonel Crawford is shown second from the left in this loyalist mural in East Belfast’s Ballymacarrett Road)


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Birth of Eoin O’Duffy, Political Activist & Police Commissioner

Eoin O’Duffy, Irish political activist, soldier, police commissioner and organizer of the infamous Blueshirts, is born in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, on October 20, 1892.

O’Duffy does an apprenticeship as an engineer in Wexford before working as an engineer and architect in Monaghan. In 1919 he becomes an auctioneer. He is a leading member of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ulster in the 1910s. In 1912 he is appointed secretary of the Ulster provincial council. He is also a member of Harps’ Gaelic Football Club.

O’Duffy joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1917 and is the leader of the Monaghan Brigade of the IRA during the Irish War of Independence and in this capacity becomes Chief of Staff of the IRA in 1922. He is one of the Irish activists who along with Michael Collins accepts the Anglo-Irish Treaty and fights as a general in the Irish Civil War on the pro-Treaty side.

Professionally, O’Duffy becomes the second Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, the police force of the new Irish Free State, after the Civic Guard Mutiny and the subsequent resignation of Michael Staines. He holds this post until 1933, when he is dismissed by Éamon de Valera. In his political life O’Duffy is an early member of Sinn Féin, founded by Arthur Griffith. He is elected as a Teachta Dála (TD) for his home county of Monaghan during the 1921 election.

After a split in 1923 he becomes associated with Cumann na nGaedheal and becomes head of a veterans group then known as the Army Comrades Association. O’Duffy changes its name to “National Guard” and begins to stage fascist-style rallies and adopts a fascist salute. Its members begin to wear blue uniform shirts and become known as the Blueshirts. When government opposition groups form Fine Gael in September 1933, he becomes its first president, reaching the apex of his political power.

Subsequently, the government bans O’Duffy’s National Guard, as well as the group he creates to replace it, the Young Ireland Association, which he in turn replaces with the League of Youth, but their blue shirts indicate its continued fascist ideology. Fine Gael’s other leaders soon tire of his inflammatory rhetoric and the frequent violent behavior of the Blueshirts, but are still surprised when their opposition causes him to resign his party leadership in September 1934. He is then ousted as leader of the Blueshirts as well, but does retain a small loyal following.

An anti-communist, O’Duffy is attracted to the various authoritarian nationalist movements on the Continent. In 1936, he raises the Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War as an act of Catholic solidarity and is inspired by Benito Mussolini‘s Italy to found the National Corporate Party. He offers to Nazi Germany the prospect of raising an Irish Brigade to fight in Operation Barbarossa during World War II on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union, but this is not taken up.

Eoin O’Duffy takes no further part in Irish politics and dies in Dublin on November 30, 1944. In spite of his later politics, he is given a state funeral for his earlier contributions to the Irish government. He is buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.


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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.