seamus dubhghaill

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


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Lambert Simnel Crowned King of England as Edward VI

lambert-simnelLambert Simnel, the Yorkist pretender to the throne of England, is crowned King of England as Edward VI in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on May 24, 1487.

Simnel is born around 1477. His real name is not known and contemporary records call him John, not Lambert, and even his surname is suspect. Different sources have different claims of his parentage but he is most definitely of humble origin. At the age of about ten, he is taken as a pupil by an Oxford-trained priest named Richard Simon who apparently decides to become a kingmaker. He tutors the boy in courtly manners and contemporaries describe the boy as handsome. He is taught the necessary etiquette and is well educated by Simon.

Simon notices a striking resemblance between Lambert and the sons of Edward IV, so he initially intends to present Simnel as Richard, Duke of York, son of King Edward IV, the younger of the vanished Princes in the Tower. However, when he hears rumours (at the time false) that the Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick has died during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, he changes his mind. The real Warwick is a boy of about the same age, having been born in 1475, and has a claim to the throne as the son of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, King Edward IV’s executed brother.

Simon spreads a rumour that Warwick has actually escaped from the Tower and is under his guardianship. He gains some support from Yorkists. He takes Simnel to Ireland where there is still support for the Yorkist cause, and presents him to the head of the Irish government, Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, Lord Deputy of Ireland. Kildare is willing to support the story and invade England to overthrow King Henry. Simnel is paraded through the streets, carried on the shoulders of “the tallest man of the time,” an individual called D’Arcy of Platten.

On May 24, 1487, Simnel is crowned in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin as King Edward VI. He is about 10 years old. Lord Kildare collects an army of Irish soldiers under the command of his younger brother, Thomas FitzGerald of Laccagh.

John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln, formerly the designated successor of his uncle, the late King Richard III, joins the conspiracy against Henry VII. He flees to Burgundy, where Warwick’s aunt Margaret of York, the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, keeps her court. Lincoln claims that he has taken part in young Warwick’s supposed escape. He also meets Francis Lovell, 1st Viscount Lovell, who had supported a failed Yorkist uprising in 1486. Margaret collects 2,000 Flemish mercenaries and ships them to Ireland under the command of Martin Schwartz, a noted military leader of the time. They arrive in Ireland on May 5. King Henry is informed of this and begins to gather troops.

Simnel’s army, mainly Flemish and Irish troops, lands on Piel Island in the Furness area of Lancashire on June 5, 1487 and are joined by some English supporters. However, most local nobles, with the exception of Sir Thomas Broughton, do not join them. They clash with the King’s army on June 16 at the Battle of Stoke Field in Nottinghamshire, and are defeated. Lincoln and Thomas FitzGerald are killed. Lovell goes missing and there are rumours that he has escaped to Scotland with Sir Thomas Broughton and hidden to avoid retribution. Simons avoids execution due to his priestly status, but is imprisoned for life. Kildare, who had remained in Ireland, is pardoned.

King Henry pardons young Simnel, probably because he recognises that Simnel had merely been a puppet in the hands of adults, and puts him to work in the royal kitchen as a spit-turner. When he grows older, he becomes a falconer. Almost no information about his later life is known. He dies some time between 1525 and 1535. He seems to have married, as he is probably the father of Richard Simnel, a canon of St. Osyth’s Priory in Essex during the reign of Henry VIII.


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Birth of Bob Tisdall, Olympic Gold Medalist

bob-tisdallRobert (“Bob”) Morton Newburgh Tisdall, gold medalist in the 400 metres hurdles at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, is born on May 16, 1907 in Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Born to a family of Irish landed gentry, he lives on his father’s plantation in Ceylon until the age of five, when they return to the family home in Nenagh, County Tipperary. Following prep school at Mourne Grange, he goes on to Shrewsbury School, where he wins the Public Schools 402 metres, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he wins a record four events – 402 metres and 110 metres hurdles, long jump and shot put – in the annual match against Oxford. This record is only equaled nearly 60 years later.

Tisdall sets South African and Canadian records in the 201 metres low hurdles in 1929, a year later setting Greek records in the same event. While at Cambridge in March 1932, he decides to try for a place on the Irish Olympic squad and, after he runs a record 54.2 seconds for the Irish Championship 402 metres hurdles in June that year, the authorities agree to let him run in his new event at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Tisdall had run only six 400 metres hurdles when he wins the gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in a world record time of 51.7 seconds, which is not recognised under the rules of the time because he had a hit a hurdle. Later, because of the notoriety of this incident, the rules are changed and the President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, presents Tisdall with a Waterford Crystal rose bowl with the image of him knocking over the last hurdle etched into the glass. Though the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) did not recognise the record at the time, they now recognise the mark, giving Tisdall credit for setting the milestone of being the first man under 52 seconds.

Following his victory, Tisdall is invited to a dinner in Los Angeles where he is seated next to Amelia Earhart on one side and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the other.

Later in life, Tisdall lives in South Africa, where he runs a gymnasium during the day, which he converts to a night club after dark. He grows coffee in Tanzania, but moves to Nambour, Queensland in 1969 with his wife Peggy, where he farms fruit crops and cattle. He admits to running his last race at the age of 80, though he runs in the Sydney Olympics torch relay at age 93. At that point he is the oldest living recipient of an individual track and field Olympic medal。

At the age of 96 Tisdall falls down a steep set of rock stairs and breaks his shoulder, ribs and ruptures his spleen. He never completely recovers and dies on July 27, 2004. At that time, he is the world’s oldest track and field Olympic Gold medalist. He does not want a funeral because “they are altogether too sad.” His wake is attended by family and a few friends.

In 2002, three statues honouring Olympic champions with links to Nenagh, Matt McGrath, Johnny Hayes and Bob Tisdall, are unveiled in front of the Nenagh Courthouse.


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Birth of Robert McCarrison, Physician & Nutritionist

robert-mccarrisonMajor General Sir Robert McCarrison, physician and nutritionist in the Indian Medical Service, is born in Portadown, County Armagh in what is now Northern Ireland on March 15, 1878.

McCarrison is credited with being the first to experimentally demonstrate the effect of deficient dietaries upon animal tissues and organs. He also carries out human experiments aimed at identifying the cause of goitre, and includes himself as one of the experimental subjects. Much of his work is pioneering. His 1921 book Studies in Deficiency Disease is considered notable at the time, being published at a time when knowledge of vitamins and their role in nutrition is crystallizing.

McCarrison qualifies in Medicine at Queen’s College, Belfast in 1900. At age 23, he goes to India, where he spends 30 years on nutritional problems. His research in India on the cause of goitre wins widespread recognition and in 1913 he is promoted to do research. He attains the rank of major-general in the Indian Medical Service and founds the Nutritional Research Laboratories in Coonoor, where he remains until his retirement from the Indian Medical Service in 1935. After retiring, he returns to England and gives a series of three Cantor lectures on successive Mondays at the Royal Society of Arts, about the influence of diet on health. The first lecture focuses on the processes of nutrition; the second, on food essentials and their relationship to bodily structure and function; the third on disease prevention and physique improvement by attention to diet. The lectures are subsequently published in book form under the title Nutrition and Health, and at the time of the third edition in 1962, are still seen as relevant, with the advances of the preceding 25 years largely filling the details of the principles previously recognised by McCarrison.

McCarrison is made a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1923, receives a knighthood in July 1933, and is appointed as Honourable Physician to the King in 1935.

After World War II, from 1945 to 1955, McCarrison serves as director of postgraduate medical education at the University of Oxford. He dies on May 18, 1960.


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Birth of Samuel Haughton, Scientist, Mathematician & Doctor

samuel-haughtonSamuel Haughton, scientist, mathematician, and doctor, is born in Carlow, County Carlow on December 21, 1821. He is “famous” for calculating the drop required to kill a hanged man instantly.

Haughton is the son of James Haughton. His father, the son of a Quaker, but himself a Unitarian, is an active philanthropist, a strong supporter of Father Theobald Mathew, a vegetarian, and an anti-slavery worker and writer.

Haughton has a distinguished career at Trinity College, Dublin and in 1844 he is elected a fellow. Working on mathematical models under James MacCullagh, he is awarded in 1848 the Cunningham Medal by the Royal Irish Academy. In 1847 he has his ordination to the priesthood but he is not someone who preaches. He is appointed as professor of geology at Trinity College in 1851 and holds the position for thirty years. He begins to study medicine in 1859. He earns his MD degree in 1862 from the University of Dublin.

Haughton becomes registrar of the Medical School. He focuses on improving the status of the school and representing the university on the General Medical Council from 1878 to 1896. In 1858 he is elected fellow of the Royal Society. He gains honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. At Trinity College Dublin he moves the first-ever motion at the Academic Council to admit women to the University on March 10, 1880. Through his work as Professor of Geology and his involvement with the Royal Zoological Society, he has witnessed the enthusiasm and contribution of women in the natural sciences. Although thwarted by opponents on the Council he continues to campaign for the admission of women to TCD until his death in 1897. It is 1902 before his motion is finally passed, five years after his death.

In 1866, Haughton develops the original equations for hanging as a humane method of execution, whereby the neck is broken at the time of the drop, so that the condemned person does not slowly strangle to death. “On hanging considered from a Mechanical and Physiological point of view” is published in the London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, Vol. 32 No. 213 (July 1866), calling for a drop energy of 2,240 ft-lbs. From 1886 to 1888, he serves as a member of the Capital Sentences Committee, the report of which suggests an Official Table of Drops based on 1,260 ft-lbs of energy.

Haughton writes papers on many subjects for journals in London and Dublin. His topics include the laws of equilibrium, the motion of solid and fluid bodies, sun-heat, radiation, climates and tides. His papers cover the granites of Leinster and Donegal and the cleavage and joint-planes of the Old Red Sandstone of Waterford.

Haughton is president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1886 to 1891, and secretary of the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland for twenty years. In 1880 he gives the Croonian Lecture on animal mechanics to the Royal Society.

Haughton is also involved in the Dublin and Kingstown Railway company, in which he looks after the building of the first locomotives. It is the first railway company in the world to build its own locomotives.

Samuel Haughton dies on October 31, 1897 and is buried in the Church of the Holy Cross Cemetery in Killeshin, County Laois.


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Birth of C.S. Lewis, Poet & Novelist

clive-staples-lewisClive Staples Lewis, novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist, is born in Belfast on November 29, 1898. He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

Lewis is schooled by private tutors until age nine when his mother dies in 1908 from cancer. His father then sends him to live and study at Wynyard School in Watford, Hertfordshire. After the school is closed soon afterward, he attends Campbell College in the east of Belfast about a mile from his home, but leaves after a few months due to respiratory problems. He is then sent to the health-resort town of Malvern, Worcestershire, where he attends the preparatory school Cherbourg House. It is during this time that he abandons his childhood Christian faith and becomes an atheist. In September 1913, he enrolls at Malvern College. After leaving Malvern, he studies privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father’s old tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.

Lewis holds academic positions in English literature at both the University of Oxford (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and the University of  Cambridge (Magdalene College, 1954–1963).

Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien are close friends. They both serve on the English faculty at Oxford University and are active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. He returns to Anglicanism at the age of 32, owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, and he becomes an “ordinary layman of the Church of England.” His faith profoundly affects his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity bring him wide acclaim.

Lewis writes more than 30 books which have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have sold the most and have been popularised on stage, television, radio and cinema. His philosophical writings are widely cited by Christian apologists from many denominations.

In early June 1961, Lewis begins suffering from nephritis, which results in blood poisoning. He recovers but on July 15 of that year he falls ill and is admitted to the hospital where he suffers a heart attack the following day, lapses into a coma and awakens the next day. After he is discharged from the hospital his condition continues to decline. He is diagnosed with end-stage renal failure in mid-November. He collapses and dies in his bedroom on November 22. He is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Headington, Oxford.

Media coverage of Lewis’s death is almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, which takes place approximately 55 minutes after Lewis’s collapse.

In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis is honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.


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Birth of Louis MacNeice, Poet & Playwright

louis-macneiceLouis MacNeice, British poet and playwright, is born in Belfast on September 12, 1907. He is a member, along with Wystan Hugh Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender, of a group whose low-keyed, unpoetic, socially committed, and topical verse is the “new poetry” of the 1930s. His body of work is widely appreciated by the public during his lifetime, due in part to his relaxed but socially and emotionally aware style.

MacNeice is the youngest son of John Frederick MacNeice and Elizabeth Margaret (“Lily”) MacNeice. His father, a Protestant minister, goes go on to become a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The family moves to Carrickfergus, County Antrim, soon after MacNeice’s birth. His mother dies of tuberculosis in December 1914. In 1917, his father remarries to Georgina Greer and his sister Elizabeth is sent to board at a preparatory school at Sherborne, England. MacNeice joins her at Sherborne Preparatory School later in the year.

After studying at the University of Oxford (1926–30), MacNeice becomes a lecturer in classics at the University of Birmingham (1930–36) and later in the Department of Greek at the Bedford College for Women, London (1936–40). In 1941 he begins to write and produce radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Foremost among his fine radio verse plays is the dramatic fantasy The Dark Tower (1947), with music by Benjamin Britten.

MacNeice’s first book of poetry, Blind Fireworks, appears in 1929, followed by more than a dozen other volumes, such as Poems (1935), Autumn Journal (1939), Collected Poems, 1925–1948 (1949), and, posthumously, The Burning Perch (1963). An intellectual honesty, Celtic exuberance, and sardonic humour characterize his poetry, which combines a charming natural lyricism with the mundane patterns of colloquial speech. His most characteristic mood is that of the slightly detached, wryly observant, ironic and witty commentator. Among MacNeice’s prose works are Letters from Iceland (with W.H. Auden, 1937) and The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941). He is also a skilled translator, particularly of Horace and Aeschylus (The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, 1936).

By the early 1960s, MacNeice is “living on alcohol,” and eating very little, but still writing. In August 1963 he goes caving in Yorkshire to gather sound effects for his final radio play, Persons from Porlock. Caught in a storm on the moors, he does not change out of his wet clothes until he is home in Hertfordshire. Bronchitis evolves into viral pneumonia and he is admitted to hospital in London on August, 27. He dies there on September 3, 1963 at the age of 55. He is buried in Carrowdore churchyard in County Down, alongside his mother.

MacNeice’s final book of poems, The Burning Perch, is published a few days after his funeral. His life-long friend from Oxford, W.H. Auden, who gives a reading at MacNeice’s memorial service, describes the poems of his last two years as “among his very best.”


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Assassination of RIC Inspector Percival Lea-Wilson

percival-lea-wilsonPercival Lea-Wilson, a District Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) who is stationed at Gorey, County Wexford, is shot dead on June 15, 1920 by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside his Gorey home on the orders of Michael Collins.

Lea-Wilson is born in Kensington, London and is educated at the University of Oxford but his route into the British Army begins with a stint as a RIC constable in Charleville, County Cork in the early 20th century.

When World War I breaks out in 1914 Lea-Wilson joins the British army where he reaches the rank of captain in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. An injury during the war forces him back to Ireland where he is stationed in Dublin, just in time for the Easter Rising in 1916.

When the week long rising ends, the rebels who had fought in the Four Courts and the GPO are marched to the Rotunda Hospital where they are kept overnight under the glare of British troops. Among those detained are leaders of the rebellion such as Sean Mac Diarmada and Tom Clarke. Clarke is singled out and subjected to public humiliation by 28-year-old British army Captain Percival Lea-Wilson.

Lea-Wilson and his soldiers walk among the captured rebels and he picks the 58-year-old Clarke out of the group. He marches Clarke to the steps of the hospital where he orders soldiers to strip him bare as nurses look on in horror from the windows above. Clarke is beaten and left there overnight in his tattered clothes. One of the prisoners, Michael Collins, who witnesses Clarke’s mistreatment at the hands of the British captain vows vengeance.

In the years following the Easter Rising, Lea-Wilson settles in Wexford where he attains the role of RIC district inspector.

On the morning of June 15, 1920, Lea-Wilson is walking back home after paying a visit to the RIC barracks in Gorey. Dressed in his civilian clothes, he stops at the local railway station where he purchases a newspaper and meets Constable Alexander O’Donnell, who accompanies him on part of his walk home.

O’Donnell and Lea-Wilson part company at the railway bridge on Ballycanew Road while further up that very same stretch of road there is a number of men standing around a parked car with its hood raised. Michael Collins had sent Liam Tobin and Frank Thornton from Dublin to meet with Joe McMahon, Michael McGrath and Michael Sinnott in Enniscorthy. They were then driven by Jack Whelan to Ballycanew Road to carry out the assassination of Lea-Wilson.

Unaware of his assassins lying in wait , Lea-Wilson is reading his paper while strolling along the road. The men by the parked car pull out revolvers when their target comes into range and two bullets strike him down. He manages to quickly get back on his feet and attempts to make an escape but his six assassins run after him and finally bring him down in a hail of bullets. A coroner’s report later states that Lea-Wilson had been shot seven times.

When the shooting ends, one of Lea-Wilson’s executioners calmly walks up to the body to make sure he is dead. He then picks up the newspaper from the ground and takes it with him. Later that evening Michael Collins is in the Wicklow Hotel in Dublin when word reaches him from Wexford of the shooting death of Lea-Wilson. Collins greets the news with glee and mentions to one of his comrades, “Well we finally got him!”

Percival Lea-Wilson is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in southwest London. His grave is marked by a plaque which mentions his assassination in Gorey in 1920, a death which has its roots in the Easter Rising four years previously.


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Birth of John Jordan, Poet & Writer

john-jordanJohn Jordan, Irish poet, short-story writer and broadcaster, is born in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin on April 8, 1930.

Jordan is educated at Synge Street CBS, University College Dublin (UCD) and Pembroke College, Oxford. In his teens he acts on the stage of the Gate Theatre, Dublin, before winning a Scholarship in English and French to the University of Oxford from UCD. In the mid-1950s he returns to UCD as a lecturer in English and teaches there until the end of the 1960s. He also lectures on sabbatical leave at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and briefly at Princeton University in the United States. He is a founding member of Aosdána. He is a celebrated literary critic from the late 1950s until his death on June 6, 1988 in Cardiff, Wales, where he had been participating in the Merriman Summer School.

In 1962 Jordan re-founds and edits the literary magazine Poetry Ireland in hopes of contributing towards the recreation of Dublin as a literary centre. In this journal, he introduces a number of poets who are to become quite famous later, including Paul Durcan, Michael Hartnett and Seamus Heaney. This series of Poetry Ireland lasts until 1968–69.

In 1981 Jordan becomes the first editor of the new magazine published by the Poetry Ireland Society, called Poetry Ireland Review. He serves as a reviewer of novels for The Irish Times, writes a column for Hibernia, contributes to Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art and The Irish Press among others, a serves as a TV presenter and arts interviewer. He is a defender of Gaelic literature, translates Pádraic Ó Conaire, edits The Pleasures of Gaelic Literature (Mercier Press, 1977), and champions the later plays of Seán O’Casey. His translation of one of Aogán Ó Rathaille‘s essays is published in The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry (London: Allen Lane, 1982).

Jordan’s Collected Poems (Dedalus Press) and Collected Stories (Poolbeg Press) are edited by his literary executor, Hugh McFadden, and published in Dublin in 1991. His Selected Prose, Crystal Clear, also edited by McFadden, is published by The Lilliput Press in Dublin in 2006. His Selected Poems, edited with an introduction by McFadden, is published in February 2008 by Dedalus Press. Uncollected stories appear in Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories, Cyphers, and The Irish Press, among other places.

Jordan’s literary papers and letters are held in the National Library of Ireland. In 1953 the young Irish artist Reginald Gray is commissioned by University College Dublin to design the decor and costumes for their production of “The Kings Threshold” by William Butler Yeats. The leading role is given to Jordan. During the preparations for the production, Gray starts a portrait of Jordan, which he never finishes. This work now hangs in the Dublin Writers Museum.

(Pictured: John Jordan, by Patrick Swift, c. 1950)


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Death of Historian Richard Bagwell

richard-bagwell-ireland-under-the-tudorsRichard Bagwell, noted historian of the Stuart and Tudor periods in Ireland and a political commentator with strong Unionist convictions, dies on December 4, 1918 at Marlfield, Clonmel, County Tipperary. He is the eldest son of John Bagwell, M.P. for Clonmel from 1857 to 1874. His son John Philip Bagwell follows the family tradition in politics becoming a Senator in the government of the Irish Free State in 1923.

Bagwell is educated at Harrow School and the University of Oxford in England and is called to the Bar, being admitted to Inner Temple in 1866. He serves as a special local government commissioner (1898–1908) and as a commissioner of national education (1905–18).

As a historian of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Ireland, Bagwell works for nearly sixty years to produce his two three-volume works, Ireland under the Tudors (1885–90) and Ireland under the Stuarts (1909–16), using manuscript sources throughout. He is the first to treat this period in a systematic and scholarly fashion. For this solid work he is made Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) and honoured by the University of Dublin and the University of Oxford in 1918. He also writes the historical entry on “Ireland” for the Encyclopædia Britannica (Chicago 1911).

A one-time liberal, Bagwell is a founder member (1885) of the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union, renamed the Irish Unionist Alliance (IUA) in 1891. A “diehard” unionist, he is one of the most prominent and respected southern unionists. A tireless political publicist, he is an assiduous letter-writer to the newspapers, a didactic pamphleteer, and a regular speaker at political meetings throughout Ireland. He opposes the majority report of the Irish Convention (1917) and is one of the original signatories of the “Call to unionists” that splits the IUA.

Bagwell serves as a Commissioner on National Education between 1905 and 1918 and a member of the Patriotic Union (Southern Unionists). He holds the position of High Sheriff of Tipperary in 1869. He is a Justice of the Peace for County Tipperary, and later for County Waterford, and holds the office of Deputy Lieutenant of Tipperary. He is also Special Local Government Commissioner between 1898 and 1903 and President of the Borstal Association of Ireland.

Bagwell marries Harriet Philippa Joscelyn, fourth daughter of P. J. Newton of Dunleckney Manor, County Carlow, on January 9, 1873. The couple has one son, John Philip Bagwell, and three daughters, Emily Georgiana, Margaret and Lilla Minnie.

Richard Bagwell dies one hundred years ago today on December 4, 1918 at Marlfield, having suffered from gout for many years.


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The Birth of John Toland, Philosopher & Freethinker

john-tolandJohn Toland, Irish rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, is born in Ardagh on the Inishowen peninsula, a predominantly Catholic and Irish-speaking region in northwestern Ireland, on November 30, 1670. He writes numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment.

Very little is known of Toland’s early life. His parents are unknown. He later writes that he had been baptised Janus Junius, a play on his name that recalls both the Roman two-faced god Janus and Lucius Junius Brutus, reputed founder of the Roman Republic. According to his biographer, Pierre des Maizeaux, he adopts the name John as a schoolboy with the encouragement of his school teacher.

Having formally converted from Catholicism to Protestantism at the age of 16, Toland gets a scholarship to study theology at the University of Glasgow. In 1690, at age 19, the University of Edinburgh confers a master’s degree on him. He then gets a scholarship to spend two years studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and subsequently nearly two years at the University of Oxford in England (1694–95). The Leiden scholarship is provided by wealthy English Dissenters who hope Toland will go on to become a minister for Dissenters.

In Toland’s first and best known book, Christianity not Mysterious (1696), he argues that the divine revelation of the Bible contains no true mysteries. Rather, all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles. For this argument he is prosecuted by a grand jury in London. As he is a subject of the Kingdom of Ireland, members of the Parliament of Ireland propose that he should be burned at the stake. In his absence three copies of the book are burned by the public hangman in Dublin as the content is contrary to the core doctrines of the Church of Ireland. Toland bitterly compares the Protestant legislators to “Popish Inquisitors who performed that Execution on the Book, when they could not seize the Author, whom they had destined to the Flames.”

After his departure from Oxford, Toland resides in London for most of the rest of his life, but is also a somewhat frequent visitor to Continental Europe, particularly Germany and the Netherlands. He lives on the Continent from 1707 to 1710.

John Toland dies in Putney on March 10, 1722. Just before he dies, he composes his own epitaph: “He was an assertor of liberty, a lover of all sorts of learning … but no man’s follower or dependent. Nor could frowns or fortune bend him to decline from the ways he had chosen.” The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica says of him that at his death in London at age 51 “he died… as he had lived, in great poverty, in the midst of his books, with his pen in his hand.”

Very shortly after his death a lengthy biography of Toland is written by Pierre des Maizeaux.

(Pictured: The only known image of John Toland)