seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of William Rokeby, Statesman, Cleric & Archbishop of Dublin

William Rokeby, a leading statesman and cleric in early sixteenth-century Ireland, dies at Kirk Sandall, near Doncaster in South Yorkshire, on November 29, 1521. He holds the offices of Bishop of Meath, Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He is commemorated in the Rokeby Chapels in two Yorkshire churches, St. Oswald’s Church, Kirk Sandall, and Halifax Minster.

Rokeby is born at Kirk Sandall, eldest of the five sons of John Rokeby (died 1506). His younger brother, Sir Richard Rokeby (died 1523), is Comptroller of the Household to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and later Treasurer of Ireland. He retains a deep affection for Kirk Sandall and returns there to die. He goes to school at Rotherham, studies at the University of Oxford and becomes a fellow of King’s Hall, later Trinity College, Cambridge. He becomes vicar of his home parish in 1487 and is transferred to Halifax, another town for which he has a deep attachment, in about 1499. In 1507 he is made Bishop of Meath.

On the death of Walter Fitzsimon in 1511, Rokeby becomes Archbishop of Dublin. It has been suggested that his elevation is due at least in part to his English birth, as the Crown is anxious to place Englishmen high up in the Irish hierarchy. No doubt his brother’s close connection to Wolsey also plays a part. He is Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1512 to 1513 and from 1516 to 1522.

Writer Roderick J. O’Flanagan believes that Rokeby is a good and diligent Lord Chancellor, although he does not leave behind many written judgments. He is clearly a trusted servant of the Crown; in particular, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, the Lord Deputy, Surrey, with the approval of Henry VIII, choose Rokeby in 1520 as mediator in the feud between Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Desmond, and Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond, which has become exceptionally bitter.

As Archbishop Rokeby makes a reputation as a peacemaker, settling a long and bitter dispute between the Dean and Chapter of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He gives permission to Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, for the original foundation of Maynooth College, which is suppressed in 1535. He is frequently at the English Court, so often indeed that he is accused of neglecting his official duties back in Ireland. He participates in the christening of the future Queen Mary I in 1516 and the ceremony by which Wolsey receives his cardinal’s hat.

As Archbishop of Dublin, Rokeby is best remembered for the Synod of 1518. The Synod prohibits the use of any tin chalice at Mass, and the disposal of Church property by laymen; and attempts to regulate the procedure for dealing with intestate estates, the payment of tithes and burial fees and the rules for admission to the clergy. Rather comically, he strictly forbids clergymen to play football.

Rokeby is appointed Archdeacon of Surrey on March 27, 1519. By 1521 his health is failing, and he retires to Kirk Sandall, where he dies on November 29. In his will he leaves £200 to rebuild St. Mary’s Church, Beverley, whose tower had collapsed the previous year.

Rokeby makes elaborate provisions in his will for the disposal of his remains. In accordance with his wishes, his body is buried in St. Oswald’s Church, Kirk Sandall, but his heart and bowels are buried in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Halifax (now known as Halifax Minster). Mortuary chapels are erected at both spots, which still exist today.

O’Flanagan praises Rokeby as a good man, a good bishop and, so far as we can tell from the scanty records, a good judge. Irish author F. Elrington Ball, while acknowledging his good qualities, suggests that he was a failure as Irish Lord Chancellor, due partly to his frequent absences in England.

(Pictured: Halifax Minster, where Rokeby’s heart is buried)


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Birth of Irish poet Seán Mac Falls

Irish poet Seán Mac Falls is born on November 18, 1957. Belonging to no group or movement and operating outside of literary fashions, his brand of symbolist poetry can, at first reading, appear difficult. His use of allusion, startling diction and subtle punning display submerged metaphor in his work. The overall effect is a fresh implementation of Imagism.

Mac Falls has written seven books of poetry and several chapbooks. His first collection of poems, 20 Poems (2001), wins praise from Yale University critic Harold Bloom and Oxford University don John Carey, who compares the poet to W. B. Yeats. Several of the poems are Pushcart Prize nominations and are reprinted in eminent magazines in the United States and United Kingdom, including Poet Lore, The Lyric, Agenda, The London Magazine and Stand Magazine.

Mac Falls publishes a second book, entitled The Blue Falcon, in 2005. His latest book of verse is titled Garden Theology (2022).

At the age of fifty, a reflective time in his life, Mac Falls purchases an historic, 100-year-old farm house property on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, overlooking Vancouver Island on the Salish Sea, with a sweeping view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Mount Baker. He is seeking a “Gentle House” with the peace and solitude he seeks in which to write. In the ensuing years he desires to share this experience and, looking ahead, establish an artist residency.

In order to preserve and extend the space that proves so generative, Mac Falls’s gift to the writing community is a place for poets, playwrights, painters, filmmakers and songwriters to co-mingle and create and collaborate.

Mac Falls, in collaboration with the esteemed non-profit Tupelo Press, establishes Gentle House as a retreat and ongoing residency for artists with an original founding gift, the property, cottages and a substantial poetry library. During 2022-23, Gentle House will transition to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit literary arts organization. Gentle House continues to subsist on the generosity of Mac Falls’s founding gift, supplemented by a fundraising program that began in earnest in 2021, and is growing each year.


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Death of Robert Barton, Nationalist & Anglo-Irish Politician

Robert Childers Barton, Anglo-Irish politician, Irish nationalist and farmer who participates in the negotiations leading up to the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, dies in Annamoe, County Wicklow, on August 10, 1975. His father is Charles William Barton and his mother is Agnes Alexandra Frances Childers. His wife is Rachel Warren of Boston, daughter of Fiske Warren. His double first cousin and close friend is the English-born Irish writer Erskine Childers.

Barton is born in Annamoe on March 14, 1881, into a wealthy Irish Protestant land-owning family, namely of Glendalough House. His two younger brothers, Erskine and Thomas, die while serving in the British Army during World War I. He is educated in England at Rugby School and the University of Oxford and becomes an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on the outbreak of World War I. He is stationed in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising and comes into contact with many of its imprisoned leaders in the aftermath while on duty at Richmond Barracks. He resigns his commission in protest at the heavy-handed British government suppression of the revolt. He then joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

At the 1918 Irish general election to the British House of Commons, Barton is elected as the Sinn Féin member for West Wicklow. In common with all Sinn Féin members, he boycotts the Westminster parliament and sits instead in Dáil Éireann (the First Dáil). Arrested in February 1919 for sedition, he escapes from Mountjoy Prison on Saint Patrick’s Day, leaving a note to the governor explaining that, owing to the discomfort of his cell, he felt compelled to leave, and requests the governor to keep his luggage until he sends for it. He is appointed as Director of Agriculture in the Dáil Ministry in April 1919. He is recaptured in January 1920 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, but is released under the general amnesty of July 1921.

In May of that year, prior to his release, Barton is elected as a Sinn Féin member for Kildare–Wicklow in the 1921 Irish election to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Once again all Sinn Féin members boycott this parliament, sitting as the Second Dáil. In August 1921, he is appointed to cabinet as Secretary for Economic Affairs.

Barton is one of the Irish plenipotentiaries to travel to London for the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. His cousin is a secretary to the delegation. He reluctantly signs the Treaty on December 6, 1921, defending it “as the lesser of two outrages forced upon me and between which I had to choose.”

Although he had signed the Treaty and voted for it in the Dáil, Barton stands in the 1922 Irish general election for Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin, the only TD who had voted for the Treaty to do so, and wins a seat in the Third Dáil. In common with other Anti-Treaty TDs, he does not take his seat. In October 1922 he is appointed Minister for Economic Affairs in Éamon de Valera‘s “Emergency Government,” a shadow government in opposition to the Provisional Government and the later Executive Council of the Irish Free State. His memoir of this period is completed in 1954, and can be seen on the Bureau of Military History website. He is arrested and interned for most of the war at the Curragh Camp.

Barton is defeated at the 1923 Irish general election and retires from politics for the law, practicing as a barrister. He later becomes a judge. He is chairman of the Agricultural Credit Corporation from 1934 to 1954. He dies at home in County Wicklow on August 10, 1975, at the age of 94, the last surviving signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Éamon de Valera dies only nineteen days later, on August 29, 1975.

Glendalough House, run by Barton for over 70 years right up until his death, is still considered one of Ireland’s most notable properties, alongside nearby Powerscourt Estate. The house is the center of numerous political meetings and gatherings from 1910 to 1922. It has also been featured as a location in many large Hollywood films including Excalibur, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart.


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Birth of T. W. Rolleston, Poet, Critic & Journalist

Thomas William Hazen Rolleston, poet, critic, and journalist, is born on May 1, 1857 at Glasshouse, near Shinrone, King’s County (now County Offaly).

Rolleston is the youngest child among three sons and a daughter of Charles Rolleston-Spunner, barrister and county court judge for Tipperary, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Richards, judge and baron of the Court of Exchequer, Ireland. He attends St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, where he is head boy, and Trinity College Dublin (TCD), graduating with an MA in 1878. His literary ambitions first emerge at university, where he wins the vice-chancellor’s prize for English verse in 1876.

In 1879 Rolleston marries Edith Caroline, daughter of Rev. William de Burgh of Naas, County Kildare. She suffers from rheumatism, and this encourages the couple to live in Germany from 1879 to 1883. During this period he develops a fascination for German philosophy and literature and begins a correspondence with the American poet Walt Whitman, whose work he knows through Edward Dowden. In 1881 he offers to translate into German, with S. K. Knortz, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. This is published as Grashalme in 1889. In that year he also publishes a biography of the German philosopher Gotthold Lessing, and in 1892 delivers the Taylorian Lectures at the University of Oxford on this subject.

In the meantime Rolleston has returned to Ireland and co-founds the Dublin University Review (DUR) with Charles Hubert Oldham in February 1885. In March 1885, under their stewardship the DUR is the first to publish W. B. Yeats. The poetry of Katharine Tynan and the first English translations of Ivan Turgenev also appear in the magazine. He has a fondness for clubs and at this time is associated with the Contemporary Club, where he becomes friendly with fellow member Douglas Hyde, and the Young Ireland Society, where he is vice-president and a disciple of John O’Leary. He writes the dedication to O’Leary in Poems and ballads of Young Ireland (1888) and is encouraged by the older man in his editing of The prose writing of Thomas Davis (1890). Under O’Leary’s influence he flirts with Fenianism, perhaps even joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) for a time, and is strongly critical of the prominent involvement of Catholic clergy in the home rule movement.

After the demise of the DUR in December 1886 Rolleston moves to London, but remains involved in Irish literary activity. Although unenthusiastic in his assessment of The Wanderings of Oisín (1889), he is friendly with Yeats and they instigate the Rhymers’ Club (1890). He is a much better critic and organiser than poet, but contributes to The Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1892) and The Second Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1894). His work appears in a number of contemporary journals and anthologies and he has one collection published, Sea Spray (1909).

Rolleston is first secretary of the Irish Literary Society (1892) and attends the foundation of its sister organisation in Dublin, the National Literary Society. These societies are soon riven by a dispute for control between Yeats and Charles Gavan Duffy, centred on the political and literary agenda of the movement. Rolleston at least acquiesces in, if not actively contributes to, Yeats’s defeat. They remain on reasonable terms, but Yeats is resentful. Rolleston edits the famous anthology, Treasury of Irish Poetry (1900), with the Rev. Stopford Augustus Brooke, whose daughter, Maud, he had married in October 1897. They have four children. His first marriage also produces four children, and he is godfather to Robert Graves, whose father, Alfred Perceval Graves, is a friend.

In 1894 Rolleston returns to Dublin, becoming managing director and secretary of the Irish Industries Association (1894–7) and honorary secretary of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland (1898–1908). A central figure in the latter as an organiser, propagandist, and critic rather than a practitioner, lecturing regularly and editing the journal of the society, he seeks to integrate the arts and crafts revival with other contemporary developments, cooperating with the Congested Districts Board for Ireland to organise classes. He is a supporter of the co-operative movement of Horace Plunkett, and a member of the Recess Committee. On the foundation of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI), he is employed by Plunkett and T. P. Gill as organiser of lectures (1900–05). In this capacity he manages the Irish historic collection at the St. Louis exhibition of 1904, and publicly supports Plunkett in his dispute with the DATI in 1908. Convinced that the development of Irish industry is central to national progress, he believes that the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) failed to offer a clear practical programme for Irish nationalism. By 1900, however, his own nationalism is tempered by a belief in the importance of the imperial connection, and he opposes the pro-Boer stance taken by many Irish nationalists. In later years he publishes pamphlets urging economic development as a means of quelling Irish demands for home rule.

Rolleston is a sporadic member of the Gaelic League, writing the lyrics for the ‘Deirdre cantata,’ which wins first prize at the first Feis Ceoil in Dublin in 1897. At one point he suggests the foundation of a separate Gaelic League for Protestants, and provokes controversy in 1896 by suggesting that scientific ideas cannot be represented in the Irish language. Later, he concedes that he is wrong. In 1909 he settles in London when offered the job of editor of the German language and literature section of The Times Literary Supplement, a position he holds until his death. He reinvolves himself in the Irish Literary Society and publishes a number of volumes based on Irish myth, including the influential Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race (1911), and Richard Wagner‘s Der Ring des Nibelungen. He is a founder of the India Society of London (1910). During the World War I he is librarian for the ministry of information and utilises his knowledge of Irish in the Obscure Languages section of the censor’s department.

Like many involved in cultural activities at this time Rolleston is satirised by George Moore in Hail and Farewell, but he remains very friendly with Moore, who dedicates the 1920 edition of Esther Waters to him. Rolleston dies suddenly on December 5, 1920 at his home in Hampstead, London. His widow donates many of his books to Cork Public Library.

(From: “Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (T. W.)” contributed by William Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of Mary Ward, Astronomer, Microscopist, Author & Artist

Mary Ward (née King), Irish naturalist, astronomer, microscopist, author, and artist, is born in Ballylin near present-day Ferbane, County Offaly, on April 27, 1827. She is killed in 1869 when she falls under the wheels of an experimental steam car built by her cousins, thereby becoming the first person known to be killed by a motor vehicle.

King is the youngest child of the Reverend Henry King and his wife Harriette. She and her sisters are educated at home, as are most girls at the time. However, her education is slightly different from the norm because she is of a renowned scientific family. She is interested in nature from an early age, and by the time she is three years old she is collecting insects.

King is a keen amateur astronomer, sharing this interest with her cousin, William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, who builds the Leviathan of Parsonstown, a reflecting telescope with a six-foot mirror which remains the world’s largest until 1917. She is a frequent visitor to Birr Castle, producing sketches of each stage of the process. Along with photographs made by Parson’s wife, Mary Rosse, her sketches are used to aid in the restoration of the telescope.

King also draws insects, and the astronomer James South observes her doing so one day. She is using a magnifying glass to see the tiny details, and her drawing so impresses him that he immediately persuades her father to buy her a microscope. A compound microscope made by Andrew Ross is purchased for £48 12s 8d. This is the beginning of a lifelong passion. She begins to read everything she can find about microscopy, and teaches herself until she has an expert knowledge. She makes her own slides from slivers of ivory, as glass is difficult to obtain, and prepares her own specimens. The physicist David Brewster asks her to make his microscope specimens, and uses her drawings in many of his books and articles.

Universities and most societies do not accept women at the time, but King obtains information any way she can. She writes frequently to scientists, asking them about papers they had published. During 1848, Parsons is made president of the Royal Society, and visits to his London home allows her to meet many scientists.

King is one of only three women on the mailing list for the Royal Astronomical Society. The others are Queen Victoria and Mary Somerville, a scientist for whom Somerville College at the University of Oxford is named.

On December 6, 1854, King marries Henry Ward of Castle Ward, County Down, who in 1881 succeeds to the title of Viscount Bangor. They have three sons and five daughters, including Maxwell Ward, 6th Viscount Bangor. Her best-known descendants are her grandson, Edward Ward, the foreign correspondent and seventh viscount, and his daughter, the Doctor Who actress Lalla Ward.

When Ward writes her first book, Sketches with the microscope (privately printed in 1857), she apparently believes that no one will print it because of her gender or lack of academic credentials. She publishes 250 copies of it privately, and several hundred handbills are distributed to advertise it. The printing sells during the next few weeks, which prompts a London publisher to take the risk and contract for future publication. The book is reprinted eight times between 1858 and 1880 as A World of Wonders Revealed by the Microscope. A new full-colour facsimile edition at €20 is published in September 2019 by the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society, with accompanying essays.

Her books are A Windfall for the Microscope (1856), A World of Wonders, Revealed by the Microscope (1857), Entomology in Sport, and Entomology in Earnest (1857, with Lady Jane Mahon), Microscope Teachings (1864), Telescope Teachings (1859). She illustrates her books and articles herself, as well as many books and papers by other scientists.

Ward is the first known automobile fatality. William Parsons’ sons had built a steam-powered car and on August 31, 1869, she and her husband are traveling in it with the Parsons boys, Richard Clere Parsons and the future steam turbine pioneer Charles Algernon Parsons, and their tutor, Richard Biggs. She is thrown from the car on a bend in the road at Parsonstown (present-day Birr, County Offaly). She falls under its wheel and dies almost instantly. A doctor who lives near the scene arrives within moments, and finds her cut, bruised, and bleeding from the ears. The fatal injury is a broken neck. It is believed that the grieving family destroys the car after the crash.

Ward’s microscope, accessories, slides and books are on display in her husband’s home, Castle Ward, County Down. William Parsons’ home at Birr Castle, County Offaly, is also open to the public.


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Birth of Jeremiah Newman, Bishop of Limerick

Jeremiah Newman, Bishop of Limerick from 1974 to 1995 after having served as Professor and President of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, is born in Dromcolliher, County Limerick, on March 31, 1926.

Following a local primary education, Newman attends St. Munchin’s College, Limerick. He studies for the priesthood at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and is ordained there on June 18, 1950.

Newman begins postgraduate studies in Philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain and is awarded a Doctorate in Philosophy there in 1951. After that he takes up studies in Sociology at the University of Oxford for four years before taking up a teaching post at Queen’s University, Belfast.

In 1953 Newman is appointed Professor of Sociology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, succeeding Peter McKevitt. It is an institution he remains within, and eventually leads with distinction, until he is appointed Bishop of Limerick in May 1974. He publishes two books about the college: Maynooth and Georgian Ireland (1979) followed by Maynooth and Victorian Ireland (1983).

Newman arrives in Limerick with a strong reputation for reform having served a number of years as President of Maynooth where he adapted and shaped the college to the new challenges of the 1970s. His academic background in sociology gives him an informed understanding of the changing dynamic in Irish life, especially rural life which he has been writing about since the early 1960s, especially the dangers of depopulation.

Newman often makes comment on national matters particularly about church-state relations which has been his special area of study for over 20 years. He takes what might be called a broadly ‘conservative’ approach which, as time goes on, jars with wider public opinion especially as Ireland faces a number of constitutional referenda in the 1980s. At least one modern author has quoted the epithet alleged to have been conferred on Newman by Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Mullah of Limerick, for articulating a neo-conservative position more commonly associated with the United States.

Newman’s later years are dogged by periodic bouts of ill-health and he dies in office on April 3, 1995 of hepatoma. He is buried in St. John’s Cathedral, Limerick. He is the subject of many obituaries not least because of his extensive public statements in his years as Bishop of Limerick. The Tablet suggests he was most “well known for his conservatism and taste for controversial remarks” before quoting the homily by Cardinal Cahal Daly that “he seemed to have a strange sense of inadequacy; and, for one who was so lovable, he seemed to have difficulties in believing that others respected and admired and indeed loved him.” The Irish Times obituary says he was a man “who kept fighting the battles of long ago.”

Newman is succeeded as Bishop of Limerick by Bishop Donal Murray.

Limerick City Library holds an extensive set of newspaper articles about Bishop Jeremiah Newman which have been made available online.


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Birth of Walter Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne

Walter Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne, soldier, politician, traveler, and anthropologist, is born on March 29, 1880 in Dublin.

Guinness is the third son of Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, and Adelaide Maria Guinness, a cousin. He is educated at Eton College, where he displays a keen interest in the sciences, especially biology, and considerable athletic prowess. Forsaking an intention to enter the University of Oxford, he joins the Suffolk Yeomanry regiment of the British Army as a second lieutenant on November 15, 1899 and serves in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), where he is wounded and mentioned in dispatches.

On return from South Africa Guinness enters politics, unsuccessfully contesting Stowmarket in the 1906 United Kingdom general election as a Conservative Party candidate. In the following year he becomes MP for Bury St. Edmunds, holding the seat until 1931. He is also elected as a member of the London County Council (1907–10). He interrupts his career yet again at the outbreak of World War I and, rejoining the Suffolk Yeomanry, serves in Gallipoli and Egypt. By the end of the war he is a lieutenant colonel, three times mentioned in dispatches, with the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1917 and a bar to it in 1918.

In the immediate postwar years Guinness devotes himself to his political career, and his work is soon rewarded with important appointments: Under-Secretary of State for War (1922) and Financial Secretary to the Treasury (1923). He serves for a second time at the Treasury (1924–5) under Winston Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Sworn of the Privy Council in 1924, he enters the cabinet in November 1925 as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. After the defeat of the Conservatives in the 1929 United Kingdom general election, he gradually withdraws from the political scene, retiring from his parliamentary seat in 1931. He is raised to the peerage in 1932 as Baron Moyne of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk.

Always a keen traveler, during the following years Guinness makes several expeditions in search of biological specimens and archaeological material. He travels twice to New Guinea and also goes to Greenland and the Bay Islands near Honduras. These voyages are vividly described in his books Walkabout (1936) and Atlantic circle (1938). He still maintains a political profile, however, serving in several different capacities including financial commissioner to Kenya (1932) and chairman of the West India Royal Commission (1938–9). At the outbreak of World War II he works as chairman of the Polish Relief Fund before being appointed as Joint Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture on the formation of the Churchill government (1940). In 1941 he becomes Secretary of State for the Colonies and Leader of the House of Lords. Appointed Deputy Resident Minister of State in Cairo (August 1942), he becomes Minister-Resident for the Middle East in January 1944. On November 6, 1944 he is assassinated in Cairo by members of the ‘Stern Gang’, the Jewish terrorist group based in Palestine.

Guinness marries (1903) Lady Evelyn Hilda Stuart Erskine, daughter of the 14th Earl of Buchan. They have two sons and one daughter.

(Pictured: Walter Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne of Bury St. Edmunds, bromide print, 1929, by Walter Stoneman, National Portrait Gallery)


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Assassination of Sir Richard Sykes, British Ambassador to the Netherlands

Sir Richard Adam Sykes, KCMG, MC, the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, is assassinated by two members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside his residence in The Hague on March 22, 1979.

Sykes is born on May 8, 1920 to Brigadier A. C. Sykes. For his schooling he attends Wellington College before going up to the University of Oxford, where he attends Christ Church.

During World War II, Sykes serves in the British Army with the Royal Signals from 1940 to 1946. During his service he attains the rank of major. In 1945 he is awarded the Military Cross as well as the Croix de Guerre by France.

Sykes joined HM Foreign Service in 1947 and serves at the Foreign Office from 1947 to 1948. He then serves in Nanjing (1948–50), Peking (1950–52) and returns to the UK to serve at the Foreign Office (1952–56). His next overseas postings take him to Brussels (1956–59), Santiago (1959–62) and Athens (1963–66), before returning to the Foreign Office (1967–69).

Sykes’ first posting as an ambassador comes with a posting to Havana (1970–72) before moving to be a Minister at the British Embassy in Washington D.C. (1972–1975). From there he returns to the Foreign Office as Department Under-Secretary between 1975 and 1977. He is then appointed as Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1977.

Sykes is leaving his residence in The Hague at 9:00 a.m. on March 22, 1979, and is getting into his silver Rolls-Royce limousine when he is shot. He is sitting next to Alyson Bailes. The car door is held by Karel Straub, a 19-year-old Dutch national who works at the embassy. Straub is also shot in the attack. The chauffeur, Jack Wilson, is uninjured and drives Sykes to Westeinde Hospital, where he dies two hours later. Straub is transported by ambulance to the same hospital, where he also dies.

Police report that the shots came from around 10 yards away by two assailants wearing business suits, who escaped on foot following the attack. Suspects for the assassination are Palestinians or Iraqis, although no evidence is ever put forward. It is ultimately confirmed that the IRA had carried out the killings.

The IRA claims responsibility for the assassination in February 1980. In a statement they say of Sykes, “[he was] not just a Brit propagandist, as are all British ambassadors, but because he had been engaged in intelligence operations against our organisation.”

The ‘intelligence operations’ mentioned in the statement relate to a government report written by Sykes following the assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs. Ewart-Biggs was the British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland and was killed by the IRA in 1976. Sykes produces diplomatic security guidelines as part of his report.

Sykes’ position as Ambassador to the Netherlands had been strained due to certain Dutch groups, which were sympathetic to the IRA, and consequent arms smuggling activities.

There is a memorial plaque to Sykes in St. Michael’s Church, Wilsford, Wiltshire.

(Pictured: “Sir Richard Sykes” by Bassano Ltd., half-plate film negative, 20 January 1966, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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Death of Dame Jean Iris Murdoch, Novelist & Philosopher

Dame Jean Iris Murdoch DBE, Irish and British novelist and philosopher, dies in Oxford, England, on February 8, 1999. She is best known for her novels about good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious. In 2008, The Times ranks her twelfth on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.”

Murdoch is born on July 15, 1919 in Phibsborough, Dublin, the daughter of Irene Alice (née Richardson) and Wills John Hughes Murdoch. Her father, a civil servant, comes from a mainly Presbyterian sheep farming family from Hillhall, County Down. In 1915, he enlists as a soldier in King Edward’s Horse and serves in France during World War I before being commissioned as a second lieutenant. Her mother trains as a singer before Iris is born, and is from a middle-class Church of Ireland family in Dublin. Her parents first meet in Dublin when her father is on leave and are married in 1918. Iris is the couple’s only child. When she is a few weeks old the family moves to London, where her father had joined the Ministry of Health as a second-class clerk.  She is a second cousin of the Irish mathematician Brian Murdoch.

Murdoch is brought up in Chiswick and educated in progressive independent schools, entering the Froebel Demonstration School in 1925 and attending Badminton School in Bristol as a boarder from 1932 to 1938. In 1938 she goes up to Somerville College, Oxford, with the intention of studying English, but switches to “Greats“, a course of study combining classics, ancient history, and philosophy. At Oxford she studies philosophy with Donald M. MacKinnon and attends Eduard Fraenkel‘s seminars on Agamemnon. She is awarded a first class honours degree in 1942. After leaving Oxford she goes to work in London for HM Treasury. In June 1944 she leaves the Treasury and goes to work for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). At first she is stationed in London at the agency’s European Regional Office. In 1945 she is transferred first to Brussels, then to Innsbruck, and finally to Graz, Austria, where she works in a refugee camp. She leaves the UNRRA in 1946.

From 1947 to 1948 Murdoch studies philosophy as a postgraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge. She meets Ludwig Wittgenstein at Cambridge but does not hear him lecture, as he had left his Trinity College professorship before she arrives. In 1948 she becomes a fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, where she teaches philosophy until 1963. From 1963 to 1967 she teaches one day a week in the General Studies department at the Royal College of Art.

In 1956 Murdoch marries John Bayley, a literary critic, novelist, and from 1974 to 1992 Warton Professor of English at Oxford University, whom she had met in Oxford in 1954. The unusual romantic partnership lasts more than forty years until Murdoch’s death. Bayley thinks that sex is “inescapably ridiculous.” She in contrast has “multiple affairs with both men and women which, on discomposing occasions, Bayley witnesses for himself.”

Murdoch’s first novel, Under the Net, is published in 1954 and is selected in 1998 as one of Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. She had previously published essays on philosophy, and the first monograph about Jean-Paul Sartre published in English. She goes on to produce 25 more novels and additional works of philosophy, as well as poetry and drama.

Murdoch’s 1978 novel The Sea, the Sea wins the Booker Prize. Her other books include The Bell (1958), A Severed Head (1961), The Red and the Green (1965), The Nice and the Good (1968), The Black Prince (1973), Henry and Cato (1976), The Philosopher’s Pupil (1983), The Good Apprentice (1985), The Book and the Brotherhood (1987), The Message to the Planet (1989), and The Green Knight (1993).

In 1976 she is named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and in 1987 is made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for services to literature. She is awarded honorary degrees by the University of Bath (D.Litt, 1983), University of Cambridge (1993) and Kingston University (1994), among others. She is elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1982.

Murdoch’s last novel, Jackson’s Dilemma, is published in 1995. She is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1997 and dies on February 8, 1999 in Oxford. There is a bench dedicated to her in the grounds of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she enjoyed walking.


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Birth of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon & First Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon PC PC (NI) DL, prominent Irish unionist politician, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1921 until his death in 1940, is born at Sydenham, Belfast, on January 8, 1871.

Craig is the seventh of nine children of James Craig (1828–1900), a wealthy whiskey distiller who had entered the firm of Dunville & Co. as a clerk and by age 40 is a millionaire and a partner in the firm. Craig Snr. owns a large house called Craigavon, overlooking Belfast Lough. His mother, Eleanor Gilmore Browne, is the daughter of Robert Browne, a prosperous man who owned property in Belfast and a farm outside Lisburn. Craig is educated at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, Scotland. After school he begins work as a stockbroker, eventually opening his own firm in Belfast.

Craig enlists in the 3rd (Militia) battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles on January 17, 1900 to serve in the Second Boer War. He is seconded to the Imperial Yeomanry, a cavalry force created for service during the war, as a lieutenant in the 13th battalion on February 24, 1900, and leaves Liverpool for South Africa on the SS Cymric in March 1900. After arrival he is soon sent to the front and is taken prisoner in May 1900, but released by the Boers because of a perforated colon. On his recovery he becomes deputy assistant director of the Imperial Military Railways, showing the qualities of organisation that are to mark his involvement in both British and Ulster politics. In June 1901 he is sent home suffering from dysentery, and by the time he is fit for service again the war is over. He is promoted to captain in the 3rd Royal Irish Rifles on September 20, 1902, while still seconded to South Africa.

On his return to Ireland, having received a £100,000 legacy from his father’s will, Craig turns to politics, serving as Member of the British Parliament for East Down from 1906 to 1918. From 1918 to 1921 he represents Mid Down, and serves in the British government as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Pensions (1919–20) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1920–21).

Craig rallies Ulster loyalist opposition to Irish Home Rule in Ulster before World War I, organising the paramilitary Ulster Volunteers (UVF) and buying arms from Imperial Germany. The UVF becomes the nucleus of the 36th (Ulster) Division during World War I. He succeeds Edward Carson as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in February 1921.

In the 1921 Northern Ireland general election, the first ever, Craig is elected to the newly created House of Commons of Northern Ireland as one of the members for Down.

On June 7, 1921, Craig is appointed the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The House of Commons of Northern Ireland assembles for the first time later that day.

Craig is made a baronet in 1918, and in 1927 is created Viscount Craigavon, of Stormont in the County of Down. He is also the recipient of honorary degrees from Queen’s University Belfast (1922) and the University of Oxford (1926).

Craig had made his career in British as well as Northern Irish politics but his premiership shows little sign of his earlier close acquaintance with the British political world. He becomes intensely parochial, and suffers from his loss of intimacy with British politicians in 1938, when the British government concludes agreements with Dublin to end the Anglo-Irish trade war between the two countries. He never tries to persuade Westminster to protect Northern Ireland‘s industries, especially the linen industry, which is central to its economy. He is anxious not to provoke Westminster, given the precarious state of Northern Ireland’s position. In April 1939, and again in May 1940 during World War II, he calls for conscription to be introduced in Northern Ireland (which the British government, fearing a backlash from nationalists, refuses). He also calls for Winston Churchill to invade Ireland using Scottish and Welsh troops in order to seize the valuable ports and install a Governor-General at Dublin.

While still prime minister, Craig dies peacefully at his home at Glencraig, County Down at the age of 69 on November 24, 1940. He is buried on the Stormont Estate on December 5, 1940, and is succeeded as the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Minister of Finance, J. M. Andrews.

(Pictured: James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, bromide print by Olive Edis, National Portrait Gallery, London)