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


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Birth of Isaac Butt, Barrister & Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Isaac_Butt.jpgIsaac Butt, barrister and politician, is born in Glenfin, County Donegal on September 6, 1813. If not the originator of the term Home Rule, he is the first to make it an effective political slogan. He is the founder (1870) and first chief of the Home Government Association and president (1873–77) of the Home Rule League of Great Britain, but he is superseded in 1878 as head of the Home Rule movement by the younger and more forceful Charles Stewart Parnell.

Butt is the son of a Church of Ireland rector and is descended from the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, through the Ramsays. He receives his secondary school education at The Royal School in Raphoe, County Donegal, and at Midleton College in County Cork, before going to Trinity College Dublin at the age of fifteen, where he is elected a Scholar. While there he co-founds the Dublin University Magazine and edits it for four years. For much of his life he is a member of the Irish Conservative Party. He becomes Whately Chair of Political Economy at Trinity in 1836 and holds that position until 1841.

Butt is called to the Irish bar in 1838 and the English bar in 1859. Intermittently from 1852 he represents, successively, one English and two Irish constituencies in the House of Commons. In 1848 he undertakes the defense of the Young Ireland leaders, who are charged with high treason for their abortive insurrection that year. From 1865 to 1869 he is the principal defense counsel for the imprisoned leaders of the Fenians (Irish Republican, or Revolutionary, Brotherhood).

Despite his legal work for the Fenians, Butt, who is basically a conservative, fears the consequences of a successful Fenian revolt. Disillusioned, however, by the British government’s failure to relieve the Irish Great Famine of the late 1840s, he becomes convinced that a native parliament is required for Irish land reform and other needs. In May 1870 he calls for an Irish Parliament subordinate to the imperial Parliament at Westminster, and later that year he forms the Home Government Association. From 1871 he quickens the Irish nationalist agitation in the House of Commons but gradually loses his leadership, partly because he disapproves of Parnell’s tactics of obstructing routine parliamentary business.

Butt amasses debts and pursues romances. It is said that at meetings he is occasionally heckled by women with whom he had fathered children. He is also involved in a financial scandal when it is revealed that he had taken money from several Indian princes to represent their interests in parliament.

Isaac Butt dies on May 5, 1879 in Clonskeagh in Dublin. His remains are brought by train to Stranorlar, County Donegal, where he is buried in a corner of the Church of Ireland cemetery beneath a tree by which he used to sit and dream as a boy. His grave has been restored and the memorial now includes a wreath.

Despite his chaotic lifestyle and political limitations, Butt is capable of inspiring deep personal loyalty. Some of his friends, such as John Butler Yeats and the future Catholic Bishop of Limerick, Edward Thomas O’Dwyer, retain a lasting hostility towards Parnell for his role in Butt’s downfall.

In May 2010 the Church of Ireland parishes of Stranorlar, Meenglass and Kilteevogue instigate an annual memorial Service and Lecture in Butt’s honour, inviting members of the professions of law, politics and journalism to reflect aspects of his life. Speakers have included Dr. Joe Mulholland, Senator David Norris, Dr. Chris McGimpsey and Prof. Brian Walker.

(Pictured: Isaac Butt, portrait by John Butler Yeats)


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Operation Demetrius

long-kesh-internment-campOperation Demetrius, a British Army operation in Northern Ireland begins on August 9, 1971, during the Troubles. The operation involves the mass arrest and internment (imprisonment without trial) of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is waging a campaign for a united Ireland against the British state.

Operation Demetrius, proposed by the Government of Northern Ireland and approved by the Government of the United Kingdom, begins throughout Northern Ireland in the early morning hours of Monday, August 9 and progresses in two parts:

  1. Arrest and movement of the detainees to one of three regional holding centers: Girdwood Barracks in Belfast, Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler, County Down, or HM Prison Magilligan near LimavadyCounty Londonderry.
  2. The process of identification and questioning, leading either to release of the detainee or movement into detention at HM Prison Crumlin Road or aboard HMS Maidstone, a prison ship in Belfast Harbour.

The operation sparks four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers are killed. All of those arrested are Irish nationalists, the vast majority of them Catholic. Due to faulty intelligence, many have no links with the IRA. Ulster loyalist paramilitaries are also carrying out acts of violence, which are mainly directed against Catholics and Irish nationalists, but no loyalists are included in the sweep.

The introduction of internment, the way the arrests are carried out, and the abuse of those arrested, lead to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence. Amid the violence, about 7,000 people flee or are forced out of their homes. The interrogation techniques used on some of the internees are described by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1976 as torture, but the superior court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), rules on appeal in 1978 that, although the techniques are “inhuman and degrading”, they do not, in this instance, constitute torture. It is later revealed that the British government had withheld information from the ECHR and that the policy had been authorized by British government ministers. In December 2014, in light of the new evidence, the Irish government asks the ECHR to revise its 1978 judgement. The ECHR declines the request in 2018.

The backlash against internment contributes to the decision of the British Government under Prime Minister Edward Heath to suspend the Northern Ireland Government and replace it with direct rule from Westminster, under the authority of a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This takes place in 1972.

Following the suspension of the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament, internment is continued by the direct rule administration until December 5, 1975. During this time 1,981 people are interned, 1,874 are nationalist while 107 are loyalist. The first loyalist internees are detained in February 1973.

(Pictured: The entrance to Compound 19, one of the sections of Long Kesh internment camp)


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The 2017 Northern Ireland Elections

2017-northern-ireland-electionsThe 2017 United Kingdom general election in Northern Ireland takes place on June 8, 2017. All eighteen seats in Northern Ireland are contested. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) gain two seats for a total of ten, and Sinn Féin wins seven, an improvement of three. Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon is also re-elected in her constituency of North Down. Meanwhile, the Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) loses three seats and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) loses two seats, meaning they both lose all their representation in the House of Commons. The two parties so central to the Good Friday Agreement are not represented in Westminster nineteen years after the signing of the historic deal.

As Sinn Féin maintains a policy of abstentionism in regards to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the 2017 election marks the first parliament since 1964 without any Irish nationalist MPs who take their seats in the House of Commons in Westminster.

Nationally, the governing Conservative Party falls eight seats short of a parliamentary majority after the election, reduced to four if the absence of Sinn Féin is taken into account. The DUP thus holds the balance of power, and announces on June 10 that it will support the Conservative government on a “confidence and supply” basis.

Five seats change hands in Northern Ireland. The SDLP loses its seats in Foyle and South Down to Sinn Féin and the constituency of Belfast South to the DUP. Meanwhile, the UUP loses South Antrim to the DUP and Fermanagh and South Tyrone to Sinn Féin. The number of unionist and nationalist representatives, eleven and seven respectively, remain unchanged from the 2015 United Kingdom general election, although none of the nationalist members are participating in the current Parliament.


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The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 Receives Royal Assent

coat-of-arms-of-the-united-kingdomThe Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, the culmination of the process of Catholic emancipation throughout the United Kingdom, receives royal assent on April 13, 1829. In Ireland it repeals the Test Act 1673 and the remaining Penal Laws which had been in force since the passing of the Disenfranchising Act of the Parliament of Ireland of 1728. Its passage follows a vigorous campaign that threatens insurrection led by Irish lawyer Daniel O’Connell. The British leaders, starting with the Prime MinisterArthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,  and his top aide Robert Peel, although personally opposed, give in to avoid civil strife. Ireland is quiet after the passage.

In 1778, English Catholics are relieved of the restrictions on land inheritance and purchase. A savage reaction to these concessions produces the Gordon Riots of 1780, and the whole history of Catholic Emancipation is one of struggle against great resistance. In 1791 the Roman Catholic Relief Act repeals most of the disabilities in Great Britain, provided Catholics take an oath of loyalty. In 1793 the army, the navy, the universities, and the judiciary are opened to Catholics, although seats in Parliament and some offices are still denied. These reforms are sponsored by William Pitt the Younger, who hopes thereby to split the alliance of Irish Catholics and Protestants. But Pitt’s attempt to secure a general repeal of the Penal Laws is thwarted by George III. Pope Pius VII consents to a royal veto on episcopal nominations if the Penal Laws are repealed, but the move fails. In Ireland the repeal of Poynings’ Law in 1782 is followed by an act (1792) of the Irish Parliament relaxing the marriage and education laws and an act (1793) allowing Catholics to vote and hold most offices.

The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 permits members of the Catholic Church to sit in the parliament at Westminster and to hold all but a handful of public offices. O’Connell had won a seat in a by-election for Clare in 1828 against an Anglican. Under the then extant penal law, O’Connell as a Catholic, is forbidden to take his seat in Parliament. Peel, the Home Secretary, until then is called “Orange Peel” because he always supports the Orange (anti-Catholic) position. Peel now concludes, “Though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger.” Fearing a revolution in Ireland, Peel draws up the Catholic Relief Bill and guides it through the House of Commons. To overcome the vehement opposition of both the House of Lords and King George IV, the Duke of Wellington works tirelessly to ensure passage in the House of Lords, and threatens to resign as Prime Minister if the King does not give Royal Assent.

With the Universities Tests Act 1871, which opens the universities to Roman Catholics, Catholic Emancipation in the United Kingdom is virtually complete.


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Birth of Arthur Griffith, Founder of Sinn Féin

arthur-griffithArthur Joseph Griffith, writer, newspaper editor and politician who founded the political party Sinn Féin, is born in Dublin on March 31, 1871. He leads the Irish delegation at the negotiations that produce the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, and serves as President of Dáil Éireann from January 1922 until his death in August 1922.

Griffith, a Roman Catholic, is educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. He works for a time as a printer before joining the Gaelic League, which is aimed at promoting the restoration of the Irish language.

After a short spell in South Africa, Griffith founds and edits the Irish nationalist newspaper The United Irishman in 1899. In 1904, he writes The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland, which advocates the withdrawal of Irish members from the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the setting up of the institutions of government at home, a policy that becomes known as Sinn Féin (ourselves). On November 28, 1905, he presents “The Sinn Féin Policy” at the first annual Convention of the National Council. The occasion is marked as the founding date of the Sinn Féin party. Although the organization is still small at the time, Griffith takes over as president of Sinn Féin in 1911.

Griffith is arrested following the Easter Rising of 1916, despite not having taken any part in it. On his release, he works to build up Sinn Féin, which wins a string of by-election victories. At the party’s Ardfheis (annual convention) in October 1917, Sinn Féin becomes an unambiguously republican party, and Griffith resigns the presidency in favour of the 1916 leader Éamon de Valera, becoming vice-president instead. Griffith is elected as a member of parliament (MP) in June 1918, and is re-elected in the 1918 general election, when Sinn Féin wins a huge electoral victory over the Irish Parliamentary Party and, refusing to take their seats at Westminster, set up their own constituent assembly, Dáil Éireann.

In the Dáil, Griffith serves as Minister for Home Affairs from 1919 to 1921, and Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1921 to 1922. In September 1921, he is appointed chairman of the Irish delegation to negotiate a treaty with the British government. After months of negotiations, he and the other four delegates sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which creates the Irish Free State, but not as a republic. This leads to a split in the Dáil. After the Treaty is narrowly approved by the Dáil, de Valera resigns as president and Griffith is elected in his place. The split leads to the Irish Civil War.

Griffith enters St. Vincent’s Nursing Home, Leeson Street, Dublin, during the first week of August 1922, following an acute attack of tonsillitis. He is confined to his room by his doctors, who had observed signs of what they thought might be a subarachnoid hemorrhage. It is difficult to keep him quiet and he resumes his daily work in the government building. When about to leave for his office shortly before 10:00 AM on August 12, 1922, he pauses to retie his shoelace and falls down unconscious. He regains consciousness, but collapses again with blood coming from his mouth. Three doctors render assistance, but to no avail. Father John Lee of the Marist Fathers administers extreme unction, and Griffith expires as the priest recites the concluding prayer. The cause of death, cerebral hemorrhage, is also reported as being due to heart failure. He dies at the age of 51, ten days before Michael Collins‘ assassination in County Cork and two months after the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery four days later.


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Death of Henry III, King of England, Lord of Ireland

effigy-of-henry-iiiHenry III, King of England, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Aquitaine from 1216 until his death, dies in Westminster, London on November 16, 1272. His son, Edward I, who has been Lord of Ireland since 1254, succeeds him.

In the final years of his reign, Henry is increasingly infirm and focused on securing peace within the kingdom and his own religious devotions. Edward becomes the Steward of England and begins to play a more prominent role in government. Henry’s finances are in a precarious state as a result of the war, and when Edward decides to join the crusades in 1268 it becomes clear that fresh taxes are necessary.

Henry is concerned that Edward’s absence might encourage further revolts, but is swayed by his son to negotiate with multiple parliaments over the next two years to raise the money. Although Henry had initially reversed Simon de Montfort‘s anti-Jewish policies, including attempting to restore the debts owed to Jews where these could be proven, he faces pressure from parliament to introduce restrictions on Jewish bonds, particularly their sale to Christians, in the final years of his reign in return for financing. Henry continues to invest in Westminster Abbey, which becomes a replacement for the Angevin mausoleum at Fontevraud Abbey, and in 1269 he oversees a grand ceremony to rebury Edward the Confessor in a lavish new shrine, personally helping to carry the body to its new resting place.

Edward leaves for the Eighth Crusade, led by Louis IX of France, in 1270, but Henry becomes increasingly ill. Concerns about a fresh rebellion grow and the following year the King writes to his son asking him to return to England, but Edward does not turn back. Henry recovers slightly and announces his renewed intention to join the crusades himself, but he never regains his full health. On the evening of November 16, 1272, Henry dies in Westminster, probably with his wife, Eleanor of Provence, in attendance. He is succeeded by Edward, who slowly makes his way back to England via Gascony, finally arriving in August 1274.

At his request, Henry is buried in Westminster Abbey in front of the church’s high altar, in the former resting place of Edward the Confessor. A few years later, work begins on a grander tomb for the King and in 1290 Edward moves his father’s body to its current location in Westminster Abbey. His gilt-brass funeral effigy is designed and forged within the abbey grounds by William Torell. Unlike other effigies of the period, it is particularly naturalistic in style, but it is probably not a close likeness of Henry himself.

Eleanor likely hopes that Henry will be recognised as a saint, as his contemporary Louis IX of France had been. Indeed, Henry’s final tomb resembles the shrine of a saint, complete with niches possibly intended to hold relics. When the King’s body is exhumed in 1290, contemporaries note that the body is in perfect condition and that Henry’s long beard remains well preserved, which at the time is considered to be an indication of saintly purity. Miracles begin to be reported at the tomb, but Edward is sceptical about these stories. The reports cease, and Henry is never canonised. In 1292, Henry’s heart is removed from his tomb and reburied at Fontevraud Abbey with the bodies of his Angevin family.

(Pictured: Effigy of Henry in Westminster Abbey, c. 1272)


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Birth of Actress Margaret “Peg” Woffington

peg-woffingtonMargaret “Peg” Woffington, well-known Irish actress in Georgian London, is born of humble origins in Dublin on October 18, 1720.

Woffington’s father is believed to have been a bricklayer and, after his death, the family becomes impoverished. Her mother is obliged to take in washing while Peg sells watercress door to door. It is said that she is walking through a marketplace as a pre-teen and happens upon Madame Signora Violante, a famous tightrope walker. Violante is so immediately enthralled by Peg’s beautiful face that she accompanies her home and asks her mother permission to take her in as her apprentice.

Around 1730, Violante features Woffington as Polly Peachum in a production of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. This serves as a springboard for her fame in Dublin, and she continues dancing and acting in the area playing Dorinda in an adaptation of The Tempest at the Theatre Royal, Dublin in 1735 and joining the Smock Alley Theatre to perform with well known actor David Garrick.

Woffington dances and acts at various Dublin theaters until her success as Sir Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple leads to her being given her London debut at Covent Garden. She becomes well known as an actress thereafter.

Woffington enjoys success in the role of Sylvia in The Recruiting Officer. She performs at Drury Lane for several years and later returns to Dublin, appearing in a variety of plays. Her most well-received performances are in comic roles, such as elegant women of fashion like Lady Betty Modish and Lady Townley, and breeches roles. She is impeded in the performance of tragedy by a harsh tone in her voice that she strives to eliminate.

Woffington lives openly with David Garrick, the foremost actor of the day, and her other love affairs are numerous and notorious. She becomes friend and mentor to the socialite/actress sisters, Elizabeth and Maria Gunning, and also shares the stage with the likes of Charles Macklin, Kitty Clive, and the tragedienne Susannah Maria Arne.

Though Woffington is popular with society figures, she is not always favored by her competition. She tends to create rivalries with similar-type actresses at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Her fiercest rivalry is with “equally peppery” actress Kitty Clive. According to Garrick biographer Thomas Davies, “No two women in high life ever hated each other more unreservedly than these two great dames of the stage.” When she returns to Covent Garden, rivalries with these women and with the manager, John Rich, eventually send her back to Dublin, where she is unrivaled and celebrated at the Smock Alley Theatre.

Rich decides to start a Beefsteak Club in 1749, also known as the Sublime Society of Steaks or “the Club.” Some of its members include Garrick and William Hogarth, as well as many other London celebrities. Not only is Woffington the first female member of the all male dining club, in 1750 she becomes president of the club by election. She also educates and supports her sister and cares for and pensions her mother.

For whatever reason, Woffington leaves Garrick in about 1744 and moves to Teddington, into a house called Teddington Place. In 1754 she becomes the beneficiary of the will of the Irish impresario Owen Swiny. In 1756, she performs the part of Lady Randolph in Douglas, a part which finds a later exponent in Sarah Siddons.

On May 3, 1757, Woffington is playing the part of Rosalind in As You Like It when she collapses on stage. She rallies but would never act again, lingering with a wasting illness. She dies in Queen Square, Westminster on March 28, 1760. She is buried in St. Mary’s Church, the parish church in Teddington.