seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Máirín Cregan, Nationalist, Playwright, & Novelist

Máirín Cregan, Irish nationalist who is involved in the 1916 Easter Rising and Irish War of Independence, is born in Killorglin, County Kerry, on March 27, 1891. She later makes her name writing for children, as well as writing plays and novels for adults.

Mary Ellen Cregan is born to Morgan Cregan and Ellen O’Shea. Her father is a stonemason from Limerick. The family are strong believers in the Gaelic revival movement and Cregan herself learns the Irish language and performs songs at Gaelic League concerts. Although she goes to primary school locally, she goes away to secondary school to St. Louis Convent in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. After finishing school, she becomes a teacher, working in Goresbridge, County Kilkenny from 1911 to 1914.

In September 1914 Cregan goes to Dublin to study music in the Leinster School of Music, under Madame Coslett Heller. It is while she is in Dublin that she becomes friends with the Ryan family, who are strong nationalists as well as interested in the Gaelic League and Sinn Féin. She begins to sing for concerts which are fundraisers for the Irish Volunteers. The last concert is just two weeks before the Easter Rising.

During Easter week Cregan is sent to Tralee with “automatics and ammunition” by Seán Mac Diarmada. While she is carrying a violin case of munitions, she is also carrying details for the wireless technology needed for communicating with the SS Aud, the boat which is carrying more weapons for the rebellion. The communications with the SS Aud goes wrong when the car carrying the Volunteers goes off a pier and the occupants are drowned. She is still in the area to assist with the surviving Volunteer, who unfortunately knows nothing of the details for the SS Aud. She is not easily able to get back to Dublin, because owing to the Rising the city is cut off. By the time she gets back, her friends have been arrested.

When Cregan is going to school in Dublin she is also working in a school in Rathmines. Like many of the teachers, she loses her job after the rising because of her connection to the rebels. However, she is able to get new positions over the next few years in both Ballyshannon and Portstewart until she marries. In Ballyshannon she experiences the early expressions of support and sympathy, but Portstewart is a Unionist enclave with many houses flying union flags on polling day in 1918.

Cregan is a member of Cumann na mBan and with them is active during the Irish War of Independence. She is given a medal for her participation. On July 23, 1919 she marries Dr. James Ryan in Athenry, County Galway. His entire family had been deeply involved in the Easter Rising, as well as the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. They have three children, Eoin, who becomes a Senator, Nuala (Colgan) and Seamus.

The family is initially based in Wexford during the War. The house is often raided when the British soldiers are looking for her husband and Cregan herself is arrested in February 1921 for refusing to put up martial law posters. Later the family sells the house and remains mobile while she works for the Sinn Féin government and her husband is in prison. It is during this time that she works as a courier to the continent and to London. After the war, they purchase Kindlestown House in Delgany, County Wicklow, where they remain for the rest of their lives.

Cregan works as a journalist for The Irish Press and The Sunday Press. Her political awareness and involvement means that her work there is on political articles.

Cregan’s first book for children is Old John and gains her considerable international success and attention. Sean Eoin is also published in Irish, and is illustrated by Jack Butler Yeats. Her work is also aired on the BBC and RTÉ. Rathina wins the Downey Award in the United States in 1943. She also writes two plays: Hunger strike (1933), based on experience of her husband’s involvement in such a strike, which is broadcast on Radio Éireann on May 5, 1936, and Curlew’s call (1940).

Cregan dies on November 9, 1975 in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, and is buried in Redford cemetery near her home in County Wicklow.

(Pictured: Máirín Cregan and her husband, Dr. James Ryan)


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Birth of Neil Shawcross, Post-Impressionist Artist

Neil Shawcross MBE, RHA, HRUA, Post-Impressionist artist, is born in Kearsley, Lancashire, England, on March 15, 1940. He has been a resident of Northern Ireland since 1962.

Shawcross studies at Bolton College of Art from 1955 to 1958, and Lancaster College of Art from 1958 to 1960, before moving to Belfast in 1962 to take up a part-time lecturer’s post at the Belfast College of Art, becoming full-time in 1968. He continues to lecture there until his retirement in 2004.

Primarily a portrait painter, his subjects include Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, novelist Francis Stuart (for the Ulster Museum), former Lord Mayor of Belfast David Cook (for Belfast City Council), footballer Derek Dougan and fellow artists Colin Middleton and Terry Frost. He also paints the figure and still life, taking a self-consciously childlike approach to composition and colour. His work also include printmaking, and he has designed stained glass for the Ulster Museum and St. Colman’s Church, Lambeg, County Antrim.

Shawcross’s academic career includes a residency at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, Virginia in 1987, a residency at Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont in 1991, and a visiting assistant professorship at Pennsylvania State University in 1993.

Shawcross has exhibited nationally, with one-man shows in London, Manchester, Dublin and Belfast, and internationally in Hong Kong and the United States, and his work is found in many private and corporate collections.

Shawcross is elected an Associate of the Royal Ulster Academy of Art in 1975, and is made a full Academician in 1977. He wins the Academy’s Conor Award in 1975, its gold medal in 1978, 1982, 1987, 1994, 1997 and 2001, and its James Adam Prize in 1998. He is also a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). He is awarded the Gallaher Portrait Prize in 1966.

Shawcross is conferred an honorary doctorate by Queen’s University Belfast in 2007. He is appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to arts in Northern Ireland.

In 2010, the Merrion Hotel, Dublin, hosts a private collection of the works of Shawcross. In 2015, he exhibits a collection of six foot tall book covers inspired by original Penguin paperbacks at the National Opera House in Wexford, County Wexford. In 2018, he donates to Belfast City Council a collection of 36 paintings dedicated to ‘Writers of Belfast’ in a show of appreciation to his adopted home city. A major retrospective of his works are exhibited at the F. E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio, Banbridge, County Down, in the same year.

Shawcross is a Patron of the charity YouthAction Northern Ireland. He lives in Hillsborough, County Down, Northern Ireland.


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Death of Stephen Hayes, Member & Leader of the IRA

Stephen Hayes, a member and leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) from April 1939 to June 1941, dies in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, on December 28, 1974.

Hayes is born in Enniscorthy on December 26, 1902. During the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), he is commandant of the Wexford Brigade of Fianna Éireann. He takes the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War (1922-23), during which he is interned.

Hayes is active in Gaelic Athletic Association circles in Wexford. In 1925, he helps Wexford win the Leinster Senior Football Championship. He also serves as secretary to the county board for ten years, from the 1920s to 1930s.

Hayes joins the IRA and is on the IRA Army Council in January 1939 when it declares war on the British government. When IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell departs on IRA business to the United States, and subsequently to Nazi Germany, Hayes becomes IRA Chief of Staff. His time in office is marred by controversy and it is widely believed that he serves as an informer to the Garda Síochána.

Hayes sends a plan for the invasion of Northern Ireland by German troops to Germany in April 1940. This plan later becomes known as Plan Kathleen. He is also known to have met with German agent Hermann Görtz on May 21, 1940 in Dublin shortly after the latter’s parachuting into Ireland on May 5, 1940 as part of Operation Mainau. He is known to have asked Görtz for money and arms to wage a campaign in Northern Ireland, although shortly after this meeting the original Plan Kathleen is discovered. The discovery of the plan leads to the acceleration of joint British and Irish military planning for a German invasion known as Plan W.

Another meeting on August 15, 1940 on Rathgar Road, Dublin organised by Hayes and attended by senior IRA men Paddy McGrath, Tom Harte and Tom Hunt, is also raided by the Garda Síochána.

McGrath and Harte are both arrested and tried by Military Tribunal, established under the Emergency Powers Act 1939. They challenge the legislation in the High Court, seeking a writ of habeas corpus, and ultimately appeal to the Supreme Court of Ireland. They are represented in the courts by Seán MacBride. The appeal is unsuccessful and they are executed by firing squad at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison on September 6, 1940.

On June 30, 1941, Northern-based IRA men kidnap Hayes, accusing him of being a spy. By his own account, he is tortured and “court-martialed” for “treason” by his comrades, and would have been executed, but he buys himself time composing an enormously long confession. He manages to escape on September 8, 1941, and hands himself in to the Garda for protection.

The Officer Commanding (O/C) of the IRA Northern Command, Seán McCaughey, is convicted on September 18, 1941 of the kidnapping. After a long hunger and thirst strike in Portlaoise Prison, he dies on May 11, 1946.

Hayes is later sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by the Special Criminal Court on account of his IRA activities.

Within IRA circles, Hayes is still considered a traitor and an informer. One of the main allegations against him is that he informed the Garda Síochána about IRA arms dumps in Wexford. However, this is later blamed on a Wexford man named Michael Deveraux, an officer of the Wexford Battalion of the IRA who is subsequently abducted and executed by an IRA squad in County Tipperary on Hayes’ orders. George Plant, a Protestant IRA veteran, is later executed in Portlaoise Prison for Devereux’s murder.

After his release, Hayes resumes his clerical position at Wexford County Council. He dies in Enniscorthy on December 28, 1974.


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Birth of Lady Jane Francesca Wilde, Poet & Nationalist

jane-wilde

Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde, Irish poet who writes under the pen name “Speranza” and a supporter of the nationalist movement, is born on December 27, 1821, in Wexford, County Wexford.

Jane is the last of the four children of Charles Elgee, the son of Archdeacon John Elgee, a Wexford solicitor, and his wife Sarah (née Kingsbury). Her great-grandfather is an Italian who had come to Wexford in the 18th century. She has a special interest in Irish folktales, which she helps to gather. She marries Sir William Wilde on November 12, 1851, and they have three children, William Charles Kingsbury Wilde (1852–1899), Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854–1900), and Isola Francesca Emily Wilde (1857–1867).

Wilde, who is the niece of Charles Maturin, writes for the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, publishing poems in The Nation under the pseudonym of “Speranza.” Her works include pro-Irish independence and anti-British writing. She is sometimes known as “Speranza of the Nation.” Charles Gavan Duffy is the editor when “Speranza” writes commentary calling for armed revolution in Ireland. The authorities at Dublin Castle shut down the paper and bring the editor to court. Duffy refuses to name who has written the offending article. “Speranza” reputedly stands up in court and claims responsibility for the article. The confession is ignored by the authorities. But in any event the newspaper is permanently shut down by the authorities.

Wilde is an early advocate of women’s rights, and campaigns for better education for women. She invites the suffragist Millicent Fawcett to her home to speak on female liberty. She praises the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act 1882, preventing women from having to enter marriage “as a bond slave, disenfranchised of all rights over her fortune.”

William Wilde is knighted in January 1864, but the family celebrations are short-lived, for in the same year Sir William and Lady Wilde are at the centre of a sensational Dublin court case regarding a young woman called Mary Travers, the daughter of a colleague of Sir William’s, who claims that he had seduced her and who then brings an action against Lady Wilde for libel. Mary Travers wins the case and costs of £2,000 are awarded against Lady Wilde. Then, in 1867, their daughter Isola dies of fever at the age of nine. In 1871 the two illegitimate daughters of Sir William are burned to death and in 1876 Sir William himself dies. The family discovers that he is virtually bankrupt.

Lady Wilde leaves Dublin for London in 1879, where she joins her two sons, Willie, a journalist, and Oscar, who is making a name for himself in literary circles. She lives with her older son in poverty, supplementing their meagre income by writing for fashionable magazines and producing books based on the researches of her late husband into Irish folklore.

Lady Wilde contracts bronchitis in January 1896 and, dying, asks for permission to see Oscar, who is in prison. Her request is refused. It is claimed that her “fetch” appears in Oscar’s prison cell as she dies at her home, 146 Oakley Street, Chelsea, on February 3, 1896. Willie Wilde, her older son, is penniless, so Oscar pays for her funeral, which is held on February 5, at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. A headstone proves too expensive and she is buried anonymously in common ground. A monument to her, in the form of a Celtic cross, is erected at Kensal Green Cemetery by the Oscar Wilde Society in 1999.


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The Siege of Drogheda Ends

The Siege of Drogheda ends on September 11, 1649 during the outset of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The siege began on September 3, 1649.

The Royalist rebellion that breaks out in Ireland against the new English republic in 1649 is met by a prompt English response. On August 15 Oliver Cromwell and 15,000 troops land in Dublin. His merciless policy toward the Irish Royalists becomes brutally clear within a month.

The defeat of the Irish Royalists in the Battle of Rathmines in early August is fortuitous for Cromwell, for without it, the English would have held only the small port of Derry (known as Londonderry from 1662) in the north, making his invasion almost impossible to effect. Cromwell quickly finds that the Irish Royalists have retreated into fortified towns. He therefore prepares for a series of sieges.

The first such siege occurs at Drogheda, 28 miles north of Dublin. Cromwell arrives at Drogheda on September 3. His siege guns, brought up by sea, arrive two days later. He finds the town surrounded by high but relatively thin walls and its governor, Sir Arthur Ashton, is confident of his defenses and refuses an order to surrender. On September 10 Cromwell begins an artillery bombardment of the walls. These are breached the following day, but the gap created is too small to allow troops to enter the city. Twice they are repelled until Cromwell himself leads an assault and overwhelms the defenders on September 11.

The carnage inside the city is appalling. Cromwell’s troops kill priests and monks on sight and set fire to a Catholic church sheltering some soldiers. Civilians as well as soldiers are massacred, and Ashton is bludgeoned to death with his own wooden leg. The few Royalist soldiers who survive are transported to Barbados. What happens at Drogheda is replicated at Wexford the following month and Clonmel the next May. By the time Cromwell has put down the rebellion and returned to England in that same month, he has become forever hated by Irish Catholics.

During the eight day siege the British lose 150 of their 12,000 men while 2,800 Irish are killed and 200 captured of the 3,100 at Drogheda.

(Pictured: St Laurence’s Gate – the last remaining of the ten original defensive gates at Drogheda)


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The Battle of Vinegar Hill

The Battle of Vinegar Hill, an engagement during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, takes place on June 21, 1798 when over 13,000 British soldiers launch an attack on Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy, County Wexford, the largest camp and headquarters of the Wexford United Irishmen. It marks a turning point in the rebellion, as it is the last attempt by the United Irishmen to hold and defend ground against the British military. The battle is actually fought in two locations: on Vinegar Hill itself and in the streets of nearby Enniscorthy.

By June 18, the British have surrounded County Wexford with between 13,000 and 18,000 troops and are ready to pour into Wexford to crush the insurgency. The United Irishmen leadership issues a call to all its fighters to gather at Vinegar Hill to meet the army in one great, decisive battle. The number assembled is estimated at between 16,000 and 20,000, but the majority lack firearms and have to rely on pikes as their main weapon. The camp also includes many thousands of women and children who are staying there for protection against the rampaging military.

The British plan, as formulated by General Gerard Lake, envisages the complete annihilation of the United Irishmen, women and children by encircling the hill and seizing the only escape route to the west, the bridge over the River Slaney. Lake divides his force into four columns to accomplish this. Three columns, under Generals David Dundas, James Duff and Francis Needham are to assault Vinegar Hill, while the fourth column, under General Johnson, is to storm Enniscorthy and its bridge.

The battle begins shortly before dawn with an artillery bombardment of Irish positions on the hill. Advance units quickly move against the United Irishmen outposts under cover of the bombardment and move artillery closer as forward positions are secured. The tightening ring forces the United Irishmen into an ever-shrinking area and increases exposure to the constant bombardment, including new experimental delayed-fuse shells resulting in hundreds of dead and injured. At least two mass charges are launched by the United Irishmen which fail to break the lines of the military and the situation on Vinegar Hill soon becomes desperate for the United Irishmen.

Meanwhile, a detachment of light infantry under the command of General Johnson attacks the town of Enniscorthy but meets with fierce resistance. Buildings in the town have been fortified and the initial attack is driven back with the loss of munitions and men. A second attack commences with reinforcements including cavalry, which retake the lost cannon and ammunition while also incurring considerable casualties. The United Irishmen are slowly driven out of the town but manage to hold the Slaney bridge and prevent the British from crossing.

When British troops crest the eastern summit of Vinegar Hill, the rebels begin to slowly withdraw through a gap in the British lines later known as “Needham’s Gap”, so-named because the late arrival of General Needham’s troops prevented a total encirclement of the hill. Although the bulk of the United Irishmen army escape, many are left behind and killed in the routing phase of the battle from both cavalry and infantry attack, but also from the advanced field guns which are switched to grapeshot to maximize casualties.

In addition to conventional casualties, there are also instances of British troops raping the women accompanying the United Irishmen and in Enniscorthy, United Irishmen wounded are burned to death when soldiers set fire to a building used as a casualty station. These atrocities may have been perpetrated in revenge for the execution by the United Irishmen of numbers of mostly Protestant loyalist prisoners of war in the preceding weeks. The United Irishmen abandon much of the supplies they had taken from surrounding areas, and thirteen cannons are captured by the British, a number of which had been taken from the British forces previously.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the United Irishmen force streams uninterrupted towards the Three Rocks camp outside Wexford and, following the decision to abandon the town, split into two separate columns in a new campaign to spread the rebellion beyond Wexford. One immediately sets out to the west, the other northwards towards the Wicklow Mountains to link up with General Joseph Holt‘s forces.

The defeat is therefore not the immediate crushing blow to the Wexford United Irishmen that it has falsely been depicted as, but it does alter the course of the fighting as continued resistance now takes the form of mobile warfare, raids, and large scale, guerilla-type operations.

Casualties for the United Irishmen have been variously reported, with estimates ranging from 400 to around 1,200. Kevin Whelan estimates a figure of between 500 and 1,000 including camp followers, while Archibald McLaren, a British soldier eyewitness, writes that the United Irishmen casualties total about 1,200 men. British casualties are around one hundred.


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The Second Battle of Arklow

The second Battle of Arklow takes place on June 9, 1798 during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 when a force of United Irishmen from Wexford, estimated at 10,000 strong, launch an assault on the British-held town of Arklow, County Wicklow, in an attempt to spread the rebellion into Wicklow and to threaten the capital of Dublin.

A British advance force of 400 is defeated at Tuberneering on June 4. This rebel victory punches a hole in the dragnet the military has attempted to throw around County Wexford and also yields them three artillery pieces. The town of Arklow has been evacuated in the ensuing panic but the rebels content themselves with taking the town of Gorey and staying within the Wexford border. On June 5 the rebels attempt to break out of County Wexford across the River Barrow and to spread the rebellion but are halted by a major British victory at the Battle of New Ross. When the rebels finally move against Arklow, the town has been reoccupied by a force of 1,700 men sent from Dublin under Francis Needham, 1st Earl of Kilmorey, who quickly fortifies the town with barricades and has artillery positioned on all the approaches to the town.

The rebel army that forms for attack on the afternoon of June 9 is a combined force of Wexford and Wicklow rebels led by Billy Byrne, Anthony Perry, Conor McEvoy, Edward Fitzgerald, and Fr. Michael Murphy. The British in Arklow consist of approximately 1,000 militia from counties Antrim and Cavan and 150 regular cavalry supported by 250 Yeomanry. They are joined by 315 Durham Fencibles (Princess of Wales’s Fencible Dragoons) arriving an hour before the rebels.

The area surrounding the town and the approaches is covered by scrub and the rebel strategy adopted is to advance under cover attacking the town simultaneously from several points. Before the action begins, the rebels under Esmonde Kyan open fire upon the town with some of the artillery captured at Tuberneering and have some success by scoring a direct hit on a British artillery position, destroying the cannon and killing the attendant crew. The main assault is quickly launched but at all entry points the Irish are thrown back by the musket fire of the well-trained and disciplined militia and volunteers, and canister shot from the 3 pounder battalion gun brought by the fencibles. An attempt by the British to turn the Irish failure into a rout is defeated when pikemen and sharpshooters drive a cavalry charge back across the River Avoca, but an attempt to force a way into the town through the outlying fishing port is bloodily repulsed.

As Irish casualties mount, the lack of ammunition and proper leadership begin to work against them, and after Fr. Murphy is killed leading a charge, their attacks start to fade. As nightfall comes, the rebels begin to withdraw under cover of darkness and collect their wounded. They are not pursued or molested by the garrison who are, unknown to the rebels, down to their last three or four rounds per man and are themselves at the brink of defeat.

While rebel casualties are estimated at about 1,000 no full casualty list seems to exist on the British side, but are probably in the region of 100 dead and wounded. The defeat at Arklow marks the third failure to extend the fight for Irish independence beyond the borders of County Wexford following the other bloody repulses at New Ross and Bunclody. The Irish strategy now changes to a policy of static defence against the encroaching British armies.


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The Trial & Conviction of Theobald Wolfe Tone

Theobald Wolfe Tone, a leading Irish revolutionary figure and one of the founding members of the Society of United Irishmen, is tried and convicted of treason by a court-martial in Dublin on November 10, 1798 and sentenced to be hanged.

When the Irish Rebellion of 1798 breaks out in Ireland, Wolfe Tone urges the French Directory to send effective assistance to the Irish rebels. All that can be promised is a number of raids to descend simultaneously around the Irish coast. One of these raids under General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert succeeds in landing a force near Killala, County Mayo, and gains some success in Connacht (particularly at Castlebar) before it is subdued by General Gerard Lake and Charles Cornwallis. Wolfe Tone’s brother Matthew is captured, tried by court-martial and hanged. A second raid, accompanied by James Napper Tandy, comes to a disastrous end on the coast of County Donegal.

Wolfe Tone takes part in a third raid, under Admiral Jean-Baptiste-François Bompart, with General Jean Hardy in command of a force of 2,800 men. He certainly knows before departing that the odds against them are incredibly long. Most of the United Irish organization has already spent itself in Wexford, Ulster, and other places. There is one slim reed of hope for success – the news from Hubert, who is sweeping the British before him in Mayo with his 1,000 Frenchmen and Irish rebel allies. Wolfe Tone once said he would accompany any French force to Ireland even if it were only a corporal’s guard, so he sails off with Hardy’s Frenchmen aboard the Hoche.

They are intercepted by a large British fleet at Buncrana on Lough Swilly on October 12, 1798. Escape aboard one of the small, fast ships is Wolfe Tone’s only hope to avoid a hangman’s noose but he refuses to transfer from the large, slow Hoche, which has little choice but certain sinking or capture. He refuses offers by Napoleon Bonaparte and other French officers of escape in a frigate before the Battle of Tory Island. “Shall it be said,” he asks them, “that I fled while the French were fighting the battle of my country?”

The Hoche withstands an attack by five British ships for several hours, with Wolfe Tone commanding one of her batteries. Inevitably the masts and rigging of the Hoche are shot away and she strikes her colors. Wolfe Tone is dressed in a French adjutant general‘s uniform, but there is little chance of him avoiding detection with so many former acquaintances among the British. He is thrown into chains taken prisoner when the Hoche surrenders.

When the prisoners are landed at Letterkenny Port a fortnight later, Sir George Hill recognises Wolfe Tone in the French adjutant general’s uniform in Lord Cavan’s privy-quarters at Letterkenny. At his trial by court-martial in Dublin on November 8, 1798, Wolfe Tone makes a speech avowing his determined hostility to England and his intention “by frank and open war to procure the separation of the countries.” Recognising that the court is certain to convict him, he asks that “the court should adjudge me to die the death of a soldier, and that I may be shot.” His request to be shot is denied.

On November 10, 1798, Wolfe Tone is found guilty and sentenced to be hanged on November 12. Before this sentence is carried out, either he attempts suicide by slitting his throat or British soldiers torture and mortally wound him. Military surgeon Benjamin Lentaigne treats him just hours before he is due to be hanged. The story goes that he is initially saved when the wound is sealed with a bandage, and he is told if he tries to talk the wound will open and he will bleed to death.

A pamphlet published in Latin by Dr. Lentaigne some years after Wolfe Tone’s official “suicide” refers to an unusual neck wound suffered by an unnamed patient which indicates that “a bullet passed through his throat.” This leads to speculation that Wolfe Tone may have been shot.

Theobald Wolfe Tone dies on November 19, 1798 at the age of 35 in Provost’s Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born. He is buried in Bodenstown Graveyard in County Kildare, near his birthplace at Sallins, and his grave is in the care of the National Graves Association.

(Pictured: “Capture Of Wolfe Tone Date 1798,” a drawing by Mary Evans Picture Library, the UK’s leading source for historical images)


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The Battle of Enniscorthy

battle-of-enniscorthyThe Battle of Enniscorthy is a land battle fought on May 28, 1798 during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, when an overwhelming force of rebels assails the town of Enniscorthy, County Wexford, which is defended only by a 300-strong garrison supported by loyalist civilians. On the previous day at nearby Oulart, several thousand rebels led by Fr. John Murphy had massacred a detachment of the North Cork militia, amounting to 110 officers and men, in the Battle of Oulart Hill.

The attack on Enniscorthy begins at about 1:00 PM, when the rebels drive a herd of cattle through the town’s Duffry gate, creating disorder, and set the town’s buildings on fire. The troops defending the gate withdraw to a stone bridge over the River Slaney. After a determined defence of about three hours, the loyalist forces have expended their ammunition. They are also flanked by rebels wading across the river’s low water. However, after having driven all the rebels out of town they are ordered to abandon the town and withdraw to Wexford, which they do alongside a terrified multitude of men, women and children fleeing the burning town. In the action, the garrison and yeomanry had killed up to 500 insurgents at a cost of 90 of their own dead.

According to the historian Maxwell, the town’s Protestants see a merciless night attack as almost certain. Throughout the fight, Catholic residents support the rebels by shooting loyalists from their windows. Of the many fugitives, the weakest are carried on cavalry horses or otherwise abandoned to their fate, including infants and the elderly.

The rebels are brutal and vengeful in occupying their captured town. They set up a formidable encampment of 10,000 men on the nearby heights of Vinegar Hill and are able to roster forces to garrison Enniscorthy, whose streets are littered with dead and dying while flames continued to rage. Four hundred seventy-eight dwelling houses are destroyed in addition to commercial premises.


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Birth of Composer Michael William Balfe

michael-william-balfeMichael William Balfe, Irish composer best remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl, is born in Dublin on May 15, 1808.

Balfe’s musical gifts become apparent at an early age. He receives instruction from his father, a dancing master and violinist, and the composer William Rooke. His family moves to Wexford when he is a child.

In 1817, Balfe appears as a violinist in public, and in this year composes a ballad, first called “Young Fanny” and afterwards, when sung in Paul Pry by Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, “The Lovers’ Mistake”. In 1823, upon the death of his father, he moves to London and is engaged as a violinist in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He eventually becomes the leader of that orchestra. While there, he studies violin with Charles Edward Horn and composition with Charles Frederick Horn.

While still playing the violin, Balfe pursues a career as an opera singer. He debuts unsuccessfully at Norwich in Carl Maria von Weber‘s Der Freischütz. In 1825, Count Mazzara takes him to Rome for vocal and musical studies and introduces him to Luigi Cherubini. In Italy, he also pursues composing, writing his first dramatic work, a ballet, La Perouse. He becomes a protégée of Gioachino Rossini‘s, and at the close of 1827, he appears as Figaro in The Barber of Seville at the Italian opera in Paris.

Balfe soon returns to Italy, where he is based for the next eight years, singing and composing several operas. In 1829 in Bologna, he composes his first cantata for the soprano Giulia Grisi, then 18 years old. He produces his first complete opera, I rivali di se stessi, at Palermo in the carnival season of 1829—1830.

Balfe returned to London in May 1835. His initial success takes place some months later with the premiere of The Siege of Rochelle on October 29, 1835 at Drury Lane. Encouraged by his success, he produces The Maid of Artois in 1836, which is followed by more operas in English. In July 1838, Balfe composes a new opera, Falstaff, for The Italian Opera House, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, with an Italian libretto by S. Manfredo Maggione.

In 1841, Balfe founds the National Opera at the Lyceum Theatre, but the venture is a failure. The same year, he premieres his opera, Keolanthe. He then moves to Paris, presenting Le Puits d’amour in early 1843, followed by his opera based on Les quatre fils Aymon for the Opéra-Comique and L’étoile de Seville for the Paris Opera. Meanwhile, in 1843, he returns to London where he produces his most successful work, The Bohemian Girl, on November 27, 1843 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The piece runs for over 100 nights, and productions are soon mounted in New York, Dublin, Philadelphia, Vienna, Sydney, and throughout Europe and elsewhere.

From 1846 to 1852, Balfe is appointed musical director and principal conductor for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he first produces several of Giuseppe Verdi‘s operas for London audiences. He conducts for Jenny Lind at her opera debut and on many occasions thereafter.

In 1851, in anticipation of The Great Exhibition in London, Balfe composes an innovative cantata, Inno Delle Nazioni, sung by nine female singers, each representing a country. He continues to compose new operas in English, including The Armourer of Nantes (1863), and writes hundreds of songs. His last opera, nearly completed when he dies, is The Knight of the Leopard and achieves considerable success in Italian as Il Talismano.

Balfe retires in 1864 to Hertfordshire, where he rents a country estate. He dies at his home in Rowney Abbey, Ware, Hertfordshire, on October 20, 1870 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, next to fellow Irish composer William Vincent Wallace. In 1882, a medallion portrait of him is unveiled in Westminster Abbey.

In all, Balfe composes at least 29 operas. He also writes several cantatas and a symphony. His only large-scale piece that is still performed regularly today is The Bohemian Girl.