seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of George Petrie, Painter & Musician

george-petrieGeorge Petrie, Irish painter, musician, antiquary and archaeologist of the Victorian era dies on January 17, 1866.

Petrie is born and grows up in Dublin, living at 21 Great Charles Street, just off Mountjoy Square. He is the son of the portrait and miniature painter James Petrie, a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, who had settled in Dublin. He is interested in art from an early age. He is sent to the Royal Dublin Society‘s schools, being educated as an artist, where he wins the silver medal in 1805 at the age of fourteen.

After an abortive trip to England in the company of Francis Danby and James Arthur O’Connor, both of whom are close friends of his, he returns to Ireland where he works mostly producing sketches for engravings for travel books including among others, George Newenham Wright‘s guides to Killarney, Wicklow and Dublin, Thomas Cromwell‘s Excursions through Ireland, and James Norris Brewer‘s Beauties of Ireland.

In the late 1820s and 1830s, Petrie significantly revitalises the Royal Irish Academy‘s antiquities committee. He is responsible for their acquisition of many important Irish manuscripts, including an autograph copy of the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as examples of insular metalwork, including the Cross of Cong. His writings on early Irish archaeology and architecture are of great significance, especially his essay on the Round Towers of Ireland, which appear in his 1845 book titled The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland. He is often called “the father of Irish archaeology.” His survey of the tombs at Carrowmore still informs study of the site today.

From 1833 to 1843 Petrie is employed by Thomas Frederick Colby and Thomas Larcom as head of the Topographical Department of the Irish Ordnance Survey. Amongst his staff are John O’Donovan, one of Ireland’s greatest ever scholars, and Eugene O’Curry. A prizewinning essay submitted to the Royal Irish Academy in 1834 on Irish military architecture is never published, but his seminal essay On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill is published by the Academy in 1839. During this period Petrie is himself the editor of two popular antiquarian magazines, the Dublin Penny Journal and, later, the Irish Penny Journal.

Another major contribution of Petrie’s to Irish culture is the collection of Irish traditional airs and melodies which he records. William Stokes’s contemporary biography includes detailed accounts of Petrie’s working methods in his collecting of traditional music: “The song having been given, O’Curry wrote the Irish words, when Petrie’s work began. The singer recommenced, stopping at a signal from him at every two or three bars of the melody to permit the writing of the notes, and often repeating the passage until it was correctly taken down …”

As an artist, Petrie’s favourite medium is watercolour which, due to the prejudices of the age, is considered inferior to oil painting. Nonetheless, he can be considered as one of the finest Irish Romantic painters of his era. Some of his best work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland, such as his watercolour painting Gougane Barra Lake with the Hermitage of St. Finbarr, County Cork (1831).

Petrie is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s prestigious Cunningham Medal three times: firstly in 1831 for his essay on the round towers, secondly in 1834 for the now lost essay on Irish military architecture, and thirdly in 1839 for his essay on the antiquities of Tara Hill.

The closing years of Petrie’s life are devoted to the publication of a portion of his collection of Irish music. He dies at the age of 77 at Rathmines, Dublin, on January 17, 1866. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

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Death of Aeneas Coffey, Inventor & Distiller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Execution of Robert Emmet, Irish Nationalist & Republican

Robert Emmet, Irish nationalist and Republican, orator and rebel leader, is hung, drawn, and quartered in Dublin on September 20, 1803, following his conviction for high treason.

Emmet is born at 109 St. Stephen’s Green, in Dublin on March 4, 1778, the youngest son of Dr. Robert Emmet, a court physician, and his wife, Elizabeth Mason. He attends Oswald’s school, in Dopping’s-court, off Golden-lane and enters Trinity College, Dublin in October 1793, at the age of fifteen. He becomes secretary of a secret United Irish Committee in college, and is expelled in April 1798 as a result. That same year he flees to France to avoid the many British arrests of nationalists that are taking place in Ireland.

After the 1798 rising, Emmet is involved in reorganising the defeated Society of United Irishmen. In April 1799 a warrant is issued for his arrest. He escapes and soon after travels to the continent in the hope of securing French military aid. His efforts are unsuccessful, as Napoleon is concentrating his efforts on invading England.

Emmet returns to Ireland in October 1802 and, along with fellow revolutionaries Thomas Russell and James Hope, begins preparations for another uprising in March of the following year. A premature explosion at one of Emmet’s arms depots forces him to advance the date of the rising before the authorities’ suspicions are aroused.

Emmet is unable to secure the help of Michael Dwyer‘s Wicklow rebels. Many rebels from Kildare turn back due to the scarcity of firearms they had been promised, but the rising proceeds in Dublin on the evening of July 23, 1803. Failing to seize Dublin Castle, which is lightly defended, the rising amounts to a large-scale disturbance in the Thomas Street area. He sees a dragoon pulled from his horse and piked to death, the sight of which prompts him to call off the rising to avoid further bloodshed but he has no control over of his followers. Sporadic clashes continue into the night until finally quelled by British military forces.

Emmet flees into hiding but is captured on August 25 and taken to Dublin Castle, then removed to Kilmainham Gaol. He is tried for treason on September 19. The Crown repairs the weaknesses in its case by secretly buying the assistance of Emmet’s defence attorney, Leonard McNally, for £200 and a pension. McNally’s assistant Peter Burrowes cannot be bought and he pleads the case as best he can. Emmet is found guilty of high treason.

Chief Justice John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury sentences Emmet to be hanged, drawn and quartered, as is customary for conviction of treason. The following day, September 20, Emmet is executed in Thomas Street near St. Catherine’s Church. He is hanged and beheaded once dead. As family members and friends of Emmet had also been arrested, including some who had nothing to do with the rebellion, no one comes forward to claim his remains out of fear of arrest.

Emmet’s remains are first delivered to Newgate Prison and then back to Kilmainham Gaol, where the jailer is under instructions that if no one claims them they are to be buried in a nearby hospital’s burial grounds. A later search there finds no remains. It is speculated that Emmet’s remains were secretly removed from the site and reinterred in St. Michan’s Church, a Dublin church with strong United Irish associations, though it is never confirmed. It is later suspected that they are buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When the vault is inspected in the 1950s a headless corpse was found, suspected of being Emmet’s, but cannot be identified. Widely accepted is the theory that Emmet’s remains were transferred to St. Peter’s Church in Aungier St. under cover of the burial of his sister, Mary Anne Holmes, in 1804. In the 1980s the church is deconsecrated and all the coffins are removed from the vaults. The church has since been demolished.


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Earliest Verifiable Viking Invasion of Ireland

The earliest verifiable date of a Viking invasion of Ireland is September 9, 872, in Dunrally in what is now County Laois.

The Vikings conduct extensive raids in Ireland and found many towns, including Dublin, Limerick, Wexford, Waterford, Wicklow, Arklow and Leixlip. Literature, crafts, and decorative styles in Ireland and Britain reflect Scandinavian culture. Vikings trade at Irish markets in Dublin. Excavations find imported fabrics from England, Byzantium, Persia, and Central Asia. Dublin becomes so crowded by the 11th century that houses are built outside the town walls.

The Vikings pillage monasteries on Ireland’s west coast in 795, and then spread out to cover the rest of the coastline. The north and east of the island are most affected. During the first 40 years, the raids are conducted by small, mobile Viking groups. From 830 on, the groups consist of large fleets of Viking ships. From 840, the Vikings begin establishing permanent bases at the coasts. Dublin is the most significant settlement in the long term. The Irish become accustomed to the Viking presence and culture. In some cases they become allies and also intermarry.

In 832, a Viking fleet of about 120 ships under Turgesius invades kingdoms on Ireland’s northern and eastern coasts. Some believe that the increased number of invaders coincides with Scandinavian leaders’ desires to control the profitable raids on the western shores of Ireland. During the mid-830s, raids begin to push deeper into Ireland. Navigable waterways make this deeper penetration possible. After 840, the Vikings have several bases in strategic locations throughout Ireland.

In 838, a small Viking fleet enters the River Liffey in eastern Ireland, probably led by the chieftain Saxolb, who is killed later that year. The Vikings set up a base, which the Irish call longphorts. This longphort would eventually become Dublin. After this interaction, the Irish experience Viking forces for about 40 years. The Vikings also establish longphorts in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford. The Vikings are driven out of Ireland for a short period around 900, but return to Waterford in 914 to found what would become Ireland’s first city. The other longphorts are soon re-occupied and developed into cities and towns.

The last major Irish battle involving Vikings is the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, in which a large force from the pan-Viking world and their Irish allies oppose Brian Boru, then the High King of Ireland and his forces, a small contingent of which are Viking defectors. The battle is fought in what is the now Dublin suburb of Clontarf on Good Friday of that year. Boru, the Irish High King has allowed the Viking King of Dublin, Sigtrygg Silkbeard, one year to prepare for his coming assault. Silkbeard responds by offering the bed of his mother to several Viking lords from Scandinavia, Ireland and Britain. The savage mêlée between the heavily mailed Norse and the unarmoured, yet undaunted Gaels ends in a rout of the Vikings and their Irish allies. Careful accounts are taken by both sides during the battle, and thus many famous warriors seek each other out for personal combat and glory. High King Brian, who is nearly eighty, does not personally engage in the battle but retires to his tent where he spends the day in quiet prayer.

The Viking Brodir of Man chances upon Brian’s tent as he flees the field. He and a few followers seize the opportunity, and surprise the High King, killing the aged Brian before being captured. Brian’s foster son Ulf the Quarrelsome later tracks down and dispatches Brodir by disembowelment. The battle is fairly matched for most of the day and each side has great respect for the prowess of the other, however, in the end, the Irish forces the Norse to return to the sea. Many of the fleeing Vikings are drowned in the surf due to their heavy mail coats as they struggled for the safety of their longships. Others are pursued and slain further inland.

After the battle, Viking power is broken in Ireland forever, though many settled Norse remain in the cities and prosper greatly with the Irish through trade. With Brian dead, Ireland returns to the fractured kingdom it had once been, but is now cleared of further Viking predation.

(Pictured: Guest from Overseas, Nicholas Roerich, 1901)