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


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Birth of Lord Edward FitzGerald

Lord Edward FitzGerald, Irish aristocrat who abandoned his prospects as a distinguished veteran of British service in the American Revolutionary War, and as an Irish Parliamentarian, to embrace the cause of an independent Irish republic, is born at Carton House, near Dublin, on October 15, 1763.

FitzGerald is the fifth son of James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster, and the Lady Emily Lennox, daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond. In 1773 his father dies and his mother soon afterwards marries William Ogilvie, who had been the tutor for him and his siblings. He spends most of his childhood in Frescati House at Blackrock, Dublin, where he is tutored by Ogilvie in a manner chiefly directed to the acquisition of knowledge that will fit him for a military career.

FitzGerald joins the British Army in 1779 and then becomes aide-de-camp on the staff of Lord Rawdon in the Southern theatre of the American Revolutionary War. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781, his life being saved by an escaped slave named Tony Small. He commissions a portrait of Small by John Roberts in 1786. He frees Small and employs him to the end of his life. He is evacuated from Charleston, South Carolina in 1782 when the British forces abandon the city.

In 1783 FitzGerald visits the West Indies before returning to Ireland, where his brother, William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, has procured Edward’s election to the Irish Parliament as an MP for Athy, a seat he holds until 1790. In Parliament he acts with the small Opposition Irish Patriot Party group led by Henry Grattan, but takes no prominent part in debate. In the spring of 1786 he takes the then unusual step for a young nobleman of entering the Military College, Woolwich, after which he makes a tour through Spain in 1787. Dejected by unrequited love for his cousin Georgina Lennox, he sails for New Brunswick to join the 54th Regiment with the rank of Major.

In April 1789, guided by compass, FitzGerald traverses the country with a brother officer from Fredericton, New Brunswick to Quebec, falling in with Indians by the way, with whom he fraternizes. He accomplishes the journey in twenty-six days, and establishes a shorter practicable route than that hitherto followed. The route crosses the extremely rugged and heavily forested northern part of the present state of Maine. In a subsequent expedition he is formally adopted at Detroit by the Bear clan of the Mohawk with the name “Eghnidal,” and makes his way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, whence he returns to England.

Finding that his brother has procured his election for Kildare County, a seat he holds from 1790 to 1798, and desiring to maintain political independence, FitzGerald refuses the command of an expedition against Cádiz offered him by William Pitt the Younger, and devotes himself for the next few years to the pleasures of society and to his parliamentary duties. He is on terms of intimacy with his first cousin Charles Fox, with Richard Sheridan and other leading Whigs. According to Thomas Moore, FitzGerald is only one of numerous suitors of Sheridan’s first wife, Elizabeth, whose attentions are received with favour. She conceives a child by him, a baby girl who is born on March 30, 1792.

His Whig connections, together with his transatlantic experiences, predisposed FitzGerald to sympathize with the doctrines of the French Revolution, which he embraces enthusiastically when he visits Paris in October 1792. He lodges with Thomas Paine and listens to the debates in the Convention. While in Paris, he becomes enamoured of a young girl named Pamela whom he chances to see at the theatre, and who has a striking likeness to Elizabeth Sheridan. On December 27, 1792, he and Pamela are married at Tournai, one of the witnesses being Louis Philippe, afterwards King of the French. In January 1793 the couple reaches Dublin.

Ireland is by then seething with dissent which is finding a focus in the increasingly popular and revolutionary Society of the United Irishmen, which has been forced underground by the outbreak of war between France and Britain in 1793. FitzGerald, fresh from the gallery of the Convention in Paris, returns to his seat in the Irish Parliament and immediately springs to their defence. Within a week of his return he is ordered into custody and required to apologise at the bar of the House of Commons for violently denouncing in the House a Government proclamation which Grattan had approved for the suppression of the United-Irish attempt to revive the Irish Volunteer movement with a “National Guard.” However, it is not until 1796 that he joins the United Irishmen, who by now have given up as hopeless the path of constitutional reform and whose aim, after the recall of Lord FitzWilliam in 1795, is nothing less than the establishment of an independent Irish republic.

In May 1796 Theobald Wolfe Tone is in Paris endeavouring to obtain French assistance for an insurrection in Ireland. In the same month, FitzGerald and his friend Arthur O’Connor proceed to Hamburg, where they open negotiations with the Directory through Reinhard, French minister to the Hanseatic towns. The Duke of York, meeting Pamela at Devonshire House on her way through London with her husband, tells her that his plans are known and advises that he should not go abroad. The proceedings of the conspirators at Hamburg are made known to the government in London by an informer, Samuel Turner. The result of the Hamburg negotiations is Louis Lazare Hoche‘s abortive expedition to Bantry Bay in December 1796.

In September 1797 the Government learns from the informer Leonard McNally that FitzGerald is among those directing the conspiracy of the United Irishmen, which is now quickly maturing. Thomas Reynolds, converted from a conspirator to an informer, keeps the authorities posted in what is going on, though lack of evidence produced in court delays the arrest of the ringleaders. But on March 12, 1798 Reynolds’ information leads to the seizure of a number of conspirators at the house of Oliver Bond. FitzGerald, warned by Reynolds, is not among them.

As a fellow member of the Ascendancy class, the Government are anxious to make an exception for FitzGerald, avoiding the embarrassing and dangerous consequences of his subversive activities. They communicate their willingness to spare him from the normal fate meted out to traitors. FitzGerald however refuses to desert others who cannot escape, and whom he has himself led into danger. On March 30 the government proclamation of martial law authorising the military to act as they see fit to crush the United Irishmen leads to a campaign of vicious brutality in several parts of the country.

FitzGerald’s social position makes him the most important United Irish leader still at liberty. On May 9 a reward of £1,000 is offered by Dublin Castle for his apprehension. Since the arrests at Bond’s house, he has been in hiding. The date for the rising is finally fixed for May 23 and FitzGerald awaits the day hidden by Mary Moore above her family’s inn in Thomas Street, Dublin.

Tipped off that the house is going to be raided, Moore turns to Francis Magan, a Catholic barrister and trusted sympathiser, who agrees to hide Fitzgerald. Making its way to Magan’s house on May 18, Fitzgerald’s party is challenged by Major Henry Sirr and a company of Dumbarton Fencibles. Moore escapes with Fitzgerald and takes him back to Thomas Street to the house of Nicholas Murphy.

Moore explains to Magan what had happened and, unbeknownst to her, Magan informs Dublin Castle. The Moore house is raided that day. Mary, running to warn the Leinster Directory meeting nearby in James’s Gate, receives a bayonet cut across the shoulders. That same evening Sirr storms Murphy’s house where FitzGerald is in bed suffering from a fever. Alerted by the commotion, he jumps out of bed and, ignoring the pleas of the arresting officers to surrender peacefully, he stabs one and mortally wounds the other with a dagger in a desperate attempt to escape. He is secured only after Major Sirr shoots him in the shoulder.

FitzGerald is conveyed to New Prison, Dublin where he is denied proper medical treatment. After a brief detention in Dublin Castle he is taken to Newgate Prison, Dublin where his wound, which has become infected, becomes mortally inflamed. His wife, whom the government probably has enough evidence to convict of treason, has fled the country, never to see her husband again, but FitzGerald’s brother Henry and his aunt Lady Louisa Conolly are allowed to see him in his last moments. He dies at the age of 34 on June 4, 1798, as the rebellion rages outside. He is buried the next day in the cemetery of St. Werburgh’s Church, Dublin. An Act of Attainder confiscating his property is passed as 38 Geo. 3 c. 77, but is eventually repealed in 1819.

There are Lord Edward Streets named in FitzGerald’s honour in many places in Ireland, such as Dublin, Limerick, Sligo, Kilkenny, Ballina, Ballymote, and Ballycullenbeg in County Laois. The County Roscommon GAA club Tulsk Lord Edward’s and the Geraldines P. Moran’s GAA club in Cornelscourt, Dublin, are named after him.


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The Balcombe Street Siege Ends

balcombe-street-siegeThe six-day Balcombe Street siege in London ends peacefully on December 12, 1975 after four Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen free their two hostages and give themselves up to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

In 1974 and 1975, London is subjected to a 14-month campaign of gun and bomb attacks by the Provisional IRA. Some 40 bombs explode in London, killing 35 people and injuring many more. The four members of what becomes known as the “Balcombe Street gang,” Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, are part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that also includes Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn.

The Balcombe Street siege starts after a chase through London, as the MPS pursues Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. The four IRA men ultimately run into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone station, triggering the six-day standoff.

The four men go to 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declare that they are members of the IRA and demand a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refuses, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, is the chief police negotiator.

The men surrender after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers, Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the unit’s leader Joe O’Connell, who goes by the name of “Tom.” The other members of the gang are named “Mick” and “Paddy,” thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them are in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege is a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the gang by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also use carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC Radio news to further destabilise the gang into surrender. A news broadcast states that the British Special Air Service are going to be sent in to storm the building and release the hostages. This seems to deter the gang and they eventually give themselves up to the police.

The four are found guilty at their Old Bailey trial in 1977 of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each receive 12 life sentences, and Doherty receives 11. Each of the men is later given a whole life tariff, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff. During the trial they instruct their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences” for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. Despite telling the police that they are responsible, they are never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven remain in prison for 15 more years, until it is ruled that their convictions are unsafe.

After serving 23 years in English prisons, the four men are transferred to the high security wing of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, in early 1998. They are presented by Gerry Adams to the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis as “our Nelson Mandelas,” and are released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


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Birth of John Kyan, Inventor in Wood Preservation

kyans-patentJohn Howard Kyan, inventor of the ‘kyanising’ process for preserving wood, is born on November 27, 1774 in Dublin. His father, also John Howard Kyan, is the owner of valuable copper mines in County Wicklow. He is educated to take part in the management of the mines, but soon after he enters the company its fortunes decline, and in 1804 his father dies almost penniless.

For a time Kyan is employed at some vinegar works at Newcastle upon Tyne, but subsequently removes to London. The decay of the timber supports in his father’s copper mines had already directed his attention to the question of preserving wood, and as early as 1812 he begins experiments with a view to discovering a method of preventing the decay. Eventually he finds that bichloride of mercury or corrosive sublimate, as it is commonly called, gives the best results and, without revealing the nature of the process, he submits a block of oak impregnated with the substance to the Admiralty in 1828. It is placed in the ‘fungus pit’ at Woolwich, where it remains for three years exposed to all the conditions favourable to decay. When taken out in 1831, it is found to be perfectly sound, and after further trials it still remains unaffected.

Kyan patents his discovery in 1832 (Nos. 8263 and 6309), extending the application of the invention to the preservation of paper, canvas, cloth, cordage, etc. A further patent is granted in 1836 (No. 7001).

The process attracts great attention. Michael Faraday chooses it as the subject of his inaugural lecture at the Royal Institution on February 22, 1833, on his appointment as Fullerian professor of chemistry. Dr. George Birkbeck gives a lecture upon it at the Royal Society of Arts on December 9, 1834, and in 1835 the Admiralty publishes the report of a committee appointed by the board to inquire into the value of the new method.

In 1836, Kyan sells his rights to the Anti-Dry Rot Company, an Act of Parliament being passed which authorises the raising of a capital of £250,000. Tanks are constructed at Grosvenor Basin, Pimlico, at the Grand Surrey Canal Dock, Rotherhide, and at the City Road Basin.

Among the early applications of the process is the kyanising of the palings around the Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, which is carried out in 1835 as an advertisement with small brass plates being attached to the palings at intervals stating that the wood has been submitted to the new process. The plates soon disappear, but the original palings still remain in good condition.

The timber used in building the Oxford and Cambridge Club, British Museum, Royal College of Surgeons, Westminster Bridewell, the new roof of the Temple Church, and the Ramsgate harbour works is also prepared by Kyan’s process. When wooden railway ties become general, a very profitable business for Kyan’s company is anticipated, and for a time these hopes are realised.

It becomes evident that iron fastenings cannot be used in wood treated with corrosive sublimate, on account of the corrosive action, and it is said that the wood becomes brittle. The salt is somewhat expensive and Sir William Burnett‘s method of preserving timber by zinc chloride, and afterwards the application of creosote for that purpose, proves severe competitors. Doubts begin to be expressed as to the real efficiency of kyanising, and the process gradually ceases to be employed.

John Kyan dies on January 5, 1850 in New York City, where he is engaged on a plan for filtering the water supplied to that city by the Croton Aqueduct.


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John Philip Nolan Wins Co. Galway By-Election

john-philip-nolanCaptain John Philip Nolan, an Irish nationalist landowner and a supporter of home rule and tenant rights, defeats Conservative William Le Poer Trench on February 8, 1872 in a County Galway by-election. He serves in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and as member of the Irish Parliamentary Party representing Galway County (1872–1885) and Galway North (1885–1895, 1900–1906).

Nolan is the eldest son of John Nolan, Justice of the Peace, of Ballinderry, Tuam, and Mary Anne, Walter Nolan, of Loughboy. He receives his education at Clongowes Wood College, Stonyhurst, Trinity College, Dublin, the Staff College, Camberley and Woolwich. He enters the British Royal Artillery in 1857 and serves throughout the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia. As adjutant to Colonel Milward, he is present at the capture of Amba Mariam (then known as Magdala) and is mentioned in despatches. He is awarded the Abyssinian War Medal and retires from the Army with the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1881.

Nolan becomes involved in the nascent home rule campaign of the Home Rule League. On February 8, 1872 he is elected MP for Galway County in a by-election, defeating by a large majority the Conservative William Le Poer Trench. Of the 4,686 available electors, who are chiefly Catholic, 2,823 vote for Nolan and 658 for Trench.

Trench appeals the result, claiming on petition that there is widespread intimidation during the election campaign. The local Catholic bishops and clergy had strongly supported Nolan, chiefly because the family of his opponent, a Captain Trench, was active in proselytism. The trial of the Galway County Election Petition begins, before Judge William Keogh, on April 1 and ends on May 21, 1872.

Judge Keogh finds that Nolan had been elected by the undue influence and intimidation and in his report states that he found 36 persons guilty of undue influence and intimidation, including John MacHale, the Archbishop of Tuam, the Bishop of Clonfert, Patrick Duggan, and the Bishop of Galway, John McEvilly, and twenty nine named priests, such intimidation being in some cases exercised in the very churches. As a result, Nolan is unseated on June 13, with the seat going to Trench. The judgement causes an uproar. The judge is threatened with removal from the bench and his reputation never recovers.

Nolan retakes the seat at the 1874 election. He remains MP after the 1885 constituency reforms as MP for Galway North until 1895.

When the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Charles Stewart Parnell‘s long-term family relationship with Katharine O’Shea, the separated wife of a fellow MP, Nolan sides with his deposed leader and seconds the motion to retain Parnell as chairman at the ill-fated party meeting in Committee Room 15 of the House of Commons. He goes on to become whip of the pro-Parnellite rump of the split party, the Irish National League. He loses the Galway North seat to an Anti-Parnellite, Denis Kilbride, in 1895 and stands unsuccessfully as a Parnellite for South Louth in 1896. He is re-elected unopposed at Galway North after the reunification of the Parliamentary Party in 1900, but loses the seat again for the final time in 1906 when he stands as an Independent Nationalist.


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The Guildford Pub Bombings

The Guildford pub bombings occur on October 5, 1974 when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonate two 6-pound gelignite bombs at two pubs in Guildford, Surrey, southwest of London. The pubs are targeted because they are popular with British Army personnel stationed at the barracks in Pirbright. Four soldiers and one civilian are killed, while 65 others are wounded.

The bomb in the Horse and Groom pub detonates at 8:30 PM. It kills Paul Craig, a 22-year-old plasterer, two members of the Scots Guards and two members of the Women’s Royal Army Corps. The Seven Stars pub is evacuated after the first blast, and thus there are no serious injuries when the second bomb explodes at 9:00 PM.

These attacks are the first in a year-long campaign by an IRA Active Service Unit who are eventually captured after the Balcombe Street siege. A similar bomb to those used in Guildford, with the addition of shrapnel, is thrown into the Kings Arms pub in Woolwich on November 7, 1974. Gunner Richard Dunne and Alan Horsley, a sales clerk, die in that explosion. On August 27, 1975 the same IRA unit detonates a bomb in Surrey at the Caterham Arms pub which injures over 30 people. Surrey police say it is “a carbon copy of the Guildford bombs.”

The bombings occur at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Metropolitan Police Service is under enormous pressure to apprehend the IRA bombers responsible for the attacks in England. The bombings contribute to the speedy and unchallenged passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in November 1974.

In December 1974 the police arrest Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson, later known as the Guildford Four. The Guildford Four are falsely convicted of the bombings in October 1975 after the Metropolitan Police use the Prevention of Terrorism Acts to force false confessions. All four are sentenced to life in prison.

The Guildford Four are held in prison for fifteen years, although Gerry Conlon dies near the end of his third year of imprisonment. All the convictions are overturned years later in the appeal courts after it is proved the Guildford Four’s convictions had been based on confessions obtained by torture, while evidence specifically clearing the Four is not reported by the police.


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The Guildford Four Are Released From Prison

guildford-four-releaseAfter serving 15 years in prison, the Guildford Four, Gerry Conlon, Patrick Armstrong, Carole Richardson, and Paul Hill, are released on October 19, 1989, in what is considered to be one of the biggest-ever miscarriages of justice in Britain.

On October 5, 1974, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb kills four people in a Guildford pub frequented by British military personnel, while another bomb in Woolwich kills three. British investigators rush to find suspects and soon settle on Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill, two residents of Northern Ireland who are in the area at the time of the terrorist attack.

Under the recently rewritten Prevention of Terrorism Act, British investigators are allowed to hold and interrogate terrorist suspects for five days without any hard evidence. Conlon and Hill, who are nonpolitical petty criminals, are among the first suspects held under the new law. During their prison stay, investigators fabricate against them an IRA conspiracy that implicates a number of their friends and family members. The officers then force the two suspects to sign confessions under physical and mental torture. In October 1975, Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong, and Carole Richardson are sentenced to life in prison – mandatory for adults convicted of murder. Seven of their relatives and friends, called the Maguire Seven, are sentenced to lesser terms on the basis of questionable forensic evidence.

In 1989, detectives from Avon and Somerset Constabulary, investigating the handling of the case, find three significant pieces of evidence in relation to Surrey Police‘s handling of the Guildford Four and their statements.

Firstly, typed notes from Patrick Armstrong’s police interviews which had been heavily edited. Deletions and additions had been made, and the notes had been rearranged. These notes, and their amendments, are consistent with hand-written and typed notes presented at the trial, which suggest that the hand-written notes are made after the interviews had been conducted. The notes presented had been described in court as contemporaneous records.

Secondly, a series of manuscript notes relating to an interview with Hill, which show that Hill’s fifth statement is taken in breach of Judges’ Rules, and may well have been inadmissible as evidence. The information is not made available to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the prosecution. Further, the officers involved had denied under oath that such an interview had happened.

Thirdly, detention records are inconsistent with the times and durations of the claimed interviews reported by the Surrey police.

In the face of growing public protest and after the disclosure of exonerating evidence, including the admittance of guilt in the bombings by an imprisoned IRA member, the group’s conviction is declared “unsafe and unsatisfactory.” The Guildford Four are cleared of all charges and released after 15 years in prison. The following year a British appeals court also overturns the convictions of the Maguire Seven, who were jailed on the basis of forensic evidence that is shown to have no relevant scientific basis.

(Pictured: Gerry Conlon on his release from prison in 1989)


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Birth of Francis Fowke, Engineer & Architect

francis-fowkeFrancis Fowke, engineer, architect, and a Captain in the Corps of Royal Engineers, is born in Ballysillan, Belfast, on July 7, 1823. Most of his architectural work is executed in the Renaissance style, although he makes use of relatively new technologies to create iron framed buildings, with large open galleries and spaces.

Fowke studies at The Royal School Dungannon, County Tyrone, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He obtains a commission in the Royal Engineers, and serves with distinction in Bermuda and Paris. On his return to England, he is appointed architect and engineer in charge of the construction of several government buildings.

Among his projects are the Prince Consort’s Library in Aldershot, the Royal Albert Hall and parts of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, and the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. He is also responsible for planning the 1862 International Exhibition in London. The Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851 being a hard act to follow, the International Exhibition building is described as “a wretched shed” by The Art Journal. Parliament declines the Government’s proposal to purchase the building. The materials are sold and used for the construction of Alexandra Palace.

Before his sudden death from a burst blood vessel on December 4, 1865, Fowke wins the competition for the design of the Natural History Museum, although he does not live to see it executed. His renaissance designs for the museum are altered and realised in the 1870s by Alfred Waterhouse, on the site of Fowke’s Exhibition building.

Francis Fowke is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.

A medal is issued by the Royal Engineers in 1865, as a memorial prize for architectural works carried out by members of the corps. With the demise of great architectural works, the prize has transformed into the prize awarded to the top student on the Royal Engineers Clerks of Works course.