Category Archives: History

Losing my website, and a year in Ireland (1766)

Around 10 years ago, I used to have a ‘Chronology of Ireland’ website, which listed events, births and deaths connected in some way to Ireland, from prehistory up to the present (obviously more information was available on more recent events). I had compiled the chronology in my spare time, from reference books and other sources. The idea was to give a snapshot of life in Ireland in any given year; obscure and colourful snippets appeared alongside the unfolding of what we think of as Irish history.

The site contained over 100,000 words – the equivalent of a good-sized book. It was the largest resource of its kind in the world, and was strictly objective. But I didn’t have time to develop it as I would have wished, and took it offline. Continue reading

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War in Ireland, 1921

This is another extract from On Another Man’s Wound, by Ernie O’Malley. I posted one here; a post dealing with similar themes appears here. This incident – the execution of three British officers in reprisal for the killing of prisoners – occurred in the same part of South Tipperary as this and this.

We walked into the closing-in darkness, riflemen in front and behind the trap, until we were at a distance from where the officers had been captured. I expected a big round-up in which the countryside would be combed by troops from Cahir and Clonmel – both strong military posts. They would probably converge in the triangular area of which Fethard was the apex.

We came to a farmhouse up in the fields some way off the main Clonmel road. Sentries were posted. The girls and women of the house got ready supper; they did not ask questions. A fire was lighted in the room where the officers were. After supper I went into the room. The blinds were drawn so that they could not look out. It was a large room. They were seated at a table. One had his head in his hands. Continue reading

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The women of France

This is an extract from Patrick MacGill’s First World War memoir, The Red Horizon.

“… Oh! ‘ang it, Pat, they’re nothin’ to the French girls, them birds at ’ome.”

“What about that girl you knew at St. Albans?” I asked. “You remember how she slid down the banisters and made toffee.”

“She wasn’t no class, you know,” said Bill.

“She never answered the verse you sent from Givenchy, I suppose,” I remarked.

“It’s not that—-”

“Did she answer your letter saying she reciprocated your sentiments?” I asked.

“Reshiperate your grandmother, Pat!” roared Bill. “Nark that language, I say. Speak that I can understand you. Wait a minute till I reshiperate that,” he suddenly exclaimed pressing a charge into his rifle magazine and curving over the parapet. He sent five shots in the direction from which he supposed the sniper who had been potting at us all day, was firing. Then he returned to his argument.

“You’ve seen that bird at the farm in Mazingarbe?” he asked. Continue reading

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Rev. Nicholas Sheehy (1728–1766)

For Ireland, the legacy of the seventeenth-century wars was a volatile, fragmented society, as illustrated by this case.

Nicholas Sheehy was born in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, in 1728. He was educated in Spain, and ordained a priest in 1750. He became parish priest of small parishes in the Fethard/Clogheen area of South Tipperary (whence my own ancestors, on the male line, sprang, and which later saw this incident).

At the time, the poor Catholics of Ireland were very much oppressed by the ‘penal laws’ and a form of ‘government against the people’. An agrarian movement known as the Whiteboys was active in Counties Tipperary, Waterford, Limerick, Cork and Kilkenny – ‘part of an underground that had learned not only to separate the formal law from popular notions of legitimacy, but also how to impose an alternative discipline through intimidation’, as R.F. Foster puts it. Continue reading

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Women in the Catholic Church … the case of Mary McKillop

An 81-year-old woman named Jennifer Sleeman organized a boycott of mass in Ireland last Sunday, in protest at women’s lowly place within the Church. The Church authorities claimed that it had no appreciable effect on mass attendance, although priests told a different story.

As it happened, I was due to sing in the choir at my local church (we sing every second Sunday from autumn through spring, and I usually go along; those are the only times I attend mass). I stayed away to support the boycott.

Today I read an article in the Irish Times that showcases rather starkly what women have contributed to the Church, and how they have been treated by its exclusively male power structure. Sister Mary McKillop is to be canonized by the organization that excommunicated her in her lifetime. Continue reading

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Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland

[First posted on MyT]

I see that an exhibition will soon open at the National Museum of Ireland on the history of duelling, which reached its peak here between 1780 and 1820. In a sample of 306 Irish duels fought between 1771 and 1790, there were 65 instant deaths and 16 mortal wounds; less than a third ended without injury. At least 19 Dublin companies were making duelling pistols in the early nineteenth century.

Some years ago I worked on a project involving the Irish parliament of 1695–1800, and compiled a fair bit of information on duelling and much else. Here is some of it: more will follow in a second post. Continue reading

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Aran Islanders, and leaving the RIC be

This is an extract from On Another Man’s Wound by Ernie O’Malley, which I have mentioned elsewhere.

We visited the Aran Islands and around the fire at night we talked, sitting on very low stools, on the floor, or with backs to the wall. And when it was my turn to tell a story, Peadar and some of the boys who spoke English helped me out in translation. Some of their stories seemed to have had no beginning or end. They seemed mostly to like smartness in the hero, a kind of cleverness bordering on trickery – their tales of Fionn were such; accounts of people on the mainland with a stress on meanness, or some fantastic tale so elaborate that one could sense improvised embroidery. Stories that were direct or that had much concrete description, I thought, they would like. I told them of Till Eulenspiegel, some of Hakluyt’s sea tales, Bricriú’s feast and Burnt Njal. Till Eulenspiegel and Bricriú were favourites; they rocked with delight, and I had to repeat them often and eventually hear their own versions; but their greatest joy was in the story of Mac Dathó’s Boar. Continue reading

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21 January 1919

Further to my ‘Plugging the enemy’ post, I thought this might be of interest. I posted it on MyT in January 2009.

Ireland saw a significant anniversary last week … on 21 January, it was exactly 90 years since the first sitting of Dáil Éireann (the Irish parliament).

73 of the 110 MPs elected for the whole of Ireland in the December 1918 general election, instead of going to Westminster, met in Dublin to declare an independent Irish Republic in defiance of the British administration.

On the same day, the first shots were fired in the ‘War of Independence’ when members of the Irish Volunteers (soon to become known as the Irish Republican Army) killed two armed policemen who were escorting a consignment of gelignite at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary. Continue reading

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Plugging the enemy … guerrilla war in Ireland

When I was a small boy living in a small town in Co. Tipperary, an old man lived across the road from us whose name was Jack Meagher. I must have been quite young when he died, because my memories of him are vague. I think he was from up the mountains … an old-style countryman, garrulous and jovial, who would walk in the back door of our house without knocking and declare ‘God bless all here!’, then stay chatting for hours. Jack was a character.

Years later my sister told me something about him that I hadn’t known – he had been in the Old IRA* of 1919–21, and had, it seems been the local brigade’s executioner. When prisoners needed to be killed, in reprisal for the execution of IRA prisoners by the British, Jack was the man that did the deed. He didn’t fit the stereotype of the old soldier who ‘doesn’t like to talk about the war’; apparently he had no qualms about regaling my uncomfortable parents, around the kitchen table, with gory details of how he had ‘plugged’ some unfortunate captive. Continue reading

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Wit in the Irish parliament

This is an extract from an article I once wrote on the Irish parliament (1692-1800).

Reported witticisms were many. The Duke of Rutland, making conversation with Sir John Stewart Hamilton (MP for Strabane) at a levee, once remarked on the prospect of an excellent harvest, saying that the timely rain would bring everything above ground. Sir John replied: ‘God forbid! For I have three wives under it.’ When Cornelius O’Callaghan (a lawyer and future MP for Fethard (Tipperary)) was making suit for his wife, her mother asked where his estates lay. O’Callaghan is alleged to have stuck out his tongue and pointed at it.

Montagu Mathew (MP for Ballynakill) was sometimes confused with his fellow Harrovian, Mathew Montagu, causing him to remark on one occasion that ‘I wish it to be understood that there is no more likeness between Montagu Mathew and Mathew Montagu than between a chestnut horse and a horse chestnut.’ Continue reading

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