‘On This Day’ at your fingertips. New Island publish the collected radio columns. In shops now.

On this Day cover idea no rte logo10 October OTD

With twelve great cartoons from Annie West.

[What the publishers say]

In this entertaining and engaging book, based on the popular ‘On This Day’ segment from RTÉ’s Drivetime, Myles Dungan delivers little-known episodes from the history of Ireland, and Irish people at home and abroad, bringing fresh perspectives on the lives of both the renowned and the notorious.

The book features a diverse mix of Irish luminaries, from giants of Irish history such as Charles Stewart Parnell, Michael Collins and Grace O’Malley, to literary legends Brendan Behan, W. B. Yeats, Francis Ledwidge and Maria Edgeworth, to Cork-born champion of the working man, Mary Harris a.k.a. ‘Mother Jones’, as well as a diverse mix of rebels, courtesans, composers and bandits.

These stories are imbued with renewed vigour and energy. Featuring pieces from as early as the thirteenth century and from as late as the mid-twentieth century, this distinct work is an original and accessible account of the trivial and tremendous moments from Irish history.

Myles Dungan is a broadcaster and historian. He presents The History Show on RTÉ Radio 1 and his weekly ‘On This Day’ column for Drivetime is in its second year. He has also compiled and presented a number of award-winning historical documentaries. He is the author of a dozen works on Irish and American history and holds a PhD from Trinity College, Dublin.




[Note: This survey is intended as a supplement to some conclusions drawn on fatalities in the afterword of the new revised edition of my book Irish Voices from the Great War]




To ascertain how many Irish-born names are included who fought with non-Irish units and to deduct these from the Irish-born total of 30,986 (source: www.findmypast.ie)



To establish how many fatalities occurred among those whose service originated in Ireland. To establish a fatality / enlistment ratio for purely Irish recruits – i.e. those Irishmen who joined up in Ireland or those Irishmen already in Irish regiments like the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, i.e. in the regular army or reserve.


A caveat – some of the Irish-born soldiers who died in British or non UK units may also have enlisted in Ireland. In, for example, a random sample of 1000 deaths of Irishmen who died serving in English regiments c.3.5% had transferred from Irish units and may well have been recruited in Ireland.


An additional caveat – the numbers recorded in the INWMR of those Irish-born soldiers who died in British units may not be exhaustive. There may be other Irishmen who died in British regiments whose names are not recorded.



Use of the invaluable Ireland’s Memorial Records page on the ‘In Flanders Fields’ website [imr.inflandersfields.be/search.html]


Basic search terms such as ‘Canada’ ‘USA’ ‘Lancashire’ ‘Royal Engineers’ etc. were entered and these were used to identify the numbers of Irish-born soldiers in British, Colonial and American units who have been included in the Irish memorial records


In the records of some soldiers there is an indication of previous units in which they served. Only units with which soldiers were serving at the time of their deaths were counted – this was to avoid the risk of double-counting


Where no place of birth was indicated [7405 instances] the soldier in question was not included in any count.








ENGLAND                              6044

SCOTLAND                             1290

WALES                                280

USA                                  13

CANADA                               53

INDIA                                11

AUSTRALIA                            20

NEW ZEALAND                          14

SOUTH AFRICA                         10


TOTAL                                7735


This means that 7735 names must be deducted from the total of 30,986 names in the Irish National War Memorial Records, designated as having been born in Ireland, in order to arrive at a tentative figure for Irish dead whose service actually originated in Ireland itself. As noted above this figure could err on the low side by around 3.5%.







However, it should also be noted when arriving at a tentative figure (no definitive figure is possible) that a significant percentage of the 7405 names in the INWM Records whose place of birth is not noted, were actually born in Ireland. On the basis of a ratio of 3:1 (Irish:Non Irish) for those whose country of origin is known we might well surmise that three-quarters of those 7405 men (5554) were born in Ireland.


This would give us an actual total of Irish-born of around 36,540 (30,986 + 5554)


From this we need to subtract 7735 – giving us a total of Irish-born serving in Irish units who died in the Great War of 28,805 – in other words an Irish fatality ratio of 1:7 – somewhat higher than the UK average of 1:8 (720,000 dead out of a serving complement of 5.7 million). It is worth noting that this figure is not far removed from the statistic of 27,405 given by the Irish Registrar General in the 1926 census as the number of Irish soldiers, excluding officers, who died on active service outside the UK between 1914-18. If deceased officers are added in the figure of 28,805 becomes even more plausible.


This of course does not take into account Irish fatalities in ‘colonial’ forces or in the US forces. The only figure that has, thus far, been independently researched, is that of Irish enlistment (c.6,000) and fatalities (c.900) in Australia undertaken by Prof Jeff Kildea. Work yet to be verified by this writer suggests that the equivalent US figure is 1200.





(SOURCE: WWW.FINDMYPAST.IE –   http://www.findmypast.ie/articles/world-records/full-list-of-the-irish-family-history-records/military-service-and-conflict/irelands-memorial-record-world-war)


IRISH                      30,986

ENGLISH                    9,162

NONE GIVEN                 7,405

SCOTTISH                   1,357

WELSH                      314

INDIA  N                   82

USA                        41

CANADIAN                   36

AUSTRALIAN                 21

SOUTH AFRICAN              12



This is my grand-uncle Pat O’Reilly, Baileborough, Co.Cavan – died on the Somme in September 1916 – his Lives of the First World War Site is here

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this – I’m no expert but I hope this helps.

If you are too daunted to do the work yourself I can recommend Gordon Power, military genealogist as one of the best researchers in this area. I have only met the guy once (last Saturday in Waterford Library at our Great War Roadshow) where he gave an amazing presentation) so I have no agenda and I’m not on a percentage of whatever fee he might charge. He can be emailed at gordonpower@yahoo.com




CAVEAT: 70% of the actual service records of WW1 soldiers were damaged or destroyed in the Blitz – so you may be disappointed in the quality and quantity of information available.


There is currently a plethora of websites willing to sell you information on your ancestor(s) who served. Often, however, there is no additional information available than details you can accumulate free of charge.







  1. Search under ‘Find War Dead’ – also select ‘war’ and ‘service’ (ie ‘Army’, ‘Navy’ etc) – [Smith, J]
  2. 2079 records match your search – here you will need to know the name of his regiment and, if possible, his service number – Click on name – more information available on cemetery







Imperial War Museum project. Essentially they are inviting you to add information to the personal web page they have created (one of 4.5 million so far) for a ‘remembered’. However, there is already some basic information on each soldier on their webpage.


  1. Search by name, unit or service number – ‘John Smith’
  2. 6552 results for ‘John Smith’ – choose the most likely one and click on the name – [British Army Royal Engineers Inland Waterways Transport, Service #220]
  3. Click on ‘Search Official Records’ – this may give date and place of birth
  4. Return to ‘Private John Smith’ homepage – click on Medal Index Card
  5. Select ‘? Facts were added in this source of evidence’


If you do have additional information / images of your ancestor do the world a favour and upload it onto this site for posterity.










NOTE: All the files below are available for inspection in The National Archive Reading Room in Kew in London


Unit War Diaries. (WO95)


These can be a mine of information [mostly typed and readable] or skimpy beyond belief. It’s the luck of the draw.


The good news is that some of this particular record series (WO95) has been digitized so the war diaries of battalions within the first 33 divisions of the army are available online. [Not much good if you want to research a relative in the 36th (Ulster) Division]


Search by going to http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/war-diaries-ww1.htm and entering the regiment, battalion, brigade or division number in the box provided.


There may be a charge for downloading.



Medal Card Index (WO 372)


All soldiers who served overseas were entitled to a service medal of some description. In addition many earned medals for gallantry. Each of those who served overseas (male or female) had a dedicated medal card. There are over 5m of these in the British National Archives in Kew


A charge of £3.30 is incurred if you wish to view a .pdf of the actual card. This may contain additional information on the soldier who is the object of your research.



A full list of TNA digitized WW1 collections can be seen at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/first-world-war/centenary-digitised-records.htm



Silver War Badge records


The badge, which came into being in September 1916, was awarded to all of those military personnel who had served at home or overseas during the war, and who had been discharged from the army under King’s Regulations. This generally meant that the soldier had been released on account of being permanently physically unfit.


If your relative was discharged before September 1916 he may still have received a badge retrospectively.


The badges were useful for deflecting the grim attentions of members of the Order of the White Feather (who once presented a white feather to a sailor in civilian clothing on his way to accept the Victoria Cross). Wounded veterans could point to their silver war badge as evidence that they had not avoided enlistment. Badges bore the inscription ‘For King and Empire – Services Rendered.


The ‘Long Long Trail website gives an excellent rundown on the nature and scope of the records.








In some instances you will be re-directed from sites like The British National Archives to ancestry.com become this company has digitized many of the WW1 holdings of TNA. So I figured it was better to cut out the middleman here.


Some records may be hard to track down if they have been misfiled in the first instance and if names can not to read properly by the optical character recognition equipment.


Access to this service may be available free of charge through your local library


British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920 (WO363) ‘The Burnt records’




This database contains the surviving service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who served in WWI and did not re-enlist in the Army prior to World War II. With the final release, this database now contains the entire service records collection.


These records contain a variety of forms, including:


Attestation forms – the form completed by the individual on enlistment

Medical history forms

Casualty forms

Disability statements

Regimental conduct sheets


Proceedings on Discharge

Cover for Discharge Documents

Index Cards


Information available in these records includes:


Name of soldier




Marital status

Regimental number

Date of attestation

Physical description


An absolute goldmine if your man’s records survived the German bombs AND the fireman’s hoses. But only a 1:3 chance that you will turn up the relevant file.



British Army WW1 Pension Records (WO364)




Known as ‘The Unburnt Records’. Potentially useful where WW1 survivors are concerned


This database contains service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who were discharged from the Army and claimed disability pensions for service in WWI. These were also men who did not re-enlist in the Army prior to World War II. Approximately 5 million men served in the British Army in World War One (WWI) and these records contain many of them, especially if they claimed a pension.


These records contain a variety of forms, including:


Attestation forms – the form completed by the individual on enlistment

Medical history forms

Casualty forms

Disability statements

Regimental conduct sheets



Information available in these records includes:


Name of soldier




Marital status

Regimental number

Date of attestation

Physical description


NB: Don’t bother if your soldier was killed in action or was not entitled to a disability pension











1901 and 1911 CENSUS


In the absence of conscription in Ireland the two digitized Irish censuses are not quite as useful as their British equivalents. However, they can certainly indicate whether the name for which you are searching was a male of military age (18-41 18-51 from 1918)


Soldiers Wills


To circumvent the necessity for a will to be witnessed legislation allowed soldiers to make wills on forms included in their paybooks.


At least 9000 of the 30,000+ Irish soldiers who died chose this option and their wills are preserved in the National Archives of Ireland. The wills have also been digitized and can be read online at http://soldierswills.nationalarchives.ie/search/sw/





The Irish Military Service Pensions are likely to become an increasingly useful source in years to come. At the moment the only information available is on 1916 veterans but as time goes on the files of Irish WW1 veterans who went on to join the IRA and fight in the War of Independence should also become available. There were at least 116 WW1 veterans in the IRA during the Anglo Irish War. Your grandad might have been one of them.


For the same reason it would be useful to consult the Bureau of Military History witness statements. Many names appear of men unconnected with the IRA. Perhaps your ancestor was an IRA target because of their WW1 service.






Irish National War Memorial Records – compiled in the 1920s and giving rise to the myth that 49,500 Irishmen died in the war – now searchable via

http://imr.inflandersfields.be/search.html – in some cases there is more information than on the CWGC website


The Long, Long,Trail: The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918

http://www.1914-1918.net . This site includes a useful tutorial page on how to go about researching a soldier – http://www.1914-1918.net/soldiers/research.html




Forces War Records is the sister site of Forces Reunited, the leading British military community on the web with more than one million members and reuniting veterans since 2001, part of Clever Digit Media Ltd.

This is a commercial site but is useful and user friendly.


www.rootschat.com – other people might be able to suggest avenues of research if you are facing dead ends




www.findmypast.ie – a commercial site but often accessible FOC via your local library





The Irish Times digital archive is a very useful source, especially for Dublin-based soldiers – however, it is likely to have more information on deceased soldiers than on those who survived – searchable


The Freeman’s Journal and Irish Independent for the Great War period are available on the Irish Newspaper Archive website – as are many local newspapers of the period (eg Kerryman, Limerick Leader, Meath Chronicle etc] – you can subscribe yourself to search and download but your local library may have an account with INA which will allow you to access the site FOC on library computers.


It may also be worth checking the London Gazette for details of military honours awarded




Irish regimental/museum websites



Some additional information can be found on the following websites, mostly maintained by dedicate enthusiasts who are willing to help you in your searches.






http://homepage.eircom.net/~tipperaryfame/leinster.htm– Leinster Regiment


http://royalirishrangers.co.uk/irish.html– Royal Irish Fusiliers

http://www.inniskillingsmuseum.com– facility to ‘trace a relative’ at a cost of £28








These will often give general ‘feel’ for the experience of your relatives and might even mention them specifically. I came across a reference to my own granduncle’s death (he was a mere rifleman/private) in Taylor’s history of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War.




Cooper, Bryan, The Tenth (Irish) Division in Gallipoli (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1993).

Cunliffe, Marcus, The Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1793-1968 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1970).

Denman, Terence, Ireland’s Unknown Soldiers: the 16th Irish Division in the Great War (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1992).

Doherty, Richard, The Sons of Ulster (Belfast, Appletree, 1992).

Dooley, Thomas, Irishmen or English Soldiers: The Times and World of a Southern Catholic Irish Man (1876-1916) Enlisting in the British Army in the First World War (Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 1995).

Dungan, Myles Irish Voices from the Great War (Irish Academic Press, Dublin 1995)

Dungan, Myles, They Shall Grow not Old: Irish soldiers and the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 1997).

Feilding, Rowland, War Letters to a Wife (London, Medici Society, 1929),

Fox, Sir Frank, The Royal Inniskilling Rifles in the World War (London, Constable, 1928).

Grayson, Richard S., Belfast Boys: How Unionists and Nationalists Fought and Died Together in the First World War (London, Continuum, 2009).

Hanna, Henry, The Pals at Suvla Bay (Dublin, Ponsonby, 1916).

Harris, Henry, Irish Regiments in the First World War (Cork, Mercier Press, 1968).

Hitchcock, Frank, Stand To: a Diary of the Trenches (Norwich, 1988).

Hogarty, Patrick, The Old Toughs: A Brief History of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion (Dublin, Private publication, 2001).

Horne, John, ed., Our War: Ireland and the Great War (Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 2008).

Kipling, Rudyard, The Irish Guards in the Great War, Vol.1. (London, Macmillan,1923).

Laird, Frank, Personal Experiences of the Great War (Dublin, Eason, 1925).

Lucy, John, There’s a Devil in the Drum (London, London and Naval Military Press, 1992).

Johnstone, Thomas, Orange, Green and Khaki (Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1992).

McCance, Captain S., History of the Royal Munster Fusiliers: Volume II – from 1862-1922 (Aldershot, Gale and Polden,1927).

MacDonagh, Michael, The Irish at the Front (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1916).

MacDonagh, Michael, The Irish on the Somme, (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1917).

Orr, Phillip, The Road to the Somme (Belfast, Blackstaff Press, 1987).

Orr, Philip, Field of Bones: An Irish Division at Gallipoli (Dublin, Lilliput Press, 2006).

Quinn, Anthony P., Wigs and Guns: Irish Barristers in the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2006).

Rickard, Jesse Louisa, The Story of the Munsters at Etreux, Festubert, Rue du Bois and Hulluch (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1918).

Robertson, David, Deeds not Words: Irish Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in Two World Wars (Multyfarnham, Privately published, 1998).

Taylor, James. W., The 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2002).

Taylor, James. W., The 2nd Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2005).

Walker, G.A.C., The Book of the 7th Service Battalion – The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers – from Tipperary to Ypres (Dublin, Brindley, 1920).

Whitton, Col.F.E., The History of the Prince of Wales Leinster Regiment, Vol.2 (Aldershot, Gale and Polden, 1926).

Wyly, Col. H.C., Crown and Company – The Historical Record of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, vol.2 1911-1922 (London, Humphreys, 1923)

Wylly, Col.H.C., Neill’s Blue Caps – Vol.3, 1914-1922 (Aldershot, Gale and Polden, 1923).


A number of counties (Cork, Louth, Cavan, Dublin, Donegal etc) have also now published ‘Roll of Honour’ books with information on those who died from that county.








New on Kindle – The Stealing of the Irish Crown Jewels


1907. The Irish Crown Jewels are stolen from under the noses of the Dublin Metropolitan Police in Dublin Castle a few days before the royal visit of King Edward VII. The stumped DMP send for Scotland Yard. The crime is never solved, perhaps because if the thief was ever identified a huge scandal would follow? This is the tale of an audacious robbery, an outrageous heist, blackmail, murder and political intrigue at the highest level.

The Stealing of the Irish Crown Jewels by Myles Dungan is now available on Kindle at $6.99 (+VAT) or under €6.00


On This Day -6.11.1929 The Gaelic League bans ‘foreign dances’ and the ‘Down with Jazz’ campaign begins


We are a nation given to bans and boycotts. The latter expression, famously, has its origins in the Land War of the early 1880s. For many years the Gaelic Athletic Association maintained a ban on members playing soccer, rugby, hockey and cricket. During the so-called ‘Economic War’ of the 1930s we were encouraged to ‘burn everything English except their coal’ – a phrase that dates back to Jonathan Swift in the 1720s. But few campaigns can have been as bizarre as the hysterical antipathy towards jazz music in the 1920s and 30s.

The Great War, in which millions died, was, not unnaturally, followed by a period of anti-establishment moral and political lassitude. On the basis of what had gone on between 1914-18 many young European and American citizens chose to spend the next decade operating on the basis of the axiom ‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’. The trenches and industrialised killing gave way to the Charleston, bobbed hair and shorter skirts. It was, to many older citizens who had spent the war in their clubs and drawing rooms, the collapse of civilization as they knew it. Critics of modern music and dance saw nothing particularly untoward in mass slaughter but were appalled at the excesses of the depraved Black Bottom and incendiary jazz music.

In Ireland post-war mass unemployment, abject poverty and wholesale emigration seemed to be of less significance to our legislators and the Roman Catholic hierarchy than stopping people listening and, far worse, dancing, to the devil’s music. The Cumann na nGaedhal government even set up a committee of investigation (the Carrigan Committee) which consulted expert witnesses on how the morality of Irish youth might be safeguarded against such corrupting foreign influences as Louis Armstrong and Glen Miller.

County Leitrim emerged as the last bastion of Gaelic civilisation when the parish priest of the village of Cloone, Father Peter Conferey lambasted jazz from the pulpit and urged people to sing Irish songs and wear home spun clothing only. A demonstration under the auspices of the Gaelic League was organized in Mohill. It was reported to have been attended by 3000 people, some of whom carried banners with slogans such as ‘Down with Jazz’ and ‘Out with paganism’. A supportive message was read at the meeting from the Catholic Primate of Ireland Cardinal McRory who described jazz dancing as ‘suggestive … demoralising [and] a fruitful source of scandal and of ruin.’ The Cardinal speculated that listening to such debauched music had been ‘the occasion of irreparable disgrace and life-long sorrow’ for many young Irish women. Given that jazz had been barely a decade in Ireland the ‘life long’ bit was probably something of a stretch

At the same meeting the Secretary of the Gaelic League, Sean Óg O’Ceallaigh, attacked no less a personage than the rather ascetic Fianna Fail Minister for Finance Sean McEntee. He was condemned for permitting Radio Eireann to play jazz music occasionally. O’Ceallaigh said, rather improbably, of the austere McEntee that ‘Our Minister for Finance has a soul buried in jazz and is selling the musical soul of the nation … He is jazzing every night of the week.’

In January 1934 the Leitrim Observer fulminated editorially against what it called ‘Saxon’ influences. ‘Let the pagan Saxon be told that we Irish Catholics do not want and will not have the dances and the music that he has borrowed from the savages of the islands of the Pacific.’ The racist theme was later taken up by Fr. Conefrey when he described jazz as being ‘borrowed from the language of the savages of Africa’ – so quite a geographical spread there. He then went on to attack the Gardai insisting that many members of the force were guilty of organizing depraved all night jazz dances. A far cry indeed from the Policeman’s Ball.

The campaign had the effect of forcing the introduction of the 1935 Dance Halls Act requiring all those who wished to organize such an event to apply for a licence. This, ironically, had the side-effect of making Irish traditional dances in rural homes illegal. Be careful what you wish for.

The Gaelic League decreed that anyone attending ‘foreign’ dances where jazz music was played, risked expulsion, 86 years ago, on this day

Below proof that some campaigns can, laced with irony, prove very useful


On This Day – Drivetime – 30.10.1751 – Birth of playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan


He was one of the outstanding English playwrights and politicians of the 18th century. Except like many other exceptional exponents of the benign art of theatre and the dark arts of politics he wasn’t English – he was Irish.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan was born in Dorset Street in Dublin in 1751. His surroundings were slightly more fashionable then than they are now. He was probably born to write for the theatre. His mother, Frances was a playwright and novelist, his father Thomas was, for a long time, an actor-manager.

His budding theatrical and political careers almost failed to get off the ground, however. Sheridan, to defend the honour of his future wife, Elizabeth Linley, was obliged to fight a duel against one Thomas Matthews, a rival for Elizabeth’s affections, who also happened to be married. Matthews had churlishly defamed her in a newspaper article when she rejected his advances.

The two men met twice in 1772. Swords were the weapons of choice on both occasions. At the first encounter, in London, Matthews posed few difficulties for the Irishman. He was quickly disarmed, begged for his life and was forced to retract the defamatory article. However, Matthews insisted on a rematch and Sheridan decided to oblige him. The second meeting, in Bath, was a much bloodier affair that Sheridan barely survived. According to contemporary accounts he was borne from the field with his opponents broken sword sticking from his ear and his whole body covered in wounds.

Sheridan survived and three years later produced his first play The Rivals a sparkling comedy that included the character of a hot-blooded and mean-spirited Irish duelist Sir Lucius O’Trigger. The comedy, coincidentally, is set in Bath. There is more than one way of gaining revenge on a loathsome adversary.

However, the most memorable character in the play was the sublime Mrs. Malaprop, a lady much given to hilarious verbal solecisms. Hence such infamous howlers as her reference to ‘an allegory on the banks of the Nile’ and ‘he can tell you the perpendiculars’. She also refers to another character as ‘the very pineapple of politeness.’

His greatest work, which appeared two years later, in 1777, was The School for Scandal – still performed today it matches and surpasses most of Oscar Wilde’s comedies of manners with it’s acid observations on contemporary social mores and the endless capacity for evil gossip in 18th century London society.

In 1780 Sheridan essentially bribed his way into the House of Commons, as you often did in those days. The franchise in his constituency was fortunately small as each vote cost him a reported five guineas. In parliament he allied himself to the Whig faction led by Charles James Fox and sided with the American Colonials in their disputes with England. In one celebrated and highly theatrical aside in 1793 his fellow Irishman Edmund Burke was ranting about French revolutionary spies and saboteurs. After a rhetorical flourish to emphasise the dangers of allowing Johnny Foreigner access to England Burke threw a knife onto the floor of the Commons. This drew the retort from Sheridan ‘where’s the fork?’

Although he was an accomplished parliamentary orator and briefly held political office one of Sheridan’s reasons for retaining his seat in the Commons was probably to evade his creditors. When he lost his seat in 1812 they pounced. He died in poverty three years later but is buried in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Sheridan is responsible for many memorable, pithy and witty phrases. He once said of a political opponent that ‘the right honourable gentleman is indebted to his memory for his jests and to his imagination for his facts.’ In his 1779 play The Critic he has one of his characters make the very politically apposite observation that ‘the number of those who undergo the fatigue of judging for themselves is very small indeed.’

Richard Brinsley Sheridan, playwright, politician and sometime duelist, was born 264 years ago, on this day.

On This Day – 9 October 1913 – The Birth of golfer Harry Bradshaw


He was the son of a professional golfer and three of his brothers followed the same calling. Harry Bradshaw was Ireland’s first golfing superstar, a proven winner with a jovial personality that endeared him to one and all and helped popularize the professional game in this country

Bradshaw played his golf out of the picturesque Delgany club in Co. Wicklow, where he was treated with respect and admiration. However, it was not always thus where professional golfers were concerned in those days. Even today golf would not be noted for its egalitarianism. In the 1940s and 1950s – when Bradshaw was in his pomp – it was a thoroughly elitist sport and many of those in its professional ranks were working-class men who often came to the game via the caddying route. They would serve their apprenticeships humping bags for well-heeled club members, sneak in as much practice as was tolerated, become assistant professional and fix the clubs and shoes of the same members. They would then, if they were fortunate, become fully-fledged professionals and play occasional tournaments for filthy lucre. This did not, of course, entitle them to admission to the clubhouse. They were, after all, mere employees. To enter the holy of holies they would usually have to be accompanied by a member. There is an enormous social, cultural and sporting gap between Harry Bradshaw and Rory McIlroy.

Bradshaw, dominated the Irish professional golfing scene from the time of his first Irish PGA championship victory in 1941. He went on to win it for the next three years, and took first prize ten times in all.

But it was on the international scene that he really made his mark. In the days prior to any notion of a PGA European Tour the Irish Open championship was a significant event. Brad first won it in 1947 and again two years later. He took the prestigious Dunlop Masters in 1953 and again in 1955. He played on three Ryder Cup teams during this period as well, taking on the Americans in 1953, 1955 and 1957 – the latter event, at Lindrick in England, giving Britain and Ireland its first win in the tournament since 1933.

In 1958, along with Christy O’Connor Sr. he shared in an Irish world championship victory when they combined to win the Canada Cup – now the World Cup – in Mexico. This despite the fact that Bradshaw suffered nosebleeds because of the altitude.

But his greatest achievement was also his greatest tragedy. In the 1949 Open Championship at the Royal St. George’s course in Sandwich in Kent he was inspired and took the great South African Bobby Locke to a play-off. It has always been argued that, but for a rush of blood to the head during the second round, Bradshaw would have won that tournament. He had driven off the 5th tee and was walking down the fairway towards his ball when he realized that it had come to rest against a large piece of glass from a broken bottle. He could probably have dropped without penalty, he could well have waited for a ruling, but, somewhat rashly, though in the spirit of the game at the time, he opted to play the ball as it lay and duffed it. Had he been more patient he might well have won the tournament outright. Sadly, he lost the playoff to Locke who went on to win three more British Opens.

A few weeks later in the Irish Open Golf Championship at Belvoir Park in Belfast Locke was part of a distinguished field. This time, however, Bradshaw had the measure of the great South African and took the trophy. It was revenge of a sort but scant consolation for his failure to take the British Open. Bradshaw must rank alongside Christy O’Connor Senior as the greatest Irish golfer never to have won a Major. However, his heyday was at a time when the notion of ‘Majors’ was not as well developed as it is now and it was virtually impossible for Irish pros to play in the big money tournaments in the USA

Harry Bradshaw, the ebullient, trailblazing Irish professional golfer was born in Delgany, Co. Wicklow 102 years ago, on this day.


On This Day – 2 October 1852 – Journalist and politician William O’Brien is born in Mallow


He was argumentative, controversial, committed, exasperating, vicious, divisive, loyal and lots of other adjectives besides, some positive, some pejorative.

William O’Brien was a poacher turned gamekeeper. For the early part of his life he was a muck-raking nationalist journalist, before devoting himself almost entirely to politics. Born into a Cork Fenian family – his brother was a member of the IRB and he may well have been sworn in himself – he was a campaigning newspaperman in his youth in the late 1870s writing for the stuffy Freeman’s Journal. Although his often explosive articles got his proprietor, the MP Edmund Dwyer Gray into plenty of trouble there was a huge mutual admiration between the Dublin grandee and the Cork firebrand.

In 1881, still in his twenties, he was asked by Charles Stewart Parnell to become the first editor of the new Land League newspaper United Ireland. He took on the task with gusto – so much so that he was arrested and jailed after barely a dozen issues. Totally undeterred O’Brien continued to edit the newspaper from Kilmainham jail, using the same underground communications system that allowed his leader to continue to conduct his passionate and adulterous relationship with Katharine O’Shea.

After the Land War United Ireland became the mouthpiece of Parnellism and an equal opportunities offender. O’Brien would, on a weekly basis, attack the Liberal and Tory parties in England, the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police, landlords, Unionists, Unionist journalists, nationalist journalists who weren’t nationalist enough, nationalist MPs who were equally unconvincing in their nationalism and anyone else who, in his eyes, was not stepping up to the mark. On finishing reading the very first issue of United Ireland in August 1881 the Chief Secretary for Ireland, William E. Forster was reported to have asked ‘Who is this new madman?’

He was a thorn in the side of the establishment, occasionally of his own party, and arguably he was even a thorn in his own side. He was utterly relentless and fearless in his journalism. That’s not to suggest that he was fair – he was anything but. However he was prepared to risk some stupendous libel suits in order to get his version of the truth out. It helped that for many years he wasn’t really worth suing, he had no personal resources, famously living out of two suitcases in the Imperial Hotel on Sackville Street – now Clery’s department store.

Although he could at times be a journalistic windbag he also had an eye for the pithy phrase or aphorism. When the Tory Prime Minister, Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury in 1887 appointed his own nephew Arthur Balfour as Irish Chief Secretary – in the process giving rise to the immortal phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’ -O’Brien noted the languid Tory’s predilection for playing golf and dubbed him ‘Mr.Arthur Golfour’ . Balfour, however, had the last laugh, throwing O’Brien in jail many times over the next four years.

While it broke his heart he opposed Parnell after the O’Shea divorce case but played little part in the vicious hounding of the former Irish party leader which only ended with his death in October 1891. Thereafter O’Brien temporarily disappeared from active politics. He re-emerged at the end of the decade to re-assert his dedication to agrarian politics by forming the United Irish League. It was under the auspices of this grass roots organisation that the Irish party split was healed. But O’Brien had a penchant for falling out with people and he soon moved on.

His latter years as a politician and journalist saw him at the helm of a Cork-based nationalist splinter group the All For Ireland League and editing the Cork Free Press.

By the time of the 1916 Rising, like many other nationalist politicians of his generation he’s had his day. Although highly respected by many of the more extreme Republicans who came to dominate Irish post-WW1 politics there was no place for him in the new dispensation and it was time to write a number of highly readable, entertaining and utterly unreliable memoirs. He died in 1928.

William O’Brien, Irish father of the so-called ‘New Journalism’ of the late 19th century was born in Mallow, Co. Cork 163 years ago, on this day.


On This Day – Drivetime – 25 September 1880 The Murder of Lord Mountmorres


It would probably be safe to say that for every week Ireland spent in the throes of rebellion in the course of our history we spent a year involved in serious and often violent land agitation.

The 1830s and 1880s in particular were times of agrarian uproar as the Tithe War, the Land War and the Plan of Campaign dominated the political and social agendas. From the Land War came the word and the practice of ‘boycotting’ – a peaceful but effective form of isolation of despised and uncooperative landlords. But sometimes the tactics employed on both sides were less than peaceful and distinctly unpalatable. The term ‘Ribbonism’ was used to describe the activities of the members of illegal secret societies who took direct action against those opposed to the interests of the tenants. The term Royal Irish Constabulary was used to describe the response of the authorities.

One of the myths of the periods of agrarian violence that frequently bedevilled rural Ireland was that members of Ribbon societies spent their evenings running around with blackened faces killing landlords. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not that many Ribbonmen would have objected to doing violence to their friendly neighbourhood aristocrats it was just that they rarely got close enough to take a pot shot at them. More at risk were the agents of the landlords, bailiffs who did their bidding, fellow tenants who did something inadvisable, like taking on land vacated by someone who had been evicted, aka ‘land grabbers’. or, more often than not, completely innocent livestock.

One significant exception, however, was an extremely modest landlord based in Clonbur in Co. Galway, Lord Mountmorres. He was ‘modest’ in the context of the size of his holdings. He was one of the smallest landlords in the country with only 11 tenants producing an annual income of around £300. The country’s bigger landlords – there were about 10,000 landed families altogether – would have boasted 20,000 or more acres and incomes of more than £10,000 a year. Unlike some of his peers Mountmorres was not known for evicting his tenants, led a relatively frugal lifestyle in the unpretentious Ebor House and was said to be quite popular in the part of Galway where he lived. So why was he shot dead a few miles from his home in September 1880 when another Galway landlord, the loathsome and avaricious Lord Clanricarde, notorious for evicting tenants, avoided a similar fate.

Two reasons come to mind. Firstly Clanricarde didn’t regularly take to the roads of Galway in a horse and trap – he spent his life in London and paid others to do his dirty work. Secondly, when you scratch the surface of the ‘benign landlord’ narrative that surrounds Mountmorres you find someone who was not nearly as popular as he was cracked up to be.

Mountmorres was shot at around 8.00 on the evening of 25 September driving alone between Clonbur and Ebor House. When his horse and carriage made it home without their driver the alarm was raised. His body was quickly found. He had been shot six times, some of the shots were at close range, and he had obviously died quickly at the scene. A local family, the Flanagan’s refused to allow the corpse to be taken into their house before it was finally removed, saying that ‘if they admitted it nothing belonging to [them] would be alive this day twelve months.’

Despite a £1000 reward being offered for information no one came forward. One of Mountmorres’s tenants, Patrick Sweeney, who had been served with an eviction notice, was suspected but no one was ever convicted, or even tried for the murder.

Later Michael Davitt would claim that Mountmorres had been killed because he ‘eked out his wretched income as a landlord by doing spy’s work for the Castle’. When Lady Mountmorres testified at a tribunal investigating agrarian crime in the late 1880s she claimed that the atmosphere changed in the locality after Sweeney was issued with his eviction order – ‘The men ceased to touch their hats, and they were disrespectful in their manner.’ – she later fainted under cross examination.

It emerged that Mountmorres had little time for the activities of the newly formed Land League, had sought police protection and demanded that the army be brought into the area to suppress the activities of the League. None of this was calculated to increase his popularity.

But, the truth is that we will never know who killed Viscount Mountmorres, and precisely why he was murdered 135 years ago, on this day.




The American Roman Catholic Church can be a very conservative institution indeed. And few Irish-American prelates have a reputation for being on the progressive wing of that conservative institution. That’s why John Ireland, Kilkenny born bishop of the Twin Cities of St.Paul/Minnesota stands out. He was a 19th century political progressive on issues like Church/State relations, education and immigration. He was friendly with two American Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley and was vocally opposed to the widespread and pervasive political corruption of the late 19th century USA and to racial inequality. Cardinal Paul Cullen he was not.

So it’s something of a shame that, in Minnesota at least, he is best remembered, and none to fondly by some, for his encounter with a group of fishermen from Connemara in the 1880s

Ireland, disturbed by reports of the economic conditions being experienced by Irish immigrants in Eastern cities, and conscious of the need to populate the wideopen spaces of the Minnesota hinterland, established colonies with names like Clontarf, Avoca and Iona that provided land and a fresh start for impoverished urban dwellers. The Kilkenny-born archbishop was highly successful in populating the often inhospitable prairies with pockets of Irish settlements through his Catholic Colonization Bureau The project brought more than 4000 families from eastern slums onto 400,000 acres of farmland in rural Minnesota. Many of the colonies remain relatively intact to this day.

Ireland’s right-hand man in this enterprise (which used railroad land) was Roscommon man Dillon O’Brien, born into the Catholic landholding class, who had been financially ruined by the Famine and forced to emigrate.

However, the philanthropic archbishop had an unhappy experience when he agreed to take on a group of impoverished fisherman from the West of Ireland that he misguidedly attempted to turn into frontier farmers. The saga of the ‘Connemaras’ is part of the lore of the American Midwest.

Ireland had to be coaxed into accepting the fishermen and their families in the first place. He allowed himself to be persuaded to take them on but the wisdom of his initial reluctance was rapidly justified. The fifty or so families that came from Connemara were coastal inhabitants. When Dillon O’Brien’s son first saw them he was not impressed. He described the group, mostly monolingual Irish speakers, as ‘not the competent, but the incompetent; not the industrious but the shiftless; a group composed of mendicants who knew nothing about farming’.

They were settled near a pre-existing colony called Graceville. The settlers already there were even less well disposed towards the new arrivals than O’Brien’s son. The timing of their arrival was unfortunate as well. It coincided with the harsh prairie winter. Opportunities for planting were not promising. The soil was only to be penetrated with pickaxes rather than ploughs or spades. One of the first things the bewildered fisher folk did was to eat or sell the seed crops allocated to them.

Ireland was forced to find employment for many members of the group in Minneapolis and St Paul. Worse still from his point of view was the charitable intervention of the local Freemasons. The Connemaras, happy to accept assistance from any source, had no awareness of the antagonism that existed between the overwhelmingly Protestant Masons and the American Catholic church. Ireland spoke out against the donors and the recipients. As few of the Connemaras had any English their right of reply was somewhat circumscribed. In attacking such obvious underdogs for accepting the charity of members of a highly respected organisation Ireland lost some of his progressive gloss.

Today a street that runs from the Cathedral of St.Paul to the Minnesota State Capitol building is named after him. Despite his brush with the Connemaras he is still held in high regard.

John Ireland, Catholic Archbishop of the Twin Cities, was born 177 years ago, on this day.