A day of American Civil War events at the Hay/Kells Festival 25 June 2015 – www.hayfestival.org/kells 


2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the cataclysmic American Civil War. Up to 200,000 Irish-born soldiers participated in this divisive conflict, on both sides. 150,000 fought for the Union in units like the Irish Brigade and Corcoran’s Irish Legion while 20,000 fought for the Confederacy – the most famous of these being Gen. Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, the highest-ranking Irish officer on either side of the conflict.

We will be marking this anniversary with a day of talks and music at the 3rd annual Hay/Kells Festival on 25 June. We are delighted that we have managed to get together the acknowledged experts in this field and will be putting them under one roof for the day – the roof in question is that of St. Columba’s Church of Ireland, Market Street Kells, host to the recent Gallipoli 100 weekend of commemorative events.

The line up for the day includes …

10am: Damien Shiels
Damien Shiels is author of the definitive and highly influential work The Irish in the American Civil War.

11am: Glen Gendzel
American historian Glen Gendzel talks about the story of California in the American Civil War.

12pm: Robert Doyle
Robert Doyle tells the story of Carlow-born Civil War veteran Myles Keogh on the anniversary of his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

2pm: Myles Dungan
The presenter of the RTÉ Radio 1 History Show will highlight the life of Oldcastle Civil War veteran, the author and journalist Charles Halpine, and his hilarious creation Myles O’Reilly.

3pm: Tom Bartlett
Thomas Bartlett of Aberdeen University talks about President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.

4pm: David Gleeson
David Gleeson (The Green and the Gray) looks at the Irish who fought for the Confederate States of America between 1861 and 1865.

At the same venue at 8.30 Myles Dungan combines forces with Matthew Gilsenan of the Celtic Tenors in The Blue, the Gray and the Green an evening of Irish music associated with the American Civil War. This will include classics like Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore, He is far from the land, No Irish Need Apply, Paddy’s Lamentation, Shenandoah, When Johnny comes marching home and many more.


You can book for all the events on 046 9240055 / 9240081- or via the Hay Festival / Kells website here

If these guys could be there you can be sure they would …





[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 – 12 June 1730 – The robbery of the Golden Lion in Ballyheigue, Co.Kerry.


The small picturesque coastal town of Ballyheigue in Co.Kerry is close to Banna Strand which briefly played host to Sir Roger Casement in Easter Week of 1916, before he was rounded up by the RIC and escorted to London to be hanged on 4 August. Another ill-fated tourist in the area, in 1731, was a Danish ship named the Golden Lion, en route from Copenhagen to India, which made an impromptu visit to an inconvenient sandbank and never left. It’s by far the most interesting of some twenty-six shipwrecked vessels around the village.

What made the story of the Golden Lion so compelling was the fact that, in addition to its captain Johan Heitman and the eighty-six other Danish crew-members it also carried twelve sizeable chests loaded with silver bullion.

Kerching indeed!

Although the ship was not entirely wrecked and might well have been floated off the rocks, the locals were having none of it. Their hospitality knew no bounds when they discovered what the cargo was composed of. The 87 Danes were rapidly rescued and far more generously treated than their marauding 9th and 10th century predecessors would have been had they been spotted off the Kerry coast.

Not that the local grandee, Thomas Crosbie, was fooled by the willingness of the local population to share their meagre fare with their Viking guests. He smelled a rat and decided that the locals were up to no good. He raced, post haste, to the beach where the Golden Lion lay stranded and chased away anyone he felt might have designs upon the cargo. He then spirited away the bullion himself, for safe keeping of course. But then that was all right wasn’t it, because he was an avaricious landlord and not a starving peasant. Contemporary records refer to the Good Samaritan Crosbie as having ‘[gone] to the strand, [driven] back possible villains, comforted the sailors and had the silver transported to his own home’

The silver was held in a tower on Crosbie’s premises until arrangements could be made to get it somewhere safer. Undoubtedly the entirely altruistic aristocrat – if that isn’t a contradiction in terms – had no intention of claiming any reward for his act of mercy. Hopefully that was the case anyway as he never got an opportunity to stake any such claim owing to the fact that the silver was nicked. Tragically, given the scale of his generosity and public-spiritedness, Crosbie died before he got a chance to restore the bullion to its rightful owners. Whatever Crosbie’s intentions might have been his widow was not at all philanthropic. She demanded salvage payments from the Danish owners. Choosing to ignore the role of Thomas Crosbie in saving their dosh from the depredations of the north Kerry peasantry the Danes counter-claimed that the ship and its contents were not salvage as it had not been in danger of sinking – which was rather beside the point really.

While the matter was being adjudicated around a hundred enterprising locals decided to intervene. Now Ballyheigue also happens to have been the birthplace of the great Irish economist Richard Cantillon – who invented the word ‘entrepreneur’. He might well have described this group in such terms. Most of the North Kerry entrepreneurial class, albeit with blackened faces, surrounded the Crosbie household, broke into the tower, killed two of the Danish guards and made off with the loot on carts. Cantillon wrote in the early 18th century about the movement of gold and silver through the economy. However this was probably not the sort of movement he had in mind.

The theft was believed to have been carried out by certain members of the Kerry upper crust. Sir Maurice Crosbie of Ardfert, a relative of the late lamented Thomas, conducted an investigation. The Danish Asiatic Company offered a generous reward of 10 per cent of the value of the cargo for its recovery. One of the alleged robbers turned states evidence and ten men were charged with the theft. All were acquitted at a subsequent trial in Dublin that was a bizarre saga itself, involving, perjury, suicide and the suspected poisoning of a witness.

To date just over £7000 worth of the bullion has been recovered. It may well have all been melted down by now or transported out of the area. However, far be it from me to spark a stampede of silver prospectors to the pristine Kerry coastline, but there has to be an outside chance that it might be buried somewhere near Ballyheigue. Think about that one for a moment.

The Revenue Commissioners announced that the Golden Lion had been robbed of its cargo 285 years ago, on this day

On This Day – Drivetime – 5 June 1916 – The death of Lord Kitchener

world war propaganda_Britons Lord Kitchener Alfred Leete 1914 example_big

A number of highly significant Irishmen died violently in 1916 – Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, James Connolly and their associates to name but a few who were shot in May. Pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington had been summarily executed during the Rising. His brother in law Tom Kettle, barrister, poet and former MP followed them all in September when he died at the Battle of Ginchy on the Western front.

In between, another famous Irishman came to an unfortunate end. However not many people realise that Herbert, Lord Kitchener, hero of Omdurman, scourge of the Boers and Secretary of State for War in the British Cabinet was actually Irish. It was not something he tended to highlight himself.

But he was, in fact, as much a Kerryman as Mick O’Dwyer or John B.Keane. He was born Horatio Herbert Kitchener on 24 June 1850 in Ballylongford, near Listowel. His father, Lt.Col. Henry Horatio Kitchener, had purchased land under the terms of the Encumbered Estates Act designed to buy out bankrupt property owners after the Famine – so a sort of 19th century NAMA.

Kitchener left Kerry at the age of fourteen when the family moved to Switzerland for the health of his ailing mother. The future war lord nurtured a similar attitude to his native land as had that other great 19th century military figure, the Duke of Wellington, who allegedly observed of his Irish birth that, ‘being born in a stable does not make one a horse’. His dislike of the Irish, of course, did not stop Kitchener, like a lot of other Anglo-Irish grandees with a minimal knowledge of the country of their birth, from claiming to have an informed insight into how the country should be governed. Kitchener was for lots of stick and very little carrot.

Not that his counsel on the subject would have been widely canvassed. Kitchener made his reputation in faraway wars, starting with the Sudan and his victory at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. There he showed his compassionate side by digging up the remains of the Mahdi, slayer of General Gordon in the 1880s humiliation of Khartoum, and having his bones scattered. Even Winston Churchill, not renowned for his squeamishness, who was covering the war as a reporter, was disgusted with the slaughter of, in particular, Sudanese prisoners.

The de facto Kerryman also made his presence felt in the Boer War where his scorched earth policy and his creation of concentration camps brought the Boers to their knees in the most ruthless possible fashion. Kitchener didn’t have much time for uppity colonials.

When WW1 broke out Kitchener was quickly appointed Secretary of State for War and his iconic moustache and index finger were used as recruiting devices on the famous ‘Your country needs you’ posters.’

In a final gesture of solidarity with his native land Kitchener refused all requests for the incorporation of the southern Irish Volunteers as a unit into his New Army, despite the passage of the Home Rule act before hostilities commenced. The Ulster Volunteers however, signatories of a covenant pledging opposition to a democratic decision taken by the British parliament, became the 36th Ulster division. Consistency to Kitchener was as dangerous a vice as sentimentality.

Kitchener, who harboured a pathological hatred of journalists probably owed his appointment to the Cabinet in 1914 to a newspaper campaign designed to force the Liberal government to put this crusty old Tory in charge of the Army and Navy. Having created him the newspapers of the Press Baron Lord Northcliffe, the Dublin born Alfred Harmsworth from Chapelizod, sought to undo their own handiwork when they campaigned against him in 1915, blaming the Secretary of State for War for a chronic shortage of shells on the western front. The public sided with the most famous moustache in history and burned copies of the Times and Mail in the streets.

In June 1916 Kitchener set sail for talks in Russia on board the HMS Hampshire. The ship hit a German mine and sank, taking the Secretary of State for War with it. The reluctant Kerryman died 99 years ago, on this day.


On This Day – 29.5.1917 Birth of John F.Kennedy


It’s one of the most popular ‘what ifs’ of the last fifty years. ‘What if it had been raining on 22 November 1963 in Dallas?’

Obviously there would have been no Presidential open-top motorcade and Lee Harvey Oswald – or the Mafia, or the man on the grassy knoll, or the four French hired assassins from Marseilles, or whatever other conspiracy theory you subscribe to – would have been denied the opportunity to demonstrate his or their peerless marksmanship and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America, would probably have seen out his first term and been re-elected in November 1964.

JFK was originally elected with just over 49% of the popular vote in the 1960 race for the White House with Richard Nixon. While in office his popularity rarely dipped below 60%. After the Cuban missile crisis his ratings were in the high 70s. In a poll of 1960 voters taken after his death 70% claimed to have chosen him as President.

Of course there’s another great ‘what if’ when it comes to the career of John F.Kennedy. What if his older brother Joseph Kennedy Jr, had survived World War 2? Would John F have become Bobby, his older sibling’s loyal Doberman, rather than Senator and President?

He was arguably, the first conscious political ‘brand’. With iconographers like Theodore Sorenson and Pierre Salinger cultivating and honing the Kennedy narrative he could hardly fail. Fifty years later he is a mythic figure. Myth=branding + time.

But the skein of myth is easily unravelled.

For example, he wasn’t even the youngest American president. When Theodore Roosevelt took over the office after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901 he was nine months younger than Kennedy.

And his credentials as a supposed political progressive don’t stand up to too much examination. In 1957 he opposed Eisenhower’s civil rights legislation. He persisted, when in office, with the Democratic party practice of appointing dodgy judges to federal courts in the south. One such JFK appointee, a man called Harold Cox, once described African Americans as ‘chimpanzees’ after he had been elevated to the federal bench.

During his first term as a senator Kennedy teamed up with the darling of the Republican right, Barry Goldwater, to try and keep rock and roll music off American radio stations. He presided over the assassination of a supposed ally (and fellow Catholic) in Ngo Dinh Diem, beleaguered president of South Vietnam.

But he also achieved a lot of good in a very short life

Take just one month of his Presidency – June 1963. On June 10 this apparent cold war warrior made a major foreign policy speech at the American University in Washington DC. In a world dominated by ideas of mutually assured destruction he appeared to extend an olive branch to the Russians.

The following day, after Governor George Wallace of Alabama was forced by Federal intervention to, quite literally, step aside and allow two African American students pass into the campus of the University of Alabama, Kennedy made a largely improvised address on national radio and TV, promising equal access to public schools and enhanced voting rights, to African American citizens.

Then on 26 June he made his famous ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech (the ‘ein’ was superfluous) a short time after viewing the newly erected Berlin wall. Oh, yes, and, of course, he dropped into Ireland for four days on his way home.

Not a bad month’s work really.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the USA, was born 98 years ago, on this day.


On This Day – Drivetime – 22.5.1849 Maria Edgeworth dies


She didn’t have a lot of time for Jane Austen, she earned more money from her books than did the Queen of Irony during her lifetime. She was a frequent correspondent of Sir Walter Scott, another celebrated contemporary. She was also hugely important in the development of the novel and of children’s writing. Not bad for a woman who spent much of her life in rural Longford.

Maria Edgeworth, although seen as an Irish novelist, was actually born in England, the second of 22 children of her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth, who was married four times. She moved to Ireland with her father at the age of five, after the death of her mother. She spent much of her teenage years looking after her younger siblings and was, essentially, educated by her father whom she also assisted in managing the family estate at Edgeworthstown. Her father was a huge influence, some would say far too great an influence, on her writing. She claimed to have written only to please him.

Edgeworth adopted what would today be identified as liberal causes in her novels. She championed the underprivileged of her adopted country and sought to counteract English literary stereotypes of Ireland in her work. In addition she parodied elements of her own landed class, especially in her best known work, the often hilarious Castle Rackrent – written without her father’s knowledge – where the worst excesses of landlordism are satirized. In much of Edgeworth’s the peasantry are dignified, the aristocracy rapacious. In her work Letters for Literary Ladies she pleaded the case for the proper education of women. Later, in the novel Helen, – written after her father’s death and not set in Ireland -she introduced a female politician to English literature

Castle Rackrent, her first novel, published in 1800 was an instant success. Narrated by an employee of the Rackrents, Thady Quirk, it predicts the rise of the Catholic middle class. The novel, actually not much more than a novella, brought her to the attention of Sir Walter Scott. The two writers became friends and visited each other in Ireland and Scotland.

Such was the nature of her writing that in 1798, after the defeat of the French invasion in the west of Ireland the windows of Edgeworth House were stoned because the family was suspected of having radical sympathies. In fact Edgeworth was a supporter of the Union, but also an advocate of Catholic Emancipation.

While Jane Austen was a great fan of Edgeworth’s the admiration was not entirely mutual. Austen sent Edgeworth a presentation copy of Emma in 1816. Edgeworth was not impressed with a novel that now ranks behind only Pride and Prejudice as Austen’s greatest achievement. The gift went unacknowledged and Edgeworth wrote to a friend about Emma that ‘It has no story’.

She wrote little from the 1820s onwards, concentrating on the management of the family estate. Then, in 1845, when she was in her late 70s the disaster of the Great Famine struck. Unlike many other landlords, who adopted a callous attitude to their starving tenants, Edgeworth was one of those who worked selflessly for her tenants. With her own money she purchased food from the USA which was distributed amongst her tenantry and others. The Edgeworth’s estate barely avoided bankruptcy and being purchased by carpetbaggers under the terms of the Encumbered Estates Act. Her compassion has, however, been somewhat exaggerated as her charity only extended as far as tenants who had paid their rent.

Maria Edgeworth, educationalist, farm manager, essayist and novelist, died 166 years ago, on this day.


OTD – 8.5.1597 Death of Fiach McHugh O’Byrne


Curse and swear, Lord Kildare,

Fiach will do what Fiach will dare

Now Fitzwilliam have a care,

Fallen is your star low

Up with halbert, out with sword,

On we go for, by the Lord

Fiach McHugh has given the word

“Follow me up to Carlow”

So goes one of the best known songs in the Irish traditional canon, although it was written many years after the events that chorus describe.

To suggest that Wicklow chieftain Fiach McHugh O’Byrne was a thorn in the side of the Tudor dynasty in Ireland would be to exaggerate hugely the impact of a thorn. O’Byrne was nuisance and nemesis rolled together.

He was born in 1534 and became chieftain of the O’Byrne clan in his mid forties. One of the main reasons why he was so little beloved of British administrators in Ireland was because of his geographical proximity to the Pale. Whenever O’Byrne chose to do so he didn’t have far to go to bite off a piece of Tudor Dublin. And he chose to do so on a regular basis.

Retaliating against him was not quite as straightforward. There was no M11 or GPS in the 1500s so the Tudor armies sent against him had to make do with whatever tracks they could find and had to waste many frustrating days searching in vain for Fiach.

When Red Hugh O’Donnell and Art O’Neill made their celebrated escape from Dublin Castle in 1592 it was to Glenmalure, O’Byrne’s main redoubt, that they headed. Art O’Neill didn’t make it but a frostbitten Hugh O’Donnell did. O’Byrne sheltered him and sent him back to his people in Donegal, from where he made quite a nuisance of himself, along with Hugh O’Neill in the Nine Years War.

O’Byrne also made himself useful with the Earls of Kildare, who often had an ambiguous relationship with the English crown. Fiach once peremptorily hanged an important witness to a threatening government investigation into the affairs of Gerald Fitzgerald, 11th Earl of Kildare. Bumping off hostile witnesses didn’t start with the Mafia.

In 1580, during the Desmond rebellion the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Grey, led an army against the O’Byrnes. His plan was to attack Glenmalure. Like many a good plan brought to bear against Fiach it failed miserably and Grey was forced to withdraw to Dublin with serious losses. The Battle of Glenmalure was O’Byrne’s greatest triumph against the forces of Queen Elizabeth 1.

Sadly, Fiach came to a bad end in 1597. He threw in his lot with O’Neill and O’Donnell in the Nine Years War – in an engagement with English troops, assisted by some renegade members of his own clan, Fiach was captured and summarily beheaded with his own sword. His body was then cut up, and the head and quarters were hung on pikes on the Dublin Castle walls ‘pour encourager les autres’. Later his head was pickled and brought to London. A sad end for a redoubtable enemy of Tudor England.

Fiach McHugh O’Byrne, one of the last great Gaelic chieftains, died 418 years ago on this day.

On This Day – 1.5.1837 Birth of Mother Jones


When your entire family, a husband and four children, die from yellow fever and then your business is destroyed in the Great Chicago fire you might be tempted to just give up. But not Mary Harris Jones, who instead, went on from extreme adversity to become ‘Mother Jones’ ‘the most dangerous woman in America’. That, at least, was how American mine owners saw her and she gave them good cause for their animosity.

Mary Harris was born in Cork City in 1837 emigrating to Canada with her family as a teenager. Later, as a qualified teacher, she moved to the USA and married George Jones, a union organizer, in Memphis, Tennessee. There she abandoned teaching and became a dressmaker.

It was in Memphis that she lost her family to disease. All her children were under five years of age. After that unthinkable tragedy she moved to Chicago and established a dress making business there. In 1871 a huge fire that killed 300 people and destroyed 9 square kilometres of the city took her business and her house with it.

After that she threw in her lot with organized labour and some of the most iconic unions in American history, the United Mine Workers, the Knights of Labour and the Industrial Workers of the Worker, better known as the Wobblies. Given her personal trauma her philosophy and personal motto ‘pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living’ is particularly poignant. She travelled the USA organizing, speaking and motivating workers and their families to take action to improve their lot.

She was ardently opposed to the use of child labour. In 1903 she organized children to march in their thousands from Philadelphia to the New York home of President Theodore Roosevelt bearing banners with the slogan ‘We want to go to school and not the mines.’

During a West Virginia miners strike she ignored a court order secured by the mine owners and in her subsequent trial the District Attorney, appropriately named Blizzard, declaimed that ‘There sits the most dangerous woman in America … She comes into a state where peace and prosperity reign … crooks her finger [and] twenty thousand contented men lay down their tools and walk out.’

You might well have expected a female radical like Mother Jones to be a suffragist, but she wasn’t. She was opposed to votes for women or female participation in politics. Her philosophy was “You don’t need the vote to raise hell!”. She was of the opinion that men should earn sufficient money to allow their wives to bring up children. Equally unusually she claimed to be considerably older than she actually was, possibly in the interests of self protection, hence the nickname ‘Mother’ Jones.

She became so influential that, in the case of a mining strike in Colorado she was able to force the infamous ‘robber baron’ John D. Rockefeller into a face to face meeting and extract significant concessions from him on behalf of the moners.

Denounced in the Senate as the ‘grandmother of all agitators’ she responded by saying ‘I hope to live long enough to become the great grandmother of all agitators’. This she did, dying at the age of 93

Mary Harris ‘Mother Jones’, labour activist and champion of the working man was born 178 years ago on what, appropriately, has become International Labour Day.