HOW MANY IRISHMEN DIED IN WW1 WHILE SERVING IN NON-IRISH UNITS?

Dungan-Cover-300x450

 

[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]

 

A SEARCH OF THE IRISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL RECORDS

OBJECT :

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)

 

PURPOSE:

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.

 

METHODOLOGY:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

TABLE – IRISH-BORN SERVING WITH UNITS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES

 

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%.

 

30986

7735

———

23,251

 

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.

 

 

 

BREAKDOWN OF NATIONALTIES IN IRISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL RECORDS

(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

SOME USEFUL SOURCES OF INFORMATION FOR TRACING IRISH WW1 SOLDIERS

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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

 

SOME USEFUL SOURCES OF INFORMATION FOR TRACING WW1 SOLDIERS

 

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.

 

 

COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES COMMISSION

 

www.cwgc.org

 

  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

 

https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

BRITISH NATIONAL ARCHIVES

 

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/first-world-war/

 

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.

 

http://www.1914-1918.net/soldiers/swbrecords.html

 

ANCESTRY.COM

 

www.ancestry.com

 

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’

 

http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid=1219

 

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

Awards

Proceedings on Discharge

Cover for Discharge Documents

Index Cards

 

Information available in these records includes:

 

Name of soldier

Age

Birthplace

Occupation

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)

 

http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid=1114

 

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

Awards

 

Information available in these records includes:

 

Name of soldier

Age

Birthplace

Occupation

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF IRELAND

 

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/

 

OTHER IRISH ONLINE ARCHIVE SOURCES

http://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection

 

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.

http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/index.html

 

 

OTHER USEFUL WEBSITES

 

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

 

 

www.forces-war-records.co.uk

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

 

http://www.wartimememoriesproject.com/greatwar/

 

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

 

 

LOCAL AND NATIONAL NEWSPAPERS

 

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

https://www.thegazette.co.uk/all-notices/content/116

 

 

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://royalirishrifles.webs.com

www.rdfa.ie

http://www.rmfa92.org

http://connaughtrangersassoc.com

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

http://www.irishguards.org.uk/pages/history/index.html

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

SOME REGIMENTAL HISTORIES , USEFUL MEMOIRS & OTHER WORKS

 

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.

 

GOOD LUCK – THERE’S A LOT OF INFORMATION OUT THERE AND YOU CAN ACCESS MOST OF IT WITHOUT LEAVING THE HOUSE

 

 

 

 

 

The Great War Roadshow moves on – to Dun Laoghaire on 17th and 26th July

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The Great War roadshow after a successful stopover at the Hay Festival in Kells (where the lectures had to be moved to a larger venue to cope with demand) moves on to Dun Laoghaire next week. The music of the war will be performed at the Pavilion Theatre on 17th July [http://www.paviliontheatre.ie] and the day long series of lectures will be staged in the Civic Offices on Marine Road on Saturday 26th July

This is, to use a military phrase, a double-edged sword, or even a two-pronged assault (ok, enough military metaphors).

Along with Ciaran Wallace, Damien Shiels, Turtle Bunbury, John O’Keeffe and local historians I’ll be looking at the Irish experience of the Great War. This will be from the point of view of the ordinary soldier and the loved ones left behind. We will also be trying to short circuit some of the research needed to get information on the war record of the 200,000+ Irishmen who fought in the war – still the largest commitment of Irishmen to any conflict in Irish or European history.

The second element of the Roadshow will be an evening of music associated with the Great War, ironically entitled It’s a Lovely War. In part one ‘Songs of War’ this will include some of the well-known contemporary tunes of the 1914-18 period (It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Keep the Home Fires Burning, Pack up your Troubles, Roses of Picardy) as well as some of the more irreverent tunes composed and sung by soldiers in the trenches (Bombed Last Night, I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier, Forward Joe Soap’s Army). In the second half ‘Songs of Peace’ we’ll be playing some of the post-war songs that have sought to make sense of the apparently meaningless slaughter of the Great War. Performing the songs will be the Brook Singers, Sadhbh Burt Fitzgerald, Jonathan Creasy and Brendan McQuaile. Brendan will also be performing parts of his one-man play March Away My Brothers.

A number of county councils and county libraries have already signed up for one or both of the events.

I’m thrilled to be bringing it to my hometown as part of an event that was hugely successful last year.

A full list and additional details are available on http://www.greatwarroadshow.ie

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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

CROWN JEWELS COVER

On This Day-Drivetime -8.8.1781 James Gandon

 220px-James_Gandon_Painting

 

It’s odd to think that at the time the architect James Gandon moved from London to Dublin, the largest city in Ireland was also one of the largest in Europe. It was far from the political and economic backwater it became after that other ‘Flight of the Earls’ – in this case Anglo-Irish aristocrats –   in the aftermath of the passage of the Act of Union and the dissolution of the Irish Parliament in 1800.

Gandon first come to prominence by finishing second. In 1769, at the age of 26, he had entered a design for the competition for new Royal Exchange in Dublin. In case you’re scratching your head wondering ‘where is the Royal Exchange in Dublin?’ we call it City Hall these days. That competition was won by another British architect who settled in Ireland Thomas Cooley.

Gandon may have been unlucky on that occasion but he was much more fortunate in 1780 when Cooley, who was supposed to be responsible for the building of the Custom House, died suddenly before work had begun. Gandon was asked to step in and complete the job. He turned down a commission from member of the Russian Royal family to take on the challenge.

The Romanov’s loss was Dublin’s gain. However the population of the city would not have seen it that way at the time. The Custom House, which many Dubliners alleged was being built on a swamp, was the pet project of John Beresford, the most powerful man in Ireland in the late 18th century. Beresford could, more or less, ram through whatever project he wanted, but that didn’t make them popular with the taxpayers who had to foot the bill.

In order to avoid Gandon becoming collateral damage Beresford smuggled him into the country and put him up in his own house until the building was well under way and the project unstoppable. The eventual bill – footed by the taxpayers of course – was £200,000 – that’s around €40m in today’s money.

From 1780 to 1800 Dublin grew to be the fifth largest city in Europe and Beresford and Gandon were at the heart of many of the fine buildings that were constructed during that time. For a follow up to the Custom House Gandon designed the Four Courts – where, presumably, tax payers who hadn’t stumped for the Custom House could be indicted and jailed. Gandon also worked for the Wide Streets Commissioners in developing the cityscape with which we are familiar today.

Gandon also designed a number of private dwellings, the most notable of these are Emo Court in Co.Laois and Abbeville in north Dublin. The latter was the country home of Beresford but a couple of centuries later was acquired by another equally powerful Irish political figure Charles J.Haughey.

Despite the impressive architectural legacy he left behind Gandon was never popular while he worked in Dublin. His costly public buildings were resented by those who had to pay for their construction. He was frequently lambasted in the, largely unionist, press of the day. When the 1798 rebellion broke out Gandon figured he might become the victim of some nifty work with a pike and fled to London.

He did come back though and died in his house in Lucan in 1823. But the city he had helped to create was slowly destroyed by the Act of Union and the loss of the Irish parliament. By the end of the 19th century it had been surpassed in population and wealth by Belfast. It’s ironic that his two great creations survived the animosity of the late 18th century only to be destroyed in the revolutionary period of the early 1920’s.

The first stone was laid on the Custom House site 233 years ago, on this day.

 

 Fourcrtsfrnt

 

 

 

On This Day -Drivetime -1.8.1915 – 1915 – O’Donovan Rossa is buried in Glasnevin cemetery

 2014-07-30 16.42.30odonovan_rossa

 

https://soundcloud.com/irishhistory/aug-1st-1915-funeral-of-odonovan-rossa

 

It might well be said of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, that ‘nothing became his life like the leaving of it’. He would have been delighted to know that his interment in Glasnevin cemetery in 1915 launched the brief but remarkable career of another Irish revolutionary.

More about that later. Let’s first rewind to 1831, the year of Rossa’s birth in Rosscarberry, Co.Cork. Twenty-five years later he founded the Phoenix National and Literary Society. It may sound innocuous enough but its guiding principle was less about reading interesting books and more about the liberation of Ireland by force of arms. No messing about with elections or parliaments for O’Donovan Rossa. Later his society would affiliate with the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Rossa’s career as a revolutionary nationalist had properly begun.

Two years before the abortive Fenian rising of 1867 Rossa, along with a number of his colleagues who worked on the organisation’s newspaper, the Irish People, was arrested and jailed. In 1870, as part of a general amnesty, he was released. In his case, however, he had to agree, along with John Devoy, to emigrate to the USA and never come back.

Not that he was any less of a nuisance in America. Based in New York he founded a newspaper, the United Irishman. This was largely subscription based with subscribers – whom Rossa called his ‘tenants’ – paying what the editor described as a weekly ‘rent’ for the privilege and pleasure of reading his politically extreme outpourings. These went as far as advocating the murder of Irish landlords and even the likes of Prime Minister William Gladstone. Rossa also raised money, via what he called his Skirmishing Fund, to finance a bombing campaign in England. This was successfully launched in the early 1880s and caused much destruction, in London in particular. There was even one dynamite attack on the House of Commons. On many occasions the British government sought his extradition but his activities were seen as political actions rather than crimes by the US government. Had he been bombing Washington they might have seen things a bit differently. In 1885 he was shot and wounded by an Englishwoman, Iseult Dudley. The British government claimed that she had not been working for them. Well they would wouldn’t they.

Rossa died in June 1915 at the age of 83. He had actually returned twice to Ireland, in 1894 and 1904, astonishingly, with the approval of the British government. But his post mortem return in 1915 was possibly his finest hour. The IRB, in the shape of the old Fenian Tom Clarke, conscious of the potential propaganda value of a big nationalist funeral, asked Devoy to ship Rossa’s body back to Ireland.

After his cortege trailed through the crowded streets of Dublin – Dubliners always loved a big funeral – he was buried in Glasnevin Cemetry. As his coffin was being lowered into the ground a relatively unknown figure stepped out of the crowd and spoke over the grave. He warned the British government that …

They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.

Had Rossa been in a position to do so he would have given loud war whoop in response. Patrick Pearse’s short oration, though utterly different in tone, has acquired something of the status of an Irish Gettysburg address. It was made 99 years ago, on this day.

On This Day-Drivetime-18.7.1822 – The new Theatre Royal in Dublin opens

 

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Like the famed Horsemen of the Apocalypse there have been not one but four establishments named the Theatre Royal in Dublin since the first incarnation opened in Smock Alley in 1662. That particular version was managed in the 18th century by Thomas Sheridan, father of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan who proved his Colganesque powers of persuasion by enticing the likes of David Garrick and Peg Woffington over to Dublin to perform.

 

That manifestation of the Theatre Royal closed in 1787. It wasn’t until 1822 that another theatre of that name opened in Hawkins Street. It had 2000 seats and cost a gargantuan £50,000 to build. Its first claim to fame was that it became the scene of one of the most famous riots in a Dublin theatre – placing a decent third after the Abbey’s Playboy of the Western World disturbances of 1907 and the Plough and the Stars convulsions of 1926.

 

This particular flap has gone down in history as The Bottle Riot – it happened in December 1822 and was sparked by the perception that the Lord Lieutenant, Marquess Wellesley – brother of the Duke of Wellington – was insufficiently interested in keeping Catholics in their proper place. A disaffected spectator, spotting the Viceroy in his box, threw a bottle and then a rattle at Wellesley – presumably the latter projectile had come from his pram. As a result fighting broke out among the Orange and Green members of the audience. For the record, the play on stage, which became a bit of an irrelevance really, was Goldsmith’s She Stoops To Conquer. This was, in effect, how the Lord Lieutenant chose to react to the missile attack. In a bit of extreme over-reaction for the attack on his exalted personage he had three of the rioters charged with conspiracy to murder. Juries in Dublin at the time being overwhelmingly unionist, the charges did not stick.

 

Before Theatre Royal 2 burned to the ground in 1880 it had hosted, among others, Paganini, Jenny Lynd and the original Tyrone Power.

 

TR3 opened in 1897 on the site of its cremated predecessor – it too had a seating capacity of over 2000. One of its claims to fame was that, in 1906, a young Charlie Chaplin performed there as part of an act called The Eight Lancashire Lads. The other seven have never been heard of since. It was demolished in 1934.

 

TR4 – the final horseman, was an impressive art deco building which could house almost 4000 paying patrons. Not that it did so with sufficent regularity. It was at a disadvantage because of its size and the lively competition from the nearby Gaiety and Olympia theatres. One of its most famous fixtures was its dance troupe, the Royalettes. Despite attracting international acts of the caliber of Gracie Fields, Jimmy Durante, George Formby, Max Wall and Judy Garland – and despite doubling as a cinema – the theatre found it hard to make ends meet.

 

The fourth and final Theatre Royal finally closed its doors in 1962, three hundred years after its Smock Alley incarnation. The magnificent art deco building was demolished and replaced by the magnificent multi storey office block Hawkins House home to the magnificent Dept of Health.

 

The second Theatre Royal, opened its doors 192 years ago, on this day.  

 

 

 

OTD-DT-18.7.1822 – The new Theatre Royal in Dublin opens

 

Like the famed Horsemen of the Apocalypse there have been not one but four establishments named the Theatre Royal in Dublin since the first incarnation opened in Smock Alley in 1662. That particular version was managed in the 18th century by Thomas Sheridan, father of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan who proved his Colganesque powers of persuasion by enticing the likes of David Garrick and Peg Woffington over to Dublin to perform.

 

That manifestation of the Theatre Royal closed in 1787. It wasn’t until 1822 that another theatre of that name opened in Hawkins Street. It had 2000 seats and cost a gargantuan £50,000 to build. Its first claim to fame was that it became the scene of one of the most famous riots in a Dublin theatre – placing a decent third after the Abbey’s Playboy of the Western World disturbances of 1907 and the Plough and the Stars convulsions of 1926.

 

This particular flap has gone down in history as The Bottle Riot – it happened in December 1822 and was sparked by the perception that the Lord Lieutenant, Marquess Wellesley – brother of the Duke of Wellington – was insufficiently interested in keeping Catholics in their proper place. A disaffected spectator, spotting the Viceroy in his box, threw a bottle and then a rattle at Wellesley – presumably the latter projectile had come from his pram. As a result fighting broke out among the Orange and Green members of the audience. For the record, the play on stage, which became a bit of an irrelevance really, was Goldsmith’s She Stoops To Conquer. This was, in effect, how the Lord Lieutenant chose to react to the missile attack. In a bit of extreme over-reaction for the attack on his exalted personage he had three of the rioters charged with conspiracy to murder. Juries in Dublin at the time being overwhelmingly unionist, the charges did not stick.

 

Before Theatre Royal 2 burned to the ground in 1880 it had hosted, among others, Paganini, Jenny Lynd and the original Tyrone Power.

 

TR3 opened in 1897 on the site of its cremated predecessor – it too had a seating capacity of over 2000. One of its claims to fame was that, in 1906, a young Charlie Chaplin performed there as part of an act called The Eight Lancashire Lads. The other seven have never been heard of since. It was demolished in 1934.

 

TR4 – the final horseman, was an impressive art deco building which could house almost 4000 paying patrons. Not that it did so with sufficent regularity. It was at a disadvantage because of its size and the lively competition from the nearby Gaiety and Olympia theatres. One of its most famous fixtures was its dance troupe, the Royalettes. Despite attracting international acts of the caliber of Gracie Fields, Jimmy Durante, George Formby, Max Wall and Judy Garland – and despite doubling as a cinema – the theatre found it hard to make ends meet.

 

The fourth and final Theatre Royal finally closed its doors in 1962, three hundred years after its Smock Alley incarnation. The magnificent art deco building was demolished and replaced by the magnificent multi storey office block Hawkins House home to the magnificent Dept of Health.

 

The second Theatre Royal, opened its doors 192 years ago, on this day.  

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On This Day -Drivetime -11 July 1792-Belfast Harp Festival

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Denis Hampson would have been a rarity in 19th century Ireland if only for his longevity. He died in 1807 but he had been born in the 17th century, probably in 1695. He is, therefore, one of the few men to have lived through the 18th century in its entirety.

But Hampson has another claim to fame, he was one of the great practitioners of an ancient Irish art which was dying out as he drew his last breath in the year Napoleon first made war on Russia and the Slave trade was abolished throughout the British Empire. Hampson was a harpist, a man who made his living collecting, composing and playing tunes for wealthy patrons.

What made his life even more extraordinary is that, like a number of the men who followed his trade, he had been blinded by smallpox at the age of three. Hampson was from the Magilligan area in Co.Derry and was first taught to play the harp by a woman named Bridget O’Cathain. He acquired a harp of his own at the age of 18 and spent most of his 20s travelling and playing in Ireland and Scotland. Many years later, on a return trip to Scotland, in 1745, he performed before Bonnie Prince Charlie, the pretender Charles Stuart. The harp, which became known as the Downhill harp after his last patron, Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, who built the Downhill estate, is on display at the Guinness hop-store in Dublin having been bought by the company in the 1960s.

Hampson was also notorious for a swelling or a ‘wen’ on the back of his head. In 1805, when he was more than a hundred years old, Hampson was visited by the Rev. George Vaughan Sampson of Magilligan who wrote that ‘the wen on the back of his head is greatly increased; it is now hanging over his neck and shoulders, nearly as large as his head.’ Towards the end of his life Hampson was actually nicknamed “the man with two heads.”

He married at the age of 86, a lady described only as ‘a woman from Inishowen’, by whom he had a daughter and several grandchildren. Hampson once said of the marriage ‘I can’t tell if it was not the devil buckled us together, she being lame and I blind.’

In 1792 at the age of 96, Hampson was prevailed upon to attend the Belfast Harper’s Assembly, organized by, among others, United Irishman Henry Joy McCracken. It was the first such assembly for six years. A young Edward Bunting, who would go on to collect and record hundreds of traditional tunes, was engaged to notate the music played by the ten Irish and one Welsh harper, who gathered for the festival. Hampson was described as playing with long, crooked fingernails

Hampson was not a fan of the most celebrated Irish harpist and composer of harp music, Turlough Carolan from Meath. While much of Carolan’s repertoire featured at the Belfast Festival Hampson himself resolutely refused to perform the work of his great and more famous contemporary.

Denis Hampson graced the Belfast Harper’s Assembly with his presence, at the tender age of 96. The festival began 222 years ago, on this day.

On This Day-Drivetime – 27.6.1846 – Charles Stewart Parnell, is born


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No one could have predicted that the hesitant, almost inarticulate candidate for the Irish parliamentary party in the by-election in Dublin in 1874 would go on to be proclaimed as the Uncrowned King of Ireland and then brought to earth by the same people who had deified him in the first place.

For most of the first thirty years of his life Charles Stewart Parnell was a member of the family who were the benevolent landlords of Avondale in Co.Wicklow – an estate of 4000 acres that produced a modest income by the standards of the late 19th century. Parnell did what most of the members of his class did. He rode to hounds in the winter and played cricket in the summer – he was a decent batsman and wicketkeeper.

Then, suddenly, at the age of 28, he offered himself to the Irish parliamentary party, then led by Isaac Butt, as a candidate for the vacant seat in County Dublin. As he could afford to pay for his own campaign and didn’t have to worry about loss of earnings should he win the seat – ordinary MPs were not paid until the early 20th century – he got the nod from the party bosses. They quickly regretted their decision. The young Charles Stewart Parnell was a dreadful candidate. He could hardly put two words together and was so nervous as a public speaker that he could do little more than stammer on the hustings. The electorate was unimpressed and he was easily defeated.

He was given a second chance and did better the following year winning a by-election in Meath. For two years Parnell kept his own counsel in the House of Commons. He watched and waited. Then, in a move apparently out of character with his social status, he threw in his lot with a group of converted Fenians and blocked much House of Commons business by filibustering – making long speeches on very little indeed – much to the annoyance of the British MPs and most of the Irish ones as well.

Parnell would go on to lead his party, deliver some significant land reform, and significantly advance the cause of Home Rule before his involvement in the divorce of Katharine O’Shea brought him crashing to earth. She was, by the way, only called ‘Kitty’ by her adversaries, the name was a term of abuse reserved for Victorian prostitutes.

Parnell, though briefly beloved of the nationalist Irish, was not held in such high esteem by many of his party colleagues. He was seen as aloof, arrogant, and often lazy. Unlike, for example, other Victorian politicians, who were enthusiastic correspondents, Parnell would not have been good on email. He treated the reams of correspondence that arrived for him on a daily basis with utter contempt. He rarely opened a letter, leaving that to others to do on his behalf. He was very superstitious, with a particular aversion for the month of October. Naturally, that was the month, in 1891, in which he died at the age of 45. Bizarrely, for someone who led the Irish constitutional nationalist movement for a momentous decade, he also loathed and feared the colour green.

Charles Stewart Parnell, politician, Uncrowned King and chromophobe, was born 168 years ago, on this day.

 

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On This Day -Drivetime -20.6.1210 – King John lands at Waterford.

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King John has had a pretty bad rap from history. To some extent he deserved it but he was hardly worthy of the intense vilification of future generations. In popular mythology he is the villain-in-chief of the Robin Hood legends, in cahoots with the Sheriff of Nottingham to rob simple peasants of their livelihoods. He is the evil younger brother of the valiant Richard the Lionheart who spent most of his reign in the service of Christianity engaged in retaking the shrines of the Holy Land from Muslim invaders. In the movie about his rather interesting family, The Lion in Winter – he was one of the sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II– he tends to snivel and skulk quite a lot

That’s the mythology. The reality is quite different. For a start there probably was no Robin Hood and even if there was he was just as likely to have lived up to his surname as he was to have robbed from the rich and given to the poor. As for Richard the Lionheart he spent most of his reign as King of England ignoring his subjects while pursuing his hobby of killing Muslims. He got the money for this by selling public offices to the highest bidder. Eventually he cost his subjects a shed-load of money when he got himself captured by Duke Leopold of Austria and was ransomed by the German Emperor Henry VI.

King John’s reputation was acquired because he spent much of Richard’s ten-year reign plotting against his big brother. But then what’s a guy supposed to do? They weren’t particularly fraternal to begin with and then Richard abadons the family store and leaves it wide open to shoplifters. Then there was the whole ‘Lionheart’ thing. Red rag to a royal bull really.

Of course John was neither a popular nor a successful King. He managed to lose most of England’s French dominions and in trying to get them back annoyed the barons. This led to the Magna Charta being forced down his throat after a successful rebellion. The Great Charter, signed at Runnymede in 1215, was the first negotiated curb on kingly power in England.

Five years before he submitted to the barons he went after one of their number in Ireland. King John landed here with an army in 1210 in an attempt to put manners on the de Lacy’s – Walter, the Earl of Meath and Hugh, Earl of Ulster. He landed at Crook in Co.Waterford, giving rise to some confusion about the origins of the phrase ‘by hook or by crook’. One version has it that had John not landed in Crook he would have come ashore nearby at Hook Head – hence his invasion of Ireland would have taken place ‘by hook or by crook’. There are, however, umpteen other versions of how the phrase originated. John’s visit was fairly successful and the De Lacy’s ceased to be a major irritant for him as a result.

Six year’s later he died, after reneging on the Magna Charta and going back to war with his barons. He claimed that he had signed it under duress. He is said to have died of dysentery, not the kind of thing you associate with the deaths of Kings.

King John, the only English monarch of that name, landed in Ireland 904 years ago, on this day.

 

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