‘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 – 10 June 1997 Jimmy Kennedy is inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame





It’s always interesting to discover the genesis of a popular and memorable poem or piece of music. You assume, for example, that William Wordsworth actually based his poem about daffodils – the one that begins with the immortal line ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ on a field of the bright yellow blooms. And you wouldn’t be too far off.


Then there’s the sultry pop song from the 1930s ‘South of the Border’ which simply has to have been written by someone after a romantic trip to Mexico. But that’s where you’d be wrong. Its inspiration was a postcard from Tijuana. The recipient of the card was Northern Ireland songwriter Jimmy Kennedy. The song may been voted one of the top 100 Western songs of all time by the Western Writers of America but Jimmy Kennedy was closer to Tyrone than Tijuana when he wrote it.


Kennedy was born near Omagh in 1902, son of a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, as the force was known at that time. The family later moved to Portstewart in Derry, the seaside town that would inspire another of the writer’s classic numbers. He graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, taught for a while in England and then joined the Colonial Service. But he also moonlighted with a music publisher called Bert Feldman as a pen for hire. By the end of a career that lasted half a century he had written the lyrics for over 2000 songs, many of which became international hits. For a number of years he was the most successful non-American songwriter in the USA before being supplanted in the 1960s by a pair of young Liverpool composers named Lennon and McCartney.


One of his earliest successes was with ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’. The song was inspired by the colourful sails of the yacht Kitty of Coleraine which Kennedy would often see off from his home sailing off the Derry coastline. One of the first recordings of the song, in 1935, was by Bing Crosby. Vera Lynn had a version the same year, Louis Armstrong in 1936, and Kennedy was on his way.


In 1907 a composer named John Walter Bratton had written a musical piece which his publishers entitled ‘The Teddy Bears Picnic’. But nobody thought to add lyrics until Kennedy got hold of it in 1932 and turned it into one of the most popular children’s songs of all time.


Kennedy spent the years 1939-1945 in the British Army – serving in the Royal Artillery where he reached the rank of Captain. German defences in 1939 included a chain of fortifications known as the Siegfried Line. Early in the war Kennedy wrote the comic song ‘We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegried line’ as a morale booster. The British didn’t actually get near the line until 1945 but the song was hugely popular with the troops and on the ‘home front’.


Kennedy won two Ivor Novello awards for his contribution to the music industry and an OBE in 1983. He died the following year aged 81.


Jimmy Kennedy songwriter extraordinaire was posthumously inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame nine years ago on this day.




On This Day – 3 June 1836 – death of Barry Edward O’Meara, surgeon to Napoleon.



One of the most familiar quotes with which he is credited was ‘l’etat c’est moi’ – or ‘I am the state’. But by 1816 the state over which he ruled had shrunk to a corner of the small volcanic island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. This was all that Napoleon Bonaparte could call his own after his escape from Elba, the raising of a new French Army and his final defeat at the hands of Wellington and Blucher at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Sharing Napoleon’s exile in St. Helena was an Irishman, Barry Edward O’Meara, a British Navy surgeon. O’Meara was born in Newtownpark House in Blackrock, Co. Dublin in 1786. He studied medicine at Trinity and the Royal College of Surgeons and joined the army as a medic in 1804. He distinguished himself in fighting in Sicily before being court-martialled for his part in a duel in 1807. He had acted as a second to one of the participants and was kicked out of the army. What’s a young man to do? Well obviously … join the Navy. This he did almost immediately. He was still a naval surgeon in 1815 when he found himself in the right place at the right time.

Napoleon Bonaparte had been defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and was trying to escape to America where he would probably have made a fortune on the lecture circuit. Finding his way barred by a naval vessel called the HMS Bellerophon he surrendered to the commander of that ship. The vessel’s surgeon was Dr. Barry Edward O’Meara. The unemployed Emperor was impressed by the young Irishman’s linguistic and medical skills and invited him to act as his physician in the exciting new opportunity he was being offered by the British government on St. Helena. O’Meara accepted and over the next three years the two men became good friends.

O’Meara did not enter the arrangement wide-eyed and innocent. During his time with Napoleon he kept a diary with a view to future publication. The two men fared well enough on their new volcanic home under the first two post-war governors of the island. But then in April 1816 a fellow countryman of O’Meara’s. Sir Hudson Lowe from Galway, took over the position and proved himself to be a Francophobe martinet. He introduced a more spartan regime than that of his predecessors that only became even more restrictive when rumours reached the island of a plot to spring Napoleon yet again. O’Meara’s relationship with Lowe deteriorated rapidly and when he was asked to spy on Bonaparte by the Governor he returned to England.

There in 1822 he wrote Napoleon in Exile, or A Voice From St. Helena in which the hero is the late emperor (Napoleon had died the previous year possibly of stomach cancer, possibly of arsenic poisoning) and the villain is Hudson Lowe. The volume led to his name being removed from the list of naval surgeons but also attracted much support, including that of Lord Byron.

O’Meara is believed to be the only doctor to have performed a surgical procedure on Napoleon. He extracted one of the Emperor’s wisdom teeth in 1817. When he died in 1836 the tooth was auctioned and fetched seven and a half guineas. It was sold again in 2005. This time it cost the buyer £13,000.

After his St. Helena experience O’Meara became a dental surgeon, married a sixty-six year old heiress at the age of thirty-seven and was one of the founders of the Reform Club in London. He died of complications following a chill contracted while attending a fund-raising meeting organized on behalf of fellow Reform Club member Daniel O’Connell. Some accounts have him catching his death of cold at one of O’Connell’s Monster meetings – a much less mundane demise I’m sure you’ll agree.

Dr. Barry Edward O’Meara, briefly and controversially physician to Napoleon Bonaparte died one hundred and eighty years ago, on this day.








On This Day – 27 May 1224 Death of Cathal O’Connor, King of Connacht



We hear a lot about the Red Hand of Ulster these days, but the province of Connacht had a Red Hand of its own. He was Cathal Crobhdearg O’Connor who ruled the region for almost thirty-five years at a time when a wet weekend of political domination was the lot of most Irish kings.


Cathal O’Connor was a born survivor who avoided the sudden and painful death he inflicted on many others by always knowing in which direction the wind was blowing. He succeeded his brother Rory, the last High King of Ireland, as ruler of Connacht in 1189. He and Rory were two of the twenty-five sons of Turlough O’Connor, a previous King of Connacht who survived five of his six wives. Irish royalty, unlike its insipid English counterparts, doesn’t do things by halves you see. We have to assume that Turlough probably had a few daughters as well but only one has been chalked up to his credit by the annalists.


Cathal came to power in the west at a time when the country was being overrun by the Norman invader, introduced into Ireland by Pope Adrian IV, the only English Pontiff, and his agent King Henry II. By the time Cathal assumed the throne of Connacht the Normans were well ensconced in neighbouring Leinster and were making inroads into his bailiwick too. He could have chosen the military route but generally adopted a conciliatory line instead. His first reign lasted ten years before he was usurped by the head of a rival O’Connor family, Cathal Carrach, his own nephew – I hope you’re still listening down the back. ‘Carrach’, by the way, translates as ‘scabby’ so we can assume that this Cathal – the usurper, not our boy – was not much to look at. Given his disposition it is also unlikely that anyone called him ‘Carrach’ to his pockmarked face.


Our Cathal O’Connor got the throne back from the other Cathal O’Connor in 1202 when he defeated and killed his blotchy relative in a battle near Boyle, Co. Roscommon. He kept the throne until his death in 1224, no mean achievement with the Normans eyeing the land west of the Shannon and sizing it up for castle building. Cathal wasn’t too picky about who he made alliances with as long as the deals done kept him in power. Sometimes he was hugger mugger with Thomond, sometimes with Tyrone, now and again he even hitched up with the Normans and on at least one occasion appealed to Dublin to restore his sovereignty.


His constant switches of allegiance resulted eventually in his recognition of the King of England as Lord of Ireland. He wrote a letter to Henry III in which he pointed out that he had offered ‘faithful and devoted service’ to his father, King John ‘of happy memory’. It is an egregious example of brown nosing the monarch as nobody in their right minds would ever describe the callous and useless King John as being ‘of happy memory’ – you would have needed a bad case of amnesia for that.


The Annals of Connacht are equally obsequious when it comes to outlining the merits of Cathal Crobhdearg. The annalists write of him as …


The king who carried out most plunderings and burnings against [those] who opposed him; the king who was the fiercest and harshest towards his enemies that ever lived; the king who most blinded, killed and mutilated rebellious and disaffected subjects;


But all the gory stuff was OK because he was also ..


The king who was most chaste of all the Kings of Ireland.


James Clarence Mangan both immortalized and romanticized Cathal Crobhdearg in his poem ‘A Vision of Connacht in the Thirteenth Century’ in which he writes of ‘Cathal Mór of the wine red hand’. The poem is about the passage from the Gaelic world to that of Anglo-Norman domination, with Cathal O’Connor as the main transitional figure.


Cathal Crobhdearg O’Connor, monarch and political meteorologist died seven hundred and ninety two years ago, on this day.

Knockmoy founded by king of connacht - ancestry.com-400x250.jpg





On This Day – 20 May 1762 – Birth of Sir Eyre Coote




The expression ‘as bald as a coot’ is well-known in this part of the world. In the USA however the unfortunate bird, related to the moorhen, is familiar as the basis of an entirely different simile. In America you can be ‘as crazy as a coot’. The assumption has always been that the ‘coot’ in question is the common ‘mud hen’, often mistaken for a duck.


But what if the insane ‘coot’ to which the phrase refers is not the inoffensive animal but an eccentric Irish military type with a final ‘e’ to distinguish him from the water-loving bird? And the word ‘eccentric’ is not used idly. Because Sir Eyre Coote, born in Ireland in 1762, was adjudged to be merely ‘eccentric’ rather than completely ga-ga by a military board in 1816. More about that later.


He had the misfortune to be the nephew of, and share a name with, one of the greatest generals in the British Army, who, in the 18th century, ensured that England, rather than France, became a tea drinking nation when he pushed the French out of India. His nephew, also called Eyre Coote, joined the Army at the age of fourteen and quickly rose through the ranks, helped no doubt, to some extent by his name. Eyre Coote Junior first distinguished himself in the American War of Independence which began with a dispute over tea and ended with the United States of America abandoning that beverage for coffee. More significantly perhaps it also ended in the defeat of the British Army and the capture of Coote at the pivotal Battle of Yorktown when he was still only nineteen years of age.


Moving rapidly from opposition to the American colonists to the more traditional antagonism with the French, Coote became involved in a military operation designed to flood that part of the Netherlands occupied in 1798 by France. Flooding northern Holland proved to be relatively simple, getting away afterwards was a bit more difficult. A contrary wind meant that the ships intended to evacuate his force could not land and after losing more than a hundred of his men Coote was forced to surrender.


Shortly after that he inherited Uncle Eyre’s property and took a seat in the Irish House of Commons. That was pulled from under him by the Act of Union in 1800 and he went on to become Governor of Jamaica. Although he left that post in 1808 claiming the climate didn’t agree with him and affected his brain he must have had some fun while he was resident in the West Indies because the former US Secretary of State, General Colin Powell claims direct descent from him.


But it is for his unorthodox activities in the year of the Battle of Waterloo that Coote is most commonly remembered. He’d already given evidence of what might diplomatically be called ‘erratic decision making’ but he topped everything when, in November 1815 he wandered into the Mathematical School of Christ’s Hospital for Boys in London and offered some of the young inmates money – if they allowed him to flog them. A few volunteered. They were far more receptive when he suggested they might want to flog him. Three of the boys duly obliged and were paid three shillings. Discovered by a school nurse Coote was charged with indecent behaviour. He escaped jail by donating £1000 to the hospital, a somewhat disproportionate version of the use of the poor box for traffic offences in modern times. But despite avoiding a criminal charge he later found himself facing a Military Tribunal composed of three Generals.


There he was ruled not to be insane but to be merely ‘eccentric’. However, his conduct was adjudged to have been unworthy of an officer and he was dismissed from the Army. He had also been made a member of the Order of the Bath and he was stripped of that status as well. Clearly the membership of that august order had no time for flagellation.


Eyre Coote, soldier, politician, ancestor of General Colin Powell and keen flagellant was born two hundred and fifty four years ago, on this day.



Christ’s Hospital for Boys


On this day – 6 May, 1882 The Phoenix Park Murders



Had it not been for a tight and uncomfortable new pair of boots late 19th century Irish history might have been very different. The boots belonged to Superintendent John Mallon, head of detectives at Dublin Castle. He was on his way to meet an informer near the Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park on the afternoon of 6 May 1882. It was warm, and his feet were sore. When he was met near the eastern entrance to the park by one of his officers who told him not to walk through the Park as he had spotted some well-known Fenians in the area, Mallon succumbed to the offending footwear, and the warning, and headed home instead of going to meet his informant.


Had he strolled on into the Park, however uncomfortably, his presence might have prevented one of the most vicious and notorious murders in Irish history. A short while after Mallon did his about-turn the new chief secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, a nephew by marriage of prime minister William Gladstone, decided, on his first day in Dublin, to walk from his office in Dublin Castle, to his new lodgings in Phoenix park – today it’s the U.S. Embassy. While en route he was passed by the carriage of his under secretary, the Galwayman Thomas H.Burke, effectively the head of the Irish civil service.Burke was a figure not greatly beloved in his own country at a time of repressive measures during the so-called Land War which had bedeviled the country for the three years.


When Burke recognized the lone walker as the new Chief Secretary he stopped his carriage and offered Cavendish a lift. The Chief Secretary declined and Burke sealed both their fates by offering to walk with him instead. As the two men approached the Viceregal Lodge they were accosted by a group of four men who produced surgical knives and proceeded to attack Burke. When Cavendish intervened to defend his Under Secretary he, in turn, was attacked and murdered. Burke’s killers had no idea of the identity or the importance of the man who had tried to defend their intended target.


The intervention of the new Chief Secretary and his brutal murder undoubtedly elevated the status of the crime and increased the intensity of the subsequent investigation. Later that night notes were posted through the letterboxes of the main Dublin newspapers claiming that the assassinations were the work of a shadowy new organisation, the Irish National Invincibles. This was a small, ruthless covert group that emerged from the ranks of the Irish Republican Brotherhood but which maintained no specific ties with that organization.


The timing of the atrocity could not have been worse. It came a couple of days after an agreement between the British government and the Irish party leadership to end the Land War and almost sabotaged the secret diplomacy that promised to terminate that rancorous conflict.


It took almost a year to apprehend and punish the killers of Cavendish and Burke. Six men were hanged for the crime, including two of the main ringleaders, Joe Brady and Daniel Curley. One of the other masterminds behind the assassination escaped with his life by informing on his colleagues. James Carey was one of a number of informers produced by the Crown in the case against his fellow Invincibles, but his evidence was crucial. Superintendent Mallon had essentially hoodwinked Carey into confessing and turning states evidence. While Brady, Curley and their associates were either hanged or jailed for lengthy terms Carey was freed and given a new identity.


Carey’s freedom, however, was short-lived. He was smuggled out of Ireland destined for South Africa a few weeks after the six Invincible hangings. Recognised on board the ship taking him and his family to their new lives he was shot dead by one Patrick O’Donnell when they reached dry land. O’Donnell, was, in turn, hanged for his own crime.


The Phoenix Park murders took place 131 years ago on this day.






On This Day – 29 April 1916 – Patrick Pearse agrees to unconditional surrender




With Elizabeth O’Farrell obscured                         Minus Elizabeth O’Farrell entirely


It was never going to be much more than a futile gesture to begin with, but few of those in the know, who gathered in Dublin on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916 for Irish Volunteer manoueuvers, would have expected the rebellion they had planned to last as long as a week. The failure of the German steamer the Aud to land 25,000 rifles and a million rounds of ammunition on Good Friday, the arrest of Roger Casement in Kerry and the decision of Volunteer commander Eoin MacNeill to countermand the order for units to assemble on Easter Sunday, had lengthened the odds against the Easter Rising being anything other than a brief skirmish.

That it lasted almost a week was down to British incompetence as much as it was to Irish luck or pluck. Though there were inefficiencies on both sides. While the rebels famously failed to take the wide-open Dublin Castle, the well-positioned Trinity College and the strategically important Crow Street Telephone exchange, the flower of the British administration in Ireland was enjoying the fleshpots of Fairyhouse Racecourse while they were being made fools of in Dublin.

Two myths among many. Patrick Pearse did not read the proclamation of the Irish republic from the steps of the General Post Office. He read it from in front of the building. The GPO, then, and now, doesn’t have any steps. The document he was reading bore the signatures of the members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and James Connolly representing the Irish Citizen’s Army. But it was not their death warrant. The document Pearse was reading was of no use to a prosecutor even in the drumhead courts-martial that followed the rebellion. The reason was simple – the names were printed. The authorities would have had to produce a signed original for it to be of any practical assistance in convicting the signatories.

Most of the fatalities incurred, as the British sought to take back the city of Dublin, were civilians, more than 250 of them. Forty of those were under the age of sixteen. One of the civilian fatalities was the pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington, brutally murdered on the orders of an insane British officer, Captain J.C. Bowen Colthurst from Cork as he went about thr city trying to prevent looting. 64 members of the Volunteers or the Irish Citizens Army lost their lives, as did 116 British soldiers. Most of those were from the Sherwood Foresters, picked off on Mount Street Bridge by a small unit sent from the nearby Bolands Mills by 3rd Battalion Commandant Eamon De Valera. When the Forester’s disembarked in Kingstown – now Dun Laoghaire – they were surprised to hear people speaking English. They assumed they’d just landed in wartime France.

James Connolly may or may not have claimed that capitalists would never destroy property even to end a rebellion – he is unlikely to have been sufficiently naïve to have ever said any such thing – but destroy it they did. Much of the centre of Dublin was laid waste by the shells of the gunboat Helga and British artillery stationed in Phibsborough and Trinity College.

The Volunteers’ Headquarters in the General Post Office was never actually taken by the British forces – it was abandoned by the Volunteers before its total destruction by shelling. Shortly after the evacuation of the GPO the rebel leadership bowed to the inevitable six days after the Rising began. That began a busy day for Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell who was given the dangerous job of informing the other garrisons, most of which remained untaken, that the Rising was at an end.

Patrick Pearse agreed to an unconditional surrender one hundred years ago on this day.


On This Day – 22 April 1905 William O’Shea dies




We don’t use the word cuckold much these days. Neither do we use the expression ‘criminal conversation’ very often. As it happens the two are related. A cuckold is the victim of criminal conversation. He – and it’s always a ‘he’ – is a wronged husband. The fact that the term for the female equivalent, ‘cuckquean’ is utterly obscure, though probably more common numerically, says a lot.

The most famous Irish cuckold – in truth ‘notorious’ is probably a better word – was undoubtedly William Henry O’Shea. His estranged wife, Katharine, entered into a relationship with Charles Stewart Parnell in 1880 that ended with his death in 1891. In the interim O’Shea, who of course played the part of the injured husband in the sensational divorce trial of 1890, turned a blind eye to what was, in effect, a second marriage for Katharine.

O’Shea, son of a Dublin lawyer who bought up a lot of bankrupted estates after the Famine – making him a sort of mid 19th century client of NAMA – was educated in England and then at the Catholic University (later UCD). There he was the despair of the celebrated cleric John Henry Newman who later escaped to become a Cardinal.

The young O’Shea joined the Hussars and was encouraged by his father to spend a lot of money on entertainment. I’ll repeat that in case you think you misheard. He was encouraged by his father to spend a lot of money on entertainment. What’s a young man to do when a parent is foolish enough to say ‘go waste my fortune on wine, women and song and make as many influential friends as possible.’ Of course it ended in tears when the young O’Shea nearly sent his old man to the same bankruptcy courts which had helped him acquire the basis of his fortune in the first place.

O’Shea never really succeeded at anything very much, other than being an accomplished cuckold and a pompous, self serving politician. In his twenties he tried banking and breeding horses. He failed at both. Then he went into politics, standing as a candidate in Clare in the 1880 general election. After he won a seat in the House of Commons he insisted his wife, from whom he was long separated by then, should invite influential MPs to a series of soirees over which she would officiate.

In 1881 the gallant Hussar found out about his wife’s newly established relationship with Parnell and challenged the Irish Party leader – his political boss – to a duel. When Parnell accepted with a tad too much enthusiasm O’Shea suddenly changed his mind about pistols at dawn and let it slide. From then on he milked as much advantage as he could out of the relationship while waiting for Katharine’s rich aunt to die and leave her a fortune from which he assumed he would benefit.

Between 1881 and 1889 he managed to overlook the fact that his wife and Parnell had three children together and that the Irish leader even moved his horses and beloved scientific equipment into the establishment he kept with Katharine.

It was only when the aged aunt died and left her money to her niece in such a way the he couldn’t touch a penny of it that O’Shea ‘discovered’ – to his utter shock and horror – that Katharine had been carrying on behind his back. Who knew? Well actually half of London knew but we’ll let that go. He sued for divorce on Christmas Eve 1889.

As we know Parnell’s career was destroyed by the divorce case, though he was able to marry Katharine a few weeks before he died unexpectedly in October 1891.

O’Shea lingered on for another fourteen years. His funeral in 1905 was attended by two people, one of whom was his son. He died one hundred and eleven years ago, on this day.