‘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 – 26 August 1725 – Smallpox


Its effects were feared for centuries before it was finally declared to have been eradicated by the World Health Organisation in 1980. The last recorded case of this dreadful disease was in Somalia in 1977. Good riddance smallpox, which plagued this country for generations.

Ireland has more than a nodding acquaintance with smallpox. It originally got its name in the 15th century to distinguish it from ‘great pox’ aka syphilis. Around one third of its victims died. Many survivors were left with the scars of the disease in the form of permanently pock-marked skin. As recently as half a century ago, in 1967, two million people died of smallpox worldwide.

The disease inspired particular dread in Ireland where smallpox and its ugly sisters, cholera, typhoid and dysentery made themselves at home for hundreds of years and exploited extreme poverty and ignorance to devastating effect. The symptoms of the disease were high fever, headache, pain in the back and muscles. Children might also experience vomiting and convulsions.

If you didn’t die of smallpox in 18th and 19th century Ireland you probably went blind. The next time you hear the music of the great harpist Turlough O’Carolan from Nobber in County Meath think of smallpox. It blinded him at the age of eighteen in 1688 making him virtually useless for any occupation until he developed a talent as a harpist and a facility for musical composition. Many other itinerant harpists had been similarly afflicted.

The disease, which was highly contagious and infectious, is believed to have caused about one fifth of all deaths in the city of Dublin between 1661 and 1746. About a third of all child deaths were probably caused by smallpox. Although it mainly afflicted the poor it was no respecter of rank. The children of the rich could die of the disease just as quickly as those closer to the breadline.

Hope emerged towards the beginning of the 18th century when the efficacy of inoculation started to become apparent. Inoculating people with small doses of the virus had apparently been practiced in China since the 10th century but didn’t really begin to make inroads in Europe for almost another eight hundred years. In Ireland the technique was first tried on a number of, presumably unwilling, prisoners in Cork Jail in 1721. Four years later the experiment was extended to five children in Dublin.

As the effectiveness became clear the better off began to use inoculation to protect themselves and their children.  During periodic epidemics in the mid to late 18th centuries the survival rate among the wealthy families who had engaged in the practice encouraged its more widespread use. The South Infirmary in Cork even initiated a programme to inoculate the poor.

Naturally where there was money to be made there were charlatans. Travelling inoculators with a very basic grasp, if any, of what they were doing, competed for trade. In Donegal in 1781 all but one child of a group of fifty-two died when one unqualified practitioner purported to inoculate them.

Whatever inroads were being made in Ireland against the disease came to virtually nothing with the onset of the Great Famine of the 1840s when smallpox returned with a grim vengeance. Even for sufferers who survived the recovery period of the disease ensured that many were pauperized and died anyway with breadwinners unable to work.

It was only from the 1880s onwards that the disease began to be more rapidly eradicated in Ireland. In the 1870s more than seven and a half thousand people died of smallpox. By the first decade of the 20th century that figure was down to sixty-five. Between 1901 and 1910 almost a million Irish people were vaccinated against the disease.

A global campaign by the World Health Organisation begun in 1967 bore fruit and now smallpox can only return via the insanity of chemical warfare.

Five Dublin children received the first voluntary smallpox innoculations in Ireland
 two hundred and ninety one years ago, on this day.



On This Day – 19 August 1876 – The Catalpa arrives back in the USA



Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of seeing Donal O’Kelly’s memorable one man show about the 1876 voyage of the whaling barque, the Catalpa, will be unlikely to forget the significance of that event.  It was The Great Escape crossed with Papillon to create one of the most unorthodox and daring prison breaks in the history of incarceration.

The back-story begins with the abject failure of the Fenian rebellion of 1867. In its wake more than sixty IRB prisoners were transported after treason-felony and rebellion convictions to the penal colony of Western Australia. Over the years most of the prisoners were amnestied or released so that by the mid 1870s only a small handful of Fenians remained in Freemantle prison on the Australian west coast not far from the city of Perth.

In 1873 one of the men who remained in jail, James Wilson, managed to get a letter to John Devoy of the Irish revolutionary organisation, Clan na Gael, in New York. Wilson asked Devoy to launch an operation to free the remaining prisoners. It was a former Fenian transportee Thomas McCarthy Fennell who came up with the unorthodox but highly imaginative plan that was put into operation the following year.

The Clan bought a New Bedford whaling barque the Catalpa for $5500 in 1874.  A ship’s captain, George Smith Anthony, agreed to help. He recruited twenty-two sailors who were not in on the secret. The ship sailed from Massachusetts in April 1875. In the meantime two senior members of the Clan, John Breslin and Tom Desmond had been sent ahead to Western Australia to prepare for the rescue. Breslin, posing as an American mining speculator, ingratiated himself with the British governor of the colony while Desmond secured transport for the prisoners and devised a means of cutting telegraph lines to impede communications.

A faulty chronometer meant that Captain Anthony had to use his own navigational skills for the first leg of the Catalpa’s journey. The vessel also lost much of its crew when it landed in the Azores. But the deserters were replaced and the whaling ship finally arrived off the coast of Western Australia in April 1876.  There it dropped anchor in international waters and waited.

On 17 April six Fenian inmates working outside Freemantle prison walls absconded from their work party. The group included James Wilson. They met up with Breslin and Desmond and were driven to reconnoitre with Captain Anthony. They were then taken on board a small whaleboat. At this point the alarm was raised by a local man and the search for the escaped prisoners began in earnest. A storm initially prevented Anthony from transferring the freed Fenians from the small whaleboat to the Catalpa. It was hours before the storm abated and they could begin to row towards safety.

As Captain Anthony’s whaleboat neared the Catalpa, moored more than three miles off shore, he noticed a steamer, the Georgette, approach the whaling ship. This had been commandeered by the Western Australian governor. Anthony’s First Mate refused to allow the Catalpa to be boarded as it was anchored in international waters. The Georgette, short on fuel, withdrew for the moment and this allowed Anthony to smuggle the six Fenians on board his ship.

However the Georgette returned the following day and attempted to force the Catalpa back into Australian waters. A shot was fired across the bow of the small whaling ship. Anthony then raised the US flag and warned the pursuing steamer that any interference with the Catalpa would constitute an act of war. The police on board the Georgette had been told by the colonial governor not to create an international incident.  They were forced to allow the American vessel to escape into the Indian Ocean.

After its return to the USA the Catalpa was gifted by the grateful Fenians to its captain and leading crew members. Anthony, who courted arrest if he returned to sea, published an account of the operation in 1897 entitled The Catalpa Expedition.

The New Bedford, Massachusetts whaling ship, the Catalpa, sailed into New York harbour to a rapturous Irish-American welcome one hundred and forty years ago on this day.






On This Day- 12 August 1773 – Robert King X 2 and the murder of Henry Fitzgerald



Mary Wolsttonecraft  – peripheral to the story but more famous than the protagonists – hence the pic

When the members of the Irish House of Lords tried a fellow peer they did it in style. Such was certainly the case with Robert King, tried for murder in 1798. His proper title was the 2nd Earl of Kingston and he was being tried for the killing of the nephew of his wife. Elsewhere, his son, also called Robert was tried for the same offence, the murder of Colonel Henry FitzGerald.

The 2nd Earl had married well. His wife, Caroline Fitzgerald, was one of the wealthiest heiresses in Ireland when she was married off to Robert King, who was worth a few shillings in his own right, when they were both 15 years old, in 1769.  They settled into the family home in Mitchelstown, Co.Cork. The couple was probably more distinguished for one of their governesses than for anything they every accomplished themselves. Hired to educate their children was Mary Woolstonecraft, novelist, historian, 18th century feminist and the mother of the woman who wrote Frankenstein, Mary Shelley.

She would have been hard put to devise the narrative that saw her employer and one of her  pupils arraigned for murder.

This all came about because of the acceptance into the King family of a nephew of Caroline Fitzgerald, one Henry FitzGerald, a child born out of wedlock. There were, indeed, rumours to the effect that Henry was not actually Caroline’s nephew, but her illegitimate half-brother, the result of a liaison involving her own father.

Henry Fitzgerald, who went on to become a colonel in the military, rewarded the generosity of the King family by seducing one of Caroline’s daughters – who may of course, have been his half-niece. When Henry Fitzgerald’s body was discovered and the truth of the seduction came to light, Robert King junior and senior were both charged with his murder.

The Dad, as a peer of the realm, faced his own peers in May 1798, in the Irish House of Lords, a building still preserved intact in the Bank of Ireland in College Green in Dublin.  The symbolism of the occasion, to paraphrase, W.S. Gilbert, fitted the crime. During the trial an executioner stood beside Kingston with an immense axe, painted black except for two inches of polished steel. This served to remind their Lordships of the fate the Earl of Kingston faced, should they find him guilty. Though his actual fate would have been to be hanged by the neck until dead. Only afterwards might his head have been separated from his body. However, it never came to that. No witnesses appeared for the prosecution, and Kingston was acquitted. One can’t help suspecting that while the Kings had actually done in the bounder Henry anyone who was anyone figured that he’d got what was coming to him. The aristocracy is a another country, they do things differently there.

An interesting footnote. The Directory of the United Irishmen had discussed using the occasion of the trial to kill key members of the government. But the vote of one Francis Magan, a leading member of the organisation, caused the scheme to be abandoned. Magan, it later emerged, was a government agent.

While Robert King Senior was tried in splendor by his peers R.King Junior, was arraigned before the more mundane Cork Assizes on the same charge. Once again no witnesses came forward so the future Viscount Lorton of Boyle, Co.Roscommon was duly acquitted. The magnificent Boyle Museum, King House, is named after the family

The dramatic and colourful trial of the 2nd Earl of Kingston took place two hundred and eighteen years ago, while his son and fellow accused, also called Robert King was born, was born two hundred and forty three years ago, on this day.


Mitchelstown Castle – one time home of the Earls of Kingston – below is King House on Boyle, now a museum and well worth a few hours of your time.

OTD – 5  August 1901 Peter O’Connor sets the first World Long Jump record



Long jump records often stick around for quite a while. On May 25 1935 Jesse Owens jumped over twenty-six feet eight inches (8.13 metres) in Ann Arbor, Michigan creating a new world record. It stood for twenty-five years. For good measure within an inspired spell of forty-five minutes Owens also broke two other world records and equalled a fourth.  At the Mexico Olympics in 1968 Bob Beamon leaped a phenomenal twenty-nine feet two and a half inches to break the previous record by almost two feet. When he was told what he had done he collapsed in a heap and had to be helped to his feet by fellow competitors. That record stood for almost twenty-three years before being broken by Mike Powell.


So a record that lasted a mere two decades isn’t a lot to get excited about. Unless you’re Irish. And even if you are you’ve probably never heard of Peter O’Connor. But he won two Olympic medals in 1906, one of them gold. As far as O’Connor was concerned he won them for Ireland but they are down in the record books as United Kingdom medals.


O’Connor was from Ashford in Wicklow, though he was born in England to an Irish family. A talented athlete he joined the GAA as a twenty-four year old in 1896 and three years later won All Ireland medals in the long jump, high jump and triple jump – then called the ‘hop, step and jump’. In those days the GAA did not just cater forwhat we now call Gaelic Games. Over the next decade O’Connor beat all comers, including the best Britain had to offer. In 1900 he was invited to join the UK Olympic team. He declined to invitation as his wish was to represent Ireland internationally.


His opportunity finally appeared to come in 1906. In that year the International Olympic Committee organized what were formally called the Intercalated Games in Athens. This was because the 1900 and 1904 Olympics in Paris and St. Louis had both been overshadowed by the parallel international expositions or World Fairs. The first games in 1896 in Athens had been the only truly successful ones up to that point. The idea was that the Olympics would return to their spiritual home in Greece every two years and would then be staged at some other international venue two years later. It never quite worked out and the experiment was only tried in 1906.


But it looked as if the Intercalated Games would accept the inclusion of an Irish team. So the rival GAA and Irish Amateur Athletic Association jointly nominated O’Connor, along with two other athletes, Con Leahy and John Daly, to compete under an Irish flag. This was a golden harp and shamrock on a green background bearing the legend ‘Erin go Bragh’. However the IOC reneged and permission for the three men to compete for Ireland was withdrawn. When they travelled to Athens and registered they were told they would have to represent the United Kingdom. With great reluctance the three athletes bowed to the inevitable.


O’Connor went to the Games as long jump world record holder. He had leaped almost twenty-five feet in Dublin in 1901. In the Athens event, however, he was opposed by the previous holder of the world best mark, Myer Prinstein of the USA. The only judge at the event just happened to be the American team manager. O’Connor protested but was ignored. Prinstein won the gold, O’Connor finished second. At the medal ceremony O’Connor saw red … white and blue as the Union Jack was raised to mark his silver medal. Carrying the Irish banner he had brought to Athens he climbed up the pole and replaced the offending Union flag with the ‘Harp and Shamrock’. His compatriots Con Leahy and John Daly stood at the bottom of the pole just in case anyone might try and stymie the gesture.


Later O’Connor competed against Leahy in the hop, step and jump, his teammate having taken gold in the high jump. Here O’Connor won a gold medal of his own, Prinstein, champion in 1900 and 1904 was not placed.


O’Connor, by then thirty-four years old and clearly past his best, did not compete in any further Olympic Games. Undoubtedly his nationalism, which did not permit him to represent the United Kingdom until forced by circumstances to do so, denied him numerous Olympic medals in 1900 and 1904.


He settled in Waterford working as a solicitor and became a founder member of the Waterford Athletic Club. He died there in 1957 at the age of 85. His long jump world best set in 1901 stood as an Irish record until 1990, when it was finally broken by Carlos O’Connell. The first British competitor to beat O’Connor’s mark was the legendary Welsh athlete and Olympic gold medallist Lynn Davis, who didn’t lower it until 1962.


Peter O’Connor set a new long jump world record of twenty-four feet, eleven and three-quarter inches at the RDS in Dublin one hundred and fifteen years ago, on this day.





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