On This Day – 26 October 1831 – Birth of painter Nathaniel Hone

 

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Nathaniel Hone the Younger (Yes .. I know he doesn’t look very young – and ‘Pastures at Malahide’)

The birth of Nathaniel Hone the Younger on 26 October 1831 affords an excellent opportunity to ignore him almost completely, and talk about his far more interesting great-grand uncle, Nathaniel Hone the Elder.

To dispatch Younger as rapidly as possible, he began his career as a railway engineer but proved himself to be a true Hone when he took up painting as a profession and went to study in Paris … where else? How come nobody ever studied art in Basildon or Southend?  He also married a member of the Jameson distilling family and settled in North Dublin, making him far more of a truly Irish artist than his more celebrated and controversial ancestor of the same name.

One of Younger’s best-known pieces is ‘Pastures at Malahide’ which has lots of cows in the foreground and is otherwise composed of cute fluffy clouds. He was also related to the 20thcentury artist Evie Hone. And I hope that’s enough on Nathaniel Hone the Younger.

Now let’s get on to Nathaniel Hone the Elder, who was something of a lad and, with one painting at least, quite literally, brought bitchiness to a fine art.

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Nathaniel Hone the Elder (Yes … I know he looks younger than Nathaniel Hone the Younger. Confusing isn’t it?)

The first Natty Hone was an 18thcentury artist, son of a Dutch merchant based in Wood Quay in Dublin. At an early age he moved to London, married the daughter of the Duke of Argyll and established himself as a portrait painter before moving to Rome for further study. Once again neither Basildon nor Southend getting a look in.  One of Hone’s most famous sitters was the founder of Methodism, the great preacher John Wesley.  Hone was so highly regarded that he was one of the founder members of the Royal Academy, established in 1768. So far, so good.

But, in 1775 he painted a picture which rests not too far from here, in our own National Gallery. It’s called The Conjuror and depicts an aged Sir Joshua Reynolds in a distinctly unflattering light. Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy, was the most celebrated portrait painter of his day. Unfortunately his day was the same as Hone’s. Which meant that Hone, had he played a violin, would have been second fiddle to Reynolds. Both men were founders and members of the Royal Academy, but Reynolds got to hang out with the likes of Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, David Garrick and Charles James Fox, in a group known collectively as ‘The Club’. Another member of his set was one of only two female members of the Royal Academy, the Anglo-Swiss artist Angelica Kauffman. That both Reynolds and Kaufmann held each other in high regard is undeniable. That they were lovers is also likely. That Hone loathed both of them can hardly be disputed either, given the subject matter of The Conjuror.

Reynolds had a habit of ‘quoting’ from the classical canon in many of his portraits, a practice that Hone could not abide.  In The Conjuror– whose full title was The Pictorial Conjuror, displaying the Whole Art of Optical Deception-an elderly bearded man, meant to represent Reynolds, sits in front of a cascade of classical portraits. A young smiling girl rests her elbows on his right leg. The young girl is intended to depict Angelica Kauffman, who was considerably younger than Reynolds. But that wasn’t the real problem, or the only representation of Kauffman in the original painting. In the top left-hand corner Hone added a group of naked artists in procession, waving paint brushes in the air. In the middle of this claque is a naked woman dressed only in black stockings. When the painting was presented to the Royal Academy for exhibition Kauffman objected, on the grounds that the scantily-clad female was clearly intended to be her. The painting was rejected by the Academy. Had Reynolds been the duelling type a challenge would almost certainly have followed. Dash it all, the honour of a woman was at stake! Hone spent a lot of time apologising and claiming that he had never intended any insult to Angelica Kaufmann. Nobody believed him, though it didn’t seem to do his career much harm.

Hone later exhibited a redacted version, with the nude figures painted out. This is the one that hangs in our National Gallery. The painters in the altogether were replaced by what looks like an image of the members of ‘The Club’ assembled around a writing table. This was displayed in a retrospective Hone exhibition, the first of its kind to be devoted to a single artist. The event’s lustre is slightly diminished, however, by the fact that it was all organised by Hone himself. He died in London in 1784 at the age of sixty-six.

Nathaniel Hone the Younger, his esteemed great-grand nephew, was born, one hundred and eighty-seven years ago, on this day.

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‘The Conjuror’ by Nathaniel Hone (the Elder)  – sublime bitchiness 

 

 

 

On This Day – 19.10.1955  Ireland v Yugoslavia – John Charles defied

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Given that Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina have all got pretty useful international soccer teams it’s hardly surprising that when they operated together as Yugoslavia old Tito’s boys could hold their own with the best. The Yugoslavs were good enough to come to Dublin in October 1955 and beat Ireland 4-1 at Dalymount Park.

Not good enough for Archbishop John Charles McQuaid however. He didn’t like Communists very much whether they wore suits, uniforms or football boots. In fact in 1952 McQuaid had successfully lobbied the Football Association of Ireland and prevented an equivalent fixture from taking place at all. On that occasion the FAI had actually consulted the archbishop and asked him if it was all right to play the Yugoslavs, who, in 1947, had jailed Archbishop Stepinac, an erstwhile supporter of the Croatian Fascist Ustashe regime. In 1955 the FAI went ahead with the fixture without consulting McQuaid, who only found out about it a few days before it was due to take place. The Archbishop obviously wasn’t a big reader of the sports pages or he would have become aware of it a lot sooner.

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McQuaid managed, indirectly, to get Radio Eireann to pull out of covering a game with one of the world’s top rated sides when the station’s soccer commentator, Phillip Greene, declined to lend his vocal chords to a fixture of which the Archbishop disapproved.  This prompted one newspaper headline, ‘Reds turn Greene yellow’. Around 22,000 people showed up in the 40,000 capacity stadium to see the game – there’s no point in calling it a match because, as the scoreline suggests, it wasn’t.

Archbishop McQuaid’s illustrious sporting career – as in his tendency to interfere with anything of a sporting nature that offending his moral or religious sensibilities – went back to the 1930’s when he occupied the only slightly less exalted position of President of Blackrock College.  In 1934, for example, he took issue with the notion of girls and women being allowed to compete in the sport of athletics.

In 1928 women had been admitted to the Olympic Games for the first time but McQuaid came from the same school as the founder of the modern Olympiad, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who believed that ‘women have but one task [in the Olympics] that of the role of crowning the winner with garlands’. In 1934 the National Athletic and Cycling Association [grandparent of Athletics Ireland] was contemplating adding a women’s 100 yards dash to the national championships. McQuaid, principal of an all-male rugby playing school, was profoundly unhappy. And when he was displeased he liked to share. He wrote a letter on the subject to the Irish Pressnewspaper on 24 February 1934 in which he observed that:

‘mixed athletics and all cognate immodesties are abuses that right-minded                  people reprobate, wherever and whenever they exist.’

He then proceeded to invoke one of only two superior beings he recognised, by pointing out that ‘God is not modern; nor is his Law’. Women who sought to compete athletically in the vicinity of men were ‘un-Irish and un-Catholic’, and the entire phenomenon was a ‘social abuse’.  He concluded by quoting from the only other superior being he acknowledged, the Pope, who was, apparently, of the opinion that:

‘ …in athletic sports and exercises, wherein the Christian modesty of girls must be, in a special way, safeguarded … it is supremely unbecoming that they flaunt themselves and display themselves before the eyes of all.’

So that was pretty conclusive, God, the Pope and John Charles were on the same side and the option of Catholic women competing in burqas was not available. The NACA decided not to include female athletes … even for the ten or eleven seconds it would have taken them to run 100 yards. To their eternal shame the Irish Camogie Association supported McQuaid, although that may have been not unconnected with the fact that its secretary was a man, Sean O’Duffy. He promised that his association:

‘ …would do all in its power to ensure that no girl would appear on any            sports ground in a costume to which any exception could be taken. If  they remained Irish in the ordinary acception [sic] of the word they could not go wrong.’

He never quite explained where he had come across the word ‘acception’.

Not until 1956 did Maeve Kyle become Ireland’s first female athletics competitor at the Olympics. It probably helped that she was a Northern Protestant and therefore an utterly lost cause.

The Archbishop further expanded his sporting horizons at a later date when he expressed concern about the dangers of hockey for women. He feared that the frequent twisting movements would lead to infertility, or what he called ‘hockey parturition’. The sport of lacrosse, which he believed to involve less midriff action, was encouraged in Roman Catholic girls’ schools in the Dublin archdiocese. The fact that lacrosse had originated among Native Americans using the heads of defeated opponents did not seem to occur to him as making it in any way unsuitable. Without doubt the intervention of Sean O’Duffy on behalf of the Archbishop in the Hundred Yard Dash controversy of 1934 had resulted in McQuaid refraining from expressing similar anxieties about the bendiness of the sport of camogie.

All of which illustrates that the Archbishop’s interest in sport did not just emerge from a clear blue sky when he took on the Dublin soccer public in 1955, something for which he was criticised at the time.

To the consternation of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid Ireland met, and were soundly trounced by Yugoslavia in a friendly soccer international sixty-three years ago, on this day.

On This Day – 5 October 1911  Birth of Brian O’Nolan

 

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It might have been a mistake for Brian O’Nolan not to become an exile. The fact that he remained in Ireland all his life and could be seen trotting in an out of Dublin pubs any time of the week meant that he never quite managed to acquire the cachet of that famous resident of Paris, Samuel Beckett, not to mention that citizen of most of the major cities of Europe, James Joyce.

While Beckett, famously,  observed via one of his protagonists, ‘I can’t go on, I’ll go on’ O’Nolan, aka Flann O’Brien, especially in his sarky Myles na Gopaleen persona, was more of an ‘ah will you go on out of that’, sort of writer. He lacked the minimalism of Beckett and the maximalism of Joyce, but he was still a fine writer at his best and worthy of almost as many PhD theses as his more illustrious compatriots. They could do worse than start with one of O’Nolan’s observations ‘I declare to God if I hear that name Joyce one more time I will surely froth at the gob.’

Born in Strabane, Co. Tyrone in 1911 he was raised in an Irish-speaking family and educated in Blackrock College in Dublin. There his English teacher was the President of the College and future Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. The young O’Nolan was known to imitate McQuaid’s walk, a highly distinctive gait with one lowered shoulder. On one occasion McQuaid is said to have caught O’Nolan in the act, and pointed out that he was dipping the wrong shoulder.

Because his father died young O’Nolan, with a job in the Civil Service, was obliged to help support a family of ten siblings. The nature of his employment was one of the reasons for his many pseudonyms,  though if you wanted to find out who Flann O’Brien, or Myles na Gopaleen was, it would not have been too difficult.

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He was fortunate in that the reader appointed by the publishers, Longmans, to peruse his first novel, At Swim Two Birds, was an enthusiastic Graham Greene. There his good fortune ended, however. Although subsequently celebrated as a work of genius, the first edition, published in 1939, sold barely two hundred and fifty copies and the rest of the print run was obliterated by Nazi bombers in the Blitz. As a sworn enemy of satire, decadent fiction, surrealism and just about anything remotely interesting, Adolf Hitler would probably have approved of this act of censorship, had he known of the existence of the novel. It was in At Swim Two Birds that O’Nolan wrote the immortal line ‘Do you know what I am going to tell you, he said with his wry mouth, a pint of plain is your only man.’

O’Nolan was at his most popular in the guise of Myles na Gopaleen (a character from a 19thcentury Irish novel and subsequent Dion Boucicault play). Myles was the scribe behind the Cruiskeen Lawn column in the Irish Times– it translates as ‘the full jug’. Here O’Nolan argued constantly with the highly opinionated ‘Plain People of Ireland’, composed dozens of exquisite puns in his tales of ‘Keats and Chapman’, and created a mythical agency for handling the books purchased by the pretentious Dublin middle classes so that they would look as if they had actually been read. The first column appeared in 1940 and it continued right up until his death in 1966. The column, though avowedly satirical, was mostly surreal humour, though O’Nolan was, occasionally, capable of biting the hand that was feeding him, as when he observed that ‘The majority of the members of the Irish parliament are professional politicians, in the sense that otherwise they would not be given jobs minding mice at a crossroads.’  O’Nolan also wrote a humorous column for the Nationalist and Leinster Times under the glorious pseudonym of George Knowall.

One of his best-known works, An Beal Bocht, later translated as The Poor Mouth, was first published in Irish. O’Nolan once observed of the language in his Cruiskeen Lawn column … ‘If Irish were to die completely, the standard of English here, both in the spoken and written word, would sink to a level probably as low as that obtaining in England, and it would stop there only because it could go no lower.’

O’Nolan, who suffered from alcoholism for most of his adult life, died on 1 April 1966, April Fool’s Day.  Perhaps one of his most piquant observations comes in his earliest and greatest work At Swim Two Birds

A wise old owl once lived in a wood,

The more he heard the less he said,

The less he said the more he heard,

Let’s emulate that wise old bird

Brian O’Nolan, alias Flann O’Brien, alias Myles na Gopaleen, alias George Knowall, and alias God knows who else, was born one hundred and seven years ago, on this day.

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Setting out on the first—post-Bloom —Bloomsday, with some mates (including Patrick Kavanagh and a young Anthony Cronin)

On This Day 28 September 1678 – The ‘Popish plot’

 

 

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OLIVER PLUNKETT

Irish history has always been dogged with fictitious intrigues designed to keep the Croppies down. Daniel O’Connell spent a restful few weeks in jail after a spurious 1844 conspiracy trial. In 1887 a group of dastardly Fenians were supposed to be plotting the murder of Queen Victoria. Trouble was they were all working for the British government.  The leadership of Sinn Fein was rounded up in 1918 based on another made-up plot, worthy of John Le Carré. If you wanted to bung an Irish nationalist in jail, but felt the need to go through the ritual of a trial (which wasn’t always the case), you just devised a vaguely plausible conspiracy and the law would, most likely, do the rest.

The infamous 17thcentury ‘Popish plot’ was a case in point, though it only roped in a few Irish martyrs along the way. Its main target was English Catholics and the Jesuit order. Once again the plot was supposed to have been aimed at the reigning monarch, in this case Charles II. The man who fabricated the whole thing was Titus Oates, aka Titus the Liar, one of the most egregious perjurers in British history—even worse than Jeremy Thorpe. The first thing Titus lied about was that he had a degree from Cambridge. The Bishop of London believed him and he was given an licence to preach. That was not accompanied, however, by a licence to kill, though before he was finished he was directly responsible for the horrific deaths of more than twenty men.

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TITUS OATES

In order to secure a teaching position in 1674, Titus had alleged that the man in possession of the job at the time, had sodomised one of his students. When he was caught out in that particular lie he fled the country and joined the navy. There he himself was accused of the same crime and was dismissed in 1876. He only avoided execution because he was an ordained minister. The following year he converted to Catholicism. He later claimed that he had only pretended to become a Catholic so that he could go undercover and expose the shocking secrets of the Jesuits.

In 1678 Oates made up charges against hundreds of Catholic clerics and laymen. He made for an unsavoury witness, given his record of perjury and all-round depravity, but he did have one thing going for him, a prodigious memory. This enabled him to lie with the gift of total recall of everything he was making up. One of the men he accused, later acquitted, was the famous diarist Samuel Pepys.

The two most prominent Irish victims of the increasingly convoluted ‘Popish plot’—supposedly designed to put a Catholic on the throne of England—were Peter Talbot, the Archbishop of Dublin, and Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh. Involved in the persecution of both was the Irish Lord Lieutenant of the day, the magisterial James Butler, 1stDuke of Ormonde. Butler was, personally, skeptical of the existence of a widespread conspiracy. When he was informed of the identity of Plunkett’s accusers he described them as ‘drunken vagabonds’ and commented that ‘no schoolboy would trust them to rob an orchard’. Butler was sympathetic to Plunkett but had him arrested anyway. Talbot he loathed, so he took some pleasure in tossing the Archbishop of Dublin in jail, where he languished for two years before he died. The last rites were administered by his fellow prisoner, Archbishop Oliver Plunkett

Plunkett’s own fate was more hideous and more melodramatic. He was to be tried in Dundalk, charged with plotting to bring an army of 20,000 soldiers from France. When it became clear that there was insufficient evidence to convict, he was moved to London and tried there instead. In 1681 he was found guilty of high treason and of ‘promoting the Roman faith’ which, you would have to accept, is probably an integral part of the job description of a Catholic archbishop. On 1 July 1681 he was hanged drawn and quartered. What exactly that involves … you do not want to know. Let’s just say that the hanging isn’t supposed to kill you, and we’ll leave the rest to your imaginations. Oliver Plunkett became the last Roman Catholic martyr executed in Britain.

Plunkett’s show trial was one of the events that prompted public opinion to turn against Oates, and his equally repulsive fellow accusers. Oates was tried for perjury in the court of the same judge, the infamous Judge Jeffreys, who had, with great delight, passed the death sentence on many of those fingered by the perjurer. Oates was imprisoned for life. He was pilloried and pelted with eggs at Westminster Hall, which sounds like a waste of good food. He was also sentenced to be whipped through the streets of London for five days each year for the rest of his natural life. They did dream up interesting and utterly sadistic punishments in those days. When William of Orange came to the throne, however, Oates was released, and given a pension. He is unlikely to have spent any of his take home pay on omelettes.

The first spurious accusations were laid against innocent men in the diabolical Popish plot three hundred and forty years ago, on this day.

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SAMUEL PEPYS

On This Day 21 September 1827 birth of General Michael Corcoran

 

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He’s the voice of Irish rugby on RTE radio, a passionate Munster man who would never dream of allowing any provincial preference to become apparent in his broadcasts. Allegedly.  But today we’re talking about the other Michael Corcoran, Fenian, soldier and confidant of Abraham Lincoln.

The story begins in 1860. The occasion is the proposed visit of the Prince of Wales to New York. The Prince had been gracing Canada with his presence and was invited south. In order to avoid the attentions of Irish desperadoes he journeyed to New York incognito. Being a member of the royal family, however, he chose not to travel as plain old Mister Smyth (probably with a ‘y’), but selected the assumed name of Baron Renfrew. He had a perfect right to do so as it happened to be one of his many titles. Doubtless for the sake of brevity and anonymity he chose to forego the rest of the Renfrew name, which goes ‘Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland’.So quite a comedown really for poor old Bertie.

The plan was that on his arrival the Prince was to be greeted by an honour guard of New York Militia Regiments. This, in theory, was to include the famous ‘Fighting 69th’, a regiment of committed Irish nationalists. When its commanding officer, Colonel Michael Corcoran, from Ballymote, Co.Sligo, was informed of the plan he refused absolutely to parade his regiment before the heir to the throne of England. The fact that he was a member of the growing Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, was likely to have influenced his attitude.

His insubordination in the face of the man who would be Edward VII (but not for another forty years or so) caused him to be arrested pending a court martial. Fortunately for him Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, intervened on his behalf. Well at least he did so in the sense that the Confederate army fired on Fort Sumter and the American Civil War began.

It was deemed wise to release Corcoran without the need for a court martial. In return the Sligo man offered to recruit new Irish members to the 69thto bring it to full strength. He sought 1000 men. He could have got five times that number. It was a period of profound innocence. No one knew what war was really about. It was all a big adventure.

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The 69th found out very quickly what exactly it was all about. They went into action in the defence of Washington, DC, on 21 July, 1861 on the banks of a Virginia river in the first major battle of the war. It was Bull Run if you were fighting for the Union in the Civil War – Manassas if you were with the Confederates in the War Between the States. It was a battle in which the Union army offered a powerful demonstration – of exactly how much it had to learn about warfare. The Union forces were overwhelmed by the greycoats. The 69th, abandoned and isolated, attempted to beat an orderly retreat in the midst of the shambles that surrounded them. Corcoran was wounded in the leg. He, and a number of his men were taken prisoner. When the Union threatened to execute a captured Confederate naval commander for piracy the Confederacy selected Corcoran to be shot in retaliation. It was quite a tribute to his leadership qualities and his importance. Fortunately for the Irish Colonel both sides backed down.

The Confederates offered to release Corcoran on parole. All he had to do was guarantee not to rejoin the Union Army and continue to fight against them. On those terms Corcoran preferred to stay in prison.  Then, in November, 1861, a Union ship intercepted an English steamer on the high seas and removed two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell, who were on their way to England. Her Majesty’s government was livid and, for a brief period, there was a genuine threat that Britain would enter the war on the Confederate side. Of course, this did wonders for Irish recruitment in the North, though probably not as much in the South. Corcoran, who had been promoted to Brigadier General while he was in prison, was exchanged for the two southern diplomats. So impressed was President Lincoln with the Irish officer’s refusal of parole, that he invited him to dinner in the White House.

Corcoran, far from opting out of the war, as the Confederacy would have preferred, raised a force of eight Irish regiments, in a Legion that was called after him. He himself rose to become a Corps commander until he was thrown by his horse and died, tragically and pointlessly, in 1863. As far as we know the Prince of Wales sent no flowers to the funeral.

Michael Corcoran from Ballymote in Co. Sligo, American Civil War General and dedicated member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, was born, one hundred and ninety one years ago, on this day.

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On This Day – 14.9.1852 – Death of Arthur Wellesley, alias the Duke of Wellington.

 

 

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He was a true-blue Dub, born Arthur Wesley in 1769. He probably never said that the ‘Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton’. This is because he hated his former school with a passion and, when he was a pupil there, in the 1780s, Eton didn’t have any playing fields. But he did give his name to that piece of apparel we refer to affectionately as ‘wellies’. He would probably not have approved. And there is still controversy, if you can be said to stir up a good row concerning a hunk of meat, over whether or not the dish ‘Beef Wellington’ is called after him.

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Today we know him as Arthur Wellesley, much grander than plain old Wesley, and the Duke of Wellington, much grander still. He was born on Merrion Street in Dublin, though the family home was in Dangan Castle, near Trim, in Co. Meath. Something else he never said—we’ll get around to what he did say a bit later—was that alleged disparaging statement about his Irishness—‘just because you are born in a stable doesn’t make you a horse’. This was actually an invention of that great Irish patriot and rogue, Daniel O’Connell. Though the Daily Telegraph was still ascribing it to the Iron Duke as recently as 2015. Well, they would, wouldn’t they.

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He was educated at Whyte’s Academy in Dublin before transferring to the misery of Eton. This means that he went to the same school as Robert Emmet, though the two would not have been contemporaries. Neither, had they gone to school together, would they have seen eye to eye.

He was, according to his mother, an idle youth and she constantly worried about what he was going to do with his life. Eventually he went into the army and became an aide de campto two Lords Lieutenant in Dublin. His duties seem to have mostly involved some serious partying, which suited young Arthur perfectly. Think Dudley Moore’s Arthurin the film of the same name. His dissolute life included incurring a fine for ‘beating a Frenchman in a Dublin bawdy house’. You’d have to think that was an earnest of things to come.

Not only was he a Dubliner himself, he also married one, though Catherine Pakenham came from a family more associated with the Irish midlands, she was daughter of the Second Baron of Longford, Edward Pakenham. Longford didn’t much like young Wellesley at first and sent him off with a flea in his ear. Only when Arthur began to take his military career seriously was he allowed to swoop and carry off Catherine.

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Some clichés about the Duke do appear to be true. He favoured dark clothing on the battlefield so as to make himself a more difficult target. He retired undefeated at the age of forty-six, never having lost a battle, although this can be ascribed to his tendency to withdraw his forces if things looked bleak. He always wore his hair short and did not favour wigs, contrary to the fashions of the early 19thcentury. His emphasis on the study of military strategy and his insistence on a more scientific approach to  war, emanated from his contempt for British army tactics in one of his earliest campaigns, in Flanders in 1794.

Were it not for his signature success against a resurgent Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo, made even more famous in 1974 when Abba won the Eurovision song contest with the song of that name, he would barely be remembered today as an obscure Tory Prime Minister, overshadowed by his contemporary Robert Peel. In fact had he not been the victor of Waterloo it is unlikely that he would ever have risen to the status of Prime Minister.

He did Irish Catholics a great favour in that he was Prime Minister in 1829 when Catholic Emancipation was introduced in the House of Commons. That favour might have been seen in a more positive light had it not been offered so grudgingly. The Duke was utterly opposed to the idea of Roman Catholics in Parliament but was strong armed into it by the successful campaign of Daniel O’Connell, the same one who lied about horses and stables.

By the way, work began on the famous Wellington monument in Phoenix Park in Dublin as early as 1817, two years after he saw off Napoleon, with lots of Prussian help, and an army that was at least one third Irish. The project, however, ran out of funds very quickly and the obelisk wasn’t actually completed until 1861.  There are more than ninety public houses named after him in different parts of England, which would make for an interesting pub crawl. There appear to be only two pubs named after him, however, in the country of his birth, both in Dublin.

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, conqueror of Napoleon at Waterloo, twice British Prime Minister, and the inspiration behind wellie throwing competitions the world over, died one hundred and sixty six years ago, on this day.

 

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On This Day – 7.9.1892  Gentleman Jim Corbett wins the world heavyweight title from John L.Sullivan

 

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Going to college (allegedly) and working as a bank clerk doesn’t necessarily qualify someone as a ‘gentleman’. In England, for example, you’d probably have to have attended a public school as well, and have a few ancestors who were at the right hand of William the Conqueror or fought against Oliver Cromwell in the Civil War.

But if you were a professional boxer in the 1890s that sort of background—the education and the bank job—set you apart. That was why James J. Corbett was so different from most of his peers. That, and the fact that he wore his hair in a pompadour, dressed in well-cut clothes and spoke grammatically correct English, meant that he was well entitled to his famous nickname, Gentleman Jim.

Corbett was San Francisco-born but firmly of Irish stock. One of his uncles, his namesake Father James Corbett, was parish priest of Partry in Co. Mayo. In the mid-1880s he became peripherally involved in the playing out of the bloody case of the Maamtrasna massacre, in which a family of five was brutally murdered.

In 1854 Jim Corbett’s father, Patrick, had emigrated to America from Ballinrobe. Corbett himself was born in San Francisco in 1866 into a working-class Irish district south of Market Street. He certainly had a high school education and, whether or not he ever really did go to college, he was a literate and articulate man. As an 18 year old, despite his relatively poor background, his skills as a boxer meant he was admitted to membership of the oldest sporting club in the USA, the San Francisco Olympic Club. By the age of twenty he was working there as a boxing coach.

His first professional fight was an undistinguished affair against a boxer called Frank Smith, in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1886. Both boxers wore gloves, something that was true of all twenty of Corbett’s professional bouts. The fight took place under Queensberry rules, which Smith quickly transgressed. He was disqualified in the third round, gifting the Irish-American a winning start to his professional career.

During Corbett’s subsequent rise the sport of boxing assumed an air of relative respectability. It was still banned in many American states but the gradual disappearance of bare-knuckle fights which continued until one or other boxer was knocked out or threw in the towel—bouts could last up to four hours— meant that more professional promotions could now take place openly.

As Corbett rose through the ranks he would have regarded his fellow Irish-American, John L. Sullivan, with envy. Sullivan became World Heavyweight champion in 1882 and had held onto his title for a decade before he met Corbett in the ring. Sullivan, twenty-five pounds heavier than his rival, was a bruiser who specialised in overpowering anyone who stepped into the ring with him. Corbett’s approach was more cerebral and scientific. He studied his opponents, went into each fight with a game plan and used his superb fitness and manoeuverability to stay out of trouble and to wear his man down.

The only encounter between the two took place in New Orleans in 1892. In his own account of the bout Corbett described what happened after the bell went for round one.

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‘From the beginning of the round Sullivan was aggressive. [He] wanted to eat me up right away. He came straight for me and I backed and backed,  finally into a corner. While I was there I observed him setting himself for a right-hand swing … I sidestepped out of the corner and was back in the middle of the ring again, Sullivan hot after me. I allowed him to back me   into all four corners, and he thought he was engineering all this … But I  had learned what I wanted to know. He had shown his hand to me.’

The New Orleans crowd was none too pleased at what they perceived as Corbett’s reluctance to mix it with the champion. A section of the audience began to hiss the younger fighter and call him ‘Sprinter’. Corbett kept moving until the third round, when he started swinging, and broke the champion’s nose. From that point onwards the challenger’s approach, a combination of jabs, hooks and sidesteps, appeared to bewilder the ageing Sullivan, eight years older than Corbett.

A minute and a half into the twenty-first of the scheduled twenty-five rounds, Corbett ended the fight with a vicious combination of full blooded punches which left Sullivan on the canvas.

Two years later, as world champion, Corbett visited his ancestral home in Ballinrobe and donated a stained glass window to his namesake’s church in Partry.

John L. Sullivan and James J.Corbett fought for the World Heavyweight title one hundred and twenty-six years ago, on this day.

 

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