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 – 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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On This Day – 24  August 1803 – Death of James Napper Tandy

 

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If you type the words ‘I met with’ into a Google search, in Ireland at least, an obliging or very prescriptive algorithm will add the words ‘Napper Tandy’ immediately. I haven’t tried this in the UK, the USA, Uzbekistan or the Falklands so I’m not quite sure if it works there as well. Maybe if you’re listening on the web you might give it a try and get back to us.

All of which goes to show that Google has obviously engaged the services of a number of Irish Republican algorithms, because the phrase ‘I met with Napper Tandy’ comes from one of the great rebel tunes The Wearing of the Green. The song starts with the patently ridiculous assertion that ‘the shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground’, goes on to claim that there is a law against ‘the wearing of the green’ – presumably it was just out of fashion at the time – and goes on to observe that ‘I met with Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand and he said ‘How’s poor old Ireland and how does she stand’ – which scans very badly indeed as you have to extend the ‘how’ to a ‘how-ow’ to make it work.

The song was a Dublin street ballad about the failure of the 1798 rebellion and the bloodletting that followed. The version that includes the reference to Napper Tandy was written by the playwright Dion Boucicault for his 1864 play Arrah na Pogue, set in Wicklow during the United Irishmen’s insurrection of 1798.

But who was the remarkable Mr. Tandy?

Well, like a lot of the United Irishmen, James Napper Tandy was a Protestant, Irish Republican revolutionary, born in 1739 who went to the same Quaker school as Edmund Burke. He became a Dublin City councillor, railed and fought against municipal corruption, and advocated an Irish boycott of British goods in retaliation for tariffs and restrictions imposed by the British government on Irish products. Except, of course, they didn’t call it a boycott back then because he didn’t happen for another century or so.

In 1784 he became involved in a major spat with the powerful Irish Attorney General John Fitzgibbon. Fitzgibbon, provoked by Tandy’s support for parliamentary reform, accused him of being unable to pay his debts and of being responsible for riots in Dublin . Tandy, in response, took out an advertisement accusing Fitzgibbon of lying. It was tantamount to challenging the Attorney General to a duel. Just in case Fitzgibbon didn’t get the message Tandy strapped on his sword and paraded up and down College Green, in front of the Irish parliament building. Fitzgibbon haughtily chose to ignore the challenge on the basis that Tandy was ‘not a gentleman’. Ouch!

Tandy was always to the fore when it came to radical causes, he was, for example, strongly influenced  by the ideas of the French Revolution, and equally supportive of the American colonists in their struggle for independence. In 1791 he, along with Theobald Wolfe Tone, became one of the founding members of the Society of the United Irishmen. None of this endeared him to the authorities and in 1792 he fell foul of his second top lawyer, John Toler, the Solicitor General. Toler made a reference in a parliamentary debate to the fact that only Tandy’s own mother would have found him physically attractive. [Based on the attached portraits you can decide for yourselves!] Rather than issue a challenge, which Toler indicated in advance that he would be happy to accept, Tandy sought an explanation for the derogatory remarks. His fear was that, as the insult had been made under parliamentary privilege, if he fought and won a duel against Toler, he would be sentenced to death for murder. The episode did little for his reputation until the issuing of a challenge led to Tandy’s arrest. He ended up spending barely an hour in jail but his brief inacareration went some way towards rehabilitating his reputation as a radical firebrand.

He also had a short career as an architectural critic, albeit more muscular than the current Prince Charles, when he led a mob against the building works taking place at the new Custom House, designed by James Gandon. This particular riot was conducted on behalf of the inhabitants of the area around the older model whose trade would be affected when the new building was finally commissioned. Later, fearing arrest for having taken the oath of the Catholic secret society, the Defenders, Tandy fled to the USA. When he fetched up in Boston the Freeman’s Journal waspishly noted the fact and warned the people of the city of the imminent threat from Tandy of ‘plague, pestilence and sedition’, suggesting that he was capable of some primitive form of germ warfare while rousing a mob to violence.

Tandy returned to Europe in 1798 and was all at sea during the United Irishmen’s rebellion, having been given command of a French ship which landed in Donegal. It left rather hurriedly, without achieving very much, after the defeat of General Humbert’s invading French force in Mayo. He was later arrested in Hamburg and handed over to the British authorities. He was sentenced to death for his brief Donegal vacation but was freed under pressure from Napoleon Bonaparte himself, and fled to France.

Radical United Irishman, James Napper Tandy, who never quite managed to fight a duel with anyone very interesting, died of dysentery in Bordeaux two hundred and fifteen years ago, on this day.

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On This Day – 3 August 1868 Death of Charles Graham Halpine

 

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One of the great Irishmen of the American Civil War came from the town of Oldcastle, [Co.Meath.] Miles O’Reilly of the 47thNew York regiment, was twice reduced to the ranks for acts of insubordination but, otherwise, served the Union Army with distinction.

Except, of course, that he didn’t.

In reality Miles O’Reilly was a fictional character, created by a genuine Oldcastle man, the journalist, poet and soldier Charles Graham Halpine. But to the Union troops Miles was one of them, as real as General Ulysees Grant. And, on foot of his creation, for a brief period Halpine became one of the most read satirists in the USA, needling his own side in the Civil War and later, lampooning the corruption of New York City politics. He also risked his life to allow African Americans to assume a more meaningful role in the conflict.

Halpine was born in 1829. He was the son of Rev. Nicholas John Halpin a Church of Ireland curate in Oldcastle, Co.Meath who doubled as editor of the militantly unionist and Protestant Dublin Evening Mail who might not have been happy that his son was born in the year of Catholic Emancipation. Halpine flunked out of Trinity College at an early age and tried his luck, first in London, and then in New York. In the latter, his talent as a writer quickly emerged and had then to be set aside when the American civil war began in 1861.

Halpine possessed a wicked sense of humour. He was an accomplished literary hoaxer. A case in point, his most outrageous coup, involved a notorious pirate named Albert W.Hicks, who was the last man executed for piracy in the USA. He was hanged on Bedloe’s Island – where the statue of Liberty now stands – on 13 July 1860.

Halpine, bored with the news of the day, invented a story claiming that Hicks had been resuscitated after his hanging, and was making ready to exact retribution on the people of New York. Like Orson Welles and his infamous War of the Worldsbroadcast, the report caused consternation. For years afterwards there were people who believed that Hicks had actually made his escape, post mortem, from Bedloe’s Island.

After enlisting in the Union army in 1861 Halpine found himself operating as adjutant general in the staff of the maverick Union general David Hunter in South Carolina. Hunter, unilaterally and without Federal approval, began to recruit black soldiers around South Carolina and formed the first black unit in the Union army, the 1stCarolina (Africa descent). When this was challenged in Congress, and the black soldiers were described as ‘fugitive slaves’ Halpine was recruited to write a riposte to Hunter’s opponents. He rose to the occasion in style, describing Hunter’s recruits as:

 

A fine regiment of loyal persons whose late masters are ‘fugitive                 rebels’ … they are now, one and all, endeavouring with                                     commendable zeal to acquire the drill and discipline required to  place them in a position to go in full and effective pursuit of their  … traitorous proprietors

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For that, and related offences, Halpine and Hunter were placed on a Confederate death list, to be hanged immediately upon capture.

But his signature contribution to the war effort was the creation of the entirely fictional, but thoroughly believable, Private Miles O’Reilly, whose military career was avidly followed by readers of the New York Herald.

O’Reilly was a bad poet given to sarcastic gibes on the course of the war and the complete uselessness of the generals who were fighting it.  Halpine had him ‘clapped in irons’ for a poem about an overcautious Union Admiral, Rear Admiral John A.Dahlgren, or Dahlgreen as Miles labelled him for rhyming purposes. Dahlgren liked to preserve the integrity of his ships by never actually sending them into battle.

Miles was cashiered for writing this little ditty.

 

Oh! Dahlgreen,

It’s aisy to be seen

You like dry land so well

That seasick you’ve never been

I’ll not keep score

Your fleet is built for speed

What a pity that it never leaves the shore’

 

Halpine then has Miles pardoned by the President himself who immediately summons the Bard of Oldcastle to the White House to discuss policy. There Miles addresses Lincoln in the following terms.

 

Private O Reilly says that he was born at a place they call Ouldcastle . . .       and he is emphatic in declaring that he and seventeen of his O’Reilly          cousins, sixty-four Murphy cousins, thirty-seven Kelly cousins, twenty-        three Lanigan cousins. together with a small army of Raffertys,    Caffertys, Fogartys, Flanigans, Bradys, O’Rourkes, Dooligans, Oulahans,          Quinns, Flynns, Kellys, Murphys, O’Connors, O’Donnells, O’Driscolls,         O’Mearas, O’Tooles, McCartys, McConkeys, and McConnells— all his         own blood relations, many of them now in the service, and all decent   boys—would be both proud and happy to enlist or re-enlist for twenty years, if his Reverence’s Excellency the President would only oblige         them by declaring war . . .  against England.’

 

As it happens Halpine himself had met Lincoln on many occasions when he was assigned to work with the general staff in Washington. He regularly visited the White House with documents requiring Lincoln’s signature. The President had actually discussed with Halpine the possibility of being assassinated and described how easy it would be to murder him.

After the war Halpine continued to operate behind his alter-ego and turned Miles  on the corrupt machine politicians of New York. Sadly a burgeoning political career – Halpine’s not O’Reilly’s – ended when he died prematurely at the age of only thirty-eight. Had he lived he was set fair to become a significant figure in post-war American politics or letters, whichever he chose.

Charles Graham Halpine, creator of the pugnacious Meathman, Miles O’Reilly, died one hundred and fifty years ago, on this day.

 

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