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Lady Mary Heath – Irish Aviator

Early Irish Feminist Aviator Lady Mary Heath

When just 1 year old, she sat on her kitchen floor in a pool of blood, beside a mother who would never move again.

This is not the opening scene of a modern crime tv show, but the start of life in 1890’s rural Ireland for one of the world’s most daring and trailblazing aviators, who became known in later life as Lady Mary Heath.

The story begins with her mother, an attractive tall brunette named Kate Theresa Doolin, who started her life in a respected farming family (though a few of them were known to have a fondness for the drink, but sure who didn’t in Ireland back then?) with land at Causeway, near Tralee in County Kerry. When working in a nearby town, young Ms. Doolin met a handsome, wild and often charming man called Jackie Pierce (John Pierce-Evans). She took a job as housekeeper for his uncle in Knockaderry, near Newcastle West in County Limerick, and later married Jackie in a ceremony in Dublin City.

Their daughter, Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans, was born on the 10th November, 1896. Just a year later, she was being gathered up from her kitchen floor by distraught neighbours, taken from beside the cooling body of her mother, who had been bludgeoned to death with a stout stick earlier that day, by Sophie’s own father Jackie.

John Pierce-Evans was found guilty (but insane) at the murder trial, and locked up, while his daughter was brought to live with her Grandfather in Newcastle West, and raised in a rather restrictive fashion by her two maiden aunts there. Though she showed an early talent and passion for sports, her female relatives discouraged and even outright forbid this ‘unladylike’ interest. Sophie’s schooling brought her to County Cork, County Armagh, and finally to Dublin, where she could play hockey and tennis and excel at both. Third level education took her to the Royal College of Science in Ireland, as one of very few women there, but the country needed educated farmers and so she was allowed in. Sophie gained a top-class degree in science, specialising in agriculture, and played for the college hockey team.

World War 1 brought her to England and France, serving as a dispatch rider for 2 years, and by the time she moved from Ireland to Scotland, her reputation for being an “unsuitable” influence on women preceded her. Just after the war, Sophie received a University placement in Aberdeen, and as she had married her first husband, started life in the UK as Sophie Mary Eliott-Lynn. Her Irish aunts were aghast at the thought of the bad impression she might make on her young cousins, writing to their mother with the admonition “For Mercy’s sake, Lily, don’t let Sophie get hold of the girls.”

Moving from Scotland to London in 1922, it was clear sports had a firm hold of her. She helped found a Women’s Association which became the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association in 1926, and she served as the joint secretary while continuously campaigning for the inclusion of a full women’s programme at the Olympics. She set a world record for the High Jump, and became the first women’s javelin champion in Britain. In 1925 she had travelled as a delegate to the International Olympic Council, and it was there she first took flying lessons. Her book (the first of its kind), entitled ‘Athletics for Women and Girls’, was published the same year. By 1926 she was representing the UK at javelin at the Women’s International Games in Gothenburg, and came 4th, throwing 44.63 metres. Her Irish records for the shot and discus were not bettered until the 1960’s.

From 1925 through to 1929, Sophie was probably the most famous Irish woman on the planet. Those first few flying lessons turned into a burning passion for aviation, and she shifted her pioneering spirit to the skies. Though Amelia Earhart had been firing imaginations and setting records since 1922, Britain was not ready to embrace female liberation, and Sophie fought prejudice and ignorance to become the first woman in Britain or Ireland to get her commercial pilot’s license. Her test included proving to a panel of men that she could control an aircraft… at all times of the month.

Her first marriage had not been a happy one, and she was estranged from her husband, Major William Elliot Lynn, when he died in early 1927. Immediately she sought a new husband, preferably one who could finance her flying until she could make a living from it, and made a list of the wealthiest British bachelors. On selecting and marrying Sir James Heath – who was 45 years her senior – on 11 October 1927, she became Lady Heath (though she is often referred to as ‘Lady Mary Heath’). By then she had already set a number of altitude records for small aircraft, and also for a heavy Shorts seaplane. Lady Heath landed quite spectacularly in the middle of a football match after becoming the first woman to parachute from a plane, and in 1927, was the first female pilot to win an open race.

American newspapers loved her, calling her “Britain’s Lady Lindy” (after Charles Lindberg), but her exploits also made the front pages in Ireland, Britain, South Africa, France and the Netherlands. She planned to fly home from Lecturing in South Africa to become the first pilot, male or female, to fly a small open-cockpit aircraft from Cape Town to London, landing at Croydon Aerodrome. Taking off in January 1928, it took her 3 months rather than her planned weeks, but on the 17th May her Avro Avian biplane made a successful if bumpy landing in England. Despite having piloted and maintained the plane through 9,000 miles, then 32-year-old stepped to greet the swarming crowd looking fabulous in heeled shoes, silk stockings, pleated skirt, fur coat and a cloche hat.

Lady Heath was determined to earn her way as a pilot. She would give joyrides at air shows, and she often flew back to Ireland, where thousands would gather on her arrival to see the airplane and pay her to go up in it, if they could afford it. She’s remembered in Ballybunion, County Kerry, where she’d go to visit her aunt Cis, by local lads who still say “she was good at the sales talk”; there’d always be more ready to go up with her once the last lot had shakily departed her plane. She turned that silver tongue to lobbying for a job as a commercial pilot, and eventually succeeded with the Dutch airline KLM. Though it didn’t last – the Dutch and British Press turned on her quite viciously and she was losing her public standing very rapidly – for a time she flew as first officer on European routes. Another record was achieved – she was the first woman to fly a commercial aircraft.

Surprised and hurt by the European backlash she had received, Lady Heath took up an invitation to lecture and promote flying in the USA. She had met Amelia Earhart when the American crossed the Atlantic and landed in London, and invited her to fly in the Avro Avian. Earhart had been so impressed she had promptly bought the biplane and took it back to America with her. Following across the Atlantic made sense, and by then the proper training of pilots and ensuring reliable equipment had started to feature strongly for Lady Heath.

In July 1929, she wrote an article for Scientific American magazine, entitled ‘Is Flying Safe?’ Worldwide, flying had become very popular, and in Britain by then graduating pilots had to have at least 10 hours of instruction before they were let go up, with hundreds of men and women becoming pilots each year. Lady Heath believed that well-trained pilots, and construction standards, were the most important factors of airline safety. In Britain, in early 1928, 45,000 flights had been made with no accidents reported. She could see that America had the fastest growing commercial airline industry, with Stout Air Services in business since 1925, and passenger safety was a big concern.

Only a month after her article appeared, on 29 August 1929, Lady Heath crashed her plane into a roof while practising a dead-stick landing at the National Air Races in Cleveland. She sustained a fractured skull, broken nose and internal injuries, with newspapers reporting that her recovery was unlikely. She did survive, but the accident ended her piloting career. Her second marriage ended too; she divorced Lord Heath in 1930.

After remarrying (an English airman G.A.R. Williams in 1931), and moving back to Dublin, she founded her own private aviation company. She also founded the Irish Junior Aero Club, teaching young pilots to fly, and forming the bedrock for the national Aer Lingus airline which followed.

Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans, the great Lady Mary Heath, died of head injury following a fall while on a tramcar in 1939 – the fall was thought to have been caused by an old blood clot – at the age of 42.

Learn More Irish History on www.IrishPaganSchool.com

Ireland’s First Female Veterinarian

Portrait of Aleen Cust, Ireland's first female veterinarian

Veterinarians have been around for quite a while now.

From the Egyptian king Piyadasi, who made medicines available to animals as well as humans in 1900 BCE, and the Roman ‘Veterinarius’ who were mostly military doctors just for animals – we can trace the development of the field to the first official organisation – when English farriers banded together in 1356 CE under the patronage of the Lord Mayor of London, and decided to focus not just on hooves, but also care for injuries and illnesses in horses.

Veterinary training didn’t begin properly until the first college opened, in Lyon, France, in 1792, and the second opened a few years later, in Alfort near Paris, France. Europe was the hub of progress in the veterinary sciences, with the first American vets training in European colleges, until private veterinary schools began opening in the States through the 1850’s. The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) was founded in 1863, and the first US public university opened in Iowa in 1879.

Through all of this, there were certainly women worldwide who cured and cared for animals, some even making it their life’s work. But what do the records show for the official training and acceptance of women in the early years of veterinary practice?

The first records tell us precious little, unfortunately, but do at least preserve names, and some little information.

Nearly a hundred years after the first college opened, a Ukranian woman – whose name is written only as V. Dobrovoljskaja – made her way to study veterinary medicine in Zurich, Switzerland, as Russia did not allow women to study medicine then. She graduated in 1889, and was, as far as we know, the first qualified female veterinarian in the world… but little else is known of this early pioneer. Her fellow country woman Marija Kapčevič, who we do at least know was born near Lochnica in the Ukraine, travelled to France and attended the college in Alfort near Paris, graduating as a vet by 1896.

An Irish woman, Aleen Cust, began studying at the New Veterinary College in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1894. She was flouting the wishes of her family, and the ruling organisation – England’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. When they refused her the right to sit her final exams in 1900, she left Edinburgh and returned to Ireland without an official qualification.

Across the Atlantic in America, Mignon Nicholson attended the McKillips Private Veterinary College, Chicago, and graduated as a qualified veterinary Dr. in 1903, becoming the first US woman to do so.

Just a year before this, a 19 year old named Isabelle Bruce Reid (known as Belle to her 9 older siblings), had travelled not too far from her home in Melbourne to the Victoria Veterinary Institute, also in Melbourne, Australia. This young lady had the full support of her parents, a well to do couple of Scottish origin named Robert and Mary Jane Reid, who figured that the girl’s affinity for animals, especially horses, would stand to her better than the career she was eyeing for herself – singing soprano on stage. On completing her studies 4 years later, Belle Reid submitted herself for examination. She was one of only 5 final year students to do so, and the only one of them to achieve a pass. The minutes of the Institute’s Board meeting of 28th November 1906 record the results for the 4th year class, and the motion:

“Mr Beckwith moved that Miss Belle Reid be passed the 4th year Examination with 2nd class honours and that she be registered as a Vet Surgeon on payment of the usual fees. Sec. Mr Leitch, and agreed to”.

With this successful registration, she became the first formally recognized female veterinary surgeon in the world.

Dr. Reid set up her own veterinary practice that same year, living and working in the practice house until she took early retirement in 1923, at the age of 40. The conservative, male-dominated profession had only ever afforded her limited status or recognition, so in 1925 she moved to the thousand acre farm she had purchased with her sister May, and named it Blossom Park. A member of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and keen breeder of animals, she exhibited prize-winning Jersey cattle, Irish Wolfhound dogs, pigs and harness horses all over Australia. Belle Reid remained involved in caring for animals, and the management of Blossom Park farm right up until her illness and death in 1945.

While Dr. Reid’s practice down under was still in its fledgling years, two more worthy American women qualified as veterinarians: Elinor McGrath from Chicago Veterinary College, and Florence Kimball from New York State Veterinary College, both in 1910. With the turn of the century, major social and cultural shifts were happening across the States, bringing changes for the veterinary profession in general, and women’s rights in particular.

First, in industry and gradually in all cities – eventually even in the countryside – horses were replaced with cars, trucks, tractors, and motors of all sorts, which had a massive impact on the horse industry. By 1907, animal powered transport was pretty much gone from American cities. Even the start of World War 1, with the high demand for horses that brought, couldn’t save the animals, and hundreds of thousands were being slaughtered every year for glue and leather, and later on it continued as horse meat became popular for the new business of tinned pet food. This didn’t bode well for the US veterinarians of the time, most of whom were really just horse Doctors with little calling to tend to agricultural animals or pets.

Simultaneously, much political debate and public outcry was seen about the state of filthy slaughter houses, and in 1906 the ‘Pure Food and Drug Act’, and the ‘Meat Inspection Act’ were passed. Campaigns had been primarily led by female activists, who demanded accountability in the food industry practices to ensure the delivery of healthy, wholesome meat and dairy produce. Perhaps these early victories for women’s activist groups gave confidence to movements like the Suffragettes, whose first demonstration was in 1910, and paved the way for the cultural shift in following years. These acts also provided a major new employment avenue for the veterinary profession, and ensured there was government funding available to research animal disease.

It was in the midst of this change, in 1907, that Elinor McGrath became the first female to attend at Chicago Veterinary College. Her fellow students didn’t appreciate having a woman in their number, and gave her such a hard time of it that she went and spoke to the Dean, offering to leave the college. He dismissed the idea, reportedly saying: “well you better not because you’ll make a better veterinarian than any of them.” So, she stuck it out, graduating at the age of 22 as a Dr. of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in April 1910.

Florence Kimball had started her education a little earlier than her colleague; between 1903 and 1907 she attended Wheaton Seminary (later Wheaton College, in Norton Massachusetts), where she passed preclinical courses and decided to go on to study at New York State Veterinary College, graduating in 1910. Doctors McGrath and Kimball were ahead of the curve not just as women vets, but also because they both opened small animal veterinary practices, which were rather uncommon at the time. Dr. Kimball did leave her vet’s practice to go into nursing, but there’s no reason to believe this was because her practice was unsuccessful: a letter to her Dean Veranus Moore in the January following her graduation indicates that her caseload was more than satisfactory, and keeping her very busy.

By 1939, only 31 of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) were woman, compared to about 5,000 male vets. That is just 0.6 percent.
When Dorothy Segal enrolled in the Michigan State University pre-veterinary program in the 1930s, it was made obvious that there would be significant hurdles in front of the young women in her class.

Dr. Segal, now age 98, told the AVMA in an interview:

“There were seven girls in my class, and that was considered to be just an enormous amount. The dean at the time (Dr. Ward Giltner) did not want women. He said, ‘Go back to the kitchen.’ He literally said that. The first speech he gave was, ‘What are you doing here?’ and he was not joking.”

Only Dr. Segal, in 1943, and one other of those seven women graduated and became veterinarians.

The Association for Women Veterinarians (now the AWV, but known as Women’s Veterinary Medical Association until 1980) was started just a few years later, in 1947, by Dr. Mary K. Dunlap of Kansas City, Missouri, who felt the need to form an organization of women working in a male dominated profession, and right from the start they received hundreds of letters every year from women and girls asking how to become a veterinarian. Their Constitution includes the objective to “further the mutual advancement of women veterinarians in the science of veterinary medicine by bringing them together to share knowledge, support, and friendship.”

Support was needed as the percentage of women veterinarians dipped again in the 1950s, from 2 percent down to 1.6 percent. That may have been because World War II veterans were given priority, but schools also just flat out refused women a place to study. A refusal letter to a female applicant dated March 1957, from the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts ran like this:

“It is the policy of the Division of Veterinary Medicine at the Iowa State College not to admit women to the professional curriculum. Because of the limited educational facilities it has been necessary to restrict the number of new students who may be admitted. … Each year we receive more applications from men students than can be accommodated. If women were admitted, they would displace the same number of men. In many cases women are not physically equal to the educational requirements of the large animal clinics. … We are sorry to disappoint you.”

The ‘Federal Equal Pay Act’ in 1963 and ‘Civil Rights Act’ in 1964 barred job discrimination based on gender, theoretically, but by 1970, the AWV still had less than 750 members, and 89% of veterinary students were male.

It was with the ‘Educational Amendment’ in 1972 and the ‘Women’s Education Act’ in 1974 that real changes started to occur, as these new regulations prohibited gender discrimination at schools that received federal funds. This applied to veterinary schools to, and by 1975 the number of women attending American veterinary schools had doubled.

The growth in female vets has continued, though many difficulties have remained. Women in positions of power and leadership are still rare, for example the American Veterinary Medical Association didn’t elect its first female president, Dr. Mary Beth Leininger, until 1996.

Today though, women outnumber men in vet school by more than 3 to 1, and by 2007 there were 36,383 female veterinarians working in the United States (compared with 43,186 men) – that’s 46 percent of the profession. But the AMVA reported the graduating 2,489 students of that year comprised 75 percent female (1,873 students) and 25 male (616), and continues to drop… while the retiring vets were nearly 95 percent male.

The balance has tipped so far, in fact, that the AMVA tell of many students and administrators at veterinary colleges in the US think the profession needs men “to maintain a diversity of perspectives and reflect the country’s population”.

Some believe they should begin a campaign to actively recruit men – because heaven forfend that one gender would be disproportionately represented?!

Aleen Cust

Remember our Irish Ms. Aleen Cust, who had the temerity to defy not only her own family, but also England’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and study veterinary medicine in Scotland?
Well, though she left without sitting her exams, the college principal recommended her by letter, and a Dr. William Byrne, practising in Roscommon, Ireland, employed her as a Veterinary Assistant in defiance of the RCVS, despite being a member of their council. Indeed the support for her was such that when she announced her intention to run for the post of Veterinary Inspector in neighbouring County Galway, no other Vet in the area applied and she was appointed, with flagrant disregard for the stated disapproval of the RCVS.

By 1910, when America’s first female vets graduated from public colleges, Ms. Cust had been working solidly for 10 years, and was in a position to successfully take over and run the practice following the untimely death of Dr. Byrne. By war time in 1915, though still not recognised professionally by the British, she travelled to France in support of their army, to help treat warhorses there.

Legal changes in December 1919 forced the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to recognise her right to practice veterinary medicine, and she was finally allowed to sit final exams, receiving her diploma on December 21st 1922. And so Dr. Aleen Cust officially became the first female veterinary surgeon in Britain and Ireland, twenty two years after she had completed her training and started to practice.

Though she retired just two years later, she still attended professional meetings, and was an inspiration to female veterinary students until her death from heart failure while on holiday in Jamaica in 1937.

And indeed, she remains an inspiration to this day.


 

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Is the Mórrígan Recruiting?

Mórrígan's Army

As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.

8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.

I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog. [Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]

Iníon Preacháin asked: “Why do you feel She is showing such an interest in “recruiting” devotees (for lack of better terms) at this time?”

 

Okay, well, the short answer to that is: look around. The world needs Mórrígan devotees, or people who are doing the work for humanity and for communities.

The longer answer is, that it isn’t just at this time. She has been doing this for a long time, and she’s been preparing for a long time, and again, that’s my experience of it, but it also plays out in the lore.

Everybody talks about the Mórrígan as a battle goddess, and she absolutely is involved in battles because battles shape history and battles shape communities and wars are fought, the outcome of which is part of a much bigger picture, and it’s the bigger picture stuff that the Mórrígan is in charge of. In my experience.

And I think, though that is my experience, the lore plays that out, and her role as a prophet or goddess of prophecy is very much an integral part of that, but also her… I was gonna say ‘meddling,’ meddling is the wrong word, but her involvement in seemingly small things and small stories which end up playing a very big role in battles to come or in the outcome of certain battles or wars that are being fought, and changes.

She is a goddess of change.

At this time, we need somebody who knows what’s going on, absolutely, and she needs people on the ground doing the work that – y’know, she can lead the horse to water, but she can’t directly interfere with… I mean, she does directly interfere with people, with individuals, but she can’t shape things on a bigger scale herself. She has to do it through individuals. And I think that’s where the recruitment drive is coming from, but actually the recruitment drive has been going on for a long time. I think that it has become global, now, but this is not new.

This poem, it was one of my first calls from her. (Click to Read Poem)

It was written at Bealtaine of 2004. It’s from the Irish Witchcraft book, which was my first book, but actually she had been calling for a long time before that. I was tattooed with crows, for example, before this poem was written or that book was written. She’s been calling since, I would say, since the turn of the millennium. Since about 2000, there has been a very specific gathering of the forces in Ireland, on the ground in Ireland, around her sites, and the work that she has had me doing here has been to disseminate real information and education because that wasn’t happening back then. At all.

All through the 90s, there was a lot of shite about Irish traditions and Irish culture specifically, and very little that was real. Everybody was shit-scared of her, but really very little about her and certainly nothing of value about her was available to the general public – there wasn’t even the interest and the understanding that the source lore and the literature we have is so important to us now as modern pagans working with her. I mean, that just wasn’t there in the 90s.

Your average pagan now is, believe it or not, much better read and much more versed in the lore than your average pagan was back then. Just from the sheer availability, I think of it, with the coming of the Internet and the raised standards in publishing – and yes, they are raised, believe it or not again, you might not appreciate just how bad things used to be. There was a huge gap between academic research and the access that people could have to academia. Scholarship was very much far removed from the standard pagan community, except in small pockets and some individuals. And that was the teachers, never mind students.

So the work that she’s had me doing since she got her hooks in me is to try and bring some of that to the wider communities, and to teach people the importance of it. Now I’m not academic, I mean, I’ve studied psychology, but that was me going back as a mature student. The only other college learning I have is in art college, so that’s fuck-all useful to anybody, unless you’re artistic, which I am, or was at least, but…yes, so, I’m not an academic, but one of the things that she had me do was get my head around the literature and try and find ways to translate it. I don’t mean translate it from Old Irish – thankfully that work is being done but that is not my work, thank the gods, I’ve never had to learn Old Irish. Morgan Daimler is doing excellent work in that, poor Morgan, we’ll have her worked to death before she has the entire Ulster Cycle translated by the time I’m finished with her. And Isolde Carmody, who is one half of the Story Archaeology team, who you will hear lots and lots and lots about from me, has been doing sterling translation work too.

None of that work was being done at the time though, and the recruitment that we’re seeing now is just a step above that. It’s just where that has reached a kind of a critical mass where it’s spilling over into the wider world and really my feeling is that she was consolidating her base ground for the last decade and in the last five or so years things have kind of stepped up and moved on from that.

As ever, I’m wary of projecting my own stuff because that above has been very much my experience, but then as I started to travel away from my beloved isle and get out and about in the world, rather than everybody coming to me at the Cave and through Rathcroghan Heritage Centre – which is lovely and I much prefer, I have to say, I hate leaving Ireland, moan moan whine whine… Since I’ve started getting out and about in the world, I have noticed there is a mirroring of many people’s experience in that it’s not just my experience, it’s that now is the time.

There’s been a couple of organizations started up in recent years. The Coru Priesthood, for example, and I know some of our course members have started priesthoods in Texas and Connecticut, and eventually I will have to start one here in Ireland. I don’t want to be doing any of this work, to be honest. If I could get away with doing none of this work I would be totally getting away with that and living a much easier life, but my next project is going to be is a priesthood here in Ireland and I’m not sure what that’s going to look like, yet, but before of that I have a serious initiation I have to do, which again, I’ve been putting off because it’s scary.

A lot of that is going on here, and it is very much mirrored out in the world, and I think that the answer to it, to the question ‘why do I feel that there’s such an interest’, is because she’s so concerned with the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is fucked right now. Absolutely fucked.

Anybody in class (or reading this blog) who is not aware of just how fucked the bigger picture is on so many different levels – if you’re going to be on my Facebook, so you’ll find out very quickly if you’re not aware already… and awareness is the first key. It’s through educating ourselves that we understand the work that needs to be done on a big scale, but also on our doorstep and on ourselves.

Part of taking this course, I hope, is doing that work on yourself so that you’re ready then to do whatever work is needed of you out in the world.

 

[Author’s Note: this class was recorded pre Brexit, and pre Trump. And before Ireland had begun to step up and lead the free world with such fantastic examples of social justice and people power as the Marriage Equality Referendum, the Transgender Identity Bill, and our Referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment. FYI.]

 


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Don’t be a ‘Celtic’ Racist…

Don't be a Celtic Racist

This blog has a lot of new visitors, and I’m really glad to see that! But I also don’t want to be fooling anyone into being a part of a community with me if the fit isn’t right either, you know?

So, I figured I’d give ye a little dose of who I really am, like right down to the core. And if you don’t like that for any reason, and are actually a racist (whether you call yourself that or not) just jog on. Simple!

First off, I use a lot of sweary words. My son (12yo) got a bit scandalised a while back hearing me chatting with Eilís on a ‘Your Irish Connection’ — Check it Here —  interview on my Youtube Channel, because I was cursing – “That’s not very professional Mam!”, says he. Well… it is what it is.

Second off, it’s not just my personal belief and lived experience that all people are equal and deserve the same human rights and safe community and care… it’s a fundamental part of the Irish experience. There’s a whole lot of bullshit floating around in the European Heritage communities that’s basically, and sometimes overtly (I’m looking at you Carolyn Emerick, mega shitehawk and peddler of appropriative racist codswallop), white supremacy, fascism, and neo nazi nonsense.

That’s not who the Irish are, or ever were.

Look, we’re not perfect. Modern Ireland can be really ignorant at times, and our lack of exposure to other cultures can be painfully obvious in the unthinking attitudes and beliefs of the people – but as a nation we truly, genuinely care for our fellow people all over the globe. We’re ranked the ninth most generous country in the world, and given the economic climate of the last few years, that’s pretty fucking cool.

It goes back further than modern charitable donations though. Even back to a time when we were on the brink of another famine, severely under the thumb of english rule and SUFFERING… we were still aware and working to support the civil rights movement in America.

Consider a quote from Daniel O’Connell, in 1843:

“How can the generous, the charitable, the humane, and the noble emotions of the Irish heart have become extinct amongst you? How can your nature be so totally changed as that you should become the apologists and advocates of the execrable system which makes man the property of his fellow man – destroys the foundation of all moral and social virtues – condemns to ignorance, immorality and irreligion, millions of our fellow creatures …? It was not in Ireland that you learned this cruelty…Over the broad Atlantic I pour forth my voice saying come out of such a land you Irishmen, or if you remain and dare continue to countenance the system of slavery that is supported there, we will recognize you as Irishmen no longer!”
– Daniel O’Connell. (irishamerica.com/2011/08/the-irish-abolitio…)

Irish people have ALWAYS held kinship with the minorities, the downtrodden, the immigrants, the unwanted, the pillaged, the ethnically cleansed. We have been them, and our hearts remember. Our warrior spirit fights alongside those who need our support.

Here’s your Irish Connection Resources on this topic, mo chairde. [click the headlines for links]

Daniel O’Connell upon American slavery : with other Irish testimonies.

(by O’Connell, Daniel, 1775-1847. Publication date 1860. Topics Slavery — United States)

 

Frederick Douglass Photograph: MPI/Getty Images

Frederick Douglass’s Irish Odyssey

Tom Chaffin, writing for the Irish Times, assesses the influence of his time in poverty-ridden and religiously divided Ireland, on the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass. To the end of his life, he fondly remembered his 1840s lecture tour of Ireland and the welcoming reception he had been accorded. And though many Irish-Americans often opposed his civil rights efforts, he also viewed the Irish, in both Ireland and America, as a persecuted people.

Remember your roots. #MyIreland
But you know what else?
THE IRISH WERE NEVER SLAVES.

 

On this oft debated and regularly cited notion that is used to defend and prop up white nonsense on a depressingly regular basis, the absolute authority lies with Limerick historian Liam Hogan.

Here’s all of His Work on the “Irish slaves” meme (2015–’18)


 

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Northern Ireland – A Beginner’s Guide

Northern Ireland Map of the 6 Counties
A Beginner’s Guide?Eh…. how far back should I go? Because what you’ve heard about ‘The Troubles’ is only the tip of the iceberg, really.

The Normans, perhaps? ​Strongbow was a Norman lord from Wales who started the Norman conquest of Ireland, around 1170. Though some of them ‘went native’ and were absorbed into Gaelic (Irish) culture, that was maybe the start of the disparagement and racism against the Irish in our own land.

The Tudor Conquest began with Henry VIII in 1536, and he’d declared himself King of Ireland by 1541. That continued through Elizabeth, and James I, and ended (officially) with the ‘Flight of the Earls‘ in 1607.

We were firmly under the English boot by then. Through the 1500s and 1600s CE we’d been subjected to the Plantations, where ownership of our land was forcibly stripped by the English crown, and re-settled with citizens from England. This officially ended in the 1650s with thousands of Parliamentarian soldiers settled in Ireland under the direction of Oliver Cromwell. Ulster was a hotspot for plantation settlement, and this created large strongholds of communities with British and Protestant identity.

English settlers in Ireland did not think highly of our native Gaelic, and by that time firmly Catholic, culture…

How godly a deed it is to overthrow so wicked a race the world may judge: for my part I think there cannot be a greater sacrifice to God.
– Edward Barkley, describing how the forces of the Earl of Essex slaughtered the entire population of Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim, 1575

All wisdom advises us to keep this [Irish] kingdom as much subordinate and dependent on England as possible; and, holding them from manufacture of wool (which unless otherwise directed, I shall by all means discourage), and then enforcing them to fetch their cloth from England, how can they depart from us without nakedness and beggary?
– Lord Stafford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in a letter to King Charles I, 1634

They kept us poor, and beholden to our overlords.Like all clever abusers they fostered mistrust and betrayal among neighbours and communities, taught us over the course of hundreds of years to hate our own culture, our language, our customs – to see ourselves as less than them.

They took our natural resources, the strength of our labour, and grew rich off the skin of our backs, ate well and drank merry while our people drowned in blood, sweat, and tears. They fed us slave food – this, the Irish potato, and when it failed us they refused to allow us to eat of anything else fed from our own lands, grown from our own rich soil.

You’ve all heard of “the Famine” I’m sure, but first the Irish Famine of 1740 killed at least 38% of our 2.4 million population; proportionally, a greater loss than during the worst years of the Great Famine of 1845–1852. In that time, we lost more than a million people to starvation, and a million more to forced emigration, and they said it was our fault.

…being altogether beyond the power of man, the cure had been applied by the direct stroke of an all-wise Providence in a manner as unexpected and as unthought of as it is likely to be effectual.

The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated. …The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.
– Charles Trevelyan, head of administration for famine relief, 1840s

[existing policies] will not kill more than one million Irish in 1848 and that will scarcely be enough to do much good.
– Queen Victoria’s economist, Nassau Senior

We fought them though.Weak, and poor, and downtrodden – we fought them.

The United Irishmen (and women) Rebellion in 1798 was perhaps the beginning of the first organised attempts to overthrow the oppressors in hundreds of years, and it officially started in Belfast in 1791 (read my post about Vinegar Hill). A counter campaign of martial law used tactics such as house burnings, torture of captives, pitch-capping and murder, particularly in Ulster where large numbers of Catholics and Protestants had joined in common cause. That just couldn’t stand.

The Act of Union in 1801 was a betrayal, and highlighted a particularly Catholic vs Protestant struggle for Catholic emancipation, and following from that the ​​The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB; in Irish: Bráithreachas Phoblacht na hÉireann) began in 1858 – it was a secret oath-bound fraternal organisation dedicated to the establishment of an “independent democratic republic” in Ireland.

And then, my dear Readers, our Troubles became focused in ‘the North’.

Tensions were rising and we seemed on the brink of civil war from 1912, with opposition to ‘Home Rule‘ from Ulster Unionists, who formed the ‘Ulster Volunteers’, which led to Irish Nationalists forming the ‘Irish Volunteers’. World War 1 averted some of the crisis, but it didn’t go away anywhere.

Of course the famed Easter Rising didn’t happen in a vacuum, and we’ve just celebrated the 100 year anniversary of that these last few months, so we’re very much into recent history now after a run down of what… nearly 750 years of English rule? The history of that is well know, I guess, though the depth and breadth of it is often glossed over and washed green instead of red, swathed in beer and rebel ballads.

The Partition of Ireland was the division of the island of Ireland which created two distinct political territories – Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, as it was called at the time, on the 3rd of May in 1921, under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Today we still call the 6 counties ‘Northern Ireland’, and it is a self governing part of the larger ‘United Kingdom’, with Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and England. The rest of the island is a sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland, or just called Ireland.

To refer to us now as ‘Southern Ireland’ is offensive. To say we are part of “Great Britain” will get you verbally slapped at least, and even though technically and geographically our island can be classed as part of the ‘British Isles’, if you’ve read this far you may now have an inkling of why it might rankle and burn to be proprietorially inferred as owned by Britain in such a way.

I’ve brought you this far, through 800 years of systematic oppression and genocide, shown you the seeds that were planted on our island that were cultivated and grew to be ‘the North’.

I didn’t grow up there. I’m reluctant to talk about the horrors that direct immersion in ‘the Troubles’ has brought for the people who did.

My great grandparents, my grandparents and their siblings were directly involved, and maybe even my parents or their siblings, I don’t know. We don’t talk about the more recent loyalties and actions in the same way as we tell stories which are a generation or two removed. I can tell you the stories I’ve heard of the Black and Tans that make me want to scream when I see a product named this way in ignorance, my awareness and fears through the long years of Bombings in the North, and the Republic, and in the heart of England too – and if you ever order an ‘Irish Car Bomb’ drink in my presence you will not be in my presence for much longer, of that you can be sure.

I can share memories of crossing into the North, across the border, maybe once or twice… and the soldiers aiming guns at us frightened kids in the back of the car, their harsh questions and suspicious peering, poking, prodding with the tip of a machine gun.

I can tell you of the confusion and anger I felt when I first learned of the Hunger Strikes, at the age of 4 or 5 years old, and later on when I understood the dirty protests, and the stark reality of a person starving themselves to death for what they believed. Of how the energy of hunger has seeped so thoroughly into this land that it seems forever stained with the raw, gnawing, hollowed out fear and pain of starvation, and how teenage me was tormented by that before I even knew what it was, or how to manage it and protect myself from the ravenous pockets of it that are a part of our landscape. And maybe even begin to heal some of that, in time.

And I can tell you of the sweet, cautious, dawning of hope with the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, two weeks before my 20th birthday. That unsteady peace has grown, and things have stabilised in the North for the first time any of us can remember.

Nearly one year ago now (24th June 2016), we woke to the news that Britain had voted to exit the EU – Brexit – and still nobody knows what that means for Northern Ireland. I’m not going to speculate on that… but about the only good I saw from the last year’s news and social media chatter is the idea that both Unionists and Nationalists in the North may be agreed that leaving the United Kingdom is the way forward for Northern Ireland.

Borders have always been a problem for us, as you can perhaps imagine.

And now? Theresa May getting in bed with the DUP?
Those of us who know the DUP of old, are very, very certain… this will not end well.

Note: Throughout the article are clickable direct links to further resources… which I’ve kept to general Wikipedia articles to aim for as much source neutrality as possible. Please do educate yourself further, as this article is only scratching the surface.


 

 

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First President of Ireland – Douglas Hyde

Douglas Hyde

‘We need not claim that in quantity and quality of achievement he was great as a writer; but we surely can say that he did write well, that he did help others to write greatly – that he did help Irish letters, in all its branches, to be native, continuous, rooted, branching and fruitful.’

Robert Farren, ‘Douglas Hyde the Writer’, in Irish Press (14 July 1949) [obituary notice on the day following his death]

A boy, transplanted to Roscommon soil – in an alien garden; he not only put down firm roots, but proceeded to flourish and bloom like no other before him, to cross pollinate thoughts and ideas that would wake and revive the native life, all the while respecting, caring for and nurturing the fields and gardens which surrounded him – Douglas Hyde.

 

Born by accident in County Roscommon, on 17th January 1860; while his mother, Elizabeth, was on a short visit to Longford House, in Castlerea.  Raised in his father’s Church of Ireland rectory in County Sligo, Hyde didn’t return to Roscommon until he was 7 years old.  His father, Arthur, was appointed Rector and Prebendary (a type of Canon) of Tibohine, and the family moved to the village of Frenchpark in 1867.

There were 4 brothers, but the youngest, Douglas, was educated at home due to illness, by his father and his aunt.  At the time, Irish people were still suffering the after effects of the extreme poverty and denigration of the Big Famine.  An Gorta Mór, ‘the Great Hunger’, took about a million people in death, and approximately another million in emigration.  That was about 25% of our population.  And the anger that remained!  The loss and grief were terrible, but the anger and frustration felt by the Irish people equaled, and even surpassed it – to know that there was plenty of food all along, grown on our land, with our labour, and leaving our country to grace the tables of Landlords and their class, while our children starved to death.

The Irish ‘peasantry’ were suffering and struggling still by the time Hyde was born, to a county that was among the worst affected.  His family were well off, of a higher class, and it would have been unseemly for their child to mingle with the peasantry.

But mingle he did.  In particular, he was fascinated by listening to the older people in the community speaking the Roscommon Gaeilge dialect.  He became friends with an old Gilly on his father’s estate, a gamekeeper by the name of Seamus Hart.  The job title ‘Gilly’, by the way, comes from the old Irish term Giolla, meaning servant or slave.  The Irish language was deemed coarse, backward, savage – old-fashioned, at best.  It had been made shameful to speak it, to teach it to your children.  Parents were convinced that their children would never, ever, get anywhere, progress at all in life unless they could speak with a proper English tongue.  But to the young Douglas Hyde, the language was lyrical, eternally pleasant to listen to, witty and wise and unendingly beautiful.  He fell in love with the Irish language, and began to study it of his own accord.

The boy would roam the estates, and the countryside, listening to the stories, exploring the ancient places, talking to the older people in their own tongue. Learning.  He loved the legends of Rathcroghan, home of Queen Meadbh (Maeve) and Gaelic royalty for over 2000 years.  He carved his name in Uaimh na gCait, the Cave of the Cats – fabled entrance to the Irish Otherworld.  He was devastated when Seamus Hart died, 7 years later, when Hyde was just 14.  He flagged a bit, stopping his studies of the language and the culture, but his interest and passion began to rally when over the course of a few visits to Dublin he discovered there were others like him; groups of people who wanted to preserve and speak the Irish language, to whom it was just as important and wonderful as he found it to be.

Hyde rejected family pressure to follow their traditional career in the Church, and instead went to Trinity College, Dublin, where his flair for languages continued into fluency in French, German, Latin, Hebrew and Greek.

 

At the age of 20 (1880), he joined the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language, and published over a hundred pieces of Irish language poetry under his pen name An Craoibhín Aoibhinn, ‘the Pleasant Little Branch’.  The Irish Language movement was viewed as eccentric at first, the province of bored academics looking for novel ways to spend their time.

But it gained respect, and a huge following, steadily in the years to follow.  Hyde was a huge influence on this, helping to establish the Gaelic Journal in 1892, and speaking publicly on topics such as “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland”, where he said:

But the Irish language is worth knowing, or why would the greatest philologists of Germany, France, and Italy be emulously studying it, and it does possess a literature, or why would a German savant have made the calculation that the books written in Irish between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, and still extant, would fill a thousand octavo volumes…

We must arouse some spark of patriotic inspiration among the peasantry who still use the language, and put an end to the shameful state of feeling — a thousand-tongued reproach to our leaders and statesmen — which makes young men and women blush and hang their heads when overheard speaking their own language…

To a person taking a bird’s eye view of the situation a hundred or five hundred years hence, believe me, it will also appear of greater importance than any mere temporary wrangle, but, unhappily, our countrymen cannot be brought to see this…

We must teach ourselves to be less sensitive, we must teach ourselves not to be ashamed of ourselves, because the Gaelic people can never produce its best before the world as long as it remains tied to the apron-strings of another race and another island, waiting for it to move before it will venture to take any step itself…

I appeal to everyone whatever his politics — for this is no political matter — to do his best to help the Irish race to develop in future upon Irish lines, even at the risk of encouraging national aspirations, because upon Irish lines alone can the Irish race once more become what it was of yore — one of the most original, artistic, literary, and charming peoples of Europe.

The following year, the same in which he married a German lady by the name of Lucy Cometina Kurtz (1893), Douglas Hyde helped found the ‘Gaelic League’, Conradh na Gaedhilge, to preserve and promote Irish culture and language.  Contrary to other organisations of the time, Conradh na Gaedhilge accepted women as full members right from the start, and did not assign them to subordinate roles.   Many notable women, such as Lady Esmonde, Lady Gregory, and Mary Spring Rice, played an active part in establishment of the League, and in leadership roles in their local communities.  At the 1906 annual convention, out of 45 executive roles, 7 were filled by women.  Hyde resigned in 1915, when the League formally committed to the Nationalist political movement, as he felt that the culture and importance of our language should be above politics.  His influence though, was huge, as many of the prominent Irish leaders (such as Earnest Blythe, Pádraig Pearse, Éamon De Valera, and Michael Collins) first became educated and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement with Conradh na Gaedhilge.

It seems he tried his best to stay out of politics, and returned to the life of academia.  He did get sucked in briefly, accepting a nomination to Seanad Eireann, the Irish Senate, after the creation of the new Irish state.  But things got messy in 1925, and a Catholic smear campaign caused the loss of his electoral seat, so he settled in to be Professor of Irish at UCD (University College Dublin), instead.  In 1938 though, then Taoiseach (Irish political leader) Éamon de Valera, re-appointed him to the Seanad.  From here he was nominated and elected uncontested to the position of An tÚachataráin, first President of the Irish Republic, on 26th June 1938.  Although the President could choose either English or Irish in which to recite the Presidential Declaration of Office, Hyde set the precedent by (unsurprisingly) declaring in his chosen native tongue.  His speech, the first ever recitation of the Irish Republic’s President, is one of the few remaining recordings of the now lost Roscommon dialect in which he was fluent.

He was a very popular president, cultivating friendship with many world leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and the English King George V, but due to ill health decided not to run for a second term, leaving office on 25th June 1945.  He never returned to Roscommon, his wife having died early in his presidential term, but moved to a residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, the President’s Residence in the Phoenix Park, Dublin; where he died quietly on 12th July 1949, at the age of 89.  Douglas Hyde is buried with his family at Portahard Church, which is now the Douglas Hyde Museum, beside the Main N5 road between Tulsk and Frenchpark, in County Roscommon.

The Irish Poet and Writer W.B. Yeats had this to say on Douglas Hyde:

‘He had much frequented the company of old countrymen, and had so acquired the Irish language, and his taste for snuff, and for moderate quantities of a detestable species of illegal whiskey distilled from the potato by certain of his neighbours’…

‘the cajoler of crowds, and of individual men and women … and for certain years young Irish women were to display his pseudonym Craoibhin Aoibhin in gilt letters upon their hat-bands’.

‘The man most important for the future was certainly Dr Douglas Hyde. I had found a publisher while still in London for his Beside the Fire and his Love Songs of Connacht and it was the first literary use of the English dialect of the Connacht country people that had aroused my imagination for those books. His faculty was by nature narrative and lyrical, and at our committees […] he gave me an impression of timidity or confusion. His perpetual association with peasants, whose songs and stories he took down in their cottages from early childhood when he learned Irish from an old man on a kitchen floor, had given him. Though a strong man, that cunning that is the strength of the weak. He was always diplomatising, evading as far as he could prominent positions and the familiarity of his fellows that he might escape jealousy and detraction. […] He never spoke his real thought […] for his mind moved among pictures, itself indeed a premise but never an argument. In later years the necessities of Gaelic politics destroyed his sense of style and undermined his instinct for himself. He ceased to write in that delicate, emotional dialect of the people, and wrote and spoke, when he spoke in public, from coarse reasoning’.

He said Hyde ‘wrote out of imitative sympathy’; he was to create a popular movement (the Gaelic League) but Yeats nonetheless mourned for ‘the greatest folklorist who ever lived’… ‘his style is perfect – so sincere and simple – so little literary’.


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The Irish National Anthem

National Anthems come about, not because of the suitability of the particular words or notes, but because they are adopted generally by the nation. That is exactly how the “Soldiers’ Song” became a National Anthem in this country. It happened to be the Anthem on the lips of the people when they came into their own and when the outsiders evacuated the country and left the insiders here to make the best or the worst of the country. It was adopted by the people here before ever it was adopted by the Executive Council.

Thomas F. O’Higgins, speaking at a Dáil debate on the “Soldiers’ Song” in 1933.

Did you know there are 3 whole other verses to ‘Amhrán na bhFiann‘, which has been the national anthem of the Republic of Ireland since 1926 (officially)?  What we generally hear is just the chorus – which is the only part of the song that’s the official Irish anthem, mind you – but many of my generation don’t even know the words to that much.

When I was growing up, you’d hear it on the telly when the stations were shutting down for the night.  Yeah, they used to do that, genuine downtime – weird isn’t it?  You’d hear it after the show in cinemas and theatres, and at the end of every disco or dance.

It was written in 1907 by Peadar Kearney and Patrick Heaney, called “A Soldier’s Song”, and first published by ‘Irish Freedom’ – a monthly publication by the Irish Republican Brotherhood – in 1912.  The Irish Volunteers sang it on the march, in the internment camps, and the rebels sang it in the GPO during the Easter Rising.

Most of the versions you’ll see online will be just the chorus, but you can Click Here to Get the Full Vocals.  If anybody wants to link to a more, shall we say, pleasant sounding or better quality version, please do in the comments below.  Or y’all who can sing could sing it out for us, and upload or send it over to me.  Ideal!

Most of us though, should learn the words as best we can.  It’s not just a political formality – this is the song your ancestors sung for their freedom.  The lyrics to the national anthem of Ireland are as follows, in Irish and English… but nobody sings it in English.

As Gaeilge

1.
Seo dhibh a cháirde duan oglaidh
Caithréimeach, br’oghmhar, ceolmhar.
ár dteinte cnámh go buacach táid,
`S an spéir go min réaltógach.
Is fionmhar faobhrach sinn chun gleo
‘S go tiúnmhar glé roimh tigheacht do’n ló,
Fa ciúnas chaoimh na h-oidhche ar seol,
Seo libh, cana’dh amhrán na bhFiann.Curfa
Sinne Fianna Fáil atá fé gheall ag Éirinn
Buion dár slua thar toinn do ráinig chugainn
Fémhóid bheith saor. Seantír ár sinsir feasta
Ní fhagfar fé’n tiorán ná fé’n tráil
Anocht a théam sa bhearna bhaoil,
Le gean ar Ghaeil chun báis nó saoil
Le guna screach fé lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann.2.
Cois banta réidhe, ar árdaibh sléibhe.
Ba bhuadhach ár rinnsear romhainn,
Ag lámhach go tréan fá’n sár- bhrat séin
Tá thuas sa ghaoith go seolta;
Ba dhúthchas riamh d’ár gcine cháidh
Gan iompáil riar ó imirt áir,
‘Siubhal mar iad i gcoinnibh rámhaid
Seo libh, canaidh amhrán na bhFiann.Curfa

3.
A buidhean nach fann d’fuil Ghaoidheal is Gall
Sinn breacadh lae na saoirse,
Tá sgéimhle ‘s sgannradh ‘ gcroidhthibh namhad,
Roimh ranngaibh laochra ár dt’re;
ár dteinte is tréith gan spréach anois,
Sin luinne ghlé san spéir anoir,
‘S an b’odhbha i raon na bpiléar agaibh:
Seo libh, canaidh amhrán na bhFiann.

Curfa

In English

(seriously, NOBODY sings it in English)
We’ll sing a song, a soldier’s song
With cheering, rousing chorus
As round our blazing fires we throng,
The starry heavens o’er us;
Impatient for the coming fight,
And as we wait the mornings light
here in the silence of the night
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.Chorus
Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland
Some have come from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free, no more our ancient Ireland
Shall shelter the despot or the slave;
tonight we man the Bearna Baoghal
In Erin’s cause. Come woe or weal;
‘Mid cannon’s roar and rifle’s peal
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.2.
In valley green or towering crag
Our fathers fought before us,
And conquered ‘neath the same old flag
That’s floating o’er us,
We’re children of a fighting race
That never yet has known disgrace,
And as we march the foe to face,
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.Chorus

3.
Sons of the Gael! Men of the Pale!
The Long watched day is breaking;
The serried ranks of Innisfail
Shall set the tyrant quaking.
Our camp fires now are burning low;
See in the east a silvery glow,
Out yonder waits the saxon foe,
So chant a soldier’s song.

Chorus (repeat as if life depends on it)

 


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Vinegar Hill

In 1798, the United Irishmen Rebellion – between May and September – led to over 20,000 deaths, and some estimates would place the toll as high as 50,000.  The Irish were still suffering under the Penal Laws, a system of rule which was called “a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man”, and they’d simply had all they could take.

Vinegar Hill was the base camp for the Wexford Irish Rebels, an estimated troupe of about 20,000 men and women, and even some children who were there seeking shelter, God love them.  The Irish were armed, for the most part, not with firearms or black powder, but with long wooden pikes – a spear between 10ft and 22ft long (up to about 6m), topped with a spearhead of iron or steel.  On 21st June, 1798, about 15,000 British troops, well armed with musket and cannon, attacked the rebel camp in an attempt to crush the insurgency completely.  The Rebel Irish were woken to an artillery bombardment just before dawn, and though they tried at least twice to charge the British lines and break through the encircling forces, they were driven back each time.

A detachment of about 5,000 British soldiers were, at the same time, trying to take the bridge across the River Slaney at Enniscorthy.  Although the Irish were slowly driven out of their barricaded buildings in the town, they held the bridge.  There are recorded tales of stalwart leadership and valorous women, as well as the ensuing horrific atrocities.  Though the Irish had to abandon the hill, the town, and make a tactical withdrawal to re-group the rebellion to the West and North, the battle wasn’t quite the defeat to the Wexford rebels that is often depicted.  You can get the full story and decide for yourself at the distinctively designed National 1798 Rebellion Centre, located just off the N11 and N30 roads.  They are open all year round, and an adult ticket is just €5.50, but check their website for times and full details.

This is Vinegar Hill, in Templeshannon, Co. Wexford, in the South East of Ireland.  The Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) number is WX020-032.  For your Sat Nav, the GPS co-ordinates are 52.503266, -6.553774, and it’s in Irish State guardianship, not ownership, so you don’t have permission to walk the site out across the hill, unless you meet the landowner.

The closest hotel is the Riverside Park Hotel, which can be busy and a bit noisy on weekends but great for those who want to experience some of the culture in historic Enniscorthy.  There’s a great B&B not too far away on the other side of town, Teach Failte, which does a fantastic breakfast and has a warm family welcome.  For something good to eat, the Bailey Café Bar is in a handy location, with free parking, and does a very busy lunch trade for good reason.  Treacey’s Hotel does a great Sunday lunch and The Alamo is hard to beat.  You’re spoiled for choice round here!

From Enniscorthy, head out over the river to the R744, turning off to the right at first crossroads (signposted ‘Vinegar Hill’).  You’re following those brown heritage signs out the road, until you reach GPS 52.500836, -6.547658, and there’s another one there pointing up a narrow lane.  Follow it to the end, and you’ll be looking out across the hill where the battle took place.

 


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