This Week in the History of the Irish: November 8 - November 14

DOMHNAIGH -- On November 8, 1987, in one of the most widely condemned actions of the "Troubles," an IRA bomb killed 11 at the annual Remembrance Day celebration in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. Just before 11 a.m., as a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the World War I fallen was to begin at the town's war memorial, a bomb exploded without warning.

(Right: The War Memorial in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, site of an IRA bomb attack November 8, 1987)

Many people were buried as part of the three-story St. Michael's Reading Rooms crashed down from the force of the blast. In addition to the 11 killed, 63 were injured. Among those who died later that day in the hospital was the daughter of Gordon Wilson, who was injured in the blast himself. Wilson would give an interview to a BBC reporter that night in which he mourned his daughter's death, but also accepted her death as part of God's plan and professed no ill will toward those responsible; it was one of the most poignant interviews in the history of the centuries-old "Troubles." His moving words were later credited with discouraging Loyalist paramilitary groups from retaliating for the attack. From governments and individuals all over the world messages of condolences for the victims and condemnation for the bombers poured into the six counties of the North. Lead singer Bono of the Irish rock group U2 condemned the bombing from the stage during the band's American tour. The terrible human tragedy would prove to be one of the worst public-relations disasters ever for the Provisional IRA.

National Library of Ireland
James Napper Tandy

LUAIN -- On November 9, 1791, James Napper Tandy convened the first meeting of the Dublin United Irishmen. Tandy had been a member of the Volunteers, who helped force the formation of Grattan's parliament in 1782. Earlier in 1791, Tandy had assisted Theobald Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell in the formation of the United Irishmen and became the secretary for the Dublin branch. In 1793, he was forced to flee to the United States to avoid arrest for also being a member of the Defenders. He traveled to Paris in 1798, anxious to participate in any French assistance to an Irish rising. There he was appointed a general by the French government but came into conflict with many of the other United Irishmen already there, including Wolfe Tone. While in France, Tandy boasted that he could set Ireland ablaze with revolution with only a handful of French troops. The French took him at his word and sent him off to Ireland with 370 Grenadiers, aboard a corvette on the same day that Hubert's larger force won their famous battle at Castlebar. Tandy's actions in life had, for the most part, been admirable thus far, but the next part of his life reads like some bad comic-opera. Landing at Rutland Island off the coast of Donegal, Tandy distributed a proclamation to the people hoping to incite them to rise up. Tandy drank to excess that evening at the home of the local postmaster (who happened to be an acquaintance of his), and it was said that he had to be carried back to the ship, which set sail again that morning. Tandy would later be arrested in Hamburg, Germany, and delivered to the British, who tried him and sentenced him to death. But they did not execute him, perhaps because there was some question whether they had violated international law in seizing him. He was released and sent back to France. He died in Bordeaux on August 24, 1803. He would later be immortalized in the song "Wearing of the Green."

MÁIRT -- On November 10, 1896, Lady Mary Heath (born Sophie Catherine Pierce), pioneer aviator and athlete, was born in Newcastlewest, County Limerick. Sophie was brought up in Newcastlewest and Dublin, where she attended a boarding school. At the outbreak of World War I, she went to England and served as a dispatch rider for the Royal Flying Corps. There she acquired an army-officer husband, William Elliot-Lynn, and perhaps an interest in flying as well.

(Right: Newcastlewest Historical Society - Lady Mary Heath in 1928)

After the war, Sophie was active in women's sports. She helped to found the British Women's Amateur Athletic Association and assisted in getting women allowed into the Olympic Games. In 1925, she began her active interest in flying and was soon a full-fledged pilot. In 1926, she became the first woman in England to earn a Commercial Pilot's License and the first to make a parachute jump. Sophie would go on to set several aviation firsts, including the first solo flight from Cape Town, South Africa, to London. (The plane she flew on the flight would later be bought by American aviatrix Amelia Earhart.) In 1929, she toured the United States lecturing and doing flying demonstrations and was badly injured in a crash in Cleveland, Ohio. She was soon back giving demonstrations, however. Her lifestyle made normal relationships difficult; by 1929, she was married to her third husband. Sophie changed her name to Lady Mary Heath when she married her second husband, Sir James Heath. After returning to Ireland, Lady Heath bought and attempted to run an airline, but it failed, as did her third marriage. She moved to England, but once there she developed a drinking problem and her health began to fail. She suffered a bad fall on a public bus and died in May 1939.

VOICES

'I met with Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand
Saying, how is old Ireland? And how does she stand?
She's the most distressful country that ever yet was seen;
They are hanging men and women for the wearing of the green!

         -- From the lyrics of "The Wearing of the Green"

BIRTHS

November - Samhain

8, 1847 - Bram Stroker (Author)
8, 1921 - Aloysius Paul McGonigal (U.S. Army Chaplain and Silver Star awardee - Philadelphia, PA)
9, 1826 - Eduardo Butler y Anguita (Admiral in the Spanish navy, Cádiz)
9, 1893 - Liam Lynch, (Irish rebel leader during the Irish War of Independence  Barnagurraha, Co. Limerick)

10, 1774 - Oliver Goldsmith (Author - Pallas, Co. Longford)
10, 1879 - Patrick Pearse (Revolutionary - Dublin)
10, 1893 - Julia Canny (Nun who survived the Hiroshima bombing, Upper Kilbeg, Co. Galway)

10, 1896 - Lady Mary Heath (nee Pierce) (Pioneer aviator and athlete - Newcastlewest, Co. Limerick)
11, 1873 - Daniel Daly (Double Medal of Honor winner - Glen Cove, NY)
12, 1819 - Mary Sophia Hill (American Civil War nurse – Dublin)
14, 1908 - Joseph McCarthy (Controversial U.S. Senator – Grand Chute, WI)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

8, 1960 - An Irish peacekeeping force ambushed in the Congo, causing first overseas combat deaths of the Irish Republic.
8, 1987 
- IRA bomb kills 11 at Remembrance Day celebration in Enniskillen.
9, 1791
- Napper Tandy convenes first meeting of Dublin's United Irishmen.
10, 1798
 - Tone tried and convicted by court-martial in Dublin; sentenced to be hanged.
10, 1861 - Young Irelander Terence MacManus buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
11, 1880 - Ned Kelly is hung at Old Melbourne Jail in Australia.
11, 1918 - Armistice Day (Veteran's Day) -- First World War ends.
14, 1180 - St. Laurence O'Toole, Archbishop of Dublin, dies in France.
14,1889Pioneering female journalist Nellie Bly (aka Elizabeth Cochrane) begins a successful attempt to travel around the world in less than 80 days. She completes the trip in 72 days.
14, 1923 - W.B. Yeats is announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Tags: History of Ireland, Irish Freedom Struggle, On This Day

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