This Week in the History of the Irish: November 6-12

MÁIRT -- 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 the 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

CÉADAOIN -- 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."

Theobald Wolfe Tone

DEARDAOIN -- On November 10, 1798, Theobald Wolfe Tone was tried and convicted of treason by a court-martial in Dublin and sentenced to be hanged. Wolfe Tone had set sail onboard the Hoche, flagship of a French invasion expedition under Gen. Hardy, on Sept. 16. He certainly knew before departing that the odds against them were incredibly long. Most of the United Irish organization had already spent itself in Wexford, Ulster and other places. There was one slim reed of hope for success: the news from Hubert, who was sweeping the British before him in Mayo with his 1,000 Frenchmen and Irish rebel allies. Wolfe Tone had once said he would accompany any French force to Ireland even if it were only a corporal's guard, so he sailed off with Hardy's 2,800 Frenchmen. But on October 12, a large British fleet intercepted them. Escape aboard one of the small, fast ships was Tone's only hope to avoid a hangman's noose, but he refused to transfer from the large, slow Hoche, which had little choice but certain sinking or capture. The French officers begged him to go, for while they would be made prisoners if they survived, he was certain to be hanged. "Shall it be said," he asked them, "that I fled while the French were fighting the battle of my country?" The Hoche withstood an attack by five British ships for several hours, with Wolfe Tone commanding one of her batteries. The French later commented that he fought like a man who was inviting death, which he may have been, knowing the fate that awaited him. Inevitably the masts and rigging of the Hoche were shot away and she struck her colors. Tone was dressed in a French officer's uniform, but there was little chance of him avoiding detection with so many former acquaintances among the British. He was soon thrown into chains. His trial in Dublin was a mere formality -- no one, including Tone himself, had any doubt of the final outcome. But he laid out his justifications for all his actions brilliantly during the sham trial; one final indictment of the Britain's criminal misrule of his homeland before his sentence of death was passed down.

Newcastlewest Historical Society
Lady Mary Heath in 1928

DEARDAOIN -- 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 Corp. There she acquired an army-officer husband, William Elliot-Lynn, and perhaps an interest in flying as well. 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 in a public bus and died in May 1939.


'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"

'I have sacrificed all my views of life; I have courted poverty; I have left a beloved wife unprotected, and children whom I adored fatherless. After such sacrifice, in a cause which I have always considered as the cause of justice and freedom - it is no great effort at this day to add the sacrifice of my life!'
        -- A portion of Theobald Wolfe Tone's testimony from the dock


November - Samhain

8, 1847 - Bram Stroker (Author)
9, 1826 - Eduardo Butler y Anguita (Admiral in the Spanish navy, Cádiz)
10, 1774 - Oliver Goldsmith (Author - Pallas, Co. Longford)
10, 1879Patrick Pearse (Revolutionary - Dublin)
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)


6, 1649 - Owen Roe O'Neill dies.
6, 1901 - Irish-born Confederate General James Hagan dies in Mobile, AL.
7, 1863 - Irish 6th LA fights at the 2nd battle of Rappahannock Station.
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.

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Tags: Diary, Irish Freedom Struggle, On This Day


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