April 04

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1878

    Above: William Sydney Clements, 3rd earl of Leitrim, who was assassinated on 4 April 1878.

    Murder of William Sydney Clements (72), 3rd earl of Leitrim. In 1854, after a career in the army in which he rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and a period in politics as MP for County Leitrim (1839–47), Clements inherited over 94,000 acres, including an estate of over 54,000 acres in Milford, north Donegal. He was a dreadful character. As the Freeman’s Journal reported, he was determined to destroy the Ulster custom/tenant right, describing Gladstone’s 1870 Land Act as ‘only another step in the process of spoliation which had been commenced by the Irish Church Act’ (disestablishment). His Donegal tenants, some 3,000 in number, bore the brunt of his belligerence. He prosecuted over 180 of them. A farmer who kept goats against his rules was forced to destroy them in his presence. Worse still, he was fond of having his way with his tenants’ daughters, one of whom subsequently drowned herself. Indeed, his notoriety was such that the lord lieutenant stripped him of his position as a justice of the peace. In the end it was his tenants who dispatched him. After a number of failed attempts, he was ambushed at dawn as he travelled from Manorvaughan to Milford. He met with a grizzly end. A volley of shots killed his driver and clerk instantly and seriously wounded the earl, who was finished off by blows to the head from a musket butt. Though enormous sums were offered as a reward for information, including £10,000 by the 4th earl, the cash was never collected. A cross commemorating his assassins—Ribbonman Michael McElwee and the Fenians Michael Hegarty and Neil Shields—was erected at the scene of the attack in 1960.

  • 1949 The North Atlantic Treaty, an intergovernmental military alliance, was signed, bringing into being the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
  • 2006 Dennis Donaldson (56), former head of administration for Sinn Féin in Stormont and self-confessed British spy, was assassinated at his home in County Donegal.
  • 1968 Martin Luther King (39), American Civil Rights leader, was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee.
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