February 04

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1992 President Mary Robinson became the first Irish president to visit Belfast.
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    Above: Carrickfergus Castle, Co. Antrim—one of two John de Courcy strongholds still standing today. The other is Dundrum Castle, overlooking Murlough Bay, Co. Down.

    John de Courcy and his legendary ‘twenty-two mailed horsemen’, fellow knights in Henry II’s Dublin garrison, set out to invade Ulster. With guides and c. 200 foot-soldiers from the native Irish, he passed through Meath, proceeded through the Moyry Pass into Ulster and turned east. Four days later he reached his target—the settlement of Down (Downpatrick), capital of the kingdom of Dál Fiatach, ruled by Rory MacDonleavy. One can only wonder what MacDonleavy’s sentries made of the approaching invaders, the storm troopers of medieval Europe, warriors covered in armour from head to toe, seated in deep saddles with kite-shaped shields and lances under arm. In any event, MacDonleavy and his subjects promptly fled but returned a week later with a great host to meet de Courcy on a slope adjoining the River Quoile. What followed was a massacre. De Courcy, described by the Norman chronicler Gerald of Wales as ‘a born fighter, always in the front line, always taking upon himself the greater share of the danger’, was in the thick of the action, ‘wielding his sword with deadly accuracy, lopping off the heads, arms and hands of his adversaries’. By nightfall the Irish had been pushed back to the mudflats of the Quoile, where many sank, ‘the blood pouring from their wounds coming up to the knees and legs of their pursuers’. A few months later an even greater Ulster coalition failed to banish him. De Courcy was to rule most of modern east Down and east Antrim for a quarter of a century. His two principal castles still stand today—Dundrum Castle, overlooking Murlough Bay, Co. Down, and the magnificent Carrickfergus Castle.

  • 1868 Constance Markievicz, née Gore Booth, revolutionary and Sinn Féin politician, born in London.
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