July 02

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1980 General Tom Barry (83), leader of the West Cork flying column responsible for the ambushes at Kilmichael (Nov. ’20) and Crossbarry (March ’21), and author notably of Guerrilla days in Ireland (1949), died.
  • 1850 Sir Robert Peel (62), founder of the Conservative Party and British prime minister, died. In nationalist Ireland Peel would perhaps be best remembered as Daniel O’Connell’s nemesis, the man with the chilling smile ‘like the silver plate on a coffin’ who was forced to concede Catholic Emancipation (1829), who suppressed the Repeal movement and who only partially redeemed himself with his purchase of Indian meal at the outset of the Great Famine. Yet, if he had no sympathy for Irish aspirations and, when chief secretary for Ireland (1812–18), was fond of drinking the Orange toast after dinner to ‘the pious, glorious and immortal memory’ of William III—which earned him the nickname ‘Orange Peel’—he was essentially a pragmatist who mellowed over his long career and one of the last British prime ministers to put governance above party interests. Firmness and concession were the hallmarks of his Irish policies. Though he suppressed the Catholic Board (1814), he gave generous grant aid to the Kildare Place Society (1811) and provided £250,000 for relief works during the famine of 1817. And, of course, he set up the first headquarters of his Peace Preservation Force (1814)—the ‘Peelers’—in Cashel, Co. Tipperary. In 1845 he granted an annual endowment of £26,000 to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, in the face of widespread opposition, and in the same year established the non-denominational Queen’s Colleges in an effort to solve the thorny question of university education for Catholics. The concession of Catholic Emancipation has been described as ‘administrative expediency’ to counter the real threat of civil disorder in Ireland, whilst the suppression of the Repeal movement was largely in response to its threat to the Union. As for the Indian meal, it proved to be the decisive factor in relieving the distress of 1845–6.

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