October 22

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1966 The British spy George Blake was sprung from Wormwood Scrubs prison by Limerickman Seán Burke.
  • 1935 Sir Edward Carson, Unionist leader, died.
  • 1641 The Rising in Ulster began when Sir Phelim O’Neill took over Charlemont Fort, Co. Armagh.
  • 1811 Franz Liszt, international piano virtuoso, inventor of the master class and prolific composer, born in Raiding, Oedenburg, Hungary.
  • 1966 George Blake, MI6 spy and double agent for the Soviet Union, escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison. His escape, in the fifth year of an unprecedented 42-year sentence, was famously masterminded by Limerickman Seán Bourke who befriended the spy whilst serving a sentence there himself for sending an explosive devise through the post to a police officer. Communicating with Bourke via a walkie-talkie he had managed to smuggle in, Blake, at the appointed time made his way to the perimeter wall, over which he climbed with a rope ladder provided by Bourke. From there he was smuggled to Berlin by two anti-nuclear campaigners where he met his handlers who brought him to Moscow, where Bourke joined him soon afterwards. Blake passed the rest of his life as a guest of the Soviets meeting occasionally with his compatriots Donald Maclean and Kim Philby and passed away in his dacha just two years ago. Bourke’s passing however, remains somewhat of a mystery. Returning to Ireland a few years later, minus his manuscript about the escape which the Soviets retained, he rewrote his account and had a best-seller with The Springing of George Blake (1970). Thereafter his alcohol abuse led to health problems and penury but by January 1982, living in a caravan in Kilkee, Co. Clare, he had sobered up and was writing a book on his life in Moscow and his conversations with Blake. He died suddenly that month and there was no trace of the manuscript or papers relating to it. Some years later an experienced KGB officer who had defected to the United States claimed in his memoirs that he had been poisoned on the orders of the KGB foreign intelligence division.
  • 1641 Sir Phelim O’Neill, MP for Dungannon, seizes Charlemont Fort in Armagh using the excuse that he was coming for dinner. Similar attacks took place across Armagh and Tyrone over the next few days, as members of the Catholic élite who had survived the dispossesion of the Ulster Plantation embarked on what was supposed to be a limited uprising to give themselves a bargaining position in the face of increasingly anti-Catholic noises emanating from across the Irish Sea. This soon gave way to a popular revolt carried out by those Irish who had been dispossessed, which had an undeniable sectarian character as Protestant settlers were targeted for attack. Lurid accounts of the sufferings of Protestants led the colonial government in Dublin to carry out ferocious attacks against suspected rebels (i.e. Catholics in general) across Leinster and Munster and unofficial retaliations by settlers took place across Ulster, as 1641 ushered in a decade of conflict that culminated in the brutal reconquest of Ireland by the English parliament under Oliver Cromwell, whose government eventually executed Phelim O’Neill in 1653. Nevertheless, much of Ireland’s subsequent history exists in the shadow of the rebellion he instigated. By shifting religious division into open conflict it polarised religious identities in Ireland, while the land confiscations that followed the British reconquest set the balance of political and socio-economic power in Ireland for at least the next two centuries. It would be stretching things way too far to claim Sir Phelim O’Neill as the father of modern Ireland or the like, but the consequences of his actions on 22 October 1641 were more long-lasting than most.

Copyright © 2024 History Publications Ltd, Unit 9, 78 Furze Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland | Tel. +353-1-293 3568