October 31

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1970 The remains of three mutineers who were convicted for their roles in the Connaught Rangers Mutiny (1920)—Pte James Daly, who was executed, and Pte Peter Sears and Pte Patrick Smith, both of whom died of their wounds—were returned to Ireland for reburial.
  • 1981 ‘Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in one hand and an Armalite in this hand, we take power in Ireland?’—Danny Morrison, in a speech at the Sinn Féin Árd Fheis.
  • 1926

    Above: Harry Houdini—made a number of visits to Ireland.

    Harry Houdini (52), Hungarian-American illusionist and escapologist, died. Over the course of a 25-year career Houdini proved that he could escape from anything—from handcuffs and straitjackets to locked mailbags, riveted boilers and sealed crates. But he was much more than an international celebrity. A dedicated professional, he was president of the Society of American Magicians from 1917 until his death, during which time it became the biggest society ever in the history of magic. He was also the scourge of bogus spiritualists, exposing dozens of them by attending séances in disguise, accompanied by a policeman and a reporter, which in turn brought about his famous spat with his one-time friend Arthur Conan Doyle, who insisted that Houdini was a powerful spiritualist medium who was using his gift to sabotage those of other mediums. He made a number of visits to Ireland. In January 1909, whilst appearing in Belfast’s Hippodrome Theatre, the directors of Harland and Wolff had him encased in a large sealed chest made from the same wood they were using to build their latest liner, the ill-fated Titanic. Lowered into the chilly waters of Donegal Quay, he slipped out in a few minutes, leaving the chest intact. Yet he didn’t rule out the possibility of communicating with the departed. Before his death, he and his wife Bess agreed that, if possible, he would communicate from the afterlife with the message ‘Rosabelle believe’, Rosabelle being their favourite song. She duly held annual Hallowe’en séances after his death but without success. In 1936, after the annual event in Chicago’s quaintly named Knickerbocker Hotel, she gave up. ‘Ten years is long enough to wait for any man’, she declared.

  • 1867 William Parsons (67), 3rd earl of Rosse, astronomer, landlord and politician, died.
  • 1517 Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar and university teacher, affixed 95 theses attacking various practices in the Catholic Church to the door of the main church in Wittenberg, a town between Berlin and Leipzig.
  • 1922 Following the March on Rome, fascist leader Benito Mussolini (39) was appointed prime minister by King Victor Emmanuel III.
  • 1517 The Augustinian Martin Luther, so the story goes, nails a list of 95 theses opposing the sale of ‘indulgences’ (remission of sins) by the Catholic Church to the door of the castle church at Wittenburg, Germany. Whether he actually nailed them on is disputed, but his act is generally recognised as the symbolic beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

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