On this Day

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2017), News, Volume 25

JANUARY

01/1909
Claimants to the state pension under the terms of the Old Age Pensions Act (1908) received their first payments at post offices throughout the country. Charged with awarding pensions to men and women aged 70 or over, the Local Government Board (1872) had to contend with the fact that the statutory registration of births had only begun in Ireland in 1864. Since the age of claimants could therefore not be proven one way or the other, they were obliged, in the words of the historian F.S.L. Lyons, ‘to grapple with the inexhaustible fertility shown by Irishmen of indeterminate age in inventing what they hoped would be valid claims’. One official ruefully described ‘the bent, decrepit attitude and the high quavering voice’ peculiar to applicants. A question famously put to them but soon discarded was ‘What do you remember about the Night of the Big Wind?’ (January 1839), in answer to which thousands recalled ‘eating a potato out of [their] hand’ on the night in question. In the event, successful Irish claimants far outnumbered those across the water in relative terms. And most qualified for the full rate of five shillings per week. The big day was widely reported in the national and local press. In rural Roscommon neighbours ferried ‘cartloads of aged female pensioners’ to the post office. A Monaghan pensioner showed his delight by waving his cap over his head and shouting ‘God save the King!’, whilst in Dublin’s Dame Street an elderly couple blessed ‘the postmistress, the government and the world in general’. Publicans remarked that business that day was as good as on a fair day.

01/1957
Seán South and Fergal O’Hanlon were killed during an IRA attack on Brookeborough RUC station, Co. Fermanagh.

03/1967
Jack Ruby, nightclub operator who had murdered Lee Harvey Oswald four years earlier after the latter had been charged with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, died in prison whilst awaiting a new trial.

04/1967
Donald Campbell was killed when his jet-powered ‘Bluebird’ became airborne a split second before breaking his own water speed record on Coniston Water in the Lake District.

05/1957
In what became known as the ‘Eisenhower Doctrine’, President Dwight D. Eisenhower promised military or economic aid to any Middle Eastern country needing help in resisting communist aggression.

10/1917
William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, so called for killing 4,280 buffalo (American bison) over eight months (1867–8) to feed the workers on the Union Pacific railroad, died.

10/1957
Harold Macmillan (Conservative) succeeded Sir Anthony Eden as British prime minister.

17/1992
Eight workers were killed when the IRA detonated a 500lb roadside bomb as a bus carrying employees of a construction company engaged in work at British army and RUC bases drove past at Teebane, between Cookstown and Omagh, Co. Tyrone.

18/1937
John Hume, founding member of the SDLP, member of the British and European parliaments, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1998) and one of the architects of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, born in Derry.

19/1917
An explosion at the Mond munitions factory in Silvertown, east London, killed 69 people and injured over 1,000, many of them women.

25/1917
The White Star liner Laurentic, carrying 479 passengers (mostly British Army personnel) and a secret cargo of gold bullion, struck German mines a few miles off Lough Swilly and sank within an hour; 354 lives were lost.

31/1917
Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare.

FEBRUARY

28/1805

Above: La Force prison, Paris, from where Clotworthy Skeffington was liberated by the mob on 13 July 1789.

Clotworthy Skeffington (63), 2nd earl of Masserene, died. In 1769, when living the life of an aristocratic dandy in Paris, he was swindled by his partner in a dubious scheme to import salt from the Barbary coast. Faced with debts of £30,000, which his family offered to defray, he refused to accept responsibility, declared instead that he was a victim of fraud and opted to go to prison. Under French law, his debts would be absolved after 25 years of confinement. Not that life in the debtors’ prison of Fort l’Éveque—formerly the home of the bishop of Paris—was by any means harsh. Allowing himself an annual budget of £4,000, he was accorded five-star quarters, employed his own private chef and regularly played host to his friends and mistresses. And if he was dispatched to the more austere La Force prison nine years later, it was a blessing in disguise. On the day before the storming of the Bastille the mob stormed La Force, freeing its inmates, and he fled to London accompanied by the governor’s daughter, whom he promptly married. The marriage, however, did not last. His wife’s extravagance, it seems, exceeded even his own liberal standards, so he bestowed a generous pension on her and took up with a servant girl, with whom he returned to Antrim Castle. In his later years he became widely known for his eccentricities, such as hosting dinners on the roof of his castle, an operation that involved having the furniture hoisted up on winches. When a favourite dog died, he had 50 of the local dogs, wearing white scarves, serve as a guard of honour at the funeral.

02/1947
Thousands lined the route of labour leader Jim Larkin’s funeral from St Mary’s Church, Haddington Road, to Glasnevin Cemetery.

05/1917
In the Roscommon North by-election, Count Plunkett, father of Joseph Plunkett (1887–1916), who was endorsed by Sinn Féin, defeated T.J. Devine (Irish Parliamentary Party) by 3,022 votes to 1,708.

05/1992
Five Catholic men were shot dead by two UFF gunmen in an attack on Seán Graham’s bookmaker’s shop on the Ormeau Road, Belfast.

07/1867
William Dargan (68), engineer and railway-builder, who at one time employed 50,000 men on various projects, died in poverty.

12/1997
Stephen Restorick (23) of the Royal Horse Artillery was shot dead by a sniper whilst manning a checkpoint in Bessbrook, Co. Armagh—the last British soldier to be killed before the IRA called its second ceasefire.

17/1867
‘When we look down into the fathomless depths of the Fenian conspiracy we must acknowledge that eternity is not long enough nor hell hot enough for such miscreants’—sermon by David Moriarty, bishop of Kerry (1814–77).

18/1967
Robert Oppenheimer (62), theoretical physicist who played a key role in the Manhattan Project, the World War II project that developed the first nuclear weapons, died.

18/1992
In what became known as the ‘X Case’, the attorney-general obtained an injunction preventing a fourteen-year-old rape victim from travelling to Britain for an abortion.

19/1717
David Garrick, influential English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer, born.

21/1917
The SS Mendi, a South African troop-carrier steamer, was struck by HMS Brisk in the English Channel; 646 lives were lost.

25/1967
S.J. (Samuel John) Waddell, actor and playwright, notably of The Drone (1906), died.

27/1937
Charlie Donnelly (27), poet and left-wing activist, was killed fighting on the Republican side on the final day of the Battle of Jarama.

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