Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2017), News, Volume 25



The luxury liner Britannic, serving as a hospital ship, sank off the Greek island of Kea after striking a mine.

Above: HMS Brittanic, in her hospital ship livery, shortly before striking a mine off the Greek island of Kea on 21 November 1916.

Designed to outdo the rival Cunard line in the transatlantic passenger ship market, only one of the White Star Line’s celebrated ‘three sisters’ lived up to expectations. Despite an early near miss when she was holed beneath the water-line in a collision with the warship HMS Hawke in the Solent, the lead ship HMS Olympic had a successful 24-year career. On the other hand, Britannic, the youngest of the trio, lasted less than three years, though, thanks in part to several design changes carried out after the Titanic disaster, all but 30, including 21 firemen, out of the 1,065 on board were rescued. Most of the casualties were in two prematurely launched lifeboats, which were sucked under by the ship’s propeller as she went down. Remarkably, two people—stewardess Violet Jessop, born of Irish immigrant parents in Argentina, and fireman John Priest, from Southampton—survived all of these misadventures. On board one of Britannic’s doomed lifeboats, Jessop managed to jump clear in time and survived a serious wound when she struck her head against the keel. Priest escaped the fate of his ‘black gang’ mates when he was hauled, in the nick of time, from the water. Jessop afterward rejoined the White Star Line and retired in 1950. Priest, remarkably, survived yet another disaster before retirement. He called it a day after suffering a head injury when the hospital ship Donegal was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel in April 1917. He died—on dry land—in 1937.

The Balfour Declaration—Arthur Balfour, foreign secretary in Lloyd George’s coalition government, proclaimed the support of the British government for a Jewish state in Palestine.

Conor Cruise O’Brien, writer, historian, academic and politician, born in Dublin.

Following an armed insurrection in Petrograd, the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin seized power in Russia.

Marie Curie, naturalised French physicist and chemist, born in Warsaw.

Eleven people were killed and over 60 injured when an IRA bomb exploded during a service at the war memorial in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, on Remembrance Day.

The 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), from 31 July, ended with British and Commonwealth and German casualties of c. 500,000.

Five members of the IRA were killed when a landmine they were preparing exploded prematurely at Edentubber, Co. Louth.

John Keogh (77), leader of the radical wing of the Catholic Committee in the 1790s, died.

Auguste Rodin (77), French sculptor, notably of ‘The Kiss’ (1889) and ‘Le Penseur/The Thinker’ (1902), died.

The Battle of Cambrai, Nord-Pas-de-Calais. In an operation that included the first mass tank attack in history, British forces liberated the town with the loss of 44,000 troops.

Thomas Russell, United Irishman, known as ‘the man from God-knows-where’, born in Betsborough, Kilshanick, Co. Cork.

William Phillip Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien—the ‘Manchester Martyrs’—were executed in Salford Jail, Manchester, for the murder of a policeman (see 08/12).

Canon James McDyer (76), who pioneered successful co-operative enterprises in Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal (1951–71), died.

Following a strike (from 3 August) at the Ferenka steel cord factory in County Limerick, the plant was closed with the loss of 1,400 jobs.

Jonathan Swift, poet and satirist, born at 7 Hoey’s Court, Dublin.

Patrick Kavanagh (63), poet, died.



Above: Patrick O’Donnell, hanged in Newgate prison, London, on 17 December 1883 for the murder of police informer James Carey.

Patrick O’Donnell (45) was hanged in Newgate prison, London, for the murder of police informer James Carey. Featuring extreme violence, betrayal and retribution, and, of course, a political crisis, the story of the Phoenix Park murders would surely make for an excellent TV mini-series treatment. Introduction to the murky world of the Invincibles. Joe ‘Bulldog’ Brady, chorister at the nearby Franciscan church, extolling the merits of using surgical knives in an attempt to murder Under-Secretary Thomas Burke. Conversation between Burke, the dull apparatchik, and Chief Secretary Cavendish (who had a speech impediment) as they stroll in the Phoenix Park. The frenzied attack. Brady to the fore, dispatching Cavendish with multiple stabbings. Cutting Burke’s throat as he lies on the ground. Superintendent John Mallon of Dublin Castle on the case, eventually getting father-of-seven James Carey and two others to turn informer. Trial and execution of five, including Brady and Kelly. Brady popular with his guards because of his good humour. His reaction to receiving an ivory crucifix—a token of forgiveness—from Lady Cavendish. Six months later, on board the Melrose, bound for South Africa. The argument between the teetotal Donegal-man O’Donnell and the drunken ‘Mr Powers’, alias Carey, bound for a new life in Natal. Did O’Donnell uncover his true identity? Guns drawn. O’Donnell faster. Carey falls, mortally wounded. O’Donnell arrested. O’Donnell in his cell prior to execution telling his younger brother, Daniel, that he killed Carey in self-defence and was in no way involved with the Invincibles. Finally, perhaps, a windswept winter’s morning in O’Donnell’s native Gweedore. A funeral procession, bearing his empty coffin to Magheragallon cemetery. A riveting story. And no need whatsoever for fictional embellishment. (See HI 9.2, Summer 2001, pp 26–30.)

South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant at the Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town.

Michael P. O’Connor, writer and broadcaster, died.

Sixteen people—including eleven British soldiers—were killed in an INLA attack on the Droppin’ Well public house in Ballykelly, Co. Derry.

The French munitions ship Mont Blanc exploded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the most powerful man-made explosion before the nuclear age; 1,639 were killed and over 9,000 injured.

William Keogh, Conservative and Independent Irish Party MP and judge who was a special commissioner at the trials of the Fenians (1865), born in Galway.

William Bligh (63), Royal Navy officer and colonial administrator, best remembered for his role in the mutiny on the Bounty (1789), died.

‘Song’ by T.D. O’Sullivan, which soon became known as ‘God Save Ireland’, the anthem of Irish nationalists until 1916, was published in The Nation.

In Dublin, c. 60,000 attended ‘a public funeral procession’ in honour of the Manchester Martyrs.

In the worst rail disaster in history, 543 French troops were killed when their train derailed near the entrance to the Mount Cenis tunnel in Modane, France.

In an unsuccessful attempt to rescue Ricard O’Sullivan Burke from Clerkenwell detention centre, London, Fenians Captain John Murphy and Jeremiah Sullivan caused an explosion that killed twelve and injured 50.

The Bolsheviks under Lenin signed an armistice with Germany and the other Central Powers.

Henry Harrison, Irish Parliamentary Party MP and author, notably of Parnell vindicated (1931), born in Hollywood, Co. Down.

Heinrich Boll, author of Irish journal (1957) and Nobel Laureate (1972), born in Cologne.

Billy Wright (36), notorious leader of the Loyalist Volunteer Force, was assassinated in the Maze prison by the INLA.

The Constitution of Ireland came into force.


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