ON THIS DAY

Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2019), News, Volume 27

BY AODHÁN CREALEY

NOVEMBER

10/1939

Above: Charlotte Despard addressing a rally in London’s Trafalgar Square c. 1910.

Charlotte Despard, née French (95), suffragette, socialist and philanthropist, died when she fell down the stairs in her home in Whitehead, Co. Antrim. Considering that they were polar opposites on the political spectrum, it is remarkable how Madame Despard, as she was popularly known, remained on close terms with her younger brother, Sir John French, for most of his life. She was a defiant revolutionary, champion of the poor and the marginalised. He was a career soldier and arch-imperialist, commander-in-chief on the Western Front during the first sixteen months of the First World War and later the hard-line viceroy of Ireland (1918–21). Charlotte ignored his politics, however, and turned a blind eye to his extravagance and his extra-marital affairs. Indeed, he only broke off contact with her in late 1919 because of her friendship with Maud Gonne and her open support for Sinn Féin and the IRA. On her regular visits to Ireland—she settled here for good in 1921—he had her closely monitored. Yet during his final months—he died of cancer in 1925—Charlotte hoped for a reconciliation and wrote several times to ‘my dearest Jack’. On one occasion she went to the hospital where he was being treated but was not allowed to see him. At the subsequent inquest into her own death, it was stated that she was in good health at the time and regularly stayed up late to listen to the war news on the radio. In her anxiety to conform to the blackout regulations she had removed an electric lamp from her top landing and had evidently stumbled down the stairs in the darkness.

04/1979

Iranian students broke into the American embassy in Teheran and took 63 American hostages. They would be released, they declared, if the Shah were returned to Iran for trial.

07/1969

Over 3,000 artefacts relating to the Vikings were discovered at the Winetavern Street/Wood Quay site of the proposed Dublin civic offices.

10/1989

Following the announcement in East Berlin that the 858-mile border between East and West Germany was to be opened, the Berlin Wall, which had stood for 27 years, was hacked to pieces as East Germans poured through it.

11/1919

First edition of the Irish Bulletin launched by Dáil Éireann in response to a ban on all Republican newspapers and journals. Though obliged to change premises on twelve occasions, production—until the Truce (July 1921)—was not affected.

18/1969

Joseph Kennedy (81), businessman, investor, politician and father of the brothers John F. (1917–63), Robert (1925–68) and Edward (1932–2009), died.

20/1719

Spranger Barry, an actor who rivalled Garrick on the London stage, described as ‘the wonder and darling of every audience’, born in Skinner’s Row (Christ Church Place), Dublin.

22/1819

George Eliot (pen-name of Mary Ann Evans), one of the leading writers of the Victorian era, notably of Middlemarch (1871/2), born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

25/1969

The Electoral Law Act (NI) reduced the voting age to eighteen and extended the local government franchise to all parliamentary electors.

26/2009

The Murphy Report into sexual abuse in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin was published. The report concluded that the church had prioritised its own reputation over all other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims.

27/1869

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, imprisoned Fenian, was returned as MP in a County Tipperary by-election but was disqualified as a convicted felon.

28/1979

John Hume MEP was elected leader of the SDLP in succession to Gerry Fitt.

 

DECEMBER

29/1739

Above: The Great Music Hall on Dublin’s Fishamble Street. George Frideric Handel premiered his Messiah there in April 1742 as a fund-raiser for the distress caused by the ‘Great Frost’ of the previous years.

A violent easterly storm introduced the ‘Great Frost’, prelude to the first major famine in modern Irish history. Unlike the Great Famine (1845–9), which mainly affected people dependent on the potato, the eighteenth-century event was a meteorological one that affected all classes. The frost lasted some seven weeks. All the major rivers—the Liffey, the Shannon, the Boyne—froze over in days and the entire eco-system was traumatised. Sheep and cattle perished from the cold and lack of fodder, and the entire potato crop was wiped out. When the thaw finally arrived, it was followed by months of drought, leading to rocketing food prices. By Christmas 1740 food prices had reached record levels and people were starving. Landlords, local clergy and the authorities sponsored relief schemes but failed to check the tide of hunger. The catastrophe reached its climax in the spring and summer of 1741, when a cluster of deadly diseases—smallpox, dysentery and typhus—began to appear, initially amongst the undernourished poor and, in the case of typhus, amongst the wealthy as well. Revd Philip Skelton, a curate in Monaghan, wrote about ‘whole parishes left almost desolate’ and ‘the dead being eaten in the fields by dogs for want of people to bury them’. Then, in September 1741, a series of abnormal floods swept the country, seemingly purging the land of disease, and the subsequent harvest was reckoned to be the best for 60 years. During the 21 months of the crisis between 310,000 and 480,000 people perished out of a total population of c. 2.5 million—in relative terms more devastating than the Great Famine a century later.

01/1919

Lady (Nancy) Astor became the first woman to take a seat in the Westminster House of Commons.

03/1919

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (78), leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style, died.

07/1979

Charles J. Haughey defeated George Colley (44 votes to 38) to become leader of Fianna Fáil; he was elected Taoiseach on 11 December.

08/1939

James Galway, the ‘man with the golden flute’, born in north Belfast, the son of a shipyard worker.

18/1919

In the House of Commons, Winston Churchill placed the number of troops currently in Ireland at 43,000, costing the British taxpayer £860,000 per month.

19/1919

IRA Lt. Martin Savage was killed during a failed attempt to assassinate the viceroy, Lord French, in Ashtown, Co. Dublin.

22/1969

Bernadette Devlin was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for her activities during the Battle of the Bogside

22/1989

Samuel (Barclay) Beckett, novelist, poet and playwright, notably of En attendant Godot (1953), and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1969), died.

24/1979

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; 15,000 Soviet soldiers were to die in Russia’s ten-year ‘Vietnam War’.

25/1989

The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were executed after a brief military trial.

26/2004

An earthquake and tsunami with its epicentre off northern Sumatra, Indonesia, killed an estimated 227,898 in fourteen countries. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

27/1969

Dan Breen (75), IRA veteran, the first Fianna Fáil TD to take the oath of allegiance (April 1927), died.

28/1969

The Sunday Press in Dublin reported a split in the IRA over the issue of contesting elections.

29/1989

Václav Havel, writer, dissident and former political prisoner, became president of Czechoslovakia, the first non-communist president for 41 years.

31/1869

Henri Matisse (84), leading figure in modern art, born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis in the Nord department in northern France.

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