ON THIS DAY

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2021), News, Volume 29

BY AODHÁN CREALEY

JANUARY

13/1843

Above: ‘Widows’ Row’, Newcastle, Co. Down—built with relief funds for the bereaved families most severely affected by the ‘Black Friday’ maritime disaster of 13 January 1843. (Mac Creative Photography)

The storms and gale-force conditions that ravaged these islands in January 1843 had devastating consequences off the Mourne coast. Early that fine winter’s morning, some sixteen skiffs set out from Newcastle and the nearby village of Annalong for their customary fishing grounds in Dundrum Bay. Conditions being exceptionally calm, the boats ventured further from the shore than usual. Then, about noon, disaster struck. Without warning, the wind veered from south to north-west, bringing violent gusts and blinding snow squalls howling down from the Mourne Mountains. Many of the boats were immediately swamped. Others vainly tried to make it to the shore, whilst a number of locals, watching in horror from the harbour, put to sea in a bid to rescue their stricken neighbours. Twelve of them would not return alive. A number were, however, rescued in shore-based efforts. One George Thompson from nearby Glasdrumman single-handedly hauled one boat ashore, saving the lives of its eight-man crew. Though there was no official count of how many were saved, 73 fishermen lost their lives, leaving 37 widows, 157 children and 42 other dependants, including eighteen aged parents. In the weeks that followed, appeals for relief funds, led by the local gentry and church congregations, raised over £1,000, a substantial sum for the time. Apart from financial relief, twelve cottages were built for the families most affected. ‘Widows’ Row’, as the locals call it, nowadays fully modernised, still stands today just above the harbour. ‘Black Friday’ was County Down’s worst maritime disaster until the MV Princess Victoria foundered in the North Channel in January 1953 with the loss of 133 lives.

01/1871

The Irish Church Act (1869), whereby the Church of Ireland ceased to exist ‘as an establishment’, came into law.

02/1971

Sixty-six died and over 200 were injured in a crush on an exit stairway at Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow, the worst British football disaster until the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

03/1521

Martin Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem for refusing to recant some 41 sentences from his various writings.

06/1821

William Putnam McCabe (c. 46), a United Irishman noted for his ability to elude arrest by his powers of disguise and mimicry, who later settled in France and founded a cotton factory, died.

08/1871

James Craig, Unionist politician and first prime minister of Northern Ireland, born in Sydenham, Belfast, the son of a wealthy whiskey distiller.

13/1941

James Joyce (58), writer, died in Zurich from a perforated duodenal ulcer; he was survived by his wife, Nóra, and son, Giorgio.

16/1991

Operation Desert Storm, a military operation by a US-led coalition of two dozen nations to expel occupying Iraqi forces from Kuwait, began.

17/1971

Official Sinn Féin voted to end their abstentionist policy from Dáil Éireann, Stormont and Westminster.

21/1981

Sir Norman Stronge (86), former speaker of the Stormont parliament, and his son James (48), a member of the RUC reserve, were shot dead by the IRA at their home, Tynan Abbey, close to the Armagh/Monaghan border.

24/1991

John Kelly (59), Fine Gael politician, government minister, attorney general (May–July 1987) and lawyer who wrote extensively on legal matters, notably The Irish Constitution (1980), died.

25/1971

Idi Amin, British-trained commander of the Ugandan armed forces, deposed President Milton Obote. His rule (1971–9) was one of the most brutal in African history.

26/1871

Sir Arthur Philip Du Cros, pioneer of the pneumatic tyre industry who founded the multinational Dunlop Rubber Company (1901), born in Dublin.

 

FEBRUARY

21/1823

Above: Revd Charles Wolfe—writer of perhaps ‘the greatest ode ever penned to an Englishman by an Irishman’.

Charles Wolfe (32), Church of Ireland clergyman and poet, author notably of The burial of Sir John Moore, died. Inspired by an account in the Edinburgh Annual Register of the midnight burial of Sir John Moore, the British general in command of the defence of Corunna against the French in the course of the Peninsular War (1807–14) who had directed his men to bury him where he fell, Wolfe wrote his ode when a student in Trinity College, Dublin:

‘Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note

As his corpse to the rampart we hurried.

Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot

O’er the grave where our hero we buried.’

It is acknowledged as perhaps ‘the greatest ode ever penned to an Englishman by an Irishman’—a dubious accolade for Wolfe, considering that the dashing Sir John was a true servant of the British Empire who had served in many far-flung places, including Ireland. In June 1798 he defeated Fr Philip Roche and his insurgents at Goff’s Bridge (Faulke’s Mill), Co. Wexford, and the following day, while General Lake was wiping out the insurgents on Vinegar Hill, he retook Wexford town. Yet the poem was as popular in Ireland as anywhere else and regularly featured in poetry anthologies for many years afterwards. As for Wolfe, the son of Theobald Wolfe (1739–99) and therefore probably a half-brother of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763–98), he was ordained in November 1817 and thereafter served as a curate in County Tyrone. His health, however, was never good and declined considerably after a failed romance and the death of his close friend and mentor, the mathematician Thomas Meredith. He died of consumption in Cobh and was interred in the Old Church Cemetery.

05/1921

Katherine O’Shea Parnell (76), widow of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846–91), died at Littlehampton, Sussex. (See ‘100 Years Ago’, p. 70.)

06/1971

Gunner Robert Curtis (20) of the Royal Artillery Regiment was shot by an IRA sniper during disturbances in north Belfast, the first serving British soldier to die violently in the Troubles.

07/1991

An IRA mortar bomb exploded in the garden of 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister John Major and his cabinet were discussing the progress of the Gulf War.

09/1971

Five men working for the BBC were killed when an IRA bomb, intended for the security forces, exploded as they made their way in a Land Rover to inspect a transmitter on Brougher Mountain, Co. Tyrone.

11/1971

Delia Murphy (69), internationally acclaimed ballad-singer who, as wife of T.J. Kiernan, Irish ambassador to the Vatican during the Second World War, assisted Jews and escaped prisoners of war, died.

13/1871

Joseph Devlin, the leading Ulster nationalist over a 30-year period, who began his parliamentary career when returned for North Kilkenny in 1902, born in Hamill Street, west Belfast.

15/1921

Three IRA volunteers were killed and two others wounded in an abortive attack on a train carrying British soldiers at Upton, Co. Cork. Six civilian passengers were also killed and ten wounded in the crossfire.

18/1921

Brian Faulkner, the sixth and last prime minister of Northern Ireland (3/1971–3/1972) and the only one to have been educated in the Irish Free State, born in Helen’s Bay, Co. Down, the son of a shirtmaker.

20/1921

Twelve Volunteers were shot dead and a further eight taken prisoner when Crown forces surrounded them in a disused farmhouse overlooking the village of Clonmult, near Midleton, Co. Cork. It marked the IRA’s greatest loss of Volunteers in a single action during the War of Independence.

23/1821

John Keats (25), English Romantic poet, died from tuberculosis in Rome.

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