ON THIS DAY

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2021), News, Volume 29

BY AODHÁN CREALEY

MARCH

13/1854

Above: Harriet Smithson from Ennis, Co. Clare, the first Madame Berlioz, c. 1828. (Musée Magnin, Dijon)

Harriet Smithson (53), actress and the first Madame Berlioz, died in Montmartre, Paris. In 1827, after regular appearances in Dublin’s Crow Street Theatre and London’s Drury Lane, Smithson, from Ennis, Co. Clare, took Paris by storm on her début in the role of a passionate Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Notables in the audience such as Victor Hugo, Eugène Delacroix and Alexandre Dumas père were enthralled by ‘L’Irlandaise’—as, too, was the student composer Hector Berlioz, who, when she rejected his advances, took himself off to compose his masterpiece, Symphonie Fantastique, in her honour. Two years later they finally married, with Franz Liszt as their witness, but the marriage was a disaster. With her acting career by then in decline and heavily in debt, she took to drink, became increasingly obese and sharp-tongued, and left him after six years. Thereafter her health rapidly declined and during her last ten years she was unable to talk or move. By the time of her passing she was a largely forgotten figure. ‘Twenty-five years before the whole of intelligent Paris would have attended her obsequies in admiration and adoration of her’, wrote Berlioz. And she didn’t even get to rest in peace. Ten years later, it was announced that the small Montmartre cemetery where she was buried was to be closed and she would have to be moved. And a grisly event that turned out to be, as the coffin cracked open, revealing her decomposed remains, before she was reburied in the larger present-day Montmartre cemetery, alongside Berlioz’s second wife, the singer Marie Recio, who had died two years earlier. When the great man himself passed away in 1869, he was buried beside his two wives in a posthumous threesome.

01/1971

In an interview with the BBC, Taoiseach Jack Lynch stated that the constitutional claim by the Republic to jurisdiction over the six counties of Northern Ireland was fundamental and could not be abandoned.

05/1981

Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey announced the establishment of Aosdána (‘poet of the tribe’) to publicly honour distinguished achievement in the arts and to provide members with an annuity to free them from non-creative employment.

08/1966

A republican bomb destroyed the top half of Nelson’s Pillar in O’Connell Street, Dublin.

09/1971

Three off-duty Scottish soldiers, aged 17, 18 and 23, two of whom were brothers, were abducted by the Provisional IRA from a Belfast city centre public house and shot dead on the outskirts of the city.

11/1921

Crown forces ambushed an IRA flying column at Selton Hill, Co. Leitrim, killing six, including Seán Connolly, their commander and GHQ staff officer.

12/2001

The first case of foot-and-mouth disease in the Republic of Ireland in 60 years was confirmed in a flock of sheep on a farm in Jenkinstown, Co. Louth.

19/1921

Tom Barry led 104 members of the flying column of the Cork No. 3 (West) Brigade against over 1,000 soldiers of the Essex and Hampshire Regiments in Crossbarry, Co. Cork, killing 39 and wounding 47. IRA losses were three dead and four wounded in one of the biggest engagements of the War of Independence.

20/1971

Major James Chichester-Clarke resigned as prime minister of Northern Ireland. He was succeeded by Brian Faulkner, who defeated Bill Craig by 26 votes to four.

25/1981

The government and Dáil Éireann condemned the decision of the IRFU to send an Irish national rugby team to South Africa.

30/1931

Garda Superintendent Seán Curtin was shot dead near his home in Tipperary by the IRA after he had taken action to prevent illegal drilling in the area.

 

APRIL

24/1945

Above: The steamship Monmouth Coast—torpedoed by a German U-boat near Tory Island on 24 April 1945. (Paul Johnson Collection)

During the last week of the Second World War, the Monmouth Coast, an unescorted steamship en route from Sligo to Liverpool with a cargo of barytes ore from the mines of Ben Bulben, was torpedoed by a German U-boat some seven miles north-east of Tory Island. The captain and fifteen crewmen (including two Irishmen) lost their lives, but one managed to survive, thanks to two locals from Arranmore. Two days later, whilst beachcombing on the north-eastern coast of the island, they spotted a life-raft floating in a remote sandy inlet; they rowed out to it and lifted the tarpaulin, to discover a wide-eyed teenager, Derek Cragg (17) from Liverpool, the mess-room boy from the Monmouth Coast. He explained that the ship had gone down very quickly and that those of the crew who managed to leap clear were sucked down after it. He, too, was dragged down but somehow managed to make it back to the surface, where he spotted the life-raft and clambered on board. He was given every assistance by the islanders and safely repatriated, but had the north-easterly wind that drove him 25 miles blown him into the adjoining inlet, his raft would have been smashed to pieces. Over 30,000 Allied merchant seamen, of every nationality, lost their lives during the war. Despite our neutrality, Irish Shipping lost two ships. The Irish Pine was torpedoed off Greenland in November 1942 with the loss of all 33 on board, and the Irish Oak was sunk in the North Atlantic in May 1943, though her entire crew was rescued by a sister-ship, the Irish Plane.

02/1931

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, who held an hour of talks with Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey and government ministers during a stopover in Shannon on his way to Cuba in the spring of 1989, born to a poor peasant family in Privolnoye, southern Russia.

03/1971

‘To speak of a right to contraception on the part of an individual … is to speak of a right that cannot even exist’—John Charles McQuaid, archbishop of Dublin (1895–1973), as quoted in the Irish Times, ‘This Week They Said’.

09/1921

William Walsh (80), prolific writer, leading intellectual in the Irish Catholic Church and archbishop of Dublin since 1885, died.

11/1971

At its annual congress in Belfast the GAA voted to abolish Rule 27, the ban that prohibited the playing of soccer, rugby, hockey and cricket by members of the association.

16/1871

John Millington Synge, key figure in the Irish Literary Revival, co-founder of the Abbey Theatre and playwright, notably of The Playboy of the Western World, born in Newtown Villas, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin.

17/1971

Tailors’ Hall, Back Lane, Dublin, reopened after restoration. The sole survivor of Dublin’s old guild halls, it was the meeting-place of the Catholic Committee’s ‘Back Lane Parliament’ in December 1792.

23/1931

Chuck Feeney, businessman and philanthropist who gave away his fortune of $8 billion over a 38-year period, including $1.3b to projects in the Republic of Ireland and $570m to projects in Northern Ireland, born to Irish-American parents in New Jersey.

24/1951

Enda Kenny, TD for Mayo West (1975–97) and Mayo (1997–2020), leader of Fine Gael (2002–17) and taoiseach (2011–17), born in Derrycoosh, Islandeady, near Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

27/1521

Ferdinand Magellan (c. 40), Portuguese navigator, was killed by natives on the island of Mactan in the Philippines during the first circumnavigation of the Earth.

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