ON THIS DAY

Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2022), News, Volume 30

BY AODHÁN CREALEY

NOVEMBER

05/1881

Above: Robert Mallet, engineer and seismologist.

Robert Mallet (71), engineer and seismologist, died. Early in his career Mallet turned his father’s Dublin foundry into one of the biggest engineering companies on these islands, supplying the ironwork for the expanding railway network, the construction of the Fasnet Lighthouse (1848–9) and much more, such as the railings surrounding Trinity College. But it was for his pioneering work in what he termed ‘seismology’ (1858) that he is best remembered, an interest which began, perhaps, when using explosions to make a railway tunnel in Killiney years earlier. In 1849 he famously detonated kegs of gunpowder on Killiney Beach and Dalkey Island, using his own seismometer to measure the contrasting speed of travel of the vibrations through sand and rock; during the following decade, along with his son, he produced the first atlas of the Earth’s seismically active regions, which of course would not be fully understood until the twentieth century with the discovery of plate tectonics, which made sections of the earth’s crust move and collide. In January 1858 he received international acclaim by producing the first detailed analysis of an earthquake, the massive quake that shook Naples in December 1857, killing more than 10,000. During a month-long trek through the mountainous disaster zone he analysed the destruction, noting the direction in which buildings had fallen and proposing that patterns could be explained by a series of waves emanating from a ‘focus’ deep beneath the ground, which he termed the ‘epicentre’. His report, illustrated with lithographs, maps, diagrams and hundreds of photographs (photography at the time was a very novel innovation), brought him numerous awards and honours and did much to promote seismology as a new branch of science.

01/1872
John Francis Maguire (57), founder of the Cork Examiner (1841), died.

07/1972
President Richard Nixon was re-elected in a landslide some five months after the Watergate break-in, by then under intense investigation by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post.

10/1972
In a House of Commons written reply, it was disclosed that in the previous year some 577 women from Ireland had legal abortions in England and Wales, more than twice as many as in 1970.

11/1997
Mary McAleese was inaugurated as the eighth president of Ireland, the first time in the world that one woman succeeded another as elected head of state.

14/1622
Milar Magrath (98/99), clerical rogue who held Catholic and Anglican bishoprics at various times, died.

14/1922
The BBC, with a mission to ‘inform, educate and entertain’, took to the airwaves with a short news bulletin and a weather forecast.

17/1922
The first executions of the Civil War took place in Kilmainham Jail under the terms of the Public Safety Act when four men, aged 18–22, were executed for possession of revolvers.

24/1922
Erskine Childers (52), widely regarded as de Valera’s ‘right-hand man’, who was in custody for possession of a small-calibre pistol, a present from Michael Collins, was executed in Beggar’s Bush Barracks while awaiting the hearing of his appeal.

24/1972
The RTÉ Authority was replaced by the government after broadcasting a radio interview with Provisional IRA chief-of-staff Seán MacStiofáin in breach of Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. The radio reporter, Kevin O’Kelly, who conducted the interview was subsequently sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for contempt of the Special Criminal Court.

25/1972
Seán MacStiofáin, Provisional IRA chief-of-staff, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for membership of an illegal organisation.

26/1922
The archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.

DECEMBER

25/1929

Above: A garda is pictured with Larry Griffin’s bicycle on the road outside Stradbally, Co. Waterford, shortly after the postman disappeared on Christmas Day 1929.

The disappearance of postman Larry Griffin. On Christmas morning Griffin, a married man with three children, set out on his mail round from Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford, to Stradbally. The following morning his bicycle was found two miles from there on the road back to Kilmacthomas. Despite extensive searches of local mineshafts, bogs and cemeteries his body was never found. The investigating officer, a superintendent from Waterford, took statements from the gardaí in Stradbally and various locals, which gave contradictory versions of the postman’s movements and led him to believe that the gardaí were somehow involved. Then a local labourer came forward and gave what became the accepted version of events. Griffin had been in a local public house where a number of people, including local gardaí, were drinking and was involved in an altercation during which he struck his head on a stove and was mortally wounded. To cover up the fact that they were drinking illegally on Christmas Day, which would have seen the publican losing his licence and the gardaí facing dismissal, it was decided to dispose of the postman’s body and cover up his death. Eventually ten people, including the publican, his wife and two children, a local schoolteacher and two gardaí were charged with murder. But Larry Griffin was denied justice. In court the defendants held firm to their statements, whilst the labourer, the prosecution’s star witness, deviated from his, and in the absence of a body the trial collapsed. All charges were subsequently dropped, and the case officially remains unsolved. Some of the defendants later successfully sued for defamation and false arrest, including the publican and his family, who won substantial damages against two newspapers for implicating them in the case.

01/1972
A bus driver and bus conductor were killed and over 100 others were injured when two UVF bombs exploded in Dublin city centre. Fine Gael consequently dropped their opposition to Fianna Fáil’s Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill, then being debated in Dáil Éireann.

06/1922
Saorstát Éireann—the Irish Free State—came into existence with W.T. Cosgrave as president of the Executive Council.

07/1972
A referendum—with a 50.7% poll—lowered the minimum age for voting from 21 years to 18 and deleted the reference to the special position of the Catholic Church in the Constitution.

07/1972
Jean McConville (37), a widow with ten children, was abducted from her home in the Lower Falls area of Belfast and murdered by the IRA.

08/1922
Following the shooting dead of Seán Hales TD and the wounding of Deputy Speaker Pádraic Ó Máille the previous day, the government executed four prisoners, one from each province—Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Joseph McKelvey and Richard Barrett, who had been imprisoned since the fall of the Four Courts in late June.

19/1972
NASA’s Apollo program, which began in 1968, during which twelve men walked on the moon, concluded with the safe return of Apollo 17 after a twelve-day mission.

19/1922
Seven Republicans were executed in the Curragh camp.

26/1972
Harry S. Truman (88), 33rd US president (1945–53), whose motto was ‘The buck stops here’, died.

28/1972
In one of three UVF bomb attacks in the Republic of Ireland that day, a teenage boy and a teenage girl were killed when a device left in a car exploded without warning in Belturbet, Co. Cavan. Nine others were injured.

30/1972
Hugh Martin (55), a Catholic bakery worker, was murdered by the UVF in East Belfast, bringing the death toll that year to 496, far higher than any other year during the Troubles.

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