Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2023), News, Volume 31



Above: Sir William Thornley Stoker, older brother of Bram.

Amongst the many theories on what inspired the character Dracula is that Bram Stoker was greatly influenced by his older brother’s medical textbooks relating to rare and unusual diseases, one of which was a hereditary blood disorder called porphyria. Sufferers of this condition would have extreme sensitivity to light and would remain indoors during daylight hours, only venturing out at night. Their lips and gums often receded, making the incisors prominent. In extreme cases they succumbed to a cataleptic-like state in which they appeared to be dead, only to recover later in a vault or coffin. And they were allergic to garlic.

Sir William Thornley Stoker, born on 6 March 1845, was the eldest of seven children of Abraham Stoker, a senior civil servant in Dublin Castle, and Charlotte Thornley, a social reformer from County Sligo. Charlotte was very ambitious for her family and at the time of her death in 1901, though proud of Bram’s achievement in publishing a novel which would be read by more people worldwide than any book other than the Bible, was convinced that William would be the success of the family. After all, he was president of the Royal College of Surgeons. President too of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, where he was professor of anatomy, Sir William was an expert in abdominal and cranial surgery and neurosurgery and the first to perform a variety of modern procedures in Ireland. He also had a keen interest in art, and his magnificent home in Ely Place, where he entertained the great and the good, was packed with paintings and objets d’art. He died in July 1912, just six weeks after Bram.

Five National Army soldiers were killed at Knocknagoshel, Co. Kerry, when an IRA mine exploded whilst they were investigating what they thought was an arms dump.

Ballyseedy, Co. Kerry, massacre. In a National Army retaliation for Knocknagoshel, eight Republicans were blown to pieces by a land-mine. One was blown clear and escaped.

A referendum on Northern Ireland’s remaining in the UK resulted in almost 600,000 for and just under 6,500 against, reflecting a low poll (59%) and a nationalist boycott.

The IRA carried out its first major bomb attack on central London at the Old Bailey, killing one and injuring over 240. Later, ten were arrested while waiting to board a plane for Belfast, eight of whom were to receive life sentences, including the sisters Marion and Dolours Price.

The 20th Dáil assembled. Liam Cosgrave (Fine Gael) was elected taoiseach in a coalition containing five Labour Party ministers.

The British government published its White Paper, Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals, recommending the setting up of an 80seat Assembly and power-sharing.

Thirty-six orphan girls in the care of the Poor Clare Order died in a fire at St Joseph’s Orphanage in Cavan town.

Lord Brookborough retired as prime minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. He was succeeded by Captain Terence O’Neill.

Irish naval service vessels apprehended the Claudia, a Cypriot coaster, off County Waterford. Six men, including Joe Cahill, were arrested for conspiracy to import arms.

The last US serviceman departed from Vietnam. The Vietnam War claimed the lives of 58,281 US servicemen.

William Craig formed the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUPP).


Above: Brian Keenan on his release from captivity on 24 August 1990. (Alamy)

Brian Keenan (35), a teacher from Belfast at the American University of Beirut, was kidnapped by a Shi’a militia group. As the Belfast man was no doubt aware, the situation back home at the time was fairly unsettled. By-elections caused by a mass resignation of unionist MPs in protest against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, signed the previous November, were followed throughout the spring by violent loyalist protests leading to rioting, along with attacks on the homes of Catholics and hundreds of RUC officers. The situation in Lebanon, however, as those of us who tried to follow the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90) can attest, was altogether more complex.

A multi-faceted armed conflict between various Christian and Muslim forces, in which alliances shifted rapidly and unpredictably, the conflict involved various foreign powers, such as Israel and Syria. That month, following US airstrikes, a new round of hostage-taking had begun. In all, between 1982 and 1992 over 100 foreign hostages, mostly Americans and Western Europeans, were taken, of whom at least eight died. Keenan was not amongst them. After spending two months in isolation, he was moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. Blindfolded and chained hand to foot throughout most of his 1,574-day ordeal, he later described feeling ‘bereft, riven with pity and grief’, and his situation as a hostage as one of ‘crucifying aloneness, a silent screaming slide into the bowels of ultimate despair’. Listening to the screams of other hostages being tortured was worst of all. His bestseller, An evil cradling, revolves very much around his friendship with McCarthy and the brutality they experienced at the hands of their captors. He was released on 24 August 1990.

John Charles McQuaid (77), controversial archbishop of Dublin (1940–72), died.

Brian Cowan was elected seventh leader of Fianna Fáil.

Republican leader Liam Lynch (33), on his way to a meeting of the IRA Executive in Cork, accompanied by Frank Aiken, was shot by a party of National Army soldiers in the Knockmealdown Mountains and died in Mitchelstown.

The Good Friday or Belfast Agreement on the future governance of Northern Ireland was signed by the main political parties, apart from the DUP, and by the British and Irish governments.

In retaliation for the execution of six Republicans, Spiddal House, Co. Galway, home of Lord Killanin, unionist and ardent supporter of the Gaelic revival movement, was burnt to the ground.

The shadow of a gunman by Seán O’Casey opened in the Abbey Theatre.

Austin Stack, politician and leading opponent of the Anglo-Irish Treaty who supported the anti-Treaty IRA during the Civil War, was captured by Free State forces and imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail, where he led a hunger strike that severely weakened his health.

Dan Breen, whose exploits during the War of Independence led to a bounty of £10,000 for his capture and who opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921), was captured by Free State forces. Imprisoned, he embarked on a series of hunger and thirst strikes.

Eamon de Valera offered terms for negotiation to end the Civil War, which were rejected by the Free State government.

Maud Gonne (86), iconic figure in Irish nationalism, died.

James Larkin returned to Ireland from the USA. A month later, his disagreements with William O’Brien of the ITGWU would split the labour movement.

Bertie Ahern became the sixth Irish leader to address both houses of the US Congress.


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