November 21

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1974 The IRA bombed two city-centre pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 people and injuring over 160.
  • 1920 ‘Bloody Sunday’. Eleven British intelligence agents were shot dead in Dublin by the IRA on the orders of Michael Collins. That afternoon the British forces killed twelve civilians in Croke Park. In a further reprisal, three IRA prisoners were shot ‘while trying to escape’ by the British army in Dublin Castle.
  • 1918 The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act allowed women over 21 years to sit in the House of Commons. Countess Markievicz (Sinn Féin) was the first woman elected.
  • 1916 The luxury liner Britannic, serving as a hospital ship, sank off the Greek island of Kea after striking a mine.

    Above: HMS Brittanic, in her hospital ship livery, shortly before striking a mine off the Greek island of Kea on 21 November 1916.

    Designed to outdo the rival Cunard line in the transatlantic passenger ship market, only one of the White Star Line’s celebrated ‘three sisters’ lived up to expectations. Despite an early near miss when she was holed beneath the water-line in a collision with the warship HMS Hawke in the Solent, the lead ship HMS Olympic had a successful 24-year career. On the other hand, Britannic, the youngest of the trio, lasted less than three years, though, thanks in part to several design changes carried out after the Titanic disaster, all but 30, including 21 firemen, out of the 1,065 on board were rescued. Most of the casualties were in two prematurely launched lifeboats, which were sucked under by the ship’s propeller as she went down. Remarkably, two people—stewardess Violet Jessop, born of Irish immigrant parents in Argentina, and fireman John Priest, from Southampton—survived all of these misadventures. On board one of Britannic’s doomed lifeboats, Jessop managed to jump clear in time and survived a serious wound when she struck her head against the keel. Priest escaped the fate of his ‘black gang’ mates when he was hauled, in the nick of time, from the water. Jessop afterward rejoined the White Star Line and retired in 1950. Priest, remarkably, survived yet another disaster before retirement. He called it a day after suffering a head injury when the hospital ship Donegal was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel in April 1917. He died—on dry land—in 1937.
  • 1814 General Juan (John) McKenna, Chilean general and ally of Bernardo O’Higgins, died in a duel in Buenos Aires.
  • 1767 Thomas Russell, United Irishman, known as ‘the man from God-knows-where’, born in Betsborough, Kilshanick, Co. Cork.
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