Category Archives: Ireland

Dark deeds by a dark daughter

Over on there has emerged a thread about an excavation at Valladolid. The original story appeared in the Irish Times on Tuesday. I assume the ‘Constitution Street’ of that report is properly Calle Constitución, which runs near the Plaza Mayor and is a premier shopping zone.

It would be no surprise were the remains to be those of Aodh Ruadh/Red Hugh O’Donnell. We know, according to the Four Masters, he was given a royal funeral and interred in the chapter house of the monastery of St Francis.

I’ve never been thoroughly convinced by the romanticising of Aodh Ruadh. He spent four years in Dublin Castle, as a result of a drinking bout and a set-up by Sir John Perrot. He was extracted from that predicament by Hugh O’Neill (a far more impressive character and leader). He got the reversion of the Ó Domhnaill clan largely through the machination of his formidable mother (see below). His control in northern Connacht came about only because of the betrayal of Sligo Castle — and Henry Docwra out of Derry eventually negated that threat. His advance to Kinsale, side-stepping Sir George Carew at Cashel by threading through the Slieve Felim Way, was a smart use of intelligence. Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh blew it at Kinsale: they had the enemies bottled up, sandwiched between the Spanish and the Ulster men, starving, diseased — and they lost all on that dawn assault.

Look to the lady

And so to Finola MacDonnell, a.k.a. Iníon Dubh. She was one of a succession of Highland Scottish ladies who married into the Ulster chiefdoms. The arrangements normally involved a dowry of mercenary light infantrymen, from the McDonnells, McLeods and their septs, — so called ‘redshanks’ from their bare legs blow kilts. These were maintained by the seasonal billeting on the buannacht system. Finola came with her honour guard of a hundred, mainly Crawfords.

There is no coincidence in names here: the Tyrconnell Ó Domhnaill and the Scottish McDonnells were cousins.

Long running animosities between the Ó Domhnaill and the O’Neill clans (we’ll leave that for another day) led to a decisive battle (1567) at Farsetmore, near Letterkenny. The O’Neills, unfortunately, were on unknown territory: they had drawn up along the Swilly, only to find the rising tide had cut off their line of retreat. The Ó Domhnaills sept down, and drove them into the sea. Shane O’Neill had to seek a peace with the Ó Domhnaills, but the Ó Domhnaills decided to remove Shane O’Neill from the equation. At some point in this, the link between Ó Domhnaill and the Scottish McDonnells was renewed.

So, in 1570 young brunette Fionnuala/Finola MacDonnell, the Dark Daughter or Iníon Dubh, was married off to Hugh McManus O’Donnell, the leader at Farsetmore.

Finola was the real power in Tirconnell when Hugh O’Donnell, her husband, went gaga, and before the son, Red Hugh could be extracted from Dublin. She didn’t do too badly in her own right: she arranged the murder of Hugh O’Gallagher (1588) and saw off her step-son by her husband’s first marriage, Donnell O’Donnell (1590). It was her power that delivered Red Hugh’s succession as The O’Donnell.

When Red Hugh took himself off the board to Spain, and Finola must have been into her sixties, she neatly pasted up Niall Garbh O’Donnell in Sir Cahir O’Doherty’s ballsed-up rebellion (1608) — which meant her chief enemy was henceforth immured in the Tower of London.

Her reward for this double-dealing was 600 acres in the plantation of Ulster.

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Filed under History, Ireland, Irish Times,

One of the great and the (arguably) good …

Way back I did a couple dozen (or more: I lost count) posts on The Not-so-great and the Not-so-good. Out of nowhere, one of those came back to haunt me.

Today a small coincidence caught my attention.

One of the more enjoyable posts — while things are rattling along smoothly —  in the Irish Civil Service must be ‘secretary-general to the President’. When things get a bit sticky (a split General Election, perhaps) this will be the Main Man’s go-to guy for ungluing the machinery. An endearing Boss, a civilised environment, the palatial ex-Viceregal Lodge — it’s isn’t surprising that Art O’Leary has stuck the berth for much of the decade.

But that’s not my subject for today. It’s his historic name-sake.

Airt Ó Laoghaire

I’ll work backwards from his tombstone (above)  in the burial ground of Kilcrea Friary:

Lo Arthur Leary, generous
Handsome, brave, slain in
His bloom, lies in this humble
grave. Died May 4th, 1773.
Aged 26 years.

The O’Leary family held substantial lands, leased from Lord Kenmare, between Macroom and Gougane Barra — not the best lands, of course, but the most decent available to a Roman Catholic. The family home was Rath Laoi, often represented as ‘Rathleigh’, and now modernised as Raleigh. Those lands would have been bounded by two rivers, the Sullane to the north, and the Lee to the south.

And, also of course, as a Roman Catholic, the young Art had limited-to-none opportunities for education or advancement in Ireland. So, like so many, he offed and entered military service on the continent — the Hussars of the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa. Since I have no image of O’Leary, let’s have the last of the Habsburgs (as right).

A Hungarian Hussar, looking the part! In short order, a captain of Hussars, no less.

Back home with wife and family …

He married in 1767: she was Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, a young widow. Her previous marriage was in her mid-teens: but notice that surname — she would have been the aunt of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator. An elopement was involved. The O’Leary household, by the time of his death, would have included two sons, Cornelius and Fiach, with a possible third infant.

According to one version of the story, the horse which was the motive for O’Leary’s murder had been brought by him from his cavalry days.

The cause of the killing

A version has that O’Leary joined the Muskerry Hunt, and out-stripped the field, to be in at the kill and take the fox’s brush. A local magistrate, a Mr Abraham Morris (which some versions render as ‘Morrison’) of Dunkettle, Cork, living at Hanover Hall, was a local worthy of some distinction: a JP by 1757, High Sheriff of County Cork in 1760. He demanded O’Leary’s horse for the payment of five guineas. That was the Penal Law from  1695 — 7 William III c.5: An Act for the better securing the government, by disarming papists; Section 10 —

No papist shall be capable of having or keeping for his use, any horse, gelding or mare of five pounds value. Any protestant who shall make discovery under oath of such horse, shall be authorized with the assistance of a constable, to search for and secure such horse and in case of resistance to break down any door. And any protestant making such discovery and offering five pounds five shillings to the owner of such horse, in the presence of a justice of the peace or chief magistrate, shall receive ownership of such horse as though such horse were bought in the market overt.

This led to acrimony, an exchange of blows, with deployment of horse-whips. Morris convened his fellow magistrates, and O’Leary was declared an outlaw.

The Killing

On 4th May 1773 Morris had been at Drishane Castle. Returning home, O’Leary was lying in wait near the village of Carriganima. Morris made sure he had armed guards.

One version is that shots were fired. O’Leary, it seems had a pistol. Morris gave an order to fire, and O’Leary was hit below the ear by a musket bullet. It seems O’Leary’s body was first buried in a field, and only removed to Kilcrea some years later.

Caoineadh Airt UÍ Laoghaire

Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill (or someone in her name) composed the long ‘keen’ in his memory. It may well have been delivered at the re-interment at Kilrea:

Mo ghrá go daingean tu!                   My steadfast love!
Lá dá bhfaca thu                                 When I saw you one day
ag ceann tí an mhargaidh,                by the market-house gable
thug mo shúil aire dhuit,                  my eye gave a look
thug mo chroí taitnearnh duit,        my heart shone out
d’éalaíos óm charaid leat                  I fled with you far
i bhfad ó bhaile leat.                          from friends and home.


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Filed under County Cork, History, Ireland, Military

Some heavy lifting needed in Belfast?

One essential truth that hasn’t got through the boneheadedness of Boris Johnson’s Brexiteers: don’t mess with the Six Counties.

Yesterday’s Guardian had a significant story:

Brussels and UK at odds over proposed EU office in Belfast

Clashes expected over plan which Britain says would sow division in Northern Ireland

Brussels and UK officials will clash over the increasingly fraught question of whether the European Union can open an office in Belfast.

At the inaugural meeting on Thursday of a special committee of officials charged with enforcing a de facto Irish Sea border, the European commission is expected to press the case to open “a technical office” in Belfast, three days after the government rejected an EU “mini-embassy” in the Northern Irish capital

The EU is refusing to drop the issue, amid fears Boris Johnson’s government could renege on the Brexit withdrawal agreement that requires Northern Ireland to follow EU single market and customs rules.

Moreover, the first name on that by-line is Jennifer Rankin in Brussels. This is no Telegraph or Daily Mail hysteria: Rankin has a track-record of cool, clear reporting.

Most London ‘sources’ report on Brussels, out of London kitchens and offices, and amount to froth and fury (much of it invented over a bottle of good Bordeaux). The Guardian, bless its little liberal heart, does the business properly.

Compare the coverage in The Times: as far as I see, that one-time ‘newspaper of record’ had given us just two stories on the UK approach to #Brexit thesis week:

We won’t need an extension to our Brexit transition time, insists Gove (Tuesday)

Ministers have stood down the government’s no-deal Brexit planning operation, Michael Gove said yesterday as he claimed that the chances of striking a deal were now at least 2-1.

Giving evidence to MPs, Mr Gove revealed that about 50 civil servants who had been working on Brexit negotiations had been re-deployed to deal with coronavirus and that there were no active preparations for leaving without a trade deal in December. […]

That one by-lined to Oliver Wright, Policy Editor — so a straightforward Little Shard desk job, as likely as not gleaned from watching the BBC Parliament feed from #Brexit Select Committee. And:

Northern Ireland ‘needs Brexit clarity’ (today)

Northern Ireland needs Brexit clarity from a UK government “consumed” by the coronavirus emergency, the Belfast civil servant in charge of its preparations said.

Two scenarios have been drawn up at Stormont depending on whether or not Britain secures a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU.

Andrew McCormick, the director-general of international relations, said that without a deal, the border protocol surrounding compliance with aspects of the Irish system is expected to apply.

“Time is tight but what is needed from London is clarity on these issues,” he said.

Michael McHugh, by-lined there, would seem to be standing closer to the horse’s mouth, and let’s note:

Mr McCormick told the Stormont committee of Assembly members yesterday that the UK government’s focus was on Covid-19, and not Brexit.

McCormick is director-general of international relations. While:

The chairman of the group charged with consulting Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales on Brexit is Michael Gove, the minister for the Cabinet Office, who has also had to devote his time to the virus crisis.

Got that, chaps? The NI Executive is allowed  ‘international relations’. Read the self-descriptor for this International Relations Team (and, yes, they do award themselves capitals):

Under devolution legislation, international relations and relations with the EU remain the responsibility for the UK Government. However, it is recognised that the devolved administrations will have an interest in international policy making in relation to devolved powers.

Under the Belfast Agreement the duties of the First Minister and deputy First Minister include co-ordinating the work of the Executive Committee and the response of the Northern Ireland administration to external relationships.

That decodes as: the EU must be kept at the end of a barge-pole. Everything has to go through London, where Chipmunk Gove is marking his own homework.

But here’s a funny-peculiar thing, also from The Guardian:

A narrow majority of Northern Irish MPs, it has emerged, back the EU plan for a Belfast office. Ten of 18 MPs elected to Westminster reject the government’s argument, including Sinn Fein, who do not take their seats. The Democratic Unionist party, who make up the remaining eight, support the government, whose position was outlined by the paymaster general, Penny Mordaunt, on Monday.

In a letter to senior EU officials including the chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, Mordaunt said a special EU office would be “divisive in political and community terms” and was not required by the Irish protocol agreed last October.

Immediate question: why is Penny Mordaunt speaking for the DUP?

She is either too simple (read that as you wish) or too complicated for most thinking souls. She is currently ‘Paymaster General’, which is a parking place for either up-and-comers being kept on a string, or giz-a-job types who might otherwise go rogue. Beyond that, ‘Paymaster General’ is anything up to and including minister for paper-clips.

So the questions are:

  • Is Ms Mordaunt going out on a limb? She has a track record: a previous outing (insisting that Remain meant Turkish entry to the EU) had to be slapped down by PM Cameron. Indeed, although tied to a hard-Brexit constituency (Portsmouth), one wonders just how deep Ms Mordaunt’s Brexiteering runs: she is none too far from opportunism at any time.


  • Has she been put up to this, being ‘deniable’? There’s a further layer to that onion: Brandon Lewis was a familiar TV figure before the latest Johnson re-shuffle. I doubt many at Westminster, outside his close circle of friends, could instantly name him as SoS NI. Just another ‘safe pair of hands’?

Anyway, on current form it’s difficult to see any kind of realism in Tory thinking on relations with the EU. Added to which, there seems to be underlying Tory grievances aimed at all things Dublin, and at Leo Varadkar especially (particularly so after the three-way party split for the 33rd Dáil).

Spitting in the eye of the EU is standard operating practice for Boris Johnson’s Tories: it is an item on Michael Gove’s job description. Sharing cuddles with the DUP was the mode until the December General Election: now it’s more lack of social distancing. Poking sharp sticks at Tithe an Rialtais is a well-established Tory sport, but no longer so one-sided. Upsetting the whole apple-cart in the Black North is totally misguided.

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Filed under DUP, Europe, Ireland, Northern Irish politics

‘The Despard conspiracy’

I wasn’t greatly enthused by first sight of the current issue of The Times Literary Supplement. The cover seemed to promise all things feminist and African. Within, though, are two reviews of history books. Both have, if looked at properly, Irish implications. We’ll perhaps come to the second later.

The first (page 26) is a review by Professor Marianne Elliott. If that name doesn’t ring bells, it should. She is one of those scholars who created at Liverpool University the highly-influential Institute of Irish Studies. Here she is taking large lumps out of Peter Linebaugh’s Red Round Globe Hot Burning — A Tale at the Crossroads of Commons and Closure, of Love and Terror, of Race and Class, and of Kate and Ned Despard. That ponderous title alone suggests something OTT, more Mills and Boon than product of a respectable academic press. The book seems to be account of the lives of

Edward Marcus Despard and his Jamaican wife Catherine, daughter of a freed slave. Despard was a minor member of the Anglo-Irish gentry, whose career in the British army had takeneito Jamaica, Nicaragua and, in 1786, to British Honduras, as its military superintendent. In Central America he took up the cause of the indigenous people and fell foul of the Baymen, or loggers. Recalled to England in 1790, he became involved with the English and Irish “underground”, was twice arrested, and executed inLondon in 1803 for his part in the so-called Despard Conspiracy (allegedly to overthrow the British government).​

On the basis of this review I shall not be rushing to buy the book.

And yet … ‘the Despard Conspiracy’. I had an echo lodged in a disused braincell, but I needed a refresher.

The Oxford Companion to Irish History is no great help:

Despard, Col. Edward Marcus (1751-1803), born in Queen’s County, a naval hero executed 21 February 1803 for an alleged revolutionary conspiracy in London. His activities, long dismissed as a wild personal venture, are now seen as part of the clandestine plotting still kept up, despite defeat in the insurrection of 1798, by the United Irishmen and their radical allies in Great Britain, with possible links to Robert Emmett’s venture later the same year.​

It is unsigned. That, to me, feels little more than a place-marker, waiting to be amplified by developing scholarship. Which may explain why, although I must have heard of the ‘Despard Conspiracy’, I wasn’t up to speed.

The DNB doesn’t quite concur with Professor Elliott:

In June 1786 Despard took up an appointment as superintendent of Honduras. Though he handled relations with the Spanish authorities well he was notably less adept as a civilian governor. His unswerving support for settlers displaced from territories recently ceded to Spain (many of whom he knew from San Juan and the Black River) led him into repeated conflict with the established British settler community, who complained repeatedly to London of his ‘visible Spirit of Self-importance and uncontrollable Domination’ (TNA: PRO, CO 123/6, 21 Feb 1788). Events culminated in his annulment (June 1789) of the colony’s police and magistracy; Despard ruled by direct decree until, suspended on half pay, he was ordered to return to Britain, where he arrived in May 1790, accompanied by his African–Caribbean wife, Catherine, and their son James.​

What comes before and after that DNB snippet is interesting.

There is a link to his older brother, John Despard, another of the colonial administrators who sprang from the lower echelons of the Ascendancy class, and rose through army connections. Much of John’s service had been in the American campaigns, and he was duly rewarded with O/C the Cape Breton colony. Time and circumstances put him running the reception committee for 25,000 Scots evicted by the Highland Clearances.

Caribbean daring-do

From the DNB we find Edward Marcus as an engineer with Nelson, capturing Fort San Juan (1779) from the Spanish (annepisode plundered by CS Forester for Hornblower) , running the occupation of Roatan and the Honduran island (1781), at the defence of Jamaica against the Franco-Spanish assault (1782). Then something of interest:

Despard headed an expedition of Jamaican settlers, assisted by British artillery, to recapture Spanish-occupied Black River territory in south-western Jamaica. For this he received royal commendation and was made a colonel of provincials.​
​In June 1786 Despard took up an appointment as superintendent of Honduras.

As if someone higher up has spotted Despard ‘deals well with the locals’.

Back in Britain, after the Honduran problem:

Despard had to wait until October 1791 to learn that, while complaints against him were dismissed, he was not to be reinstated as superintendent of Honduras. In pursuit of compensation he grew increasingly irascible, while the combination of enforced idleness and grievance against authority led him to both the London Corresponding Society and the overtly revolutionary United Irishmen (UI). He quickly became an intimate of the leading United Irishman and French secret agent William Duckett and in 1797 was reported to be co-ordinator of a proposed rising in London planned to coincide with one in Ireland and a French landing there. In 1798 Despard was pivotal in negotiations between the United Irishmen and a broader conspiratorial group, the United Britons, to foment simultaneous English and Irish risings to assist a French invasion. When O’Connor and O’Coighley, the principal leaders of the conspiracy, were apprehended in February, while hiring a boat to take them to France, habeas corpus was suspended and further arrests followed. Despard’s was predictably among them.​
​Despard seems to have been aware that the revolutionary threat had been contained by the government when, in June 1799, he petitioned for his release in return for voluntary transportation. Among political prisoners at this time he seems to have received the harshest treatment—’more like a common vagabond than a gentleman or State Prisoner’, complained his wife, Catherine (TNA: PRO, HO 42/43)—and Sir Francis Burdett made Despard’s case the centre of a campaign against the ‘English Bastille’.​

Alas! At that single bound our hero was not yet free.

He retreated to the family stamping ground at Camross, seemingly convinced to stay out of politicking. But, get this:

… in February 1802 he returned to London at the behest of the UI leader William Dowdall. After the collapse of the Irish rising of 1798 the United Irishmen had reconstituted itself as a small, centralized military body. Though Britain was now at peace with France food shortages and industrial unrest created a climate in which talk of revolution flourished. Despard now concentrated on enlisting the support of militant Irish labourers and guardsmen stationed in Windsor and London but intelligence sources also show him to have been in contact with Irish and French emissaries during the summer. Disaffected guardsmen tried to force the issue with a rising on 6 September but Despard restrained them, arguing that such action could be effective only if it coincided with an Irish rising and a French invasion; but then, on 16 November, Despard was arrested at the Oakly Arms, Lambeth, apparently planning a coup d’état to coincide with the opening of parliament later that month.​

Much of that sounds remarkably familiar. In the subsequent trial, the prosecution pulled its punches, reluctant to reveal the sources of intelligence, and particularly protective of any evidence against:

a significant number of London Jacobins in the conspiracy, of whom the motley dozen soldiers and workmen tried with Despard were far from typical.​

Instead Despard was depicted as:

a psychotic maverick who had enticed a small band of unfortunates into supporting a futile plot.​

That was when synapses closed; and I realised where Despard had appeared in my past reading. He gets incidental references in EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

The rest of Despard’s story follows a predictable pattern:

… the only incriminating evidence found at his arrest was a printed card calling for ‘the independence of Great Britain and Ireland. An equalization of Civil, Political, and Religious Rights; [and] an ample Provision for the families of the Heroes who shall fall in the contest’. An oath of allegiance to the United Britons was appended. Identical cards circulated in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Such points led Edward Thompson to argue, in The Making of the English Working Class (1963), that Despard was the leader of a nationwide revolutionary conspiracy […] His arrest was simply an opportunist move by a government acting on fragmentary evidence.​

As far as I can see, that is how the notion of an overarching plot, led by Despard, remained current. Though Marianne Elliott (I now see) made an earlier effort at resurrecting Despard’s memory in her Partners in revolution: the United Irishmen and France.

Despard’s defence was circumspect, wishing perhaps not to incriminate others but also aware that the prosecution case was uneven. He enjoyed wide popularity and Nelson himself gave evidence as to his good character: ‘no man could have shewn more zealous attachment to his Sovereign and his Country’. Though finding him guilty the jury recommended mercy ‘on account of his former services’. The government, however, was not inclined to clemency. Whatever the truth of the conspiracy an exemplary verdict had been secured and punishment was enacted accordingly. On 21 February 1803, having taken leave of his wife and refusing all religious consolation, Despard was drawn on a hurdle to the Surrey county gaol, Newington, where, before a crowd reportedly of 20,000, he delivered from the scaffold a speech that was loudly cheered. Along with six co-conspirators he was hanged and his corpse decapitated, whereupon the executioner held up the head, declaring: ‘This is the head of a traitor’. His widow received the remains, which on 1 March were buried in the churchyard by St Paul’s Cathedral.​
In my humble opinion Edward Despard is another victim of the nationalist struggle:
  • Is there any Irish memorial of him, or to him?
  • Perhaps I should take time out to trace any genealogical link between him and Charlotte Despard ((1844-1939, née French), the pacifist, socialist, suffragette, and Irish nationalist, sister of Sir John French, through her husband, Maximilian Carden Despard (1839–1890).


Filed under History, Ireland, Times Literary Supplement

Plodding along: Great Journeys #1

This was prompted by Alphonse , on, posting Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s map.  It is ‘son of Codding abouton the same channel:


The hero of this hour ought to be David Ingram. But let me start with the begetter of that map (and a chance for rude raspberries all round) …

(Sir) Humphrey Gilbert
After Eton and Oxford, Humph was at a loose-end. Fortunately his aunt was Katherine ‘Kat’ Ashley, the Princess Elizabeth’s governess at Hatfield. The family connection brought Gilbert into the household. That would be around 1554-5. In 1558 the Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne, and Kat Ashby became First Lady of the Bedchamber. Gilbert was again twiddling his fingers, so did what every idling toff does, and buzzed off to the Inns of Court to become a lawyer.

That achieved, Gilbert took to a bit of soldiering, with the Newhaven expedition (1562-3), to assist the Huguenots of France. He received a good reference from the commanding officer, the earl of Warwick.

More significantly, in 1562 Gilbert was at Le Havre with:

  • Richard Eden (translator of several Spanish writings on naval voyages) and
  • Thomas ‘the Lusty’ Stukley (a double-, if not triple-agent, who had served in France, and had come up with a plan to plant Florida).
Through these associates, Gilbert met with:
All of which set Gilbert to musing, if the Frogs could do it, why not the bold and doughty English.
Around this time the Muscovy Company (which had ambitions for a North-East passage to the Far East), was running into problems. The Russians were none too happy about a one-sided arrangement (which looked like frustrating a land route to the Far East), and Stephen Borough‘s attempts to find a way around the Artic route had run into the ice.
The alternative was to find  a North-West Passage. This appealed to Humphrey Gilbert (that Cartier connection), so he started drafting his proposal in Discourse of a Discoverie for a New Passage to Cataia (though this wouldn’t be published for another decade).

The Irish business

A bit of ‘time out’ is necessary here.

The revolt of Shane O’Neill was giving Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney severe conniptions, so our Humphrey was off to aid and assist.

Once O’Neill had been assassinated, Gilbert put his mind to plantations, particularly a plan with Sir Warham St Leger to settle Munster. Gilbert then found himself colonel, and military governor of Munster, suppressing the rising of James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald. This is where Gilbert earns his rightful place in the recital of MOPEry. Thomas Churchyard’s A general rehearsall of warres recorded, approvingly, Gilbert’s way of winning hearts and minds:

His manner was that the heads of all those (of what sort soever they were) which were killed in the day, should be cut off from their bodies, and brought to the place where he encamped at night, and should there be laid on the ground, by each side of the way leading to his own tent, so that none could come unto his tent for any cause, but commonly he must pass through a lane of heads, which he used ad terrorem, the dead feeling nothing the more pains thereby, and yet did it bring great terror to the people, when they saw the heads of their dead fathers, brothers, children, kinsfolk and friends, lie on the ground before their faces, as they came to speak with the said colonel.​

The Lord Deputy knighted Gilbert for that service. A beneficial marriage to a landed Kentish heiress, Anne Ager, or Aucher ensued.

Allow me to get back on track, by leaping a few years.

By 1577-78 Gilbert was using his Court friends to launch schemes to annoy the King of Spayne. He aimed to destroy the Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets working the Newfoundland Banks, and he received Letters Patent to search out and possess remote heathen and barbarous landes.

His first attempt, setting out in November 1578 came adrift. He fell out with his co-mate, Henry Knollys (another dodgy bloke), who promptly tried to get advantage. The result was Gilbert back in port with a bedraggled expedition within months. Gilbert was then instructed to use his ships to patrol the Munster coast: he ‘forgot’ to pay his sailors, who upped-and-offed with two of his vessels, making another hole in Anne Ager’s marriage portion.

By late 1582 Gilbert had put together a speculative proposition for a second effort. On 11 June 1583 his five ships (one of which was The Golden Hind) left Plymouth, Gilbert waved his Letters Patent at the Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets, and reached St John’s on 3 August. Gilbert then claimed the harbour and two hundred leagues in all directions for Queen Elizabeth.

Three weeks later Gilbert with three ships headed south (there is some evidence that Gilbert had always set his eyes on the Caribbean). One of his ships was wrecked, and the remaining two crews had had enough, and decided to return home. On 9 September Gilbert was caught in an Atlantic storm, and was lost at sea. End of that story.

The amazing Ingram
The above account, however rudimentary, suggests several attractions for the Newfoundland venture:

  • English settlements in the New World were a fashionable topic in Elizabethan England. The all-purpose Dr John Dee was a particular propagandist;
  • the Newfoundland Banks, and the cod, were a very promising resource;
  • it was off the beaten track for the Spanish, so less chance of small English ships being caught by a massive Hispanic galleon (see below for that eventuality);
  • the French were already on the spot, and poking a rough stick at that lot was ever good english practice;
  • St John’s (latitude 47°33′) is close to a rhumb line from the west of Britain (Bristol is 51°45′). Until John Harrison had his chronometers working (and that’s two centuries after Gilbert & co.), longitude was problematic.

There was one more factor, which brings me back to the extraordinary story of Barking-boy David Ingram.  Were his traveller’s tale not verified by others, this could be another wild fantasy. There’s a far more detailed essay, by Charlton Ogburn, here.

Ingram had been with John Hawkins and Francis Drake in scourging the Spanish trade in the Caribbean. Hawkins took his six vessels to revictual at San Juan de Ulúa (think Veracruz). Alas! The annual flotilla, thirteen great ships, dropped in soon after, with the new Viceroy of Mexico, Don Martín Enríquez de Almanza, on board. Despite initial negotiations, Martín suddenly broke any agreement, and a one-sided battle ensued. Only two of Hawkins’s ships escaped.

Heavily overburdened, Hawkins unloaded the excess ‘self-loading freight’ on the Texas coast. This group aimed to head north. Ingram and two companions, named as Brown and Twyde, apparently hiked all the way to Cape Breton. Which, if true, would be the earliest exploration of the Atlantic coast.

That’s all in 1568. Only in 1582 was Ingram was interrogated by Sir Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth’s ‘M’) and Sir George Peckham (that’s the Gilbert link). Much of Ingram’s story, which was published in 1583, stretches the imagination, and Ogburn’s essay treats it as Walsingham’s propaganda. John Toohey for The Public Domain Review was able to find parallels, and is far more positive than the sceptical Ogburn. Hakluyt included Ingam’s tale in his first edition (1589), but not the second (1598) — which might be taken as dismissive.

I’ll stake a claim to David Ingram as ‘Impossible Journey #1’.

I welcome others to suggest stories that beat it. But I have a couple already in mind.

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Filed under History, Ireland, travel

Just Perkin about

The following was totally irrelevant to a running thread on

A poor thing, but mine own (with the usual inputs).

  • Now look here: don’t you go making insinuations about Corkonians!
  • For me, the dirt on “Perkin Warbeck” was first dished by Bram Stoker. [Cries of “not a lot of people know that” but hardly © Michael Caine.]
  • I feel the need for a frolic, and to add a bit of totally irrelevant info — after all, there’s a whole menagerie of “types” in this story, and it was good enough for Bram Stoker. So here goes…

Two worthies from that fine city (former mayor John Atwater and English exile John Taylor) had Pierrechon de Werbecque (oh — work it out for yourselves) impersonate Richard Plantagenet, duke of York.

In his forced “confession”, “Warbeck” declared himself properly to be son of John Osbek, comptroller of the town of Tournai, and Kataryn de Far. We can identify these as Jehan de Werbecque and Nicaise Farou (English orthography and decoding of foreign names didn’t improve much until the 18th century — even if then).

“Warbeck” apprenticed in the Flemish wool-trade, which brought him into the service of Lady Margaret Beaumont, wife of the Anglo-Portuguese trader (and convert from Judaism) Sir Edward Brampton, Duarte Brandão. “Warbeck” came to Cork via the Portuguese Court, where he had fallen in with, first the royal councillor and explorer Pero Vaz de Cunha, and in 1488 with a Breton merchant, Pregent Meno. Meno arrived at Cork in December 1491 with silk to sell — which must say something about the prosperity of Cork in the late 15th century.

Malcolmian aside 1:

There’s several “de Cunha” names around at this time. All seem to have connections to Portuguese expansion and trade in India. In which case, I’m wondering about a family connection, which still appears on the Atlantic map as “Tristan da Cunha“.

Taylor deserves more attention than he has regularly received. He had come to Cork as an agent of  Charles VIII Valois l’Affable, whose interest was to divert Henry VII Tudor from ambitions in Britanny. Taylor induced Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Desmond, to patronise “Warbeck”, but it was Taylor who carried “Warbeck” to Harfleur. When Charles VIII came to terms with Henry Tudor (November 1492), “Warbeck” was rendered redundant, and made a break for Mechelen where he won over the dowager Duchess of Burgundy, Margaret of York, who “recognised” her long-lost nephew.

Malcolmian aside 2:

I was puzzled by the white roses in the glass of Flemish churches: it’s down to the marriage of Margaret of York at 5am on 3 July 1468 to Charles of Burgundy.

By early 1493 former-Yorkist members of the English court were appending themselves to what was a developing plot: Lord John Fitzwalter, Sir Robert Clifford (watch him!), Dean William Worsley of St Paul’s, and even the chamberlain of the king’s household, Sir William Stanley. Henry VII Tudor was already responding by cracking down on dissent in Ireland, and threatening trade sanctions (i.e. suspending the wool trade) against the Flemings. The Flemish sent “Warbeck” to Vienna, to secure the support of Maximilian Hapsburg, king of the Romans, who was married to a daughter of Charles of Burgundy by his first wife.

Malcolmian aside 3:

It might seem remarkable how often Portuguese connections show up in this story: the Burgundy/York marriage; Maximilian’s mother was a Portuguese princess. That’s a reflection of the passing importance of Portugal as a European power. And reminds me to read Roger Crowley’s book.

All was going swimmingly: “Warbeck” was an honoured guest of Maximilian when Philip the Fair was installed as ruler of the Flemish lands. Whereupon the wheels came off. Clifford (see above) defected back to Henry Tudor, and implicated the Yorkist courtiers. There was something of an Irish rebellion by the Desmonds. An attempted invasion of England, financed by Maximilian, was thwarted at the beach at Deal by Kentish levies. “Warbeck” then tried it on, with some success, at the court of James IV Stewart of Scotland. James Stewart married “Warbeck” to Lady Catherine Gordon (daughter of the Earl of Huntley, and a minor royal), provided “Warbeck” with Falkland Palace as a base, and prepared for an invasion of England. James Stewart had no intention of putting “Warbeck” on the English throne: the reward would be the burgh of Berwick.

James Stewart and “Warbeck” marched the Scots force across the border (21 September 1496), but “Warbeck” was soon aware he would have no support, and he retired. James Stewart bashed about a few border castles, and he too retreated.

Meanwhile Henry VII Tudor’s taxation provoked a rising in Cornwall, and more generally across the South-West. The rebels issued an invitation for “Warbeck” to lead them. The rebels took a trouncing at Blackheath (17 June 1497) and retreated to Cornwall, and “Warbeck” duly arrived at Whitesand Bay, via Ireland, on 7 September. Ireland, by the way, had been pacified by Gearóid Mór, the Earl of Kildare. “Warbeck” had attracted as many as 8,000 when he attempted a strike on Exeter (17 September 1497), to be sent packing by the Earl of Devon’s garrison. By the time “Warbeck” retreated to Taunton, his support was dissipating rapidly. By 21 September the rebellion was over, and “Warbeck” and his closest supporters fled.

“Warbeck” and three others holed up at Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire, were recognized and surrendered on promise of pardon. Henry Tudor held a kangaroo court at Taunton (5 October), where “Warbeck” confessed his imposture.

Malcolmian aside 4:

“Warbeck”‘s wife — and soon to be widow — received considerations from the Tudors. During the next reign, that of Henry VIII Tudor, she had three successive further marriages.

On the principle of keeping his enemies closer, Henry Tudor traipsed “Warbeck” around in his train until 9 June 1498 when “Warbeck” engineered an escape to Sheen, where he was recaptured and condemned to the Tower in shackles for life. I’d have to raise an eyebrow here: the back-end of “Warbeck”‘s career seems a trifle too convenient for Henry VII Tudor.

Somehow “Warbeck” became involved in one final plot, an attempt to break the Earl of Warwick and “Warbeck” from the Tower. This, too, was remarkably convenient for Henry Tudor in flushing out the last of the Yorkists (so, join the dots). A job lot of Henry’s enemies (including Taylor and Atwater — see my third paragraph of this post — neatly recovered respectively from France and Ireland) went on trial at the Palace of Westminster, en route for terminal “wet jobs“. “Warbeck” made a final “confession” before being hanged at Tyburn (23 November 1499).

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Filed under County Cork, History, Ireland,

How socially-prejudiced is that?

Yesterday our local political discourse was enhanced by an otherwise-unremarkable Tory back-bencher [*]

A Conservative MP has been suspended from the party after it emerged she used a racist expression during a public discussion about Brexit.

Anne Marie Morris, the MP for Newton Abbot, used the phrase at an event in London to describe the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

She told the BBC: “The comment was totally unintentional. I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused.”

The Conservative Party later confirmed she had had the whip withdrawn.

Announcing the suspension, Theresa May said she was “shocked” by the “completely unacceptable” language.

“I immediately asked the chief whip to suspend the party whip,” she said in a statement.

I was much taken by Stephen Bush (of the New Statesman) instantly producing a 26-point check-list, notably this bit:

10. How on earth do you become an MP while being so stupid as to use the N-word at a public event?
11. I mean, surely, even if you are an honest-to-God, white sheet-wearing KKK racist, your basic self-preservation instinct kicks in and goes “Hmm. Wait a second. I wonder if this might possibly backfire?”
12. I mean, come on, aren’t these the same people who go on about political correctness gone mad?
13. Anne Marie Morris presumably had to defeat at least one other person to be selected as the Conservative candidate.
14.Imagine how rubbish you must be to lose to someone who uses the word “n****r” at a meeting in 2017.
15. Anne Marie Morris is 60.

Some of the follow-ups have come close to that. There was Paul Waugh’s Waugh Zone for HuffPo, which deserves repetition:

Given the damage done, it’s hard to see how Morris can regain the Tory whip, no matter what the ‘investigation’ by Tory campaigns HQ concludes. Which raises the issue of whether she will be booted out for good, and whether she would quit to trigger a by-election. Her majority in her west country seat is 17,000.  But as this year has taught everyone, electoral norms can be upended.

Morris had already been forced to distance herself from her electoral agent and partner Roger Kendrick last month, after he claimed “that the crisis in education was due entirely to non-British born immigrants and their high birth rates’.” Kemi Badenoch, the Tory MP for Saffron Walden, told the Telegraph she spoke to the Chief Whip “to express my dismay, and I am pleased that decisive action has been taken”. Maidstone MP Helen Grant said she was “so ashamed” that a fellow Tory could use the phrase without knowing its history (and it’s an awful history) or impact.

[*] Lest we forget, Matt Chorley, for The Times Red Box categorised the lady:

Anne Marie Morris – who until this point was best known in the Commons for waving a sling around while wearing Deirdre Barlow’s glasses – used the n-word yesterday at a public meeting.

All of which stirred the Redfellow Hippocampus to two thoughts:

1. How far we have come in my lifetime.

I became politically active in the 1960s — by which I mean I discarded the political attitudes I inherited, and adopted an alternative set. Whether that also means I “started to think for myself” is more debatable.

What did shock was what happened in the 1964 General Election for the Smethwick constituency. It wasn’t that the Tory — against the national swing — took the previously Labour seat. It was how it was achieved. There have been any number of re-drafts of that bit of unpleasantness. At the time it was generally accepted that

  • there was effectively a colour-bar being operated for social housing in the borough, in pubs, youth clubs and social centres;
  • that, officially or not, the Tory campaign was sustained by propaganda such as the leaflet (right) — note that it comes without the “imprint” required by electoral law;
  • that Harold Wilson was entirely justified in declaring the elected Tory a parliamentary leper. Many Tories were deeply uncomfortable about the elected MP as a fellow: even Enoch Powell (whose “rivers of blood” speech came two years later) refused to campaign with him.
  • that the local Trade Union branches and whatever were not beyond reproach.

In our innocence, we — and I include myself explicitly — believed such horrors had gone away. As if …

2. Just how racist is our language?

Put the woodpile (above) aside.

We could quibble about “nitty-gritty” (and many have done). Indeed, almost any use of “black” and “white” could be construed as a racist offence, if one was so determined.

And then there is (sharp intake of breath) “calling a spade a spade”. However that one dates from 1542, and Nicholas Udall translating Erasmus Apophthegmes ii. f. 167:

Philippus aunswered, yt the Macedonians wer feloes of no fyne witte in their termes but altogether grosse, clubbyshe, and rusticall, as they whiche had not the witte to calle a spade by any other name then a spade.

Erasmus, in turn, was translating Plutarch’s Greek into Latin, and hesitated over a literal rendering of to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough, which some ascribe to Aristophanes. His hesitation might plausibly because “fig”, as the Oxford English Dictionary has as the second meaning:

A contemptuous gesture which consisted in thrusting the thumb between two of the closed fingers or into the mouth. Also, fig of Spain, and to give (a person) the fig.

Which Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Pistol (Henry V, Act III, scene vi):

Pistol: Die and be damn’d! and figo for thy friendship!
Fluellen: It is well.
Pistol: The fig of Spain!

Preferring the epicene, Udall goes for the horticultural reference. The racial slur dates only from the 1920s, and apparently from New York, and specifically Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem (1927).

And one more to finish

What about “beyond the Pale”?

Note the capital “P’. Any delineated space could be a “pale”. In Ireland it had a specific connotation:

The area of Ireland under English jurisdiction (varying in extent at different times between the late 12th and 16th centuries, but including parts of modern Dublin, Louth, Meath, and Kildare).

By implication, anything “beyond the Pale” would be among the wild Irish. As one who has frequently been called a “West Brit”, I know we have our archipelagic variant of Crow Jim.  Now consider all those places with a district “Irishtown” or even “Irish Street”. Without exception, they will be less favoured, and more down-market. In medieval Dublin, Irishtown was the bit outside the city walls, down to the slob-lands of the River Dodder. Only last week, the Irish Times had this:

A plague of flies of “biblical proportions” has descended upon the Dublin 4 suburbs of Sandymount, Ringsend and Irishtown, according to residents and local businesspeople.

Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys said he had received “hundreds” of complaints from locals in recent days over the fly infestation, which has forced people to keep their windows shut and resulted in the closure of some businesses.

Tony “Deke” McDonald, who runs Deke’s Diner at the Sean Moore Road roundabout in Ringsend, said the infestation was the worst he had ever seen.

“It started around four or five days ago with a swarm of biblical proportions. People would be used to flies in the summer, but I’ve been running the diner 17 years next week, and I’m 30 odd years in the area, and I’ve never seen the like of it. There [were] hundreds of them.”

It didn’t take more than moments for Dublin wit to crack in, saying Ringsend and Irishtown deserved all they got, for social-climbing and pretension to post-code D4.

Then there’s Louis MacNeice describing:

…. Smoky Carrick in County Antrim
Where the bottle-neck harbour collects the mud which jams

The little boats beneath the Norman castle,
   The pier shining with lumps of crystal salt;
The Scots Quarter was a line of residential houses
   But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and halt. […]

I was the rector’s son, born to the anglican order,
   Banned for ever from the candles of the Irish poor;
The Chichesters knelt in marble at the end of a transept
   With ruffs about their necks, their portion sure.

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Filed under Belfast, bigotry, Britain, Conservative family values, culture, Dublin., Ireland, Irish Times, New Statesman, Northern Ireland, Paul Waugh, politics, prejudice, Quotations, Racists, Tories., underclass