On Sunday October 10th 1869, Dublin heaved with excitement and trepidation. Political banners hung from houses while the city’s trade union offices buzzed with excitement. Despite a police ban on a planned procession through the city tens of thousands of people turned out. They were joined by thousands more who flooded into the city from across Ireland to participate in what was destined to be the largest demonstration in a generation.
Amid the clamour of marching bands and singing, over one hundred thousand people converged on Cabra, a sleepy village north west of Victorian Dublin, to demand an amnesty for Fenian prisoners. Now a sprawling suburb home to tens of thousands of people, in 1869 Cabra was a quiet village surrounded by farmland. But on October 10th that year these fields hosted the greatest demonstration Ireland had seen since the famine.
This demonstration was the culmination of one of the most impressive campaigns in later 19th century Ireland which saw one provincial newspaper proclaim ‘political demonstrations are becoming as fashionable in ‘the island of Saints and Scholars’ as the Bull fights in Spain‘1. The remarkable story of the Amnesty campaign of 1869 began two years earlier in Manchester, England, with the accidental killing of a policeman, an incident that led to the famous case of the Manchester Martyrs.
While it may seem incredible, in 1867 this Tipperary man Thomas Burke was one of two Irish rebels who were the last people sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering! While this brutal practice may be one of the most gruesome inventions of the medieval period it survived until 1870 before being struck off the law books.
The Fenians are among the famous but also the most misunderstood organisations of modern Irish history. The common 19th century stereotype of a Fenian is that of a beastly peasant with a stick of dynamite. Unfortunately this still shapes modern opinions to a certain degree creating an inaccurate view that the Fenians were incoherent gun slingers.
The reality of the Fenians was very different. As an organisation it attracted members from all groups in both Irish and indeed American society through the later 19th and early 20th century. The portraits below reveal there was not one type of Fenian; there was many, from 19th century peasants to well dressed men pictured with US presidents Fenians and former Fenians were very diverse in appearance, politics and background.
Episode 15 is a story of murder and injustice, set in 19th century Ireland. In a country struggling to recover from the famine tenants despised landlords and their agents who had treated them brutally during the famine. When an agent John Ellis was assassinated in north Tipperary in 1857 almost everyone in the area became a suspect. Find out what happened next…..
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If you think US elections are bitter take a look at the 1913 Lockout, where Dublin employers accused trade unionist “Big Jim” Larkin of being the son of Phoenix park assassin James Carey.
On the 26th August 1913 one of Ireland bitterest Trade Union disputes broke out in Dublin. The Lockout began when tram workers went on strike in protest against their employer’s ban on their membership of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). Their employer William Martin Murphy was one of Dublin’s biggest businessmen owning several businesses including Independent Newspapers.
The situation escalated in September when several other employers in Dublin agreed to support Martin Murphy and break the ITGWU by refusing to employ the union’s members. Soon over 50,000 workers were locked out of their employment. In what became an increasingly bitter dispute Martin Murphy refused to budge despite the dire conditions the locked out workers had to endure.
Tour Guides of Kilmainham Gaol call the prison “the labour ward of the modern Irish state”. After taking the tour its hard to argue with this statement. This week alone marks the 130th anniversary of the Kilmainham treaty which saw the release of Parnell an event that effectively ended The Land War while 96 years ago the prison witnessed the execution of the leaders of the 1916 rebellion. The prison incarcerated many key figures from the last two hundred years of Irish history and politics. Rebels from the 1798 and 1803 rebellions spent their final hours in Kilmainham awaiting execution while thousands passed through the prison on their way to serve long sentences in Australia. During the Land War many activists were held here while those found guilty of the phoenix park murders were hung in the prison yard. The 20th century saw rebels from the 1916 rebellion and the war of independence held in Kilmainham, while the last executions in the gaol were after independence during the civil war.
The Phoenix park is one the largest walled city parks in Europe. Situated on the fringe of Dublin city centre, the park was opened to the public in 1745. Since then it has seen numerous monuments and buildings erected and has seen its fair share of controversy.
The 1916 proclamation, the manifesto of the 1916 rebels, states
“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”
These noble aspirations would become almost a bible of Irish Republican ideals but little did the authors know that within six years, Irish people would have a chance to implement them after The War of Independence in 1922. However the society established after the war of independence “The Irish Free State” was a pale shadow of even the most modest interpretation of this document.
Civil liberties were almost non existent, citizens were not equal with women becoming second class while the poor were plunged further in destitution. The history of early Irish Independence is often passed over with a less than critical eye that glorifies state building at any cost. However behind this abstract veneer lies the story of a dark authoritarian regime based on repression, discrimination and censorship. This was enforced by deeply authoritarian attitudes underscored by severe catholic morality which stifled culture and allowed no political debate or opposition of any kind. By 1937 the “The Irish Free State” had created a society that had betrayed the ideals of what many had set out achieve two decades earlier. (more…)
Imagine how our understanding of the Norman invasion of Ireland might change if we had footage of Strongbow entering Dublin in 1170 or what we might think of Brian Boru if we had footage of his burial at Armagh in 1014. These comparisons highlight the role that film footage will play as we construct the history of the late 19th and 20th centuries. While film is as biased as any other source it gives an unique insight into past societies. There are numerous free film clips online about Irish history but here’s five clips i think are really fascinating and informative….. (more…)
I am 32 year old historian, archaeologist and blogger. I have published a book on life in medieval Ireland entitled 'Witches, Spies and Stockholm Syndrome, life in Medieval Ireland'. I also organise tours of medieval Dublin, available on request.