Category Archives: Ireland History

19th Century European Radio

Marconi Room on the Olympic.

Rising Radio Revolution

The centre of the birth of European radio in the late 19th Century was Ireland. Although this was not realised at the time history would soon make it an absolute fact. Ireland was perfectly located on the north Atlantic of north-west Europe which gave it a great advantage for transatlantic communications at the birth of what was to become the communications revolution of the early 20th century. Ireland would remain very much in the dark about these advantages until the arrival of Italian-Irishman, “the father of radio” Guglielmo Marconi built his first Irish station at Crookhaven, County Cork in 1902.

As far back as February 1893 an article headed “Electric Messages without Wires” the Irish public were alerted to a new reality, “the promise of electrical communication between two points without the agency of an intervening wire.” The article explains, “Today electricians are easily transmitting electric messages across a Wireless distance of three miles, without any sign of approaching the limits of the electric function in this direction.”[1] If there were any public enthusiasm for the revelation it was not obvious for another three years.

In December 1896 Irish readers saw reports of an amazing scientific development. Newspapers explain, “A young Italian scientist named Marconi appears to have perfected a system of electrical communication by which vibrations set up in one apparatus are communicated to a nearby receiver without wires. The secret being that the receiver must respond to the vibrations of the sender.”[2] While Wireless Telegraphy may have been a new idea to Irish readers these developments were the latest in a long series of experiments dating back to 1844.

In that year Samuel Morse, aged 53, would send the first four words ever dispatched; “What hath God wrought?” flashed over an electric Telegraph wire in ‘Morse Code’ on a line from Washington to Baltimore. Essential to Morse’s idea was signals would be sent by the opening and closing of an electrical circuit, that the receiving apparatus would, by electromagnetic, record signals as dots and dashes on paper, and that there would be a code whereby the dots and dashes would be translated into numbers and letters.[3]

By increasing battery power Samuel Morse was able to send messages one third of a mile on electrical wire around a large lecture hall. He then devised a system of electromagnetic relays, this being the key element; it meant no limit to the distance a message could be sent. Morse went on to working out a system for transmitting the alphabet in dots and dashes, in what was to be known as ‘Morse Code’. Morse’s invention was quickly established as a means of communication in America but, importantly to him, also in his beloved Europe, in the heart of Paris.

In 1839, after a series of long legal wrangles with the English Government in relation to the Patent of his invention he sailed for Paris where he met with expansive recognition as a genius. It was said of Morse’s invention that, “it transcends all yet made known and clearly another revolution is at hand.”[4] For financial reasons Morse was forced to return to America and four years later in 1844 he opened a Telegraph line, built with congressional appropriation, between Washington and Baltimore, a distance of 34 miles.

Morse’s experiments were so successful that when the contentious 1844 Democratic National Convention at Baltimore became deadlocked; hundreds gathered in Washington for updates. Martin Van Buren tied for the nomination with Lewis Cass. On the eighth ballot, the convention chose compromise candidate, James Polk. The rapid transmission of information was reported as, “the utter annihilation of space.” Morse’s invention became America’s only means of communication. By 1867 so indispensable had Telegraphy become that 50,000 miles of Western Union wire carried more than two million news dispatches annually.[5]

Seven years later in 1874 in Bologna, Italy the second son of Giuseppe Marconi and his Irish wife, Annie Jameson from County Wexford was born and christened Guglielmo. By his late teens he developed an insatiable desire to communicate from point to point without wires. The idea was not inconceivable to other inventors but it was Marconi who dedicated himself exclusively to taking it from idea to reality. He saw its seaworthy potential and wanted to exploit it as a means of generating handsome profits. Marconi was not only a communications wizard but also a businessman seeking fame and fortune.

Marconi was strategically placed during his early years to be later referred to as, ‘the true father of radio’, because of his interest in science and electricity. He was fascinated by the work of Heinrich Hertz, who, in 1888, demonstrated that one could produce and detect electromagnetic radiation or Hertzian Waves, now known as radio waves. After Hertz’s death in 1894 Marconi assisted a neighbour and friend, University of Bologna physicist Augusto Righi, in researching Hertz’s work and thus birth was given to Marconi’s lifelong obsession with the airwaves.[6]

But Marconi’s vision for the uses of Wireless communication was restricted as being a means by which one could communicate a message to another. The concept of one communicating to an audience was not familiar to him at this stage in his career. The prospect of sending communications for more than one person was a frightening one to the journalists of Marconi’s age; “with Wireless Telegraphy what is to become of the small boy who views the ball games from the tops of the Telegraph poles?”[7]

The early radio experimentations gave little confidence for its future; ‘Experiments in Wireless Telegraphy are completed; long distance Telegraphy by this means is far from established’.[8] Lord Kelvin, British mathematician, physicist and president of the British Royal Society, stated ‘Radio has no future’.[9] Perhaps the future was not in radio but in broadcasting which came following a succession of inventions including electric Telegraph, Wireless Telegraph and Wireless telephony or radio which would broadcast music and speech.

The story of Irish broadcasting began in a remote windy landscape in Connemara in 1901 as a series of ‘Buzzing sounds’ are heard heralding in an age of communication which suffered because of political division. Marconi once stated, ‘I made the discovery by accident’[10] often fell victim to this divide and became so infuriated by it that he wrote; ‘Have I done the world well, or have I added a menace?’[11]

This public and corporate divide was identified by Bertolt Brecht who stressed the idea of telecommunications as an artistic medium. Brecht advocated ‘two-way communication’ for radio to give the public power of representation and to pull it away from the control of corporate media.[12] Today, Brecht’s vision still seems idealistic. But, the fact remains that Radio has had a tremendous global impact. The revolutionary medium prepared the ground for television and the internet by loosening the strictures on global public discourse.

With Wireless Telegraphy came the search for its purpose. In 1897, the Irish Times gives an optimistic account of Marconi’s experiments; “In addition to the possibility of exploding gunpowder magazines on board ships from long distances off Marconi foresees that he will be able to set all the watches in the pockets of a town’s inhabitants.”[13] Such possibilities were true to Marconi but the use of Wireless Telegraphy as a weapon was the truest of all and he was willing to sell these weapons to the highest bidder.

Very soon Irish Newspapers reported on the ‘warfare possibilities’ of Marconi’s invention and state that he was travelling across Europe exploiting Wireless Telegraphy’s possibilities. The most startling of all the suggestions for Marconi’s invention is that it may be possible to fire the magazine of any battleship by simply passing an electric current of sufficient degree of intensity through the water on which the ship was riding.[14] Wireless Telegraphy had the power to kill people from afar and Marconi was ready to profit on the demand for his product.

Marconi’s propaganda machine was quick to swing into action. By September 1897 interest in Wireless Telegraphy was growing as reports about covert experiments appeared on a frequent basis and in greater detail. The Irish Times tells readers that tests in Wireless Telegraphy are being arranged at Dover and are ‘unusually important’ and will last for some time; “In recent operations between ships the Italian Navy and the coast have developed the latest practical phase of the system.”[15] The article declares that there may be military uses for the invention.

The public were developing an appetite for all things ‘Wireless’ and the academia responded. One public lecture held in Birr, County Offaly, “involved practical demonstrations of recent discoveries including a new phonograph by Edison and, the main feature, which appeared to awaken the largest measure of interest was the demonstration of Wireless Telegraphy. The instrument demonstrated was an induction coil made capable of sending Telegraphic signals for a distance of nearly 6 miles passing through all obstacles varying in density from a stone building to a mountain.”[16]

What blossomed to be “a romance between Marconi and the Irish” began in January 1898 when Newspapers announce, “Marconi’s mother is Irish and related to John Jameson of whiskey fame. She was musically talented and attended the Conservatoire of Bologna where she met and married Marconi’s father. When her son launched his invention he came to London to his cousin, Henry Davis and the Wireless Telegraph Company was established.”[17] The Irish public had great affection for the inventor and when other nations criticised him, the Irish strengthened their support.

One of the first public lectures in Wireless broadcasting occurred in March 1898 with a talk given by Msgr Gerald Molloy at the Theatre of the Royal Dublin Society. Molloy lectures on “Principals of Electric Signalling without Wires.” He explains Marconi’s Wireless signals are transmitted through space using electromagnetic waves.[18] Molloy’s lecture was so popular that the general public demands a return visit for those who could not attend the first time round.”[19]

The public appetite by the late 1890s for new information in relation to Wireless Telegraphy was voracious. Lectures were given countrywide and were always attended by large crowds eager to learn about the “most marvellous discovery of the century.”[20] Most of these lectures were attended by the working press who, immediately after the lecture, filed reports on the latest updates. The numerous articles which appeared in the newspaper in relation to Wireless Telegraphy clearly suggests that the interest in Marconi was not just in Dublin but nationwide.

On Wednesday, May 11th 1898 the first Irish installation of Marconi’s system was made at Clara in Offaly. The transmitter was placed in the office of Clara Flour Mills and a receiver, one mile away, at Goodbody’s Jute Works. Messages were sent and say Newspapers, “This is the first attempt at Telegraphing without wires across a town in Ireland. The signals were so good that the messages were read by the sound emitted by Marconi’s Tapper and Decoherer, and the ordinary Morse instrument was dispensed with altogether.”[21]

While these transmissions were taking place further experiments were successfully going on in other parts of Ireland. Marconi was being congratulated by the President of the Board Of Trade, Lord John Hay [Admiral of the Fleet], Lord Charles Beresford and others on the success attending a demonstration he gave them. Several naval officers sailed on the admiralty yacht to the Needles, where is situated the permanent station of Marconi’s new Telegraphy system, and for two hours sent messages and received replies between the Needles and Bournemouth, about sixteen miles.[22]

Some days later there are reports that a rival to Marconi has turned up in Nikola Tesla, “an American of course” who claims to have invented a new machine, “More powerful than any ever before.” With it he expects “to send messages without wires for very long distances.” He has offered the invention as a free gift to his Government in the hope it proves useful for the transmission of signals by the Army and Navy during the troubles with Spain.”[23]

However, Marconi was more preoccupied with other events. At Dublin’s Kingstown’s Regatta, “A novel feature was the successful reporting of the sailing match carried out with the aid of Marconi himself. In the morning the gentlemen of the press embarked on board the steam tug Flying Huntress, and followed the yachts engaged in the race. Marconi used his transmitter and receiver to contact the shore sending messages from the tug while in rapid motion following the yachts and when received on shore the messages were telephoned to newspaper offices.”[24]

The world’s first text messages were sent in 1898 by Marconi between the Queen’s residence at Isle of Wight and the Royal Yacht ‘Osborne’ moored at East Cowes. The distance between the stations was a mile and each station was hidden from view of the other by hills. The electric waves easily passed over the hills; “The Prince was keenly interested in the experiments and conducted prolonged conversations with Marconi on the intricate workings of the apparatus.”[25] To impress English royalty would soon be a major coup for Marconi.

By April 1899 faith in the future of the invention began to dwindle. Prof Silvanus Thompson, a prominent electrician, tells Irish media the success of Marconi’s experiments was the natural result of the development of well-established principles by Hertz and Oliver Lodge. The implication being Marconi was manipulating the research of others to generate profits. Thomson states, “There is no such thing as Wireless Telegraphy. One can send signals for a distance of yards without wires; but in the recent successful attempts to telegraph across space wires are used.”[26]

But Prof JA Fleming, of University College, London disagrees and says the time has arrived for a little more generous appreciation by his scientific contemporaries of the fact that “Marconi’s work is no small achievement. His apparatus is ridiculously simple and not costly. With the exception of the Flagstaff and 150 feet of vertical wire at each end, he can place on a small kitchen table the appliances, costing not more than £100 in all, for communicating across 30 or even 100 miles of land or water.”[27]

In a letter to the London Times another of Marconi’s supporters speaks out, “much of the future depends on Government action; it is to be hoped the Post Office will not claim this Wireless Telegraphy is included in the monopoly they possess of Telegraphy. Marconi has modest confidence in the future. I trust that those who are interested in the subject will accord him all the aid and support that his inventiveness deserves, and that he may live to see his effort is crowned with complete success.”[28]

Days later Irish Newspapers report intense interest in Marconi’s system; “Marconi’s experiments have been closely followed with a view to placing lightships and lighthouses in communication with the shore. The importance of this was recently demonstrated when in foggy weather a vessel got into difficulties while at sea. The men of the East Goodwin lightship, who had been given elementary instruction in Marconi’s system, transmitted messages to the shore resulting in lifeboats losing no time in getting to the scene; the Crew owe their lives to Wireless Telegraphy.”[29]

Politicians began to pay attention to Marconi’s invention. Penrose Fitzgerald, at the House of Lords demands to know “Is it time to adopt the Wireless system?”[30] The admiration being bestowed on Marconi by the upper echelons of English politics was good for business. Marconi is offered a lucrative contract to establish transatlantic communication, “Marconi has been approached by representative of a syndicate wishing to acquire sole rights to establish communication between England and America.”[31]

But the word from America was not positive. Some experiments had been carried out in Chicago showing that ‘land obstacles’ remain to be overcome, “It has been discovered the system is impractical in cities studded with “sky-scraping” buildings, and is too slow for commercial use.”[32] But these reports take nothing from Marconi’s confidence that the connection of England and America by Wireless Telegraphy is no dream; he believes although there are difficulties to be surmounted, they are not as great as those that have been overcome.

One such difficulty is the height of the poles necessary to erect on either side of the Atlantic. They would have to be 1500 feet high but technical improvements will, Marconi believes, diminish these requirements.[33] Inventor WH Preece did not share Marconi’s optimism, “Two years after the practicability of Wireless Telegraphy was affirmed, and not a single independent commercial circuit exists. Marconi’s operations are more concentrated on the stock exchange than on establishing useful circuits.”[34]

Preece’s comments had little effect on Marconi, or anyone else involved in the science including French electrical savant, Dr Lee Bon, who was exploring Wireless technology in modern warfare. The result is an apparatus which would be able to project a current capable of annihilating a fleet of ships, “An explosion would be followed by a shower of sparks resulting from the contact between the projected current and electric wires on board ship, which would be so intense it would ignite powder and shells on board.”[35]

The value of Wireless Telegraphy in warfare seemed limitless with reports that Royal Engineers have been testing for the purpose of dropping explosive charges. By means of balloons and an elaboration of Marconi’s systems large quantities of explosives such as dynamite could be released from a balloon 3 miles away and made to explode inside any fortified work, killing the garrison and dislodging the guns, “The Hague Conference condemns such methods, but, possibly, an enemy sore pressed in real war, would scarcely hesitate to break through such restrictions.”[36]

But the march of progress was relentless. In new experiments in ship to shore communications greater distances are being achieved. By now messages were being transmitted over forty miles. The increased distances do not have the slightest effect upon the current and messages are being received with unvarying distinctiveness, “An interesting feature of current experiments is the facility with which Marconi’s latest development for ‘cutting out’ stations was applied. Messages are being sent without other stations interrupting them. The results of these experiments are successful.”[37]

Meanwhile, trials of military balloons and Marconi’s systems are being made in Vienna. This first attempt to make use of Wireless Telegraphy from a balloon was made by three Austrian officers, who ascended in the military balloon Eagle.[38] “The balloon was provided with receiving apparatus and successfully interpreted messages dispatched from the ground. It will probably be demonstrated that Wireless Telegraphy has its part to play in the warfare of the future.”[39]

The investigations into Military applications for Wireless Telegraphy were becoming a daily occurrence and Marconi is invariably present to clench any lucrative deal. At Bangor Bay near Belfast a number of battleships and cruisers are anchored and experimenting with Marconi’s system. The cruiser Juno and the flagship Alexandra are fitted with Wireless equipment and Marconi is on board testing the usefulness of the invention in naval warfare.”[40] The newspaper later reports Wireless Telegraphy is fast going ahead, and now the War Office is adopting it by sea and land.

The Admiralty are also impressed with further experiments going on between stations at Epsom and Aldershot. The tests proved it possible to maintain continuous correspondence from station to station, and that messages cannot be intercepted. Expert officers have made special reports to the War Office, and the effect of the report will be the inauguration of the Marconi system as a means of conveying intelligence. Many ships will shortly be “circuited” and should all go satisfactorily, the system would become universal, as far as the United Kingdom was concerned.[41]

The possible military applications for Wireless Telegraphy are beginning to scare the general public. The Daily News reports “Grim Possibilities of Wireless War” with the announcement that a Patent in the name of John Munro has been brought to their attention. The Munro Patent’s most obvious application is the making of explosions in the atmosphere in order to influence the weather, “But it is easy to see that it can also be utilised in dropping explosives on the country, fortresses, or camps of an enemy underneath.”[42]

Dr Peter Stiens has invented an apparatus by which people could ‘Wirelessly’ telephone over long distances.[43] Stiens claims the device will allow persons in London and New York to distinctively communicate.[44] The possibility of “mobile phones” had come to light. There are also reports of experiments conducted at Newbury in which a building containing explosives was blown up without direct contact.”[45]

Scientists are impressed by a practical demonstration of Marconi’s invention during the annual general meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science arranged in conjunction with the corresponding French Association holding its conference at Boulogne, “Marconi’s system allowed for messages to be sent to France from an apparatus located at Dover Town Hall. One of the messages sent by Telegraph without wires cross-channel was a greeting from the president of the British Association to the president of the French Scientific Association who responded to the salutation.”[46]

Thus, on the eve of the 20th century Wireless Telegraphy was an invention that still sought purpose. There were many people laying claim to it but it was not the invention of any one person but the culmination of many minds brought to perfection by Marconi. As the 20th century unfolded engineers and inventors were focused on the Maritime and international news exchange possibilities for the invention. But there were also visionaries who sought purposes in such fields as medicine, telephony and public service. Few of these visionaries had considered the possibility of communication not as exclusively one-to-one but one-to-many.

In the late 19th Century the facts about Wireless broadcasting emerged after Hertz’s 1887 discovery; ‘The contrast between these beginnings and the present uses of radio is tremendous’.[47] Marconi’s accomplishments in radio were equally as important. In 1892 Tesla wrote; ‘Ere long intelligence, transmitted without wires, will throb through the earth like a pulse through a living organism’.[48] It would take Marconi to fulfil Tesla’s prophecy.

Marconi had noble notions for his invention; “In the new era, thought itself will be transmitted by radio.”[49] The potential of his invention created global excitement even in the upper echelons of the Catholic Church; “Radio is a new demonstration of the harmony between science and religion. Those who speak of the incompatibility of science and religion either make science say that which it never said or make religion say that which it never thought.”[50]

Radio had critics especially those who feared freedom of expression. Broadcasting from the beginning was closed to private enterprise; ‘Such control is ascribed to radio’s technical complexity and military functions. Many democracies have outrun technical and military imperatives in their zeal to control the airwaves’.[51] But Radio never lost its importance as documented by the Irish Times in 1897; “Nothing is of more importance to science than Wireless Telegraphy.”[52]

Most public interest radio formats permit criticism of the state but the balance of political opinion is invariably tilted in the Government favour. The establishment of Irish radio fixed the state’s relationship to broadcasting. This may be partly due to the fact that Ireland’s first Postmaster General (Communications Minister) J.J. Walsh, was an anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi sympathiser.[53] His legacy remains detrimental to Irish freedom of expression.

Marconi’s inventor status was persistently challenged but his genius was never questioned, “Marconi has large ideas but to what extent these ideas will be realised none can tell.”[54] American Newspapers remained cynical about Marconi; “Edison and Tesla would smile at the promises made in Marconi’s name.”[55] However, the power of Marconi’s invention was obvious and the birth of Irish radio was a war declaration between conservative rulers and liberal advocates of free expression.

As the 20th century unfolded each year brought developments demonstrating how the ‘Air Wars’ were fought. In these pages is a century long account of events leading to Irish radio broadcasting as it is today. It is the story of a nation in fear of technology that became determined to suppress freedoms to receive and give information, expression and speech. These important three F’s are the pivot of human development, essential if we are to share, analyse, understand, and move forward; ‘yet these three F’s are continually under attack’.[56]

Although Marconi noted; ‘This form of communication could have some utility’[57] such ‘utility’ remained under the scrutiny of political pioneers in the pre-Independence era; ‘Britain’s Irish dominance was underpinned by control of Irish communications systems’.[58] Arthur Griffith complained about this; ‘There is a ‘paper wall’ around Ireland’.[59]

Griffith was always at heart a journalist and advocate of freedom of expression. He was a lucid writer with a vivid turn of phrase but as the century progressed, Griffith’s observation faded into oblivion, but the reality remains unchanged. Radio has come through a century of development that has brought about the medium as we know it today. The exploration of these events in the course of the 20th century reflects Marconi’s contention that; ‘Every day sees humanity more victorious in the struggle with space and time’.[60]

Early Irish radio is often considered by Historians as a foil for television. Historians link the transformation of Irish society in the 20th century to television but dismiss radio as an agent of repression rather than social development. In post WW2 Irish Radio became interactive and consequently achieved Bertolt Brecht’s ideal of serving as a ‘system of communication’[61] based on audience response rather than being a unidirectional distribution system.[62]

Until the 1960’s the primary source of information available to the world was radio and it influenced people. Common national culture was shaped more by radio than television or newsprint. By 1960 most European families owned a radio and it occupied prime space in the home.[63] The arrival of battery transistor radio in the 1960’s increased mobility but contributed to radio’s new lowly status as an aural medium in a visual age. Young people drifted to television but for older people radio retained its charms.

What follows is an exploration of a century of European broadcasting documenting the most significant events in the age of global communication. It is a relentless story that began with the words of Guglielmo Marconi when he sent the first message across the Bristol Channel in 1897 stating, “Let it be so.” It is a story full of twists and turns, of a series of unfailing political regimes in fear of freedom. At the dawn of the digital age, these fears persist and it is as if history will repeat itself unless the lessons of the radio ages are learned.


[1] Weekly IrishTimes,1893 ElectricMessageswithoutWires. Weekly Irish Times, 04thFebruary,p.1.

[2] Lady, A,.1896. TalkoftheTown. Weekly IrishTimes,26thDecember, p.4.

[3] McCullough,D,.2011 Samuel Morse’sReversalof Fortune.SmithsonianMagazine,VolumeSeptember,2011.

[4] Ellsworth, H,.2011 SamuelMorse’sReversalofFortune Smithsonian Magazine,VolumeSeptember,2011.

[5] McCullough,D,.2011 Samuel Morse’sReversalof Fortune SmithsonianMagazine,VolumeSeptember,2011.

[6] McHenry, R,.1993. Guglielmo Marconi. In:Encyclopedia Britannica. London:Encyclopedia Britannica.

[7] WashingtonPost 1897 Article 26 [NoTitle] TheWashington Post,9th August,p. 6.

[8] IrishTimes 1897. NewsfromAll PartsIrishTimes,20th November, p.5.

[9] Kelvin,L,[Online]Available at: [Accessed 21st June 2012]

[10] Marconi 1897 SendsMessages Without Wires.Chicago Daily Tribune,2ndAugust,p. 2.

[11] Baker,D. C,.1998. WirelessTelegraphyduring the Anglo-Boerwarof1899-1902  MilitaryHistory Journal 11[2]

[12] Brecht, B,.1932. TheRadioas an Apparatus ofCommunication [Online]Available at: [Accessed03 September 2012]

[13] IrishTimes,1897 SignorMarconi’s Invention.Irish Times,18th August,p.6.

[14] IrishTimes,1897 What Next?Irish Times, 29thJuly, p. 5.

[15] IrishTimes,1897 WirelessTelegraphy. IrishTimes,08th September, p.6A.

[16] Freemans Journal,1897. WirelessTelegraphy atBirr. FreemansJournal,12th October, p.11.

[17] Freemans Journal,1898. KingstownRegatta.FreemansJournal,21stJuly, p. 12.

[18] Freemans Journal,1898. Marconi ComesToDublin. FreemansJournal,22nd August,p.12.

[19] Molloy,G,1898.Marconi’sWireless Telegraphy[Letters].The FreemansJournal, 12th April, p.10.

[20] Anglo Celt,1898. FromDayto Day.Anglo Celt,14thMay, p.3.

[21] Freemans Journal,1898. System of WirelessTelegraphy. FreemansJournal, 22nd April, p.8.

[22] Anglo Celt,1898. Nikola Tesla.Anglo Celt,21stMay,p. 3.

[23] AngloCelt,1898. WirelessTelegraphy: The MostMarvelousDiscoveryof the CenturyExplained. Anglo Celt,16thApril, p. 4.

[24] Freemans Journal,1898. WirelessLecture.FreemansJournal,09thMarch, p. 11.

[25] Freemans Journal,1898. WirelessTelegraphy.FreemansJournal,12th April, p. 8.

[26] IrishTimes,1899. SocialMovements. Irish Times,17th April,p. 6.

[27] Fleming,P. J, 1899. OnWirelessTelegraphy.IrishTimes,04th April, p.5.

[28] Page, S. F,1899. LondonTimesLetter. IrishTimes,04th April, p.5.

[29] IrishTimes,1899. Intense Interest. Weekly IrishTimes,08th April, p.8.

[30] Fitzgerald, R. P,1899. London Correspondence.Irish Times,12th April, p.7.

[31] Weekly IrishTimes,1899. LatestWirelessTelegraphyTrials.WeeklyIrish Times,24thJune, p.6.

[32] Westminster Gazette, 1899. Criticism of Wireless Wiring. Weekly Irish Times, 29th April, p. 6.

[33] Westminster Gazette, 1899. Criticism of Wireless Wiring. Weekly Irish Times, 29th April, p. 6.

[34] Preece,W,1899. AethericTelegraphy.IrishTimes,04thMay, p. 6.

[35] Bon,D. L,1899. WirelessTelegraphy inWar.IrishTimes,27thMay, p. 4.

[36] DailyTelegraph,1899. Wireless at War.IrishTimes,15th June, p.4

[37] Weekly IrishTimes,1899. LucrativeContractforMarconi. Weekly Irish Times, 15th April, p.7.

[38] Weekly IrishTimes,1899.WirelessAerialTelegraphy.Weekly Irish Times,22nd July, p.4.

[39] IrishTimes,1899.MarconiSystemandWarBalloons.IrishTimes,17th July, p. 5.

[40] Irish Times, 1899. Naval Maneuvers. Irish Times, 24th July, p. 4.

[41] IrishTimes,1899. NavalManeuvers.Irish Times,24th July, p. 4.

[42] IrishTimes,1899.GrimPossibilitiesof WirelessWar. IrishTimes,05th August,p. 4.

[43] IrishTimes,1899.WirelessTelephone.IrishTimes,25th July,p. 4.

[44] IrishTimes,1899. Fraternising with theFrench.Irish Times,14th September, p. 6.

[45] IrishTimes,1899.WarOfficeWirelessTelegraphy[London Correspondence]. Irish Times,31stJuly, p. 5.

[46] IrishTimes,1899.WirelessTelegraphyExplosion.Irish Times,27th July,p. 5.

[47] Whittemore,L. E,1929. The DevelopmentofRadio. Annals of the American Academy ofPolitical &Social science, Issue March 1929, p.1.

[48] Tesla, N,1892. ElectricalEngineer.ElectricalEngineer,Issue 609, p. 11.

[49] Marconi, G,1934.Quotation Marks. NewYorkTimes,11th October, p.2.

[50] Pope PiusXI,1931.Opening of the Vatican CityRadio Station. Rome: s.n.

[51] Kasza, G. J,1986.Democracy and the Foundingof JapanesePublicRadio. The Journal of AsianStudies,45[4], p. 745.

[52] IrishTimes,1897.WirelessTelegraphy.IrishTimes,15th August,p. 6.

[53] Dwyer,T. R,1988.Strained Relations: Ireland atPeace and theUSAat War,1941-45.1 ed.Dublin: Gill&MacMillanLtd. DXArchive,1996.DXARCHIVE (Online)Available at:[Accessed20 052012].

[54] Molloy,G,1898.WirelessTelegraphy.FreemansJournal, 15th March, p. 9.

[55] San Francisco Chronicle, 1897.Marconi BoomHas An Object. San Francisco Chronicle, 5thSeptember, p.13.

[56] D’Arcy,M,1990. PlayingWith theAirwaves. MITPress,p.179.

[57] Marconi, G,1897.Guglielmo Marconi Quotes (Online]Available at:[Accessed21stJune2012].

[58] Fisher, D,1978. CaseStudies on BroadcastingSystems: Broadcasting In Ireland.1 ed.London: Routledge& Kegan Paul Ltd.

[59] Oireachtas, 1952. Parliamentary Debates: Dáil Éireann – Volume 129 – 12 March, 1952[Online] Available at: http://historical‑ 120066.html [Accessed 06 06 2012].

[60] Marconi, G,1899.Guglielmo Marconi Quotes (Online]Available at:[Accessed21stJune2012].

[61] Brecht, B,1932. Brecht onTheatre. NewYork:Hill & Wang.

[62] Morgan,E,2001.QuestionTime: RadioandtheLiberalistationof IrishPublic Discourse afterWW2.History Ireland,9[4],p. 39.

[63] Judt, T, 2006.Postwar: A History ofEuropesince1945.1sted. London:Penguin Books.


Home Rule & Marconi 1912



Historians view the 1912 Marconi Scandal as an over exaggerated affair faded into oblivion. Closer analysis of these events raises questions about Home Rule. This essay argues that the scandal can be interpreted as a Unionist plot designed to discredit five, later acquitted, highly placed members of a Government determined to grant Home Rule. It gives us an insight into the depth of the Unionist and Nationalist divide at this time. Unionists were determined to sabotage Home Rule by any means including assassinating the integrity of Ministers in coalition with Nationalists, perceived by Unionists, as collaborators in a contemptible cause.

In 1912 Irelands Third Home Rule Bill had something in common with Wireless Telegraphy according to some nationalist newspapers fatalistically reporting, “Home Rule is a farce now ended because some politicians who should have been present when the ‘signal’ was sent were absent.” The article predicts, “So it has always been. So it will always be.”[1] Later at the opening of the House of Commons debate on Home Rule politicians remained absent and one editorial gave a clue as to why, “Clearly some members were thinking about Marconi not Ireland.”[2]

One contributing reason for this ill-timed absenteeism was an attempt to discredit Liberals advocating Home Rule. Asquith’s Party had fought two General Elections, restricted House of Lords powers; enforced revolutionary budgets and constitutional amendments. They were social reformers passing acts in Insurance, Pensions, and Labour Exchanges. They aimed to disestablish the Welsh Church and were determined to grant Ireland Home Rule.[3] But five equally determined Unionists, Joseph Chamberlain, Arthur Samuels, Walter Guinness, Cecil Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc knew how to discredit them.

By 1912 Ulster unionists had become proficient propaganda merchants and conducted a media-blitz against Home Rule targeting the British electorate, “The Home Rule struggle was an ideological battle between two irreconcilable concepts of Ireland, a British vision and an Irish one.”[4] Unionists claimed the high moral ground by denouncing corruption and Nationalists were equally as corrupt as their coalition partners. Liberals quickly acquired an unsavoury reputation. Unionists could then depict themselves as “impending victims” of an apocalyptic society under Home Rule.

The Irish Unionist Party was aligned to The Liberal Unionist Party which had formed a political alliance with Conservatives in opposition to Irish Home Rule. The two parties merged in 1912 with Unionist campaigner Joseph Chamberlain, “known as Judas Iscariot”[5] as Leader. Chamberlain reasoned that Home Rule would lead to the break-up of the British Empire. Chamberlain’s word was law with Unionists and he stated not legislation but, “sentiment makes a nation.”[6] Chamberlain used The Times to publicly appeal for funds to, “bury Home Rule.”[7]

Arthur Samuels was one of the most effective Unionist critics of Home Rule and was criticised by Stephen Gwynn MP as insincere, “he has the misfortune of being a lawyer and uses arguments merely as an exercise of ingenuity.”[8] Gwynn claimed that Samuels was an enemy of Home Rule, “the Bill is good enough for Nationalists but not good enough for this Unionist determined to hinder the progress of Irish freedom. Samuel’s condemns Home Rule because it does not give to Ireland independence enough, because it is not nationalist enough.”[9]

Walter Guinness was a Conservative Anglo-Irish politician and businessman who took the Conservative line on Home Rule.[10]  Guinness was a long-time supporter of the Irish Unionist Alliance and had attended their meetings as far back as 1907.[11] Guinness publicly described Home Rule as a “mad gamble.”[12] By 1912 he was the Editor of ‘Outlook’ magazine which broke the ‘Marconi Scandal’ accusing Liberal ministers of fraud while at the same time demanding that they should, “make a clean breast of it…”[13]

Cecil Chesterton was a controversial anti-Semite journalist who had co-written a contentious book with Anglo-French writer Hilaire Belloc alleging collusion between the front benches to raise funds by selling honours, “a theme which Belloc frequently debated.”[14] Both Unionists enjoyed exposing political corruption. In their book they state, “The Irish are people to whom nothing matters but nationality.”[15] Chesterton’s credibility was frequently questioned. One Marconi Scandal trial observer testified, “There could not be a worse or shiftier witness.”[16]

These five Unionists were key players in revealing and promoting insinuation and rumour in the infamous ‘Marconi Scandal.’ Unionists would later openly speak of their desires to, “Smash Home Rule by means of the Marconi Scandal; a wave of opinion might arise in the House of Commons to destroy the Government that cannot be trusted if the Bill passes.”[17] The Unionists five primary targets were Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Rufus Isaacs (Attorney General), Herbert Samuel (Postmaster General), Alexander Murray (Liberal Party Treasurer) and perhaps most important of all Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.

Brilliant politician but incompetent businessman Lloyd George, “Who muddles nearly everything he touches”[18] strongly supported Home Rule believing it would be the best solution for the Empire. George advocated devolution, federalism, and Home Rule and agreed that this Bill was the best option. It is still undecided whether George purchased Marconi shares through corruption or ineptitude but when he expressed contrition for his mistake he was widely acquitted of fraudulent intent and, for him, the scandal died.[19]

Intransigent Unionist arguments against Home Rule were frequently adeptly answered by Rufus Isaacs, a renowned Unionist critic. Isaacs had many times taken them to task, most notably, when he challenged Edward Carson, Irish Unionist politician and barrister, if the Home Rule Bill were submitted to electors and the electors approved the Bill, would Unionists then accept it and whether objection from three Northern Ireland counties should stop the other willing twenty-nine?[20] An irate Carson remained silent but clearly Isaacs proved himself no friend to Unionists and this made him a prime target in their campaign.

Postmaster General Herbert Samuel dismissed Unionist’s finance issues in relation to Home Rule. Samuel favoured Home Rule because, “the burden to the British taxpayer would be decreased and Unionists guaranteed precisely the opposite.” Samuel compellingly argued that the expenses of running Ireland under British laws were too exorbitant. He stated, “No country is willing to exchange its national spirit and self-government for money. We must inform the people of Britain that Unionists only wish to add to the burden of the British taxpayer while those wishing to pass this Bill wish to lighten this burden.”[21]

At first sight the evidence against Chief Government Whip Alexander Murray seemed strong and he resigned. He claimed he bought the shares on behalf of the Liberal Party. When later invited to give evidence he declined stating he was, “abroad on business negotiations.” Murray was indeed involved in very real business transactions and had not personally profited from the shares and had been “indulging in a half guilty flutter.” [22] But Murray’s early resignation gave Unionist allegations enormous credence.

Unionists must have been totally infuriated with Prime Minister Herbert Asquith to learn, as Home Rule loomed, he was openly sympathetic to the demands of John Redmond and his fellow Nationalists, “For the first time in their history, Nationalist members conferred with the Prime Minister in the sacred Cabinet room at Downing Street. The Irish leaders are satisfied with the result of their deliberations. It may be confidently predicted, notwithstanding Unionist hopes to the contrary, that a Bill which has the approval of the Nationalist Party will be accepted at their forthcoming Convention in Dublin.”[23]

Thus, these five men; George, Isaacs, Samuels, Murray and Asquith were clearly in the line of fire of Unionist’s odious contempt. Coincidentally, and very conveniently for Unionists pursuing any ammunition they could lay their hands on, they all had something in common. All five men had recently privately invested in Marconi Shares and one of them, Rufus Isaacs, was the brother of British Businessman Godfrey Isaacs, who had recently become Managing Director of Marconi’s British Company. Furthermore, another, Herbert Samuel, was negotiating with Marconi for a very lucrative Government contract. The pickings for Unionists were far too rich to ignore.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s lacklustre Economy reflected the administrative condition of a nation in a state of political unrest, instability and turbulence in January 1912. Many people, regardless of their political ideology, were not at all optimistic about Home Rule, “the immediate home political outlook is seriously complicated by the coming Home Rule proposals for this country, and until the provisions of this great contemplated political change are before the country and disposed of one way or the other, there can be no reason to anticipate a revival of trust and confidence in the future of Ireland.”[24]

From within this social milieu there emerged success stories that were few and far between. For the wealthier stock-trading members of Irish society this unease was not shared. One of Ireland’s leading publicly owned companies ‘The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company’ were in a unique position and were announcing increased dividends, optimistic projected business profits for the year ahead and a very positive commercial outlook. At the same time Irish Banks had suffered heavy falls in stock and this disaster was being ascribed to, “sympathy with the existing political unrest over the coming Home Rule legislation.”[25]

It seemed Marconi’s Company was invulnerable to its economic environs. This trend continued for weeks, “Dublin’s Exchange is quiet except for sharp rises in Marconi Shares.”[26] However, things changed when Henry Asquith, announced the Government would introduce the Home Rule Bill. Immediately Ulster’s Liberal Unionists declared that Asquith strengthened Ulster’s resolve, “Ulster will not be relegated to the control of a Parliament under whose impossible constitution and unrestricted powers it is vainly hoped to settle the Irish question.”[27] The battle lines between Ulster Liberal Unionists and London Liberals were drawn.

The Liberal Government were determined to introduce the Home Rule Bill and their resolve prompted Nationalistic endorsement, “This Government means business. While the Opposition present the Government as reluctant the contrary is true. There is Liberal Party enthusiasm for Home Rule. Ministers are anxious to proceed with this legislative task.”[28] William Field MP stated that no matter what opposition, “to obtain an entrance to the harbour of liberty, which we call Home Rule, we shall remain resolute,” and he renounced Unionist suggestions that Catholics would persecute Protestants under Home Rule.[29]

Irish Liberal Unionists were infuriated at speculation about the forthcoming bill and organised a National Convention in Dublin. Invitees included national organisations, public bodies, trades organisations and friendly societies.[30] Coincidentally, Marconi shares began to crash. Clues to any association between Marconi and Home Rule were sparse to unsuspicious observers. Newspapers were aware of a rumoured looming Liberal Government collapse, “the only thing to prevent the Home Rule Bill from becoming law is some unforeseen situation on other questions. But…” the Editorial insists, “All attempts to discredit the Government have failed.” [31]

Liberal Unionists wanted to undermine the Liberal Government and organised public meetings to muster-up support for their cause. A General meeting of Irish County Councils expressed concerns, parallel to those of Joseph Chamberlain, about Home Rule finance. They demanded that under an acceptable Home Rule scheme Ireland should have complete financial autonomy. To many observers these demands were the minimum terms which Ireland could accept Home Rule.[32] Meanwhile, at the Dublin Stock Exchange,   Marconi shares were at an, “excited volume of dealing.” This excitement was caused by Home Rule proposals.[33]

But such criticisms were having little effect on the Liberal Government according to John Dillon who announced that he was not over sanguine as to the present position of Home Rule which, “was now supported by an unbroken Liberal Party. Ireland would not submit to the audacious ascendancy claim by Ulster, or be terrorised by the language of Mr. Bonar Law or Sir Edward Carson.”[34] Consequentially the Nationalist Party, “which is not very cheerful just now,” are pretending to believe that Presbyterians are weakening in their attitude to Home Rule.”[35]

After the Prime Minister introduced the Third Home Rule Bill the Irish Unionist Alliance protested. They argued Ulster enjoyed a booming economy dependant on Britain. Furthermore, the proposed Dublin parliament would have different economic priorities to those of Ulster. Thus, Ulster deserved separate treatment because it was socially and economically closer to Britain. The proposals of the Bill were condemned by the Irish Unionist Alliance who passed resolutions protesting against its implementation in Ireland. They based their condemnation primarily on its financial elements, “If it comes into operation Ireland will be bankrupt within five years.”[36]

Because John Redmond’s Nationalist Party had used their majority leverage to persuade the Government to introduce the Third Home Rule Bill they had reached the pinnacle of their success. Redmond had gone further than any predecessor in shaping British politics to Ireland’s needs. Nationalist objectives were frustrated by Unionist criticisms. Nationalists expected Unionists attitude to be, “Non-negotiable repudiation of Irish Home Rule.” [37] A policy which would have suited Redmond as it ensured the Bill’s speedy transit. Unbeknownst to Redmond and his cohorts Irish Unionist Alliance’s objections had bought crucial time to expose Liberal Party corruption.

After it emerged that Asquith’s Government approved construction of numerous wireless stations by Marconi articles by Unionist sympathisers Chesterton and Belloc appeared in ‘Eye Witness’ magazine. They suggested ‘Marconi knaves’[38], George, Isaacs, Samuels and Murray, under the watchful eye of Herbert Asquith, used insider knowledge to profit in Marconi Shares.[39] Although, “the scandal’s short-term consequences were slight, the long term consequences for Home Rule were catastrophic.[40]

Rumours have sources and conjecture proffers a plausible explanation. For Unionist John Jameson Home Rule presented, “a fearful spectacle.”[41] He led Dublin’s Unionist community.[42] Jameson was a friend and associate of Edward Carson and also related to Marconi’s mother Annie Jameson.[43] Had she inadvertently divulged detrimental information?

Whatever its source the French newspaper Le Matin  turned rumour to allegation and accused Ministers of corruption. Isaacs and Samuels sued and Le Matin apologised. But Isaacs admitted he bought shares in American Marconi and sold some to Lloyd George and Alexander Murray.[44]  The scandal was partly resolved by an investigative committee finding that all involved were not guilty. The Liberal members of the committee exonerated the Ministers while Unionists accused them of “grave impropriety.”[45]

Unionists proposed to indict Liberals because, “Insinuations have impugned the honour of the House.”[46] In Unionist magazine ‘Punch’ a cartoon headed ‘Liberal Pleasure-Party at Sea’ Liberals are sailing aboard ‘People’s Will’ a ship with a gagged peer as a figurehead and containing the emblems of Liberal deception, Marconi and Home Rule.[47] The ships sail bears the inscription ‘Home Rule’, with Asquith turning a wheel marked, ‘Wait and See.’[48]

In fear of the damage done to Liberals many members of Ireland’s Nationalist Party went on the campaign trail and visited the streets of rural towns and villages speechifying Home Rule with an air of gloom, “we may take it for granted that these speeches reflect fears prevalent in higher quarters.”[49] The details of the Bill were essentially unknown but speculation dictated that control of Irish finances remained in England. Consequently, for Nationalists, the Home Rule Bill was unacceptable. This rift between Nationalists and Liberals gave further fuel to Unionist’s vociferous anti-Liberal allegations of corruption.

With the Third Home Rule Bill slipping from nationalists grip it was necessary for staunchly nationalist newspapers to help clean up the mess by defending politicians, even English ones, against malicious speculation. For example, the Leitrim Observer, carefully words its report, “Sinister charges are bandied about in the darkness and there is nothing in them. There is no evidence of corruption and the Ministers deny attempting to profit from insider knowledge. There was a time in History when Ministers should fear an inquiry, but not now. The British Government has for generations been beyond reproach.” [50]

But the Liberals came out fighting. Lloyd George asserted the “corruption” charges were a Unionist attack. He read from transcripts of statements made on Oath by the owner of “Outlook” magazine, Walter Guinness whom George accused of starting malicious rumours, “The charges made by Guinness have long since exploded, but the deadly afterdamp remains and the noxious fumes of these Unionist slanders are at this moment in the air.” He said his mistakes were exploited by Guinness to help achieve Home Rule aims and the House agreed with standing ovations and shouts of “Guinness, Guinness.”[51]

But Walter Guinness backed down and attempted to defend the action of ‘Outlook’ by denying the paper brought charges of corruption against Ministers. It charged the Postmaster General with inefficiency and favouritism and nothing else.[52] Members of the Select Committee claimed much of their time had been occupied listening to irrelevant Unionist witnesses, including procrastination and abuse from an infuriated Winston Churchill. The Select Committee knew there was always a temptation to use the Marconi Scandal for party purposes, and admitted the deliberations of the Marconi Committee were tainted with party prejudice and bias.[53]

Lloyd George insisted that whatever might be said by Guinness, it was the fact that his newspaper which first gave currency to malicious rumours. It was a lie. There was not the smallest justification for the charges which had been made against him. The Attorney General and he had not had a single conversation with respect to these transactions. But there is nothing as paradoxical as politics. The net political result of the Marconi revelations was an actual strengthening of the Liberal Party.[54]

But the Unionists had succeeded in their campaign to frustrate Home Rule. Marconi debates had succeeded in slowing down the progress of the Bill. By mid-Summer 1912 politicians were concerned as to the little time being allotted to the Bill while Marconi was taking up precious parliamentary time. F. E. Smith stated that in 1693 the Home Rule Bill took 93 days but now it was only being allowed two days, “The result of this is that there will be no time to conclude the Home Rule Bill in 1912.”[55] But more was to come.

By the autumn of 1912 new rumours were rampant that the present government would not survive the Marconi Scandal and with their departure Home Rule would fade into oblivion.[56] Dissolution rumours were so widespread that Lloyd George and Rufus Isaacs were, “going about telling everybody that the present Parliament will last until 1915.” But, pessimistic newspapers stated, “These men seem not to recognise the fact that the old-fashioned Gladstonian Liberals are getting very restive regarding Home Rule. The Prime Minister will have a hard task to keep his men together.”[57]

But Asquith rose to the challenge and soon there was a noticeable change in the attitude of Unionists both in the House of Commons and in the Press. They realised their campaign to discredit Liberals was failing. There was no further talk of a Government collapse or of Ministers backing down from their Home Rule pledges, “Instead of indulging in bunkum the enemies of Ireland are now reduced to incoherent horror by the realisation that Mr Asquith and his colleagues are actually determined to do what they have always openly declared was their fixed intention.”[58]

Interestingly this transformation of attitude came in the aftermath of the vindication of the five Liberal politicians. For months the insinuations regarding their honesty was unwaveringly challenged by Tories anxious for a House of Commons debate. When the debate finally arrived there was total silence in the House. Nobody dared to put forward a single charge, contenting themselves with a tissue of paltry insinuations and demanding further investigation. But the Government had already instigated such an inquiry and the so-called ‘Marconi knaves’ willingly supported it, “That must have left their accusers feeling sorry for themselves.”[59]

This Select Committee inquiry into the scandal is often cited as the reason why select committee investigations gave way to independent tribunals. The Committee produced their report in 1913.[60] Any advancement of the Home Rule Bill would only come after a House of Commons debate on their findings.[61]  That took until June 1913 and the House divided on party lines over the report’s conclusions. But, most importantly, Unionists succeeded in delaying Home Rule by over a year.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Nationalists and Liberals deteriorated for two reasons; firstly, because of delays and secondly, a reputation tarnished by corruption allegations. Although Liberals committed to introduce the Home Rule Bill in 1912 they had become reluctant because Conservatives had garnered greater Unionist support. When the Bill was discussed, Conservatives demanded to have the Unionist north-east of Ireland treated separately from the rest of Ireland because Ulster Protestants constituted a separate nation. They hoped this argument would stop Home Rule and suggested it would result in an unstable Ireland containing two national identities. But there was a further problem.

Asquith’s Bill purported to be “final settlement,” and accepted as “the best we can get” by Nationalists. Claiming to be a Bill to establish independence it succeeded by silence. The Irish Party relinquished all right to debate. Former Parnellite politician John Dillon MP’s silence verified this indifference played in the Bill’s construction by powerful Nationalists in London. From start to finish in the debates involving Ireland’s “final” fate her representatives failed to suggest any amendment. Consequently, a defective Bill passed without alteration of one word, “So it has always been. So it will always be.”[62]

Irish citizens had been prevented from discussing the provisions of the Bill or the misconduct of their representatives. They celebrated unknowingly rejoicing the Partition of Ireland. Nationalist and Liberal colluders later professed surprise when young rebels contemplated these insults and sprang to arms in Easter 1916 punishing Parliamentarianism. However, Ulster unionists, determined to sabotage home rule  exaggerated the Marconi Scandal and that proved a brilliant time delaying strategy. It took until 1914 with the outbreak of WWI before the Home Rule Bill was finally enacted. But its implementation was suspended for the duration of the war. So, the Unionists won.


[1] Skibbereen Eagle, 23November 1912

[2] Irish Times, 10 June 1913

[3] George McClellan Harvey, ‘Asquith: The Master Statesman’ in The North American Review, 198, no 695 (1913),  p. 438

[4] Michael Foy, ‘Ulster Unionist Propaganda Against Home Rule 1912-14’ in History Ireland,  4, no 1 (Spring, 1996),  p 51

[5] Anglo Celt, 17 February 1912

[6] Donegal News, 13 January 1912

[7] Freemans Journal, 22 June 1912

[8] Freemans Journal, 20 May 1912

[9] Irish Times, 21 May 1912

[10]Hansard, 5th series, 39, 1129

[11] Irish Times, 31 August 1907

[12] Irish Times, 20 April 1912

[13] Irish Times, 10 June 1913

[14] Irish Times, 20 January 1911

[15] Hilaire Belloc & Cecil Chesterton,  The Party System ,  (London, 1911),  p 21

[16] Irish Times,  1 September 1962

[17] Irish Times, 29 May 1913

[18] Irish Times, 8 June 1912

[19] Henry W. Nevinson, ‘Lloyd George: The Leader of British Liberals’ in Foreign Affairs, 9, no3 (1931), p. 461

[20] Freemans Journal, 7 May 1912

[21] Irish Independent, 16 April 1912

[22] Denis Judd, ‘Lord Reading, Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess Of Reading, Lord Chief Justice And Viceroy Of India, 1860-1835’, (London, 1981), p. 4

[23] Irish Independent, 28 March 1912

[24] Irish Times, 1 January 1912

[25] Irish Times, 1 January 1912

[26] Irish Times, 3 March 1912

[27] Irish Times, 13 April 1912

[28] Irish Independent, 12 March 1912

[29] Irish Independent, 1 April 1912

[30] Irish Times, 3 April 1912

[31] Freemans Journal, 10 April 1912

[32] Irish Times, 4 April 1912

[33] Irish Times, 12 April 1912

[34] Irish Times, 23 May 1912

[35] Irish Times, 8 June 1912

[36] Irish Times, 25 April 1912

[37] Irish Times, 21 May 1912

[38] New York Times, 13 June 1913

[39] Winfried Georg Max Sebald, ‘Tacita Dean’ in October Journal, Autumn, (2003), p. 129

[40] Alvin Jackson, Home Rule: An Irish History 1800—2000,  (Oxford, 2003) pp 10, 3

[41] Alvin Jackson, Home Rule: An Irish History 1800—2000,  (Oxford, 2003) pp 10, 3

[42] Stanley Warren, ‘Montrose House and the Jameson Family in Dublin and Wexford: A Personal Reminiscence’, in The Orogon of the Ui Cinsealaigh Historical Society, no. 28 (2007), p. 97

[43] National Archives of Ireland ,, accessed 8 April 2014

[44] Ian D. Colvin, Carson the Statesman, (Montana, 2005),  p. 179

[45]  W.J. Baker, The History Of The Marconi Company 1874-1965, (New York, 1998 ), p. 146

[46] Irish Independent, 1October 1912

[47] Joseph P. Finnan, ‘Punch’s Portrayal of Redmond, Carson and the Irish Question 1910-18’ in Irish Historical Studies, 33 no. 132 (2003), p. 439

[48] Punch, 2 July 1913

[49] Irish Times, 12 January 1912

[50] Leitrim Observer, 26th October 1912

[51] Irish Times, 19th June 1913

[52] Irish Times, 19 June 1913

[53] Ibid

[54] Writer Uncredited, ‘Asquith: The Master Statesman’, in The North American Review, 198, no 695 (1913), p. 439

[55] Irish Times, 18 June 1912

[56] Irish Times, 2 October 1912

[57] Irish Times, 2 October 1912

[58] Freemans Journal, 12 October 1912

[59] Freemans Journal, 12 October 1912

[60] Special report from the Select Committee on Marconi’ Wireless Telegraph Company, Limited,, accessed on, 10 April 2014

[61] Irish Times, 3 October 1912

[62] Skibbereen Eagle, 23November 1912

Ireland’s Famished Years



Irelands Famished Years

The Irish Holocaust 1845 -1855

This document takes a look at what triggered the great hunger in Ireland, and what it meant for the people living there at the time. It also explores what happened to those Irish people who decided to leave Ireland because of the famine, and the impact they had on their new homes. Finally the paper introduces one of the stickiest issues in Irish history; the ownership of the land, the attempts that were made to rectify the situation.

The Great Famine of the 1840s marked a watershed in modern Irish history. Of course, there had been famines before in Irish history, and there had been heavy emigration before the 1840s and changes in family structure, farm size, marriage patterns, agricultural output, religious practice, even political outlook, can be detected before the arrival of the potato blight. Nonetheless the extraordinary intensity of the Great Famine, that is to say, the compression into a few years of changes that would ordinarily have taken decades to work through, moves it decisively beyond the role of a mere accelerator of earlier trends. Especially, the famine set in train the unprecedented mass emigration which throughly reconfigured Irish life and society in the later 19th and 20th centuries. From the 1850s on, with the formation of an Irish nation abroad, the history of Ireland and the history of the Irish people decisively diverged, with profound consequences for both Ireland and the Irish.[1]

In September 1845 the first signs of a fungal disease in Irish potatoes appeared. The potato had fed generations of Irish people and now was inexplicably rotting in the fields and people started to go hungry. The impact of the potato blight was immediate. So much so that the editor of the Gardeners Chronicle made a dramatic announcement “We stop the press with very great regret to announce that the potato Murrain has unequivocally declared itself in Ireland. The crops above Dublin are suddenly perishing. Where will Ireland be in the event of the universal potato rot?” In that year only one third of the crop was lost, but in 1846 the fungus reappeared and the failure of the potato harvest was near total. The crops failed again in 1848 and 1849, and the knock-on effects of poor harvests and lack of food began taking their toll on the population.

The potato ‘murrain’ or blight was phytophthora infestans, a microscopic fungus spread by the wind and the rain, particularly during mild and humid weather. This previously unknown disease, brought from America, rapidly turned the potato stocks black and reduced the tubers in the soil to a stinking pulp. As the crop was being lifted during the autumn of 1845 reports of failure came from across the island.  A Belfast newspaper, The Vindicator, predicted on October 22, “the failure of the potato crop in Ireland is now confirmed. A large portion of the crop turns out to be quite useless for purposes of food. A dearth is inevitable; and a famine is extremely probable. The Irish peasantry rely almost exclusively upon potatoes for their subsistence; and when the crop fields, they have nothing to fall back on the grass, nettles, and seaweed.”

Families were decimated by the famine, and in many cases entire generations perished. During the course of the famine Ireland suffered terribly. In the ten-year period in 1841 to 1851 the population had fallen from 8 million to 6 1/2 million. More than half this figure had died from hunger or associated disease. The remainder had fled the famine and emigrated. In 1841 the Irish census revealed that just over 8 million lived on the island; and, by 1845, when the potato blight struck, that figure was probably closer to 8.5 million. By 1851, when the famine had run its course, the census of that year showed that the Irish population had fallen by over 20%, with 1 million dead from starvation and disease and another million or so having fled to Britain or North America.[2]

The numbers who lost their life in the famine, or who chose to emigrate, represents a disaster of epic proportions. It changed Ireland forever, and had a profound effect on many other nations. Beneath the figures were thousands of personal and family tragedies, stories of charity and, in some cases, weak and misguided government decisions that exasperated an awful situation.

In 1847 the fungus that had struck the potato did not return. Despite this good news, 1847 was one of the worst years of the famine, and has earned the name Black 47. Although the fungus did not return to blight the potato crop in 1847, the loss of life and dislocation that had been caused in 1846 meant that few potatoes had actually been planted. As a result the crop in 1847 was small and inadequate to feed the population. In the winter of 1847, 400,000 people died in Ireland as a result of the famine.

When the potato blight struck for a second time in 1846, every part of Ireland was affected. Fr. Theobald Mathew, after travelling from Dublin to Cork, wrote to Charles Trevelyan, Head of the Treasury, on August 7th: “I beheld with sorrow one wide wasteland of putrefying vegetation. In many places the wretched people sat on the fences of their decaying gardens, wringing their hands and wailing bitterly on the destruction. The food of a whole nation has perished.”[3]

The soup kitchens that were established across Ireland in 1847 were invaluable in keeping countless people alive who would have otherwise starved. The effort, which was undertaken by government, local authorities, charities, and private individuals, was an amazing achievement in the context of the enormity of the crisis. There were, however, negative aspects to the endeavour. Stories circulated that Protestant organisations established soup kitchens, but would only feed those families who converted from Catholicism to Protestantism. The level of desperation meant that many undertook the change and were derided with the label ‘soupers’.

While the potato crop either failed or was small during these years, much Irish land was actually farmed commercially and was designed to produce crops for export out of Ireland. In 1847, while people were dying in great numbers, exports of food crops from Ireland were high. The British government believed in free trade, and for them the market was king. Ideologically they did not believe in government intervention. Rather than the food being kept in Ireland to feed people, it left the ports for its intended export market. In 1847 alone, it is estimated that 4000 ships left Irish ports laden with food grown in Irish soil, but destined for sale in foreign markets.

With only a small yield of food from the potato crop, people were dependent on charity. Otherwise they would die. The government had three main approaches to feeding people and these were: employing them on large-scale public works schemes in return for their wages, feeding them directly through soup kitchens or providing food and shelter for them in workhouses. By the end of 1847, believing the worst was over; the government scaled down the public works programme and closed the soup kitchens. The following year the potato fungus returned with renewed ferocity and people starved once more.

One of the biggest killers during the famine wasn’t the actual starvation; it was the diseases that the weakened bodies succumbed to. Contagious diseases were a common feature of mid-19th-century life, and epidemics of diseases such as cholera weren’t unusual. In addition, during the famine years the conditions in Ireland where unsanitary – even by 19th-century standards. People were in weakened states, and less resistant to the various diseases that affected the country. The most common diseases where are diarrhoea, typhus, cholera, dysentery, and scurvy. It was these illnesses which were devastating to the starving population.

Disposing of bodies was a huge problem. Given the faith of the Irish, the act of burial was an important one. But in an environment of numerous deaths such procedures could not always be followed. Bodies were found in cabins, in the fields, and by the roadside. Until they could be buried, rats and stray dogs were devouring the corpses. Such conditions only hastened the spread of disease and forced the authorities to act. At various times during the famine bodies had to be buried, without Coffins, in large trenches.

The cycle of starvation and disease was difficult to break. In the context of the famine, 1849 was one of the better years in terms of the potato crop, and a slight decline in the number of dead. However that year, a cholera epidemic hit Ireland and many of those who survived the famine succumbed to the disease. The absence of food in a society will always lead to hunger and starvation. The most virulent killer in such situations will always be those diseases associated with unsanitary conditions, problems with the water supply, and the difficulties of disposing of dead bodies.

When the potato crop failed, and people started dying in Ireland, British Prime Minister Robert Peel was forced to act. In November 1845 he set up a central relief commission, and, he bought £100,000 of maize then known as American Indian corn to feed people in Ireland, and also set up a scientific enquiry to investigate what caused the fungus to strike the potato. As the cargoes arrived from America in February 1846 Peel made more money available and ordered the army commissariat to set up the depots across the country to store 44 million pounds of corn. The plan was not to give up the corn free, but to sell it at cost price. The effect was to keep down the price of other foodstuffs. This “yellow means”, was at first condemned as ‘Peel’s brimstone’ but a government halfpenny pamphlet, telling people how to cook it, sold in tens of thousands. Peel also set up a scientific commission which issued completely useless advice on how to protect stored potatoes from infection. The experts of the day were quite unable to find a way of halting the blight.

The Prime Minister also put bills through Parliament in January 1846 to fund public works for the destitute so that they could earn money to buy food. Then, in June 1846, Peel committed an act of political suicide. With the aid of the Whig opposition, he brought about the repeal of the Corn Laws in an attempt to encourage the importation of cheap grain into Ireland. For the Tory grandees this was unforgivable treachery. The Duke of Wellington was outraged: “rotten potatoes have done it all,” he expostulated; “they put Peel in his dammed fright.” Peel had no choice but to resign. In July the opposition Whig leader, Lord John Russell, formed a government. Russell turned for advice to Charles Trevelyan, the civil servant at the head of the Treasury. Trevelyan recommended a drastic reduction in the distribution of subsidised food and a major extension of public works. Free-market forces must not be disrupted by government interference. The poor must work for their food. In his memorandum to the Cabinet on 1 August 1846 Trevelyan advised that “the supply of the home market may safely be left to the foresight of private merchants.”[4]

Trevelyan devised a new system of public works in August. To fit in with Trevelyan’s free-market philosophy, warmly shared by the Whig government, the works were not to compete with capitalist enterprise, and they were confined to building walls, roads, bridges, causeways and fences. The new relief works were to be financed entirely out of rates – Irish property was to pay for Irish poverty. It was not until October that this cumbersome bureaucracy (eventually numbering 12,000 officials) could issue tickets giving employment to those considered sufficiently destitute. There were also suggestions that the Irish ports should be closed to stop the further exports of corn. This proposal was firmly rejected by Trevelyan who said he did not want to encourage the idea of prohibiting exports, perfect free trade in his opinion was the right course.

Meanwhile the depots providing subsidised Indian corn, set up by Peel’s Tory government in the previous year, were being closed down. Too late in the day Trevelyan decided to attempt to buy corn abroad. The harvest across Europe in 1846 had been very poor, and there was no surplus for sale. The American maize harvest had already mostly been bought up. Even if corn could be purchased, it would not be ready for transportation until December, a month when American Rivers were mostly frozen over. And yet oats, wheat and barley, grown and harvested in Ireland, continued to be shipped out of the country across the Irish Sea.

The effects of the famine didn’t have the same impact on Ireland’s individual regions. While all areas were affected by lack of food and the spread of disease, the resulting number of deaths was not uniform. It was the poorest areas, those whose agricultural development was lowest, that were worse affected. In parts of the country where peasant farmers had large families, but small plots of land, the death toll was highest. Two groups suffered most: families that depended on their income from small holdings (subsistence farming on a small acreage to produce food for the family), and landless labourers (those who relied on employment working on the farms of others). If one was lucky enough to live in Ulster, where there was industrial employment, the effects of the famine where negligible. If one lived in the poor rural areas of the west and south-west, and were trying to survive on a small plot of potatoes, then one’s chances of dying were highest.

One of the many who recorded the devastation was the Rev Samuel Montgomery, rector of Ballinascreen, Co. Londonderry. He made this entry in the parish register: “On the three last days of July and for six days of August 1846 the potatoes were suddenly attacked, when in their full growth, with a sudden blight. The tops were first observed to wither and then, on looking to the roots, the tubers were found hastening to decomposition. The entire crop that in the month of July appeared so luxuriant, about 15 August manifested only black and blue withered stems. The whole atmosphere in the month of September was tainted with the odour of the decaying potatoes.”[5] The real worry was whether or not the potatoes successfully saved would escape the blight. Soon the worst fears were confirmed. News began to come in the potatoes were rotting in clamps and stores. The medical officer for Coleraine workhouse reported: “nothing else is heard of, nothing else is spoken of, and Famine must be looked forward to.”[6]


[1] Thomas Bartlett, Ireland A History, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 282

[2] Peter Gray, Famine, Land And Politics; British Government And Irish Society 1843–50 (Dublin, 1999);Cathal Poirteir (ed), The Great Irish Famine (Cork, 1995); James Donnelly Jr, The Great Irish Potato Famine (Stroud, Gloucs., 2001); Cormac O Grada, The Great Irish Famine (Dublin, 1989); Timothy Guinnane, The Vanishing Irish: Households, Migration, And the Rural Economy in Ireland, 1850 – 1914 (Princeton, 1997).

[3] Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ireland In 250 Episodes, Gill & Macmillan, (2009), p.375

[4]  Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ireland In 250 Episodes, Gill & Macmillan, (2009), p.374

[5] Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ireland In 250 Episodes, Gill & Macmillan, (2009), p.373

[6] Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ireland In 250 Episodes, Gill & Macmillan, (2009), p.373


Kate O’Brien’s Limerick Life



Boru House in Limerick is a late Victorian house that served as a family home and as headquarters of a thriving 19th-century horse trading enterprise owned and run by one of Limericks merchant princes. It is located on Mulgrave Street, “the street of bad, mad and dead” and was once occupied by Limericks controversial feminist writer, “a pioneer in Irish fiction”[1] Kate O’Brien. This article explores the influence of Boru House on the writer’s sense of place and religious beliefs. O’Brien’s tumultuous bourgeois childhood, Irish catholic middle class experience and early teenage years at Boru House obeying the rigorous rules of middle class convention led to her being a social, political and spiritual outcast and recluse. She was, by many accounts, an ‘outsider’ born and raised in a house unbefitting its time and location and as such it too was an ‘outsider’ and she became the personification of its character. However, O’Brien’s continued local, national and international success and veneration as a writer testifies to the significance of land and belief in the formation years of an artist and individual.

One of Limerick’s most famous structures is the Victorian Boru House on Mulgrave Street. It is an elaborate late Victorian house built by the grandfather of controversial Limerick writer Kate O’Brien (1897-1974). One of ten children born of Tom O’Brien (1853-1916) and Katty Thornhill (1864-1903), her grandfather Thomas O’Brien Snr moved to Limerick in 1852 after eviction from his Bruree home.[2] Kate wrote about him, “This Tom O’Brien was by Kilfinane standards, indeed by any, a man of the world. He was in fact a child of the post-famine evictions, for his father had been turned out of his small- holding near-by, in Bruree county – about 1850, and had made his way with wife, young daughter and two sons, and with a few household remnants on an ass-cart, as far as Limerick.”[3] Thomas was a horse dealer, breeder and supplier to “the imperial economy”[4].

Thomas was also very much aware of the fact that the nearby Fairgreen, “where thousands of horses are to be seen”[5] was the home of one of Ireland’s largest frequent Horse Fair’s and in 1880 he built Boru House a mere fifty yards or so away from the fairgrounds. It was a solid red brick dwelling. While its name and the arm and sword that perch on top of it conjure up shades of Brian Boru, the carriage wheel design on the stable gates are symbols of her father’s trade for, like his father before him, he was a horse breeder and dealer.[6] In fact on so large a scale was the business that one of Kate’s uncles lived permanently abroad where they mounted cavalry officers in many countries, sold hunters to all the great masters of Foxhounds, and matched carriage horses for the nobility. [7]

Limerick was rapidly becoming the horse capital of western Ireland and there were ongoing efforts to arrange the revival of the Limerick Horse Show and every effort would be made to “request the citizens of Limerick to subscribe and nothing be left undone to ensure the success of the show.”[8] Horses provided much of the locomotion and power of the age, and the O’Brien’s’ provided the horses for the merchants, the clergy and the garrison. Such was the wealth of Tom O’Brien that he could afford to buy some historic O’Brien diamonds from the Earls of Clare and have them set in a ring for his wife.[9]

Mulgrave Street had expanded during the 19th century due to rural migrants reflecting a rising local urban modernity. Mulgrave Street housed new institutions including the Artillery Barracks (1807), County Infirmary (1811), County Gaol (1821), District Lunatic Asylum and Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery (1849)[10]The modern institutionalisation of space in O’Brien’s early life milieu imbued her with an awareness of the centrality of place as a means to anchor essential themes.[11]

Limerick born broadcaster and journalist David Hanly in 1980 had vivid memories of his childhood on Mulgrave Street, “It was a place of curiosity, in my childhood it had not yet suffered the shock of burgeoning suburbia. It was a quiet place; the clock at the mental hospital dominated the street. On one side of the street was a prison, an asylum and a graveyard, a street inhabited by the bad, mad and the dead. On the other side were social climbers, shop keepers and the fairly well off.”[12] A former neighbour of the O’Brien’s, Mickey Hanrohan also had fond memories of the O’Brien family when he wrote to the Sunday Press as to how he had lived next door to Boru House, stating, ‘I kept a few Pigeons next door and could be seen from O’Brien’s Nursery. Master Jack, Miss May, Tom and Kate and Mrs O’ Mara brought me Pigeons from Shannon View their Uncle Michael’s Home & Stables.’[13]

Born in 1897 into a, “comfortable, relatively privileged Limerick of the merchant princes,”[14] She arrived at a time when the family business was enjoying exceptional success because of the recent re-arrival of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment to Limerick to their newly refurbished Barracks and in need of horses.[15] Furthermore, her Grandfather was campaigning on behalf of the cash-strapped farmers of Ireland who were being forced to pay exceptionally high sire fees which was resulting in a nationwide crisis in the horse breeding industry. He told a special hearing in Dublin, “The farmers of Ireland cannot afford to pay the fees demanded by sire owners owing to the bad times, and farmers should be helped by the Government to get good thoroughbred sires cheap.”[16]

Kate was a girl in the revolutionary period, but her provincial bourgeois family had no place, or obvious interest, in the political ferments of the time. This aspect of “Irishness” hardly makes an appearance in her work.[17] However, her father was an ardent supporter of Parnell and greatly believed in the importance of Limerick in the early days of the Home Rule campaign.[18]

Although Kate only spent the first 18 years of her life in Limerick, the city had a powerful and lasting influence on her life and on her writings[19]. Her daring literary perspective dissected and critiqued the social and political milieu of the Catholic petite bourgeoisie which supported the adoption of the 1937 constitution that imposed a quasi-religious and patriarchal structure of political architecture upon the fledgling post-independent nation.

Fianna Fail’s social legislation of the 1930s was increasingly vetted by a staunch right-wing Catholic hierarchy. In tandem with cultural nationalism the State and Church had determinedly ‘anathematized everything from jazz to modern fiction.[20] Subsequently, writers such as O’Brien would face the reviled Censorship Board in 1929.’[21] She was one of the first Irish writers to focus on the crisis of being a woman in a man’s world.[22]

Limerick impacted on O’Brien, It was there that I began to view the world and to develop the necessary passion by which to judge it. It was there indeed that I learnt the world and I know that wherever I am it is still from Limerick that I look out and make my surmises. It is really all you know about yourself – that life began, that you became involved, that you asked all your leading questions there in Limerick.”[23] The O’Brien siblings mixed socially with the sons and daughters of other middle class families such as the Egans, O’Maras, Ebrills, Gaffneys and Bourkes, and went pony-riding and to parties with them, especially during holiday times.

Life was not all work for the merchants and the professional classes. Drinking, dancing, race-going, hunting, card-playing, dinner-partying, womanising, discussing politics and religion filled much of their leisure hours. In this world the role of women was rigidly defined and regulated. Housekeeping, breeding, child-rearing and serving as decorative appendages of their husbands was their socially ordained functions. But for single women the social pressures and tensions were inescapable. Without a husband, a woman was automatically relegated to an inferior status. The iron laws of convention decreed that young women should marry in their first flush of youth. To remain “on the shelf” was to be stigmatised as an ‘old maid.’[24]

 Jim Kemmy (1936-1997) said, “It is over simplifying Kate O’Brien’s attitude to say she had a love hate relationship with Limerick.” She had ambivalence and uneasiness because she found it restrictive, claustrophobic and oppressive. She knew little about Limerick’s proletariat and this was obvious in 1949 when she told Harvey Brett of the New York Times, “Poverty and backwardness doesn’t seem to me the kinds of soil out of which great novels come.”[25] Kemmy further elaborates on this, “She captured for all time the ethos of the middle class commercial Limerick as it was at the turn of the century; the lifestyle and mores of the Catholic merchant princes of the city.” She didn’t understand the Limerick of the working people but she loved the city and its history and almost all her writing is redolent of this affection.”[26]

In her writings she explored the unnatural sterility and cruel idleness of mind and body of middle class women. Dr Lorna Reynolds of UCD suggests the ‘holier than thou’ attitude was anathema to her, “Catholicism seemed not to know that ignorance is not innocence, and without freedom to choose there is no virtue.”[27] Describing herself as a ‘Catholic Agnostic’ O’Brien wrote with some sense of remembered pleasure about religion, religion as hindrance, religion as refuge, religion as the moral reliquary, religion as motivating force; force rather than passion.[28]

Her novel The Ante Room is arguably the quintessential example of how Limerick impacted on her, “for all its melodrama it is extremely important in the context of O’Brien’s understanding of Irish society, particularly that of the Irish Catholic middle class and its self imposed vulnerabilities.” [29] The novel is sharp, multifaceted and portrays a narrow society, highlighting the small mindedness which sustains and oppresses it. Class fears undercut much of O’Brien’s work. Social exposure is viewed as the greatest shame in a world in which sexual or romantic deviation is so damning their deeper implications are unacknowledged.

O’Brien has been described as an “outsider”, “O’Brien remains a literary outsider; an independently minded maverick”,[30] her wealthy merchant bourgeoisie class, boarding school years, sexuality, relationship with Catholicism and significantly her Anglophile ideology was not part of the founding myth of the new Ireland. She admired the values and manners of her own early 20th Century bourgeoisie class in popular political culture and class consciousness. These idiosyncrasies were not unique but symbolic of a class attacked by a new era of nationalistic and religious influences.[31]

It was O’Brien who first and most comprehensively chronicled the rise of the Irish Catholic middle class experience. O’Brien’s lasting contribution to Irish literature is her exploration of a specific way of life and the many repressions which helped shape it. She was a formidable woman; a rebel, a loner, a traveller, a believer in education’s saving power for women, an astute political and cultural prophet, and a woman both of her time and beyond it, a European. Above all, perhaps, she is both storyteller and social historian.[32]

Kate’s bittersweet romance with her own indelibly linked land and belief manifests itself in later writings, “My life began in Limerick, my memories start there and to weave and wind from that first focus.” She sees her land as “grave but surprising and corrective of literary fancies.” Its first manner is sceptical, quiet and deprecatory. And of her religious beliefs, “Limerick’s churches are the very life and expression of the place, for comedy and anger, conviction and pride, music and formality, for ceremony – and always for prayer.”[33]

The structure of Boru House remains unchanged. It is a detached six-bay, two-storey polychrome red brick building with a single-bay two-storey gabled entrance and a three-sided canted bay window to the west. The use of polychrome brickwork in conjunction with stonework and the coursing of the eaves brickwork are all typical of the closing decades of the nineteenth century. The house has some non-domestic characteristics because it also functioned as the head quarters of the then prosperous family business.[34]

The national and local social and political climates of 1880 were at odds with the affluence of the O’Brien family. Many Limerick citizens were feeling the impact of poverty, famine, rural agitation and political unrest. County Limerick ratepayers had to pay more than most other counties for additional Royal Irish Constabulary because of Land League agitation.[35] There were demands of emigrants to financially intervene to rescue the country from the abyss of British suppression, aggression and enslavement. The founding of the Irish National Land League in the USA was the response and aimed to abolish landlordism and enable poor tenant farmers to possess their own land.[36]

Amidst this social milieu Kate’s grandfather built a substantial business and his rise from evicted tenant farmer to prosperous dealer in bloodstock was rapid and attest to his fortitude. He was an assertive, pompous and determined man and went about building the substantial Boru House beside his paddock and stables. He insisted that the house had the O’Brien coat of arms emblazoned onto the roof ridge. His granddaughter was proud of her birthplace, her origins and her class. They provide the settings for many of her novels.[37]

Kate’s formative years at Boru House influenced her writing. After her mother’s death of cancer in 1903 Kate studied at Laurel Hill Convent before progression to UCD, a fellow student writing as Quidnunc in the Irish Times in 1936 recalls, “When I remember her as a student at the National University she was a very pretty girl.”[38] Irish Broadcaster Ciaran Mac Mathuna (1925-2009) was born and grew up in a house on Mulgrave Street about 50 yards from the O’Brien family home. “It was a strange looking house; they were a strange family,” he remarks.[39]

If strange is a good word to use to describe her family then it is equally as good to describe her writings. Her play ‘Distinguished Villa’ (1928) launched her career. Her novel, chronicling middle class Irish life, ‘Without My Cloak’ (1931) demonstrated her main themes, Irish women’s struggle for freedom against family, society and Catholicism. The heroine of ‘The Ante Room’ (1934) is torn between love and Catholicism, so is ‘Mary Lavelle’ (1936), it was banned under censorship laws, as was ‘The Land of Spices’ on May 5th, 1941: “A prohibition order is placed on Kate O’Brien’s ‘The Land of Spices’ by the Censor, due to a sentence hinting at a homosexual act”[40], O’Brien later stated of the Irish censorship Board, “It’s five old gentlemen. I don’t know who they are. Just five old gentlemen who, when they get a complaint, read the book, and decide on whether to take action or not. Censorship is a disgrace, it’s too silly, and puts Ireland in a ridiculous position.”[41] O’Brien’s most successful novel was ‘That Lady’ (1946).[42]

Constructing an elaborate dwelling in impoverished Limerick was extravagant. Local people experienced food shortages that Britain doubted, “this famine fever is an outbreak of typhus.’[43] A view challenged in Ireland, “Epidemic fever follows famine.”[44] But ‘An Gorta Beag’caused hunger not death. It was due to new food production techniques, different structures of land-holding and the disappearance of the sub-division of land and cottiers. A combination of Irish emigrant’s donations and British political promptness controlled the starvation.[45]

To Kate such issues were of little concern. She talks in autobiographical writings of a happier childhood, “scenes of early childhood are those which shine clearest. We discover our childhood at the end of life as if it were something sculpted when much of the rest of us is by every good right dead or dead-alive”.[46]

According to her cousin Don Thornhill in 2008 Kate’s happy childhood came from money which became a theme in her Limerick (romantically fictionalised as Mellick) novels, “Her characters are at ease with money.” John Broderick wrote of her in 1963, “Since most novelists are preoccupied throughout their lives by the world of their childhood and youth, it is not surprising that Miss O’Brien’s imagination is apt to linger on those years immediately before the First World War: the last days of the great 19th century peace. Her milieu is that of the rich Catholic merchants of Limerick before the lights went out all over Europe.” It was a comfortable, leisurely world; casually accepting values which it imagined at the time to be immortal; and imbued with those subtle, generous and slightly diffident manners. It is out of this rich background with its solid Victorian conventions and its age-old Catholicism that Miss O’Brien’s heroines emerge.[47]

There are other themes influenced by Boru House. Her Anglophile tendency is easily traced, “English regiments flirted and courted among Limerick women with traditional allure, my memory tells me, they must have been an answer to life, those enemy troops, if not literally an answer to prayer”[48] She was embittered by the growing influence of Irish nationalism leading to the 1918 collapse of her family’s fortune and loss of Boru House thus rendering her homeless.[49]

O’Brien draws from this experience when she reminisces on her childhood amid British military surroundings, “Yes, it was a gay town, within memory, when the troops were in; up to 1914. It was a garrison town, and did not deny itself this glitter and spangle. The married women of Limerick around the time I am remembering were often gay and gentle with the fair-haired lieutenants and trim captains from ‘across’. Troops are no longer gay, in any part of the world; the decorative thin notion died around 1914.”[50]

June 1916 marked a turning point in the family’s financial affairs because of her father’s death. The Limerick Chronicle newspaper reported on the funeral, “The cortege was of large proportions and testified to the esteem in which the deceased was held in the city and the sympathy felt for his family in their great affliction”[51] Following from Kate’s father’s death her uncle Mick O’Brien took over the family business, “always a poor judge of horse-flesh and was not equipped to run the business on his own.” [52] Family debts soon accumulated, forcing Mick to sell his mansion, Shannon View, and to move with his wife to St. John’s Villas, a short distance from Boru House. Kate O’Brien’s brothers and sisters began to scatter, and Boru House was sold to the Lloyd family. Apart from occasional visits, Kate O’Brien was never again to live permanently in her native city.

But in ‘My Ireland’ she fondly retraced her childhood steps. Writing of a striking feature of her birthplace under the shadow of St. John’s Church, “still pointing its holy finger to a recognisable sky” she states, “St. John’s is located in a shabby north-east corner between Garryowen and the slums of Irishtown, it has taken its place since the 1860’s in a tired and history tattered town, as if it was itself a part of the long uneasy record. The church epitomised the town and once ‘a greyish blue on the blue and green and out of it raising a spire they will know that they have arrived at Limerick.”[53]  She later says of her city, “Limerick is full of monumental and ‘forward’ ideas. Our urbs antiqua (ancient city) has been taking a great shake up, and yet she still manages to look quite an old beauty, when you catch her in a good light” [54] In her final years her love for her native city was obvious, “I will be home soon in the very heart of that self confident town which, Limerick woman though I am, I cannot but admit is very easy on the eye.”[55]

O’Brien died in 1974. Her literary legacy is realism of immense psychological intensity, subtle insights and a deceptively physical quality. Her characters for all their repression, touch each other, reach out, and are tactile and emotional. In ‘Pray for the Wanderer’ (1938) she wrote about her life as a writer returning home and perhaps comes closer to explaining her life and work than any critic can. Outsider to the end, she was not above asking for the understanding she never fully received as either artist or individual. Her tombstone bears that title as inscription.[56] Though she was born on Mulgrave Street and spent her formative years there, she did not retain happy memories of the place. She never liked the “ugly” house, as she called it, and was slightly embarrassed at her father’s extravagant heraldic device at the top of the building. Boru House is situated directly across the road from St. Joseph’s Mental Hospital and Kate O’Brien always had unpleasant childhood memories of poor, demented patients entering and leaving the asylum grounds. The circumstances leading to the sale of the house had also hurt her.[57]

Critics draw a picture of Kate O’Brien’s life in terms of her childhood, where she lived, her family context, social environment and the Catholic middleclass milieu which dominated her. One of Ireland’s foremost poets Eavan Boland accurately captures the spirit of Kate O’Brien’s childhood Limerick which was struggling upwards. The horrors of the famine lay far behind her. It was a city of style and refinement and a class with a thirst for upward mobility; “Good horse flesh, solid silver and dresses made in Dublin were beginning to prevail.”[58]

The city was starting to attract international attention with a growing demand for Limerick Lace. There is reference to the reviving nationwide Lace making industry with Limerick’s designs being of special interest.[59] But there was also urban unrest, for example, in 1897 The Bishop of Limerick had to intervene in negotiations to bring an amicable solution to striking Irish bacon trade workers in Limerick. Angry producers refused to sell to pig buyers until profiteering middlemen agents or so called ‘blockers’, men who purchased at fairs and resold thus reducing the price to producers, were dispensed with.[60] In the midst of this were a class who were Catholic Ireland but never Nationalist Ireland, “A constellation of perhaps blinkered, smug lives, political blindness, the mainstays of a society but only at the cost of ignoring many more urgent and more powerful realities.”[61]

Kate O’Brien was a pioneering writer and her contribution to Irish literature and to an understanding of the psychology and sexuality of women has not yet been fully recognised. She was a warm-hearted and fallible human being who believed in the primacy of the feelings of the heart. Her writings are a record of her life and passions. It comes as no surprise to learn that her favourite quotation was George Santayana’s “The holiness of the heart’s affections”. Kate O’Brien was an intellectual and a profound writer. A full assessment of her work is long overdue, but it can be said with certainty that she assured Limerick and its people of an enduring place in Irish literature.[62]

Many of O’Brien’s books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that were new and radical at the time. Throughout her life, O’Brien felt a particular affinity with Limerick. O’Brien was committed to progressive politics.  A feminist, her novels promoted gender equality and were mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence.[63] Boru House clearly influenced the writer Kate O’Brien’s sense of place and religious beliefs. Her chaotic childhood, Irish catholic experience and teenage years obeying the meticulous rules of middle class life led to her being an ‘outsider’ but her writings continue to command the respect and adoration of her peers. O’Brien was an ‘outsider’ born and raised in a house incongruous to its time and place and consequently an ‘outsider’ too. O’Brien personified the character of Boru House. But her continued local, national and international success and veneration as a writer testifies to the significance of land and belief in the formative years of an artist and individual.




[1]The Kate O’Brien Papers, University of Limerick, (Special Collections) Available at: Accessed On: November 20th 2013. p.i.

[2] Humphreys Family Tree, The O’Briens Family Tree, Available At: Accessed On: 11th November 2013.

[3]Kate O’Brien, My Ireland quoted in Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[4]Irish Times, 2006

[5]Irish Times, 1897

[6] Limerick Leader, 2007

[7]Irish Times, 1981

[8]Irish Times, 1897.

[9]Kate O’Brien, My Ireland quoted in Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[10] J. Logan,  Family and Fortune in Kate O’Brien’s Limerick, in With Warmest Love: Lectures for Kate O’Brien, 1984-1993, (Limerick: Mellick Press, 1994) p. 115.

[11] Trinity College Dublin, Digital Literary Atlas of Ireland: Writers: Kate O’Brien Available At: Accessed On 15th November 2013.

[12]David Hanly, Memories of Mulgrave Street, in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 2, March 1980.

[13] The Kate O’Brien Papers, University of Limerick, (Special Collections) Available at: Accessed On: November 20th 2013. p.80

[14]Irish Times, 1994

[15]Irish Times, 1897

[16]Freemans Journal, 1897

[17]Irish Times, 2006

[18]Irish Times, 1994

[19]Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[20] Roy Foster, Modern Ireland, 535.

[21] Ibid.

[22]Limerick Leader, 1990

[23]Kate O’Brien, My Ireland quoted in Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[24]Kate O’Brien, My Ireland quoted in Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[25]New York Times, 1949

[26]Irish Times, 1981

[27]Irish Times, 1984

[28]Irish Times, 1987

[29]Irish Times, 1997


[31]Kate O Brien, Limerick  in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 3, June 1980.

[32]Irish Times, 1997

[33]Kate O Brien, Limerick in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 3, June 1980.

[34]National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Boru House, Mulgrave Street, Blackboy Road, Limerick City. Available At: Accessed On: 10th November 2013.

[35]Irish Times 1897.

[36] Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation of Ireland, 1900–2000, Profile Books, London (2004), pp. 62–63

[37] Don Thornhill (Speech), Kate O’Brien On Transforming Power, Kate O’Brien Weekend (1.03.2008), Limerick.

[38]Irish Times, 1936

[39]Irish Times, 1996

[40]Irish Times, 1941

[41]New York Times, 1949

[42] Limerick Post, 2008

[43] Belfast Newsletter, 1880

[44]Nenagh Guardian, 1880

[45] New York Times, “The Herald of Relief from America”, Available At:  Accessed On: 12th November 2013

[46]Kate O’Brien, Warmest Love, Old Limerick Journal, Vol 4, September 1980.

[47]Irish Press, 1963

[48]Kate O Brien, Limerick in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 3, June 1980.

[49] Don Thornhill (Speech), Kate O’Brien On Transforming Power, Kate O’Brien Weekend (1.03.2008), Limerick.

[50]Kate O Brien, Limerick in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 3, June 1980.

[51]Limerick Chronicle, 1916

[52]Kate O’Brien, My Ireland quoted in Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[53]Kate O Brien, Limerick in Old Limerick Journal, Vol 3, June 1980.

[54]Irish Times, 1969

[55]Irish Times, 1971.

[56]Irish Times, 1997

[57]Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[58]Irish Times, 1985

[59]Irish Times, 1897


[61]Irish Times, 1985

[62]Jim Kemmy, Kate O’Brien’s Limerick  in The Old Limerick Journal, Vol 17, Winter 1984

[63] A.L. Mentxaka, Kate O’Brien and the Fiction of Identity (McFarland, 2011)

Brian Boru: High King of Ireland



Brian Boru: High King of Ireland


Roger Chatterton Newman

Roger Chatterton Newman’s book ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland (Mercier Press, Cork, 1983), according to the author, sets out to elaborate on the High Kings achievements and contribution to Irish society but his reputation is, for the most part, based on fiction, “what the annalists would have us believe is romantic fiction”[1]; and the book presents itself as the first ever full length biography of Brian Boru. Newman wants to remove all this fiction and myth to reveal the ‘real’ Brian Boru. The book leaves no doubt that Brian Boru was the right man, in the right place at the right time, “Brian lived in the heyday of the Viking age, when Ireland was part of a scattered empire that stretched across northern Europe”[2] He is shown in the Western Europe of his day, largely divided but struggling towards a unified monarchical system. The Vikings were plundering and pillaging and Ireland needed a united front to drive back the foreigners. Other national leaders such as the Ui Neill’s were not, it seems, overly concerned with the Viking occupation or demonstrated any real desire to end outside domination so the task was left to Boru. Such unification, new contends, was by no means a new idea, the 10th century is marked with numerous attempts by the Ui Neill, amongst others, making deliberate attempts to ensure the King of Tara ruled all Ireland. Brian’s successful attempt to bring Ireland under his control had local and European patterns.

According to Newman the heroic Boru, not unlike the later Napoleon Bonaparte, “a product of middle-class pretentiousness” [3] was a man who knew how to fight his way to the top and he was determined to have his own way, impose his own rules, have his own will respected and was willing to enforce his demands by diplomacy or by force whenever the need necessitated, “Brian’s policies and reforms, unusual when compared with the average politics of his age, were based on a genuine desire to bring peace and prosperity to his realm.”[4] But, although Boru was very much aware that there were advantages to having the Vikings resident on Irish soil, Newman contends that the Vikings are undeserving of fashionable applause by todays historians, “they should not be credited with greater contributions to Irish history than is their due…they did much for Ireland in trade and commerce but their legacy should be compared at all times with what has been left by native craftsmen, scribes and builders of the same time.”[5] They advanced agriculture, knew how to build comfortable residences and were efficient traders in communication with many fellow traders in foreign lands. These benefits meant Boru was not determined to wipe them out but merely to tame them. Their immense economic and social benefit to Ireland would have enormous advantages for Brian’s kingdom.

Brian’s greatness came from the fact that he was equally skilled as warrior and politician and he was determined to break foreign rule. In Brian Boru’s Ireland foreigners were welcome as traders and visitors or peaceful residents but those seeking power on the island were dealt with using brute force, violence and bloodshed. Newman makes the point that the decline of Ireland’s naval power rendered the country vulnerable to foreign invaders. Because Ireland was a small island by comparison to other European countries the country was easy pickings for the Vikings. Ireland’s neighbours across the English Channel were equally as vulnerable but learned the lesson and developed itself as a powerful naval force. Ireland failed to do so and thus paid the price.

Newman contends that Boru was a most temperamental power monger who was a product of his own environment, “Boru was subject to sudden outbursts of temper, in the end, to cost him his own life and end his dynastic aspirations. It makes him more human.”[6]He was the youngest son of a petty king with little prospect of inheriting greatness but a combination of fortune and fortitude intervened and Brian built his own reputation through guerrilla warfare. His courage and determination convinced the Dal Cais that he was a true leader and from this moment on his campaign to secure the High Kingship of Ireland had become unrelenting. Although his relationships were not in keeping with the Catholic philosophy he was embraced by the Catholic Church because of his kindness and adherence to every other aspect of the religion. The church was perfectly willing to turn a blind eye to his marital fiascos in exchange for his support both monetary and moral. Newman finds Brian’s family life, although chaotic, most unusual in familial loyalty. Such loyalty, he argues, is evidence of Boru’s charisma.

The book pays too much attention to the ups and downs of warfare, divisions and rivalries; who won, who lost and what were the consequences and it can make the narrative somewhat confusing for those with only a passing interest. But the author attempts to resolve this issue by inserting comprehensive notes at the back for those eager for such information. The author cites the annalists as his primary sources but never loses sight of the fact that such sources are lacking in credibility.

Regardless of the fact that the book is academically written and is a scholarly study, supported by extensive research it remains a most readable work about a most mesmerising man. Newman’s more human ‘Brian Boru’ is clearly a great reformer and warrior and a very skilled administrator, but, perhaps most obvious of all a devout flag-waving nationalist, “that over-used word patriot is undoubtedly justified.”[7]




[1] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 376

[2] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 9

[3] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 110

[4] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 17


[5] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 389

[6] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 335


[7] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 300

The Transformation Of Brian Boru



Conventional interpretations judge Brian Boru as a martyr hero who led his people to victory but more recent interpretations have favoured the view that the battle was little more than the culmination of a rebellion against Boru by the insubordinate king of Leinster and his Dublin associates. Dr Seán Duffy, claims, “Brian Boru the man and the myth are right at the core of the Irish imagination. It is time that the real Brian, his real achievements and legacy are properly understood and interpreted for a modern audience.” Duffy’s statement suggests that, thus far, representations of Boru are in some way inaccurate and in need of revision. One primary reason for 20th Century representations of Boru being at the core of the Irish imagination is the manner in which he was depicted in Ireland’s local and national popular press throughout the period. By tracing the course of these articles there emerges a 19th Century warlord Boru, distinct in many ways from a 21st Century statesmanlike Boru.


Then glance the page of history down to valiant Brian Boru,

O’Rourke, O’Connor, O’Neill, O’Donnell, those clansmen tried and true;

We honour Robert Emmet, too; Fitzgerald and Wolfe Tone,

While O’Connell’s name upon our hearts we ever shall enthrone.

Laurence McGowan [1]


Traditional interpretations judge Brian Boru as a martyr hero who led his people to victory but more recent interpretations have favoured the view that the battle was little more than the culmination of a rebellion against Brian, the king of Munster, by the insubordinate king of Leinster and his Dublin associates. Dr Seán Duffy, Associate Professor of Medieval History in Trinity, claims, “Brian Boru the man and the myth are right at the core of the Irish imagination. It is time that the real Brian, his real achievements and legacy are properly understood and interpreted for a modern audience.” [2] 

Duffy’s statement suggests that, thus far, representations of Boru are in some way inaccurate and in need of revision. The reality is that Boru’s persona is permanently in a state of revision. One primary reason for 20th Century representations of Boru being at the core of the Irish imagination is the manner in which he was depicted in Ireland’s local and national popular press throughout the period.

By tracing the course of these articles there emerges a 19th Century warlord Boru, distinct in many ways from a 21st Century statesmanlike Boru. If anyone doubted whether the strategy worked or not then history could offer further proof of Boru’s far reaching greatness as a statesman into the late 20th century with claims that one of his descendants “a mirror reflection of Boru” was running America, “A firm link has been established between Brian Boru and Ronald Reagan.”[3] The high point of Reagan’s presidential visit to Ireland in 1984 was the presentation to him of a scroll attesting to his descent from Brian Boru. One present reporter later stated, “I was not allowed a close sight of the document, but I wonder if it is possible to trace definitively Reagan’s ancestry back for 1,000 years or thereabouts.”[4] But the ‘Boru’ distinction occurs not because history, as it is perceived by contemporary historians; “a word to do with digging and delving, a word which takes the glamour from the shoulders of Brian Boru”[5]; has changed in any way but interpretations of history have changed dramatically.

It is best to begin with what we think we know. One of Ireland’s oldest names is O’Brian, “With reference to the origin of the surnames in Ireland it may be mentioned that, in the eleventh century, the Irish Monarch Brian Boroimhe (Boru) made an ordinance that every Irish family and clan should assume a particular surname (or sire-name); the more correctly to preserve the history and genealogy of the different Irish tribes.”[6] The pedigree of this family is taken in John O’Hart’s Irish Pedigrees as from one Cormac Cas, who was the second son of Olioll Olum, King of Munster, whose mother was a daughter of Conn Cétchathach; Connof the Hundred Battles.[7] This Cormac had a son whose birth is recorded as 167 A.D., which gives a good idea of the long ties the O’Brien’s have in the history of Ireland.[8] Mac Lysaght’s Irish Families says the Dalcasian clan, known as Ui Toirdealbhaigh, took the surname O’Brien from Brian Boru.”[9]

Historians in the mid-19th century perceived Brian Boru as, “a delicately organised, thoroughbred Milesian, a maiden loving, harp-taught, council-swaying King of Erin.”[10] Furthermore, Boru was a brave, ambitious and generous prince; “he made presents of gold to the church of Armagh”[11], the friend and patron of religion and learning, “His value to Ireland may be best estimated from the independence, prosperity and glory of Ireland under his sway.”[12] Not everyone totally agreed with this estimation of the High King, “And yet, if we reflect upon it, this man the grandest figure in our history, was still a usurper of the National crown.”[13]

By 1879 the “tragedy” of Brian Boru is brought to the Dublin stage and its London writer, J.T.B., favourably compares his work, “a dramatization of historical reality” to Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra. He is condemned by Irish theatre critics for manipulating history, “No art, no ingenuity, no dramatic or moral purpose, can justify the violence done to our great historical figure.”[14] The public affection for Boru clearly ran deep.

Boru’s heroic status had continued unquestioned in newspapers as far back as the 18th Century. For example, February 19th 1879 as the steamship Countess of Dublin left the North Wall with a detachment of the 77th Regiment, consisting of 148 rank and file members, sergeants and corporals, all Londoners, destined for the Anglo-Zulu War in South Africa; as the steamer moved away from her moorings the band triumphantly played Brian Boru’s March.[15] The minor event, in the great scheme of history, gives us a little insight into the deep affection for the fearless warrior Boru has had in Irish History. He is the personification of Irish militaristic force, courage and heroic valour.

Over a decade later widely commended Irish poet M.C. Hime claimed Boru as an accurate representation of Irish patriotism with a “daintily conceived poem celebrating the achievements of Brian the Brave. The versification is full of national spirit.”[16] Many Irish newspapers quickly adopted the notion and proclaimed, “Brian was one of those men in whom the patriotic impulse superseded all others.”[17] Thus, the poet M.C. Hime was never alone in such thinking and many historians fully agreed, “All Irishmen should honour the name of this great Irish General, and in the march of modern civilisation steps should be taken that spots such as that on which he stood, hallowed by historic events, should be perfectly preserved.”[18] On the eve of the 20th century Limerick celebrated it’s sept-centenary as natives recollected of their homeland “the granary of Ireland” being harassed by hordes of adventurers, not just Danes, “Limerick was stained with the crimson blood of rapine until Boru settled the order of things.”[19]

Some early 20th Century romantic Irish historians claim that Brian Boru was so famous that even William Shakespeare made reference to him in Hamlet when he wrote, “to take up arms against a sea of troubles” which contains a mixture of metaphors from which one might infer that some of Hamlet’s ancestors were among the unwelcome Danes which, “Brian Boru showed the door”; and the still more famous saying, “It is a custom more honour’d in the breach than in the observance” goes far to support the same theory.”[20]

In the very early 20th Century it was generally believed that the Danes came to Ireland as a plundering race at the close of the eighth century, and for 165 years they were nothing but brigands, settled in batches in seaport towns, which they fortified and ruled. The history of their ultimate defeat dated from the historic moment in 968 CE, when Mahon, King of Munster, and Brian Boru called the people together in County Clare, and discussed the question of war or peace with the Danes. The decision was war, and war followed by an immediate attack on the Danes and the capture of Limerick. From that date until the close of the tenth century there were continuous efforts to free the country of the Danes but mostly including Clontarf in 1014.[21]

Whatever his accomplishments in Clontarf and whether or not he ever really held the throne of High King of Ireland, he most certainly, through his mythical or otherwise valiant deeds, conquered the hearts and minds of the people of Ireland who fondly embraced his memory if and when a true Irish hero was needed. His scope was nationwide from far south to far north, east and west across the length and breadth of Ireland and was as widespread as the nationalists who were quoting his noble cause in their speeches, “Patrick showed us the way to Heaven and Brian Boru to glory.”[22]

It seemed as if whenever a true ‘nationalist’ hero needed to be trotted out then Boru was called upon. As was the case in 1905 in the midst of a political debate into the nationalisation of school life in Ireland, “My teacher never taught me much about Irish history. A few scant words about Brian Boru and St. Patrick and that was it. But that teacher could trace his descent to Oilioll Olum.”[23] But, Boru had taught the Irish a lesson in Unity, “the man who will do most for Irish unity must know how to play the game as Brian Boru played it.”[24]

By 1910 rural Nationalists applauded the Rev. Canon Flannery, “a good old soggarth” when he declared, “although Boru is dead the nationalist movement will continue to infuse the Irish spirit into their movement and show the country that the spirit of Brian Boru is not dead.”[25] In 1912 the Nationalists contemplating a successful Third Home Rule Bill wondered whether the new Irish flag should be red because, “Brian Boru’s flag at Clontarf in 1014 was a red one.”[26] Furthermore, “when we raise the flag we better have Brian Boru’s March in tramping order. We’ll want it.”[27]

In Westminster the name Boru was raising howls of laughter on for Unionists on the eve of the 900th anniversary of Clontarf when nationalist John Redmond’s brand of ‘new patriotism’ was compared to Boru’s more traditional approach, “It is extraordinary that 900 years after the great man’s death another great man in the person of Mr John Redmond should have arisen; Boru had never allied himself inseparably with the fortunes of England and never accepted £2,000 a year to lead the forces of his country.”[28] When the anniversary arrived in 1914 nationalists were reminded, “Brian Boru came of fighting stock, “Men whose lives were used up in defence of their home and country. They were devoutly attached to Christ and the Vikings objective was to plunder and destroy the Christian spirit of Christ.”[29]

Boru’s reach went much further than his own homeland. In 1920, Irish Nationalists in Chicago were implored to support the Irish cause and by so doing they too were equally as important to the course of Irish history as Boru’s loyal and patriotic troops. As the attendees celebrated Boru’s victory at the battle of Clontarf they were informed that on the eve of the 1014 battle Boru addressed his troops and told them, “We are here today to defend the faith and the all-powerful hand of our Saviour will be with us in the fight. There will be courage from God in the heart of every man who faces the enemy.”[30]

Boru’s courage and victories were also in no doubt back in South Cork where patriots are reminded, “Ireland can boast of many heroes who fought and bled for their native sire land, but, alas, with most of them their sacrifices were in vain. They failed to accomplish what they fought for and they left to posterity a legacy of disappointed ambitions and hopes deferred. But there was one notable exception to the list of failures, it is Brian Boru.”[31]

Over in North Tipperary the residents who claimed, “you cannot throw a stone in Tipperary without hitting a Ryan” were reminded that this was so only because the ancestors of this clan were first brought to this side of the country from Wexford by the mighty Brian Boru, who had quarrelled with the original chieftains of Tiobrid Arainn, disposed them in his own high handed way, and planted the sept Mulryan, who were his Leinster allies, in their place.”[32]

In 1921 nationalist residents of South Armagh were quite proud of the fact that, “Boru was buried here, he was the King of all Ireland and this is good enough reason that Armagh should be selected as the site for a Parliament proposed to be set up for the six counties.”[33] A further protest, “declaring ourselves committed to resist the partition of Ireland,” later the same year were reminded, “We hold the ashes of Brian Boru who struggled for Irish Independence.”[34] A sentiment still not forgotten in 1933, “Brian Boru’s bones, dust by now, lie here, borne here from Clontarf by a mourning army.”[35]

But further south something of a Brian Boru re-evaluation was beginning to occur and it began with his name. Some historians debated the contentious issue of how best to spell Boru’s name after a Judge in Galway declares, “I see no reason why the hero of Clontarf should have his name spelled ‘Brian Bóroimhe’instead of ‘Brian Boru’. It would be pleasing to the old warrior to know that the rising generation would be better able to grapple with his name.”[36]

By the mid 1920’s the relevance and wisdom of teaching Boru in schools was being questioned, “There is a good deal of talk about the teaching of Irish history, boys are being taught more about Brian Boru than about the days of their own fathers.”[37] But Boru supporters were having none of it and suggested that, not only should it be taught in schools but, their idol was suitable for canonisation, “Our own Brian Boru was mooted as a possible candidate for canonisation; an honour which the most enthusiastic of his contemporaries would hardly accord him.”[38]“It was further noted that a t Liverpool Cathedral there is a chapel dedicated to St. Patrick and the saints of Ireland. A stained glass window contains an appropriate image of the national apostle, and in subordinate places appears St. Columba and St. Bride and one of the panels is filled with the image of Brian Boru.”[39]

Weeks later in the town of Ennis where the centenary of Daniel O’Connell’s election to the Imperial Parliament was being celebrated nationalist visitors were reminded that they walked on the hallowed ground of significant historical events, “to the east Brian Boru built a castle and from this stronghold marched his Dalcassians to the conquest of not only Munster, but of the sovereignty of all Ireland.”[40] Such was the affection for Boru in Clare that in 1929 there was public outrage at the impending sale of three hundred acres of timber being sold from nearby Cratloe Woods, “These splendid Oaks have ancient associations with the historic Brian Boru. For it was here, in this forest, Boru and his guerrillas often retired after sallies against the Danes of Limerick.”[41] While closer to Boru’s home turf, in Clare, there was a controversy raging about the sacred and hallowed ground that was ‘Brian Boru’s Fort’, so precious a place that there was a question as to whether tourists should be allowed anywhere near it.[42]

Hence, Irish patriotism long cherished the theory that Brian’s victory at Clontarf saved Western Europe from Norse domination, “The century after his death, despite dynastic quarrels, saw remarkable progress in letters, learning and the peaceful arts and crafts, and scholars are tracing the fruit of his toil in the records of ancient homes of learning throughout the basin of the Shannon.”[43]

A young Eamon De Valera who had, “attempted to destroy the Labour Party” was being alluded to by his political enemies as, “a second Brian Boru”[44], a title seized upon by Unionists who accused him of, “wanting one more Battle of Clontarf as Brian Boru had before to sweep the enemy into the sea.”[45] Some years later Journalists criticised the view and attributed it to a dying Unionist population, “His critics are just old men who discuss De Valera in the language of Brian Boru.”[46] But De Valera himself was not unimpressed with the appellation and, in 1933, on the site of Brian Boru’s Killaloe fort referred to the fourteenth anniversary of the Declaration of Irish Independence, and, “expressed the hope that in the not far distant future we shall see the freedom and unity Brian Boru achieved in his generation.”[47] In Toomevara, years later, they continued to agree that, “Mr De Valera was the greatest leader of the Irish people since Boru had placed in the forefront the independence of his country.”[48]

But, back in 1930 something of a Boru renaissance was in full swing. Discrepancies between accounts about Clontarf in the Irish annals and ‘non-Irish’ encyclopaedias and reference books began to emerge. While Irish Annals accounts were quite voluminous the records were ‘scanty’ in non-Irish publications, “these latter narratives popularise history as part of the education of Irish youth.” [49] For example, the widely read Century Encyclopaedia condenses  the “greatest battle ever fought in Western Europe” and merely states, “Clontarf, a village in Ireland, north of Dublin, and scene of a famous battle in which Brian Boru, king of Ireland, and 20,000 men defeated King Sitric with 21,000 Danes. King Brian and his son and 7000 Irish fell; the Danes loss numbered 13,000.”[50] Irish historians and their books such as Cusack’s History of Ireland gave greater accounts, went into better detail and the descriptions are sourced from chronicles preserved and survived through the centuries in Irish repositories, “King Brian possessed a powerful mind and a strong will, with the vision of a statesman and the character of a law giver. The mighty Boru stands only second in its stature to the gigantic proportions of St. Patrick, he increased the prestige of the Irish race in every Irish centre throughout the world.”[51]

The transformation of Brian Boru had begun. He was being reinterpreted not just as a warrior warlord but, as his political role was being better understood, he was now being more aptly described as, “Our last great Soldier-Statesman,”[52] and even the tune he is most associated with ‘Brian Boru’s March’ was worthy of reconsideration, “the tune supposed to have some connection to Brian Boru was a well-known Hornpipe the ‘Return from Fingal’ borrowed by Boru’s Irish pipers as the March played as the Munster troops returned from Clontarf.”[53] But Boru’s redefined statesman persona had stuck and, furthermore, he was also now being depicted as the man who brought literature to Ireland, “It has been suggested that the hereditary custody of literature was designed by Brian Boru, who was a constructive statesman as well as a warrior.”[54] Under Brian Boru, who was now being seen as a type of cultural monarch like Alfred the Great and Charlemagne, there was great activity in all departments of literature. The wondering bards were greatly honoured, and became attached to the hereditary literary families, “Henceforth scribes, poets, chroniclers, and lawyers were very active in the literary life of the country.”[55] But, literary advocate and statesman or not Boru’s only failure was to, “succeed, by diplomacy or force, in overcoming the individualism and parochialism which have been the eternal bane of Ireland in politics.”[56]

Historical revisionists also questioned the veracity of the suggestion that Donagh O’Brien, son of Brian Boru, on the occasion of his visit to Rome, made a present of Ireland to the Holy See;

“Donough O’Brien o’er the foam

Bore Ireland’s Crown away to Rome;

To that deed we trace our woe,

From it all our ills did grow.[57]

“There is no trustworthy evidence that Donough purported to make such a grant. In point of fact, he was scarcely able to maintain his own position as King of Munster, and it would have been sheer impertinence on his part to make a gift of what did not belong to him.”[58] There are other allusions to that event, vague and sad, but it is not narrated what Donough did with the royal relic, “No one knows now, I suppose, where the Crown was laid, or what fate befell it.”[59]

Relics aside, some historians began to argue that, “If Brian Boru and his whole family had not been slain at Clontarf; Irish history might have been different;”[60] With his death came about the demise of the first man in Irish history who could have united Ireland in a single monarchy and, “saved us much woe.”

In Kerry, historians were by now asserting, “We now know that Brian Boru and his brother Malachi were not of the ferocious kind far too common, not only in the period of which they lived, but long afterwards.”[61]  Quoting P.W. Joyce’s book[62] as a definitive source the article emphatically states, “The forgotten Malachi was the most distinguished king who had reigned for many generations in Ireland, and was second only to his great contemporary, King Brian Boru.” Malachi had come to the attention of the general public but was portrayed as second-class to Boru, “He died in 1022 leaving behind him a noble record of self-denial, public spirit and kingly dignity.”[63]

Historians were also floating some theories that the true cause of Boru’s demise was, “a slighting remark made by Murragh, son of Brian, to Maelmoradh, while playing a game of chess.”[64] Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and another theory stated in fact one woman; she was Boru’s jilted lover Gormflath, wife of Cormac MacCullanan, King of Munster, about 900AD was responsible for bringing in the Norsemen at the Battle of Clontarf. She was married two times before becoming the wife of Brian Boru, “It was because she was repudiated by Brian that she plotted to bring in the Norsemen in 1014. Her hand was offered to Earl Sigurd with the Kingdom of Ireland. The battle of Clontarf was fatal to her plans, and ended in the death of Brian. She thus ruined ‘Ireland’s cause’ when it had produced its greatest man. In all that she could control she was the most evil of women.”[65] She had aligned herself to the O’Brien’s, because of their station, they even had a place of inauguration when the times came for such ceremony. This place was at Magh Adair, in County Clare, “It is worthy of mention that Tara was the chief residence of the head of the O’Brien’s, King Brian Boru. His palace was called Cean Cora, which was, according to all accounts, a place of splendour and magnificence;”[66] A befitting home and base of power for a learned and art loving individual attractive to any self-respecting power hungry female. Later, historians simplified their argument, “I’m inclined to side with those who look on the battle of Clontarf as one of the biggest in-law rows in Irish history.”[67]

Dr Brian O’Cuiv, University College, Dublin endorses Boru’s cultural impact on Irish nationalism when he writes, “The 11th century was a time of renaissance in Ireland, following Brian Boru’s reign and his decisive victory over the Norse at Clontarf. The literary activity which took place was the prelude to the evolution of ‘Classical Modern Irish,’ the literary standard which was to be the medium of the professional poets for the following four hundred years.”[68] All of which comes as no surprise when it is recalled that Boru’s family were descended directly from the line of Heber, a minor character in the Book of Genesis, and as such had plenty of time to develop their literary and political skills. That influence continued for many more years to come. According to Myles na Gopaleen, in an open letter to John F. Kennedy in 1963, “Brian was the son of Cenneide; a wild Munster Chieftain who lived about the middle of 900 AD. His son had a bit of an obsession about taxes and his name was Brian Boru; ‘Boru’ is an Irish word meaning tax.”[69]

But, by the end of the 1930’s ‘old myths’ about Boru were starting to be exposed. Ringleader of the critics was Rev. John Ryan, published by the Royal Society of Antiquaries, who was offering a ‘new history’ of the Battle of Clontarf, “In the story of this famous battle a lot of romantic and sentimental nonsense has been superimposed upon the sober facts. It is time to reveal the truth.” Ryan claimed to have delved into original Irish, Welsh and Norse sources, twelve in all, and now concluded that it was not the Norsemen, but the men of Leinster, who played the predominant part in the series of events which culminated in the momentous battle.

Of the fundamental errors commonly accepted as fact which he now laid bare, the most remarkable is that concerning the real issue and significance of the conflict; the age old determination of the Leinstermen to maintain their independence against the High King, “In the first place it was not simply a battle between the Irish and the Norse. Brian’s army was not a national army but an army of Munster men, increased by the troops from two small south Connacht states. The opposing force was not an army of Norse, but an army composed of Leinstermen and Norse troops, in which the former were certainly the predominant element and constituted two-thirds of the whole.”

He also demolishes the theory that it was a battle between paganism and Christianity because the majority of the troops opposed to Boru were Irish Catholics like himself. Furthermore, within a generation after Clontarf Dublin was a Christian state. At Clontarf itself some of the visiting Norsemen were Christians. Ryan examines closely the long disputed question of the actual site of the struggle and reaches what he terms the revolutionary conclusion that the Battle of Clontarf was fought at Clontarf.[70]

But the traditional historians were infuriated and were quick to point out that the powerful Eoghanacht of Loch Lein and their heroic followers accompanied Boru to the Battle. They asked had it not some significance that Brian was educated at Innisfallen, advanced to that fight against the pagans of Western Europe on Good Friday, holding the Crucifix aloft, and that after the battle the remains of himself and his son and grandson were reverently borne to Armagh, and there buried in the primatial cemetery which is now under Orange rule?, “And now who will say that our struggle then, as ever since, was not truly a fight for Faith and Fatherland?”[71]

But some diehard Boru supporters had to concede that there may be more to the Clontarf story than had been originally believed. At a Fianna Fail Convention held in Mullingar in May 1940, the Minister for the Co-Ordination of Defence Measures, Frank Aiken told delegates, “When Brian Boru secured unified control of the national forces the Danes were driven out; although it now seems certain Irish factions fought against him at Clontarf.”[72]

It seemed as if almost every aspect of Boru’s life, personality, history, beliefs and reputation was under close scrutiny so it was perhaps inevitable that the famous Fort at Killaloe would fall foul of the revisionist historians, “It now seems that the Royal Palace which stood where the fort is situated was never there at all. The real name of the fort is Beal Borumha, a relic of the Glacial Ages in existence centuries before Brian Boru.”[73] At best, it now seemed, Boru merely happened to pass the site, liked its location and set up some soldiers to stand guard there and prevent enemies passing over the Shannon River. However, down in Thurles they had something, a little more tangible than mere here say, in a piece of broken metal found in 1935 “among the sweepings of an 8th Century church” near Thurles which had taken ten years to be identified as having been inscribed for Brian Boru. The inscription reads “C Cenedic Do Rig E” which Dr Sean Raftery, of the National Museum, said meant, “For Brian, the son of Kennedy; for the King of Ireland.” The find was made not far from Cashel, or Kincora, which were both used as royal residences by Boru.[74] Furthermore, it seemed likely that Boru liked to roof these palaces with Killaloe Slate, “The palace on Royal Kincora was roofed with slate dug up from the bowels of a 350 foot deep yawning chasm on the Arra Mountains.”[75]

In 1947 another new revelation comes to light when Dr Reidar Christiansen, a noted Norwegian archivist discussing the relations between Norsemen and Irishmen. He believed the early Norsemen settled in Northern Ireland and learned the Irish language and so, by the time of the Battle of Clontarf, there were some Vikings on Brian’s side. To prove that they were bilinguists he said that early places conquered by the Norse, for instance the Shetland Islands, bore Norse place names, while placers conquered later, the Hebrides bore Irish place names. It was not the desire to plunder that brought the Norse to Ireland but the scarcity of land at home.[76] So then, some of the Vikings who lost their lives at Clontarf were, in fact, fighting for Boru.

But that fight had even deeper impact across the European continent than previously thought according to an Irish politician, Michael J. Keyes, laying a wreath on the tomb of Boru’s son Donnchadh O’Brien in Rome, “By the victory of Brian Boru over the heathen Norsemen the power of heathenism in Western Europe was broken.”[77] Keyes was leading a ‘religious pilgrimage’ from Ireland in the company of the Bishop of Limerick, Dr O’Neill and Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Rodgers.[78] Boru was firmly established as a religious icon, “Near here a road meanders away silently leftwards. It is Via S. Stefano, which takes its name from the church so dear to Irishmen because Boru’s son is buried in this sacred place.”[79]

But revisionist historians disagreed that Clontarf was ever such a great victory, religious or otherwise, after all. Nor was Boru such a person of renown. Boru started out to avenge his brother’s death with the assistance of 1,400 Lochlannaigh and defeated Maolmhuaidh at Bealach Leachta. He later on defeated the Sochlannaigh of Leinster in 26 battles, “It is clear however, that his objective was to secure the Ardriship rather than to defeat the Danes. He sent envoys to Malachi telling him that it was not right for him to hold the Sovereignty unless he devoted his time to banishing foreigners and as Malachi was given to luxury and comfort and ease and Brian undergoing the labour of banishing them it was only right that Brian should have the sovereignty.

With the Lochlannaigh and Gaels of Leath Mogha he marched on Tara and demanded the submission of Malachi to him as King of Ireland. He was put off for a year, but at the end of that time he proceeded to Athlone leading all the Lochlannaigh of Athcliath, Portlairge Soch Garman, Corca, Suigheach and Ui Cinnsealaigh as well as the forces of Leaih Mogha. Malachi naturally submitted to him and thus did he obtain the Kingdom of Ireland. He probably never would have got it were it not for the assistance of the Danes, whom he ostensibly set out to defeat. And if at Clontarf he drove the Danes out of Ireland, then so much the poorer was Ireland as a result. We know that one of the great benefits conferred on Ireland by the Danes was that they taught the Irish the art of trade and commerce. Once they were overthrown the country was neglected to an inferior place in the matter of trade for it then fell back into the hands of a class who had no experience in the matter beyond trading in dogs. Ireland’s downfall was on the horizon. The position of Malachi was analogous to that of Alfred of England and might have been handled just as astutely were it not for Brian’s ambitions. Alfred was obliged to skulk about in disguise for fear of the Danes. For twelve months he laid concealed having abandoned every mark of royalty. Oddune, the Earl of Devon, redeemed the situation. He armed his vassals and fell suddenly on the Danes and routed them. Alfred took courage on seeing this; he sallied forth and eventually overcame the Danes. He neither lost his crown, Oddune did not claim it, nor did he drive out the Danes. He gave them the option of remaining as Christians with a chief exercising authority under him.[80] The revelation should come as no surprise to those who had been reliably informed that, “Brian Boru and Queen Elizabeth of England are blood relations. Therefore, we of Ireland are the true British people.”[81]

He may have been a blood relative but some argue that Boru certainly lacked her class and was, by all accounts, “most brash.” A historian calling himself Mac Alla states, “On the evening of the Battle of Clontarf a lady who made an allusion to the Danes as ‘running home like cows to be milked,’ and got her front teeth broken by her husband, who happened to be the Dane, Sitric, King of Dublin, and the lady the daughter of Brian Boru that had been pressed on Sitric by Brian with a big dowry of Cows, though it turned out the day after the wedding the Cows were whipped from Carlow.” Mac Alla also alleges that this, and many other facts, had escaped the attention of historians. For example, how did the men of Leinster end up on the side of the Danes, was did Malachi stand idly by as the battle progressed, why did the men of Ossory turn on Boru’s son on the road home, and, why was Boru’s daughter married to Sitric? All of this proves that there was a certain ‘uppishness’ about Boru and this overbearing side of his personality should not be allowed to continue to encourage impertinence in those who study him, “Boru has not been an exhaustible source of inspiration to the people of Ireland but the provocativeness that went with his character has also been taken as a ‘sine qua non’ of true patriotism.”[82]

But something even more provocative was to come when historian J.J. Brady reported his findings, “Many facts have been suppressed by historians and the reality is that Brian Boru did not drive the Danes out of Ireland, and he was a usurper.”[83] Not just Boru but the authenticity of the old conceptions of a high-kingship of Ireland in ancient times was now being questioned by researchers as ‘ancient origin tales’ were being investigated. Some of these tales had never been translated from the very early Irish in which they were written shortly after a script was developed. Such tales represent traditions on Irish pre-history which conflict with the Latin monastic traditions of the ‘Book of Invasions,’ written centuries after the introduction of Christianity. This was elaborated upon by Prof. Myles Dillon who wrote, “There was an Ard Ri of Connaught and one at Tara but there was not an acknowledged ‘High King’ of all Ireland until after the era of Brian Boru, “The Ari Ri of Cashel never acknowledged the lordship of Tara.” Furthermore, claimed Dr R. Dudley Edwards, Professor of History at U.C.D., “A uniformity of Culture that had evolved throughout Ireland by the time of the Norse Invasions helped to develop the conception that a High-Kingship had existed from an earlier time.”[84]

Prof. Edwards contended that, “The unity of Ireland goes back to the ninth century, when, in the face of the Scandinavian invasion, the historians set out to stress the unity of the cultural tradition but political unity was not really achieved until the high-kingship of Brian Boru after the Battle of Clontarf.[85] Edwards was not alone in this thinking and his perspective remained in the late 1950’s, “In Ireland the example of Brian Boru had shown that the old order was dying. It was a natural evolution that there should be a High King who would not only rank first in dignity but would form a strong central government, cutting out the powers of lesser kings. The various struggles between ruling armies were, therefore, an effort towards real unity.”[86] Historian H.J.McManus stated, “I don’t agree with this Brian Boruism; it isn’t desirable to emphasise it unduly. To me it was the common people who made the Irish nation.”[87]

By 1970 new ideas started to emerge from the ruins of two 8th century churches which evidence suggested enjoyed the benefaction of Brian Boru.[88] Historian Liam de Paor wrote, “Like Killaloe and Toomgraney, it was patronised by Brian Boru and his successors who built stone churches and other monuments.”[89] Tradition has it that the ancient Church at Killaloe was built by Brian Boru, but scholars are inclined to date it some two centuries later than Brian’s time.”[90] But Boru’s religious influence and heroic efforts were being questioned by even more perplexed historians now changing their view on the pre 20th century ‘Boru’ compared to the ‘new’ one; the transformation was nearing completion.

Further ‘historical inaccuracies’ are brought to light when it was revealed that the validity of the famous Saltair of Cashel, “begun in the fifth century and completed by Brian Boru”[91] as a source on Brian Boru, is now being questioned. It emerged that one of the most eminent authorities, Eugene O’Curry, Professor of Irish History and Archaeology in the Catholic University of Ireland in 1886 had claimed that the Saltair of Cashel was compiled by Cormac Mac Cullinan, King of Munster and Archbishop of Cashel who was killed in 903 AD and makes no reference to Brian Boru, “Therefore it is impossible for this manuscript to have had its origin in the fifth century, as previously believed, but must have been posterior to that period by at least 300 years, and also must have been completed a considerable time anterior to the monarchy of King Brian Boru.”[92] In one swoop a primary source to date on Boru was wiped off the map.

Romantic and long held theories about Boru and Clontarf were being openly criticised. Sean Dowling of the Old Dublin Society claimed that Gormlaith, the discarded wife of Boru, had got a raw deal from historians and did not cause the battle because, “elderly statesmen do not go to war to please the most glamorous of grandmothers, and Gormlaith was at least 45, and possibly 65, in 1014. Dowling believed that the Kingship of Ireland was at stake in the battle. Sitric probably hoped to supplant Brian, his father-in-law, and may have offered his own kingdom of Dublin to Sigurd, the Earl of the Orkneys, in return for his help. The battle was not the outstanding success historians to date had claimed. According to the Irish account, Sitric did not take part in it. he undoubtedly did, and escaped across the Liffey. Dowling also rejected the theory that the weir of Clontarf, where the Vikings were drowned, was in the Tolka. It was in the Liffey. Dubhgall’s Bridge, the weir of Clontarf and the Ford of the Hurdles, were all one and the same structure. The battle was fought in the territory now lying between Parliament Street Bridge and Ballybough.

The warriors, too, were not all we were led to believe they were. Turlough, son of Brian’s eldest son, Murrcha, according to the Irish account, was only 15 years old, but one of the greatest warriors of Clontarf. After the battle his drowned body was found impaled on a stake of the weir at Clontarf with a dead Norseman in each hand and another beneath him. This fairy tale has been given as historical fact. If Turlough existed, why was his body not taken, with those of his father and grandfather, for burial in Armagh? The head of Conaing, perhaps all that could be recovered, was taken to Armagh and Conaing was only Brian’s nephew.[93]

In 1966 Professor Francis J. Byrne outlined the progress of the ancient Kings and stated that the downfall of the ancient Ulster Fifth of Eamhain Macha and the rise of the Ui Neill in the fifth century disrupted the old system of the ‘Five Fifths’ and the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages became the most important kings in Ireland. Byrne believed this claim of importance was not admitted by Ulaidh or the kings of Munster but successful levying of the borumha cattle-tribute from Laighin over-ruled the theory that the King of Leinster had no overlord. By the beginning of the ninth century Ui Neill, King of Tara was interfering in the dynastic affairs of Leinster. Kings of Cashel challenged the Ui Neill claims, but in the middle of the ninth century Mael Seachlainn 1st made the High Kingship a reality by obtaining the submission of Ulaidh and of Mumhain. From the time of St. Colum Cille, the church wished to strengthen the royal authority, which was limited in Irish law. The See of Armagh was anxious to promote the concept of a central High Kingship to support politically its own position as Primatial See. It acknowledged both Brian Boru and his great grandson, Muirchertagh O’Briain, rather than the weaker Ui Neill claimants.[94]

Historian Dr W.L. Warren was also demanding, “a new look at Irish history” at a conference at Queen’s University. In his public lecture on interpretation of twelfth century Irish History Warren threw out so many ‘illusions’ in history that, “it would lead to a considerable modification of the view generally held of the history of the century, of the events leading up to the Norman invasion of Ireland, and of its immediate results.”[95] Warren admitted that there had been a movement towards giving a new concept to the kingship of Ireland before the conquest but he did not see Brian Boru as the leader of the movement but rather Muircheartach O’Briain, who seemed to be aware of European developments at the time. It would appear that the bishops who were striving for ecclesiastical reform were anxious that the high-kingship should become a high-kingship more than in name.

Some noted historians were getting peeved with the seemingly relentless conjecture and ‘true Irish patriot’ and noted Fenian Dr Micheal William O’Reilly was determined to remind people of the reality of Boru, “I am not given to hero worship but if there is any hero I worship, it is Michael Collins. Ireland produced two outstandingly great men in the last 1500 years, Brian Boru and Collins. I cannot pay higher tribute than that.” He further wrote, “For if Brian Boru rid Ireland of the Danes, it was largely Collins who rid it of the English.”[96]

A 1969 flurry of interest in Boru was initiated by ‘an act of vandalism’ when the famous Brian Boru Harp, “the most elaborately carved harp in existence” is stolen from the library of Trinity College, Dublin, “The harp was on display near the Book of Kells which is normally locked away for the night but he harp, because of its delicacy is handled as little as possible.”[97] Some historians contend that the affair is ‘much ado about nothing’ because, “the harp is only 600 to 700 years old and therefore could not be Brian Boru’s.[98] Bur other reports state, “When the great Harp was x-rayed, dismantled, treated, cleaned, polished and restored there was much rejoicing among those who value antiquarian relics and its origins can be traced back 1400 years.”[99] The culprits were soon captured after, “they demanded money with menaces from Trinity College Dublin.”[100]

Such articles led some journalist to reminisce about such school days and the subject of Brian Boru, “I remember my own schooldays and the masters telling us we got our kicks at Clontarf. The official version was that Boru was done-in by a Dane. There was a bit of sex thrown in when his red-headed wife went to the Danes on the morning of the battle and told them to give Brian hell.” He continues, “Seems now Brian screwed the Danes and then copped it. Never mind the fanciful story that a Dane slew him as he knelt in prayer. More likely under the Danish horned helmet was a mean little Leinster bastard who knew if Brian survived after beating the Danes he’d be too powerful.”[101]

Irish historian Donnchadh Ó Corráin was having none of this propaganda. He argued that contrary to popular belief Boru was not a national monarch and neither was he the first Irish nationalist. Nor was he an outstanding patron of the church and the arts. In fact, he was the first of a long line of hard-headed power politicians. The career of Brian had been too much interpreted through the sagas, stories, and later poems, which grew up about him, and the Battle of Clontarf, and which were extremely popular as long as the Irish manuscript tradition survived. These were very much O’Brien dynastic propaganda produced in the 12th century by what must have been the most effective school of propaganda ever to exist in medieval Ireland.

Brian’s achievements were substantial and had; no doubt, battle axed his way to the Kingship of Ireland. But was he really as powerful as historians would have us believe?  He did not create a national monarchy or the institutions associated with a national kingship, but he contributed greatly to advancing the idea of kingship of the whole island. He shattered the Ui Neill primacy in Ireland and opened up the struggle to create a national kingship and helped shape the course of Irish history in the 11th and 12th centuries.

O’Corrain declared that Brian’s struggles with the Norse were greatly exaggerated. Long before Clontarf they had become a minor political force in Irish affairs. In fact, Clontarf was part of the internal struggle for sovereignty and was essentially the revolt of the Leinster men against the dominance of Brian. Its most important result was the blow it dealt to the powers of the Munster kings.

However, in subsequent tradition, both Irish and Norse, Clontarf became a heroic battle of saga and song. The ranks of the combatants were swelled by numerous additions because everyone wished his ancestors had participated in it, “The Viking contingents from the isles and from Man, themselves not the major part of the forces which opposed Brian, became the forces of the entire Viking world and Brian became in story what he never was in fact – the sovereign of Ireland who led the forces of the nation to victory over the foreigners.”[102]

These revelations implied that Boru was a nationalist monarch and military man with deeply held religious beliefs. Littleton Bog in Co. Tipperary had been revealing minor historical treasures and thus began new thinking on Brian Boru. The bog was located on the path of one of the most ancient roads of Ireland which crossed from Leinster into Munster. Myles na Gopaleen writes, “This had been the main road to Tara made by the Kings of Ireland. It was the main road to the north and Brian Boru fixed it up.”[103]

In 1972 Liam de Paor questioned the idea that Boru had ever really conquered Ireland at all. It is a forced contention that Ireland was politically unified under native rule between AD 1002 and AD 1014, when the usurping Boru exercised a somewhat precarious suzerainty all over Ireland. Long before the arrival of the Anglo-Normans Irish dynasts struggled to achieve national monarchy. None succeeded and ‘high-kingship’ remained a political concept which eluded them.

The island was divided, as it had always been, and after the invasion there was a new concept of political unity, that of the lordship of Ireland, and this too was never achieved. The island was partitioned between the land of English law and the land of Irish law, racially, culturally as well as politically. It took until Henry VIII before the country was finally conquered; the triumph of English culture over Irish culture.[104] Such conjectures began to strip away at Boru’s credibility as a warlord but garnished some support for the notion that he may have been more of a politician.

In May 1972 the publication of James F. Lydon’s ‘The Lordship of Ireland in the Middle Ages’ led to further debate. Although Lydon stated his aim was to be interpretive he makes some sensitive observations on medieval Ireland leading to critical castigation, “His interpretation is surmise and it is not enough for an author of what explicitly purports to be an interpretive work to relate facts that appear to be inconsistent, without an attempt at greater explanation.”[105] Critics say interpretation is inevitable subjective to some degree but Lydon’s treatment of Irish history is blatantly inadequate and inaccurate. Lydon claimed that Henry II came to Ireland to finalise the church reform and to settle the problem of the power vacuum caused by the death of Brian Boru (more than one 150 years earlier) and, say critics, this is historical nonsense on all counts.

As early as 1938 Rev. Professor Ryan criticised the notion that Brian created a greater political authority as his predecessors and there was overwhelming evidence that later kings like Muirchertach O’Brien and Rory O’Connor exercised greater authority than Brian. With regard to Henry’s attitude to Ireland it had been argued that the papal Bull Laudabiliter granting Ireland to Henry was acquired through the influence of Canterbury, that it was ignored by him, and that he came to Ireland only to prevent the first invaders from establishing a powerful independent kingdom.

By 1977 a new interpretation of Boru had fully emerged. Historians now contend of all the Irish Kings, Brian Boru is probably the only one who can be considered equal to great monarchs of European history. Supreme in the national territory to which he laid claim, he was accomplished in the arts of war and peace. Nor in his own time was he known only in Ireland; his lifelong contest with the Norsemen made his reputation to be sung almost in his own lifetime wherever Norse influence was felt. He was a remarkable man and within his lifetime he managed to supersede the O’Neill’s who had a proud lineage extending backs into the mists of pagan times.

If his military skills made him High King, Brian showed remarkable qualities of statesmanship in his exercise of the office. He did little to interfere with the traditional rights of petty kings and was more or less content with their recognition of him as their superior. In accepting the religious primacy of Armagh and all that went with it, he made the point that a High King from Munster could be as good a friend of the Church as any Northerner could be. The Northern clergy, it is assumed, responded by throwing the weight of their influence behind his kingship. The bond must have been a strong one, since before his death on April 23 1014, Brian made a will expressing the desire to be buried at Armagh, the seat of Patrick, and that the community there should be given lavish gifts. And there, after his last triumph at Clontarf, his body as brought to rest forever among the men of the North whose pride he had once so offended by his claim to authority over them.”[106] With such reports the 20th Century transformation of Brian Boru from Warlord to Statesman was complete.

By now historians were comparing Boru to England’s Alfred the Great, “There is a striking parallel between the lives of England’s Alfred the Great and that of Brian Boru. Both were younger brothers who began at an early age a lifelong struggle with the Danes, both succeeded to leadership at a time of great crisis, both, while never shirking war used well the blessings of peace. And both were far ahead of their contemporaries as soldiers and as statesmen.”[107]

But Boru’s escapades, if unworthy of the attention of either an American President, a British Monarch or the Bard of Avon, was most certainly well worthy of scribes from Ireland’s ancient annals right up to 21st century media. Boru is the only political leader of his time who remains well known yet, despite his firm place in folk-memory, as a figure he remained curiously vague. Historians, throughout the 20th Century and on into the present day, continue to attempt to correct this and sometimes trip each other up with their revelations, findings, conjectures and opinions. Some even wondered if Boru was more myth than fact; an invention of his loving kinfolk desirous of scaring their enemies into submission.

By 1977 O’Corrain was claiming that the County Clare Dalcassian clan, that “produced” Boru, was, in fact, a tribe called the Deisi who crossed the Shannon from Limerick in 600 AD and later faked the genealogy, “they produced Brian Boru and the two succeeding O’Brien kings, who were the most powerful rulers that Gaelic Ireland knew.”[108] He argued the Deisi became powerful in Clare and faked a genealogy by which they claimed to be of the Eoganacht, who were over the premier Munster dynastic families, having originated in Kerry.

The argument was given some credence when Professor John Byrne argued that the official life story of Brian Boru was compiled by his great-grandson, Muircheartach O’Briain who was King of Munster from 1086 until 1119, “he was the most powerful King in Ireland and claimed to be High King of Ireland. During his reign the story of Brian Boru emerged and reflects Muircheartach’s own ambitions.”[109] Two years later, in 1979, Liam de Paor endorses this view. He wrote it was not until the end of the eleventh century that the Dal Cais dynasty had sufficiently recovered from the pyrrhic victory at Clontarf to produce another virtual high king of all Ireland, “Brian Boru by then had been enhanced in reputation and his time was being looked back to as a golden age. In due course pseudo historical tracts were produced glorifying and exaggerating the achievements of the Dal Cais in the days when the founders of its greatness were expanding their power. Brian became the ‘mirror for Princes’ and a great Christian and Irish hero fighting against the heathen and the foreigner.”[110]

The year 1980 was declared ‘Viking Year’ and their reputation also got a major clean-up and, some historians would argue that life with the Vikings may not have been quite as bad as we had been led to believe, “Fading into the past is our notion of Vikings as merely marauders. We now realise that the Irish were equally as good at creating chaos. The Scandinavians made a much more positive contribution to the life and culture of medieval Ireland by founding towns and cities.”[111]

Numerous books are published celebrating the Vikings, most notable of these being, James Graham Campbell’s ‘The Viking World’ which explored their rich culture, their art, script and literature as well as their mode of daily life and the towns and states which they founded. In his book he argues, “It is misleading to describe the Vikings as raiders or pirates for, by no means, all Scandinavians were.”[112] The publication of Morgan Llewellyn best-selling ‘Lion Of Ireland – The Legend of Brian Boru’ brought the mythological hero firmly into popular culture, “Through its pages she puts flesh on the bones of Brian Boru, the man she describes as being larger than life; rough yet elegant.”[113] Her illusion was so fantastic that even Hollywood’s Warner Brothers Film Studios was tipped to pay out $15m to make the movie with Clint Eastwood to play Boru. Even President Ronald Reagan had something to say, “I think the story is worthy and would make a wonderful action film.”[114] Movie Director Herb Wright tells the Irish media, “I believe Brian has not got his proper international recognition and he deserves the same treatment as Gandhi and Lawrence of Arabia.”[115] This particular production was later postponed.[116]  But it wasn’t the end of Boru’s Hollywood career, thirty years later, in 2013 it is announced that ‘Boru’ an $80m big-budget biopic of the hero is set for filming in Ireland, “Epic battle scenes will be filmed and it is hoped Boru will match the success of Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’; the Boru biopic is a story about, “bravery and human spirit”.[117]

But by the mid mid-1980’s historians continued to defend their beliefs, “As a general Brian Boru was a man apart. He left nothing to chance and unlike his contemporaries; he never fought an engagement unless he was sure of success. He was a brilliant strategist.”[118] But, “he was the hero on whom lesser men tried vainly to model themselves, forgetting that his military skills had been supplemented by many of the qualities of the true statesman.”[119]

The publication of Roger Chatterton-Newman’s book ‘Brian Boru; King of Ireland” in 1983 is hailed by historians as a turning point in the historical research into Boru, “Biographers have neglected, to the point of ignoring Boru who was regarded as Emperor of the Irish. Sources are scarce and obscure because of the ravages of time and warfare; and unreliable since ancient annalists suffered as much from bias as do modern historians.”[120] Chatterton is praised as having carved away the myth and presenting the ‘real’ Brian Boru, “Boru’s rise to power did not follow established ‘rights’. He imposed his rule by his own will through diplomacy as well as by sword. His justification was success.”[121]

Apart from some minor references to Boru in the last decade of the millennium which he occupied he all but vanished from the media. In the early 1990’s historian Fergal Keane was claiming that the relationship between the Irish and the Danes was still not fully restored, “We have an unrequited love for the Danes. With a distrust level of 10% among the Irish, Denmark is our second most trusted nation after Luxembourg. But more than 17% of Danes feel they could not trust us, Brian Boru included, no doubt.”[122] Boru’s campaign against the Danes was continuing to have impact a full millennium after the events at Clontarf. Whatever about the Danes there was good reason for the British to mend their attitude to Ireland; Prof. Noel Mulcahy of the University of Limerick claims that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is really Irish. She is descended directly from Brian Boru. Believing In alliances, as he did, Brian married one of his daughters off to Malcolm II of Scotland, “Now that may seem to be a fairly innocuous statement, but when one considers the implications it gives one food for thought, because the marriage of Malcolm and Brian’s daughter, gave rise to a line of Scottish monarchs that led eventually to the line of British monarchs right down to Queen Elizabeth of today. So we have this fantastic irony that the monarch of the United Kingdom is descended directly from Brian Buru; so the British queen is really Irish,” according to Mulcahy.[123]

But such revisionist historians are becoming the targets of serious doubt, “Revisionism is a good thing, in the sense that all good historians are revisionists. The problem is that not all revisionists are good historians. And while there is much to be said for this effort to look again at the legacy of Clontarf, the danger of casting doubt on the significance of Clontarf, however laudable the intention, is that we throw the baby out with the bathwater.”[124] Irish academics have traditionally presented themselves as detached observers detailing a value-free, impartial account of history. But it is difficult, if not impossible, to be non-judgemental when contemplating some of their conjectures. Their tales, of course, are often exaggerated, sometimes even fictional. Because such stories are conducive to an exaggerated nationalist interpretation, scholarly accounts of Brian Boru have tended to be detached, even clinical. One may wonder why anyone should seek to cheapen and demean the Irish past in such a way. Revisionist historians would argue that they are not doing this. They would point out that history has to be continually revised in order to separate fact from fiction.[125] This is irrefutable. But revisionism Irish-style has been driven not by a desire to uncover new facts but by a craving to debunk the nationalist version of history. This was provoked by the revitalisation of the I.R.A. in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Southern nationalist mythology, they believed, had contributed to the renewal of the radical militant nationalism of the I.R.A. The I.R.A. claimed that they were acting in the name of the Irish people and continuing the fight for freedom initiated by Pearse and Connolly with the 1916 rising. The revisionist historians, foolishly, essentially accepted this theory and have ever since kept themselves busy by ‘demythologising’ and patronising almost every Irish figure of note, most notably Brian Boru.

By the dawn of the new millennium Brian Boru’s transformation from Warlord to Statesman was not only complete but as the 1000th Anniversary of Clontarf was approaching there seemed to be a final push to copper fasten his Statesman persona, “The millennium just past, proved history has been a pretty tragic business and while we had a bit of a lift at the start with Brian Boru and the Danes, it was mostly all downhill afterwards.”[126] Boru, by all accounts was a devoted Christian who had done a lot for Ireland. He set about the restoration of libraries and the rebuilding of monasteries, “He had established peace and helped convert the Vikings, who eventually lived with the Irish in harmony. He believed a united country was far stronger than a divided one.”[127] In June 2002 the 1,000th anniversary of the crowning of Brian Boru as High King of Tara is celebrated and he is hailed as the only High King who ever had control over the entire island and he was responsible for beginning reform in the churches, schools and monasteries. He is remembered as an extraordinary leader and as a brilliant military tactician.[128]

In Northern Ireland some historians are calling for a rethink on Unionist teachings on the importance of Brian Boru to British history, “Boru and the Battle of Clontarf is significant because it was one of the largest battles in Europe of its era, and had major implications for the influence of the Vikings, yet is barely known by many school children in Northern Ireland today. Such odd gaps in our understanding of history are not merely explicable by the different slants than unionists or nationalists put on the past.”[129]

By 2014 Boru is being described as, “a man who brimmed with extraordinary fortitude of character, political innovation, military and diplomatic genius.”[130] He was an immensely significant figure even before his victory at Clontarf because he led a 25-year diplomatic and military struggle to subvert the ruling dynasty. Therefore, Brian Boru’s greatest achievement is in fundamentally altering the parameters of Irish politics. This explains, in part, why the efforts of revisionists to re-examine the justification for the Rising have been mirrored by an attempt to contest the ‘myth’ of Brian’s expulsion of the Vikings. This process has been under way for the last three-quarters of a century, so that it is regularly stated nowadays that far from being about the defence of Ireland from the Scandinavians, Clontarf was merely the culmination of a rebellion against Brian, the king of Munster, by Máelmórda, the defiant king of Leinster, and his Dublin underlings.

Boru memorabilia remained important as Conor O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin; a direct descendant of Boru reveals that he is on the trail of the original crown entrusted to the Vatican nearly 1,000 years ago. He believes that the crown originally worn by his 32nd generation ancestor may still lie in the Vatican vaults. The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles John Brown, admitted that this was the first he had heard that “we might have it”, but said: “If anyone can find it, Pope Francis can.”[131] More significantly the famous 9th Century Book of Armagh is now officially declared as the only surviving item from antiquity known to have been in Brian Boru’s presence. The ancient text clearly defines Boru, not as a warrior but as an Emperor. Dr Denis Casey states, “In it Boru is memorably styled Imperator Scotorum, or Emperor of the Irish.”[132] The transformation of Brian Boru from warlord,a military commander and aggressive regional chief with individual autonomy, to the highly elevated status of sovereign ruler of an empire and statesman of equal calibre to his descendants Ronald Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II, amongst others, was finally complete.


[1] Leitrim Observer, 14 May 1932

[2] Trinity College Dublin, ‘Truth of the Battle of Clontarf Investigated at Conference’,, accessed on 16.04.2014

[3] Irish Times, 17 November 1980

[4] Irish Independent, 7 June 2004

[5] Irish Press, 6 June 1932

[6] John O’Hart, ‘Irish Pedigrees or, The Origin And The Stem, or The Irish Nation’, (Dublin, 1892) p. xxi

[7] Library Ireland, The Line Of Heber,, accessed 5 April 2014

[8] John O’Hart, ‘Irish Pedigrees or, The Origin And The Stem, or The Irish Nation’, (Dublin, 1892) pp. 61,62

[9] Irish Times, 10 February 1999

[10] Belfast Newsletter, 24 September 1829

[11] Meath Chronicle, 1 January 1921

[12] Tuam Herald, 13 January 1844

[13] Nation, 23 November 1872

[14] Nation, 25 January 1879

[15] Irish Times, 20 February 1879

[16] Irish Times, 20 March 1889

[17] Anglo Celt, 13 January 1894

[18] Weekly Irish Times, 28 September 1895

[19] Irish Times, 27 December 1897

[20] Weekly Irish Times, 29 June 1901

[21] Weekly Irish Times, 6 February 1904

[22] Southern Star, 12 November 1904

[23] Kerryman, 21 January 1905

[24] Donegal News, 27 May 1905

[25] Nenagh News, 8 October 1910

[26] Irish Independent, 22 March 1912

[27] Connaught Telegraph, 15 June 1912

[28] Skibbereen Eagle, 25 October 1913

[29] Ulster Herald, 14 May 1914

[30] Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 April 1920

[31] Southern Star, 16 October 1915

[32] Nenagh Guardian, 27 November 1920

[33] Ulster Herald, 19 March 1921

[34] Freemans Journal, 17 September 1921

[35] Irish Press, 3 October 1933

[36] Connacht Tribune,  11 March 1922

[37] Irish Times, 14 June 1926

[38]Irish Press, 2 April 1974

[39] Irish Times, 27 August 1928

[40] Irish Times, 3 October 1928

[41] Irish Times, 6 February 1929

[42] Limerick Leader, 21 August 1929

[43] Irish Times, 20 August 1929

[44] Southern Star, 19 April 1930

[45] Longford Leader, 31 May 1930

[46] Irish Press, 26 July 1932

[47] Irish Press, 23 January 1933

[48] Nenagh Guardian, 26 June 1937

[49] Anglo Celt, 19 April 1930

[50] Century Encyclopaedia, quoted in, Anglo Celt, 19 April 1930

[51] Anglo Celt, 19 April 1930

[52] Kerryman, 16 August 1930

[53] Donegal News, 18 October 1930

[54] Irish Press, 25 September 1931

[55] Irish Independent, 20 March 1935

[56] Anglo Celt, 20 February 1932

[57] Irish Press, 30 June 1933

[58] Southern Star, 8 October 1932

[59] Irish Press, 30 June 1933

[60] Irish Press, 16 January 1934

[61] Kerryman, 12 May 1934

[62] Patrick Weston Joyce,’ ‘A Concise History of Ireland’, (Dublin, 1910)

[63] Kerryman, 12 May 1934

[64] Leitrim Observer, 19 January 1957

[65] Irish Times, 9 February 1939

[66] Times Pictorial, 20 December 1952

[67] Limerick Leader, 7 August 1993

[68] Irish Times, 18 November 1959

[69] Irish Times, 28 June 1963

[70] Irish Independent, 6 September 1938

[71] Kerryman, 15 April 1939

[72] Irish Press. 6 May 1940

[73] Limerick Leader, 21 September 1940

[74] Irish Press, 23 January 1945

[75] Irish Press, 19 January 1949.

[76] Connacht Sentinel, 25 November 1947

[77] Irish Independent, 14 October 1950

[78] Irish Independent, 14 October 1950

[79] Irish Independent, 8 April 1952

[80] Ulster Herald, 6 January 1951

[81] Irish Press, 28 November 1952

[82] Irish Press, 13 February 1953

[83] Donegal News, 29 January 1955

[84] Irish Independent, 2 September 1955

[85] Irish Independent, 12 December 1955

[86] Meath Chronicle, 14 March 1959

[87] Irish Press, 7 August 1959

[88] Irish Times, 3 July 1970

[89] Irish Times, 4 August 1971

[90] Irish Independent, 28 July 1962

[91]Connacht Tribune, 14 July 1967

[92]Irish Independent, 27 May 1960

[93] Irish Press, 31 January 1963

[94]Irish Independent, 14 January 1966

[95] Irish Press, 29 May 1967

[96] Irish Independent, 22 February 1968

[97] Irish Press, 26 March 1969

[98] Irish Independent, 26 March 1969

[99] Irish Independent, 27 March 1969

[100] Irish Press, 1 August 1969

[101] Irish Times, 28 August 1971

[102] Irish Times, 28 August 1971

[103] Irish Times, 29 January 1972

[104] Irish Times, 23 August 1972

[105]Irish Press, 6 May 1972

[106] Irish Press, 23 April 1977

[107] Irish Press, 26 October 1977

[108] Irish Times, 19 April 1977

[109] Irish Times, 29 August 1977

[110] Irish Times, 18 May 1979

[111] Irish Press, 20 March 1980

[112] James Graham Campbell, ‘The Viking World’, (London, 1980), p10

[113] Irish Press, 8 July 1980

[114] Sunday Independent, 1 March 1981.

[115] Irish Press, 23 February 1983

[116] Irish Press, 17 June 1983

[117] Sunday Independent, 19 May 2013

[118] Irish Press, 23 April 1981

[119] Irish Press, 10 March 1982

[120] Irish Press, 27 June 1983

[121] Ibid

[122] Irish Press, 16 July 1990

[123] Irish Press, 17 March 1995

[124] Irish Independent, 18 April 2014

[125] Southern Star, 15 November 1997

[126] Southern Star, 1 January 2000

[127] Westmeath Examiner, 9 September 2000

[128] Meath Chronicle, 29 June 2002

[129] Belfast Newsletter, 8 March 2014

[130] Irish Independent, 12 April 2014

[131] Irish Independent, 18 April 2014

[132] Irish Independent, 12 April 2014



Marconi And The Titanic



Gerard J. Hannan

Marconi Room on the Olympic.

‘CQD CQD SOS Titanic Position 41.44 N 50.24 W. Require immediate assistance.

Come at once.We struck an iceberg. Sinking’

(12.17am 15.April.1912)

(Titanic, 1912)

From the very second the first SOS signal was sent from Titanic in the early hours of April 15, 1912 when that high-pitched musical tone travelled for hundreds of miles across the North Atlantic in a desperate plea for help it not only marked the beginning of the greatest maritime tragedy in recorded history but also was to have a long term resonation for Irish broadcasting. The Titanic sent the signal using her 1.5 kW Marconi installation to signal her death knell. The 1.5 kW set was the absolute latest piece of modern technology, for the time, and as such optimal performance was not only an absolute demand but also a natural expectation. Titanic’s Wireless set had a nominal working range of 250 nautical miles and signalling more distant stations was also possible, especially at night when ranges of up to 2000 miles were attained using similar sets. The location of the Wireless suite on Titanic was given secondary importance to valuable windows for use by First Class passengers.

The equipment was housed in a series of interconnecting rooms; the soundproof ‘Silent Room’ in which noisy transmitting equipment was located, the Marconi Room, an office in which contained the operators’ workstations, manipulation keys, and receiving equipment; and the bedroom, which contained the operators’ berthing. The Wireless set was operators and cared for by Marconi’s employees, who were by routine assigned to Titanic for the duration of one voyage and, therefore, not considered part of the normal crew. Their time was spent within the Marconi suite except at mealtime when they were allowed to adjourn to the dining saloon (Stevenson, 2002).

The alleged last audible message from Titanic came at around 2;05 AM when, as the New York Times revealed on April 21, 1912 based on testimony given by Harold Bride, there was an exchange between Capt Smith and Jack Phillips and Harold Bride who were the operators in charge of the Marconi suite. The Captain visits the Wireless room for the last time and says “Men, you have done your full duty. You can do no more. Abandon your post. Now it’s every man for himself” the captain’s comments shock the operators. Capt Smith then told them; “You look out for yourselves. I release you” There is then another pause and Capt Smith adds “that’s the way of it at this kind of time… Every man for himself” the Captain then leaves the Wireless room. The operators then make a final call to all ships as water is flooding the room and Phillips says to Bride “come on, let’s clear out”… then Titanic’s signals end very abruptly as if power suddenly switched off (Titanic Radio, 2012).

Harold Bride survived the sinking of the ship, but Jack Phillips, died of exposure. However, The New York Herald, the New York Times biggest rival challenged the account and questioned how the newspaper got exclusive access to Harold Bride’s personal account of the events. The Herald publishes the shocking revelation that American Marconi officials sent telegrams to the Marconi operators, instructing them to withhold information about the disaster so that reports could be sold. According to later testimony by Guglielmo Marconi, the New York Times paid a negotiated $500 for the exclusive rights to Brides story.

Furthermore, it was later revealed that there were complaints that Marconi operators aboard the Patio had ignored other Navy vessels, demanding information as to the situation on board Titanic. The real question being asked by the international media was did Guglielmo Marconi see the disaster as no more than an opportunity to yield high profits and, distort the flow of information to such a point that lives were lost in the name of business practice? The following 24 hours after the first fatal message was sent the flow of information was dangerously distorted, contaminated and highly inaccurate and the primary source of this information was Marconi’s Wireless apparatus. The international media could not access accurate information without first dealing with Marconi and his officials. Consequently, international newspapers opted to fill space for their news hungry readers with speculation, convolution and misinformation. Marconi’s punishment would be severe.

On Tuesday April 16th the Central News Agency releases some information about an ‘incident’ at sea. “Wireless messages received at Halifax early this afternoon state that the condition of the Titanic is dangerous, and that the lives of those who still remain aboard are in some peril. In a maze of Wireless messages from various steamers it is difficult to get any connected story. The Government tug Lady Laurier is going from London to render assistance. The news of the disaster to the Titanic reached New York in the small hours of this morning by way of Montreal, whither it had been transmitted by Wireless Telegraphy from the Allan liner Virginian, Eastward bound.

The Virginian herself, in common with other liners, had picked up in the night the Wireless signals for assistance broadcast by the maimed liner, and at the same moment that she was passing them on to the shore was steaming her fastest to the rescue” (Central News Agency, 1912). The report states that “New York was preparing to give the Titanic a big welcome on the same lines as that extended last year to her sister ship, the Olympic, and among her passengers it was known that there were many distinguished American citizens, concerning whose fate the carrier messages said nothing. Most of these, after fulfilling business and other engagements in Europe, had waited in order to enjoy the thrill of making the homeward journey in the world’s greatest liner, the ‘millionaires’ ship, on board which they might almost be pardoned for considering themselves as safe as in their hotels on shore. Among them may be mentioned the following;-Mr Benjamin Guggenheim, a member of the famous Guggenheim family of capitalists, associates of Mr Pierpont Morgan, and world famous in connection with Alaskan development and copper production; Mr C Clarence Jones, a New York Stock Broker, who has been visiting the European capitals in connection with the purchase of American Embassy sites; Mr Washington Roebling , head of the great wire cable firm, and son of the builder of Brooklyn Bridge; Mr Washington Dodge, member of the well known banking firm of Phelps, Dodge and Company; Col. John Weir, mining engineer; Mr Henry B Harris, theatrical producer and manager, and son of the gentleman of the same name who owns many of New York’s theatres; Mr Jacques Futrelle , one of the best known of American authors; Mr Frank D. Millet, American painter, who resided a long time in London (Central News Agency, 1912). In Ireland, the Irish Independent reports on ‘update’ on the story; ‘The publication of the Montreal message sent scores of anxious folks to the White Star offices in quest of further information, but there was nothing to tell them for several long hours. The officials were emphatic in their declarations that the huge hull of the Titanic, divided into several water-tight sections, each as big as a good sized ship, was in no danger of sinking, and even when the Wireless at Cape Race announced that the liner was down by the head and that preparations were being made to take the passengers off, they repeated their assurances, which in the light of later news seem to have been well founded. The cheering announcement was forthcoming that besides the Virginian, which at midnight was 170 miles from the scene of the disaster, the White Star liners ‘Olympic’ and ‘Baltic’, the Cunard liner Mauretania, and three or four German and French liners were all hurrying in the same direction (Irish Independent, 1912).

The story of the disaster is briefly, yet graphically, told in a Wireless message received from the Cunard liner which runs in the companies Mediterranean service and picked up the Titanic’s signals when four days out on her voyage from New York to Gibraltar. The Titanic struck the iceberg at 10.25pm last night(American time). She was then running at reduced speed, presumably from the knowledge of the proximity of ice. Most of the passengers had retired to bed, and were awakened and terrified by a thunderous impact, which crushed and twisted the towering bows of the liner and broke them in like an eggshell. The behaviour of the crew is stated to have been exemplary and they were assisted by many of the male passengers, who also succeeded in calming the women and children. The Wireless was immediately set going, and, as a precaution, the majority of the passengers were placed in the liner’s boats, which were swung out and ready to be lowered. The sea was calm, and though the sea was pouring into the vessel forward, her machinery had not been disabled and when it was found that, with the pumps working and the watertight bulkheads holding well, there was a good chance of the liner making port, the captain set about proceeding cautiously in the direction of Halifax (Central News Agency, 1912).

Reuters Cablegrams had less information to offer about the disaster. All they could report is that the Titanic was sinking off Newfoundland Banks, as the result of a collision with an iceberg; that several ships were in Wireless communication with, and that the women were being taken off in lifeboats (Reuters Cablegrams, 1912). The liner Baltic sent a Wireless message to New York at 3;50 AM and was within 200 miles of the Titanic. The last signals from the Titanic came at 12;25 AM. It reports that the messages were blurred and ended abruptly. A later telegram from Cape Race says the Wireless operator on board the Titanic reported the weather calm and clear. The position of the liner being 41 46 N, 50 14 W, the Virginian liner also reported at midnight that it was 170 miles West of the Titanic, and was expected to reach her 10;00 AM. The Olympic at midnight was in 40.32 North latitude, 61.18 West longitude. She’s also in direct communication with the Titanic, and is hastening to her. The dispatch also states that all the passengers of the Titanic had left the ship by 3;30 AM this morning. Reports were coming into New York by 4;30 AM stating that most of the passengers from the Titanic had been put in lifeboats, and the sea was calm. The Montréal Star newspaper confirms that the Titanic is still afloat and making her way slowly to Halifax.

In Boston, there were reports stating that the Titanic is slowly struggling in the direction of Cape Race. In Montréal they receive an “unsigned telegram” stating that the Titanic is steaming to Halifax and she hopes to make port (Reuters Telegrams, 1912). The Freemans Journal reports that ocean voyaging still has its perils. Two thousand, two hundred and fifty three people were drawn into danger of death at the one swoop when the Titanic crashed into the ice. A few years ago, had it been possible then for such a population to be aboard one vessels, the iceberg might well have caused a great disaster, a death list terrible enough to keep land fork from sea for a long time. It was not certain at first that the Titanic would not sink, it is not even quite certain, at the moment of writing, that it will be brought the whole way into port. Should it go under yet, the village full of people aboard may thank the Wireless Telegraph for their lives. The cry of distress sent raying over the ocean by the great liner brought help that else must have passed, within helping distance, quite without knowledge of the need. At 3;30 AM, the dead hour of the night to human beings, every one of the 1350 passengers had been transferred to other vessels, leaving 903 members of the crew and service to make Halifax on the ship if it is to reach port. Of course, this second large population, of 900, will be safe, unless a last disaster should happen suddenly, a thing not to be anticipated. But for the Wireless installation, and the confidence it gives of help almost certain, there must surely have been a deadly panic on the Titanic when the great ship drove into the iceberg which crippled it. No doubt the now facts bring a new mind; passengers have already acquired what one is tempted to call the “Wireless mind” the feeling that the ocean is no longer lonely space cut off from all human life. The instinct of old was to throw oneself overboard at the first terrible moment of a collision, or of the cry of fire; people that read yesterday’s news in mid ocean and knew the price of shares in Dublin or of coal in London do not feel so utterly abandoned; the sea has become a continuation of the land life, and, no doubt at all, every passenger at the moment of the shock uttered the one word, “Wireless”; everyone thought at once that the Titanic was on a known track within easy hail of friends, who would turn on their paths within five minutes and bring help.

The same system has proved itself useful also in warnings of danger, the question will arise at once whether the Titanic might not have avoided this awful peril by the ice warning that had already been sent out by other ships. The Virginian, which has been helping the giant in distress, had already sent out word that three days out of Halifax it had encountered “ice fields 100 miles in extent, with enormous bergs” It will be asked whether this danger signal had not reached the Titanic; if not, why not? And, if it did reach the Titanic, why the Titanic could not avoid the whole bristling ground? The biggest ship afloat has had an unhappy first trip, and it will be remembered that the Olympic, also one of the giants, made and in ill-omened start. But there is no certain connection between the size of these monsters and the misfortunes which have fallen about them. The Titanic is believed to be not merely the fastest ship that man has put on the waters in all the history of the world, but to be the safest also. It was even famous for its “collision bulkhead”, and collision it has had to meet on its first going forth. It remains to be seen whether there will be any effort now to maintain that the size of these ships is, after all, a danger; whether in any way bulk increases peril when there may be need of hasty stopping, backing, or wheeling about. The enquiry into the causes of the Titanic’s mishap will certainly consider this question. And there will be an anxious desire for information as to the reason the Titanic took the course which was known to be made terrible for the moment by that vast floating country of ice, “100 miles in extent, with enormous bergs” (Freeman’s Journal, 1912).

The Irish Independent states “sailors, who are proverbially superstitious, may be pardoned if they think there is something unlucky about the two largest steamers afloat, the Olympic and Titanic, of the White Star Line. Six months ago the Olympic collided with the cruiser Hawke in an apparently unaccountable way, and on a subsequent occasion lost one of her propeller blades in mid-ocean. The sister ship, the Titanic, when starting on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic last week, narrowly avoided a collision in Southampton water. On Sunday night she appears to have collided with a huge iceberg, and sustain such damage that the first accounts received by Wireless represented the huge vessel as sinking and the passengers and crew, upwards of 2000 souls, as being in great danger. There were Irish passengers on board the Titanic, and the alarm caused in Ireland yesterday by the news of the disaster was consequently great. Fortunately, however, later Wireless messages represent the accident as not so serious; passengers are said to be safe on board other vessels summoned by Wireless to the assistance of the great liner, and the steamer, though apparently badly damaged, is making her way to Halifax, the nearest port. During the past few days many vessels have encountered huge icebergs and ice fields off the coast of Newfoundland, and this source of danger threatens alike the largest and the smallest shipping. That the collision of the Titanic with an iceberg did not result in heavy loss of life may be partly attributed to the splendid construction of the vessel and the system of collision bulkheads and electrically worked watertight doors with which the vessel is provided, but mainly to the prompt assistance which the Wireless messages summoned from all sides within a radius of 200 miles. This is a new triumph for Marconi, and if the lesson is taken to heart by ship-owners one may soon hope to see every oceangoing steamer equipped with his marvellous invention (Irish Independent, 1912).

The flow of early misinformation in relation to the sinking of the Titanic seemed to continue as April 16th’s late editions hit the newsstands. A Reuters “all classes” cablegram from New York claims the Titanic sank at 2;20 AM this morning. No lives were lost. An hour later Reuters issued another telegram stating; “the following statement has been given out by the White Star officials. Capt Haddock, of the Olympic, sends a Wireless message that the Titanic sank at 2;20 AM on Monday, after the passengers and crew had been lowered into the lifeboat and transferred to the Virginian. The steamer Carpathia, with several hundred of the passengers from the Titanic, is now on her way to New York” A late edition of the Irish Independent states “White Star have given assurances that the passengers were safe. Vice President, Mr Franklin, has expressed the belief that the vessel was also safe, however severely damaged, being practically unsinkable. All news has been coming in aggravating fragments in the form of Wireless messages from various vessels at the scene of the wreck or hastening thither, nothing has been received direct from the Titanic herself” (Irish Independent, 1912).

A later Reuters telegram seemed to contradict all previous messages in relation to the Titanic. The statement issued in New York at 8 AM declares “up to this hour the officials of the White Star line have not received a word regarding the reported accident to the Titanic. 12 hours have passed since the collision of the Titanic is reported to have taken place. We have heard nothing of an accident. It is very strange to the Titanic sister ship Olympic, which has a Wireless installation of sufficient strength has not communicated with us” (Reuters Telegram, 1912).

However, the Irish media did not believe a word of this official statement. “Disaster has marked the maiden voyage of the gigantic White Star liner Titanic, for while steaming through the night, some 270 miles South-East of Newfoundland, she struck an iceberg, and is now crawling towards Halifax in imminent danger of sinking. Happily so far as can be at present ascertained, no lives have been lost, and with plenty of help from other liners standing by the passengers should be landed safely tonight or tomorrow. The first notification of disaster came from the Wireless station at Cape Race, which picked up the Titanic’s message for help. Shortly afterwards came another Wireless message from the Virginian, stating that she also had picked up the Titanic’s message, and was hastening to the relief. The next message received by the Cape Race Wireless station was even more alarming, for the Titanic’s operator reported that the ship was sinking by the head, and that the women and children were being put into lifeboats. Then came a long pause and at 12;27 AM the Virginian operator said that the last signals received from the Titanic were blurred and indistinct, and that the message had been broken after suddenly. By this time no fewer than 11 great liners had picked up the despairing SOS signals, and were heading full speed to the rescue. The Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, which was herself in collision only a short time ago; was about 300 miles away on her way from New York to Southampton, and while passing the message on she announced that she was racing to the rescue. Another boat, comparatively near, was the White Star liner, Baltic, and some other vessels including Amerika and Cincinnati, the Parisian, the Carpathia, the North German Prinz Friedrich Willhelm and Prinz Adalbert; and a French liner, La Provence, all of which sent Wireless messages of encouragement and the news that they were hurrying to the rescue (Irish Independent, 1912).

However the flow of misinformation persisted. Another Reuters cablegram claims to have received a message from the ship Minin, off Cape Race, stating that steamers are now towing the Titanic, and endeavouring to get her into shoal waters near Cape Race, for the purpose of beaching her. A further message from Halifax states that the Government Marine Agency has received a Wireless message to the effect that the Titanic is sinking. A telegram from Montréal states that White Star has denied the report that the Titanic had sunk. He believed that with so many vessels around her it would be unnecessary for the Virginia to return to Halifax with her. Traffic officials of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, have been notified that the passengers of the Titanic will be landed at Halifax, Nova Scotia. About 600 would require transportation to New York by sleeping cars, and 800 by ordinary coaches. White Star also confirm that the Virginia, Parisian and Carpathia were now standing by the Titanic. The Company claims to have definite information that all the passengers had been transferred successfully from the Titanic; they also confirm that they had received nothing indicating the extent of the damage sustained by the Titanic” (White Star Liners, 1912).

Although the news of the disaster to the Titanic came as tremendous shock and the gravity of the position was fully recognised, the shipping community of Liverpool resolutely took a sanguine view throughout that the ship would be brought to a place of safety. The intelligence that the Titanic is in tow of the Virginia has been communicated to the owners, who finding it a confirmation of their expectations that the giant ship, damaged though she may be, has, through the medium of her collision bulkhead and watertight compartments, sufficient buoyancy to enable her to reach a port of safety. The chief feature discussed was the splendid demonstration the disaster affords of the practical utility of Wireless Telegraphy. In marine insurance circles it seems to be generally believed that the vessel is covered to the amount of £1m, half of which will be carried, not by the White Star line itself, but by the White Star and all the companies with which it works in combination. This combination is known to possess a very large insurance fund. Of the million at risk in the open in insurance market, it is believed a quarter is taken by Liverpool companies, the remaining three quarters being distributed amongst London offices, Hamburg probably coming in aid (Irish Independent, 1912).

However, it would be at lEast 24 hours more before the true facts of the disaster began to emerge to a shocked world. But interestingly, somebody somewhere had to account for the flow of misinformation that had caused so much confusion in the preceding 24 hours. The finger of blame was pointed at “airwave Pirates” who had interrupted professional transmissions using amateur Wireless apparatus; “These operators are making it difficult to communicate with legitimate sources” (Reuters Cablegram, 1912).

Numerous articles began to appear in Irish newspapers which included the names of some of the survivors of the Titanic disaster. However, the true horror of the tragedy was beginning to unfold. Headlines in most newspapers announced that Titanic had sunk long before any help arrived. White Star claim to have received positive news that the number of survivors is 868. There is reason to believe that the death toll reaches the awful number of 1490. There are many notable persons among the missing and there were no survivors of the disaster on board either the Virginian or Parisian. The King and Queen, Queen Alexandra, and the Kaiser have sent messages expressing deep sympathy with the relatives of the Titanic victims to the White Star Directors.

The messages received up to about 2;30 AM yesterday regarding the fate of the vessel were very conflicting, and it was not until that hour that a definite message was received stating that the liner had sunk. For this reason practically all the newspapers that commented on the disaster did so on the assumption that the Titanic had been merely damaged by the collision, and that no lives had been lost. Irish passengers, representing every part of this country, joined the Titanic at Queenstown. The majority travelled steerage. The latest information from Cape Race indicates that only the 675 survivors on board the Carpathia have escaped from the wreck. Heartrending scenes were witnessed at the White Star Company’s offices at New York, Liverpool, London, and Southampton when the news of the disaster was made known. At the official luncheon on board the Titanic before she sailed one of the tables collapsed, and the incident was much commented upon. Today’s news has shed an entirely new light upon the disaster which overtook the Titanic during the night of Sunday. It is now, unhappily, only too clear that the magnificent vessel, the pride of her builders, owners, and all whom gloried in Britain’s shipbuilding supremacy, is lying on the bed of the North Atlantic at some depth of some 1700 fathoms, and that her last constitutes the most appalling catastrophe in the maritime history of the world. It can only be assumed that the erroneous reports so widely circulated, which raised false hopes in the hearts of thousands, were the result of the confusion which must necessarily have arisen at a time when Wireless messages were being transmitted from dozens of vessels and relayed from as many more. It is known that the Titanic disappeared before the help summoned by her Wireless operators could reach her, and that those of her Company who were saved were picked up from her boats by the Carpathia, which was the first ship to arrive on the scene.

The most terrible news is that the number taken aboard the Carpathia is only about 800. Hopes that other survivors might be on board other ships were disappointed by Cablegrams which set forth that these liners were too late to render help, and it is, therefore, practically certain that over 1500 lives were lost when the Titanic went down. The Carpathia is likely to take a considerable time in reaching New York, in as much as she herself is forced to steam slowly owing to the presence of huge ice fields in her track.

Many persons whose names are known throughout the world are among those who are believed to have perished. It appears clear that all the survivors of the Titanic disaster, to the number of about 800, says a “Central News” New York message, are on board the Carpathia, which is on her way to New York. White Star officials in New York hoped to be in a position to give out something in the nature of a full statement later today. No word has been received direct from any of the Titanic’s passengers (Irish Independent, 1912).

In Ireland the accuracy of the information coming from America was under question. Newspapers report that American journalists are unprincipled in their methods; “As an indication of the unscrupulous methods of some American journalists several of the morning newspapers in New York yesterday published a telegram from St John’s, Newfoundland, giving a graphic account of the collision, which was credited as having come by Wireless Telegraphy from the British steamer Bruce, and is having been picked up from various steamers in the vicinity of the wreck of the Titanic. A Reuter’s cablegram of yesterday afternoon stated that these messages were now stated to be without foundation, as the only news of the wreck received by the Bruce was a bulletin from Cape Race (Irish Independent, 1912).

At the Dublin Stock Exchange Marconi Ordinary shares make a bad start but as the day goes on the shares start to recover (Irish Independent, 1912). According to the Freemans Journal, “conjecture will long be busy, and not unprofitably, on the causes of the disaster to the Titanic and on the measures that must be taken to reduce the danger of such terrible events in the future. Very soon, of course, we shall be in possession of some authentic accounts of what actually happened, and almost certainly there will prove to be among the rescued some able to give the expert account from which understanding and future prevention may come. It has already been suggested that the Titanic did not carry a lifeboat and raft service adequate to the needs of its great population in time of danger. The outsider may be wrongly impressed by this suggestion. It is not for him to say whether this thing is even possible, perhaps a vessel that was all safety could not carry passengers with any freedom of movement, with any adequate speed, possibly even a ship bristling with safety devices would be the most dangerous in time of hurry. Only a practical shipbuilder can answer fully on such points, and the amateur even when he was right in principle would generally be wrong in his method of arriving at this theory. It does not appear likely that the builders and buyers of the Titanic, the last word of the craft, would ignore the entirely obvious. The vessel that had installed a Turkish bath on board would not probably forget or neglect it’s reasonably adequate supply of life-saving apparatus. It is said that under the Titanic specification there were lifeboats enough for the accommodation of nearly 2000 people, if this were actually so, the ground of complaint is shifted. The number of lifeboats would be adequate, and the mistake would be in their placing, or possibly even in their number itself. The charge would partly be against the very bigness of the ship. An officer of wide experience remarks on this point that the difficulty is to bring the life-saving appliances into use. “In the case of the Titanic,” he said, “you have to consider the great height of the boats above the water and where the collapsible boats and the rafts are stored. The accident to the Titanic happened in the dark, and apparently when the boats were needed the ship was deep down forward. If there were a list to either side it would make matters still worse and some of the boats might be altogether useless” it is obvious that at the terrible moment of such a crash as that which destroyed the Titanic, in the dark, there cannot be the order of the school picnic entertainment. You have 32 lifeboats each good for 60 passengers, but no one can guarantee that each will be neatly ready for the water at its exact spot and its 60 passengers drawn neatly up to step with decorum into it. The article also states, “as for the Wireless apparatus, much has been expected obvious, but just at present, after the full change of tidings from the first cheerful belief to the final despair, there is a tendency to forget all that it has done. At lEast 800 people unquestionably owe their lives to the Wireless, the 800 on the Carpathian must have gone down with the others but for the signal SOS that brought them at lEast their rescue. 800 is a vast ship full saved and, although it is a lesser matter, something must be credited to the Wireless in letting the world know what happened. Two years ago we should have been waiting days and days after the Titanic was due, and collected agony of those on land watching for the missing ship would be a terrible increase to the total of the tragedy. This disaster will give an immediate impulse to the study of the ways and signs of floating ice. It is admitted that this vastly important matter has not yet been adequately studied and recorded. Old Mariners differ more strangely about the signs by which the fatal presence may be known, some speak of chill in the air, others of chill in the water, to be recognised at safe and sufficient distance by common perception; others deny that there are any such warnings, but allow that delicate instruments may give the word; there is also, it appears, an instrument, not yet largely used, which foreshows the presence of more solid mass in the water. Some commanders said that there are recognisable reflections from the ice in the sky overhead “iceberg blink”, others deride this alleged lore. Some believe in keeping the sirens blowing in suspected areas in the faith that the bergs will give back a significant echo. The danger, it may be noted, however, is more from sunken ice then from the visible berg. The ghastly suggestion is made in the case of the Titanic that it may have dashed into what is called an iceberg cave, being cut and hacked by the ice underneath until it was entirely caught in the mass, when the very impact would bring the berg smashing down like a hammer upon it” (Freemans Journal, 1912).

News also comes to light that Captain Smith had grave concerns, some weeks prior to the disaster, and spoke of the life preserving equipment of the Titanic, which was then under construction. He told his colleague, Glenne Marston, “if the ship should strike a submerged derelict or iceberg, that would cut through into several of the watertight compartments we have not enough boats or rafts aboard to take care of more than one third of the passengers. The Titanic should carry at lEast double the number of boats and rafts that she does to afford any real protection to passengers. Besides, there is the danger of some of the boats becoming damaged or being swept away before they can be manned” (Irish Independent, April).

The flow of misinformation that had occurred on April 16th could not be dismissed, at lEast by the general public, as a result of the interference of so-called “airwave Pirates”. During this 24 hour period much of the credit for saving the lives of all of the passengers of Titanic was given to Marconi and his “wonderful apparatus”. The Marconi Company clearly basked in the glory and praise showered on them by the international media. In fact, as time would tell, and new facts came to light soon after the disaster, the Marconi Company itself were major contributors to the propaganda that would ultimately have far reaching social, political and financial consequences for the Company that were perceived as exploiting a major disaster for financial gain. Marconi’s Dublin shareholders were the first to anticipate the looming disaster for the Company and at the first opportunity on April 17th 1912 to surrender their interests in the Company; “Marconi shares experienced a reaction in price and as the day progressed Marconi issues collapsed into comparative quietude. It is understood that the shares of the American Wireless Company will be introduced to the market in the next few days” (Financial Correspondent, 1912). This clearly suggests that shareholders remained interested in Wireless technologies but were beginning to lose interest in Marconi. It is arguably more than a coincidence that the loss of interest in Marconi and the sinking of the Titanic were unrelated events. Had the romance between Ireland and Marconi come to an abrupt end and if so, what would be the consequences of this for Irish radio?

Meanwhile the international media were reporting that there is little hope that the disaster would not prove to have been the most awful in the history of the sea. In view of the receipt early this morning from the Carpathia of the partial list of those saved, it is anticipated that the vessel will soon be within Wireless zone, and would be able to send details of the disaster. The list of the save is mainly composed of women, though several men’s names appear upon it, including that of Mr Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line; “throughout last night and even early this morning crowds thronged the offices of the White Star, many of the enquirers came out in tears, and some became hysterical when they were unable to hear tidings of their friends and relatives. Company officials hold out no hope that any passengers had been saved other than those on board the Carpathia (Press Association, 1912).

According to the New York Correspondent of the “Evening News” a crowd of anxious relatives and friends of the passengers on the lost Titanic was massed all night in front of The White Star Line offices in Broadway. The friends of the wealthy men unaccounted for are in a state of great anxiety. After a sleepless night, men worked thousands of pounds were rushing down at 5 and 6 o’clock to the business distract to hear the latest reports. It is a certainty that, at the time of writing, most of the notable men on board have gone down. The rule of the sea prevailed, “women and children first”. The women and children in the steerage would be taken off before the first and second class mail passengers. It is now known that the Carpathia picked up the passengers eight hours after the sinking of the Titanic. The Virginian was to give up her search after daylight and proceed with her voyage, as being a mail boat, she is forced to make the utmost haste to her destination. On learning of the disaster shortly before midnight, a well-dressed man on the arm of the friend fell fainting on the pavement outside the New York Times office” (London Evening News, 1912). The news of the probable heavy loss of life had only a limited circulation. Crowds had gathered at the White Star offices, and women in tears and men in frantic search of reassuring news were met with the frank admission that little was known of the fate of the passengers who were not travelling first or second class (Freemans Journal, 1912).

Any news now in relation to the disaster is based on second hand information and limited telegrams, some confused and contradicting previous news information. It is clearly a ‘waiting game’ to get first hand information and the hours were ticking by. Until the Carpathia reaches New York with the survivors it will be impossible to form a definite opinion of how the disaster occurred. Commanded by one of the ablest and most experienced seamen in the service of any of the great shipping companies, the mammoth liner was fitted with every device that science has invented to secure safety at sea, and yet within four hours after striking an iceberg she sank. Captain Smith had been warned several days before by a French vessel that floating ice had been encountered far South of where it is usually expected at this time of year. The presumption is, therefore, that the Titanic was being navigated with special care in order to avoid danger. How, then, did it happen that the precautions adopted proved unavailing? (Irish Independent, 1912).

Questions can not be answered, and, as captain Smith is believed to have gone down with his ship, it is possible that the truth will never be known. It is incredible that any culpable want of foresight or inexplicable loss of nerve on the part of any of the officers contributed to the fearful calamity. The gallant commander of the Titanic had been dogged by what is commonly called ill-luck since he took command of her sister ship, the Olympic, which collided with the Hawke in the Solent in 1911. In a deep and touching Editorial the Irish Independent states; “Only last week, owing to the suction caused by her enormous bulk, the Titanic came near colliding with the American liner New York. But nobody, whether seaman or landsman, could have believed that the magnificent vessel would have met with disaster practically in mid-ocean; the horror of the scene in dead of night when the Titanic met with the dread foe which nature had loosed for her destruction palsies the imagination. Now we must brace ourselves to confront one of those terrible events in the order of Providence which baffle the most careful foresight, which appals the imagination, and make us realise the inadequacy of words to do justice as to how we feel. With pride in the nobler instincts of our humanity our hearts must thrill at the story of willing sacrifice epitomised in the fact that the lifeboats were filled with women and children. The first chance of safety was given to those who were lEast able to help themselves. The deliberate and disciplined heroism which must have been displayed will be blazoned on the mariners’ book of fame, and in that record will be inscribed many an Irish name. In truth both the pity and the glory of this unprecedented disaster come right home to our minds. The Titanic was planned by Irish brains and built by Irish hands. A considerable number of her passengers were Irish. By the loss of many persons of worldwide reputation or of enormous wealth who were on board the doomed vessel, many families in England and America will be plunged into mourning. To the bereaved, both rich and poor, the sympathy of every heart which can feel a pang of sorrow at distress will go out in this time of agony. It is enough to move a stoic to tears to read of the frenzied inquiries at the White Star Offices of parents and relatives for news of their children or other loved ones who were aboard the ill-fated ship. In due course all that can ever be known of the circumstances attending the loss of the Titanic will be revealed at the Board Of Trade enquiry. But it is not of expert evidence and official findings that the civilised world is now thinking. It is of the awful death toll and what it involves of poignant sorrow to all the bereaved and of acute distress amongst those who have lost their breadwinners. The misery of the latter will not, we know full well, go unrelieved. In the confusion of Wireless messages from many vessels and stations there was at first left room for hope that there had been no loss of life. But we can now no longer doubt that, measured by the death toll, the calamity is the most terrible in the history of the world’s mercantile marine.

The loss of 1,020 lives through the burning of the excursion steamer General Slocum in Long Island in 1904 is the one recorded shipping disaster that comes near rivalling the Titanic catastrophe in the number of its victims. In the awe inspiring circumstances of her disappearance beneath the waves; however, the disaster to the White Star leviathan is without a parallel” (Irish Independent (Editorial), 1912). Hopes for more survivors are further dashed with the news reported on April 18th 1912. White Star Liners confirm that reports of 250 survivors on board Baltic were not accurate. Furthermore, Wireless messages claiming many fishing boats responded to the SOS are also untrue. The Dominion Government has ordered lighthouse keepers and patrol boats to keep a sharp look out for bodies of the victims as a number of ships were now heading to the scene of the wreck in the hopes of collecting the dead. A gruesome feature of these preparations is that these boats are carrying hundreds of coffins and many undertakers and embalmers (Irish Independent, 1912).  

The task of investigating the Titanic wreck began in the American Senate on Friday, April 19th, 1912. The Commerce Committee had appointed a subcommittee of 7 to take testimony. The sub-committee left for New York to gather witnesses to give evidence. Subpoenas are issued to compel officials and members of the crew of the Titanic to give evidence regarding all that occurred in connection with the disaster. The Chairman of the subcommittee, Mr William Alden Smith, Senator for Michigan, is demanding that it is absolutely imperative that the investigation begins immediately and claims “I have been informed that the surviving officers and members of the crew of the Titanic all of whom are British subjects, plan to transfer to the Cedric upon their arrival in New York and return immediately to England. This would take them beyond the jurisdiction of the committee, if, indeed, the committee has any jurisdiction to summon British subjects in such circumstances. I propose to urge upon Mr Ismay the advisability of his cooperation as a British subject with this Government to get at the true facts of this horrible disaster, and I shall tell him that, while we have no jurisdiction over British subjects, we have jurisdiction in American ports, and to avoid any trouble the Company and its officers should help us in the enquiry”. Mr Smith added that the committee wished particularly to find out the reasons for the great loss of life. These, he believed, Mr Ismay and the Titanic surviving officers were especially competent to give (Reuters Telegram, 1912).

In Washington there is a new proposed resolution to consider uniformed laws and regulations for merchant vessels at sea. The subjects specified for discussion to include regulations in regard to the efficiency of crews, construction of vessels, equipment of lifeboats, Wireless apparatus, searchlights, submarine bells, and life-saving and fire extinguishing equipment. While the Titanic never entered an American port the investigation is expected to show the extent to which other great liners meet Americans safety regulations. However, many members of Congress are openly opposed to the idea of holding an investigation into the disaster. Meanwhile, the continued silence of Carpathia as it approaches American waters is giving cause for alarm to the American public and European citizens anxious for news about the disaster. Although there have been attempts to maintain Wireless contact with the ship there has been absolutely no information concerning the disaster. “This veil of secrecy which enshrouds the liner has naturally given rise to all sorts of wild and horrifying conjectures. The American public is quite convinced that the absolute silence which has been maintained by the Carpathia means a ghastly tale will be unfolded when the survivors are landed. Certain it is that many of these survivors must be nearly crazed with grief and weak from exhaustion and exposure, and a horrible fear is growing that insanity is rife among the survivors. The preparations that have been made for the reception tend to confirm this belief, for a large number of doctors, nurses, and ambulances are in readiness on the pier. All outsiders are barred from the dock, and no phototographer will be permitted to snap shot the arrival. Some of these precautions are, of course, necessary and wise for the protection of the distressed passengers and crew, but the opinion is general that the secrecy is being carried to too great an extreme. The correction of the number of rescued from 868 to 705 has given rise to all sorts of conjectures. A ghastly explanation put forward in some quarters is that the 163 who have been taken from the original official total were really rescued but died on board the Carpathia as a result of the exposure or injuries received in the disaster. There is, of course, no confirmation of such a suggestion, but it is characteristic of the theories which are being put forward and represents fairly accurately the state of mind to which people have been brought by the disaster and the lack of information (Irish Independent, 1912).

According to a message, which is at present unconfirmed, 200 of the Titanic’s crew were asleep in their bunks when the crash came, and our quarters being in the four-part of the vessel, there were crushed to death. However, so many of these messages have been received that they must be accepted with reservation. When the Carpathia finally slowed down on the last lap of the sad journey, preparatory to treading the path through the long and narrow channel which leads into New York harbour some hours distant in the early hours of a rainy and dismal day where it was would be met on the pier by a big crowd of “privileged people”, mostly relatives and friends. Nearby was a long line of carriages and ambulances. Out on the channel it was still dark and “very raw and cheerless”. The lights on the steerage deck showed silent, pathetic groups, chiefly of women, who had come up from their cabins to obtain a glimpse of the distant glare reflected in the sky, indicating the myriad illuminations of New York City. The steerage passengers of the Titanic in muddled and cowed groups stared out vaguely into the night towards the city of New York. They were more easily distinguishable than the first and second class passengers, partly because they occupied the lower deck and kept rather rigidly to themselves, and also because the latter were generally on the upper deck and mixed with the Carpathia’s regular passengers. “Slowly and with her speed continually decreasing as New York came near the Carpathia advanced to port. Many of the survivors were in an hysterical state from being bereft of their husbands or other loved ones, and were constantly under the care of the ships surgeons, some delirious, while others had not recovered from the rigours of eight hours in the lifeboats on a cold and foggy sea. Cases of pneumonia are mentioned, and children lying almost at deaths door” (Irish Independent, 1912).

A Reuters telegram issued at 7;30 PM confirms the arrival of the Carpathia at the Quarantine Station, New York. The first of the survivors left the vessel at 9;35 o’clock. There was an immense and anxious crowd at the pier and details of the tragedy were eagerly sought by journalists and others. Definite particulars of the appalling occurrence are coming to hand but slowly, and it will still probably take a day or two before a full and consecutive narrative of the disaster can be given to the public. Survivors relate stories of husbands and wives refusing to part-Company with each other and opted instead to go down with Titanic. One survivor tells journalists that as the Titanic went down about 2;30 AM the ships band lined up on deck and played the him, “Nearer my God to Thee”. There are also stories of many rescued people who later died and were buried at sea. A steward states that the Carpathia, only 62 miles away when the Wireless call was received, took over four hours in covering the distance, as to the Captain feared running down the lifeboats in the darkness. Harold Bride, the surviving Wireless operator on board the Titanic, states that Phillips, the chief operator, worked heroically during the last 15 minutes. Bride strapped a lifebelt around Phillips. A man tried to take off the lifebelt but Bride knocked him down and left him in the Wireless cabin. Bride afterwards, though on crutches, took over the Wireless work on the Carpathia. There were other heroic stories including that of Col Astor who died heroically refusing to go into a lifeboat. His last act was to lift a child into the last boat. Captain Smith also refused to leave, and was last seen on the bridge. Four of the crew manning the lifeboats were frozen to death. There appears to be no truce in the statement the passengers were kept back at revolver point and that two well-known men were shot. All the passengers acclaimed British seamen’s heroic conduct. The men sang sea songs while lowering the boats and many male passengers behaved most courageously, helping to get the boats out (Irish Times, 1912).

The true story of the awful catastrophe of the Titanic sinking is now coming to light as numerous survivors relate their experiences “which show that the circumstances were, perhaps, the most harrowing in the world’s history”. One of the most dramatic stories is that as told by Harold Bride, the assistant Wireless operator, who was standing by his ill-fated colleague, Mr Phillips, as he was sending out his distress signals over the ocean while the great vessel was sinking. Mr Bride said there was no panic, though the decks were full of excited men and women. The Wireless instruments were growing more and more indistinct, and as the water was close up by the boats deck the captain entered the instrument telling the men to leave immediately. Although this account was widely reported there were some people who challenged, not its authenticity nor its source but the mysterious manner in which the story surfaced. Other survivors confirmed that the lifeboats were lowered as fast as they were filled, and many passengers, in a frantic state, flung themselves into the sea. As the liner disappeared beneath the water, the survivors who were adrift in the boats heard two explosions, and in a moment the Titanic had gone down. Several survivors assert that the Titanic was steaming at 23 knots an hour when she struck the iceberg. Three Italians were shot in the struggle for the boats. Many survivors said that the behaviour of the second and third class passengers was heroic, but that some of the first class passengers fought like madmen for the boats. One of the most realistic narratives of the disaster was given by Mr Beasley, of London, who states that at about 10;30 PM on Sunday night there was a slight jar. Persons were playing cards in the smoke room at the time. None of them had any idea that the boat had been pierced by an iceberg. There was a total absence of any panic. After all the ladies had been got into the boards one of the crew said to him, “then you had better jump,” and he jumped to the bottom of boat. Many passengers of the Titanic issued a signed statement in which they paid warm tribute to the officers and crew of the Carpathia. They drew attention to the insufficiency of the lifeboat accommodation of the Titanic, and point out that the number saved was about 80% of the maximum capacity of the boats (Irish Independent, 1912).

The Donegal News are glowing in their praise for the role of Marconi’s “ wonderful instruments” and reports the story of the Titanic and it signals of distress received and answered by Wireless Telegraphy adds one more chapter to the romance of the Marconi system, which has already been the means of saving many noble vessels and thousands of lives. It was as recently as 1898 that the new arrival of Wireless transmission became generally acclaimed, when the Prince of Wales, in the Royal yacht Osborne, was kept in uninterrupted communication with Osborne house, a distance of nearly 2 miles. But by December 1901 Marconi had at St John’s, Newfoundland, received signals from Poldhu, Cornwall, a distance of 1800 miles across the Atlantic. That was a triumph of signs which begin a new era in the history of navigation. Now all the great liners of the world carry Wireless and already a fascinating book might be written recording the rescue is made possible by Wireless and adventurers at sea stranger than Annie dreamt of by writers of fiction. The story of the Republic disaster in 1909, when, Jack Binns, the Marconi operator, became a popular hero, in spite of his modesty, deserves to be recalled as a famous example. From the details of that shipwreck one may imagine more clearly and vividly the scenes that have been taking place in the Titanic and ships that have raced to her rescue (Donegal News, 1912).

The world media did not share the same sense of enthusiasm for Marconi or his officials are any of his Wireless operators whom journalists would later describe as equally as corrupt. In the days following the disaster the international media, pressurised by the Titanic Disaster Investigating Committee in New York and also by their infuriated readers, had to account for the misinformation published in the 100 or so hour period immediately after the disaster. They turned their attention to the activities of the primary source of news, Marconi and laid the blame, justifiably or not, squarely at his feet. The New York Herald on April 21st, 1912 published the headline; “Keep Your Mouth Shut; Big Money for You, Was Message to Hide News’ The article stated that Marconi operators on Titanic and other nearby Marconi operated ships, were told by Marconi telegram to hold the story “Four figures for you”.

The article contends that while the world was waiting three days for information concerning the fate of the Titanic, for part of the time at lEast, details concerning the disaster were being withheld by the Wireless operator of the steamship Carpathia under specific orders from T.W. Sammis, chief engineer of them Marconi Wireless Company of America, who had arranged the sale of the story. This was admitted by Mr Sammis, who defended his action. He said he was justified for getting for the Wireless operators the largest amount he could for the details of the sinking of the ship, the rescue of the passengers and the other information the world had waited for. The first information concerning the loss of the Titanic came Monday evening, and it was known at that time the survivors were on board the Carpathia. About midnight the first of the list of survivors begin to come by Wireless, and from that time until Thursday night, when the rescue ship arrived in port, the world waited and waited in vain for the details of how the “unsinkable ship” had gone down. Three messages were sent to the Carpathia telling the operator to send out no news concerning the disaster. Two of these were unsigned, and the last one had the signature of Mr Sammis. The article further alleges that the first message was unsigned, and it said it was sent as a list of names of survivors was being forwarded. The message read “Keep your mouth shut. Hold story. Big money for you” The messages from the Carpathia to the Marconi office concerning this matter were not available, but there was evidently some communication, for the second unsigned message followed after an interval. This message read; “If you are wise, hold story. The Marconi Company will take care of you” The third and last message was addressed to “Marconi officer, the Carpathia and the Titanic,” and signed by Sammis which read “Stop. Say nothing. Hold your story for dollars in four figures. Mr Marconi agreeing. Will meet you at dock” Sammis was questioned at a hearing before the subcommittee of the United States Senate and he was asked about the message and did he actually send it. He admitted to sending the message but also stated that the matter was nobody’s business. He was told that it was interesting to know that when the world was horror stricken over the disaster and waiting for the news, that there were persons preparing to capitalise on the suspense and had arranged for ‘four figures’. Sammis explained that he felt justified for getting the highest price and was defiant in his contention that the matter was nobody’s business but his own (New York Herald, 1912).

The article further states that it is not unlikely that the sending of these messages with the no apparent result that no details of the disaster came from the relief ship will form part of the enquiry that is being made by a subcommittee of the Senate. Part of this enquiry has been directed as to why a message from President Taft asking for information about Maj Archibald W. Butt was unanswered, and it is not likely that in view of the message from Sammis that this will be taken up again. While these messages were intercepted by more than one Wireless receiving station, there is one place where the Senate committee could undoubtedly get copies of them. The New York Navy Yard has a powerful receiving station, and has what is known as an “intercepted message” book. These messages are considered confidential and are never given out, but the book would undoubtedly be at the disposal of the investigating committee. Sen. Smith claims that the authorities in Washington knew on Thursday long before the Carpathia arrived, that the White Star line was contemplating the return of part of the Titanic crew to England by the steamship Cedric, and this information undoubtedly came from a Government station. John W Griggs, onetime Attorney General of the United States and Gov of New Jersey, is President of the Marconi Wireless Company of America claimed to be unaware that the chief engineer of the Company was marketing the information of the disaster. The following day the Marconi Company challenged the New York Herald and claimed that their article was a grave injustice to the Marconi Company that called for immediate correction. They said that false and injurious impression had been created. They claim that the messages were sent on Thursday as the Carpathia was coming up the bay, and not as intimated on any of the early days following the Titanic disaster. Furthermore, if the operators having fully discharged their duties to the public, to the Carpathia and to the Marconi Company, desired to sell to a newspaper narratives of their personal experiences, this was attained they had a complete right to do, for these narratives were the own personal property. Who will begrudge these unfortunate and hard-working men the remuneration they thus received, or because of it charge them with previous neglect of duty? While the New York Herald reported Marconi’s dissatisfaction they remained adamant that their version of events was not without substance. In an article headed “Told to Keep Out Navy Man Charges” they contend that the Carpathia had not only refused to give the United States Scout cruiser Chester information concerning the Titanic, but had told her Wireless men to “keep out”. This information came to light when Frank Gaffney, chief operator of the Chester, informed the Herald. The refusal to answer, Gaffney stated, was after the Carpathia had been informed that Pres Taft was anxious to learn the fate of Major Butt and other prominent persons. Cmdr Decker, who was in charge of the cruiser, said the statements made by Harold Bride, that the navy operators were “wretched” was absurd. The Chester, it is said, continued to flash questions to the Carpathia onto the operators aboard the latter were compelled to answer because the high power of the Navy’s apparatus made the reading of messages to other points impossible. Gaffney also declared that he and his colleagues aboard the Chester probably would be witnesses before the Senate committee. He also confirmed that the operators on board the Carpathia left him under the impression that all had been saved. He said that at one time they did answer when enquiries were made for Major Butt by saying “He is not here” One of the officers on board the Chester claims that the operators of the Carpathia ignored everything that Gaffney and Blackstock sent or asked. Gaffney has been a Wireless operator for more than six years, while Blackstock has been one for about three or four years. The former is capable of sending about 45 words a minute and to say they are slow and wretched is absurd (New York Herald, 1912).

The United States inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic would last a total of 18 days. Surviving passengers and crew, and those who had aided the rescue efforts were questioned and more than 80 witnesses gave testimony are deposited sworn affidavits. The primary subjects covered by the enquiry included the ice warnings received, the inadequate number of lifeboats, the handling of the ship and its speed, Titanic’s distress calls, and the handling of the evacuation of the ship. As the enquiry progressed more and more ‘new facts’ began to come to light; the Wireless operator on Carpathia, Mr Cottain, appeared before the committee and told them that after picking up the Titanic’s boats the Carpathia at first made for Halifax, but afterwards changed her course for New York. He denied having sent any messages stating that all passengers were safe, or that the Titanic was in tow. Owing to the constant dispatch of messages he had less than ten hours sleep in three days.

The subcommittee’s report was presented to the United States Senate on 28 May 1912. Its recommendations, along with doors of the British enquiry that concluded a few months later, led to changes in safety practices following the disaster. The report was 19 pages long and summarised 1,145 pages of testimony and affidavits and amongst its key findings were; a lack of emergency preparations had left Titanic’s passengers and crew in a state of absolute unpreparedness, and the evacuation had been chaotic. The ship safety and life-saving equipment had not been properly tested, Capt Edward Smith had shown an indifference to danger that was one of the direct and contributing causes of the disaster, the lack of lifeboats was the fault of the British Board of Trade, the SS Californian had been much nearer to the Titanic than the captain is willing to admit and the British Government should take drastic action against him for his actions, Bruce Ismay had not ordered captain Smith to put on extra speed, but Ismay’s presence on board may have contributed to the Captain’s decision to do so and finally, third class passengers had not been prevented from reaching the lifeboats, but had in many cases not realised until it was too late that the ship was sinking. The report was strongly critical of established seafaring practices and the roles that Titanic’s builders, owners, officers and crew had played in contributing to the disaster. It highlighted the arrogance and complacency that had been prevalent aboard ship but it did not find the White Star Line negligent under existing maritime laws, as they had merely followed standard practice, and the disaster could only be categorised as “an act of God” (Barczewski, 2011).

Guglielmo Marconi was one of the first people to give testimony to the United States Senate enquiry and was called upon on day one to give evidence. He described himself as an Electrical Engineer and chairman of the British Marconi Company. He also confirms that it was his Wireless operators that worked on board both Carpathia and the Titanic and that day alone are responsible for the commercial work, accounting for messages and degenerative conduction of commercial Telegraphic service and were accountable to the Captain according to the exigencies of the service. However, he also confirms that there are numerous instructions which are general rules and regulations for expediting the traffic and for preventing interference with other ships. There are, in the main, the same rules and regulations as are enacted by the International Convention on Wireless Telegraphy otherwise known as the Berlin Treaty to which Great Britain is a party but the United States was not. The regulations of the international convention are the basis of regulations and instructions to men operating Wireless apparatus. It was also established that in the case of a large ship like Titanic, Olympic, Mauritania, or the Lusitania they always carried two operators, but the smaller ships of the class size of the Carpathia carry one. Size is normally dictated by the average number of passengers carried. Marconi tells Smith that the Carpathia is provided with equipment which should call a short distance; it is an apparatus which can transmit messages under favourable circumstances, up to about 180 to 200 miles and on average would send a distance of about 100 miles depending on numerous circumstances including state of space, weather and the skill of the operator. The Titanic was also equipped by Marconi’s Company with ‘fairly powerful sets’, capable of communicating for 500 miles during the daytime and much further during the night-time. This, according to Marconi, was the latest and best Wireless apparatus for the purpose. Marconi also confirms that he is aware that one of the two operators on the Titanic was drowned and the other was picked up, got on a raft, on a collapsible boat, and he was rescued by the Carpathia, having been wounded in his ankles or his legs. Sen Smith then asks whether Marconi or his offices in New York were in communication with the Titanic on Sunday night? Marconi stated that he could not answer that but he was aware there were a great number of messages had come true from the Carpathia but “I sent no messages to the Carpathia, nor did I receive any”.

Marconi is then asked whether there was any general interference from the time of the collision on the part of experimental rival services to the detriment of this service. He states that, to the best of his knowledge, there was no interference. After a lot of technical questioning Marconi is then asked were any orders given by the Marconi Company to the operators or the operator on the Carpathia, with reference to the receipts and answer of messages? Marconi replies “None whatever, there was no disposition to censor or control the operator of the Carpathia and further, “I was very much surprised at things that were stated in the press, that replies had been refused or had not been transmitted. But I have been ensured by the operators on the Carpathia that he never dreamed of refusing any replies” (Titanic Inquiry Project., 1999).

On day six of the enquiry Marconi is recalled. He has asked by Sen Smith to elaborate with what he has to do with the equipment of Wireless apparatus on ocean vessels or shore stations, and what has he to do with the selection of operators in that work? He tells the Smith “I am consulted with regard to all technical details concerning the apparatus installed in ships generally, though I am not consulted with regard to the equipment of each particular ship” He further states that, “concerning the business arrangements made with ship owners, I am usually not in thorough touch with what is going on, for the reason that I’m usually occupied with technical work. I travel about the world a great deal in order to carry on experiments and to inspect plants in various countries. For the business details and for the general management of the Company there is a managing Director or general manager, who attends to all the work of engaging operators and of negotiating with ship owners and others for the use of Wireless Telegraphy” Marconi is then questioned as to the identity of this man to which replies Mr Godfrey C. Isaacs who resides in London and had just left New York prior to the Titanic accident.

Marconi is then questioned as to his relationship with the British Government and he tells Smith that he has no official relationship with the British Government, except that he is called upon by them to advise them on matters of Wireless Telegraphy generally, and also is responsible for the design of the long distance stations which they are erecting in various parts of the British Empire, in which his Company have an interest for a period of at lEast 18 years. Sen Smith then asks Marconi to state to the committee, in general terms, the scope of that contract and whether that contract requires him to install his apparatus and supervises operation and management, or whether he received compensation by an agreement which permits the management to fall under the control of the British officials? Marconi states that the contract provides that within a certain period of time, two years, “we shall direct these stations for the Government of England in Cyprus, Egypt, India, South Africa, Singapore, and other places where the Government may decide to erect them. We are paid a certain lump sum per station for the expense of erection, and the station, before being accepted by the Government, has to satisfy certain requirements in regard to speed of transmission, effectiveness, and reliability”

Sen Smith then wants to know if a contract of a similar character existed between Marconi and the German Government or if he had any dealings with the Government of the German Empire. Marconi confirms that he had some dealings with the Government of Germany and is fitting German ships with Wireless apparatus on a profit-sharing basis but he also had similar contracts with Italy; “in consideration of not being charged for Patent rights in regard to the use of the system they undertake to equip their shore stations and their colonies with my apparatus and use it exclusively for commercial purposes, being free for war and navy purposes to use anything they like” Marconi is then asked a series of questions in relation to what Wireless apparatus was in operation in a number of different ships from a number of different countries. He seems very knowledgeable on such questions and confirms that the Cape Race station would be the best and most likely station, given the whereabouts of the Titanic at the time of the tragedy, to pick up the communications from the ship. Mr Marconi is then questioned on the positions of certain members of his staff in America but most notably an officer named Mr Sammis who is chief engineer of the American Marconi Co., Who, says Marconi, “Is very intimately in touch with everything concerning the equipment of the ships and the operators, and the operation of the system” Marconi is then invited to give a full background as to how he became involved in Wireless Telegraphy and he avails of this opportunity and further elaborates on how he set up his own Company and brought it, under his supervision, to an international organisation.

After some hours Sen Smith enquires as to whether Marconi himself had any communication or had ordered any communication with the Carpathia on Sunday night or Monday? Marconi denies having any such communication. He is then asked did you have any communication with the Carpathia directly or through a ship coast station, on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday up to the time of the arrival of the Carpathia in New York. He confirms he had no direct communication with Carpathia. Following a series of questions in relation to whether Marconi himself had been in direct contact with the Titanic or the Carpathia he emphatically states that he had no communication whatsoever with either ship at any time immediately after the disaster or during any of the following days. Marconi does confirm that he went to the Carpathia on the evening of its arrival and went on board to meet the Wireless operator, Mr Bride, and congratulated him on what he had heard he had done and then enquired after his senior operator, Phillips. Marconi also tells of his instructions to the Wireless operator to give every account he could to reporters and to disclose and discuss anything he knew about the disaster when and if he were asked. However, Marconi does admit that it is an offence, punishable by imprisonment to disclose the contents of messages. “On an occasion like this, of course some latitude would have been given. I mean, I think that on an occasion like this it would have been a good thing if some report had been sent. But this was a matter that depended on the discretion of the operator, and he used his discretion in such a way that he did not send any messages”. Marconi further admits that Carpathia’s operator, Mr Cottam, had left the ship but later made contact to inform him that journalists wanted the story of the disaster, and that he(Cottam) was going to be paid something for the story; “he did not tell me how much. He asked if he could give the story, and I said yes. But, in regard to this question, of operators, that there is a rule in these companies that operators must not act as reporters. They must accept messages from everyone in the order in which they are presented and there are bound to transmit them. But it is not encouraged that they should send stories of their own; at lEast, they would be dismissed if they did it” Sen Smith then asks Marconi if he sent a Wireless to the operators on the Carpathia and ask them to meet him at a later date and telling them to keep their mouths shut. Marconi denies any knowledge of any such message. Sen Smith then produces a document and tells Marconi he’s going to read the document and then ask whether Marconi new and eating about any fact or circumstance connected with the document. “On the evening of the steamship Carpathia’s arrival in New York, the four following radiograms were intercepted by the chief operator, JR Simpson, chief electrician, United States Navy. They appear to me to be significant enough to be brought to the attention of the Department;

Seagate to Carpathia; “Say, old man, Marconi Company, taking good care of you. Keep your mouth shut, and hold your story. It is fixed for you so you will get big money. Now, please do your best to clear”

That was at 8.12 PM, and then follows this one;

“To Marconi officer, Carpathia and Titanic; 8;30 PM; arranged for your exclusive story for dollars in four figures, Mr Marconi agreeing. Say nothing until you see me. Where are you now?(JM Sammis).

Followed by;

From Seagate to Carpathia operator; go to Strand Hotel. 502 W. 14th Street to meet Mr Marconi.; 9;33 PM;

And finally this;

From Seagate to Carpathia; A personal to operator Carpathia. “Meet Mr Marconi and Sammis at Strand Hotel, 502 W. 14th Street. Keep your mouth shut; Signed Mr Marconi.

Marconi claims that he does not know anything whatever about any of these messages; “They are not in the phraseology which I would have approved of if I had passed them. I should, however said that I told Mr Sammis or Mr Bottomley, I do not remember which, that I, as an officer of the British Company, would not prohibit or prevent these operators from making anything which they reasonably could make out of selling their story of the wreck. I was anxious that, if possible, they might make some small amount of money out of the information they had” Sen Smith confirms that it is a habit of the Marconi Company that Wireless operators are allowed to make personal profit, with Marconi’s consent and approval, from their personal experiences; “Mr Marconi let me ask you this with the right to exact compensation for an exclusive story detailing the horrors of the greatest sea disaster that ever was recorded in the history of the world, do you mean that an operator under your Company’s direction shall have the right to prevent the public from knowing of that calamity? Marconi replies, “I gave no instructions in regard to withholding any information, and I gave no advice or instructions in regard to an exclusive story to anybody. The only thing I did say or did authorise was that if he was offered payment for the story of the disaster, he was permitted, so far as the English Company went, to take that money” (Took & Donnelly, 1998). Later in his questioning of Marconi Sen Smith asks “regarding this arrangement with Mr Bride, you simply expressed willingness that he should make some money out of a narration of his experiences? Marconi replies; “Yes, sir, my feeling, expressed quite frankly, is that these operators are paid a very small amount; that certainly we would have compensated them to some degree; but if it were possible for them to make some money out of the story that they had, I do not say that they had exclusive information, but through permitting themselves to be interviewed, I was very glad that they should make this small amount. That was my sole feeling in the matter”

Through a series of such questions and answers the Inquiry Committee ascertain that Marconi had no intention that any information should be withheld in any way. Furthermore, that in a time of crisis the Captain is absolute chief and head and ruler of everything concerning the Wireless, and all the commercial rules which hold in ordinary times are suspended at the discretion of the captain. But in such cases the captain would not know actually whether his orders were being followed and if messages had been sent, he must rely on the statement of the operator. Before he leaves the stand Marconi makes the point that in his organisation a copy is kept of every message received and sent on board a ship. Therefore, this register of messages may be of some use to the committee but could not guarantee access to any of the messages on Carpathia which were taken to the Mediterranean. The Captain would not land them; “we endeavour to get them, but captain would not give them out”

Later the same day Marconi is recalled to be asked one question by Sen Smith; “In my examination this morning I failed to ask you specifically whether between the date of the collision, Sunday evening, April 14, and the present time, any officer, Director, or employee of the White Star Line, or of the International Mercantile Marine Co., had requested you or anyone associated with you, to your knowledge, to delay any message, or send any silence message, or message enjoining silence on the part of the Titanic’s operator, Bride, or the Carpathia’s operator, Cottam, with reference to the time and manner in which and to which the Titanic accident was in any way related? Marconi replies that; I am absolutely certain that I have received no such request. Smith then asks, “Or any officer or employee of your Company, without our knowledge? Marconi replies, “Yes, you may add those as part of my answer” (Titanic Inquiry Project., 1999).

On day 10 of the inquiry Marconi returns to give further testimony. Sen Smith begins his questioning by asking Marconi, “When you were last on the stand, I asked you whether you had sent any messages to the Carpathia during her voyage from the scene of the catastrophe to New York, and I recall your reply. Would you like to correct it? Marconi explains that he had said that he did not send any messages to the Carpathia but “on my return to New York, after having testified, I found that I had sent one message to the Carpathia” Marconi then reads this message to the inquiry; “Wire News dispatch immediately to ‘Siasconset’ or to navy boats. If this is impossible, ask captain give reason why no news is allowed to be transmitted. Signed, Guglielmo Marconi” The Siasconset sent to my office in New York return of what it actually transmitted to the Carpathia. This is the message; “Wire news dispatches immediately to navy boats. If this impossible ask captain give reason why no news is allowed to be transmitted” Marconi says he received no reply to the message which he sent at about 1;00 AM. He is then further questioned on issues relating to difficulties in international communication codes, American systems compared to European systems and then asked did he desire the committee to understand that these two telegrams that he had just read were the only messages he communicated to the Carpathia on the day of arrival in New York? Marconi denies all knowledge of the telegrams sent on the 18th, allegedly signed by him at 9;33 PM and says that it was absolutely unauthorised; “no matter who signed it, and I stated I did not send it or authorise it to be sent” He further states that he disapproves of both the language of these Wireless messages and the unauthorised use of his name and adds, “I should also ask you to allow me to say that the message which I sent to the Carpathia, to which you have already referred, proves, I think, quite conclusively that I had no intention of preventing the United States Navy boats from receiving any information from the Carpathia. I was exceedingly surprised, as everybody else was at the time, that no news was coming through, and I was very much worried about it, and that day I did suggest this message should be sent, and it was sent” Sen Smith then asks, “I want to ask you a straight, square question; whether you infer that the failure of your operators to communicate with the Salem or the Chester or with your office, or to give this news of the trip of the Carpathia to New York to the public, was influenced in any manner by the hope of reward from the sale of exclusive information in the possession of the Wireless operators?” Marconi replies, “my opinion is that it was not influenced in any way, because I do not see that they had any reason to believe or to hope or to think that they were going to sell their story to anybody”

Sen Smith then refers back to the case of the ship Republic, also owned by a sister Company of the White Star line, which in the early morning of 23 January 1909, while sailing from New York to Gibraltar and Mediterranean ports with 742 passengers and crew and captain in command, entered a thick fog off the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Out of the fog, the Lloyd Italiano liner SS Florida appeared and hit Republic at a right angle after which the ship listed and began to flood. Republic was equipped with the new Marconi Wireless Telegraph system, and became the first ship in history to issue a CQD distress signal, sent by Jack R. Binns. Florida came about to rescue Republic’s passengers, and the US Coast Guard cutter Gershwin responded to the distress signal as well. Passengers were distributed between the two ships, with Florida taking the bulk of them, but with 900 Italian immigrants already on board, this left the ship dangerously overloaded. The white star liner Baltic, commanded by Capt Ranson, also responded to the CQD call, but due to the persistent fog, it was not until the evening that Baltic was able to locate the drifting Republic. Once on scene, the rescued passengers were transferred from the Gresham and Florida to Baltic. Because of the damage to Florida, that ships immigrant passengers were also transferred to Baltic, after which the Republic ship sank. After the tragedy, Jack R. Binns, hailed by international media as a hero was handsomely paid for his story. Sen Smith felt that it was possible that the fact that Binns received money for his story of that disaster would influence Wireless operators somewhat in their course. Marconi explains that Binns had received a great deal of notoriety, and has benefited himself by the fact of his having been on board the Republic and on duty on that occasion. “I might say that he is still implied in writing newspaper articles and magazine articles about operators, and the sea, and ships, and things of that kind, which have absolutely nothing to do with the actual facts of the loss of the Republic. It seems to me that the public interest or the newspaper interest, becomes so great when an individual finds himself placed in the position of these men, that whatever they say that has public interest is paid for by these enterprising American journalist” Marconi is then asked by Smith, “you, being the leading and most active figure in the field of Wireless Telegraphy, probably the most prominent man in the world in that work, and your offices being in every part of the world and on most of the ships of the sea, I ask you whether from the developments of this enquiry you do not feel that it is incumbent upon you to discourage that practice; indeed, to prevent it all together, so far as you are able? Marconi agrees, “I am entirely in favour of discouraging the practice, and I naturally give very great weight to Annie opinion expressed by the chairman of this committee” Marconi is then asked to read further telegrams sent by his Company, all of which are demanding news (Titanic Inquiry Project., 1999).

Following the inquiries, United States Government passed the Radio Act of 1912. This act, along with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, stated that radio communications on passenger ships would be operated 24 hours along with a secondary power supply, so as not to miss distress calls. Also, the Radio Act of 1912 required ships to maintain contact with vessels in their vicinity as well as coastal onshore radio stations (Minichiello, P.E., Ray, 2008).

The Titanic tragedy had shown the public the usefulness of Wireless communications. Although 700 passengers were saved, the press argued that more could have been saved if there was a stronger Wireless regulation in effect. The press would argue that there was a lack of standards regarding the proper use of this Wireless technology on ships in particular, but also there needed to be regulation to protect citizens in general. The Radio Act proposed that Government would be given a specific wavelength, power level and operational hours to counter the Marconi Company’s monopoly of the spectrum. The feeling at the time was that long wavelengths of 250 m and over provided the best means for communications. Amateurs were therefore given those wavelengths of 200 m and below, what we know and call today the AM band. Sen Smith felt that over time the amateurs would lose interest and funding and all the wavelengths would revert to the Government. The Radio Act of 1912 reduced the amateur stations from 10,000 to just over 1,200 by the end of 1912. The Act mandated that all radio stations be licensed by the Government, as well as mandating that seagoing vessels continuously monitor distress frequencies.

The act set a precedent for international legislation of Wireless communications. Along with the Titanic disaster another factor to be considered was to combat the issue with amateur radio operators, the act provided for a system of licensing all radio stations, including amateur radio operators. Furthermore, it prohibited those amateurs from transmitting over the main commercial and military wavelengths. Amateurs were limited to transmitting signals that were below a certain wavelength in addition to being limited by wavelengths, amateurs were also limited to location and operating hours. The act would also allow Government to close down any or all radio stations and also empowers Government to impose fines and to revoke licences of those radio operators who violated the restrictions laid down by the act. Furthermore, the Government could seize the equipment of the offending station, as well as suspending the radio licences of the operators (Keith, 2007).

The Titanic tragedy has a connection to another Wireless story that has almost been forgotten; the dawn of modern radio licence regulation. Historical narratives vary on this subject. Even without the Titanic disaster, Government would have eventually asserted entirety over Wireless frequencies. But the Titanic tragedy accelerated the process and gave it a reference point in the public mind. Within weeks of the tragedy Wireless radio operators had to be licensed. During the Titanic disaster Marconi stations across the Atlantic Rim had become scenes of chaos, and they blamed it on amateur operators. Embarrassed newspaper editors joined the blame game and furious editorials against amateurs appeared in global newspapers. The American Radio Act of 1912 functioned as a template for global Government. Does the Titanic really deserve some credit or blame for this condition? It’s a point of disagreement among historians.

The tragedy is “often cited inaccurately as the reason for drawing the Radio Act of 1912,” writes broadcast regulation scholar Marvin R. Bensman. “The subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee had actually completed its work on this bill and the bill had been reported out prior to the Titanic disaster” (Lasar, 2011). That’s exactly right, but the footnote to this assertion comes from Captain Linwood S. Howeth’s 1963 statement, “The Titanic disaster has often been given as the compelling reason behind the enactment of this legislation. This is not correct. The subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee had completed its masterful work of bringing the opposing views into proper focus and the bill had been reported out prior to the disaster. It did, however, awaken congressional eyes to its wisdom and necessity and ensured its final enactment” (Howeth, 1963)

By April 30th the Irish newspapers were publishing their last ‘detailed’ witness accounts of the Titanic disaster and their editorials reflected the mood of angry readers who had been misled by early accounts and, in the light of evidence given in New York and Washington, clearly desired to move forward; “In the midst of her rejoicing over the near approach of the realisation of her national aspirations, Ireland has been plunged with dreadful suddenness and unexpectedness into consternation and gloom. The imagination is terrified by the wreck of the Titanic, the sacrifice of human life, the human bodies, many of them those of Ireland’s sons and daughters, cut off in the flower of youth and when filled with the hope of a livelihood and a foreign country, grinding against the ice and washed about the ocean. The agonies of those hours of horror can never be figured in the human mind. Within a few square yards of sea upon that awful night there was played such a tragedy of fear and grief and pain as no human mind can even remotely conceive. The passengers on board the Titanic went to sleep after a normal day, with its petty chatter and its little pleasures and follies. The Wireless operators sent desperate messages across the ocean; but think of the tortured minds flashing messages all over the world and beyond the world. The thought of it is terrible. The hope would be that the end was swift to all that were to perish. An earthquake at lEast has that good side to it, and, it is said, those found dead in the lava of Pompeii show in the normal line of their features that they had no terror, but were caught by death before they knew that their tomorrow was not to be like their yesterday. The grim story of the Titanic is still only little-known. The half information of the moment leaves all people black in doubt. Especially there will be doubts; as to those giant vessels that have been the pride of our new century. The Olympic began badly; the Titanic will enter into a sad fame as the cause of the most awful sea tragedy of all record. It was the “unsinkable” and it is sunk; and sunk four short hours after the collision. Within a few days of its proud first taking to the high seas, it is at the bottom, its passengers are washing over the sea, and their intimates will be haunted for years by the thought of their fate” (Southern Star, 1912).

But the matter was not quite closed yet as the House of Commons announce a public enquiry into the loss of the Titanic which would open within a few days (Irish Independent, 1912). Charles Buxton informed the House of Commons that the scope of the Titanic enquiry would be wide enough to allow the courts to receive evidence bearing on the advisability of changing the present regulations of the Board of Trade as to the safety of human life on the steamers. He further stated that the Court of Inquiry would be open to the press, and the proceedings would be fully reported. In addition, he proposed to supply some copies of the official print of the proceedings, from day-to-day to the libraries of both Houses. He also confirmed that the interests of the general public would be represented by the Law Officers of the Crown; “Other persons might, by leave of the Judge, appear by counsel, and the court had full power to provide for the costs of the inquiry. The arrangements for Wireless Telegraphy under Titanic and other vessels to which she sent, or from which she received messages would be considered by the Court of Inquiry” (Buxton, 1912).

The Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, is asked if he would propose a resolution to appoint a committee of that House to investigate the circumstances connected with the loss of the Titanic and sending Wireless messages in connection therewith, instead of having the Board of Trade investigation in view of the fact that the Board of Trade must necessarily be itself on trial in any such investigation. The Prime Minister told the House that the Government were of the opinion that the court of inquiry, presided over by Lord Mersey, would afford the best means of arriving at a conclusion with regard to all the circumstances connected with the loss of the Titanic, and all questions of responsibility involved. The Court was an independent tribunal with full power to mould the inquiry according to its own discretion. He further denies that the Board of Trade had some representatives on the tribunal.

In reply to further questions Asquith says the Board of Trade had absolutely no power to direct the course of the inquiry. He is further challenged and informed that under the merchant shipping act, the court must report to the Board of Trade itself. How is that possible if they may find that the Board of Trade has been culpable? Asquith insists, there is no difficulty at all, “They send their report formally to the board of trade and are perfectly entitled to find the board of trade culpable” (Asquith, 1912).

The court of enquiry into the circumstances of the disaster to the Titanic was opened in the Scottish Hall, Buckingham Gate, West Minister, the Hall of the headquarters of the London Scottish Territorials, and there were over 1000 persons present including members of the general public. Lord Mersey, the Wreck Commissioner with five colleagues who were acting as assessors, took their places on a rostrum at the top of the room. In front of the commissioners were an unusually large number of counsel representing the numerous parties interested. Chief among these were; Board of Trade, the White Star Line and builders, underwriters, surviving passengers and officers, and other big shipping companies. Behind counsel were the numerous professional witnesses to be called including the builders, underwriters, surviving passengers and officers and representatives of other big shipping companies. Beside the platform was a big model of the Titanic that had been used by Harland & Wolff for the construction of the mammoth liner. Alongside was an enormous route chart of the North Atlantic, and to the left of the platform were other plans of the vessel. Over 300 witnesses had been subpoenaed and the  inquiry is predicted to  ‘necessarily’ last many weeks.

When Lord Mersey took his seat at 11;10 the seats are set apart for the public were by no means filled up. Capt Bigham, Secretary to the Commission, opened the proceedings by stating “the enquiry will now be opened into the Titanic” Sir Rufus Isaacs then said, “Before this inquiry proceeds, I desire, on behalf of his Majesty’s Government, to express our deepest sympathy with all those who mourn the loss of relatives and friends among the passengers, the officers, or the crew of this ill-fated vessel. This terrible disaster in mid ocean, both because in mere magnitude it exceeds any calamity in the history of the Mercantile Marine, and also because of the many harrowing incidents, which has in a profound and marked degree touched the hearts of the nation, and while not desiring in any way to anticipate the result of this inquiry, I cannot refrain from paying tribute of warm admiration of those whose manful devotion to duty and heroic sacrifices for the safety of others have maintained the best traditions of the sea. Before proceeding further I do not know if my learned friend has anything to add” (Isaacs, 1912). Sir Robert Finlay added “I desire to associate myself, on behalf of the owners of the Titanic, with the expressions which the Attorney General used. No words can express the sympathy which everyone must feel with those who have suffered. There is only one thing which gives some consolation, and to that the Attorney General has alluded, that the disaster has given an opportunity for a display of discipline and of heroism that is worthy of all the best traditions of the Marine of this country. I can say no more, for the sympathy which we feel on this occasion with those who have suffered is really beyond expression in words” (Finlay, 1912).

Isaacs then states that it was the earnest desire of the administration that a searching and thorough enquiry should be made with the object of ascertaining as fully and precisely as possible the circumstances surrounding the casualty, and of abducting lessons and conclusions that might help hereafter to promote the safety of vessels and life at sea; “it is the wish of the President of the Board of Trade, and the law officers of the Crown were equally desiring, that in the public interest every possible source of information and all available evidence would be placed before the inquiry”. It was proposed to call surviving members of the crew, and afterwards witnesses as to the construction and equipment of the vessel and a series of 26 questions framed by the Board of Trade would be asked. This would include questions such as the number of persons employed in any capacity on board, and the total number of passengers, discriminating between sex, adults, and children. Did the Titanic comply with the requirements of the Merchant Shipping Acts rules and regulations? Were any special provisions made in actual design and construction of the Titanic for the safety of those on board in the case of casualty? How was the Titanic officered and manned?; The number of boats, arrangements for manning and launching of them, and their capacity and had there been boat drill during the voyage?; Enquiries into Wireless installation and regulations for operators?; Were instructions as to navigation given to the master, and, if so, what were they?; Was the route taken usual and was it safe at this time of year?; Had the master discretion as to the route?; There will also be many questions related to what happened before warning was sent by Wireless to the Titanic and whether, after leaving Queenstown, information had not reached the Titanic by Wireless signals as to the existence of ice in certain latitudes, and was her course altered? (Freemans Journal, 1912).

There were a total of 36 days of official investigation. Lord Mersey and the various counsels, assessors and experts in marine law and shipping architecture, questioned White Star Line officials, Government officials, surviving passengers and crew, and those who had aided the rescue efforts. Organisations represented by legal counsels included shipping unions and Government organisations. Nearly 100 witnesses testified, answering more than 25,000 questions. The questioning resulted in a report that contained a detailed description of the ship, an account of the ship’s journey, a description of the damage caused by the iceberg, and an account of the evacuation and rescue. The final report was published on 30 July 1912. Its recommendations, along with those of the earlier United States Senate inquiry that had taken place in the month after the sinking, led to changes in safety practices following the disaster. The lines of questioning at the inquiry had resulted in a detailed description of the ship, an account of the ship’s journey, a description of the damage caused by the iceberg, an account of the evacuation and rescue. There was also a special section devoted to the circumstances of the Californian (Titanic Inquiry Project, 1912).

The report found that Titanic’s sinking was solely the result of colliding with the iceberg, not due to any inherent flaws with the ship, and that the collision had been brought about by a dangerously fast speed in icy waters; “The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons appearing in the annex hereto, that the loss of the said ship was due to collision with an iceberg, brought about by the excessive speed at which the ship was being navigated” (Titanic Inquiry Project, 1912). It also found that the lookout being kept was inadequate given the navigational hazards Titanic faced, and that the ship’s officers had been complacent. There were too few lifeboats available and they had not been properly filled or manned with trained seamen, though they had been lowered correctly. The inquiry concluded that the Californian “could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the Titanic. Had she done so she might have saved many if not all of the lives that were lost” (Butler, 1998).

The Board of Trade’s representative suggested to Lord Mersey that a formal inquiry should be held into Captain Lord’s “competency to continue as Master of a British ship” but no action was taken against him due to legal technicalities. The Board of Trade was criticised for its inadequate regulations, notably the failure to ensure that enough lifeboats were provided and that crews were given proper training in their use. The Duff Gordons were cleared of wrongdoing but it was made clear that they should have acted more tactfully (Butler, 1998)

In contrast to the American inquiry, the Mersey report did not condemn the failures of the Board of Trade, the White Star Line or Titanic’s captain, Edward Smith. The report found that although Smith was at fault for not changing course or slowing down, he had not been negligent because he had followed long-standing practice which had not previously been shown to be unsafe (Lynch, 1998) The inquiry noted that British ships alone had carried 3.5 million passengers over the previous decade with the loss of just 10 lives (Eaton & Haas, 1994) it concluded that Smith had merely done “only that which other skilled men would have done in the same position” However, the practice itself was faulty and “it is to be hoped that the last has been heard of this practice. What was a mistake in the case of the Titanic would without doubt be negligence in any similar case in the future” (Lynch, 1998)

The report’s recommendations, along with those of the earlier United States Senate inquiry that had taken place in the month after the sinking, led to changes in safety practices following the disaster. The report was well received by the British press. The Daily Telegraph commented that although “technically speaking, the report is not the last word, but in practice it would probably be treated as if it were” (Eaton & Haas, 1994) The Daily Mail suggested that it was “difficult to suppose that any court which had to inquire into the responsibility of the owners of the ship would disregard the expression of opinion of Lord Mersey and those who sat with him … The report having, in effect, acquitted them of all blame, it is not likely that any attempt will be made hereafter to establish the contrary” (Barczewski, 2011).

Others were more critical. In his memoirs, Charles Lightoller pointed out the inquiry’s conflict of interest; “A washing of dirty linen would help no one. The Board of Trade had passed that ship as in all respects fit for the sea … Now the Board of Trade was holding an inquiry into the loss of that ship – hence the whitewash brush” (Barczewski, 2011) Titanic historian Donald Lynch notes the consequences; “Apart from protecting itself, the [Board of Trade] had no interest in seeing the White Star Line found negligent. Any damage to White Star’s reputation or balance sheet would be bad for British shipping – and there was considerable potential for both. Negligence on the part of the shipping Company might pave the way for millions of dollars in damage claims and lawsuits that would tie up the courts for years, possibly break the White Star Line, and result in the loss of much of Britain’s lucrative shipping traffic to the Germans and the French” (Lynch, 1998).

Stephanie Barczewski notes the contrast between the approaches taken by the American and British inquiries. The British inquiry was much more technical, “the more learned and erudite of the two”, while the American inquiry’s report was a reflection of a comparatively poorly managed inquiry that had frequently allowed itself to get sidetracked. However, the American report took a much more robust stance on the failures that had led to the disaster. As Barczewski puts it, it “bristles with criticisms of established seafaring traditions and of the conduct of the Titanic’s builders, owners, officers and crew”, and conveys “righteous indignation” and a “passion to right the wrongs” done to the victims of the disaster and to prevent any recurrence. The authors of the two reports took markedly different interpretations of how the disaster had come about. The American report castigated the arrogance and complacency that had led to the disaster and held Captain Smith, the shipping industry and the Board of Trade culpable for their failures. The British report emphasized that “the importance of this Enquiry has to do with the future. No Enquiry can repair the past” (Barczewski, 2011)

“Signor Marconi whose name is world famed as the inventor of the Wireless system, yesterday began an important extension of the Wireless. Messages by Wireless may now be sent through any Telegraph office in the United Kingdom at a cheap rate to the United States or Canada”

(Ulster Herald, 1912)

In early May 1912 the financial pages are reporting that the Wireless market, as compared with some weeks ago, has developed remarkable weakness. “At one time yesterday Marconi ordinary shares fell under the previous day’s closing price and the panicky feeling endured for the remainder of the day” (Freemans Journal, 1912). The Irish Independent reports “Business in Marconi shares fell away to very meagre proportions at the Stock Exchange. Sellers of the various Wireless Telegraph issues came prominently forward, and, in the absence of adequate support, prices dropped all round” (Irish Independent, 1912).

The time was right for an exercise in damage limitation. As Marconi’s shares began to plummet the Irish media’s immediately started on rebuilding both his reputation and the reputation of his Company and began to publish articles in praise of the man they described as an “absolute genius”. The part which Wireless played in the tragedy of the Titanic suggests a note or two on the inventor of Wireless, Guglielmo Marconi, says the Southern Star newspaper; “To begin, anyone more unlike the typical Italian as we know him, dark, olive skinned, and given to gesticulation, than the propounder of the above gigantic scheme, it would be difficult to imagine. If anything Marconi is on the fair side; his wonderful eyes are of a greyish blue, and in manner he is the essence of quietness. But, then, he is only half an Italian, for his mother was Irish and from Enniscorthy, a member of a well-known family, and although born in Italy, Marconi was educated for a time in England at a private school at Bedford. Inventors are often poor, but Marconi’s father was a wealthy landed proprietor. At school he particularly objected to be made to learn things by heart, and to the methods of teaching handwriting, and to this day he condemns the latter, schoolboys being taught to write in a way they will never use in afterlife. Anyway, both at Bedford and at other schools in Italy, Marconi refused to study except in his own way and at his pet subjects. What were his early tastes? Music held foremost place; but his scientific tastes were also strong, and in his own way he studied chemistry and electricity at an age when most boys are mainly occupied with games. He was only 13 when he installed electric light in his father’s house, an achievement which made something of a sensation locally, electricity being little understood, in those days. He went to Bologna University and quite probably he would eventually have settled down as a country gentleman, as his father wished him to do, but for the discovery of “Hertzian Waves” in 1888. Prof Hertz’s demonstration, that a disruptive electrical discharge causes electromagnetic waves to radiate through the ‘Ether’(the air) with the velocity of light set Marconi thinking. In the end he conceived the idea of Wireless Telegraphy by means of “Hertzian Waves,” and spent several years quietly experimenting at his home until in 1896, he Patented his famous system. The same year, that is, 1896, Marconi went to London and astonished it and General Post Office officials by successfully Telegraphing without wire between St Martin’-Le-Grand and the Embankment. Like every inventor, Marconi met with great opposition and disbelief at first, but to date his work is widely embraced as the work of an absolute genius” (Ulster Herald, 1912). At the same time the Irish independent gave prominent position to another praising editorial regarding the “wonderful Wireless”; the time is fast approaching when Mr Marconi’s wonderful invention will be extensively used in the everyday transactions of big commercial undertakings. Already, of course, many business messages are transmitted by Marconi, and a great extension of its use in connection with the Telegraph may soon be expected. Arrangements have been made by which telegrams handed in at any Telegraph office in the United Kingdom can be transmitted by Wireless across the Atlantic instead of by cable. With the increased popularity and efficiency of the Marconi system and comparatively cheap rates the operators at Clifden may anticipate a busy time” (Irish Independent, 1912).

The Southern Star newspaper had something to add as well; “with all its gruesome details and its conflicting accounts, the fatal day on which the sad news of the sinking of the great ship Titanic was flashed to the world by the Wireless, will still be firmly implanted in the minds of many whose dear ones are no more. Mrs Jermyn of Ballydehob, is one of those who is not likely soon to forget the disaster, even though, happily for her, she is not to be reckoned amongst the big list of the afflicted. Her daughter, Annie, it is true, was amongst the Titanic’s passengers on the dreadful April night when the White Star leviathan struck the fatal iceberg and Mrs Jermyn was for many anxious hours naturally grief-stricken at the thought that she might be amongst the lost. On the Titanic, too, were Bridget Driscoll and Mary Kelly, also of Ballydehob, whose rescue we were glad to report last week. But, unhappily, Andy Keane, also Ballydehob was lost. But to return to Mrs Jermyn, on the day after the first tidings of the loss of the Titanic were received, it having been erroneously reported that Miss Jermyn had been a victim of disaster, Mrs Jermyn became almost delirious with grief. The neighbours collected around her house to offer her words of consolation and hope. The hours went on, but not a reassuring message arrived. To their amazement, in the evening, Mrs Jermyn announced to friends that she had seen her child, that she was in the yard, and out into the yard she went in ecstasy of joy. Presently she returned and declared a voice had told her “your daughter is saved” This cam to Mrs Jermyn considerably, and early on the next day she got a telegram which put the question of her daughter’s safety beyond all doubt. The extraordinary presentiment, coupled with the mysterious voice, has been the subject of general gossip in Ballydehob ever since” (Southern Star, 1912).

The Irish Independent had even more good news to report; “Wireless Telegraphy is now at the disposal of everybody in every Telegraph office of the United Kingdom at rates considerably below the cable standard. Four Marconi operators have been added to the staff of the Dublin Telegraph Department to deal with messages for dispatch to Clifden, which is the transmitting station from Glace Bay. During commercial hours in the day it has been decided to keep a clear through wire to Clifden from Dublin, and at night there is through communication between Clifden and London. The Post Office authorities already report a large increase in the number of American and Canadian telegrams handed in for dispatch. Mr Webb, of the firm of Goodbody and Webb, stockbrokers, Dame Street, said they have been using the Marconi system since April 23 last year with great advantage. The Marconi Company had lately been able to increase to speed of transmission, with the result that they had been gradually diminishing the number of their “cables” and adopting “Wireless” almost exclusively; “On one occasion they communicated with a client at sea in the Mediterranean, and the only delay was in finding him among the rest of the passengers” (Irish Independent, 1912).

The following day the Sunday independent reports; “One outcome of the Titanic disaster must be the advancement of Wireless Telegraphy, for human progress is too often based on our misadventures – indeed, trouble appears to be the motive power of progressive action. America is the first to wake up. Uncle Sam intends to make more use than ever before of the powers of the air to safeguard the interests of his people on land and sea. At his office in Washington he will soon be able to receive instant warning information concerning anything that goes on in all sections of the Atlantic Ocean, from the North Pole to the Equator, and even beyond – all this to be accomplished through the powers of the air, or, in order words, the Wireless Telegraph and some gigantic Towers near Washington. Through his Navy Department at Washington, it is reported by Mr William L Altdorfer, to whom we are indebted for the information, he has decided to build three gigantic Towers, one of them is to be 600 feet high and the other two 450 foot each. Towers of this great height, situated on the highest point near Washington, Uncle Sam will be able to direct the movements of his Wireless war vessels anywhere on the Atlantic Ocean within 3000 miles of Washington, and perhaps further, if the possibilities of the towers come up to expectations. Not only will he be able to issue instructions direct to his watchdogs of the deep by means of this powerful station, but he also plans to have sent ships scattered all over the Atlantic – from coast-to-coast and from as far North as the icebergs will permit, to as far South as the electric waves of the Wireless may be for forced to penetrate” (Sunday Independent, 1912).

“The lecture on Wireless Telegraphy which is to be given tonight by Fr Gill, SJ., At Belvedere College, promises to be of unusual interest, both on account of the circumstances which have occasioned it and because of the interest attaching to all connected with the name of Marconi at the present time”

(Freemans Journal, 1912)

Reports are now arriving in Ireland that Mr Melville Stone, General Manager of the Associated Press, has given evidence before the Senate committee and questioned about the dispatches received by the Associated Press on Monday, April 15, the day of the Titanic disaster. He gave a full history of each dispatch received and of its source, Mr Stone testified that a dispatch was recovered from the “Montréal Star” to the effect that passengers had been transferred and were en route to Halifax. Later this same Montréal message having been cabled to London was given out there by the Exchange Telegraph Company, and the Associated Press, London, repeated it back to New York, giving credit for the message to the Exchange Company. Mr Stone further stated that the “Montréal Star” primarily and the Exchange Telegraph Company’s secondary were responsible as the sources of the dispatch in question. The London office of the Associated Press was wholly free from criticism. During the inquiry Mr Stone had been asked a number of questions. What part of the Titanic story had he handled personally and he replied he had general supervision of the entire work. He was then asked how you obtained such information as you sent out on Monday. And what was the exact source of each message? Mr Stone replied the “Montréal Star” received the message to the effect that passengers had all been transferred and were being brought to Halifax. This message we sent to Mr Franklin’s office. He issued a reassuring bulletin saying that there was no cause for alarm. At 10;10 AM(3.10 PM London time) we received a dispatch from the London repeating practically the “Montréal Star’s” story. Later from all parts the same dispatch began to be reported. We received some news automatically through our general system of newsgathering and some in response to personal enquiries. From the Marconi Wireless station at Cape Race we received two messages on Sunday evening, and early on Monday. They came from the Virginian, and stated that she was 170 miles from the Titanic and expected to come along side at 10.00am on Monday morning. Mr Stone read these messages and then stated; “From midnight Sunday we had no trustworthy telegrams until 11;23 AM(4;25 PM London time). Then a dispatch was given out from the White Star offices by Mr Franklin to the effect that the Virginian had reported the transfer of the passengers, was underway, 20 boatloads being aboard the Carpathia. Mr Franklin, who gave out the telegram declined to give the full text” He was then asked was he aware of any attempt to suppress news. He replied I have no knowledge of any such thing. Do you approve of the Wireless operator selling their news to the newspapers? He replied no. He then added at 12;07 AM on Monday afternoon the Canadian press sent out the following telegram; “Norton Davidson, one of the Titanic’s passengers, has sent to the local office of his firm here stating all passengers are safe. The Titanic is now in tow of the Virginian” That was the last of the conspicuous fakes (Reuters Telegram, 1912).

As a result of the coverage now being given in New York and Washington to the “Big Money” telegrams the Irish media continue to support Marconi with favourable editorials; “Wireless Telegraphy fell under some undeserved disgrace and the first shock of the Titanic disaster. There was some confused idea, apparently, that it was ‘maid of all work’, when the great ship went down with all those lives, people scarcely remembered that of the hundreds saved all owed their rescue from the icy sea to the Carpathia, brought on the rescue by the Marconi message. This aspect of the case was brought into vigorous relief by Fr Henry Gill’s lecture last night in Dublin at the Belvedere College. There was a true touch in the reflection that but for the Wireless mystery the fate of the Titanic, with all its population, might have been a mystery, too, for all time. A few years ago there could have been no word of explanation; all might have been drowned and the great ship need not have left a trace; a couple of days might have wiped away the last vestige of the boats that put off from the wreck, the icebergs would have shifted away on their own journey and the wonder would have remained how the vessel could have disappeared on a quiet night. The anguish of the long waiting for news, with the doubts still lingering in many minds long after hope had lost all ground; this, too, must be counted in, and very seriously to the credit of the wonderful invention of our time which all but annihilates space as far as communication is concerned, raying information, warning, alarm, and need over thousand miles. At present it is mentioned with some enthusiasm that certain Government have made the Wireless installation compulsory on passenger vessels; the time will not be long in coming when the Wireless will be installed on every ship. The age before the Wireless was seen to ourselves as strangely ill-equipped and handicapped as the age before the railroad. It may well be that the change in the world’s ways to be brought about by means of this wonder of today would be greater than those produced by the railroad itself. As the lecturer of yesterday observed, this knowledge is as yet only on the threshold of the cave in which it lay hidden; it has scarcely taken the air; a few years and will be active in ways we no more foresee than our fathers foresaw the immeasurable work in front of the steam engine, the vast novelties and materials that would come into human life from that humble beginning, mocked by the thoughtless and by the old-fashioned. We at lEast, in our age of many inventions, have learned not to be scornful of the new, scarcely even to be surprised that any promise, even though now and then we have been deceived. Often enough inventions are announced that do not appear, but often on the other hand there springs up suddenly wonder unannounced and works swift miracles over the face of the Earth. We of this age therefore take all these announcements without emotion, with a grain of salt and also with a large grain of expectation, as belonging to a generation accustomed to the new thing. At the rate at which we go now, we may feel sure that the world of our grandchildren will bear little resemblance to which we see. There will be the sky above us and the soil beneath us, and Tulips was still flower proudly in May; but in nearly everything else of the environing things, we should be at a loss in the world of our great-grandchildren. For thousands of years little altered except in the realm of ideas and in the fashion of clothes. Suddenly in one century there came the railroad train and the electric Telegraph and Telephone, monstrous and delicate machinery, great ships, the vast trade and the worldwide communication, almost instantaneous; hosts of discoveries and devices with results that have made Peking practically near and far more important to Dublin than once Paris was. To our heirs we, so well satisfied with ourselves, shall seem to have lived the strangest dull lives among quaint old makeshifts; we will amuse them when they think of us with our queer pride in childish beginnings and ways so cramped by unconquered nature. It will be well for us if our amused grandchildren can find, as an offset to all our simplicity in matters of practical science, that we had at lEast, like the ancients of our thought, some nobleness of the mind and soul to save us from appearing imbecile and ridiculous in a world full of the working of astonishing powers (Freemans Journal, 1912).

The events of the recent past would severely tarnish the reputation of Marconi and his Company and he would do all in his power to limit the damage he was interviewed by a ‘Daily News’ representative on the subject of the Titanic disaster and its relation to Wireless Telegraphy. “The system of Wireless control in America is undoubtedly currently bad, he said. At present any one can put up a station for sending or receiving, and these amateurs, I find, receive all sorts of messages, which they misconstrue owing to the fact that they have not had a proper knowledge of the Morse system, and because their systems are imperfect. That is undoubtedly what took place in the present instance, and the Press, being extremely anxious to get news, did not take sufficient pains to verify the early messages” Asked if any developments were contemplated in connection with Wireless Telegraphy which could be used in similar circumstances in future, Mr Marconi said, “the only practical thing to do at the present moment was to have two operators on every ship. After all, even a Wireless man must have some sleep. There is absolutely no reliable way at present of arousing a sleeping operator by apparatus. Nor has any recording instrument yet been discovered that will give a faithful record of a message while the operator is absent. “I am working hard upon the subject, however, and have every hope that I shall be able to perfect an apparatus that will automatically give warning on the receipt of a message, and draw attention by means of a bell or other device” Asked if he would give evidence at the British Inquiry he replied, “I have not yet been asked to do so, but I am quite prepared to go before the court and tell them all I know. Then I think the truth will come out, and that is what I want” (Marconi, 1912). Mr Marconi is full of confidence as to the outcome of his great schemes for encircling the globe with a great system of Wireless. “We are proposing to erect very soon big stations for communicating direct between England and America, or rather between the vicinity of London and the vicinity of New York. I hope this service will be in operation within 12 months” He continued, “the messages will go through within a very few minutes, practically instantaneously. Time is at present occupied in transmitting messages to Clifden and repeating them on the other side from Glace Bay to New York by our arrangement with the Western Union on the other side the messages will be delivered as quickly as any cablegram” (Marconi, 1912)

It seemed almost as if shares in Marconi could not be excited as trade was “severely depressed” although trade in general was tolerably brisk on the Dublin Stock Exchange but an unsatisfactory tone pervaded the markets. The Wireless market was not so busy with shares starting badly and continuing to slump as the day progressed. In London, the “Financial Times” publishes a report of a meeting of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, in which the authorised capital stock of the Company was increased and the value of the shares was dramatically reduced. Arrangements are also made for entering actively into the business of transatlantic Wireless service between the United States and Great Britain, and the Company is about to erect high power stations in New York City. It was also confirmed at the meeting that the Marconi Company are proceeding against a firm of members of the London Stock Exchange for libel in respect of statements contained in a recent weekly report. The Company also explains that the Boston circuit court of appeals is now preventing the sale of the United Wireless Telegraph Company’s assets, but merely requires the trustees in bankruptcy of that Company to defer for the present the actual transfer of title. This would not in the lEast affect the sale to, nor the position of, the American Marconi Company, who were not parties to this motion. The report complained of allegations that the Marconi Company did not send their messages across the Atlantic by their own system, but by cable and debited the loss created by the difference in price to ‘advertisement account’. Mr Isaacs’s, Managing Director of the Marconi Company stated to an interviewer that the Company’s business continues in every way highly satisfactory, and “nothing has happened of an unfavourable nature, but rather the reverse, since our last communication to the shareholders” (Irish Independent, 1912).

New problems are starting to develop for Wireless operators, legitimate and otherwise, in the United States of America. Giving false alarms by Wireless Telegraphy is the neWest form of the practical chalk in the USA. Government aid was dispatched to a supposed shipwreck as the consequence of the “Wireless joke” The result of these “jokes” is that a Bill has been brought before the Senate insisting upon the licensing of all Wireless installations and their operators. By this means interference is controlled and secrecy insured for the Government’s stations in time of crisis. The installation and use of a private Wireless station in Britain is not possible without its detection by the controlling authorities. The moment and new Wireless station of any power comes into operation either the Post Office are one of the Marconi stations receives the signal. Steps are immediately taken to ascertain its whereabouts (Leitrim Observer, 1912). Other Irish newspapers were more focused on the new reality of “Wireless telephone”; if the report from Rome that messages sent by Wireless telephone have been distinctly heard at a distance of 160 miles are correct, a new development in the use of “Wireless” may be expected. 160 miles is but a little short the distance between Dublin and Cork, so that one can realise what a saving in the working of the telephone system in remote districts could be affected by the use of Wireless. It was, of course, known for some years past that Wireless telephone messages could be heard at distances of 20 or 30 miles, and a couple of years ago two French battleships were able to keep up communication by this means when 70 miles apart. But that conversation can be carried on at more than double that distance is something new and very exciting” (Irish Independent, 1912).

On May 20th 1912 the Postmaster General, Herbert Samuel, in his annual statement on the work of his Department outlines new proposals for reforms for extensions in the future; but the Irish Times is not very happy of a Government profiteering at the expense of controlling communications and make no attempt to conceal this fact in their Editorial. “The answer to the question whether Mr Samuel’s statement can be regarded as satisfactory depends entirely upon the standpoint from which the work of this particular department of state is considered. We may adopt the argument of Sir George Doughty, who expressed his belief that a Department of this character should not be run with the object of making a profit. The revenue, he believed, should be applied to the purpose of promoting the efficiency of the service. We do not think that this position is tenable. The Post Office is one of the few Government departments in which the ideal of a “business Government” is capable of application, and, at the same time, desirable. To turn it into a kind of bureau of National philanthropy is to defeat its best purposes. We have no doubt that the adoption of such a system would prove a useful vote-catching measure for the Government, and on that ground, if no other, we applaud Mr Samuel’s refusal to accept it. He spends the public money upon improving the service under his control, and looks for another dramatic rise in custom which will maintain the Department as a paying concern. It is a policy which has so far been justified by its success. In the year which Mr Samuel reviewed yesterday the increase in expenditure has been very considerable. This is partly explained by the normal growth of the service, which must necessarily expand from year to year, but it is mainly due to the transfer of the telephone system to the state. It is now possible to form a fair estimate of the value of the charges levelled against the telephone service at the beginning of the year. The truth probably is that the same grievances, such as they were, existed under the old regime, but the public, apparently, looked for a miraculous change when the Post Office took over the business. Any change must, of necessity, have been temporarily for the worse, and we have to thank the Postmaster General that this vast transaction which was completed with so little discomfort to the public. Mr Samuel hints at a rate reduction as soon as the Royal Commission has fixed transfer price. We note that the “farmers’ telephones” system is gaining in popularity. This is a proposition which Irish farmers would be well advised to consider in a favourable light. Another reform which will prove welcome is the proposal that telephone subscribers should be allowed to use the numbers as telegraphic addresses. Mr Samuel is doing his best to facilitate telegraphic communication abroad as well as at home. We’re promised reduced charges to the continent when the laying of the landlines is completed, and, possibly, a further reduction of cable rates to the Colonies. To the progress of the automatic telephone experiments we have already referred, as also to the progress of the Imperial Wireless scheme. Wireless, naturally, bulks largely in Mr Samuel’s statement. The important question of continuous communication between ships at sea, a matter whose urgency has been emphasised by the evidence at the Titanic enquiry, will be considered next month by an international conference. Mr Samuel’s statement, as a whole, is a worthy record of a hard and businesslike endeavour” (Irish Times, 1912). But the Imperial Wireless Scheme, as proposed by Samuel’s, would mean greater profits for Marconi as reported in the London times on the following day. “The Imperial Wireless Scheme of Communication is continuing to make progress. Six stations have been arranged for, one in England, two between England and India, one in India, one at Singapore, and one in South Africa. The Marconi Company guarantee apparatus capable of covering intervals of 2000 miles, and even more. The cost, in round figures, is £60,000 per station without sites and buildings. These stations, to be supplemented later by others, will do something to keep the remotest parts of the Empire in close touch with the Imperial capital, though we cannot regard the Wireless system proposed as a satisfactory substitute for a much greater reduction of ordinary cable rates that has yet been achieved. The details of this great scheme will in due course come before the House of Commons, but in bare outline it makes a powerful appeal to the imagination” (London Times, 1912). In addition to all of this by the end of May 1912 the only American Marconi Company announced that they are about to equip stations at New Orleans, that’s one island in the Caribbean Sea, and at Santa marked the, Colombia, providing direct Wireless communication between the two American continents (Irish Times, 1912). It seemed as if prosperous times were ahead again for Marconi.

Adding further to Marconi’s business restoration is news from Washington in the form of an announcement by Senator Smith delivering his speech on the report of the Sub-Committee which investigated the wreck of the Titanic. Smith states, “We absolutely recommend that all ships should have a continuous equipment of Wireless telegraphy and this is a reform upon which public opinion is already agreed” (Irish Times, 1912). But what Smith gives in one hand to Marconi he takes with the other and condemns the Company as agents of prostitution of talents or offices or services for reward. As if it was not enough for Smith to simply advocate the installation of Wireless telegraphy itself but to also suggest that such work should not be done by Marconi’s Company. In a well crafted speech he states, “By the aid of the Marconi genius, a gentleman sitting in his office in the capital of the Argentina Republic Road as in an open book a Wireless message direct from the coast of Ireland. When the world weeps together over a common glass, when nature moves in the same direction in all spheres, why should not the nations clear the sea of its conflicting idioms, and wisely regulate this new servant of humanity. To that end wages must be increased in proportion to the responsibility assumed; and the service to be useful must be made continuous night and day, while this new profession must rid itself of the spirit of venality to which, in my opinion, the world is in deficit for the systematic reign of silence concerning the details of this disaster” (Irish Times, 1912). As far as the American’s were now concerned Marconi’s Company was entirely responsible for the failure of adequate news supply in the days after the sinking of the Titanic. His Company are depicted as profiteers, at all costs, even in the time of enormous tragedy. Fortunately Marconi had a some influential friends in London who were about to change the course of history for the Italian inventor. One of these, a middle aged conservative politician was infuriated by the American senator’s comments and during what became known as the ‘Marconi Scandal’ Winston Churchill used a speech to mount an impassioned defence of Marconi and two embattled ministers David Lloyd George and Rufus Isaacs, asserting that there was “no stain of any kind” upon their characters.

“The committee does not believe that the Wireless operator of the Carpathia was duly vigilant in handling messages after the accident, and declares that the practice of allowing Wireless operators to sell their stories should be stopped.”

(Titanic Disaster American Inquiry Report, 1912)


Celtic Roots

Celtic Roots

Authors Note:

The following is a synopsis of Chapters 1 and 2 from ‘Celtic Mythology’  (Geddes & Grosset, 1999). I have extracted some of the key points in relation to the Irish Celts.

Gerard J. Hannan.

The Celts are much less well known to us than the Greeks and the Romans were although theirs was a great civilisation in its own way. The Celts were not empire builders, they were a tribal society. It is a problem that there is a serious lack of contemporary written history or literature in relation to the Celts. They had the ability to write but never really bothered to do so and it has been suggested that writing was not part of their social or religious culture and that their Druids or high priests forbid them to write things down.

Because of this, modern historians rely very much on oral tradition. Perhaps this is why the culture is rich in marvellous legends and stories handed down by word-of-mouth and as such are subject to variation. Archaeology has helped historians to understand the Celts.

It is rather fortunate that because the Celts believed that a dead person travelled to other worlds and should be accompanied by his or hers earthly possessions such as jewellery, clothing and valuables that we are left with some significant information about the culture. What the Celts have left us is positive evidence to the reality that theirs was an advanced culture.

Ireland’s earliest legendary and poetic records are of great interest and value. These records influenced the destiny of the Celts that created them and indeed the destiny of Ireland. In the period in which they were still fresh, belief and pride in them were powerful enough to bring scattered tribes together into Confederation. Furthermore they give inspiration to sculptors and poets to produce an art and literature unsurpassed, if not unequalled, by any other age or race. When the glory of the Celtic age had faded and her people had entered into the modern world they had left behind them a significant account of their culture for modern archaeologists.

Mythology is vital to literature. Celtic mythology has little of the heavy crudeness that repels one in Germanic and Scandinavian stories. It is as beautiful and graceful as the Greek and, unlike Greek, which is the reflection of a Mediterranean climate quite different from our temperate zone, it is our own. Gods should, surely, seem the inevitable outgrowth of the land they move in. The Celtic gods and heroes are the natural inhabitants of the Irish landscape, not seeming foreign and out of place in a scene where there is no vine or olive but shading in with our home grown Oak and Bracken, gorse and heath.

In the legend haunted Ireland, the Hills and Dales still hold memories of the ancient gods of the ancient race. There are regions once mysterious and romantic that the Celts held to be the homes of gods or outposts of other worlds. In Ireland, there is scarcely a place that is not connected in some way with the traditional exploits of the Red Branch champions or of Fionn and his mighty men. But the old deities are still remembered, dwindled into fairies perhaps but keeping the same attributes and often the same names. Many of these deities live on in modern culture as, for example, long dead saints of the early churches of Ireland. Their wonderful attributes and adventurers are in many cases only those of their original namesakes, the old gods, told afresh. And they still lived on in another more potent way. They have become a significant part of modern literature and their influence is immense, their primary poetic impulse is still resonant in Irish literature, playing a particularly strong part in works by 19th-century poets and writers. The elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits which haunted the waves and streams appear again as kings in the Irish annals or as saints and hermits. To trace the Irish kings and saints back to ‘elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits that haunted the woods and streams’ of Celtic romanticism is not an impossible stretch of the imagination.

The fabled deeds of St Patrick are embellished by romantic writers. These writings are contained in parchment manuscripts long preserved from destruction in great Irish houses and monasteries. Only during the 19th century have they been brought to light, copied and translated by patient scholars who grappled with the long obsolete dialects in which they were transcribed. Many of these volumes are curious miscellanies. Usually a single record of a great house or monastic community, everything was copied into it that the scholar of the family or brotherhood thought to be worth preserving. Hence they contain diverse material. There are translations of portions of the Bible and of the classics, lives of famous saints, together with works attributed to them; poems and romances of which, under a thin disguise, the old Gaelic gods and heroes; together with treatises on all the subjects then studied – grammar, prosody, law, history, geography, chronology and genealogies of important chiefs.

The majority of these documents were put together during the period that, roughly speaking, lasted from the beginning of the 12th century to the end of the 16th century. It was a time of literary revival after the turmoil of the previous epoch. In Ireland, the Norsemen, after long ravaging, had settled down peacefully and rendered the country comparatively quiet. The scattered remains of history, lay and ecclesiastical, of science and of legend were gathered together.

Of the Irish manuscripts, the earliest, and, perhaps the most important, on account of the great store of ancient Gaelic mythology which, in spite of its dilapidated condition, it still contains, is in the possession of the Irish Academy. Unfortunately, it is reduced to a fragment of 138 pages, but this remnant preserves a large number of romances relating to the old gods and heroes of Ireland. Among other things, it contains a complete account of the epic saga called the ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne’, the ‘raiding of the cattle of Cooley’, in which the hero, Cuchulainn, performed his greatest feats. This manuscript is called The Book Of The Dun Cow, from the tradition that it was copied from an earlier book written on the skin of a favourite animal belonging to St Ciaran, who lived in the seventh century. An entry on one of its pages reveals the name of its scribe, one Maelmuiri, whom we know to have been killed by robbers in the church of Clonmacnois in the year 1106.

Far more voluminous and only a little less ancient is the book of Leinster, which is said to have been compiled in the early part of the 12th century by Fionn Mac Gorman, Bishop of Kildare. This also contains an account of Cuchulain’s mighty deeds, which supplements the older version in the Tain Bo Cuailgne. Somewhat less important from the point of view of the student of Gaelic mythology: the Book Of Ballymote and the Yellow Book Of Lecan, belonging to the end of the 14th century, and the Books Of Lecan and of  Lismore, both attributed to the 15th century. Besides these six great collections, there survive many other manuscripts that also contain ancient mythical lore. In one of these, dating from the 15th century is to be found the story of the Battle of Magh Tuireadh, or Moytura, fought between the gods of Ireland and enemies, the Formorii, or demons of the deep sea. Other ancient manuscripts found in Scotland corroborate these Irish documents, add to the Cuchulain saga and make a more specialist subject of the other heroic cycle, that which relates the no less wonderful deeds of Fionn, Oisin and the Fianna. They also contain stories of other characters that are more ancient then either Fionn or Cuchulain, these are the Tua De Danaan, the God tribe of the ancient Gaels. The native literature bearing upon the mythology of Ireland may be attributed to a period that lasted from the beginning of the 12th century to the end of the 16th. This day’s marks the final amalgamation of the contents of the manuscript into the form in which they now exist without bearing at all upon the time of their authorship. As they are copies of ancient poems and tales from much older manuscripts, these books do not fix the period of the original composition of their contents. This has been proved both directly and inferentially. In some instances as with the Book of the Dun Cow the dates of authorship are actually given. In others, we may depend upon evidence that, if not quite so absolute, is nearly as convincing. Even where the writer does not state that he is copying from older manuscripts, it is obvious that this must have been the case from the glosses in his version. The scribes of the earlier Gaelic manuscripts very often found, in the documents from which they themselves were copying, words so archaic as to be unintelligible to the readers of their own period. To render them comprehensible, they were obliged to insert marginal notes that explained these obsolete words by reference to other manuscripts more ancient still. Often the mediaeval copyists have ignorantly moved these notes from the margin into the text, where they remain, like philological fossils, to give evidence of previous forms of life. The documents from which they were taken have perished, leaving the mediaeval copies as their sole record. The ancient legends of Ireland may not have been mere inventions of scholarly monks in the middle Ages. Circumstantial evidence can be an adduced to prove that the most important portions of Gaelic literature can be safely relegated to a period of several centuries prior to their now existing record. Our earliest version of the episode of the ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne’, which is the nucleus and centre of the ancient Gaelic heroic cycle of which Cuchulain, is the principal figure, is found in the 12th century Book of the Dun Cow. But legend tells us that at the beginning of the seventh century the Saga had not only been composed but had actually become as obsolete as to have been forgotten by the Bards. Their leader, Seanchan Torpeist, a historical character and chief bard of Ireland at that time, obtained permission from the saints to call Fergus, Cuchulain’s contemporary and a chief actor in the ‘Raid’, from the dead and received from the resurrected hero a true and full version. This tradition, dealing with a real person, surely shows that the story of the ‘Tain’ was known before the time of Seanchan and probably preserves the fact either that his version of Cuchulain’s famous deeds became the accepted one or that he was the first to put it in writing. Such considerations as these push back, with reasonable certainty, the existence of the Irish poems and prose tales, in something like the present shape, to a period before the seventh century. But this, again, means only that the myths, traditions and legends were current at that, to us early, but to them, in their actual substance, late date, in literary form. A Mythology must always be far older than the oldest verses and stories to celebrate it. Elaborate poems and sagas are not made in a day or in a year. The legends of the Gaelic gods and heroes could not have sprung full born out of some poet’s brain. The bard who first put them into artistic shape was setting down the primitive traditions of his race. We may therefore venture to describe them as not of the 12th century or of the seventh but as of a prehistoric and immemorial antiquity. Internal evidence bears this out. An examination of the Gaelic legendary romances shows, under embellishing details added by later hands, an inner core of primeval thought that brings them into line with the similar ideas of other races in the earliest stages of culture. Their ‘local colour’ may be that of their last ‘editor’ but their ‘plots’ are pre-mediaeval, pre-Christian, prehistoric. The characters of early Gaelic legend belong to the same stamp of imagination that created all Olympian and Titan, Aesir and Jotun. This aspect of the Celtic literary records was expressed by Matthew Arnold when he said, ‘it is evident that the mediaeval storyteller is pillaging and antiquity of which he does not fully possessed the secret’. So, too, with the figures, however reconciled with history, of the tree great Gaelic cycles: that of the Tua De Danaan, of the heroes of Ulster, of Fionn and the Fianna. Their divinity outshines their humanity; true their masks may be seen the faces of gods.

Yet, gods as they are, they had taken on the semblance of mortality by the time histories were fixed in the form in which we have them now. Their earliest records, if those could be restored to us, would doubtless show them as eternal and undying, changing their shapes at will but not passing away. But the post-Christian copyists, whether Irish or not, would not continence this. Hence we have the singular paradox of the deaths of immortals. There is hardly one of the figures of the Gaelic pantheon whose demise is not somewhere recorded. Usually they fell in the unceasing battles between the gods of darkness and of light. Their deaths in earlier cycles of myth, however, do not preclude their appearance in later ones. Only, indeed, with the closing of the lips of the last mortal who preserved his tradition can the life of a God be truly said to end.


Geddes & Grosset, 1999. Celtic Mythology. 2006 ed. New Lanark: Geddes & Grosset.


The Whiteboys.

Agrarian Disturbances

Agrarian Disturbances

The great tradition of the Whiteboys in the south of Ireland had its beginnings in Tipperary in 1761. They always assembled at night with their shirts over their clothes, which caused them to be called the Whiteboys. The exactions of tithe-farmers and the enclosure of commonage sparked the initial oath bound combination in parts of Munster in southern Ireland. The Whiteboys were also known as ‘Levellers’ and they gave forceful expression to grievances that were widely shared, and their example was quickly imitated in adjacent parts of neighbouring counties. Large groups of Levellers, connected by the blowing of horns, mobilized in great numbers and fired guns as they marched along in their white shirts demolishing in the night-time the fences of the enclosures of many persons and swearing fidelity to each other and secrecy.

In the early stages the agitation was most formidable in County Waterford where 18 men met in 1762 and decided to form an oath bound secret society to combat enclosures and tithe-farmers (Tithe payment was an obligation on those working the land to pay ten per cent of the value of certain types of agricultural produce for the upkeep of the clergy and maintenance of the assets of the Church.); they did so, as one of them later confessed, because similar groups had partly succeeded in redressing some of the grievances they complained of. Once lit, the fires of revolt were carried far and wide throughout Munster. Although membership was secret their activities were very much in full public view. The Whiteboys moved through the countryside, administering oaths and fully living up to their other name by levelling ditches, hedges, walls, and fences. Frequent nocturnal meetings with as many as 500 white shirted insurgents in attendance took place at various locations in Munster.

Smaller bodies of Whiteboys participated in many minor offenses in themselves but, as in one case, resulting in the public execution, by way of warning, of two young men found guilty of membership of the Whiteboys. It must be remembered that this time in history an oath was deemed sacred and unbreakable. If these men had identified other members their lives would have been spared by the Crown but obliterated by their fellow members.

After months of extraordinary outbursts of activity affecting most of Munster the agitation abated in intensity and then went into temporary eclipse as the government responded with military and judicial repression. Except for a few isolated incidents, areas that had previously seethed with discontent remained almost eerily quiet from Midsummer 1762 until 1763. When activity resumed the geographical range of the agitation was much more restricted. The Whiteboys of County Limerick abandoned their insurgency altogether, and those of Cork and Waterford, though capable of seizing the offensive occasionally, mounted no sustained campaigns. Whiteboy operations were first reported in Kilkenny in March 1763 but they apparently ended abruptly with the jailing of many members. It took at least another year for Whiteboyism to expand in Kells to significant figures. Judging from their actions, the Whiteboys of Kilkenny were concerned not at all with enclosures and not very much with the farming of tithes but rather with the rates charged for the tithes of corn and potatoes. Most of the reported incidents involve attacks on the persons or property of those who had refused to comply with the regulations of Whiteboy combinations against payment of the usual rates.

Tipperary was really the heartland of Whiteboyism and what was most remarkable in these years was there wide geographical extent and massive membership. The agitation did not long remain confined to the poor lands but soon struck deep in the rich districts in the county. Rather than execute two Whiteboys in their hometown of Clonmel the authorities deliberately chose to have them hanged near Nenagh because that town was notorious as a place where Whiteboys were strongest.

Among the features which differentiated the Whiteboy movement from earlier combinations was the almost universal use of oaths to bind its adherents together. Every member was compelled to take an oath and those who refused to swear, were threatened with being buried alive. Of the 14,000 insurgents estimated to be in arms in County Tipperary in 1763 practically all were sworn to be true to the cause. Though scholars have so far discovered no clear examples of secret societies that were oath bound before the Whiteboys, the notion that earlier associations of peasants or urban tradesmen had never implied such a simple device seems on its face highly improbable. But even if oath bound popular organizations did exist on at least a local scale before the early 1760s, the Whiteboys should still be considered innovators because they invested oaths with great practical and symbolic importance in fusing local activists into the wider network of a regional movement.

Some oaths expressed specific aims of the insurgents, while others dealt with matters of organization and discipline, as did one oath found in the possession of a number of Whiteboys apprehended in April 1762. This source and other contemporary documents indicate many Whiteboys enrolled under the banner of the mystical leader Sieve Oultagh, whom they designated their queen. Precisely how this usage originated is unknown, but it almost certainly derived its currency from the popular tradition in song and poetry of personifying Ireland as a woman and its people as her children.

The Whiteboys had other symbols and customs that were explicit and functional. The Levellers of Waterford and other counties erected gallows, made coffins, and dug graves in the public roads, all obviously intended as portents of the fate awaiting those who refuse to obey their mandates. To a number of prominent Whiteboy practices some contemporaries also attributed a revolutionary meaning which in all probability they did not possess. Many of the Whiteboys sported white cockades which carried an implication of Jacobitism. Some saw in this agrarian movement a popish plot to overthrow, with French help, the Protestant constitution in church and state. The Whiteboys attire was patterned after the dress of the French Camisards who had rebelled in the year 1702. No doubt, some Whiteboys, expecting a foreign invasion, boasted they would change or put down governments. But the cry commonly heard from many Whiteboys was long King George III and Queen Sive, more accurately, if still somewhat ambivalent, reflected their political sentiments.

The Whiteboy movement coincided with a period of agricultural prosperity, but the very nature of that prosperity produced extensive economic changes in the south of Ireland that helped to trigger and sustained the outbreak of agrarian unrest. From this we can conclude that hunger did not drive the Whiteboys to revolt, though the price of provisions occasionally featured among their grievances. Exports were brisk to the North American colonies and the West Indies and also to Britain and her allies and troops. Thus, while the Whiteboys grievance on the score of enclosures was linked primarily to the encroachment of dairy and beef cattle on commonage, sheep were also a threat in the mid-1760s.

The closing of what were loosely called Commons was bound to arouse resistance because it challenged well-established usages within pasture farming. In the letting of choice land for dairying and feeding of dry cattle and sheep, it had long been customary in many parts of the South for landlords to attach inferior ground without making any specific addition to the rent, though the rents reflected the enhanced value of the enlarged farm. When land values began to increase sharply around mid-century and especially during the Seven Years War, landlords withdrew much of this commonage from current holders and either stocked it themselves or relet to new tenants who did so. The hedges, fences, and ditches which kept out the cattle and sheep of the former occupiers, as well as the impounding of trespassing livestock, constituted major provocations to violence. Besides seeking to regain their lost rights by destroying the physical obstacles, the Whiteboys also attacked the stewards placed on the grounds by landlords or the new tenants whom the landlords had introduced. In extremities as standard weapon against these intruders was to burn or pull down their dwellings. By no means had all of the houses raised by Whiteboys been inhabited by caretakers or recent occupiers of commonage, but the determination to repel such people was the dominant motive in numerous instances.

Much of the levelling activity of the Whiteboys, however, was not a response to the enclosure of commonage at all, as many upper-class complaints about ‘pretended commons’ obliquely testified. Rather, it was an expression of intense popular resentment against the keeping of land from tillage and they campaigned against the tithe of potatoes. Admittedly, this particular clerical impost, almost unique to Munster and parts of Leinster, was not the only aspect of the tithe system against which the Whiteboys battled. They were also determined in many places to end the farming of tithes. It must be remembered that these tithes were a form of taxation paid to the Protestant church in the form of a generous share of produce or income yielded from same. It must have been very irritating to say the least for the suppressed Catholics to have to finance the church of the elite. In South Tipperary, where the farming of tithes was unusually prevalent, the Whiteboys were especially active against these obnoxious middlemen. Whether the Whiteboys also desired to eliminate proctors as well as tithe farmers is doubtful. Only a few instances were ever reported of attacks on the persons or property of proctors.

Any attempt to illuminate in detail the social composition leadership of the earliest Whiteboys is severely handicapped by the complete absence of official government documents relating to the hundreds of persons who were apprehended and committed for trial as Levellers.

How members were recruited still remains something of a mystery. Teachers were considered one possibility and Catholic priests another. Large farmers were generally the victims rather than the allies of the Whiteboys, since, along with the great graziers, they kept land in pasture that might otherwise have been let in conacre, paid wages that the Whiteboys deemed much too low, and sometimes enclosed ancient commonage. Small farmers and their sons provided many activists. In districts where farms of large acreage were commonly taken in partnership by groups of tenants and sometimes by the inhabitants of an entire village, the landholding arrangements themselves could furnish a basis for Whiteboy organization.

Protestants were of the belief that rich Catholics were directing the Whiteboys but the only way the Catholic brought to trial before 1766 was a manufacturer from Waterford who was later acquitted. In spite of many infamous prosecutions there is little evidence to corroborate Protestant charges that prosperous Catholics supported the Whiteboys.

The attempted repression of the Whiteboy movement, while not Savage, was severe. The on-going insurgency had grown far beyond a level the local magistrates could control and a large number of elite troops were drafted into the disturbed parts of four Munster counties. Interestingly, such troops had previously been engaged in anti-smuggling operations on the coasts of Dublin and Down and as such were an intimidating force to be reckoned with. In some places all the young men fled in terror at the approach of these troops and in a matter of weeks the prisons were full. Meanwhile, Protestants remained convinced that these movements were primarily motivated by the desire to raise a rebellion and when the Crown investigated this, by talking to prisoners, they too were convinced that an insurrection had been contemplated. However, it was also realized that all the outrages, regardless of their specific nature, where the result of some local dissatisfaction and as such could not be interpreted as disaffection for the crown, government are to laws in general. The only risk was that with such a large movement in existence any foreign invasion would radically change this situation.

Of those who had been imprisoned, nearly 500 in all, some fared out better than others depending on geographical location and willing witnesses. Some were condemned to death, some found guilty of riot, and many more of minor offenses such as cutting down trees, burying a victim up to his chin in unmarked graves, and tendering unlawful oaths which led to fines or torture. The dozen or so executions exercised a significant, if temporary; check on the Whiteboy movement. In fact, the degree of repression necessary to destroy the Whiteboy movement was actually beyond the reach of the central and local authorities as long as they continued to rely on traditional legal methods for maintaining order. Voluntary and unpaid witnesses for the crown were exceedingly difficult to find because of intimidation, bribery, or sympathy with Whiteboy aims.

It is not effective repression which brought the first Whiteboy movement to a close by early 1766, but rather economic conditions bordering on mass starvation. Extreme droughts took place in the previous year and consequently huge losses accumulated in all sectors of agriculture. For many months the food situation steadily deteriorated and prices went so high that it was impossible for poor people to purchase food. A widespread epidemic of smallpox aggravated their plight and throughout the summer of 1766 small-scale food riots took place at thousands of locations throughout the country. In the struggle for the means to preserve life, agrarian grievances temporarily ceased to be important.

Until the arrival of the Whiteboys never before in the South had agrarian rebels been so numerous, operated over such a broad area, or displayed, though for a limited time, such a high degree of organization and coordination. On the other hand, the Whiteboys of the early 1760s were less widespread, addressed a narrower range of issues, and included fewer farmers than their successors in the 1770s. The Whiteboys lacked the coherence in aims, methods, and organization that was to distinguish later clandestine groups. Indeed, the earliest Whiteboys preserved a strong regional movement only until the spring of 1762. Thereafter, Whiteboyism became much less formidable. Paradoxically, this reversion towards the older pattern of rural protest did little to cure Protestant paranoia of popish insurrection in alliance with foreign Catholic powers and efforts continued to permanently terminate all riotous behaviour no matter what its form. Though Whiteboyism activated the sectarian reflex of some upper-class Protestants, for the great majority it had become all too apparent that agrarian rebellion was so firmly rooted on Irish soil that it needed no water from France or Spain to nourish its growth. The experience of the 1790s, of course, changed many minds, and with good reason.

Primary Source:

Irish Agrarian Rebellion: The Whiteboys of 1769-76

J. S. Donnelly

Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy.

Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature , Vol. 83C, (1983), pp. 293-331

Published by: Royal Irish Academy

Article Stable URL:

Irish Catholic Question.

How Deep Is The Divide?



All Irish history from around 1550 onward can be regarded as an extended comment on the Catholic question. However, contemporary historians use the term the ‘Catholic question’ in reference to the readmission of Catholics to full civil, religious and political equality in three ways, which were timing, terms and sponsorship. At what point could such concessions with safety be made and with what safeguards and under whose auspices should these concessions be made.

Protestant Ethos.

18th-century Ireland was a Protestant country in which all political power and most social and economic consequence was confined to those who conformed to the established church; Irish Protestants were keenly aware that they constituted a minority of the Irish population. The “Protestant Nation” as they considered themselves were well aware that the sole basis of their claim to be not just ‘a people’ but ‘the people of Ireland’ lay in the destruction of Catholic power, the confiscation of Catholic land and concurrent denial to Catholics of social and political authority. They had every right to be deeply concerned when something called ‘the Catholic question’ emerged in Ireland in the late 1760s.


The emergence of the Catholic question which would progress to dominate the Anglo-Irish political agenda, cannot but have alarmed Protestant opinion in Ireland. The penal laws had been enacted to ensure the hopes of a Catholic recovery would be forever forlorn. English opinion of the so-called Catholic menace augured well for Irish Protestants. Given that the Catholic question appeared to have been once and for all resolved by the beginning of the 18th century, how then can its re-emergence be explained by the 1760s? One answer would be that Catholics had shown by their good behaviour conduct that they felt deserved favour.


The ideas of Enlightenment were having an influence on Ireland and notions of persecution for religious belief were generally reprobated throughout Europe. It is important to realize that Enlightenment was, more or less, anti-Catholic and the teachings of the Catholic Church were cast as the biggest obstacle to the spread of enlightened ideas. In short, Irish Protestants could legitimately comfort themselves that the Penal Laws, by putting dependency on adherence to superstition and general ignorance, were actually forwarding the work of the Enlightenment.


Another reason frequently advanced for the emergence of the Catholic question around mid-century was the perception that a wealthy Catholic merchant class had grown up and that Catholic money, because of the penal laws, was shut out of the Irish economy, the land market in particular.


It may be that the chief reasons for the emergence of the Catholic question by 1760 Leidy in changes within the political world of Protestant Ireland and also in developments within the Anglo-Irish relationship itself. In the history of the rise of the Catholic question, the Money Bill dispute of the 1750s marked a watershed for it sowed divisions among Irish Protestants and arouse suspicions in the minds of British ministers about the reliability of Irish Protestants. In creating these tensions between governing elites the Money Bill dispute gave Irish Catholics their chance to stand forward. It comes as no surprise to learn that it was at the time of the Money Bill dispute that a Catholic committee of sorts was convened to consider Catholic grievances and to seek redress.

Anglo-Irish Relations.

The chemistry of the Anglo-Irish relationship was changing with the growth of a Protestant nationalism which alarmed English politicians and led them to believe that new alliances in Ireland should be contemplated in order to restrain the exuberance of Irish Protestant self-assertion. There was never any question of replacing the Protestant interest with the Catholic one but British ministers saw it as common sense to keep on good terms with Irish Catholics, if only to remind Irish Protestants that, though they might called themselves the people of Ireland, there was another people on the island who could equally lay claim to that title.

Empire Expansion.

The fears of Irish Protestants took second place to the very real needs of the Empire and also to the requirements of the Armed Forces of the crown. The scale and extent of warfare along with the expansion of empire may offer good reasons for the emergence, at this time, of the Catholic question. There is a certain irony in this; the Catholic question in the early 18th century had also been linked to the trash of war, Irish Catholics had been seen as Jacobites in sympathy and thus inherently disloyal; they maintained what amounted to a standing army abroad; the so-called Irish Brigade in the service of France which recruited clandestinely among Irish Catholics; and when wars did break out, as for example in 1743 at the start of the war of the Austrian succession, it was usual for extra security precautions to be taken against them. Military necessity, essentially the manpower requirements of the British Army, provides the context for the Americans of the Catholic question in the 1760s and its persistence thereafter.

Catholic Relief.

Catholic recruits were taken into the armed forces in increasing numbers. Irish Protestants grew restive at this development and suspected that the British government in its eternal quest for troops was not above offering Catholic relief in return for Catholic recruits. These suspicions were not groundless; for there was in fact a plan to offer concessions to the Catholics of England, Scotland and Ireland, and this scheme formed the background to the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, the first major breach in the penal code. This act repealed some of the penal laws concerning ownership of land by Catholics but its main aim was to encourage the Catholic gentry to beat the recruiting drum and enlist their co-religionists into the British Army.


Towards the end of the American War, another major Catholic Relief Act was passed and this act effectively repealed those penal laws directed specifically at the practice of the Catholic religion. This time, however, the concession was not granted with an eye to recruits but with an intention of keeping Irish Catholics detached from the Volunteers.

French Revolution.

In the highly charged atmosphere produced by the French Revolution, the matter of relief for Catholics was once again actively canvassed. In the 1780s the Catholic question had remained in abeyance, because of Catholic support for Volunteers in 1782. The Catholics, having been courted by the volunteers, has soon been abandoned by them: the volunteer plan for parliamentary reform made no attempt to include Catholic franchise or representation. This parliamentary reform campaign which to volunteers embarked on in the early 1780s quickly ran out of steam but from the failure of that campaign certain lessons were learned by the more committed reformers. Any future reform movement had to enlist the support of the Catholics if it was to make any headway. In this realization lay the seeds of the future Society Of United Irishmen.

United Irishmen.

This society was set up in Belfast in 1791 and aimed to curb the influence of England in the government of Ireland through parliamentary reform. Theobald Wolfe Tone stressed that no reform is practicable if it does not include the Catholics. The British government were alarmed at the rise of the United Irishmen and urged that major concessions being made the Catholics in order to head off future problems. Dublin Castle resisted and concessions offered fell far short of those demanded. British government responded by repealing penal laws and by extending the parliamentary franchise to Irish Catholics on the same terms as Irish Protestants: it seemed to be only a matter of time before Catholics were restored to full political equality in Ireland.

Catholic Relief Acts.

The scale of concessions were revolutionary and one can find explanation for this generosity in that area where political considerations and military requirements intersected. British government were alarmed by the United Irishmen and hence no steps were spared to stop the popularity of this organization. United Irishmen were harassed, suppressed and banned. However, the ever-expanding group could bring pressure on England desirous of conciliation with Catholics rather than provocation leading to association with the enemy. Within a generation, the British state had gone from a policy of firm exclusion of Catholic soldiers to one of forced inclusion; from fear of Catholic numbers to reliance on them to meet the needs of war.

Closing The Concession Account.

With Irish Catholics now having the vote on the same terms as Irish Protestants, and with their playing a front-line role in the defence of Ireland in the event of a French invasion, it might have been assumed that the Catholic question was now over. But this was not to be the case. The right of Catholics, if elected to take their seat in Parliament, proved elusive. Mounting violence in Ireland, widespread evidence of a well organized conspiracy to subvert the government, and the prospect of a long war against France combined to make British ministers close the concession account where Irish Catholics were concerned. Catholic emancipation, as it was now called, remained so elusive that it was becoming clear that it would never be given; it could only be taken. And this could only be achieved when the Catholic question was divorced from party politics and from questions of defense and military strategy. The Catholic question could only be addressed properly when it was finally recognized for what it now was – are in fact may have been all along – the Irish question. 


Primary Source:

The Catholic Question in the Eighteenth Century

Thomas Bartlett

History Ireland , Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring, 1993), pp. 17-21
Published by: Wordwell Ltd.

Catholicism And Penal Laws (1695)

Penal Laws 1695.

This essay shall explore the purpose and origins of the Irish penal laws which have always been subjects of contention amongst historians. These laws have been viewed as ruthless in their primary purpose of the suppression of Catholics. It has been argued that the penal laws were tolerated by an Irish Parliament greedy for land and wealth. However the first two Irish penal laws of 1695 allegedly aimed at disarming Catholics and prohibiting foreign education were the result of a definite policy which existed in Ireland from the time of the Williamite war. These laws were based on English statutes and Irish proclamations and their primary motive was the security of the Protestant interest.

Fear of Catholic Europe remained constant as long as England was at war with France and in the search for greater security a policy developed for disarming Irish Catholics, which was actively supported by William III and his government. The core of this 1695 security legislation comprised two penal laws, one for disarming and dismounting Catholics, the other for prohibiting foreign education. In order to understand the development and implementation of these first two penal laws, the prevailing attitude among Irish Protestants towards Catholics from the outset of the Williamite war must be explored.

A full body of penal legislation existed in England dating back to the reign of Elizabeth but the Irish experience was very different. In England the penal code covered vast areas relating to Catholic worship, organization and personal rights. The main impetus for the most repressive acts stemmed from fears for state security. These fears were in existence since the gunpowder plot and Parliament wanted to act to prevent and avoid dangers which grow by popish recusants imposing the fullest range of disabilities on Catholics within the entire penal code. These acts were to play an important role in the formulation of the Irish penal laws of 1695. Catholics in Ireland did not escape this anti-papist hysteria.

In general the Irish government tended to follow the English feed in taking repressive action. The influence of the English anti-Catholic tradition and fitful penal repression upon the minds of the Irish government and Irish Protestants during the restoration and, most importantly, after the reign of James II was to be significant. After the Williamite war securing the Protestant interest in Ireland became of paramount concern for the Irish government and Irish Protestants, creating a new dynamic within the Protestant political nation for security-based penal legislation. The Irish government and Protestant nation used past proclamations, existing English penal laws and past experience to create a modus operandi for the first Irish penal laws. Ultimately the two penal laws of 1695 were an integral part of the efforts to secure the Protestant interest against internal discontent and external interference.

From a Protestant perspective Irish Catholics were the enemy while at the same time the war with France kept alive fears of a French invasion and subsequent Catholic insurrection in Ireland. While Irish Protestants were perceived in England as having affection for King William the same could not be said for Irish Catholics who were considered papist Jacobites engaged in the cause of King James and justifying their violent ways by their bigotry to their false religion.

Add to this the fact that there was a close affinity between Irish Catholics and the papist anti-William French revolutionists and it seemed that Protestants beliefs were beyond doubt and fully justified. The Irish Parliament of 1692 would be predominantly anti-Catholic and the threat of Catholic Ireland had have to be combated in order to secure the Protestant interest.

Efforts to secure the English and Protestant interest in Ireland took various forms. The most immediate issue at the end of the war was the safe dispersal of the Jacobite army. Many had gone to France with Sarsfield but there was a fear that the remaining forces would turn their attentions against King William. Attempts to recruit ex-Jacobite soldiers in Ireland were resisted by Irish Protestants and by the Irish and English governments. The plan did not succeed and the outlaws prospered as growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants all over Ireland gave credibility to new fears that a Franco-Jacobite force could invade Ireland at any moment. As long as England remained at war with France, the possibility of such an invasion was widely credited and served far defied the resolution of the English and Irish governments and Irish Protestants to settle the Catholic question permanently. Growing evidence of Irish recruitment to the French and Jacobite forces aligned against William ensured that Irish Protestants were confirmed in the belief that coercive measures were necessary for the security of the English and Protestant interest.

In any assessment of the forced penal laws, it must be remembered that the overriding motivation behind them was fear for the safety of the Protestant interest in Ireland. Irish Protestants viewed the upkeep of their interest based upon hegemony over Catholics, as not just a bid for wealth and power, but primarily as a prerequisite for survival. Hence the urgency for penal legislation can be seen as one of the main reasons, alongside financial concerns, for the calling of Parliament of 1695 and the final formulation of the penal measures of that same year.

The three main aspects of the penal legislation which would eventually be introduced in 1695 were outlined by Lord Capell as being necessary for the final settlement of Ireland; these included disarming Irish papists, prevention of keeping horses above five pounds in value and restraining foreign education. However, it must be said, that these three objectives were by no means new but what was unique here is the fact that Capell gave each of them equal importance and placed them side-by-side in any attempt in the settlement of Ireland. Capell believed it necessary for the settlement of Ireland to pass laws relating to religion, peace and secular interest. In June 1695 an initial 14 bills were transmitted to England by Capell and the Privy Council including a bill for disarming papists. Although there was some debate the bill was accepted in an amended form and passed in September 1695.

The second of the three coercive measures recommended by Capell in July 1694 was that for preventing Catholics from keeping horses above 5 pounds value or 13 hands and a half high. For Capell it was not to know just to dismount the rebels during times of danger they begin to feel the need to make it a permanent arrangement, ensuring security for the future. Furthermore, as with the disarming policy, the dismounting policy was to be directed at the whole Catholic population. The close in the penal law passed in 1695 for restricting Catholics to owning horses work 5 pounds or less adheres to this estimation of the relative values of horses fit for military service, which in turn is a copy of the 5 pounds or less value system used in the English penal laws of 1689.

Capell’s recommendation in July 1694 that a law be introduced in Ireland for preventing Catholics from keeping horses above 5 pounds value reflected the Protestant desire for laws relating to religion, peace and secular interest. The English House of Commons also insisted that the Irish Parliament should be called in order to pass such laws as shall be necessary for the security of Protestant interests. Ultimately Capell’s reference to the need for a law dismounting Catholics, as with that for disarming them, represent the fusion of the will of the Protestant interest and the perceived logical conclusion of previous Irish government policy in the early 1690s. The bill caused little debate in the Irish Parliament and passed without difficulty.

The third and final coercive measure relating to Catholics, which Capell specified was that for restraining foreign education. Capell pointed out that the bill for disarming Catholics would secure the Protestant interest but that the bill for restraining foreign education would secure the Protestant religion. From the outset the motivation for the disarming policy had been specific, tangible threats to the security of the Protestant interest. In the case of the prohibition of foreign education, concern for security against a general threat of European counter-reformation Catholicism was allied with the advent of a longer-term policy for undermining the institution of the Catholic Church in order to secure the Protestant religion. Capell’s proposal of a law specifically restraining foreign education for Irish Catholics was the first definite acknowledgment of such a singular need. The desire for such a measure was motivated not only by an awareness of the fact that Irish Catholics receiving religious education on the continent ensured the survival of the Catholic Church in Ireland, but also by the knowledge that Irish Catholics being educated abroad were in contact with exiled Irish Jacobites, many of whom were fighting in French armies under the nominal leadership of the Stuarts. These exiles kept alive Protestant fears of the Jacobite invasion and represented the spirit of resistance to Protestant rule. Contact with such individuals was detrimental to the security of the Protestant interest, as it encouraged disloyalty to the English Crown, the government and the established church. The prohibition of foreign education, while protecting the Protestant religion, would also help to secure the Protestant interest by encouraging greater loyalty from Irish Catholics and, where possible, their conversion to Protestantism. The prevailing attitude of Protestants was that foreign education for Catholics was a threat to the Protestant interest and should be prevented whenever possible. There was little controversy in relation to the bill which was returned to Ireland and presented to the Irish Parliament, where it was enacted, along with the disarming bill, in September 1695.

These three penal measures specified by Capell as necessary for the settlement of Ireland had passed to the Irish Parliament without great difficulty. They represented the logical, formulated conclusion to an amalgam of Irish Protestant attitudes towards Catholics and developing government policy, both in England and Ireland during the years immediately following the Williamite war. On the matter of security, they were part of the answer to the threat of external invasion and internal turmoil. France and England were at war and the threat of counter Reformation Catholicism and French style absolutism kept alive the constant fear for the security of the Protestant interest in Ireland. The penal laws of 1695 were an attempt to lessen that trait and to secure the benefits of the Glorious Revolution. Ultimately the first penal laws were an integral part of the securing of the Protestant interest in Ireland.


Primary Source:

Securing the Protestant Interest: The Origins and Purpose of the Penal Laws of 1695

Charles Ivar McGrath

Irish Historical Studies , Vol. 30, No. 117 (May, 1996), pp. 25-46

Saints In Hibernia.

Order Of The Saints Of Hibernia.

Here begins the Catalogue of the Orders of the Saints in Hibernia according to different periods:


The first Order of the Saints was in the time of Patrick, and then all the bishops, 350 in number, were famous and holy and full of the Holy Spirit. They were founders of churches, worshipped one head, Christ, and followed one leader, Patrick. They had one tonsure, one celebration of Mass, and celebrated one Easter, namely, after the vernal equinox. And what was excommunicated by one church, all excommunicated.

St. Patrick

They did not object to having women as housekeepers and companions, because founded on the rock, Christ, they did not fear the wind of temptation. This Order of Saints lasted during four reigns: to wit, from the time of Laoghaire, the son of Niall, who reigned thirty-seven years; and Olioll, styled Moll, who reigned thirty years; and Lughaidh, who reigned seven years; and this Order of Saints lasted to the very end of Tuathal Maelgarbh, and all remained throughout holy bishops, and these were for the most part, Franks and Romans and Britons and Scots by birth.


The Second Order of the Saints was like this. In this second Order now there were few bishops and many priests, 300 in number. They worshipped one head, God, and had different rituals or rites of celebration, and different rules of living, and celebrated one Easter: to wit the 14th of the moon. And they made a uniform tonsure from ear to ear. They shunned having women as companions and housekeepers, and excluded them from the monasteries. This lasted for four reigns also …. Those (saints) received the ritual of celebrating Mass from holy men of Britain; to wit, from St. David and St. Gildas and St. Cadoc. And their names are these: to wit, Finian, Endeus, Colman, Congal, Aedh, Kieran, Columba, Brendan, Brechen, Caineoh, Caemgin, Laidrean, Laisre, Lugeus, Barrideus, and many others who were in the second grade of the Saints.


The third Order of the Saints was like this. Now they were holy priests and few bishops, 100 in number, who used to dwell in desert places. They lived on vegetables and water and on the alms of the faithful, and held earthly things of no account, and wholly shunned back-biting and slander. These had different rules (of living), and different rituals of celebration, and also different tonsures, for some had the coronal tonsure and some the hair. And they had a different Paschal Solemnization, for some celebrated on the 14th and others on the 13th moon. This Order lasted through four reigns…..And their names are—Petran, bishop; Ultan, bishop; Colman, bishop; Edan, bishop; Lomnan, bishop; Senach, bishop. These were all bishops and many more. And these now were the priests—Fechan, priest; Airendan, Failan, Commian, Ernan, Cronan, and many other priests.

Note that the first Order was holiest, the second very holy, the third holy. The first glows like the sun, with the heat of charity; the second like the moon sheds a pallid light; the third shines with the bright hues of the dawn. When a bishop was appointed over the new diocese his first and most important work was the construction of a church. The churches of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries were very small and rudely built. The first churches were of wood and circular in shape, and there are 110 remains of these, but we have the remains of stone churches of the period, and we find they were built without cement, and the stones used were very large, from 6 to 17 feet long, which would take four men to lift.

The Tripartite Life of St. Patrick furnishes us with the dimensions of the churches he used to build:—”In this wise then St. Patrick measured the ferta, namely, seven score feet in the enclosure, and seven and twenty in the great house (tig mor), and seventeen feet in the chule (kitchen), and seven feet in the aregal, and in that wise it was he used to found the congabala always.” The ” great house ” was the church, which at the time was circular, and the diameter used to be 27 feet. The roof was formed by overlapping. The doorway was placed at the west-end and covered by a lintel and was broader at the bottom.

Churches with arches and semi-circular window heads were erected in the early part of the 9th century. Recessed semi-circular arches belong to the 10th century. The walls built in this period lose much of massive stone work, and are higher, and cement was used. The windows exhibit a slight recess upon the exterior, and were of greater size. As style advances the sides of the doorways become cut into a series of recesses, chevron and other decorations are commonly found, and various mouldings of doors and windows become rich and striking. The term Irish Romanesque has been applied to this style of architecture. The transition can be traced to the beginning of the nth century, but was not fully developed till a century later. Between the 10th and 13th centuries, decorated art reached a high state of perfection in this country.

Cormac MacCuillenen’s chapel on the Rock of Cashel, which was consecrated in the year 1134, presents a specimen of Irish architecture which has not been excelled. Donough O’Brien, King of Thomond, founded the cathedral, 1152. It consists of nave and chancel, with a square tower at each side, 55 and 50 feet high. The walls of nave and chancel are ornamented with a row of semi-circular arches slightly recessed, and enriched with chevron, billet, and mouldings. We have remains of many churches scattered through the country which exhibit the highest degree of art. These and the beautifully sculptured crosses and metal work which still remain afford ample evidence of the skill the Irish attained in various departments of art prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion.

The training of the clergy was an important matter for the consideration of St. Patrick and his successors. Colleges or seminaries had to be established for the education and training of young levites to fit them for their future mission. St. Patrick again followed the practices that prevailed in France, where monasticism was the established system. The monks founded in that country schools and colleges in which the future clergy were trained in the practices of discipline and piety. Monasticism was thus introduced into Ireland by St. Patrick, and became an important factor in the Irish Church. Monasteries sprang up in different parts of the country. Clerics and others not only from Ireland but from Great Britain and the Continent flocked into them, and received gratis their education. Some of those institutions contained as many as 3,000 pupils. This may be the place to describe the origin of monasticism.


One of the areas looked at is Archaeology where we can find physical examples such as Temples, ritual objects, and statues, and other types of artefacts and burial places, which can tell us a little bit about the religious beliefs of the people of the time. It must be said that there is not a lot of archaeological clues but the few we have available to us are worthy of close analysis. 

In the case of the Celts it proves very little. As stated earlier Archaeologists contend that there are too few objects found in Ireland to prove any invasion of Celts actually occurred. Interesting, Geneticists support the Archaeologists theory. Geneticists say the Celts share D.N.A. and had a pre disposition to Cystic Fibrosis and were usually of the O type Blood Group.

In the 1960‘s there were Blood Group studies and the distribution of Blood types and the results may indicate where Celts located. Munster has the strongest distribution of Blood Type O and this may indicate the Celts densely populated this area. In the 1990‘s Studies In DNA And Chromosomes showed that Y Chromosomes are Inherited from the father while Mitochondrial DNA is Inherited from the Mother. However, this can not be deemed a totally reliable source for accurate information and most Scientists are dubious, to say the least, about the results of DNA research because samples have been contaminated both inside and outside of the laboratory.

In short, Genetics is far too young a discipline to draw any firm conclusions. Geneticists contend that there is little or no evidence to conclude that there was, in fact, a prehistoric Celtic invasion which leads us to the problem of why then do we speak a form of Celtic language. In point of fact we do know that C.400 CE when St. Patrick arrived on Irish soil he could communicate with the natives in some form of Celtic. 

Irish Historical Sources.

The Brehons

The start of Irish History is usually considered by historians to have happened the 5th century CE with the arrival of St. Patrick because with him came the first written documentation. The language spoken was Celtic and we know this because when St. Patrick arrived he could communicate with the natives. This documented history is our primary source of information in relation to early Irish society.

Our Main Sources For Documented History Are begin with Brehon Law which was a form of law brought about by tradition within the tribes. A sort of natural law that was similar from tribe to tribe. The law was enforced by local Judges known as Brehon. This law is best defined as Early Irish Law. These laws were, more or less, agreed upon by the people and are therefor based on customs, traditions and practises. The Bretons memorised the laws and the information was passed from father to son which made the Bretons a privileged class in early Irish society.

The Bretons were guardians of the law but it was the people, through custom and practise, which created it. It is also worth remembering that while the laws were not imposed they were practised. In the 5th Century AD Ireland was a Celtic country and the language spoken here was of Celtic origin. It is not yet finally established as to how the Celtic language arrived here but there are numerous theories but these are only theories. One of the best sources for exploration of Irish history is Early Irish Law. Also known as Brehon Law but scholars don‘t like this title because it suggests the laws were created by the Brehons and, in fact, this is not the case at all. The Brehons were the nobles of Early Irish society and were more guardians of the law then creators of it. Law was created through customs and traditions within a society and over time the Brehons committed these laws to memory and were practitioners of it. This skill was passed from father to son as time passed and thus the laws were carried from generation to generation prior to the arrival of literacy to the country.

When we think of Law today we think of it as being imposed. This was not the case in medieval times. The laws were brought about in the interests of the maintenance of the group that operated within it. The law came from the bottom up. It was the customs and practises of the ordinary people of the community. These were agreed upon by all as the best way to live their lives.
There is a whole range of laws that covered every aspect of society and these laws give us an excellent insight to medieval society. It is not a perfect source because there are no case histories as is the case today. Nothing was documented as to what happened in each case.
The study of Brehon law is actually relatively new. The first major steps were taken with the production of the six volume Ancient Laws of Ireland from 1865 to 1901.

The translations in these volumes are no longer considered to be wholly reliable. But they do represent a goodly part of the available Brehon law texts and they stimulated the slow, patient production of further scientific editions during the 20th century. The major breakthrough came in 1978 with the production of DA Binchy’s transcription of almost the entire corpus of vellum manuscript materials for Brehon law. These also fill six volumes. But they extend way beyond the selective coverage offered by the Ancient Laws of Ireland. Binchy’s Corpus Iuris Hibernici runs to 2343 pages (or around 1.5 million words of text).

It contains numerous ancient tracts and digests that are mostly in the Old Irish language of the 7th to 10th centuries. These are supplemented by glosses and commentaries in Middle Irish (dating to the end of the 12th century) and Early Modern Irish. (There are also occasional snippets of Latin.) Binchy’s Corpus Iuris Hibernici contains no translations. It is a scholarly transcription of the medieval manuscripts. However, the publication of Binchy’s work in 1978 came only two years after the completion of the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language, which concentrates on the ancient and medieval forms of the language. And one year earlier, in 1975, an English translation of Thurneysen’s masterful Grammar of Old Irish was also published. Suddenly, scholars had ready access not only to the ancient legal materials themselves, but to the chief linguistic tools for their translation.

Since then, the acceleration in published research on Brehon law has been quite remarkable. By 1988 Professor Fergus Kelly of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies was able to publish his remarkably wide-ranging Guide to Early Irish Law. The first edition of Nery‘s Patterson’s Cattle Lords and Clansmen followed in 1991. More recent volumes include Robin Chapman Stacey’s The Road to Judgement: from Custom to Court in medieval Ireland and Wales (1994). In addition, numerous journal articles have appeared in the Irish journals Peritia, Ériu and The Irish Jurist (the leading Irish academic law journal, published by University College Dublin). What all this research has revealed is a legal system of extraordinary sophistication. The English common law only emerged with the development of a professional judiciary, and the emergence of a professional bar, in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. But both had been part and parcel of Brehon law from at least the time of its earliest texts (composed in the 7th century). The development of degrees of intent in the English common law was a slow process. The concepts of accident and self-defence did not emerge until the 13th century; those of mistake and negligence finally took root in the 16th century. At that time the common law finally reached the level of development displayed in the Brehon law texts of almost a thousand years earlier. For example, the treatment of women under the ancient laws speaks to their sophistication: “The care which is evident for the individual personality of the woman in Irish marriage law is a widely shining landmark in this period of history as compared with the unrespected position of women in earlier times and in other societies.

The Annals Of The Four Masters

Our next source for Irish history are The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland are a chronicle of medieval Irish history. Compiled in the 17th Century in Co. Donegal. The task was to compile all the existing known history for future generations. They were put to writing in final form by the Four Masters in the Franciscan Monastery in Donegal, starting in 1632. The work was completed in 1636.

Many of the sources they drew from are no longer available. It tracks history from c.2000 BCE to c.1600 CE ―The Chronicle of Ireland is the modern name for a hypothesized collection of ecclesiastical annals recording events in Ireland from 432 to 911 AD. Several surviving annals share events in the same sequence and wording, until 911 when they continue separate narratives.

They include the Annals of Inisfallen, the Annals of Ulster, the Chronicon Scotorum, the Annals of Clonmacnoise, the Annals of Tigernach, the Annals of Roscrea, the Annals of Boyle, and the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland. “The Chronicle of Ireland” represents the scholarly consensus solution to this Gaelic synoptic problem.

Events are listed in separate entries under the heading of a single year. Most entries consist of only one or two sentences, and some years contain only one or two entries. The Viking raid on Iona Abbey in 806, in which the entire population of the abbey was massacred, is recorded with typical brevity: “The community of Iona was killed by the gentiles, that is sixty-eight (referring to the number of dead) There is no direct evidence for the identity of the Chronicle’s authors at any given point in time, but scholars are confident that it was produced by annalists working in churches and monasteries and was intended for an ecclesiastical audience.

The Chronicle was written in different places at different times; the earliest evidence for one of its authors places it in Iona sometime after 563, continuing until about 642. Around 639, another chronicle of uncertain origin was begun elsewhere and merged in with the Iona chronicle in the second half of the 7th century.

The chronicle was then continued until about 740. From about 740 to 911, the Chronicle’s annalist was working in the Irish midlands, probably in the midland province of Brega (sometimes Breagh) but possibly in the monastery at Clonard. Some scholars believe that work may have moved to Armagh by the beginning of the 9th century, and debate continues on this point. After 911, the Chronicle’s descendants break into two main branches: one in Armagh, which was integrated into the Annals of Ulster; and a “Clonmacnoise group” including the Annals of Clonmacnoise (an English translation), the Annals of Tigernach (fragmentary), the Chronicum Scotorum (an abbreviation of Tigernach), and the Annals of the Four Masters.

Most surviving witnesses to the Chronicle’s original content are descended from the Clonmacnoise chronicle. A large number of the Chronicle’s entries are obituaries. The cause of death was significant to the annalists as an indicator of the death’s “spiritual quality”; they felt it indicated whether the deceased would go to Heaven or Hell. After 800, records of Viking raids (as in the example above) also make up a large number of entries. Other entries include observations of astronomical events, such as a solar eclipse that took place on June 29, 512. Some events outside Ireland also appear in the Chronicle; during some parts of the eighth and ninth centuries, its chronology for certain events in England is more accurate than that of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. As of the middle 7th century, the Chronicle’s dating scheme “consisted of a kalend (Kl) followed, until at least the mid-seventh century, by the ferial of 1 January”. This scheme, and much of the Chronicle’s witness to world history prior to 400, was based on the chronicle of Rufinus of Aquileia who wrote in the early 5th century.*

(*Source: ‘The Chronology and Sources of the Early Irish Annals’ by D. Mc Carthy, Early Medieval Europe 10:3(2001)323-41.‖27

St. Patrick is rightly styled the Apostle of Ireland. The Faith, no doubt, was preached and known by many before he began his mission. It is recorded that an Irishman, a Roman soldier, was present at the Crucifixion, who, after the completion of his military service, returned home, preached the faith and converted many.

Christianity was solidly established in Britain and Gaul long before the coming of our Apostle; and it is quite certain that there was considerable intercourse between these countries and Ireland during the first centuries of our era, so the faith must have been made known and embraced by many. Paladius came some short time before St. Patrick, but, while he must have converted some, his mission was not a success. Patrick made his studies at Lerins, now St. Honorat, South of France, and next under St. Germanus.

Lerins was the alma mater of many bishops and saints. Being a relative of St. Martin of Tours, he must have spent some time at Marmoutier, a famous monastery founded by that saint. In those institutions he learned the discipline and constitution of the Church, and organised the Irish Church accordingly. The Church of France was even then divided into dioceses, and the dioceses sub-divided into parishes. Each diocese was territorial and governed by its own bishop.

This was the mode of Church government St. Patrick introduced into Ireland—an episcopal Church governed by successors of the Apostles. St. Patrick could not introduce all at once perfect church government. His principal work at first was to convert and baptise. As the tribal system then prevailed he adopted the policy of addressing himself first to the chiefs or heads of the tribes.

The conversion of a chief soon brought about the conversion of the whole tribe. When the chief and tribe were converted the next step was to appoint a bishop over the territory occupied by the tribe. Thus in the early Irish Church bishoprics in Ireland were conterminous with tribal lands. Our Saint did the best he could, but the plan was a bad one. In course of time bishops multiplied unduly. Some assert that there were one hundred bishops in Ireland at the time of St. Patrick, and long after; there were without any doubt at least fifty. This at the time was a necessary evil, for every tribe of any importance should have their own bishop, as they would not submit to the jurisdiction of a bishop belonging to another tribe. Thus the nation was kept divided.

The multiplicity of bishops gave offence to the rest of Christendom, and at the Synod of Rathbrasael, held 1115 A.D., they were reduced to 26, besides Dublin and Waterford, under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury—28 in all. There are 26 dioceses at present. The system of tribal dioceses produced another evil effect: members of the families of the chiefs were raised to the episcopate without the necessary qualifications. The abuse was carried so far that many of the occupants had received no orders at all and enjoyed the benefices without performing the duties attached to them. All this produced nepotism, corruption, and disorders in the Irish Church. At the time of St. Patrick, however, it would seem that many of the bishops wereforeigners—Britons, Franks, and Romans. This would appear from that important document known as a Catalogue of the Orders of the Sts. in Hibernia. After giving the number of the first Order of Sts. the text adds: “And these were for the most part Franks and Romans and Britons and Scots by birth.

Here begins the Catalogue of the Orders of the Saints in Hibernia according to different periods:


The first Order of the Saints was in the time of Patrick, and then all the bishops, 350 in number, were famous and holy and full of the Holy Spirit. They were founders of churches, worshipped one head, Christ, and followed one leader, Patrick. They had one tonsure, one celebration of Mass, and celebrated one Easter, namely, after the vernal equinox. And what was excommunicated by one church, all excommunicated. They did not object to having women as housekeepers and companions, because founded on the rock, Christ, they did not fear the wind of temptation. This Order of Saints lasted during four reigns: to wit, from the time of Laoghaire, the son of Niall, who reigned thirty-seven years; and Olioll, styled Moll, who reigned thirty years; and Lughaidh, who reigned seven years; and this Order of Saints lasted to the very end of Tuathal Maelgarbh, and all remained throughout holy bishops, and these were for the most part, Franks and Romans and Britons and Scots by birth.


The Second Order of the Saints was like this. In this second Order now there were few bishops and many priests, 300 in number. They worshipped one head, God, and had different rituals or rites of celebration, and different rules of living, and celebrated one Easter: to wit the 14th of the moon. And they made a uniform tonsure from ear to ear. They shunned having women as companions and housekeepers, and excluded them from the monasteries. This lasted for four reigns also …. Those (saints) received the ritual of celebrating Mass from holy men of Britain; to wit, from St. David and St. Gildas and St. Cadoc. And their names are these: to wit, Finian, Endeus, Colman, Congal, Aedh, Kieran, Columba, Brendan, Brechen, Caineoh, Caemgin, Laidrean, Laisre, Lugeus, Barrideus, and many others who were in the second grade of the Saints.
The third Order of the Saints was like this. Now they were holy priests and few bishops, 100 in number, who used to dwell in desert places. They lived on vegetables and water and on the alms of the faithful, and held earthly things of no account, and wholly shunned back-biting and slander. These had different rules (of living), and different rituals of celebration, and also different tonsures, for some had the coronal tonsure and some the hair. And they had a different Paschal Solemnization, for some celebrated on the 14th and others on the 13th moon. This Order lasted through four reigns…..And their names are—Petran, bishop; Ultan, bishop; Colman, bishop; Edan, bishop; Lomnan, bishop; Senach, bishop. These were all bishops and many more. And these now were the priests—Fechan, priest; Airendan, Failan, Commian, Ernan, Cronan, and many other priests.

Note that the first Order was holiest, the second very holy, the third holy. The first glows like the sun, with the heat of charity; the second like the moon sheds a pallid light; the third shines with the bright hues of the dawn. When a bishop was appointed over the new diocese his first and most important work was the construction of a church. The churches of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries were very small and rudely built. The first churches were of wood and circular in shape, and there are 110 remains of these, but we have the remains of stone churches of the period, and we find they were built without cement, and the stones used were very large, from 6 to 17 feet long, which would take four men to lift.

The Tripartite Life of St. Patrick furnishes us with the dimensions of the churches he used to build:—”In this wise then St. Patrick measured the ferta, namely, seven score feet in the enclosure, and seven and twenty in the great house (tig mor), and seventeen feet in the chule (kitchen), and seven feet in the aregal, and in that wise it was he used to found the congabala always.” The ” great house ” was the church, which at the time was circular, and the diameter used to be 27 feet. The roof was formed by overlapping. The doorway was placed at the west-end and covered by a lintel and was broader at the bottom.
Churches with arches and semi-circular window heads were erected in the early part of the 9th century. Recessed semi-circular arches belong to the 10th century. The walls built in this period lose much of massive stone work, and are higher, and cement was used. The windows exhibit a slight recess upon the exterior, and were of greater size. As style advances the sides of the doorways become cut into a series of recesses, chevron and other decorations are commonly found, and various mouldings of doors and windows become rich and striking. The term Irish Romanesque has been applied to this style of architecture. The transition can be traced to the beginning of the nth century, but was not fully developed till a century later. Between the 10th and 13th centuries, decorated art reached a high state of perfection in this country. Cormac MacCuillenen’s chapel on the Rock of Cashel, which was consecrated in the year 1134, presents a specimen of Irish architecture which has not been excelled. Donough O’Brien, King of Thomond, founded the cathedral, 1152. It consists of nave and chancel, with a square tower at each side, 55 and 50 feet high. The walls of nave and chancel are ornamented with a row of semi-circular arches slightly recessed, and enriched with chevron, billet, and mouldings. We have remains of many churches scattered through the country which exhibit the highest degree of art. These and the beautifully sculptured crosses and metal work which still remain afford ample evidence of the skill the Irish attained in various departments of art prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion.
The training of the clergy was an important matter for the consideration of St. Patrick and his successors. Colleges or seminaries had to be established for the education and training of young levites to fit them for their future mission. St. Patrick again followed the practices that prevailed in France, where monasticism was the established system. The monks founded in that country schools and colleges in which the future clergy were trained in the practices of discipline and piety. Monasticism was thus introduced into Ireland by St. Patrick, and became an important factor in the Irish Church. Monasteries sprang up in different parts of the country. Clerics and others not only from Ireland but from Great Britain and the Continent flocked into them, and received gratis their education. Some of those institutions contained as many as 3,000 pupils. This may be the place to describe the origin of monasticism.

Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position. As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of political warfare. While the term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples, propaganda in its original sense is neutral, and may also be construed to refer to uses which are generally held to be relatively benign or innocuous. In the study of Irish history propaganda sources are, for example, the words of the pagan Bards as transcribed by the Monastic Monks, such words may not have been without Bias and, as such, contain some propaganda.

One of the areas we will be looking at is archaeology where we can find physical examples such as Temples, ritual objects, and statues, and other types of artefacts and burial places, which can tell us a little bit about the religious beliefs of the people of the time. It must be said from the outset that there is not a lot of archaeological clues but the few we have available to us are worthy of close analysis. The application of Genetics as a reliable source of stabling history is not a reliable one for many reasons.

In the case of the Celts it proves very little. As stated earlier Archaeologists contend that there are too few objects found in Ireland to prove any invasion of Celts actually occurred. Interesting, Geneticists support the Archaeologists theory. Geneticists say the Celts share D.N.A. and had a pre disposition to Cystic Fibrosis and were usually of the ‘O’  type Blood Group. In the 1960‘s there were Blood Group studies and the distribution of Blood types and the results may indicate where Celts located. Munster has the strongest distribution of Blood Type O and this may indicate where the Celts had located. In the 1990‘s Studies In DNA And Chromosomes showed that ‘Y’ Chromosomes are Inherited from the father while Mitochondrial DNA is Inherited from the Mother.

However, this can not be deemed a totally reliable source for accurate information and most Scientists are dubious, to say the least, about the results of DNA research because samples have been contaminated both inside and outside of the laboratory. In short, Genetics is far too young a discipline to draw any firm conclusions. Geneticists contend that there is little or no evidence to conclude that there was, in fact, a prehistoric Celtic invasion which leads us to the problem of why then do we speak a form of Celtic language. In point of fact we do know that C.400 CE when St. Patrick arrived on Irish soil he could communicate with the natives in some form of Celtic. From the point of his arrival history started to be documented.

Celtic Myths And Sagas

Celtic Myths And Sagas

Through the centuries many events and stories change in the retelling for many reasons. Exaggeration, bias or perhaps hostility to the subject matter or the outcome of the event led to inevitable distortion and misrepresentation of the reality. We must allow for this fact as we study ancient documents relating the events of the distant past.
Manuscripts started to emerge from Monks and Monasteries hundreds, and in some cases a thousand years or more after certain events were documented by them. One can only imagine what happened to these stories before the Monks and Scribes began to recount them in document form. It is a difficult job to interpret these stories. Nonetheless, these stories are a rich source of information as to the beliefs and religions of the Celts.

The Cathach

We find our information in manuscripts and the earliest of these is the Cathach of St. Columba of Iona which is kept in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin and comes from the late 6th or early 7th Century in date, almost two hundred years after St. Patrick arrived in Ireland (c.400 CE) and is a copy of the Old Testament Psalms and written in Latin. The manuscript known as the ‘Cathach’ ‘, a psalter or book of the Psalms. It is conceivable that this, the earliest surviving Irish manuscript, was written in the lifetime of the saint, if not as traditionally claimed by Columba himself. (Columba died in 597 CE.) The decorative features which characterised the later magnificent manuscripts are already present in simple form in the Cathach.

Book Of Armagh

The earliest known manuscript of Native Stories was The Book of Armagh (C.808 CE) and was kept in a leather satchel. It was a small personal copy of the Old Testament written for the leader of the Armagh community that included a number of stories about St. Patrick and written in Irish and Latin and this makes this document of great help to us. The St. Patrick that emerges from this manuscript is far different from the St. Patrick we learn of from his own manuscripts (St. Patrick‘s Confession, which appears to be a genuine copy written by him). In the former he emerges as a sort of mystical warrior, a hero figure, and in the latter a hard working gentle and humble man. What is really important here is the fact that The Book of Armagh is the first book we have that is a book written in Irish by Irish people. This demonstrates that even though the stories in this manuscript are about Saints some of the material to do with them, appear to be borrowed from earlier stories of earlier Christian mythology.

Book Of Dun Cow

The earliest manuscript relating stories of Ireland‘s warrior society that we know of is The Book Of The Dun Cow which was compiled in 1106AD, The Book of Leinster around 1150AD at the same time as another book known simply as Rawlinson‘s Manuscript.
The Book of Ballymote was written in 1390/91 and was produced by scribes and remains to this day at Trinity College, Dublin and is an invaluable source of information for historians.
We must remember when we start to interpret ancient texts that three dates need to be applied:

1. The date of when the text was published.

2. The date the text was written

3. The date of when the story of which the text relates is set.

When we look at, for example, a manuscript written in the 14th century, the events depicted in this hypothetical manuscript may be copies of earlier texts written, let‘s say in the 13th Century, but relating to events in the 10th Century and thus confusion and disinformation is entirely possible. The first date we can be sure of and the second date more difficult because they may be copies of copies and so on and so forth, copying was very common in ancient Ireland and thus the third date is completely wild because the storytellers set things in the ancient past at supposed dates. All we really know about the third date is that this was what the story tellers choose as the date. Thus, for the most part, the real dates of events are beyond our knowledge.
However, many of these stories are mythological which renders the date unimportant. The stories can still tell us many things about the culture, traditions, religions and beliefs of ancient Irish society and this is where these myths and sagas have their real significance.
The earliest known tales of Irish tradition in terms of language are from the 8th Century just before the arrival of the Vikings. We will be looking at four different strands of Mythology (A modern classification techniques which was different from pre-modern methods. We will characterise the stories by the Characters involved rather than the events they describe which was how the pre-modern documents categorised them.

1. The Ulster Cycle.
2. The Fenian Cycle.
3. The Cycle Of The Kings
4. The Mythological Cycle.

The Mythological Cycle is a cycle is very much concerned with tales from the Book of Invasion which documented how various tribes came and settled in Ireland down through the centuries. Our interest in this book for now is what it documents in relation to a tribe known as the Tua De Danaan. They are portrayed as a tribe of people with magical powers but realistically we can infer with some confidence that these were the Gods and Goddesses of pre-Christian Ireland. There are no dating indications with this grouping and we can not imply dates but we can have early or late stories in the Mythological Cycle. These stories were mainly composed by Christians so they naturally embedded religious elements into the stories.

The medieval manuscripts, primarily the Lebor Gabála Érenn imply that the first ever groups of immigrants who arrived in Ireland were some of the descendants of Noah. They tell of a woman named Cessair, a granddaughter of Noah who arrived here along with forty-nine women and three men prior to the Biblical flood which was to eventually sweep all of them away with the exception of Fintan who survives in various guises by becoming a shape-shifter and turning into a salmon for the duration of the flood and eventually, after a series of animal transformations, he becomes a man again and tells his people‘s story.
The next group to settle in Ireland were led by Partholon who supposedly arrived after the Biblical Flood with a thousand followers who multiplies to four thousand and then all were dead within a week after a plague. All of which were buried in Tamhlacht (Tallaght) – the plague grave. Interestingly, many of the stories were tied to real place names and this gave them an element of substance. The story of Partholon was relayed by the lone survivor of the plague and his name was Tuan mac Cairill through a series of animal transformations he survived into Christian times and relayed his tale to St. Finnian. (The story is documented in The Book of Dun Cow).

Tuan told St. Finnian that he witnessed many of the waves of invaders including the Nemedians, Firbolg and the Tuatha De Danaan. He claimed he crawled off to a cave as an old man and went to sleep. When he awoke he was a young stag and this process kept repeating itself each time he became old and he was reborn as a boar, an eagle and eventually as a salmon. During his life as a salmon he was eaten by the wife of a chieftain and passed into her womb to be reborn as Tua mac Cairill (son of Cairill.)

The tale of the Nemed was recounted in some detail to St. Finnian by Tuan. They were the third group (according to the Book of Invasions) to come to Ireland. The country had been empty for many years when Nemed sailed to Ireland to settle at Tory island. His wife Macha died and was buried at Ard Macha (Armagh).

He went to battle with the Formorians (a divine race said to have inhabited Ireland in ancient times) and was victorious but soon after he fell victim to plague, along with 3,000 others and died. The survivors separate into three different tribes, Fir Bolg, Fir Domnainn, Fir Galeoin and all depart Ireland (Eriu as it was known then) to different lands. The Fir Bolg went to Scandinavia and learned magic and decided to return to Ireland where they ruled until the arrival of the fifth group to settle here, according to Lebor Gabhala Erenn, the Tuatha De Danaan.

They went to war with the Fir Bolg in Sligo and the latter were defeated but The Tuatha De Danaan was led by their first King Nuada who lost an arm in the battle which meant he was no longer eligible for Kingship, according to the rules of the Tuatha De Danaan, and he was replaced by King Bres.

The new king was not at all popular because he lacked generosity and hospitality. Under his tyrannical rule times were not good in the Kingdom of Ireland and revolution was inevitable. The people started to manufacture weapons and in time Bres was removed from Kingship and Nuada, who had had his arm restored by physicians, and he ruled for many more years. He eventually became known as Nuada of the Silver Arm and is, perhaps, the statue we still see at Tandragee in County Armagh. Bres, assisted by the Formorian Balor attempted to retake the Kingship and war followed. When the youthful Lugh joined Nuada‘s court he stood down to allow the youthful warrior to lead the attack against the Formorians and during this battle Nuada was killed and beheaded but Lugh led the Tuatha De Danaan to victory.

Irish Evidence To Celts.



In County Roscommon, near the village of Tulsk is the Cruachan which is a complex of archaeological sites in what is described as the capital of Connachta. It hosted some of the main ritual gatherings in ancient times and is important to mythologists as the seat of Ailill and Medb (the intoxicating one – related to Meade), King and Queen of the Connachta in the Ulster cycle. This site is also known as the ‘Cave of the Cat‘, an entrance to the other world and at Halloween all sorts of spirits came out of this portal to and from the underworld. Another interesting way of tying Archaeology to Mythology is that here at Cruachan were found a number of Ogham Stones; the first alphabet in Ireland, dating back to 5th or 6th Century and names were recorded on these stones in an earlier form of Irish and it is quite unusual to have mythological figures recorded on stones.

The Ring Barrows

The Ring Barrows are mounds of earth heaped over burial places in use from Neolithic times, though they were typically of the Bronze Age and usually covered a single or at most two people buried in each one. We don‘t find swords, jewellery or tools in these types of graves which implies that they occurred prior to the coming of the Celts with their tradition of the burial of possessions with the deceased. Ring barrows date back prior to the Celts in Ireland and are another good argument against the theory that a huge wave of Celts showed up into Ireland because continental burial traditions were far different from those used at the Ring barrows.

Petrie Crown

1. Petrie Crown (George Pitrie) – This piece of high status metalwork was very much an elaborate headdress and extremely well made piece of La Tene style sophisticated work discovered in County Cork and influenced by Greek art forms. It exhibits the repetitive symmetrical design popular with both Hallstatt and La Tene craftsmen.

Bann Disc

2. Bann Disc – A bronze disc about four inches in diameter found during digging in River Bann in 1939. The design features of an Irish version of Celtic art. We have no clue what it is but it has been speculated that it may have been some kind of warrior jewellery piece.

Tandragee Idol

3. Tandragee Idol. – Found in Co. Armagh this curious piece may have deeper significance than just a common statue. The nubs of horns on this figures head and the cross arm are directly related to what experts suggest may be an image of Nuada, popular King of the Tuatha De Danaan, who had his arm cut off by the Firbolgs during a battle for control of Ireland, but later has the arm replaced by a silver arm by skilled physicians. If so, then here is an example of reality intermingling with mythology.

Tricephalic Head

4. Tricephalic Head – Depicts three faces that probably represented a ‘Trinity’ of some kind. This dispels the popular myth that St. Patrick used the shamrock to demonstrate what a trinity was to the pagan natives because they already knew what a trinity was. It may have represented three divine persons in one or it showed a God who could see in three directions (past, present and future perhaps) at once. We can only speculate as to which.

Beltany Stone Circle

5. Beltany Stone Head – With it‘s ‘Bealtaine’ inference and found in Donegal at Beltany Stone Circle the name implies the festival of May 1st (Bealtaine) which may mean it was some kind of sacrifice and dates from the Bronze Age and thousands of years prior to the arrival of the Celts. We cannot rely totally on the evidence presented to us by Archaeologists because stones are silent and all we can do is try to interpret their meanings as best we can but such interpretations are always left open for further investigation and thinking. We must then look elsewhere for further evidence and thus we turn to the early Irish myths and sagas.

Celtic Conundrum.


It was during the Iron Age that Celtic culture was first introduced to Ireland. There were both similarities and differences between Irish Celtic culture and continental cultures of that period. Archaeology and history combine to give us a vivid picture of the Continental Celts but is that picture accurate when it comes to Ireland? Were the Irish really part of that culture?
It must be remembered that there were two different Celtic cultures coming from Western Europe during the Iron Age, the Hallstatt Celts, the earlier ones and the La Tène Celts who arrived much later. There is little evidence of the Hallstatt Celts in Ireland and with the exception of a few small artefacts such as the swords and bits of jewellery that tell us very little about how they got here and where they came from. Even if they were made in Ireland they were copies of European designs. But, chances are, they may have been imported.

Hallstatt, Germany.

In the period 600 to 300 BCE Ireland would have been in line with the introduction of Iron in Western Europe in the Hallstatt period. This is often described by historians as the Irish Dark Age because very little is known about this period in ancient times but there is some evidence to suggest that the Hallstatt Culture had arrived in some form by virtue of the fact that implements made of Iron began to appear.
These implements indicated the presence of Iron in Ireland and include items such as the Gundlingen Sword, a bronze copy of an Iron sword found in Athlone, Leech Fibula, a broach found in County Clare. But the existence of these items is not really evidence of the coming of tribes in the in the early Iron Age to Ireland.

La Tene Celts

We do know that from the little use of various metals, including Iron, that it is highly unlikely that there was any kind of invasion of Celtic culture but there was some influence. In about 300BC we start to see the influence of the La Tène Celts and this had a big impact on Ireland. Items such as the Knock buffer Torc which was similar to what one would expect to find in the Rhineland (the general name for areas of Germany along the river Rhine). Other objects considerably more La Tène start to appear after 200BC and this suggests to us that there is an influx of Celtic culture into Ireland and manifesting itself in art, jewellery and tools. But what can this tell us about the people?

Firstly, from the evidence we can see that Celtic religion is starting to thrive in Ireland and furthermore, because many inscriptions are in the Celtic language, the arrival of Gaelic to Irish shores has occurred. Interestingly, we don‘t find great graveyards or chariots or other significant symbols of Celtic cultures to the same degree as in Western Europe and this seems to imply that it was small groups who came to the country and because they were skilled with Iron the rest of the culture quickly became Celtic. It is difficult to interpret what really happened but the small group‘ theory, such as the Brigantes, seems to be the most credible theory. In any case, Ireland shows very little evidence for mass migration.


The relatively small amount of Torcs, necklaces and jewellery discovered further implies that those who were coming here were part of the elite classes who enjoyed finery and functionality in their adornments. A brilliant example of this is the Broighter Hoard of County Derry. This find offered good evidence that the richest, most powerful people were coming from Britain and Western Europe.

Why was such very valuable jewellery buried in the ground, not only in Derry, but at random places all over Ireland? Historians suggest that perhaps it was buried as an offering to the Gods and this implies that other world spirits were being acknowledged and sacrifices including very expensive (in terms of time and effort and craftsmanship) trinkets were handed over to the spirits for one reason or another. In Loughcrew, Co. Meath, hundreds of decorated cat’s bones were found and this not only gave an indication of sacrificial ceremonies but also pointed us in the direction that places of burial were used and reused throughout the centuries by numerous different cultures. It begs the question were the people of the latter burials attempting to reconnect in some way with those who were buried in these sites in the past? Some of the expanses of time which occurred between burials can be thousands of years; yet, these sacred sites were being used over and over again.

Turoe Stone

The Turoe Stone located in Co. Galway is one of the most instantly recognisable examples of ancient art of the La Tene culture and is assignable to c.300BC. Its phallic shape implies it may have been in some way associated to a fertility cult. Other stones with La Tène art Castlegrange, (Roscommon), Kilcluggin (Cavan), Mullaghmast (Kildare) and Derrykeighan (Antrim). These were carved between 2nd Century and 1st Century BCE and have been likened to Delphi in Ancient Greece. Delphi was considered to be the very center of the ancient world and here there were similar phallic like stones of similar age. This suggests a clear link between Greek and Celtic cultures.

Lisnacrogher Scabbard

Other pieces of evidence that have come to light in recent decades include the Lisnacrogher Scabbard and numerous other swords, the Loughnashade trumpet, Four trumpets were found but only One survives, the others are supposed to have been given as gifts to visiting foreign nobility. The Corlea Bog Road in County Longford is a tantalising discovery dating back to around c.150BC– the age of the road was ascertained by Archaeologists by checking the age rings in the wood in the Oak used for the actual track way. What makes this so interesting, apart from its immediately obvious historical significance, is that it may link history with mythology because it suggests comparisons with the myth of Etain where King Eochu Airem sets Midir tasks such as planting a forest and building a road across a bog where none had ever been. It‘s fascinating that something in reality ties in so well with mythology.

The Dorsey, County Armagh

The Dorsey, County Armagh is an earthwork, great big banks, constructed in the Iron Age and part of that is one of the most significant finds to demonstrate the clear existence of a strong La Tène culture was what has been named the Black Pigs Dyke. It consists of a shallow ditch and seems to have been defensive perimeters. This is provoking some debate in relation to reality and mythology in Irish history too because stories in mythology regarding raids and battles going on around these types of tribal construction.

Black Pigs Dyke

It is important for us to look closely at the Archaeology of the Iron Age to discover what it may tell us about the so called Mythological Cycle. When we look at areas such as the Hill of Tara we can immediately see significant spiritualistic influences. There are similar sites worth looking at such as Black Pigs Dyke, Dorsey and the Doon of Drumsna.

Hill Of Tara

The Hill of Tara is significant spiritually and is essentially a series of earthworks. It was important spiritually, politically and religiously. It covered a multitude of different dates and one of its most historically significant locations is the Mound of the Hostages. In the Bronze Age it was an important burial ground and in the Iron Age it retained its importance and continued to be used for religious and spiritual purposes.

Mound Of The Hostages

The Mound of the Hostages was a Stone Age tomb and burials of high status burials took place here. In the Iron Age it was also used for the burial of nobility. It is of some significance that the storytellers (Dindsenchas) who assigned the names to these places merely speculated and perhaps made things up about what actually occurred at Tara. It is a place that was used over and over again and each culture gave it new stories. Inevitably, over centuries, fact was convoluted by fiction and mythology emerged.

Stone Of Destiny

When we look at the famous Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny) at Tara, it was said, that when a true King stood on it that it would cry out to confirm the presence of nobleness. This demonstrates elements of mythology and reality and complicates the true purpose of the site. In fact, Lia Fail (best known for its phallic shape) was also known as Bun Fhearghasa (Fergus’s Penis) which may very well be a symbol of fertility, strength, leadership and Kingship.
Tara is a very complex place with lots of differences influences from different times and was shaped by each culture by its own influences. It throws up unusual questions because when it was excavated some Roman relics were found there. Some important figures from History that are very much associated with Tara are Cormac, Maeve (Medb) and St. Patrick. Tara has remained as a site of extreme importance throughout History and that is still the case today.

Emhain Macha

Tara was the centre of Ireland which, at the time constituted not four but five provinces which were Crachain (Connaught), Caiseal (Munster), Leinster (Dun Ailinne & capital was Kildare) and Ulster (Emhain Macha – capital was Navan) and Cuige (Meath) or the fifth province of which Tara (Tamhair) was the capital. The borders of these provinces shifted and changed in time until Meath was absorbed into Leinster. One of the more unusual places of interest at Tara was Eamhain Macha (Navan Fort) which was a large structure built at c.98BC and what was different about this was that shortly after it was built it was immediately destroyed by fire. Nobody knows was the entire structure built as a sacrifice to God or if it was a deliberate act of destruction. We know it was a temple of some kind. Maeve, Queen of Ulster was at war when her enemy at the time so it‘s not beyond the realms of possibility that it was a deliberate destruction of the temple.
In the medieval period they imagined that Tara was the palace of a King and it was the centre of the Kingdom of Ulster. Conchobhar Mac Nessa allegedly lived here according to mythology and thus Tara became the centre of the Ulster Cycle of Mythological stories.

Caesar On The Keltoi.

Caesar Wrote Extensively On The Celts (Keltoi).

They worship as their divinity, Mercury in particular, and have many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts, they consider him, the guide of their journeys and marches, and believe him to have very great influence over the acquisition of gain and mercantile transactions.

Next to him they worship Apollo, and Mars, and Jupiter, and Minerva; respecting these deities they have for the most part the same belief as other nations: that Apollo averts diseases, that Minerva imparts the invention of manufactures, that Jupiter possesses the sovereignty of the heavenly powers; that Mars presides over wars.

To him when they have determined to engage in battle, they commonly vow those things they shall take in war. When they have conquered, they sacrifice whatever captured animals may have survived the conflict, and collect the other things into one place. In many states you may see piles of these things heaped up in their consecrated spots; nor does it often happen that any one, disregarding the sanctity of the case, dares either to secrete in his house things captured, or take away those deposited; and the most severe punishment, with torture, has been established for such a deed.
All the Gauls assert that they are descended from the god Dis, and say that this tradition has been handed down by the Druids. For that reason they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night.
The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes.

Caesar‘s writing of the Celtic religion and politics was known as Interpretatio Romana in which he writes; “The God Mercury plays a big part in Caesar‘s understanding of the religion of the Celts”.  Rome at this time worshiped stone Gods (statues) while the Celts thought that depicting these Gods in this way was not good. Caesar continues, “This God is considered to be the God of Journeys. He was first identified in Lyon, France at a now well known Fort known as Lughduna where archaeologists found artefacts and relics associated with travelling”. This is relevant because Caesar‘s description of Celtic law in relation to oaths and pledges was imperative to understanding how all contracts in Celtic law were accomplished. Interestingly, Mistletoe was a plant depicted on inscriptions and statuary associated with both the God Lugos and the Goddess Rose Mertha who is seen holding a cup, chalice which depicts Kingship or a higher force.


The term Interpretatio Romana derives from Tacitus Germana (Chapter 43) wherein he describes two German Gods worshipped as brothers and youths – twins – as being like Castor and Polloux.11 These young Gods filtered through the Roman Culture.

Celtic Religious Festivals.


We can infer certain things about the religious beliefs of the Celts from the nature of their festivals. To get accurate information about these festivals historians usually turn to the Coligny Calendar which appears to be written in Gaulish by the people of France before the coming of the Romans and this language continued on alongside Latin into the 5th century.

The calendar was clearly influenced by Romans in that, although it was written in Gaulish it used the Roman alphabet. Romans had kept calendars and the Coligny Calendar is based on a Roman prototype. It is what is called a Lunisolar calendar which meant it was based on both the Moon and the Sun. The months would go by the movements of the Moon but every two and half years they would put in an extra month and this would keep it on track. It seems, according to the calendar, that the first month was called Samonios (Summer End) and if we are to interpret this correctly then we may conclude that the Solar year began in Halloween (October 31st to November 1st) which ties in well with Caesar‘s idea that when the Celts celebrated time they celebrated the dark before the light (night before day – a festival began at sundown of a given day and end at sundown of the following day.) It follows then that if the day began with the dark half it is fair to conclude that the year began with the dark half beginning at Halloween.

Halloween was clearly a major festival in Ireland in pre-Christian times and Samonios was considered to be the beginning of the Celtic year. The months in the Calendar were divided into two halves and were also arranged into lucky – 30 day months and unlucky months. They described the lucky months as ‘Mat‘ and the latter as ‘Anm‘ or ‘not good‘.

The whole cycle runs for about thirty years and then starts over again.

To the Celts, time was circular rather than linear. This is reflected in their commencing each day, and each festival, at dusk rather than dawn, a custom comparable with that of the Jewish Sabbath. It is also reflected in their year beginning with the festival Samhain (Halloween) when nature appears to be dying down.

The Months were as follows:

1. Samonios – Seed Fall – Oct/Nov

2. Dvmannosios – Darkest Depths – Nov/Dec

3. Rivros –Dec/Jan – Cold Time

4. Anagantios – Jan/Feb – Stay Home Time

5. Ogronios – Feb/Mar – Ice Time

6. Cvtios (Sonnocingos) – Mar/Apr – Windy Time

7. Giamonios – Apr/May – Shoots Show

8. Simivisionnacos – May/Jun – Bright Time

9. Eqvos – June/July – Horse Time

10. Elembivios – July/Aug – Claim Time

11. Edrinios – Aug/Sept – Arbitration Time

(The translations are based on those of Caitlin Matthews)

When we study the Coligny Calendar we can see certain dates are marked. It is thought that these marks indicate important points in the Celtic year. When we look at Irish tradition we see that these same dates are included in the Irish Celtic calendar:

1. Samhain – Oct 31st – Halloween.

2. Bealtaine – May 1st – Bonfire Night.

3. Lughnasa – Aug 1st – Lughnasa.

4. Imbolc – Feb 1st – St. Brigid‘s Day. (1st Day Of Spring)

12. Cantlos – Sept/Oct-Song Time

Gaulish Influence On Celts

Sculpture Of An Armoured Torc-Wearing Gaul


Generally speaking the basic tenet of Celtic religion was polytheist (belief in many Gods) as opposed to monotheist. We can clearly see from the number of Gods worshipped by the ancient tribes that they were polytheists. It seems that they were also an animist culture – which means they believed that not only people but also animals, places and objects had a soul. They had basically an inherent spiritual presence of some kind. But we see that they worshipped in places of natural beauty which implies they were close to nature in their religions. We find evidence for ritual objects in ritual places and vice-versa. They imbued the world around them with religious significance. Things like the sky and the sun would have been associated with religious ideas. They had a concept of the underworld. They communicated with the underworld through the burial of objects and this was their way of interacting with the realm of the dead which they clearly acknowledged.

Sacred spots in the landscape included rivers and springs, which seemed to have great importance both in Irish and Gaulish religion. Rivers are normally associated with Goddesses; all the rivers of Ireland are given grammatically female names. For example, the River Shannon was associated with the Goddess Sionna.

The people for the most part were rural agrarians and this comes through in their deities of fertility, nature and agriculture and similar themes. Animals were also important to the tribes and we see this when we look at the God Artio (a sacred Bear), dogs and wolves held great importance too, probably associated with the warrior tradition in Celtic society. There was a warrior class within Celtic society and war and the creation of war was a significant part of life.

They had specific sites for religious practise and worship and they named these locations Nemeton (sacred place amongst the Oaks) which is related to the Gaelic words for holy and place. It was in such forests that they conducted their rituals. There is a very interesting account of Druid rituals to do with Oaks and this is by the 1st Century CE natural historian Pliny who recounts that; “The druids – that is what they call their magicians – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is Valonia Oak. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon. Hailing the moon in a native word that means healing all things, they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion.

A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to a god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it. They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons.

This testimony is much debated and arguably fanciful on Pliny‘s behalf but it can still be accepted at face value. There is very little written about the Druids so it remains one of the few pieces of documented testimony available and as such has some merit.

We can conclude from Pliny‘s evidence that Mistletoe is sacred amongst the Celts. Further to this we also find in certain pillars and statutes we see embedded carvings of mistletoe and in one case we even find what has been interpreted as a crown of mistletoe leaves.

We also find great importance was given to bog lands and lakes which implied that natural water was extremely important to them. They often placed objects of religious significance into the water perhaps by way of returning a gift for the gifts given by water. (Other sacred elements were the Sky, the Sun – the wheel in the sky – and Lighting and Thunder). Danu was an important God of water and the fertility it brings about. Moisture and fertility went hand in hand and the Gods, such as Danu (The Danube), had rivers and other expanses of water named after them. One of the more important Celtic Goddess was Sequena (fast flowing one) and she was a Goddess of healing and water and often depicted standing in a boat. In 2nd Century BCE there was a shrine dedicated to her.

In fact many of the offerings, over 900 in all, found at her shrine indicated that it was a shrine of healing (as in Lourdes). The relics were mostly statues of body parts. Interestingly there were also statues of internal body parts such as livers and lungs which remains a mystery as to how they could have been depicted. In short, she was perhaps one of the most important of many of the European River Goddess and very much worshiped. These cults and customs may have come about from the fact that the Gauls were animists (everything had a soul) and that included rivers and these souls are the basis of these deities. It is possible that local deities eventually became bigger deities through word of mouth and thus, Goddesses evolved.

Some other shrines or temples have been discovered and one of the most notable one is known as Roquepertuse which is near Marseille, then Marcillary, a Greek town, in Southern France. The statuary discovered here was Celtic in origin. Evidence suggests that because few homes were found nearby that this was not a place of general worship but one used exclusively by the Druids themselves.

Yet another shrine of note was Gournay Sur Aronde in Northern France was a site similar to Stonehenge and was near a marchland and excavators found that a perimeter was built round it and within the area they were digging pits and burying Oxon. These animals may have been sacrificed. The reason why Oxon were sacrificed was to ensure new herds would thrive. What is interesting here is the fact that excavators found human remains which implies that human sacrifice was not beyond the Celts. On this particular site a number of pillars were constructed and on spiked on top of these poles they had warriors. It suggests that both people and animals were slaughtered at this site and then sacrificed. It seemed that the site had a military theme to it but it remains uncertain whether the humans who were sacrificed here were tribe members or enemies or victims of war. There was also weaponry destroyed and buried in the ground and so we know that these weapons were being ritually damaged and perhaps the souls destroyed or somehow rendered powerless in this world. Over 500 warriors were sacrificed and buried at Gournay Sur Aronde.

Decapitation of those sacrificed was a very common practise and at sites such as Gournay Sur Aronde many of the bodies excavated had their heads chopped off. No real significant conclusions can be drawn from this fact because this practise by modern standards is barbaric but perhaps this was not the case at all for the Celts. It may very well have been the case that the already deceased warriors were decapitated as a matter of honour. We can‘t know if such an honour was something the warriors wanted, it is possible, and maybe decapitation was part of the burial process for a warrior. There is evidence to suggest that it may not have been against the persons will because it may have been part of their religious belief. Maybe they considered decapitation to be part of a greater good or way to be united with the Gods in the next world. In short, the process of decapitation does not imply barbarism or bloodlust. With the passage of time what seems barbaric to one society may very well have been natural to another. There is no real evidence to suggest either way. Other cultures were also carrying out beheadings as much as the Celts. It was a way of life. We are not entirely sure if in Celtic tradition the beheading of somebody clearly indicated a barbaric act. It is possible that in their culture it may have been a way of honouring them, or a cult tradition but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that this was also another form of human sacrifice in the fact that decapitation seemed to be commonplace. Scholars are somewhat divided on this point but there is strong evidence that it did definitely take place. If it was not an object of veneration the head seemed to have symbolically represented the whole person and thus the taking of the head perhaps meant somehow disempowering the whole person. Livy (a Roman Historian 59BC/AD17 – Titus Livius) records that in 216 BCE a Roman general called Postumius met his end at the hands of the Boii. (A Gallo-Celtic Tribe located in Central Europe but mostly in Bavaria, Bohemia) After he was killed they: stripped his corpse, severed the head, and bore their prize in triumph to their most sacred temple. There, according to their habit, they cleaned it, decorated the skull with gold and employed it as a sacred vessel for the pouring of libations for the priests and acolytes of the temple to drink from.‖15 From this we can ascertain that beheading should not be seen as entirely barbaric, it may have been done out of a mark of respect for warriors but this is very unlikely.

Diodorus Siculus, (A Greek historian) in the 1st century had this to say about Celtic head-hunting: “They cut of the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses. The blood-stained spoils they hand over to their attendants and carry off as booty, while striking up a paean and singing a song of victory; and they nail up these first fruits upon their houses, just as do those who lay low wild animals in certain kinds of hunting. They embalm in cedar oil the heads of the most distinguished enemies, and preserve them carefully in a chest, and display them with pride to strangers, saying that for this head one of their ancestors, or his father, or the man himself, refused the offer of a large sum of money. They say that some of them boast that they refused the weight of the head in gold; thus displaying what is only a barbarous kind of magnanimity, for it is not a sign of nobility to refrain from selling the proofs of one’s valour. It is rather true that it is bestial to continue one’s hostility against a slain fellow man.”16

So obviously the Celts were being judged pretty harshly by implying that the Celts continued their hostility towards those they conquered by keeping their heads as trophies. There is some direct evidence for this as well. When we look at some of the statuary we find niches are often cut into stone and heads were put into these niches. Whether these were the skulls of persons captured in war or part of the group or tribe we are not entirely sure and so we can only see it as a piece of evidence in defence of what the Romans were saying at the time.

The pillar at Entremont has heads carved into it and there were skulls found in this place and there were holes in the skulls which suggested that they may have been pierced and descended on spikes of some kind.

Further evidence of the use of heads as objects of adoration can be found in Ireland, specifically the famous triple Corleck Head which has three faces on it. Whether this represents the trinity or some kind of God we don‘t know. But it probably recognises some kind of cult activity.

Celtic Gods.

The Druid priests of the Celts did not write down the stories of their gods and goddesses, but instead transmitted them orally, so our knowledge of the early Celtic deities is limited. Romans of the first century B.C. recorded the Celtic myths and then later, after the introduction of Christianity to the British Isles, the Irish monks of the 6th century and Welsh writers later wrote down their traditional stories. Here are some of these Gods. Some of them were stolen and raised to Sainthood by Catholicism in order to begin the conversion of Ireland. Those left behind (according to legend) were cast underground and turned into Leprechauns.  

Gods Of The Celts.


1. Lugos: There are hundreds of inscriptions across Europe and Britain to a God known as Lugos whose name is dedicated to Contracts and Commerce and was also a God of travelling and a patron of the arts which included the art of Commerce. Mistletoe was sacred to Lugos.

Dis Pater

2. Dis Pater (Father God or The Good God): Other Gods were descended from Dis Pater and was named by the Romans and not by the Celts. We can conclude from this that he was a teutilary or God of the Tribe‘ (Teutonic God) deity. Julius Caesar called him Dis Pater and linguists have concluded that this name is a derivative of Good Sky or Good God. This is very significant to us when we look at Irish Mythology because there is a similar God known as Daghdha, a leading mystic character in Irish literature, one of the Tua De Danaan, who was demonstrably the principal deity in ancient times.

The greatest of the Gods was Daghdha (Dagda), who had beaten off the monster Formorians when they attacked, in a mystical mist. He is usually referred to with the definitive article; namely, the Daghdha (the Daghdha). He was the founder or the father of the tribe of Tua De Danaan and so, indirectly, we can link Dis Pater as described by Julius Caesar.

This seems a logical step but is not inconclusive evidence. In fact, when we look at the Irish image of an Daghdha we see many Romanic motifs and ideas. Dis Pater is depicted in Roman accounts as an underground God and people would make Oaths or promises to him. In Roman Mythology he is sometimes associated with the Dead and the underworld. In Ireland an Daghdha was related to another God called Donn‘ (Brown or dark, or Dead) and is God of The Dead. When we look at Gods or Goddesses we find that many of them can manifest in different ways. The same God can sometimes have different names so, sometimes, we can find the same Gods with different functions.

Camas (Or Camulus)

3. Camas (Or Camulus): When we look at Continental material in relation to Camas we are still somewhat unclear as to who or what he may have been. We take our definition from Irish mythology because it is somewhat clearer and better defined.


4. Epona/Equna: She was a horse Goddess and her name would have been pronounced in two different ways. As mentioned earlier there were two different types of Celts, Q-Celts and P- Celts. The former laid more emphasis on Q and thus Epona became Equna while the reverse occurred with the P-Celts. Epona was a horse Goddess and in her depictions she is often seen riding side-saddle on a horse and holding a Cornucopia, a basket with corn coming out of it, a symbol of fertility, life, grain, fruit and drink, which featured heavily in all Mythology. It seems that Romans adopted her from the Celts probably because they were great admirers of horsemanship. She was a very popular Goddess and what is interesting here is that the Romans adopted her from the Celts whereas with other Gods the opposite was often the case. In fact, there have been statues and plaques found in Rome depicting Equna and in many cases these artefacts are found in stables.


5. Matres (The Mothers): A triple Goddess (Trinity) and depictions in the classical style show three women side by side and is clearly Romano-Celtic (deeply influenced by Roman Celts) in design. However, regardless of the style of the depiction, it is still generally agreed that the Celts worshipped Matres long before they ever encountered the Romans. Not a lot is known about the Matres but they were depicted as triple Goddesses and this idea of triple form (or trinities) is something that crops up in Celtic mythology regularly. In the statues the three women are often sitting down while one on left, often bare breasted, is holding a baby, the one on the right is holding loaves, bread or cakes, the one in the centre is holding a scroll of some kind perhaps depicting knowledge. The Matres may very well be a tripe-form of three Goddesses, it could be one or all of them but it is not really known if this is, in fact the case.


6. Brigantia (The Exalted One) – St. Bridget: Under the Interpretatio Romana where she was referred to as Victoria and they see her as dictatorial because she ensured victory to warriors. There were tribes known as Brigantes who mostly came from France and Britain arrived in Ireland in the 2nd Century. They were the followers of the Goddess Brigantia. Most of the information we know about her comes from the Irish material to do with St. Bridget. It is thought that the St. Bridget that we know was a follower of Brigantia; she may have been a priestess of the Goddess who later converted to Christianity and is now more famous for bringing this new cult of Christianity to Ireland. We know that Brigantia was worshipped in Gaul, Britain and Ireland and possibility as far as the Iberian Peninsula as well. We do find coins and artefacts depicting her image in many parts of Europe. There are a few place names that remember her name including Brigantio in Hungary. Brigantia was also a Goddess of healing, of blacksmiths and is very much steeped in folklore and tradition. She is also very much associated with Poetry and Poets who were deemed to be very important people who could see into the mystical world. Their poetry was a mystical language and they spoke the language of the Gods.


7. Ogmios: (Ogmios Herakles) – God of Eloquence – Was said to be very strong and associated with Hercules. His name comes from ―Leading One‖ because he could lead people around with words or the Golden Chain which was a chain of Gold from the tip of his tongue to the ears of a merry band of his followers which implied that he may have had a amazing word power. Being that public speaking was the only real form of communication having a Golden Tongue may very well have given one enormous power. The Irish equivalent to Ogmios was Ogham who it is believed brought writing to Ireland and the first Irish Alphabet was known as Ogham‘s Alphabet. Ogmios was said to be physically very strong and the Romans associated him with the God Hercules. He is depicted carrying a club, as did Hercules, and he sometimes was described as bald and his name Og came from the Celtic word Leading One. In an oral culture – public speaking was of paramount importance and the fact that we find a God dedicated to oral power is important.


8. Taranis – (Thunder God as with Jupiter) – Taranis was a merciless God who required sacrifice. He is not a very well known Character but is mentioned by Roman Poets who depict him as merciless. In the 9th Century a trio of Gods, of which Taranis is one, Asos and Toutates the others, were appeased by human sacrifice. We know little about Asos while Toutates was a God of Tribal protection and in Interpretatio Romano he was associated with Mars. He was a Teutonic God (Germans in pre-history but referred to as Teutonics because they lived in Tribes). He may very well have had some sort of war function as well.


9. Cernunnos: (Horned God) –His named only once on the Pillar of The Stone Men. He is very much associated with animals and holds a Torc in his right hand and about him is a purse, usually overflowing with money, which implies he is a God of wealth. In Irish mythology he is linked with Derg, a God of poetry and wisdom and wild deer but the evidence for this is pretty scant.


10. Maponos: (P Celts: Maponos/ Q Celts: Maqungs) – Mostly found in Britain and has its origins in Gaullist French tradition. There is not a whole lot of information about Maponos but what we do know is that he is a youthful God mostly associated with the God Apollo and that his name suggests that he may have been a divine Son. When we look at other similar son images in Irish mythology we see that there are parallels in the figure of the divine son. According to a sacred 12 line prayer text known as Chamalieres found in France the ancient Gauls regularly prayed for help to Maponos.


11. Rosmerta: This Goddess is often shown embracing a Cornucopia or a purse with coins coming out of it or a petera (plate) with food on it and she is a God of fertility and abundance, as is the case with most female deities, she is also best known as a carer of people. There are many examples of inscriptions where people literally wrote to her for their requests. Her name in Gaulish means the great provider or carer. People often wrote to both Mercury and Rosmerta so, if we take Mercury as being another Gaulish God then it may be safe to assume that both these Gods appeared together.


12. Sucellus: Is related to other Gods in European mythology and is known as a good Striker. He is often depicted with a massive hammer perhaps symbolising hard work, blacksmithing, axe wielding or some such activity. Perhaps a working class God and seems to be adored by ordinary working people in farming, forestry and, interestingly enough, alcohol. He is not associated in any way, like Thor, to Thunder, as the hammer may suggest but what we do find is that he is more than likely in some way connected to a Roman God named Sylvanus who was a God of forestry and wild places and both these Gods are interlinked in the Interpretatio Romano.

Nanto Suelta

13. Nanto Suelta (Nantosuelta): In Gaulish religions she is a Goddess of Nature, the earth and fire. Her name means the sun worn valley and she was a Goddess of fertility and abundance. Her imagery shows her surrounded by greenery, trees and fine-looking meadows. In general she is associated with fertile places.


14. Esus: His name means the Lord and is most often portrayed as a woodman, forester or lumberjack. He was associated with strength and would give strength to those who prayed to him. In Interpretatio Romanio he is most associated with Mercury or Mars. He is interesting in that he was one of the Gods that appeared to be worshipped with human sacrifice.

Tarous Trigaranus

15. Tarous Trigaranus: We don‘t really know much about this God. Esus seems to be somehow connected to Tarous Trigaranus and this has been established through imagery whereby both Gods are depicted falling trees or depicted as lumberjacks or woodsmen.

There are, of course, many more Gods but these seem to be the ones that had widespread following and were believed in by lots of different tribes. There were also lots of local Gods that would be purely belonging to a given tribe. There are over two hundred different deities recorded but these seem to be the most widespread and consequentially influential Gods.

Celtic European Influences.

The Celts Brought European Culture To Ireland.


In order to fully understand Irish Celtic history we must also understand how the people of the time were influenced by fellow Europeans. For example, Julius Caesar, fuelled by propaganda, who fought the Gaul‘s (or Gallicos) of France, wrote extensively about them. Our main focus is on the Celtic Period or, as it was better known, the Iron Age and to fully understand the traditions of this age and how they came about we need to look at what was going on in other European Countries.

The Celts can be best described as a people from Western Europe who spoke a language known as Gaulish. The earliest known Celts can be traced back to 600BC and came from the small town of Hallstatt in Austria where they controlled large salt mines. The wealthy Chieftains at Hallstatt were trading salt in Europe which meant that they travelled extensively, primarily by boat, across the continent. To an extent the Hallstatt Chieftains adopted the popular Greek style of language which was a precursor to other European languages including Gaulish and Lepontic. It must also be remembered that there were basically two different types of Celt and they were known as Q-Celts and P- Celts. It seems that at some time in the past the Celts split and subsequently both were categorised primarily by the sounds they emphasis was on the P. The most common dialectics of the Celts were, Irish, Manx Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Welsh, Scottish and in the ancient world, Gaulish, Leponic and Celtic Iberian.

A Celt is normally defined by historians as someone who speaks any of the main Celtic languages of Welsh, Breton, Scottish, Gaelic, Manx Welsh, and Cornish and in the ancient world Gaulish, Leponic or Celtic Iberian. 19th Century language scholars and archaeologists mostly agree that at some stage in pre-history that the Celtic race spoke the Celtic language, used Celtic objects, lived in the French Alps from where they invaded Europe and finally settled in Ireland, Britain, Spain and France. The Archaeologist‘s definition of a Celt is someone living in the Iron Age who used objects from the continental Hallstatt or La Tène cultures, emanating from the Alps, or is buried with rituals associated with these cultures.

The Le Tène Culture in 300BC in Lake Neuchâtel, the Celts, deliberately put ornaments into the Lake in offering to the Gods. This was done in relation to pleasing g the Gods and sometimes they would destroy the ornaments perhaps as a mark of respect for the dead or some sort I of disempowerment of weaponry i.e.: bent swords or implements and tools. It must be remembered that this was a stereotypical ‘animate’ culture which meant that everything had a ‘soul’ and that the soul of the tools or weapons passed to the next world with the owner.

The Gauls and the Celts were on the move on a regular basis i.e.: Germany, Spain, Switzerland (Alps), Asia, so these tribes did not write down their own history, the people around them did. One particular tribe the Keltoi, a name of Gaulish origin would be described as ‘barbarian’ and animal like by it‘s contemporaries who deemed the Romans and Greeks as civilised and respectful. Julius Caesar names them at the beginning of his ‘De Bello Gallico’ (Gallic War). He refers to the Gauls as those who are called Celts in their own language. So, it appears, and logically so, that ‘Celt’ was a name that the Celts called themselves. The Romans were greatly disturbed by the ornaments and battle noise of the Celts. Also terrifying was the appearance and rapid manoeuvring of the naked warriors in front, men at the prime of their strength and magnificence; “The Gauls are tall with moist white flesh; their hair is not only naturally blond, but they also make artificial efforts to lighten its colour, their hair thickens until it is just like a horse‘s mane and they wear amazing clothes: tunics dyed in every colour and pin striped cloaks. The whole race, which they call both Gallic and Gallatin, is war-like, both spirited and quick to war. De Bello Gallico continues; “they worship as their divinity, Mercury in particular, and have many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts, they consider him, the guide of their journeys and marches, and believe him to have very great influence over the acquisition of gain and mercantile transactions. Next to him they worship Apollo, and Mars, and Jupiter, and Minerva; respecting these deities they have for the most part the same belief as other nations: that Apollo averts diseases, that Minerva imparts the invention of manufactures, that Jupiter possesses the sovereignty of the heavenly powers; that Mars presides over wars.

To him when they have determined to engage in battle, they commonly vow those things they shall take in war. When they have conquered, they sacrifice whatever captured animals may have survived the conflict, and collect the other things into one place. In many states you may see piles of these things heaped up in their consecrated spots; nor does it often happen that any one, disregarding the sanctity of the case, dares either to secrete in his house things captured, or take away those deposited; and the most severe punishment, with torture, has been established for such a deed.

All the Gauls assert that they are descended from the god Dis, and say that this tradition has been handed down by the Druids. For that reason they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night.

The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes.

One such historian and documenter of Celtic traditions was Julius Caesar who led the campaign against the Gauls in France. Caesar‘s writing of the Celtic religion and derives from Tacitus Germana (Chapter 43) wherein he describes two German Gods worshipped as brothers and youths – twins – as being like Castor and Polloux. These young Gods filtered through the Roman Culture. Mercury; the God plays a big part in Caesar‘s understanding of the religion of the Celts. Rome at this time worshipped stone Gods (statues) while the Celts thought that depicting these Gods in this way was not good.

The God Lugos is considered to be the God of Journeys. He was first identified in Lyon, France at a now well known Fort known as Lughduna where archaeologists found artefacts and relics associated with travelling. This is relevant because Caesar‘s description of Celtic law in relation to oaths and pledges was imperative to understanding how all contracts in Celtic law were accomplished. Interestingly, Mistletoe was a plant depicted on inscriptions and statuary associated with both the God Lugos and the Goddess Rose Mertha who is seen holding a cup, chalice which depicts Kingship or a higher force. There are a few different types of evidence that we can use to establish what Gods and Goddesses were believed in by the Celts.

Inscribed Dedications were a practise whereby people used inscriptions to write dedications to their Gods and Goddesses. This was a common practise particularly after the Romans had come and invaded the area in which such inscriptions can be found. This is interesting because it further complicates the issue in that we now also need to understand the influence of Roman Religion. However, it also gives some indication as to the influence of this, by then, advanced religion on the Celts. Along with the Romans came literacy thus empowering the written word and consequently these inscriptions began to appear. The Statuary was very much influenced by the Romans. The Celts started to produce Statues in a very classical style. The Classical Accounts were also a source of information and primarily of these classical accounts was the “Interpretatio Romanio‘ (Roman Interpretation) which was a Roman account and was therefore somewhat biased. However, it still remains a source of evidence worthy of consideration.

When we examine the Classical Accounts we discover that most of these are all based on one particular source, Roman classical writers were notorious for copying, and thus the reliability of source is considered questionable. Bad information was reported and re-reported over and over again. The final significant sources are archaeological Sites and names and place names. These would give us some hints; names of rivers, wells, shrines, towns and cities usually had suggestions of Celtic deities. Finally, it is also worth noting that, with very few exceptions, names of male Gods usually end in ‘OS‘ while Goddesses names end in ‘A‘. These are our primary sources of evidence.

Four Celtic Cycles.

Four Celtic Cycles.

The Irish evidence and international evidence as to how life must have been, not only for the Celts resident in Ireland, but also for international Celts living across Western Europe is mostly based on mythology. The international evidence can show us, for example, what kind of religion the Celtic speaking people of Europe believed in. The first thing we must do is define what exactly we mean by the word ‘Celts’, what exactly is a Celt? It is after all, a rather complex term worthy of close analysis.

We need to understand the Celtic societies all across Europe, not only in Ireland, but also in France, Spain and Germany. Looking at the Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic tradition we can ascertain many of the religious beliefs of the Celtic peoples. One of the areas most fruitful in our understanding of the Celts is archaeology where we can find physical examples such as Temples, ritual objects, and statues, and other types of artefacts and burial places, which can tell us a little bit about the religious beliefs of these people.

It must be said from the outset that there is not a lot of archaeological clues but the few we have available to us are worthy of close analysis. One needs to also look at history which includes pseudo history, tribal names and place names. This ‘pseudo history’ came about long after events took place and, with the passing of time, stories became somewhat romanticised or, depending on the agenda of the storyteller, would have a political or religious spin to it. Tribal names and place names can tell us a lot about certain different cults and figures. However, our primary source is Mythology.

There are four main cycles in time to be concerned with when trying to understand the Celts but when we talk about some of these cycles we have a problem in that the information available to us was, more than likely, prepared long after events actually took place. In many cases, evidence suggests, that such stories were relayed thousands of years later. In fact, some of the mythology available only came to us in the medieval period. But the fact is that the mythology survived in medieval manuscripts for the most part and modern scholars have broken it up to four different strands. Four different areas of mythology which are known as the Mythological cycle, the Ulster cycle, Fenian cycle and the Historical cycle.

Mythological Cycle.

The mythological cycle, which is mainly based on the contents of a book known as ‘The Book Of Invasion’ which was not really a history book but it discusses at great length the different tribes, one after another, which came to Ireland until eventually the final wave of invaders arrived to conquer the land, the Gael, who became the masters of the Ireland. One of the most important tribes to arrive prior to ‘The Gael’ was a tribe known as the ‘Tuatha De Danaan’ who were presented in ‘The Book Of Invasion’ as a group of magicians or magical figures whereas, in reality, they were a pantheon of Gods.

Ulster Cycle.

The ‘Ulster Cycle’ concerns a warrior and aristocratic society in the province of Ulster and is supposed by historians to have taken place around C.1 CE. It is primarily concerned with a mystical King known as Conchobhar MacNeasa (one who is desirous of warriors) and the various different peoples of his kingdom and rival kingdoms as well. There is a single story that is very important to this cycle and is known as the Brown Bull of Cooley. This tale is significant because it introduces a character known as Cu Chulainn who single handedly defends the province of Ulster against a great army. In any study of Irish Mythology one should be concerned not so much with the stories themselves but with the symbolism used in them. One should try to understand from where these symbols came and what is their true meaning or substance in history. For example, Cu Chulainn probably represents the warrior cult that came to Ireland from parts of Liverpool in the 1st century CE and the Kings may have represented a phase of kingship in Ulster in the centuries BCE. In short, if we break open the stories we can see clues to the realities of history within their meaning. We should never take the stories at face value. We could always examine them and try to find out that‘s underneath.

Fenian Cycle.

The next wave is known as the Fenian Cycle has a lot to tell us about certain cult figures. These stories are basically about Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna (Young Hunters). The story of the Salmon of Knowledge tells us of Fionn sticking his thumb into a salmon and tasting the juices thus gaining great knowledge. This can be interpreted as the salmon, having it‘s origin in the mystical world, and Fionn acquiring mystical knowledge by tasting the juices, and is therefor in some way super powerful. There are many stories in the Fenian Cycle of Fionn and the Fianna going to the mystical world and fighting supernatural warriors and it is from such stories that we can acquire a greater knowledge of how the Celts may have lived and what beliefs they may have had.

Historical Cycle.

The historical cycle is also known as the cycle of the King‘s because it mainly deals with kingship, how King‘s are viewed, what powers King‘s had in both mortal and spiritual worlds. There are lots of stories of Kings taking trips to other worlds or encountering visitors from other worlds who were to bestow the role of Kingship upon them. It‘s all essentially political propaganda but these stories can tell us a fair amount as well about the Druids and the Druidic rituals.

Pre-Christian Ireland.

Early Medieval Ireland.

Historians and Mythologists often disagree in relation to when the Celts first arrived in Ireland. Very little was documented prior to the C.600 BCE and this, according to historians, is taken as an indication that this may very well have marked the arrival of the Celts. It was somewhere about 600-500 BCE that the race perhaps most associated with the early Irish history first appeared on the scene.

The Celts, as they were known had been living in central and Western Europe, prospering as both farmers and fighters. From these locations they had begun to fan out across the continent and beyond, eventually ending up in Ireland. These Iron users were soon to become the dominant people on the island. They spoke a form of Gaelic and, although they had no written language, they developed a system of writing that we know as Ogham. This was made up of the series of straight and angled lines of varying lengths, which were carved onto large standing stones. Initially the Celts were pagan and celebrated the great festivals of Imbolg, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain. By about 400CE, however, they had begun to accept Christianity. That said, many of the deeper pagan practices were slow to die out.
The history of human life in the island of Ireland begins in C.7500 BCE with the arrival of hunters, gathers and fishermen. It is thought by Historians that the first farmers did not come to Ireland until around C.4000BCE and Bronze appeared on or about C.2000BCE. The Celts may have arrived in Ireland at around C.600BCE and they brought with them Iron tools and weapons. Mythologists seem vague in relation to whether the Celts were here or not prior to C.600BCE. The races that occupied the land when the so called Milesians, named after Milerius of Spain whose sons invaded and conquered the country in 1000BCE, were chiefly the Firebolg and the Tuatha De Danaan both of which were not exterminated by the conquerors. Prior to the Iron Age, according to legend, three tribes of the Celtic family who had separated from the main stem and blended into Gaels came across Europe to end up on Irish soil. The Firbolg came first from Greece where they had been enslaved and they were followed by the Fomorians who landed on Tory Island but the Firbolg were defeated by the capable and somewhat cultured Tuatha De Danaan (people of the Goddess Dana).

However, what is relevant for now is that documented history began in C.300BCE and so when we discuss pre Christian religions of Ireland we are usually talking about an era known as the Iron Age which was the years from C.300 BCE to C.500 CE. In point of fact, the Iron Age actually may have started around C.600BCE but Historians have little or no idea of what was going on in Ireland at that time but they do suspect that Celtic speaking people were not present in the country priorto 300 BCE. It was indeed a very long period of time and very little remained static. Very little was documented in any way, shape or form prior to the arrival of the Celts.

In general, during the Mesolithic Period (8000BC – 4500 BCE) it is most likely that the native Irish were not agricultural but Hunter/Gatherer tribes. They probably did not have hugely complex societal structures but Historians can tell a little bit about their religious beliefs from shrines, monuments and graveyards. Archaeologists have found mass graves in which burned remains of humans were found clutching stone tools and this demonstrates that funeral pyres not only destroyed human remains but also any flammable attachments to the stones. It shows that objects were placed in the hands of the dead prior to cremation. It seems then that the dead were treated in an extraordinary way in that bodies were not abandoned but cremated and buried. Unlike modern cremation techniques, it was not a dust that remained but bones and these final remains were interred in shallow graves.

The Dying Celt.

The objects buried with the dead were expensive objects in that they took some time to make and were deemed to serve some purpose in the other world. This indicates some kind of sophisticated belief about the dead and the post-death journey and the afterlife. This is the earliest evidence that exists about religious beliefs in Ireland. This period happened around 4500 BCE to 2500 BCE and from this period there still exists different types of tombs in different parts of Ireland. For example a Court Tomb had a U-shaped area on the front of the tomb and is known as the horseshoe shaped tomb and was more than likely used, not only for burial of the deceased but also as a sacred space for the adoration of the Dead. It clearly shows that the Neolithic people were going to great effort to take care of their ancestors. There was also ‘portal tombs’ or ‘Dolmens’ and they varied in size and one of the best examples of this still stands in Ballyvaughan in Co. Clare.

Poulnabrone Dolmen, Co. Clare, Ireland.

Again, this demonstrates that sophisticated tombs indicate a reverence for the dead and the journey in which they are embarking. The most prominent of the passage tombs in Ireland is Newgrange and uses over two hundred thousand tons of stone and soil and is a massive construction. It had taken over thirty years to build. If the average age of a person was fifty or so then this clearly indicates a very significant commitment.

Newgrange Passage Tomb.

These tombs are best known these days for how the sun beams its light down the otherwise pitch dark passages at certain times of the year and again this indicates religious symbolism of some kind. Adoration of a Sun or Sky God influencing celestial events and linking such events up with the realm of the dead involved a very sophisticated set of religious beliefs.

It can be argued that these ancient societies were every bit as complex as today‘s society. They came up with as interesting, complex ideas and designs as modern human beings can produce in modern-day life. If such societies were capable of such sophistication then it is also possible that they were capable of intricate and abstract ideas such as the existence of superior other world powers of some kind. Furthermore, such massive commitment from the workers of these civilisations was clearly encouraged by superior members, such as priests, Druids or Kings, or High Priests perhaps proffering eternal reward in the afterlife in exchange for dedication in the construction of these massive tombs. We also get powerful art like engravings on the tombs and these were possibly in some way related to their mythology. Some beautiful objects were found inside of these tombs. This, again, may indicate an acknowledgement of some sort of purpose for such beauty in the afterlife and indeed the existence of the afterlife being somehow beautiful.

Stone Circles At Grange Co. Limerick.

With the Bronze Age came stone circles, a tradition which continued into the Iron Age and nobody really knows the true purpose of Stone Circles, as in Grange, Co. Limerick, where the biggest stone circle has been located, and any conclusion is no more than guesswork. Archaeologists suggest they are probably some form of religious expression but there is no real evidence to prove or disprove this theory. It is possible that these stone circles were some kind of burial ground and there are examples of human remains buried in pots or urns within these circles. These pots suggest, from remains, that gifts of food and tools or weapons were interred with the dead, just as in Ancient Egypt, so perhaps there is a basis to believe that religion had a role to play in this society.

In short then, relics and tombs from both the Mesolithic and subsequent Neolithic ages clearly show an acknowledgement of the existence of some kind of mystic belief in relation to the afterlife. Death did not seem to indicate the end of life but a step into the next life or realm. Just as politics and religion interweave in the Modern world, evidence suggests that this was also the case in those times. The existence of a societal stratum of some kind whereby workers made enormous lifelong efforts at the behest of their overseers for eternal reward may demonstrate religious belief.

In order to better understand the Celts we should try to understand their religious beliefs and the main religious festivals‘ were:

1. Spring – 1st Feb – St. Bridget‘s Day – Imbolc.

2. Summer – May 1st – Bonfire Day – Bealtaine.

3. Autumn – August 1st – Lughnasadh.

4. Winter – November 1st – Halloween – Samhain.

The calendar the Celts followed was mainly an agricultural calendar‘ with festival days to mark the start of each season. In Winter, the grass stops growing and the harvest is in, Lughnasa is when the crops are ready to toil, Imbolc was when the ploughing and planting began and Bealtaine was mostly about Animals and care for them. It can be therefor concluded that as a well as religious, spiritual and mythological elements to the calendar there was also some very practical components to it. It clearly indicates how the Celts considered farming a very significant part of their lives.

Culture Of Celts.

The Culture Of The Celts

There are very few clues as to the lifestyle and culture of the people who inhabited Ireland at the end of the Stone Age. Far away in central Europe at the north of the Alps, at around 1000 BCE there lived a warlike people, named by their enemies as Keltoi tribes, a name they also adopted for themselves. Linguistics research relates this word to “warriors”. These peoples, according to evidence found, were uniquely horse riders which had given them an advantage in warfare and travel.

They journeyed across Europe and fortified and conquered large areas which they made their own. One of these areas was Hallstatt in Austria where large-scale salt mining took place which made the location a most important trading area. Those who lived and worked in Hallstatt were an enormously prosperous people who made great ceremony of displaying wealth and opulence in their attire, jewellery, tools, customs and burial ceremonies. The power base of these warlords extended along the valley of the upper Danube progressively, over a century, moving east to west to create an area known as the country of the Keltoi. The development of trade routes meant further prosperity for these tribes of metalworking, cattle, slave and gold trading entrepreneurs.

Lust for land was the primary motive of the aggressive Celts clearly satisfied to eliminate all in their path to accumulate land, wealth and power. However, around the ninth century BCE, with the arrival of iron and its use in weapon manufacturing, came the true source of power for Celtic expansion. Large iron working centres were established, around the 6th century BCE to manufacture weapons, tools and jewellery all adorned with gold and silver. These aesthetic but functional items were uniquely Celtic in design, shape and appearance. This is known as the ‘La Tene’ period when the Celts were renowned for power, wealth, brutality and desire for artistic beauty in clothing, jewellery, armoury and transport.

It was perhaps inevitable that Celtic tribes conquering Europe were not only at war with their common enemies but also at war with each other. The great migrations from the 6th century BCE meant that many of these tribes crossed paths and went to war to secure territory. A rapid increase in populations meant that ambitious younger male tribal warriors had desires to form their own tribes and acquire their own lands. This, in fact, means that as these tribes slowly but surely crossed Europe they also segmented as parts of the tribe move forward while others stayed behind. Some tribes headed north to now modern day Paris while others went east re-crossing the Rhine. Burial customs along these routes suggest the interconnection between these tribes. The northern tribes sought new territories and moved westward and as they spread their settlements they would have encountered indigenous peoples who had been descendants of the original Celtic tribes of some six centuries earlier.

The Romans tended to call the Celts by the name “Gauls” which was a corruption or slang form of “gal” meaning one of ability or valour. Those tribes that remained in France were known as Gauls. Meanwhile the new tribe known as ‘Belgae’ or ‘furious ones ‘ emerged from central Germany and quickly gained a reputation of being barbaric, brutal and bloodthirsty land grabbers. All across Europe new tribes were increasing in strength and influence at such a pace that the Romans saw them as a single Celtic culture even though many of these tribes where independent of each other were independent of each other. The Celtic influence soon spread in all directions but mostly West and South Europe as the tribes established themselves in strong hill forts scattered in thousands of locations across mainland Europe. These populations grew so rapidly that a 5th century BCE population explosion meant tribes were rapidly advancing toward European coastlines.

The first written reports of the geography of Europe concerns a voyage around part of the Atlantic Coast sometime around the year 530 B.C.E. which was later reported upon in Greek and this text gives a few insights into prehistory. It’s accuracy in relation to the size of Europe and the islands beyond is far from correct. In relation to Britain and Ireland the text is extremely vague and difficult to decipher boss, interestingly, some historians argue that there are references within the text to the Cliffs of Dover. Ireland, which they referred to as ‘Hierni’; a word derived from an old Celtic language meaning land or soil. The Greeks called the island ‘Hivera’ meaning “sacred isle”; an island rich in green pastures amid the  waves. Britain was heavily populated with tribes who had arrived earlier from northern France in the fourth century B.C.E. and these migrants became known in time as Brigantes or ‘high ones’ naming themselves after the Celtic mother goddess Briganti. These tribes brought with them iron weapons and tools similar to those later found across the sea in Ireland. Archaeological evidence suggests that warriors used such weapons in the fifth century B.C.E. but it is most likely that these weapons came from displaced peoples from Britain who were pushed forward by the arriving Celts. The full impact of Celtic culture was not felt in Ireland for another century or so.

The social structure of Celtic society was tribal which most Celts considering themselves to be descended from the same divine ancestor which was their common bond and right to be members of their tribe. The social structures varied from tribe to tribe boss each tribe had three distinct classes; the nobility, commoners and slaves or bondmen who were captives taken in war. Economic pursuits were mostly agricultural but also there appears to have been a significant amount of trading between tribes who met at places of public assembly used for seasonal religious ceremony and bartering. To the Greeks the Celts were a bewildering race who were unprejudiced and vegetarians. The Greeks wrote that the Celts were ‘fat conscious’ people who punished and a young man with a big belly. However, such tall tales were perhaps the propaganda of enemy tribes. Aristotle praised the Celts for their courage but added that they were rash to the point of madness. Aristotle also questioned the sexual mores of the Celts, claiming that they openly approve of physical connection with their fellow males. Celts were often portrayed as uncivilized, Plato saw then as drunkards and Ephorus castigated them for going to war with the sea to prove that they are unafraid of any enemy. However, the ferocity of the Celts in battle can not be doubted and this late to great demand for their warriors.

From most accounts it seems that the Celts were tall in stature with moist white skin. They had golden hair and cultivated beards and used gold for personal ornamentation. They wore tunics dyed in various colours, striped cloaks, trousers and straps, buckles, belts and chains. The dining habits of the Celts are also well documented and it seems feasting was a common occurrence. While some accounts claim that the Celts were vegetarians other accounts are emphatic that they were ardent meat eaters. They were also very heavy drinkers and aggressive drunks who went into duals to the death rather than prolonged verbal argument. They considered it a glory to die and a disgrace to survive without victory. In the event of a battle they would lay down their weapons and retire if their leader was defeated. They were generous by disposition and every man’s house was open to all comers and food would be shared as if the stranger were a member of the family. The writer Strabo thought them naïve but subservient and loyal to their leaders. Pytheas, a mariner and explorer,  thought them as exotic and from a sacred place where the sun sleeps. The ancient Greeks, from Homer spoke of them coming from Elysian, a heavenly place, and the Greeks themselves were influenced by this thinking and from this came the characterisation of Ireland as a sacred island. Reports such as this lead to the imaginations of classical writers who depicted a ‘strange island’ inhabited by strange people in the Celtic mist. The Celts were primarily sun worshipers but they also talk of rivers as being a principal fertilizing aspect of life and were worshiped by naming them after their goddesses. There was also widespread tendency to associate wells and springs with goddesses, paired with male deities and the importance of this appears to be the coupling of the male sky with female or so as to ensure fruitfulness. Each deity had a specific function such as the production of rain, sun, crops, fertility and the guaranteeing of social and commercial contracts. The sound was the ultimate father and ear was the ultimate mother and this doctrine was protected by the wise men of the Celts. These wise men were the singers and poets known Bards, Vates who acted as communicators with the Gods to determine sacrifice and Druids who were experts in the science of nature. The most prestigious of these were the Druids. They were divinely inherited ‘mediators’ with the spirit world and held in supreme esteem. A King functioned as a substitute for a deity and was the ‘husband’ of the earth goddess but the elevated position of King was very much controlled and dictated by the Druids. If the King was doing his job properly then the tribe would be happy and the reverse could result in the removal of the King by the Druid. It is clear from this that the Celts were a very superstitious people vulnerable to the mercy of the Druids which placed them at the centre of the social order an in control of the space between the King and the Gods. The Druids had, according to some accounts, magical powers and could cast spells over warrior tribes that prevented warfare. However, such power is invested in the Druids by the commoners terrified of offending or provoking the Gods by ignoring the Druids. One has no way of tracing how these Druids became so powerful within their tribes or what is the chronology of the Celtic religion, myths and practises. The Druids assembled at locations such as forest clearings known as Nemeton (sky-place) where the trees climbed upwards and connected the sky to the earth. It is also interesting that the Druids thought (according to Caesar) that all people are descended from one divine ancestor and for this reason they count periods of time not by number of days but by the number of nights. The night is followed by the day and not the other way around. This implies a connection between the darkness of night and the ancestral lord. It also implies that time is absent with the sun as it sunk to abide with the dead. The Celts, according to some Greek writers, spent their nights near the tombs of their dead where they awaited inspiration which emanated from darkness and thus reconciled the living with the dead. There were separate deities for daylight and night-time hours and the latter seemed to have dark powers while the former had powers of fertility and life giving influences. The Druids taught that life is eternal, even after death, and thus disposed of the earthly possessions of their dead. They even allowed tribesmen to defer debt or completion of business until their arrival in the next world. The afterlife was not perceived as sad and dreary but happy and a new and valuable place of existence. Such beliefs may account for the valour of the Celts who have a disregard for life and will fight to the death just to make passage to the next world. According to Diodorus Siculus , the Celts were wont to resort to fighting on the least provocation, regard their lives as nothing.

Primary Source

The Celts – A Chronological History

Dáithí Ó Hógáin.

Protestant Ireland.

The English conquest of Ireland began in 1169 and was completed under the late Tudors with an intense colonisation dedicated to converting Ireland to England and Catholicism to Protestantism. The process was primarily destructive and coercive and concluded with military victory and a united Ireland under the crown became a reality.

Territorial control was easy the rest remained impossible. Cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious conversion never happened. Ireland in the context of a completely conquered and controlled colony remained elusive throughout sixteenth and seventeenth century and remains so to present times.

Ireland After Kildare.

Following the destruction of the house of Kildare the reliance on Anglo-Irish magnate control in Ireland had changed. Henry VIII had little or no time for powerful subjects in his empire and the heads of those who thought themselves powerful ended in baskets. The so called house of Kildare had to be replaced and this was a problem for English rulers for over a century.

Ireland was perceived as having two populations, loyal subjects and rebels. The 1541 kingship act was of little help in resolving these problems.  The act committed the English government to reform in Ireland but how could these reforms take place without loyalist control on Irish soil? A chief governor was appointed but he question remained if he could successful administer control.

There were three complicating factors to be considered and the first was finance.  Ireland proffered little revenue to the Tudors and the cost of the suppression of rebellion was phenomenal. Any English governor needed the backing of an army because without the sword, persuasion was impossible. Where was this money to come from, who pays and why?

Another complication was Ireland’s geopolitical location in relation to the ‘new world’. What was once a remote European outpost had now become the gateway to America and its riches. There had always been European interest in Ireland. Irish had fought in France and Spain in the middle ages and had earned a reputation for ruthlessness.  There had been for ages religious and commercial intercourse between European countries and Ireland but, perhaps one its greatest assets of appeal to France and Spain, was its aggressive male population who made excellent soldiers.

The efforts of Gerald FitzGerald in raising French and Spanish sympathy at the plight of Ireland at the hands of merciless Tudors were a source of concern for England.  Such a coalition of Spain, France and Ireland could overwhelm the British Empire and so, British withdrawal from Ireland was impossible because it was tantamount to handing the land over to France and Spain. Both countries were aggressively catholic and any such alliance could herald the end of Protestantism in its infancy.

Henry VIII marital problems in the 1530s led him to repudiate the pope and to establish himself as supreme head of the Church of England and in 1536, church of Ireland.  There was little impact in Ireland to the changes as Irish monasteries had become secularised and their loss was perceived as ‘good riddance’.  Monastery properties were sold off to ‘old English’ settlers while Gaelic Irish were excluded.

It was not until the arrival of Elizabeth as queen (1558) and soon after as supreme governor of Church of England (1560) that hostilities towards Protestantism in Ireland began. By the 1570s ‘loyal’ and ‘disloyal’ had become equated with catholic (the former) and protestant (the latter), a division that would persist for five centuries. The dispensation of church and state was resolutely resisted and the cause of this remains a source of historical discussion. Catholics wanted innate fidelity to Rome while Protestants saw Catholicism as superstition. Pre Christian attitudes still prevailed and catholic teachings were profound and widespread while Protestantism lacked influence for many reasons but mostly because of its lack of interest in Ireland and consequently little action in educational endeavours.

In short, Ireland posed a huge problem to Catholics and Protestants reformers whether Calvinists or Jesuits and the eventual outcome of catholic people in a protestant state could never have been foreseen.

As Catholicism prospered in protestant Ireland in the 1490s it was unhindered by Protestantism, because the Tudor apparatus was weak on Irish soil, the reformation , religious and secular, was seen as an English import and that was why both were firmly resisted.

Primary Source.

Chapter 3 – Bartlett, T.  Ireland – A History.

Click On Book Below To Learn More.

Irish Radicals (1790’s).

Irish Radicalism On The Rise

Irish Radicalism On The Rise.


In order to understand 18th-century Ireland it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the American revolution of 1776. This revolution in which 13 colonies in North America to break free from the British Empire, to become the United States of America. They reject the authority of the British Parliament to govern them from overseas without representation, and then expelled all royal officials. By 1774, each colony had established a provincial Congress or an equivalent governmental institution to govern itself, but still within the Empire British responded by sending troops to re-impose direct rule. The situation in Ireland at this time was not much different.

In a century of little or no aggression on Irish soil by 1772 moods were changing and hostility and rebellion were in the air. The so-called “Catholic relief acts” of the 1770s were so repressive that rebellion was perhaps inevitable. In 1772 the Relief Act whereby Catholics were only permitted to lease bog land was perhaps the beginning, within that decade, of the rebellion. In 1774 with the introduction of the enabling act Catholics were forced to swear allegiance to the King. Four years later in 1778 the Papist Act tried but failed to provide a measure of Catholic relief. In 1782 forced restrictions against Catholic clergy was removed; the Constitution of 1782, the collective legal changes which restore legislative independence to the Parliament of Ireland, giving rise to Grattan’s Parliament. The Parliament of Great Britain under Prime Minister Lord Buckingham passed the repeal of Secure Independence of Ireland Act, repealing the dependency of Ireland on Great Britain Act of 1719. Furthermore, it was in this period when Poynings Law (an act of 1495) of the Parliament of Ireland that was initiated by Sir Edward Poynings in the Irish Parliament at Drogheda, was also repealed. The relief fax of 1778 and 1782 were largely conservative campaigns stressing loyalty of Catholics. The 1783 and 1784 acts were possibly the fruit of an alliance of the Catholic lobby and parliamentary reformers.

Ireland in the 18th-century had been deeply impacted by the French Revolution of 1789. France was a Catholic country and was rejecting Absolutism in favour of liberty. The revolution initiated a race for the Catholic against government and Protestant radicals. Meanwhile in Ireland there was unprecedented Politicisation of Irish Catholics.

A number of Catholic committees were being set up all over Ireland as a result of the penal laws imposed under English and later British ruled that sought to discrimination against Roman Catholics and Protestant dissenters such as Presbyterians in favour of members of the established Church of Ireland. From 1758, before the death of James III, these groups of Catholic nobility and merchants persuaded the more liberal Protestants that they presented no political threat, and that reforms must follow. Events abroad and emerging ‘Age of Enlightenment’ seemed to confirm that attitudes were changing. Theobald Wolfe Tone published in 1791 his document ‘An Argument On Behalf Of the Catholics of Ireland’ which was very widely read and inspired new thinking on the future of the country.

The 1792 Relief Act radicalized Catholic relief campaigns during 1791 and 1792. Catholics were finally admitted to Trinity College in Dublin and were also allowed to practice law. However, there was massive opposition to further relief in the Irish Parliament where Catholics were being described as shopkeepers and shoplifters. The Catholics responded with a statement of principles “the Catholic Convention” [Back Lane Parliament], in December 1792 when they petitioned for full equality. Meanwhile, the outbreak of war between France and Great Britain in 1793 was to have far-reaching consequences in Ireland.

The 1793 Relief Act Gave Catholics of the Right to Bear Arms And to Participate in Local Government, Grand Juries and Corporations. It also offered the right to vote on the same terms as Protestants but Catholics were not allowed the right to sit in Parliament.

The revolution of 1793 shattered the self-confidence of the Protestant ascendancy. Further Catholic campaigns would be linked to campaigns for Parliamentary reform; but the Catholic committees disbanded in the short-term. The continuing politicisation of Irish Catholics led to further struggle for power in Ireland. The enactment of the repressive legislation; The Militia, Gunpowder and Convention Acts of 1793, was passed, in consequence of the war with France; were an attempt to suppress the volunteers and the United Irishmen.

Beyond the reality of Catholic discontent there was widespread knowledge of events in France and the Revolutionary movement. Events were widely reported in Irish newspapers; radical literature was in circulation and there were public celebrations of Bastille Day. In the words of Wolfe Tone; “in a little time French Revolution became the text of every man’s political creed.” The French Revolution had become an inspiration and a model for the forthcoming rebellion in Ireland. Furthermore, the French Revolution made cooperation between Protestant reformers and Catholics more likely. Catholics were clearly capable of liberty. The Belfast Constitutional Compact of October 1790 Í for Catholic and Protestant cooperation; which was exactly as Wolfe Tone had proposed in his 1791 treatise ‘An Argument On Behalf Of the Catholics of Ireland’.

The Society of United Irishmen was founded as a liberal political organization in 18th-century Ireland that sought parliamentary reform. However, it evolved into a revolutionary Republican organization, inspired by the American Revolution and allied with revolutionary France. It launched the Irish rebellion of 1798 with the objective of ending British monarchical rule over Ireland and founding an independent Irish Republic.

The Society of United Irishmen in October 1791 declared that “the weight of English influence in the government of this country is so great, as to require union among all the people of Ireland.” It further stated that; “the sole constitutional mode by which this influence can be opposed, is by a completion of  radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament.” Wolfe Tone also states that no reform is practicable, efficacious are just, which shall not include Irishmen of every religious persuasion.

The United Irishmen endeavoured to achieve legal and constitutional change in Ireland and all over the country held meetings, petitions and proposed reform plans. They cooperated with other groups including the Catholic Committee to help them to achieve their aims. The publication Of the Newspaper the Northern Star [1792-1797] gave the United Irishmen a mouth piece on which they could campaign for their objectives.

With the outbreak of war in 1793 the pro-French United Irishmen were put under serious pressure. They were in constant contact with the French Revolutionaries and sought much help and advice in the planning stages of the Irish Revolution. However, due to suppression of the United Irishmen they were forced underground but re-emerged as a mass-based, secret, oath bound, militant society advocating republicanism and separatism.

There were other defenders using revolutionary ideology as their template for a new Ireland. Organizations such as; The Armagh Troubles (1780s and 1790s), The Defenders, and the Peep O’Day Boys. In the early 1790s there was a rapid spread of such defenders and most of these were secret, militant and oath bound. It must be said that ‘Oath’ was sacred and to break it was a crime punishable by death or the death of a member of one’s family. Such Oaths were not taken lightly. These movements represented an important strand of Lower Order politicisation and radicalisation. The potential base for a Mass-based revolutionary organization will slowly but surely in formation.

Amidst all this came William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam who was a British Whig Statesman of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was one of the richest people in Britain and he played a leading part in Whig politics into the 1820s. The Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland was, in his view, the process of alienation of Catholics from British rule which might drive them into supporting Jacobinism and the French invasion of Ireland. The loss of Ireland in such an event would weaken British Sea power and make possible an invasion of England. Fitzwilliam aimed to reconcile Catholics to British rule by delivering Catholic Emancipation and ending the Protestant Ascendancy. He wrote; “the chief object of my attempts will be, to purify, as far as circumstances and prudence will permit, the principles of government, in the hopes of thereby restoring to it that tone and spirit which so happily prevailed formerly, and so much to the dignity as well as the benefit of the country”. He arrived in Ballbriggan in 1795 and reported that he found the texture of government in Ireland very weak. He further claimed that the violence committed by peasants was not political but; “merely the outrages of bandits”. It must be stated that the Portland Whigs, who are in government, supported form and relief in Ireland. When the Earl of Fitzwilliam was appointed new Lord Lieutenant he dismissed leading conservatives and supported Catholic emancipation. He was recalled in February 1795 and dashed hopes of any major change in Ireland thus increasing polarization. However there was one consolation of significance and that was the foundation of the Royal College of St. Patrick in Maynooth.

The re-emergence of the United Irishmen in 1795-1796 implied continuity between the ‘constitutional’ and ‘militant’ members of the organisation. The creation of a secret revolutionary army that was both cellular and hierarchical in Belfast and Ulster (1795); Leinster (1796) with numbers in excess of 120,000 in Ulster by mid-1797 and over 80,000 in Leinster by mid-1798 meant that revolution was becoming inevitable. The United Irishmen were also actively seeking French support for an Irish revolution to establish a separate Irish republic and the idea was not unacceptable in France.

Theobald Wolfe Tone wrote; “To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing cause of all our political evil, and to assert the independence of my country – these were my objectives”. He further stated; “To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters – these were my means”.

In 1796, in the town of Bantry, at the head of the bay, is associated with the Irish Rebellion of 1798 as being the place where an earlier attempt to land launch a rebellion was made by a French fleet, including Wolfe Tone in December 1796. The French fleet consisting of 43 ships carrying 15,000 troops had divided mid-Atlantic into smaller groups to avoid interception by the Royal Navy with orders to reform at Bantry Bay. The bulk of the fleet arrived successfully, but several ships, including the flagship Fraternité carrying General Hoche were delayed. While awaiting their arrival, bad weather intervened and the lack of leadership, together with uneasiness at the prospect of being trapped, forced the decision to return to France. Tone wrote of the expedition in his diary, saying that; “We were close enough to toss a biscuit ashore” and because of the forced departure without attack; “England has had the greatest escape since the Spanish Armada”.

The Government were not happy to the radicalism now rampant on Ireland’s soil and that certain measures were now absolutely necessary to stop it. The introduction of the regular Army and Militia (1793) and the Yeomanry (1796) were the first steps to remove the rebels permanently from Ireland’s shores. The ‘French’ episode had scared the English who now felt that any foreign nation colonising Ireland were an enormous threat to the Crown and thus began a campaign of hatred against Irish republicanism. A series of suppressive anti-Catholic Acts were enforced; Indemnity Act (1795), Insurrection Act (1796), The Orange Order (1795), The ‘Dragooning of Ulster’ (1797) forced the United Irish momentum which passes from Ulster and Leinster to Countrywide.

In the prelude to the rebellion the Leinster leadership was arrested in March 1798 and the remaining leadership draw up their plans for ‘native’ rebellion. The arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and others in May 1798 was the final act that caused the outbreak of rebellion on May 24th and thus the uprising began. The causes of the rebellion are still a source of major contention for historians who have some different views on the matter. Some suggest that Repression pushed people into Rebellion while others argue that Sectarianism and Agrarianism were the primary causes. Some further argue that the possibility of parliamentary reform and catholic emancipation were blocked and this lead to polarisation amongst revolutionaries. For other historians it was a period of unprecedented politicisation combined with the impact of the French revolution on the United Irishmen in the advancing industrial revolution creating greater means of communication including newspapers, political tracts, meetings, songs, catechisms, petitions, militancy that all contributed to the outbreak of the rebellion.

In the context of the 18th century; Historian Ian McBride wrote; “The 1798 rebellion was a complex event which saw the fusion of all the tensions – Catholic disaffection, Presbyterian radicalism, anti-English patriotism, agrarian discontent, loyalist anxiety, plebeian sectarianism – which lay beneath the surface of eighteenth century Ireland.

Lecture Notes.

With Thanks To:

Dr. Liam Chambers.

The Ulster Troubles.


The Ulster Rebellions.

The Ulster Rebellions.


The roots of the Ulster Rebellion (1641) can be traced from St. Patrick (400 CE) to 1641. The rebellion resulted in “59% of Ireland owned by Catholics (1641) falling to 14% (1703)”. (Stovall, 1964) This revolution became the foundation of Irish struggles for independence. (Krieg, 2000) The persecution is embedded in the psyche of Irish natives remaining hostile to English influence; “The conflict in Northern Ireland lies in direct line of descent of 17th Century Ulster. This colonisation is inseparable from religious differences.” (Todd, 2008) However, this essay argues that the primary cause of the rebellion was the Ulster Plantations.

The rebellion erupted in Ulster when Catholics attacked Protestants. Historians remain divided on causes with a movement away from interpreting events as a consequence of Ulster Plantations; “This simplistic interpretation ignores the existence of community divisions” (Irelands Eye, 1999). The theory is complicated by inter-religious commercial and social relationships; “This combination made the insurrection formidable and expanded it from a local to a general movement.” (Hull, 1931). Religious factors remain important; “The pre-Tudor landed families stuck to Catholicism, in spite of Protestantism. James I called them “half-subjects” prepared to give loyalty in civil but not religious matters.” (Dorney , 2010)

Some Irish ‘beneficiaries’ of the Plantations had economic problems and resorted to violence; “The leader of the rebellion, Phelim O’Neill, had actually been a beneficiary of the Plantations” (Markethill, 2008) Also, the rise of puritan English gentry foreshadowed religious resentment; “Puritans and Presbyterians were partners in the struggle of a newly enlightened people against religious and administrative tyranny.” (Hamilton, 1920) The rebellion can be regarded as an incursion by Catholics to overthrow Protestants. (McCaffrey, 2005). While there are significant short term factors, long-standing grievances including Plantations should not be ignored. Such bitterness contributed to the savagery of attacks on Protestants.

The Death toll associated with 1641 is unknown because fatality figures are embellished; “As repossessions progressed over 3,000 Protestants were killed. Stories were exaggerated by English press.” (Yadav, 2010). Attacks on Protestants were not as described by English propagandists. Pamphleteers inflated death tolls to 150,000. The English public had suspected the Irish were barbaric and this just confirmed their suspicions. (Blackwell & Hackney, 2008). Modern scrutiny calculates figures at 12,000 from a Protestant population of 40,000, genocide by any scale, even if so many thousands fell as a result of military combat rather than killing of the unarmed. (McCavitt, 2004)

The 1641 rebellion continued for ten years, increasing to other areas of Ireland when the native Irish of Ulster were joined in insurgency by Old English co-religionists. (Hayton, 1990) Such was the short term victory of the revolt that Protestant supremacy was in danger not least when Owen Roe O’Neill led Catholic rebels in Ulster to victory at the battle of Benburb (1646) the Protestant army in Ireland having been annihilated. (Hayes-McCoy, 1990) Political and cultural inconsistencies between native Irish and Old English were a cause of the failure of the rebels to force their military advantage. (History Reconsidered, 2010)

The massacre of Irish Protestants ended with equally notable butcheries wrought by Cromwell’s armies in Ireland (1649). Cromwell’s hostility was religious and political. His campaign began in Drogheda slaughtering 3,000 men, then to Wexford which met a similar fate and finally to Clonmel where he closed his crusade. (JSTOR, 1854) He opposed Catholicism blaming it for European persecution of Protestants. Cromwell’s association of Catholicism and oppression was deepened by the Ulster Rebellion. These issues contributed to Cromwell’s ruthlessness. (Fraser, 1973) Cromwell’s slaughtering of Irish Catholics is as embedded on Catholic consciousness as the massacre of Protestants in Ulster. (MaCatjlay, 1872)

In the early 400s CE St. Patrick had been taken to Ireland as a slave. He fled to France and became a priest. He returned to Ireland to convert pagans to Catholicism. (Barrett., 2009) Seven centuries later the first English involvement in Ireland transpired when Turlogh O’Connor, King of Connacht (1106–1156), overthrew Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, he pleaded with King Henry II for help. (Dunn, 2003) Henry’s troops were rewarded with land. When MacMurrough died (1171) a Cambro-Norman named Strongbow, notable for his role in the Norman invasion, proclaimed himself King of Leinster. (History On The Net, 2010).

After 1171 English Barons seized Ireland and by the 1300s secured control. Royal allegiance deteriorated as some English Barons considered themselves Irish not English. In the 1400’s English supremacy was confined to Dublin, ‘the Pale’, (BBC, 2012) outsiders considered uncouth. Ireland was unprofitable as administration outweighed taxation gains. In 1534 Henry VIII took power from the Earls of Kildare (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2012) and by 1541 Ireland’s government pledged allegiance. Henry introduced laws that strengthened English control and attempted to bring Protestantism; “Now the conquerors’ religion differed from the conquered, and sectarianism added another ruinous dimension to the relationship.” (Henriksen., 2008)

Historians consider Ulster plantations as influences on 1641. In the 1500s, after Henry VIII’s demise, his progenies intensified English control; “Ulster plantation meant social cohesion” (Gillespie, 2007). Mary I used plantation to unite communities; “Ulster’s personality is older than partition and older than plantations”. (Estyn, 1970) Elizabeth I attempted Protestantism by outlawing Catholicism, executing clergy; thus generating Catholic unification against England. Charles I knew of antagonisms plantation caused but proceeded; “the property realignment meant efficient collections of tithes.” (Cope, 2003) Charles represented a class who deemed it; “a sin to tolerate Catholics or consent that they exercise religion.” (Meehan, 1873)

Irish Chieftain Shane O’Neill (1500s) led violent revolts opposing; “laws producing the effects of keeping those governed barbarous and preventing amalgamation between English and Gaelic”. (Ulster Archaeological Society, 1854). In 1610 the Ulster Plantations began and by 1641 James I endeavoured ending Irish insurrections by using plantation; “Plantations begun by Elizabeth have prospered to the Crown’s advantage by preserving great peace and happiness”. (Maxwell, 1923). In 1641 the Ulster Irish rebelled while Protestants alleged Catholics were annihilating them and revenge sought; “its clear reports are unreliable but ghoulish stories remain important in explaining such terror that settlers fled.” (Canny, 1993).

Revolution in the British-Irish Isles (Oakland, 2003) was occurring at rapid pace prior to The Irish Rebellion of 1641. King Charles 1st was compelled to summon Parliament due to revolting Scots and further forced into acceptance of the Triennial Act (1641) (Constitution Society, 2008) intended to prevent kings from ruling without Parliament, thereby grudgingly compelling himself to parliamentary sessions of fifty days every three years. The ‘Long Parliament’ (1640) had just abolished the Star Chamber (1641), Torture was outlawed (1641) (QED LAW, 2007), the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ dawned with the publication of René Descartes; Meditations on First Philosophy. (History, 2011).

Ireland’s land holding Colonisers remained Catholic and unpopular with the Stuart court. Disqualified from public office by penal laws; “depriving Catholics of civil life; reducing them to ignorance and disassociating them from land” (Lecky, 1898) now faced losing estates, and political sway. ‘Old English’ had unity with Catholics, an alliance created by marriage, distorting ethnic divisions. (Ó Siochrú, 2011) The anxiety of Catholic landlords and the threat to religion helped disregard boundaries and produce a national identity; “The nationalist theme of English repression and dispossession is certainly attested to by the period of wars of conquest and plantation.” (Preston, 1992)

The Ulster rebellion is described as a pre-emptive strike by Phelim O’Neill, who remained in Ulster after Flight of Earls, leading Catholic landowners. O’Neill read an alleged commission from Charles I demanding commandeering; “places of strength and defence, except places of Scottish subjects” (Hickson, 1884) the ensuing Rebellion ignited nationwide revolution. Catholics protested a society segregating them and these frustrations were heightened when; “Foreign administration retaliated with violence”. (Donnelly, et al., 2004) Rebels were unsuccessful in Dublin, but when morning dawned on October 23rd, 1641, it saw most Ulster strongholds in Irish hands, with Sir Phelim in command. (Marshall, 1904).

In 1642, landowners and clergy created a power base; “Alienated from the crown, confederates constructed power structures in Kilkenny” (Siochrú, 1994). Their purpose: to re-establish order and negotiate with the king. In terms of occupation, the Confederates consisted of landowners, clergy, lawyers, soldiers and wealthy merchants; “The Confederation derived strength from landowners who were the backbone of power” (Cope, 2003). For six years they worked as the de facto government, controlling tracts of the island; “the negotiations between Charles I and the Confederation endured from the signing of a truce in 1643 until the king’s death in 1649 (Lowe, 1964)

The confederation established governmental structures at regional levels; “it was a grand spectacle. The transition from heart-breaking thraldom to armed independence was convincingly manifest. (Meehan, 1873) Authority lay with the general assembly, but the supreme council, whose membership included lords and bishops, assumed dominance. The Catholics wanted agreement with Charles I to protect property, admit them to public office and end religious discrimination. (BBC, 2012) The peasantry, the backbone of the confederacy, were to be exploited, not liberated. Despite conservative aims, the war forced the confederates to adopt radical measures, with the association functioning as an independent state. (Siochrú, 1994)

Changes in the Stuart kingdoms obstructed events in Ireland. From 1637, the armed opposition of Scottish Presbyterians; “The Covenanters, allies of the English parliament were sent to Ulster to protect settler interests.” (Siochrú, 1994); dedicated to Charles I they weakened England and Ireland. (Cambridge, 2010) Their success in 1639 inspired rebels to prevent destruction of Catholic rights. The Covenanters’ anti-Catholic pomposity increased feelings of uncertainty among Irish Catholics in Ulster where Scots settled. After the 1641 eruption, and the reports of Protestant massacres, the Covenanters intervened militarily. Commanded by Robert Monroe they emerged as a threat to confederacy. (Perceval-Maxwell, 1973)

From 1640 Charles faced opposition from Westminster to his relentless authoritarianism. Two sides clashed on who should control the army subduing Irish rebellion. The outbreak of England’s civil war forced Charles, hostile towards Catholics, to moderate his position. (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012) He hoped compromise with Confederates would give him access to Irish military resources in England. Parliamentarians advocated anti-Catholic positions and victory in Ireland, using confiscated Irish Catholic land to pay costs. (Irish History Timeline, 2012) Throughout the 1640s, royalists and parliamentarians maintained armed forces in Ireland, primarily in Dublin and Cork, while Scots controlled north-east Ulster. (Ó Siochrú, 2011)

From the confederate perspective, war from 1641 until the Cromwellian invasion (1649) can be separated into three stages. The first stage consists of a chaotic uprising, which spread nationally. (Hull, 1931) After some preliminary success, the rebels found themselves on the defensive as a result of a savage counter-offensive by colonial government in Dublin. (Plant, 2011) Many English troops were conscripted, while in Ulster Monroe’s Scottish Covenanters gained the upper hand. Confederate prospects improved during the English civil war (1642) which, accounts for; “the sluggish tempo of royalist recruiting operations along with the personal unpopularity of the king”. (Young, 1981)

The colonial government’s offensive ground to a halt, enabling Confederates to organise armies, assisted by veterans Owen Roe O’Neill, a seventeenth century soldier and one of the most famous of the O’Neill dynasty of Ulster (Morgan, 1996), and Thomas Preston, an Irish soldier of the 17th century who had returned from Flanders to lead the Irish Rising. (McGinn, 2009) In 1643 confederate and royalist representatives initiated a series of talks, resulting in a complete cessation agreement in September. Thereafter, the bulk of royalist troops were shipped to England, and those who remained did not engage in further fighting. (History, 2011)

The fruit of the 1641 rebellion came in 1643 with the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant, an agreement between Covenanters and Parliamentarians. (Open University, 2010) Covenanters committed to the English civil war rejected the cessation because; “Ireland would remain under Confederates opposed to Ulster’s Scottish forces”. (Hamilton, 1975) Confederates mobilised against Ulster Scots and Cork parliamentarians while negotiating with royalist nobleman James Butler. The 1641 Uprising was impulsive but became structured under the Assembly of Kilkenny, where the Gaelic Irish and Old English formed alliances. (Plant, 2011). Its exact causes remain debateable but plantations were a significant factor.

Lecture Notes.

With Thanks To:

Dr. Clodagh Tate


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Celtic Spiritual Beliefs.


The following account of ‘Continental Celtic’ people and their spiritual beliefs and practices will offer substantiation from historical classical writers to the assertion that they were a ‘spiritual people’ in reverence of nature. It will consider the evidence of Linguists and archaeologists in the on-going examination as to the true spiritual identity of these ancient societies whose deities were venerated as supernatural powers of natural forces.

The Celts were primarily a ‘sun-worshiping’ group of people inhabiting much of Europe and Asia Minor in pre-Roman times. ‘Their culture developed in the late Bronze Age around the upper Danube, and reached its height in the La Tene culture (5th to 1st Centuries BC) before being overrun by the Romans and various Germanic peoples.’ A Celt is a native of any of the nations or regions in which Celtic languages were spoken. ‘The name Celt comes from the Latin Celtae and from the Greek Keltoi, in later use from French Celte ‘Breton’, taken as representing the ancient Gauls.

There are no first hand Celtic accounts of an individual’s religious belief, ‘Unfortunately no Celt left an account of his own religion, and we are left to our own interpretations, more or less valid, of the existing materials, and to the light shed on them by the comparative study of religions. (MacCullogh, 1911:1) To determine the spiritual or religious belief structures of the Celts it is important to explore their mythological and historical traditions.

The historical primary source for Celtic culture is its mythology, with its background in religion which is influenced by Gaulish beliefs, itself influenced by Romanesque ideals. By examining the mythological, hagiographical and poetic material found in sources such as medieval manuscripts, shrines and artefacts we can understand the spirituality of the Celts.

Modern European society has been formed by its early European roots which were influenced by the Roman Empire’s affect on the continental Celts. Contemporary festivals such as Halloween, formerly Samhain, and St. Bridget’s Day, St. Stephens Day and even St. Patrick’s Day are part of the Celtic religion. By examining specific international evidence we can better understand how life must have been for the Continental Celts living across Western Europe.

For our purpose we consider the modes of religious thought customary in the nations which, in course of time, were mainly characterised by their Celtic speech. To the body of knowledge relating to Celtic spirituality many contributions has been made.

The archaeological, historical and linguistic evidence can show us the religious beliefs and practices of the Continental Celts. Some of the earliest evidence of Celtic religious belief are found in Julius Caesar’s Interpretatio Romano; ‘The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites. This implies a belief in mystical existence.

Caesar added that they were extremely superstitious, “submitting to their Druids in all public and private affairs, and regarding it as the worst of punishments to be excommunicated and forbidden to approach the ceremonies of religion.” The geographer Strabo noted that the Celts believed in, ‘the indestructibility, which implies in some sense the divinity, of the material universe. (Rolleston, 1911:40)

Polybius makes adequate reference to Celtic warrior spirituality when he claimed they “stripped naked for the fight” (Rolleston, 1911:41) which implied they acknowledged the eventuality of death and were prepared to exit from this world in the same manner that they entered. Diodorus Siculus, a contemporary of Caesar endorses the thoughts of Strabo when he confirms that ‘untouched gold’ was used in temples and sacred places. (Rolleston, 1911:42)

Through these contemporary witnesses to Celtic culture it is evident that the Celts were a spiritual people. We can interpret from the number of Gods worshipped by the ancient tribes that they were polytheists. Furthermore, the practise of ‘Inscribed dedications’ was a custom whereby people used inscriptions to pledge allegiances to their Gods and Goddesses.

This was a common practice particularly after the Romans had come and invaded the area in which such inscriptions can be found. This is interesting because it further complicates the issue in that we now also need to understand the influence of Roman Religion, which, in turn gives some indication as to the influence of Roman religion on the Celts. With the Romans came literacy which empowered the written word and as a result these inscriptions began to appear. Sacred spots in the landscape included rivers and springs, which seemed to have great importance in the Celtic religion.

Sacred lakes and rivers were often associated with Goddesses; many of the rivers of Europe are given grammatically female names. For example, Coventina, Goddess of wells and springs, a water-nymph reclining on a leaf, her shrine contained a well or basin that contained donated coins, Sequina at the source of the River Seine near the Swiss Alps and flowing through Paris and into the English Channel, Boann the goddess of the River Boyne are just some examples of this ritual. (Chadwick, 1971:31) Historical accounts of the Druids as a spiritual and sophisticated class are prominently associated with Western Europe.

While archaeological evidence has been revealed relating to the religious beliefs of the Druids, “not one single artefact or image has been unearthed that can undoubtedly be connected with the ancient Druids.” (Hutton, 2009:73) It is widely believed that the Druids had specific sites for religious practise and worship and they named these locations ‘Nemeton’ (sacred place amongst the Oaks) which is related to the Gaelic words for ‘holy and ‘place’.

Some of our information comes from such sources as Pliny the Elder who writes about Druids and their worship of mistletoe and Oaks, besides discerning that the name ‘Druid’ is a derivative from “oak”, it was Pliny the Elder, in his “Naturalis Historia” (XVI, 95), who associates the Druids with mistletoe and oak groves: “The Druids…hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree on which it grows provided it is an oak. They choose the oak to form groves, and they do not perform any religious rites without its foliage…” We find further reference to this in, “Ut dedisse Persis videri possit.” This might possibly mean, “That Persia might almost seem to have communicated it direct to Britain.”

Ajasson enumerates the following superstitions of ancient Britain, as bearing probable marks of an Oriental origin: the worship of the stars, lakes, forests, and rivers; the ceremonials used in cutting the plants Samiolus, Selago, and mistletoe, and the virtues attributed to the adder’s egg.” We therefore conclude that the sacredness of Oaks, from which roots blossoms and nourishes the mistletoe as an example of gifts from the gods and worshipped as such.

We also find great importance was given to bog lands and lakes which implied that natural water was extremely important to them. They often placed objects of religious significance into the water perhaps by way of returning a gift for the gifts given by water. (Other sacred elements were the Sky, the Sun – the wheel in the sky – and Lighting and Thunder). ‘Danu’ was an important God of water and the fertility it brings about. It is clear then that moisture and fertility went hand in hand and the Gods, such as Danu (The Danube), one of the more important Celtic Goddess’ was ‘Sequena’ (fast flowing one) and she was a Goddess of healing and water and often depicted standing in a boat.

The depth and dedication of the spirituality of the Continental Celts is evident by shrines and monuments constructed in devotion to the gods. It is significant that the Bronze Age worshipper’s concept of stone circles was one of the few traditions which continued into the Iron Age and it is not yet known the true purpose of Stone Circles. These stone circles have been found all over Western Europe; ‘Archaeologists suggest they could be some form of religious expression but there is no real evidence to prove or disprove this theory.

Gaulish and Brythonic Celts conducted numerous rituals in adoration of the sun or sky gods, tombs were built to face the sun and allow its light, at specific times, to enter, conceivably to remove the souls of the interred and take them to the next realm of existence. Such rituals can be traced back to Roman influences. Across Western Europe the Celts referred to sun Gods based on the Roman ‘Sol’, In Brittany he manifests himself as ‘Sul’. Nanto Suelta (Nantosuelta) in Gaulish religions she is a Goddess of Nature, the earth and fire. Her name means the ‘sun worn valley’. ‘The Reel dance has its roots in circular dancing sun ways to bless the sun. Poseidonius the Stoic, referring to the Celts, said, “At their feasts the servant carries around the wine from right to left. Thus they worship their gods turning to the right” The calendar was clearly influenced by Romans in that; although it was written in Gaulish it used the Roman alphabet. Romans had kept calendars and the Coligny Calendar is based on a Roman prototype, the ‘Lunisolar’ calendar was based on both the Moon and the Sun.

The months would go by the movements of the Moon but every two and half years they would put in an extra month and this would keep it on track. It seems, according to the calendar, that the first month was called ‘Samonios’ (Summer End) and if we are to interpret this correctly then we may conclude that the Solar year began in Halloween (October 31st to November 1st) which ties in well with Caesar’s idea that when the Celts celebrated time they celebrated the ‘dark’ before the ‘light’ (night before day – a festival began at sundown of a given day and end at sundown of the following day).

It follows then that if the day began with the dark half it is fair to conclude that the year began with the dark half beginning at Halloween. These influences on Celtic culture are the consequence of Roman inspiration. This evidence shows that the Continental Celts of Western Europe had religious minds drawn to contemplation of earth and its varied life. The Celts looked for ‘other worlds’ either beneath the earth or beyond the horizon, where the sun goes.

They were clearly devoted to religious ideas and further believed in the mortality of the soul. Archaeologists have demonstrated that objects buried with the dead imply that death was not the end of man. The inner soul may have been perceived as a living entity that survived physical death, burial or burning. ‘Sometimes this inner self was associated with the breath, whence, the Latin ‘anima’ meaning the soul, from the route an-, to breathe.’

Myth, legend and folklore proves to us that the ‘soul’ or spirit could take various forms and there is abundant testimony within these stories that beyond this world there is another, it’s entranceways to be found in water, forests, in the sky and the abodes of faeries and mystical creatures. Heaven, for them is a place of youth and beauty, of great treasures and called after the Roman mythological Elysium or Elysian Fields, the final resting place of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous, still honoured in France, a place of Celtic roots, with Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Avenue of the Elysian Fields, in Paris. The preoccupation of the Celtic mind with deities of scenery, water expanses, forests, mountains and skies demonstrates the impress of nature on ‘mother-earth’ and her offspring more than that of the heavens. While modern religious thought places tremendous value on the benefits of the next world and how we must live to achieve this; for the Continental Celts, the evidence demonstrates the belief that the beauties of the next world can not be appreciated if the splendours of this world are not venerated.

Two Saint Patricks.

Will The Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up?

On analysis of the available evidence, surviving documentation and archaeological inscriptions, it can be seen that Ireland had two contemporaneous evangelists advocating Catholic philosophy but both coming from entirely different standpoints. Both missions were conducted in an apparently Christian conscious Ireland by the early 5th century CE. It is also clear that these missionaries proclaiming equal faith, first Palladius (as advocate of Pope Celestine), then Patrick (as advocate of God), had some impact on their own co-existing communities. With the rise of Catholic historical documentation, monastic propaganda reduced the efforts of Palladius’ ‘failed’ mission and, for no reason other than expediency, merged all credit for Christian conversion exclusively to Patrick, whose ‘successful’ mission was better serving the purposes of the advocations of Catholicism.

By the 5th century CE Pelagianism (and paganism) were proliferating in Western Europe and Ireland to such effect that Roman Catholicism, led by Pope Celestine I (Celestine the Deacon) (422-432 CE), himself a Roman and zealous for orthodoxy, sent Palladius as a Bishop to Ireland in 431. The chronicle of the contemporary St. Prosper of Aquitaine presents two important entries relating to Palladius. Under the date of 429 it has, “Agricola, a Pelagian, son of Severianus, a Pelagian bishop, corrupted the churches of Britain by the insinuation of his doctrine; but at the insistence of the Deacon Palladius (ad actionem Palladii Diaconi), Celestine sends Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre as his representative to root out heresy and direct the Britons to the Catholic Faith”. Again under the date of 431, in the consulship of Bassus and Antiocus: “Palladius was consecrated by Pope Celestine and sent to the Scots believing in Christ, as their first bishop” (Ad Scotum in Christum credentes ordinatur a Papa Celestino Palladius et primus episcopus mittitur).

It is clear then that by ordaining a bishop for the Irish (Scotis), whilst he laboured to keep the Roman Island (Britain) Catholic, he made also the barbarous Island (Ireland) Christian. The words of the second entry to the chronicle, “to the Scots believing in Christ” can only have the meaning that when the chronicle was being written in 447, the Irish had become a Christian people. Another relevant source to the authenticity of Palladius’ papal authority is The Seventh Century Life Of St. Patrick by Muircu Maccumachthenus in the “Book of Armagh” which expressly styles Palladius “Archidiaconus Papæ Coelestini urbis Romæ Episcopi”, repeated in several of the other lives of St. Patrick.

The conversion of Ireland was very significant to Celestine because, according to the writings of St Jerome (c.347-420), an Illyrian Christian priest and apologist , we suspect that Pelagius himself was of Goidelic-Celtic origin, q-Celt, (perhaps Irish), “He tells us that he was descended from the Scots (Irish) de vicinia Britannorum, and that he was “reared on Scotch porridge.” This simple fact feasibly meant that if Celestine could conquer the homeland of Pelagius, ‘the seat of his realm’, this may discredit his philosophy. Palladius soon abandoned the mission and was quickly replaced by an ostensibly self-appointed evangelist calling himself Bishop Patricius. In his ‘Confessio’ he elaborates in some detail as to the success of his mission (he attributes this success to God) when he writes, “’it is not you who speaks but the Spirit of your Father speaking in you.’ (Confessio Vs 20) This proved an ideal declaration of divine faith and his successful work was endorsed by his Roman contemporaries. The efforts of his predecessor, whose contribution to Irish Christianity was minimal, were inexplicably obliterated.

Christian inscriptions in Irish began about the middle of the 5th Century CE and are primarily located in the south-eastern side of the country. They show that Christian teaching must have been accepted among the native Irish, of this region, prior to the arrival of both missionaries. ‘The chiefs of the pre-Patrician saints include St. Ailbe in Co. Tipperary, St. Ibar of Wexford, St. Declan of Waterford, …..the controversy between Cashel, as the premier home of the Christian church and Armagh as the latter implies that it is possible two evangelists were at work in the country. Palladius to the South and Patrick to the North, “it is exactly the sort of controversy that was inevitable if these Southern Churches looked back to an independent origin and an earlier date than that of the apostle of Ireland, whose later glory had obscured their own”.

With St. Patrick came flourishing literacy and the subsequent documentation of reality, by his cohorts, was inexorably biased in favor of the message advocated their apostle. The primary strategy of Patrick was to introduce an episcopal church which indicates that he had some papal influences. In the ‘Catalogue Of The Order Of The Saints’ for the period 432-543 it is clearly stated that there were founders of churches who worshipped Christ and followed one leader, Patrick, and this clearly implies that in his lifetime he was undoubtedly held in high reverence by his contemporaries and immediate generations to follow. This loyalty manifested itself in propaganda that all but eliminated the presence and influence of Palladius. Interestingly, these passages also indicate that the Roman Church tradition was firmly in place, “one tonsure, one celebration of mass, one Easter” It is fair to conclude from this that Patrick’s mission had deep long lasting impact and was far more significant than that of Palladius.

While academics often give credit to both these men for the introduction of Christianity the more common view is that Patrick was indeed the true Apostle of Christ regardless of papal appointment or not. There is still good reason to debate the timeline of Palladius and Patrick, with ‘possibility’ being a significant part of the deliberations. By considering the surviving documentation, The Chronicles Of Prosper Of Aquitaine, The Annals Of The Irish Churches and Patrick’s own writings, it can be seen that the papal commission of Palladius coincided with the mission of Patrick though only the latter reaps commendation.

To track the short timeline of Palladius’ mission we turn to the ‘Chronicles of Prosper of Aquitaine’, “Ad Scottos in Christum credentes ordinatus a papa Caelestina Palladius primus episcopus mittitur”, Palladius was sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine as the first bishop to the Irish who believe in Christ in 431 AD. In 434 Prosper again wrote regarding Palladius, that Pope Celestine ‘having ordained a bishop for the Irish, while he labours to keep the Roman island [Britain] Catholic, has also made the barbarian island [Ireland] Christian’ in his Contra Collatorem. These two passages place Palladius in Ireland evangelising to the Irish from 431 onwards. In Ireland, church Annals record Palladius’ arrival. The Annals of Ulster show Palladius, having been approved by Pope Celestine, is sent to Ireland in the consulship of Aetius and Valerius in 431 while the Annals of the Four Masters say that Palladius landed in the county of Leinster in 430. With these pieces of evidence added to the writings of Prosper it verifies that Palladius was in Ireland fulfilling his papal commission in the early 430’s.

In order to establish Saint Patrick’s time in Ireland, the surviving sources are principally recorded internally by the Irish church Annals. The Annals of the Four Masters also go on to record that Patrick arrived in 432 and proceeded to baptize and bless the Irish. The Annals of Ulster confirm that Patrick reached Ireland in 432 the ninth year of the reign of Theodosius Mino. These church writings firmly place Patrick arriving in Ireland and converting the people at the same time as Palladius.

To corroborate this we can garner some facts from Patrick’s own writings in his Letter to Coroticus demanding the release of enslaved, by Tyrannus, Irish Christians and his later life biographical Confessio both of which survive in the Book Of Armagh.

According to RPC Hanson, there are two men who could have gone by the name Tyrannus, the son of a man called Cuned from North Wales who had a child possibly named Coroticus or the King of Dumbarton on the coast of Scotland. Either of these still place Patrick in Ireland writing this communication in the first half of the fifth century. In his Epistola, Patrick mentioned “…with many thousand solidi, to redeem baptized captives…” This solidi was a gold coin reintroduced by Constantine the Great in 312 and remained in circulation throughout the supremacy of the Roman Empire. The fact is that the coins were last minted in 411 so circulation had diminished. The further into the fifth century, the less likely it is that Patrick would refer to the coin in his letter. Passages of Saint Patrick Confessio have an eschatological tone and it is obvious from this that his mission was based around the fall of Rome which occurred in 410. R.P.C. Hanson states that this tone places Patrick in Ireland in the early half of the fifth century. The information gathered from the surviving evidence of the Confession of Saint Patrick and his Letter to Coroticus points to him writing these letters from Ireland in the first half of the fifth century. The same time that Palladius was converting the Irish to Christianity.

Palladius mission in Ireland is clearly recorded internally by the Annals of the Irish churches and externally by the chronicles of Prosper of Aquitaine. These sources place Palladius converting the Irish to Christianity from 431 onwards. There is reliance on deductive reasoning in determining a timeframe for Patrick’s mission based on his own writings. The answers gathered from those deductions point to the first half of the fifth century and corroborate Patrick’s mission with the recorded dates of the Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Ulster. By not getting immersed in the theories of Patrician scholars and remaining within the confinement of surviving evidence, it is provable that the mission of Palladius to convert the Irish to Christianity must have been at the same period of time as that of Saint Patrick.

With Thanks To:

Dr. Liam Irwin.

Joyce’s Paralysis.

Paralysis In James Joyce’sDubliners.’

Joyce’s characters in Dubliners (1914) were real and highly symbolic of the paralytic background of Joyce’s Dublin. In this essay this premise will be explored by comparing the characters in two stories, Sisters and The Dead, as instances of the seriatim themes of incarceration, oppression and mortality. Joyce uses Dublin as a paralytic backdrop for his paralytic protagonists each enduring life’s journey in a city of living dead, “…his obsession for accuracy in his depiction of his native Dublin was close to being fanatical…” Joyce’s Dublin, a city that he professed to love, but ‘a city of the living dead’ is the dark milieu accentuating the paralysis of its inhabitants throughout all the stories in Dubliners, “The word paralysis was both an epigraph and an epitaph for its spiritual moribundity.”

Throughout the stories we meet a series of individuals at moments of epiphany, a brush with death that causes an awakening. As is introduced in The Sisters and concluded upon in The Dead which bookend this series of short stories about moments of epiphany brought about by paralysis; “Joyce used the term (‘paralysis’) to denote a condition of spiritual torpor caused by what he perceived to be the oppressive religiosity of Catholic culture in Ireland”. He elucidates this dominant theme of despair, resignation and loss resulting from the inevitability of spiritual death, caused by life’s experiences, culminating in physical death from his first story ‘The Sisters’; “I said softly to myself the word paralysis” . (Dub p.3) It is this ‘journey of life’ that makes his characters real. They live the lives of ordinary people often oblivious to the impact of tragedy and environment in the shaping of their lives and thinking. Significantly, spiritual death according to Joyce is defined as “people who live meaningless lives of inactivity are the real dead” . Joyce did intended is stories to deal with paralysis when he said, “I call the series Dubliners to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city” (Letters I 55).

In the opening story ‘The Sisters’, a young boy begins to evaluate his relationship with a catholic priest, Fr. Flynn. He once classed the priest as a friend and mentor, “I think he said more to me than anyone else” . Afterwards he distances himself from the death of the cleric. This could imply an event in the past that instilled fear, the source of the boy’s paralysis. This event is alluded to by a distrustful Mr Cotter, a character symbolic of post-famine working class religious cynicism, who clearly suspects something of an ominous nature “there was something queer, something uncanny about him” (Dub p.7) . He and further questions the relationship between the ageing priest and the young boy, “…..let a young lad run about and play with young lads of his own age and not be…..” (Dub p.4) The implication of a sinister association between the priest and the boy is endorsed as the boy hangs his head throughout the “unfinished sentences” (Dub/p.4) Subsequently the boy ‘dreams’ of the priest ‘confessing’, with moist lips, a simoniac sin for which the boy absolves. The boy further alludes to his ‘epiphany’ when he admits to feeling ‘a sensation of freedom as if I had been freed from something by his death” (Dub p.5).

In ‘The Sisters’ each of the main characters are symbolic of elements of their very real environment and consequently ‘humanising’ the primary themes introduced by their milieu, incarceration, oppression and mortality, of Joyce’s Dubliners. Eliza Flynn is incarcerated by denial about her brother’s mental condition and rationalises it, “the duties of the priesthood were too much for him.” (Dub p.9). Nannie Flynn is a voiceless, oppressed, character who is an early example of such characters throughout Joyce’s writing. Rev. Fr. James Flynn, signifying mortality, his unpredictable behaviour and spiritual paralysis and death instils fear in the boy about the mortal world in which he will have to contend.

These three themes (incarceration, oppression and mortality) are suggested throughout Dubliners and are established in the final story (Novella) ‘The Dead’. The events take place on the feast of the ‘Epiphany’ and the main protagonist Gabriel Conroy immediately demonstrates his impetuosity by expressing his thoughts, “I suppose we will be going to your wedding one of these fine days with your young man, eh? (Dub p.140) But, to his embarrassment, his spontaneity is greeted with ‘bitterness’. This impulsiveness continues to emerge as Gabriel expresses his ‘contempt’ for Ireland. For example, expressing his desire to holiday abroad, when he delivers his speech about Irish hospitality and how people must not linger on the past and the dead but live and rejoice with the living. After he relays a story about a horse that walked in circles he notices his wife, Gretta, is somehow enchanted by a song. It is later revealed that her romantic preoccupation is not with him but with a former lover. He feels deceived and distressed and the revelation causes him to reflect on his own mortality because he did not ‘feel’ the love that his predecessor felt from Gretta and therefore he did not live life to the full. The salient reality of ‘we must all join the dead’ and may not be remembered. The events of this story demonstrate a paralytic routine, speechmaking, dining, dancing, everything in circles just like the anecdotal horse and this tedium is the source of life without experience or meaning. Gretta is perceived by Gabriel as incarcerated, Gabriel himself is oppressed by his own honesty and he is forced to face his own mortality by his wife’s revelations. He realises that he is as mortal as the snow that covers him and all the people of Ireland both dead and alive.

These two stories, as examples of all stories in Dubliners, not only outline the ‘modus operandi’ of the author, “paralysis is death” as defined in The Sisters and explicated in The Dead. As the stories progress the motifs of paralysis, epiphany, betrayal and religion are clearly established and defined and the themes of incarceration, oppression and mortality are crystallised. The characters are each representative of their environments and influences and as such are both symbolic and real.

Primary Source.

James Joyce


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Golden Age Of Irish Art.

Golden Age Of Irish Art.

This paper is a short exploration of ‘The golden age of Irish art’ (c.650 – 950 CE) with consideration to the art style of the period, its various elements and its origins in antiquity. “The early eight century saw the perfection of Irish art.” The Romans had left Ireland two centuries past but had left behind a highly creative ‘La Tene’ pastiche relying heavily on Greek models that would never entirely vanish from insular Irish art.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, early medieval Ireland, like other regions of north-west Europe, saw a dramatic development of independent kingdoms; “The ideology which underpinned these kingdoms was constructed from a mixture of native traditions and systems of knowledge from the Mediterranean world acquired through Christianity.”

The ‘golden age’ was a time when Religious Monasteries were flourishing across Ireland. These monastic settlements, combined with Romanesque techniques, influenced the aesthetic beauty of artistic architecture and design defining their impact as an imperative part of cultural life. This influence is immediately obvious even in self-adornment, “The pennacular brooch – a form adopted earlier from the Romans – became the high status garment par excellence.”

Art was very much existent in the minds and hearts of these primeval people and it manifested itself in illuminated manuscripts, metalwork and stone sculpture. Ireland was saturated in examples of the artistic achievements of this culture. Buildings and high crosses, precious jewellery, ornaments and adornments, manuscripts with intricate and sophisticated detail using materials and tools which were, by modern standards, primitive yet, in the hands of nascent man fashioned such complex work that it remains a perplexity as to how such exceptional creation was achieved.

Fine metalwork, manuscript painting and sculpture by the mid-8th Century had come to a level of excellence demonstrable with the appearance of certain pieces such as the Tara Brooch which reveals that Irish artists were inspired and imaginatively fertile; “The form of this brooch is in fact one of the finest representatives of shapes composed with a complete coherence – an ‘endless knot’ – of geometrical ratio.”

The artisan feat of elaborate decorations of circular arcs, straight lines and geometric patterns remains to defy explanation or definition but implies a long term development in craftsmanship dating back into antiquity. It further infers that this complex form of design was prevalent across Irish artistry; “That form shares the principles of design which were employed regularly in the creation of early high crosses of Ireland, and the magnificent illuminations in early insular gospels manuscripts.”

A further example of this artistic expertise can be seen in the design complexities of both the Derrynaflan Paten; “The Paten is an extremely complex structure consisting of many separately manufactured components” and The Ardagh Chalices. These are examples of a range of elaborate techniques of ornamentation based on imported inspiration yet customised to a developing Irish distinctiveness; “The elaboration of the filigree, the stamped ornaments of the side of the paten, the glass settings, and the knitted mesh of its rim and the organisation of the ornament place the paten clearly within the same aesthetic as the Ardagh Chalice.” The Derrynaflan and Ardagh silver chalices are strikingly similar.

Both are complicated in their design and construction and, “What is obvious about these chalices is the essentially Irish character of their manufacture and design.” These chalices are evidence of the fading Romanesque influence to make way for a unique developing Irishness in artistic pursuits; “The native metal working traditions enjoyed a new vogue, but in a modified form.” The commissioning of extravagant sacred objects such as the chalices from Derrynaflan and Ardagh demonstrates not only a desire for artistic splendour but an unparalleled ability to achieve it.

Some of the best examples of early Christian fine art were the Irish illuminated manuscripts dating from the mid 6th Century CE. These beautifully illustrated books were produced by scribes and artist monks in the scriptoriums of abbeys and monasteries all over Ireland. The monks made little money and no acknowledgement from their work but the Church had no hesitation in heaping money on the works of art themselves; “materials in regular use were gold dust, foil or leaf, silver and other precious metals and expensive natural colour pigments.” The accomplishment of Manuscript painting as an art form remains enigmatic.

The Book of Kells (Leabhar Cheanannais) brings together the traditions of animal ornamentation, interlacing and scrollwork combined with both decorative text and narrative scenes. It was created by Celtic monks and is a masterwork of calligraphy and epitomises the pinnacle of insular illumination. “The manuscript itself contains a clue indicating that those who produced it held Saint Columba in the highest veneration.” The curious feature about the Book Of Kells is that it is written with a unique ‘Irish’ hand defined as ‘half uncial, derived from Roman cursive, an advanced and uniquely developed form; ‘the Irish Hand attained a perfection and beauty which still dazzles the eye.’ The full, rotund form of the half-uncial was typically used in the transcription of Latin tracts notably, in the earliest known Irish manuscript, the Cathach, and, magisterially, in the Book of Kells. From this we can see why the ‘Golden Age of Irish Art’ was a carefully nurtured era of artistic perfection and excellence.

This concept is further enforced by The Book of Armagh, a near complete copy of the New Testament, with its sophisticated and elegant pen and ink illustrations; The text is written in two columns in a fine pointed insular minuscule’ and though it lacks the artistic enthusiasm of the Book of Kells it remains an exquisite masterpiece of Irish medieval art. “(It) shows the other side of artistic activity from the exuberance of Kells.”

Throughout the 8th Century the most affluent and honourable members of society adorned themselves with precious metals befitting their status. The Ballinderry Brooch (c.600 CE) and The Tara Brooch (c.700 CE) were both ambitious pieces of their time and worthy specimens of the magnificence of the art form of early medieval jewellery making. Clearly the advancing design complexities combined with fading Romanesque influences replaced with Anglo Saxon inspiration had occurred over the century between the two pieces. The development of craftsmanship is clearly visible.

The Ballinderry Brooch was an efficient and primarily functional pennacular piece which had an incomplete circular clasp at the top and was used as a clothes fastener. Its highly ornate design implies its use by the elite of medieval society. The Ballinderry Brooch clearly marks the beginning of a process that would culminate, over a Century, with the creation of The Tara Brooch.

The progressive artistic golden age was fuelled by new tastes and desires, “New types of objects had come into fashion; pennacular brooches decorated with spiral scrolls and enamels; hand-pins, sometimes enamelled or decorated with millefiori.” The Tara Brooch, found near the River Boyne in County Meath is consistent with the progressing Irish design; “Like many early high crosses and Gospel illuminated pages, the ‘Tara’ Brooch has a form consisting of circular arcs and straight lines.” Both these pieces yet again show Ireland’s artistic individuality emerging and developing to an advanced and idiosyncratically Irish stage.

Celtic High Crosses are a form of functional free standing sculpture which were mostly constructed on sites of religious significance. These crosses fall into two different groups, firstly there are crosses decorated with circular patterns and the second group being those decorated with Biblical scenes. It is still uncertain as to whether these crosses were painted but it is most likely that they were. With the addition of colour many of the designs on the crosses would have greater clarity.

The ‘High (Celtic) Crosses’ demonstrate a high point in Irish sculpture and the oldest, estimated 9th Century, are located at Ahenny in Co. Tipperary. The North and South crosses are carved with intricate geometrical Celtic designs and also Biblical scenes on the base. Scholar of early Irish art Franoise Henry, inspired at Ahenny, introduced her publication on Irish High Crosses with a chapter on ‘General Features’, where she offered an unchallenged description of the form of the monuments; “These high crosses are self-contained monuments, articulated into various elements: a large, somewhat cubic or pyramidal base, a separate block of stone indented with a deep rectangular hollow at the top, into which the stem of the cross can fit securely. The cross itself has a nearly square or rectangular section. The shaft tapers slightly towards the top. The stone ring which often connects the arms is usually in open-work, but in some cases it has been left as a sort of solid wheel. It is not necessarily always present, but occurs often enough to be considered as a characteristic feature of the Irish crosses.” Her writings clearly indicate that, although High Crosses are found across Europe, the Irish High cross is both distinctive and unique.

This paper through exploration of the output of ‘The Golden Age Of Irish Art’ has shown that the early eight century artisans accomplished the perfection of Irish art. By looking at an evolving innovative artistic culture in Ireland, with its origins in antiquity, traced through its metalwork craftsmanship, manuscript artistry, jewellery making and sculpture we can see that Ireland was not lacking in individuality and was feasibly a more cutting-edge artistic culture than other European countries.


1. Ryan, Michael, Irish Archaeology Illustrated, Town House Dublin, (2006) P.150.

2. Picts And Prehistory: Cultural Resource Management In Early Medieval Scotland. Stephen T. Driscoll. World Archaeology, Vol. 30, No. 1, The Past In The Past: The Reuse Of Ancient Monuments (Jun., 1998), P.142. Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

3. Form Of The Tara Brooch. Robert D. Stevick. The Journal Of The Royal Society Of Antiquaries Of Ireland, Vol. 128 (1998), P.5

4. The Menagerie Of The Derrynaflan Paten. Ryan, M. Irish Arts Review Yearbook, Vol. 11 (1995), P.84

5. Ryan M., ‘Some Aspects Of Sequence And Style In The Metalwork Of Eighth-And Ninth Century Ireland’ In M Ryan (Ed.) Ireland And Insular Art AD 500-1200, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin 1987, P.68.

6. Early Irish Chalices. Michael Ryan. Irish Arts Review (1984-1987), Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring, 1984), P21.

7. Medieval Artists (C.1100-1400) Www.Visual-Arts-Cork/History-Of-Art/Medieval-Artists.Htm Accessed: 25.03.2010

8. Paul Meyvaert, The Book Of Kells And Iona, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), College Art Association. P6.

9. Leen, Brendan, Four Centuries Of Printing In The Irish Character Http://Www.Spd.Dcu.Ie/Main/Index.Shtml Accessed 28.03.2011

10. Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament, Oxford University Press, 1977, P.305.

11. Irish High Crosses Www.Megalithicireland.Com/Highcrosses Accessed 28.03.2011

12. Irish High Crosses: Some Evidence From The Plainer Examples Dorothy Kelly: The Journal Of The Royal Society Of Antiquaries Of Ireland, Vol. 116 (1986), P.51

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