Irish History Bitesize
Proclamation of Irish Independence prints

On this day in Irish history – December 12


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1803 Gerald Griffin was born on this day, 12 December 1803 in Limerick. He wrote The Collegians which was turned into a silent movie – Colleen Bawn – about a young farm girl who was courted and married a member of the gentry – he tired of her and had her murdered. Scandalous court case at the time.
See the silent movie, gripping history, the full poem and the Wolftones video.

Gerald Griffin - wrote The Collegians- turned into silent movie - Colleen Bawn

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1883 Peadar Kearney was born in Dublin on this day in 1883. He is the man who wrote the lyrics to The Soldier’s Song, the Irish national anthem. Kearney was a stage actor and producer at the Abbey Theatre. He was also a nationalist and was a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers in 1913.
Peadar Kearney wrote Irish National Anthem
He fought under Thomas McDonagh in the Easter Rising in 1916, turning down the chance to tour London on the stage. He managed to escape when his stronghold was seized by the British. He also fought alongside his close friend, Michael Collins, in the War of Independence until he was captured and put in prison.

After his release he returned to Collins’ side and supported the Irish Free State government after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. However, after Collins was assassinated in 1921, Kearney became disillusioned with the political and military struggles. He left the nationalist fight to others and ended his life working as a painter and decorator.

Kearney left a lasting legacy on Ireland. His songs were popular amongst the Irish rebels throughout the early 20th century. He also wrote the lyrics to the national anthem which is still used today. Other songs that Kearney wrote include Down By the Liffeyside,

He was also the uncle of Irish nationalist brothers Brendan and Dominic Behan. Both of whom made their own mark on music and literature.

Soldiers Song words by Peadar Kearney

Read more about Peadar Kearney with two videos of The Soldier’s Song
Click here to read more about the song Down By the Liffeyside + videos + lyrics and chords

Click here for more great Irish songs
Click here to read about more Irish songwriters
Click here to read more about the Easter Rising

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1920 The Black and Tans continued their rampage of violence and destruction through the city of Cork in the early hours of this day in 1920. They were retaliated to an IRA attack on two of their army vehicles, and driven by revenge and rage, they set about burning the city of Cork to the ground.
Black and Tan on duty during Irish War of IndependenceWar of Independence Top

Background to the War
Michael Collins’ guerrilla tactics
Spiral of violence

More than three hundred homes were destroyed, and anyone attempting to put out the fires were either shot at or beaten. The fire brigade reported that they were prevented from fighting the fires, as the British soldiers refused to allow them access to get to the water pumps.

‘The Burning of Cork’ is considered to be the worst single incident of British destruction throughout the Irish War of Independence.

Click here to read more about the key events in Irish history

‘The Burning of Cork’ is considered to be the worst single incident of British destruction throughout the Irish War of Independence

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1960 Happy birthday to Daniel O’Donnell, born in Donegal on this day in 1960. He is a singer and songwriter who is hugely popular in American and Britain. O’Donnell is renowned for his clean-cut image and cult fan base, supposedly consisting of mostly middle aged women. This image has been the subject of much media speculation, and even been the source of various parody characters in various comedy programmes.

However, O’Donnell has remained a major figure in international music for more than three decades. He holds the unique record of having an album in the top forty of the British charts for 25 consecutive years, and has sold more than ten million records worldwide.

He is also an ambassador for his hometown of Donegal, and uses his profile and status to raise money and awareness for numerous worthy causes.

Click here to read about more Irish singers

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1966 Happy birthday to Pat Shortt, born in Tipperary on this day in 1966. He is an actor and comedian who won the Best Actor Irish Film and Television Award in 2007 for his performance in the film Garage. Shortt is also one half of the Irish comedy duo, D’Unbelievables, with John Kenny. In the series the pair play out comedy characters from various scenarios across Ireland.

Click here to read some great Irish jokes

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1975 The siege of Balcombe Street, London was ended peacefully on this day in 1975, when four Provisional IRA gunmen allowed their hostages to go free unharmed.

They had taken the occupants of a flat hostage after being chased by police officers following a gun attack on a restaurant in Mayfair. The group had previously carried out similar attacks in the area. They demanded a plane to fly themselves and their hostages to the Republic of Ireland, but the police refused. This resulted in a six-day stand-off, until they eventually surrendered.

Each was given multiple life sentences for their crimes, but were released in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

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2005 Irish criminal boss Martin “Marlo” Hyland was murdered on this day in 2005. He was sleeping at his niece’s house when two gunmen crept into the property and held Anthony Campbell, a plumber working downstairs, at gunpoint. One then went up the stairs and shot Hyland twice in the head and four more times in the chest. The gunmen then murdered the innocent plumber and fled the scene.

Hyland had been involved in criminal activity from a young age. He had ran a youth gang when he was a teenager in Dublin, before being put in prison for relatively minor offences. Upon his release in the early 1990s, Hyland became involved with major gang lord PJ Judge. They were responsible for much of the drugs and robberies carried out in Dublin at this time.

When Judge was killed, allegedly by the Provisional IRA for his erratic and violent behaviour, Hyland took control of the gang. He ordered thefts, drug deals and firearms deals from his position as the boss. It was estimated that between 2003 and 2004, Hyland’s gang stole more than €3m in cash from cash machine security men.

However, his actions made him the most wanted man in the city by Dublin Gardaí. They implemented a mass culling of his business dealings and associates in 2005, named Operation Oak. More than 30kg of heroin and 35kg of cocaine were seized, as well as hundreds of thousands of Euros in cash and vehicles. More than 20 of Hyland’s gang arrested, causing unrest and uncertainty among those still at liberty.

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The Gardaí were aware that many of Hyland’s gang would blame him for the new state of uncertainty, and appealed to him to turn himself in for his own safety. He chose not to though, and was assassinated just a couple of months after Operation Oak had begun. It was suspected that his own closest allies may have carried out, or ordered, his killing, but no-one was ever convicted of the murder.

Gardaí suspected that Eamon Dunne was the man who had ordered the killing. He took control of the gang after Hyland’s death, and was linked to dozens of gangland murders without ever being convicted. He too, was shot dead in 2010. It was suspected his assassination was ordered by his own criminal associates who were unhappy about his reckless actions attracting too much Gardaí attention.


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