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1760 John MacNaghten was hanged on this day in 1760 for the accidental murder of his love Mary Anne Knox.
MacNaghten was born in Donegal to a wealthy family and inherited a large estate. He studied at Trinity College Dublin and married. However, MacNaghten was an irresponsible character and drank, gambled and womanised to excess. He lost his wife when she died during childbirth.
MacNaghten plunged into a self-destructive routine of drinking and gambling until he had lost all of his money. He was fortunate to be given a job as a tax collector, but predictably he gambled his take away. He was put in prison for losing £800 of the king’s money, and had his estate taken from him.
When he got out, MacNaghten sought the help of his childhood friend Andrew Knox to overcome his addictions. He regularly stayed at Knox’s home and began to recover. He also started a relationship with Knox’s daughter, Mary Anne.
He attempted to abduct her so that they could run off to get married, as she was only 15, but the plan went disastrously wrong. MacNaghten intercepted a cart carrying Mary Anne and fired a shot. This was only intended to scare the driver but the bullet hit Mary Anne and killed her.
MacNaghten was arrested for murder and sentenced to death. The first attempt to hang him failed, as he hurled himself from the gallows with enough force to break the rope. MacNaghten had a chance to escape at this point, under the cover of the crowd who were supporting him, believing divine intervention had saved the life of a man heartbroken at losing his true love.
However, MacNaghten chose not to take this opportunity and returned to the hangman, stating that he didn’t want to be forever remembered as “half-hung MacNaghten”. He willingly stepped back up to the gallows and was hanged again, this time until dead.
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1653 Oliver Cromwell was sworn in as Lord Protector of Ireland on this day in 1653. This followed a brutal four-year invasion of the island led by Cromwell. All the native Irish family clans had been removed from their land, with many being slaughtered for resisting.
The Irish land was handed to British settlers and a period of anglicisation began, with much of the Irish culture and tradition, notably the language, being eroded away.
Cromwell put Ireland firmly under British control. For the next two-and-a-half centuries Irish rebels and nationalists fought and died to regain the country’s independence.
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1939 Barney McKenna was born on this day in Dublin in 1939. He was one of the founding members of the Dubliners, arguably the best ever Irish folk band. McKenna was a skilled musician and singer and is considered a legend of Irish music. He died in April 2012, and the Irish music scene lost one of its favourite sons.
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1966 Happy birthday to Paul McGinley, born in Dublin on this day in 1966. He is a professional golfer and in 2014 became the first Irishman to captain a European Ryder Cup side.
McGinley has had a long and successful playing career. He won the 1997 World Cup of Golf for Ireland when playing alongside Padraig Harrington.
Five years later, McGinley sank a ten-foot putt on the 18th hole at the Belfry, to tie his round with Jim Furyk and win the Ryder Cup for Europe.
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1969 Happy birthday to Michelle de Bruin, born in Dublin on this day in 1969. She was born Michelle Smith, taking the name de Bruin when she married her husband. Michelle Smith was a triple gold medal winner at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. She won the 400m freestyle, 200m individual medley and 400m individual medley events.
Unfortunately, Smith’s legacy as one of Ireland’s greatest ever sportspeople was tarnished two years later when she tested positive for a banned substance. Her gold medals were not taken from her, as the samples she gave at the Olympics were clean. She did, however, receive a four-year ban from competing, which effectively ended her swimming career.
Smith denied knowingly taking any banned substances and to this day maintains her innocence. She was so upset and helpless by the ban that she took a degree in law, so that any future athletes in a similar position could get the expert legal advice they require to defend their name and reputation.
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1987 Fairytale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty McColl got to number two in the British singles charts on this day in 1987. It was kept off the top spot by T’Pau with their hit China in my Hand. The classic ballad was also beat to the Christmas Number One by the Pet Shop Boys remix of Elvis Presley’s Always on my Mind, to commemorate the ten year anniversary of his death.
Fairytale of New York may have missed out on Christmas number one, but it has remained as one of the most played Christmas songs ever since it was first released. It was even featured in a special charity episode of Britain’s longest running soap, Coronation Street.
Click here to watch a YouTube video of the song
Click here to read an in-depth feature on the song on irishmusicdaily.com
Click here to read about Coronation Street Fairytale of New York special
Click here to read about the staggering amount of money the song earns in royalties each Christmas
Click here to read more about the Pogues