1829 Alexander McDonnell was born in Dublin on this day in 1829. He was a key figure in the construction of the Great Southern and Western Railway network in Ireland. McDonnell oversaw the locomotive workshops, and brought a consistency and efficiency to the production of the trains. He also initiated the designs of trains with standardised parts, so that they could be readily replaced and fixed when damaged.
He was a good organiser of people, and had an ability to identify a worker’s skills and place them in roles that would get the best out of them. McDonnell later moved to England to oversee a similar project in the north-east of the country. However, he tried to introduce a new design of locomotive that proved unpopular, and was dismissed from his role before the project was complete.
* * *
1834 The Rathcormac Massacre (also called the Gortroe Massacre) took place on this day in 1834. It resulted in the deaths of 20 residents of the Cork village.
It was part of the Tithe Wars which took place across Ireland throughout much of the 1830s. Irish citizens were obliged to pay 10% of their income in tithes (taxes) to the local vicar of the Anglican Church of Ireland. Many Catholics resented this law, and thought of it as an unjust tax, as they were paying towards a church other than their own.
Archdeacon William Ryder, with more than 100 soldiers went to the home of Widow Ryan who owed 40 shillings worth of tithes. He ordered his soldiers to open fire on the crowd the 250 locals who were armed with just with spades, sticks and stones.
* * *
1875 Matt McGrath was born in Tipperary on this day in 1875. He emigrated to America and became an Olympic gold medal winner. McGrath was one of a group of Irish American athletes who dominated the throwing events in the early 20th century. The group was known as the Irish Whales and included fellow Olympic gold medallists John Flanagan and Pat McDonald.
McGrath competed at the Olympic Games in 1908, winning a silver medal in the hammer throw. He went one better four years later in Stockholm and picked up the gold. The Games were cancelled in 1916 because of the First World War, when MacGrath would have been amongst the favourites. He did return to defend his title in 1920, but surprisingly failed to medal.
McGrath made his last appearance at the Olympic Games in 1924 in Paris. He managed to get a silver medal despite being one of the oldest athletes at the event, being 47 years old.
There is a statue of McGrath in his hometown of Nenagh, Tipperary, along with fellow local Olympian Bob Tisdall, and Johnny Hayes whose parents had emigrated from the town for America.
* * *
1975 Happy birthday to David O’Doherty, born in Dublin on this day in 1975. He is a stand-up comedian, writer, actor and musician. O’Doherty won the Channel 4 comedy award So You Think You’re Funny in 1999 and has been a regular at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival ever since.
His stand-up routines often feature musical performances on his keyboard, with O’Doherty’s unique brand of observational comedy turned into songs. He has also written a children’s book, and is a regular guest on various comedy shows in Ireland and Britain.
O’Doherty once claimed to have only ever written one real joke:
Who are the most decent people in the hospital?
The ultra-sound people.
* * *
1978 Happy birthday to Lindsay Armaou, born in Athens on this day in 1978. She was one quarter of the Irish girl band B*Witched, who had their first four singles go to number one in the UK Singles chart in the late 1990s.
Armaou has an Irish mother and a Greek father. She was raised in Dublin and auditioned to join a new girl band in 1998. Armaou played the Lynch sisters and Sinéad O’Donnell a song she had written herself, and they were suitably impressed to invite her to join the band.
* * *
2000 Kirsty MacColl was killed by a speedboat on this day in 2000. She was the female singer on the 1987 Pogues Christmas hit Fairytale of New York. The song has become one of the most-played Christmas songs of all time, with McColl’s brilliant performance playing a major part in the song’s success.
She was tragically killed when on holiday in Mexico with her family. McColl and her sons were scuba diving off the coast in a designated diving area where boats weren’t allowed. However, a speedboat entered the area and McColl was hit as she pushed her son out of its path. MacColl’s son sustained minor head and rib injuries, but she was killed instantly by the head-on collision.