Irish History Bitesize
Proclamation of Irish Independence prints

January 1


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1768  Maria Edgeworth was born on this day in Oxfordshire, England in 1768. She moved to County Longford, Ireland with her father when she was five, and grew up to become a successful author of adult and children’s literature, one of the first women to be a successful novelist.

She wrote  in celebratation of  Irish culture with a nostalgic view of Ireland. She was known as the ‘Irish Jane Austen’.

Maria Edgeworth writer from IrelandSee more about her life and her work for famine relief here

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1790   George Petrie was born on this day in Dublin in 1790. He was the son of a Scottish painter, and went on to become an established artist himself. His favourite medium was watercolour, which was considered secondary to oil paintings at the time. Much of his work now hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Lakes Of Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland by George Petrie

Dun Aengus Fort,  Inishmore, Aran Islands by George Petrie

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1790  James Wills, the poet and clergyman, was born in County Roscommon on this day in 1790. Wills had several of his poems published, his most famous work being Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished Irishmen.

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1792  The Northern Star newspaper was first published on this day in 1792. The motto on its masthead read ; “The public will our guide, the public good our end”

Northern Star
“The public will our guide, the public good our end”

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1801  On this day in 1801, the Act of Union went into effect, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Act of Union 1801 produced the Union Flag Image copyright Ireland Calling

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1801  George Benn, the Irish historian was born on this day in 1801 in County Armagh. He had several books published about the history of Belfast.  George Benn and his brother Edward did muuch charitable work in the city. Edward founded, and George was the benefactor, of three hospitals in Belfast – the Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital, the Samaritan Hospital, and the Skin Diseases Hospital.

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RMS Titanic1862  On this day in 1862, Edward Harland invited his former assistant Gustav Wilhelm Wolff to become a partner in his ship building firm, creating ‘Harland & Wolff’ . It was the firm Harland & Wolff that built the ill-fated Titanic ship.

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William Gladstone1869  The 1869 Irish Church Act came into effect on this day in 1871. The act was passed by British prime Minister William Gladstone, and it removed much of the power of the Irish Church.

Some of its members lost their seats in the House of Lords and tithes, compulsory taxes for the major religious bodies, were no longer paid to the Church of Ireland.

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1880  Gretta Bowen was born on this day in 1880 in Dublin. She moved to Belfast and raised three sons on her own after her husband died young. Two of her sons grew up to be successful painters.

Aged nearly 70, Bowen started painting with some materials left at her house by one of her sons and within a few years she became an established artist herself.

The Times reported: “Rhythm and movement are the characteristics of her work. There is nothing static in it. Whatever she paints she conveys a feelings of happiness, of brightness, of delight in life.”
Bowen’s paintings can now be found in the Ulster Museum and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Library by Gretta Bowen  (National Museums Northern Ireland)
Library by Gretta Bowen (National Museums Northern Ireland)

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Annie Hall statue Ellis Island1892 On 1 January, 1892 Ellis Island began processing immigrants into the United States. It was the busiest inspection station in America from 1892 until 1954.

Annie Moore (14 years old) and her brothers Anthony and Phillip were the first immigrants to be processed through Ellis Island. This is her statue on Ellis Island.

Annie and her brothers, and 145 other steerage passengers boarded the S.S. Nevada and left Queenstown (now Cobh), Co. Cork) on December 20, 1891. They arrived in New York on Thursday, December 31.

The three children joined their parents who were already living in New York.

annie-moore-&-brothers-arrive-at--EIlis Island Image copyright  Ireland Calling

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1941  On this night in 1941, German planes dropped bombs across Ireland killing three people and injuring several more.

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1956  On 1 January 1956, John O’Donohue was born. He was a native Irish speaker, and a poet, priest, and philosopher. He popularised Celtic spirituality.

John O'Donohue quote Image copyright Ireland Calling

See more of John O’Donohue’s inspirational quotes here

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1970  Happy birthday to Rónán Ó Snodaigh, born on this day in 1970. The Dubliner is a talented musician and can play several instruments including the Bodhrán, Djembe, Conga, bongos and guitar. He has been the lead singer of Kíla since they formed in 1985.

2005 On this day in 2005, Cork officially became the European Capital of Culture, becoming the second irish city to win the award after Dublin in 1991. More about Cork

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Patrick Denis O'Donnell2005   Patrick Denis O’Donnell died on this day in 2005. O’Donnell was a military historian, and had served in the Irish Army during the Second World War.

His most notable work as an historian was his research into the death of Theobald Wolfe Tone. O’Donnell believed Wolfe Tone had been assassinated before he was due to be executed, when it was previously thought that he had committed suicide.

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2005 Paul Darragh, the Irish equestrian show jumper died on this day in 2005. Darragh had a long career in the sport, with the highlight being his victories in the prestigious competition, the Aga Khan for three consecutive years from 1977 to 1979.

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Ballykissangel2005  Dublin- born actor Peter Caffrey died on this day in 2005. He had a successful career in British television, his most famous role being Padraig O’Kelly in the popular BBC drama Ballykissangel.


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2011  The Civil Partnership Act came into effect in Ireland on this day in 2011, granting the same rights for co-habiting hetero and homosexual couples, and allowing civil partnerships.

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Irish New Year superstitions

Winds In years gone by, the Irish would take the direction of the wind on 1 January as an indication of the political trend for the year ahead.

If the wind came from the west then it would be a prosperous year for Ireland, but if was blowing from the east, then Britain would have the better year.


Anyone out there hoping to find that special someone this year should pay attention to this old Irish superstition. Any singleton that hangs mistletoe outside their front door on New year’s Eve will find their husband or wife in the new year.

Also, ladies who are hoping to find love should sleep with their pillow on New Year’s Eve, as it is believed to bring them luck in their search for a husband.


Beware on New Year's Day!Be wary of which member of the family is the first to enter the house on New Year’s Day. According to Irish superstition, if the first person to cross the threshold is a tall, dark, handsome man, then the family will enjoy a year of good fortune and prosperity.

However, if the first person to cross the threshold is a red haired girl, then the family will suffer bad luck and hardship for the next 12 months.


Achill Island off the coast of County Mayo is thought to be the best place in Europe to watch the final sunset of the year.

Achill Island sunset


Feast Day – January 1

The traditional celebration of the Feast of Fools took place on this day. The festival involved a bizarre set of rituals, with Christian morals being abandoned for the day and the most important church people being treated with the same disrespect as mere servants.

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The festival took place in France, Ireland and much of Europe from around the fifth century up until the 16th century.

Feast of Fools by Lawrence Smith


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